Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Real Buttercup

snatch copy

Some days, I don’t want to toughen up.

I just want to be Buttercup.

But single moms can’t afford to be soft.

It was an exhausting week, with monumental occasions and sheer exhaustion culminating in a slight breakdown where I cried in front of the kids, while baking a frozen pizza.

I had an interview Monday in Munich and walked away with a job offer.

I had an interview Tuesday in Nurnberg and walked away with a job offer.

I sold two vehicles, juggling the insane schedule of the vehicle registration & inspection offices, US and German, which were further constrained by US AND German holidays–and all of this business HAD to be completed by May 30th.

I’d never bought or sold a car in my life, and this month, I did both.

But sitting there on the cold kitchen tile, watching through the grimy glass as my comfort-food heated up, I couldn’t help but think about the woman I used to be. She was cheerful (mostly), sweet and soft, blindly ignoring major marital problems so she could keep the happy status quo.

She was quite often miserable and heartbroken, but the facade was there; and she had a sort of Pollyanna gullibility that seems endearing upon reflection.

She was Buttercup.

But that woman has changed a lot; and I find myself wondering if it’s possible to be both tough and soft at the same time.

This is a difficult time, transitioning to a new life, and a million thoughts go through my head: Will I get a life? Will I really be happy again? What will my life look like in five years? Hell, what will it look like next week?

Some days I feel alone. Utterly. Totally. Alone.

My friends and family (who just read that statement) are now saying something like, “YOU are NOT alone–I am here for you!!”

And you are.

But eventually (and rightly so) you fade into the shadows, and step back into your own lives.

And it’s just me again.

Drinking a glass of red wine and writing a blog on a Saturday night.

I suppose the utter alone-ness I’m feeling is simply because I’ve had domineering other-ness for 20 years.

I’d better learn to like myself.

I’ve taken a gamble by trying to carve out a life–a real life–here in Germany. It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.

On Thursday, I woke up two hours before my alarm with a stress migraine. I wanted to give up–to lock the door and sleep in my dark basement room and let someone else take care of things for a while.

Then I had one of those fitful sleeps where I dreamed I was in the guest room of my Grandma’s house, where I stayed after my Aunt Kathy died (of cancer…way too early); and Grandma was taking care of my kids while I just slept and slept and slept.

As my alarm chimed, it dawned on me: there WAS no one else to take care of things. And even if I WERE to retreat to Grandma’s spare room, that’s not exactly the life I envision. I have to be tough to make a life for myself.

I need the toughness to deal with bureaucracy. I need the toughness it takes to be humble and ask for help. I need the toughness to weather the emotional storms that unexpectedly drop from the sky like tornadoes.

Buttercup couldn’t handle it.

But the woman she’s becoming…as coach Rob once told me…she gets shit done.

And this is where I am. I am hanging in there; persevering and working for a life of my own. It’s not easy. I don’t like being tough all the time. But maybe someday, when things get settled. When I find my place in this little world. I’ll be able to let my guard down again. Just for a moment. To know that the world isn’t all harsh. That I can trust again. That it’s okay to be happy and not worry about things so much.

Buttercup is still there somewhere. She didn’t die.

She’s just a lot stronger now.

And maybe this new Buttercup was actually there all along.

 

 

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The Effects of Social Facilitation on CrossFitters or Move Your Ass, People are Watching

back squat

I’ve been partnered with quite a few people, and I’ve noticed a trend in myself:

If someone currently lifts more than me, I don’t push myself, because I know I can’t ‘keep up.’

If someone currently lifts less than me,  I don’t push myself, because I’m lazy.

But this week I shared a rack with someone who had the exact same one rep max for back squats.

And there was one clear thought in my head saying: “If she can do it, you can too!”

Psychologists call this Social Facilitation.

I call it Move Your Ass Because Your Partner is Watching!

Social Facilitation simply means that performance tends to improve when other people are around. Psychologists have two categories that go along with this: the co-action effect and the audience effect.

