Category Archives: Marathons

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.  

 

 

 


A Sugar Junkie Reforms (Again)

candy bugs

While I usually strive for excellent nutrition, this weekend I fell off the wagon–and I feel like it ran me over.

I’ve been participating in a strength and nutrition challenge, and I think I probably blew all my progress on one weekend of chocolate eggs, ham and potatoes.

But I reform!

Again.

My kids joke about me being a good addict because I always seem to mean it when I say I’m going to quit.

But it’s true this time.

Really.

From here on out, no more sugar (and a lot of other stuff on the verboten list).

The problem with being a junkie is that nobody believes you when you say you’re going to quit–you actually have to DO it. Even then they think you’re hiding M&M’s in your sock drawer.

However, before my relapse, I was feeling really good. I was more focused, energetic and I simply felt better overall (despite my dietary infractions with pommes).

I feel like I’ve arrived at a critical moment in my life, where several major events are intersecting, and how I handle them (like in a good time-travel movie) will shape my future–for better or worse.

I opt for better.

It’s easy to get caught up in the high of a single moment, instead of waiting for the rewards of a long-term investment.

No one forced me to eat chocolate eggs; it was a choice I made. A bad one, obviously, but it was still something over which I had control.

I was telling a friend about one of our WODs. I was doing a 100 meter farmers carry when it started hailing. She (not a cross fitter, but I love her dearly) said, “They MADE you go outside anyway?”

“Made me?”

“It’s not boot camp,” she replied. “You didn’t have to do it.”

“But it was for time!”

Sometimes you just do stuff–especially with the clock running. Getting ice down my tank top was just another variable that makes Crossfit interesting.

It’s the same thing with marathon training. I run in any kind of weather, except, perhaps, monsoons because I don’t like debris flying at me.

It’s a mindset.

If you think you can’t control your sugar problem, then you will relapse. But if you don’t give yourself an option, then you just might be ok this time.

There are a lot of things I won’t be able to control this week–like getting a face-to-face interview for the job I really want.

But what I can control, I will.

If it means choosing the 16kg kettle bells instead of the 12s, I will. Or at least I’ll try. If it means Just Saying No to pommes, then I’ll do that too.

It all boils down to something our coach asked while I was pressing:

How bad do you want it?

I was fairly happy with the press.

But how badly do I want a new life?

It’s all I can think about anymore.

And that means it’s time to stop talking about it and to dig in and make it happen. The whole course of my future could hinge on what choices I make today.

I want to make the right ones for a change.

I really mean it this time.

Wait and see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


In the Groove

running

There is a certain phenomenon in running when everything falls into place and you feel like you can run forever–this is called ‘flow.’

Crossfitters and other athletes experience this too: where your body and mind work together so well, you KNOW this game or fight or race or WOD is yours.

It is part training, part mental focus, part relaxation, and part endorphine high.

Flow is also elusive: the more you think about accomplishing it, the more it slips away.

It is not about ‘thinking;’ it’s about ‘knowing.’ It’s a difference I can hardly even put words to. You just have to be there once, even for a moment, to understand.

Buddhists probably have a term for this.

Many of us add a spiritual component to flow–a higher power that gives you this ability to face a giant with a slingshot and walk away with more strength than an entire army.

Last week my life was in the groove.

I hadn’t had a job interview since 1994, and last week I had three, back to back. I walked away from each feeling that I’d nailed it. When my resume didn’t speak for itself, I was able to put in the right words.

When you’ve been trained to move around like the stage crew, working, hidden between scenes of someone else’s play, it’s hard to step into the spotlight–to sell yourself. To make a potential employer see that you are worthy of the job at hand. To make them see that they would be foolish NOT to hire you.

But the thing they don’t tell you about the groove, is that you still work.

Your muscles still extend and contract; your lungs might burn; your feet still hit the pavement with up to three times the force of your bodyweight; though you feel like you’re flying, no one carries you to the finish.

To put it in Crossfit terms: even those with the most unrelenting thrusters still leave a puddle of sweat. They make it look easy, but it’s not. We all know it’s not.

Life is this way too.

Even in the groove, you have to work. There is no coasting through life. And when you have a goal, you can’t give up on it–despite the naysayers. You have to give it a shot. You have to use your talent, your wit, your strength to get out and accomplish things that are hard.

The challenges will come in droves, and it’s easy to get bogged down by them–to let them frighten or overwhelm you. But you can’t turn away. You have to press on.

You have to relax and put out that positive energy so you can receive some positive energy back. It’s incredible when that happens.

That’s when we find our groove.

If I worry about potential deadfalls, I’ll lose my cadence. It’s better to just run, and deal with the challenges as they come across my path.

