Three and a half years ago I walked into a CrossFit gym – and then tried to walk out.
It’s amazing how much has changed since then. I’ve run Broad Street, tackled Spartan Races, competed in CrossFit competitions, and even popped out another baby. And all of this is in no thanks to genetics, youth, or spare time. If I can offer any “FITSPO” to those of you thinking you could never climb a rope, this is purely a testament to dedication, commitment, and hard work. As I’ve said before, if I can do it, anyone can do it.
And as a witness to the power of progress versus the waning of youth, we are offered the annual CrossFit Open. Increasing in numbers each year, now more than 300,000 athletes from around the world sign up to attempt a series of five surprise workouts, whittling the field down to find the fittest man and woman on earth.
Some CrossFit gyms strongly encourage its members to sign up for the leaderboard, even if they are new to the sport (the past two years have offered scaled versions of each workout). My gym welcomes participants but doesn’t really push The Open. So the CrossFit South Philly roster typically includes about a dozen elite athletes, a small handful of scaled athletes, and then – randomly in the middle – me. Gung-ho and eager to chat about the workouts, I spend most of the five weeks texting with my two CrossFit-loving friends in other cities who are the only ones who actually know and care what I am talking about.
Back in 2014, I was only about nine months postpartum and had no intention of signing up for The Open. But after doing the first workout for fun one day, I decided to just pay the $20 to put myself up on the leaderboard.
The weeks that followed were a rather sad display. In 14.2, my attempts at a 65-pound-overhead-squat yielded a score of “2.” In 14.4 I spent 10 minutes trying unsuccessfully to get a toes-to-bar. But in 14.5 I surprised myself by completing my most difficult workout to date:
21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time of:
No Time Cap.
I had never done a 65-lb thruster. Not once. And now I had to do 84 of them. I remember telling my judge, “Look, I’m just going to do the 21 and then stop.” “OK, I will try the 18.” “Fine, I’ll just keep going.” I finished in 28:33. And it was the first and only time I have ever had to lay down after a workout.
That year 44,984 women worldwide completed all five workouts. I placed 43,678 – the bottom 3%.
I am better, faster, stronger. The first workout begins with 15 toes-to-bar and I complete them with little problem – I just can’t manage the 75-pound snatch that follows.
The Open decided to throw an interesting wrench in 2015 by offering a scaled option, but I am determined to do as many of the workouts as possible prescribed (Rx), even if my score is 1 (or 7, as it is in the repeat of 14.2 where I eek out another five reps).
The issue with introducing a scaled version was that it gave the CrossFit powers that be the option of starting workouts with movements like ring muscle ups, a feat limited to the most advanced athletes. So for two of the workouts I was relegated to the scaled option, which didn’t even allow me to show off my shiny double unders!
But I end on a high note with 15.5, a respectable finish on a couplet of thrusters and rowing.
In 2015 I rank 36,529 out of 59,599 women: A vast improvement moving up to the bottom 39% (or top 61% depending how you look at it).
Another year of hard work and training. While I continue to resist the idea of a Paleo diet, I did revamp my eating habits about six months ago by increasing my protein intake, decreasing my sugar and carbs, and embracing daily protein shakes and Branched Chain Amino Acids.
And the CrossFit gods (or programmer Dave Castro) were far kinder to me this year, playing more to my strengths than my weaknesses.
The dreaded overhead squat was replaced with overhead walking lunges, which were sufficiently challenging but doable at a snail’s pace. I surprised myself with chest-to-bar pull-ups and had the opportunity to show off more skillful toes-to-bar and double-unders.
16.2: Killing the toes to bar
I survived 55 back-breaking 155-pound deadlifts in a row and came shockingly close to pulling off an ill-advised and terribly performed bar muscle up.
And when my prediction came true that 16.5 would be a repeat of 14.5 I literally jumped for joy in my San Juan hotel room. (Random fact: I’ve done one open workout in a different city every year). I knew it would be painful, but I knew that if I could do it in 2014, I could certainly shave a few minutes off my time.
I had a lofty goal of sub-20-minutes, but it was actually the burpees that got the best of me that day. I spent the five weeks of the open suffering from the worst asthma and allergies I’d felt since I was a child, and it was taking a toll on my lung capacity.
But I finished at 23:03 – a full five minutes and thirty seconds faster than my 2014 time. And while I did not lay down this time, it took me about five full minutes before I could speak. And six minutes before I could take this picture.
In 2016 I rank 38,675 out of 78,722 women who actually recorded every workout. The top 49%! The top half!
Cooler still was seeing that I was ranked 1003 among all 36-year-old women in the U.S. – that is the number that really counts and I was really gunning to break 1000!
So what do all these numbers and statistics mean? Why am I being such a nerd about analyzing them? Well, it’s nice to be able to put one’s progress into some measurable context. Truly, that’s why I think everyone who does CrossFit should do the Open, even if they do one rep of the scaled versions. It’s amazing to see how I am progressing year to year, and also to stay conscious of what I still need to work on to be a well-rounded athlete and be in the best physical condition for my body. I know my limitations – and there are limitations – just not nearly as many as I would have imagined.