The co-action effect is when you are working independently, but someone else is doing the same task.

The audience effect is when people from the next class arrive early and stare while you squat.

With Anja, there was definitely the co-action effect going on.

I didn’t feel competitive (as in some egoistic need to add more weight than prescribed); rather, I felt like we were in it together:  increasing the same weight and pushing through the same reps and celebrating when we accomplished it.

Watching her achieve the reps so elegantly motivated me to push through, at least without falling over backwards.

Anja sets the bar high.

Well…not literally, since I’m two feet taller than she is.

But, she works hard and has great form, which, in turn, set in me a more determined mindset and positive way of thinking.

When you see someone achieve the goal you have set for yourself, laziness is not an option.

According to the experts (some random blog I pulled up while doing this research), Social Facilitation has many dynamics that can’t be calculated. Sometimes people become inhibited and perform poorly in front of others. Thus, the effects of Social Facilitation largely depend on the performer, the task and how much she really cares about being evaluated by others.

I would add, that performance is also influenced by the type of audience. There’s a difference between a coach lurking around (and constantly telling you “Go deeper!”) and a five year-old gazing at you whilst hanging upside down on the rings next to your rack.

And there are other dynamics at play as far as individual personalities. Some people just make me nervous when they’re watching. But with others, their presence inspires me to do better.

I don’t think there’s any kind of schematic that can adequately explain it.

Our personalities, thoughts, behaviors, actions, even our pasts can influence the dynamics at the box. Just as billions of chemical reactions go on in your brain at any given moment, so the nuances of interpersonal relations vary depending on billions of factors.

The point is that sometimes you find someone who inspires and motivates you in a peculiar blend of teamwork and friendly rivalry.

It’s just another way CrossFit is unlike any environment I’ve ever known. You compete with yourself, yet you want to keep up with your peers. And if you finish second, you’re truly happy for the person in first place and the person in fiftieth–because you’re all working hard together.

As individuals.

Yet side by side.

Lifting heavy shit.

Last week I deadlifted 82,5 kg for nine reps.

Anya came along in the next class and did 85.

Does 2,5 kg really make a difference?

Yeah. It does.

Next time, I’m trying 90.

In a friendly sort of way.

But if Anja can do it, I can too. 

Now I have to work on my pull-ups. Because she can do them. And I can’t (yet).

 

 

 

 

 


Different is Good

bw fountain

My birthday is perilously close to Mother’s Day, which means I only get one cake. On the bright side, the kids never forget my birthday because every store window reminds them to get something for their Mom.

This year had a different feel to it; and when things have been pretty much the same for twenty years, (to quote Groundhog day): “Different is good.”

My birthday landed on a Thursday–a non-Crossfit day–which meant no birthday burpees for me. Instead, I took the kids to Wurzburg to my favorite Thai food place and afterwards for the best coffee (at a nondescript little hole in the wall) and ice cream in Germany. Interestingly, both places are run by Italians. I’m thankful they brought their beans and gelato north of the Alps.

The difference this year was that there was no spouse to take pictures of me with the kids. It was a strange feeling.

As we walked through the palace garden, it was hard to watch couples strolling along holding hands, or to see a kid riding on his dad’s shoulders. You start to ask “Why can’t we have that?”

Why do I only have a strong espresso in my hand where fingers should be laced?

But questions that don’t have answers only set you down the road to self-pity–not a good place to go.

It’s far more productive to be thankful: for the unique individuals I call my offspring; for the laughter; for the coffee; for the ability to walk and run and lift heavy.

I’m even thankful for the trials because they are forcing me to become the person I want to be.

But I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: my life is not The Notebook (which, for the record, I only saw once and could not stand it).

My life comes with tears that work my abs and moments where I have to pull the car over because my sweet little family is unraveling in the rear view mirror.