And I know they’re coming. Challenges are on the left and on the right, behind me and in front of me.

But I’ve got to carry on. To let life flow.

It’s still hard.

And frightening.

But eventually, I’ll get to the finish.

And there’ll be a new race to run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Crossfit Isn’t Dangerous–I Am

IMG_0774

My grandma sent me an article about how dangerous Crossfit is. I read it, and like any good Crossfitter, I found it amusing.

Grandmas are supposed to worry; and someday as I’m doing handstand pushups and running ultra marathons, I’ll probably worry about my own grandkids too. It’s kind of the Oma’s job.

While I don’t entirely buy the ‘karma’ idea, I did manage to injure myself after I read the article. But I can’t blame Crossfit–it was entirely pilot error. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I did, but I think there was a problem with my improperly executed push-ups that left my shoulder-blade hurting. And like the stubborn marathon runner I am (pushing through pain) I kept working out until I literally could not put any weight on my left arm whatsoever.

Stupid, I know.

I tend to learn things that hard way (it’s a character flaw).

This shoulder ‘incident’ has left me feeling weak. While everyone else gets to do the WOD, I get the ‘injured runner’s special.’ It’s frustrating to NOT be with my fellow bogatyrs, swinging kettle bells and (as much as I hate the exercise) doing push ups.

It makes me feel weak.

We tend to think a lot about strength in Crossfit, but the ‘W’ word isn’t tossed around much.

That’s because no one WANTS to be weak–that’s why we Crossfit.

Weakness means not performing up to standard or to be structurally compromised or inefficient.

But being weak is so much more. Like strength, weakness is also a condition of the mind. Weakness causes people to roll over and die when things get tough, rather than facing challenges head-on.

We all have moments of vulnerability, moments where we WANT to give up. But the truly strong people will observe the weakness, and then elbow it out of the way as they push past.

Injury is not weakness. In fact, forcing oneself to recover from injury takes more mental strength than pushing through pain. It means staying humble by using a lighter weight; it means complete trust in your coach’s modification; it means willingly, purposely decelerating, though everything in you wants to put the pedal to the metal.

There is strength in self-control.

Given time, most injuries will heal, and with Crossfit, you can bet that you’ll eventually come out stronger than ever.

Weakness of the mind–that’s another story. No amount of time can heal it. Once it takes root, it will completely take over until lives are brambly and tangled with it.

The emotions we have are important outlets. Sadness, when it comes, needs to be recognized and given its proper respect. But it’s not a place to linger; and it’s certainly not a neighborhood you’d want to buy a home in.

So, we move on, without asking ‘why;’ without wishing we could change time; without hoping it was all a bad dream. We just keep moving forward. Though we might hobble along, we still keep moving. We don’t stop. We don’t look back.

Because if we look back, our progress stops cold in its tracks.

That IS weakness.

The best runners keep their eyes on the horizon. They don’t look down, and they sure as hell don’t look back.

If we’ve stumbled, then we learn our lesson, do things better, and make things right.

Being injured might make you feel weak–but that’s not true weakness.

True weakness is stopping to watch the clock run out instead of trying.

Even if you’re injured, you can still move forward, albeit slowly; because in this life, every rep counts.


Are All Crossfit Coaches a Little Sadistic?

kbpain

One prerequisite for Crossfit Coach Advanced Certification is a psychological eval to determine whether the candidate is sadistic enough to derive “pleasure as a result of inflicting pain…or watching such behaviors inflicted on others.”

You might want to fact-check that statement. 

But it feels true. 

My arms are STILL sore from last Monday. And here we are again, facing 100 more pushups–as a ‘simple set.’

Tell me that’s not sadistic!

Of course, the next day’s WOD is written on the website, so we can see beforehand what we are about to endure, and we can imagine the PAIN involved on our already beleaguered appendages.

Now, my Crossfit friends will tell me to HTFU. And they’re right. I should stop crying and just do 100 more stupid pushups.

But I think our coach LIKES to hear us complain. It gives him a sense of accomplishment to know that whatever creative program he’s designed for our ‘benefit’ is actually working.

If the right muscles hurt, then we KNOW we’re doing things correctly.

For example:

If your back hurts after double kettle bell rack holds, you’re doing it wrong.

If your ass hurts, it’s okay.

Pain is how the coach measures success.

A while back, the Coach started this program that is tailored to the different needs of different athletes. I started in Tier 1, but after the first day, I asked to switch to “Bogatyr.” He told me that I COULD switch–but only once. And then I had to stick with it.

I’m still not sure WHY I switched. I think I just liked the name, which means ‘warrior,’ and truly, I need some kind of label to get me through my current personal life–and Bogatyr is a GREAT label. If I were going to get a tattoo, I might consider that one in a scrawly script on some body part nobody could easily see.

I digress.

I am a Bogatyr, and quite often, we get to play with the toys at the box, some of which were most-likely purchased at the Medieval Torture Museum at Rothenburg.

As a Bogatyr, we do things that often hurt (like nearly 300 Russian Kettle Bell swings) or HUNDREDS of pushups. And while I complain a lot and whip out ranting blogs on the subjects of pain and sadism, you should SEE my arms. I’m really proud of them.

And the fact that I can do 100 push-ups (and not from my knees anymore) means that something HAS improved. Ok, so my push-ups still resemble a Sea Lion flopping onto a rocky ledge, especially after the first ten, but at least I can DO them (sort of).

The fact is, I love being a Bogatyr.

I love the pain.

I joke about it with my friends.

I sign up for mountain marathons and look at the course elevation map and say, “That’s going to be frigging hard!” and then I laugh. I get excited about the challenge of it, and the fact that I WILL BE IN PAIN.

And then I dream about bigger races. 100 miles through the Himalayas is on my radar. 100 miles–at altitude. Little Sherpas will have to carry my sorry ass across the finish line, where I’ll smile and laugh and look for my kettle bells for a post-run WOD.

Which leaves me with one question:

Who is the sadistic one?

It might not be my coach after all.


Challenges

lean out

“Are you up for a challenge?” our coach asked.

My first reaction was to think of all the reasons why I was NOT.

  • My legs were still sore from Wednesday
  • I’m not the strongest person in the box
  • I was a little tired
  • My toes were cold
  • I couldn’t think of more reasons, but I’m sure I had some great ones

But instead of just saying, “No,” I asked what the challenge was–and he moved on to the next person.

Out of the entire group, only two people said ‘Yes’ without question–and that, really, was the right attitude.

That’s how I want to be. 

My first instinct is to avoid challenges–to stay comfortable and hide in the middle of the pack.

My first marathon was a challenge. But the second? Third? Sixth? Not so much. I KNEW I could run and finish without doing any worse than the last time. But I wouldn’t exactly call it a challenge. A challenge would have been to set a goal, and then win or lose, go for it.

Crossfit and marathons are inherently challenging, but I am also lazy.

Yes, lazy.

It isn’t natural for me to push myself.

I’m not talking about jumping out of Seilbahn and trying to fly. But I do know that I could try to add a little more weight to the bar, even if I end up dropping the whole damned thing.

Ever since I had coffee with a random German guy at the Pitztal Gletscher Marathon last June, I’ve wanted to run the Jungfrau. He said he had done it, and I could too.

Then he showed me pictures on his phone. If you’ve never looked at pics from the Jungfrau, do so. It is INCREDIBLE. That’s the kind of running I want to do.

It IS a challenge. But is it enough of a challenge? I’ve had a crazy squirrel running around in my head telling me that while I CAN complete the Jungfrau (and I know I can, even if I had to drag an Oxygen tank with me across the finish line), I should try to finish in the top half of my age group.

That thought scares me because typically, there are very FEW women my age running, and when they are, they beat the compression hosen off me.

European women my age are members of running clubs and wear matching t-shirts and collapse when they cross the finish line; whereas I like to finish smiling and holding hands with the people I love.

Women my age (who want to do something fun) sign up for the 5k or the 10k or even the half or they clack around in the Nordic walking stick group–but they don’t run marathons unless they’re serious.

If I want to be in the top half of my age group, I’ll have to push myself, or as my son and I say at Crossfit, I’ll have to “put more weight on it.”

I still want to finish well (which means without need of medical assistance) but I also want to stay focused mentally; to correct the negative self-talk that causes me to wither during a race (around km 36); and to ignore the pain. (Marathons always hurt, and so far, slowing down doesn’t help anything).

Most of all, I want to finish smiling.

My goal is to spend the next few months not just training my body, but also getting my mind to the “bring it on” level, which I so admire.

I don’t know if I’ll even get a slot at the Jungfrau (registration opens in February), but my new challenge for myself is that the NEXT marathon I do, I want to finish in the top half of my age group.

[And I’m not going to deliberately seek out a huge one just to improve my odds!]

[Yes, that WAS my first thought…see, I AM challenge-challenged].

If I don’t meet that goal, then who cares? At least I will have given it my best shot, and I can walk away proud, knowing that I went for it without question.

It’s a new mindset for me, and one that requires practice.

Lots and lots and lots of practice, I fear.

I have 10 months to train for Jungfrau. 10 months of pushing myself further and further, aspiring to meet my challenge, yet still smiling, regardless of what the numbers might be at the Ziel.