I have come to understand that my life ‘before’ wasn’t life at all–it was existence. I did not have some incredibly amazing passionate marriage in which my partner suddenly had medical problems, and I, as the ever-loving, patient wife would care for him and see him through. The hard reality is that things had been messed up for a long time; and I though I wanted things to be better, I was smart enough to have already begun the long journey towards independence, well before the medical problems complicated matters.

I AM a Taurus, which means when something isn’t working,  you either fix it perfectly or smash it all to hell and start over.

That stubbornness, a quality I had loved about myself,  had been covered with twenty years of dust before Crossfit came along to clean house.

I’m thankful it did.

I’m starting to figure out what kind of person I really am–even though I sometimes don’t like what I see. I want to be like ‘good’ people–you know, the ones who always seem happy.

My kids are feeling this too. My youngest and I were talking about how ‘different’ we feel these days–and how it’s almost painful to be around ‘good’ families. I guess part of this whole process is discovering the joy of being a family exactly like ours: figuring out how WE roll and not comparing ourselves to others and sure as hell not WANTING to be like other families.

Our scars show that we’ve been actively engaged in life, not merely witnessing it from a protective bubble.

Different is scary.

But different can be good.

So, we press on, move forward, and scrawl out the first word of the first chapter of this new life. 

 

 

 

 


How CrossFit Changed my Running

Bulgarian Split Squat

Last year I was a thirty year-old male named Kevi Williams, at least, according to a translation error while anmelding.

It’s too early to tell who I was this year.

As I stood in the Sunday sunshine, waiting for the starting gun and wearing traditional CrossFit black in a sea of neon, I was nervous because:

a) I’ve only taken two ‘real’ runs in the past four months, the longest of which was only 40 minutes long.

b) Instead of training runs, I’ve been swinging kettle bells and doing many, many back squats.

c) It was a 10k (which means ‘fast’).

d) People (especially Germans who have sport clubs for things that aren’t even sports) are pretty serious when it comes to racing. Plus, they usually practice.

But the goal of this city race wasn’t to go fast, per say, but to have fun (if possible); represent CrossFit Ansbach (since I was wearing the t-shirt); and to test how my CrossFit Training has affected my running.

I’d been a runner for about four years before I succumbed to CrossFit’s siren song. My running had changed during that time, especially after reading Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run (who DIDN’T start barefoot running after that?!) and slowly, I was able to change my form to a minimalist style: barefoot shoes, forefront strike. That slow evolution strengthened my arches (a previous weakness) and significantly helped my knee problems.

Now I was adding CrossFit.

I remember Rob once saying that you have to use your ass when you run; and at the time, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. However, it IS possible to run 4 or 5 or even 6 marathons without ever using the biggest single muscle in your body.

What a waste of potential.

At last year’s race, I’d only been CrossFitting 2 or possibly 3 days a week for 4 months. This time, not only did I have another year under my significantly smaller belt, but I’ve been at the box consistently 5 days a week, doing the Bogatyr training program, which I love because while my life goes to hell, it makes me feel good to be part of a group of ‘warriors.’

CrossFit isn’t simply doing some kind of exercise: it’s about mastering movement.

Mostly, you’re using your hips, core and ass–and when you do it right, it feels right.

These foundational movements are also utilized in minimalist running technique.

That was the biggest difference for me.

When others were wilting on the long, hot stretch with no breeze, I was keeping my shoulders back, my gaze up, and my hips open.

When ‘in the groove’ my core floated along, and I felt light as my feet pushed the ground away behind me.

Mid-race, I was picking people off, staying strong and increasing my speed until the final sprint at the finish.

After the race (and this morning) I could feel it in my butt, which is something new (of course–that COULD be leftover from Saturday’s Bulgarian Split Squats; but my legs didn’t feel tired at all.

I don’t know how Kevi Williams did this year, but as for CrossFitter Mama, when she crossed the finish line the clock said 54 minutes (not bad for a chick turning 41 this week); and she finished strong and smiling–like a Bogatyr should.

It was a PR.

Next stop: Swiss Alps.

After that…the sky’s the limit.

As long as I can take my kettle bells.