I am not sure if it is from spending eight minutes upside down yesterday doing forty-five handstand pushups or from the champagne I drank after my results for the 2015 Master’s Qualifier were posted on the Games website, but I got out of bed this morning seeing stars.
I finished the Master’s Qualifier in the top ten—#8 to be exact— which means I will be in the first heat of my division at the CrossFit Games in Carson, California this July.
I’d started the MQ on Friday morning at Waxman’s Gym with the one rep max snatch. Because Waxman’s is an Olympic standards gym, he only has weight plates in kilos. Jessica Suver, my training partner extraordinaire, gathered 100 pounds worth of weight plates (evidently feeling optimistic about my prospects, since I had never snatched more than 82 pounds). Coals to Newcastle: Waxman proclaimed it the first time anyone ever brought their own weights into his gym. After performing my warmup with an empty bar, Sean and Jess started loading on plates. I lost track of how much weight was on the bar. Jess just told me not to worry about it and to just keep lifting. My final score was 93 pounds, but when I did it I had no idea I was lifting eleven pounds over my previous personal record.
After that, we headed back to Paradiso’s Gym to perform Event #1, dips and cleans. I’ve been working on ring dips for 2 ½ years, but I had finally learned to do them only five days before; I was elated to show off my latest trick. At the signal, I leapt onto the rings and performed the first five dips unbroken in 13 seconds. I finished the clean weight (10 reps at #75) by the time the clock read 00:48. As I transitioned back to the rings, I thought to myself, “I can get five rounds. I am a dip star. Yes!”
I jumped up, expecting my arms to hold out for another five. But they gave out after just one. It took a full minute and a half to get just four more.
At 3:30, I was finished with the second round of cleans, giving me a full minute and a half to perform…just three dips. Lesson learned: coming out blazing isn’t the best way to win a gunfight.
I planned to do Event 3—row/thrusters/pullups—on Saturday morning and Event 4—deadlifts, box jumps and handstand pushups—later in the afternoon, in spite of the intelligence coming out of Invictus suggesting just the opposite. My reasoning was that the moves in Event 3 are all strengths of mine, and therefore would not sufficiently weaken me before tackling so many handstand pushups, which I thought would take me at least twenty minutes to perform. (Last year, the same number took me 35:24.) And, as I suspected, I finished Event 3 in fine time (21:49), a number I did not think I could improve without linking many more pullups into larger sets than my hands can tolerate. I did not, however, anticipate finishing it with my energy so completely spent. Even after a long healthy lunch and a catnap on the floor of the gym, there was no way I could find the power in my limbs to make a good score on Event 4 on Saturday afternoon.
I spent Saturday night in a Korean spa in downtown Los Angeles. These bathhouses are a dime-a-dozen in Koreatown, and a unique and inexpensive luxury. First I baked in a hot mineral salt room, then reaped the metabolic benefits of the Yellow Ochre room. Next, I simmered in a pool of warm water, before being called to the scrub deck by my aesthetician/masseuse. For 90 minutes, she scrubbed, massaged, and oiled new life into my tired body. I left with skin glowing, but otherwise more drowsy than ever from the narcotic effect of sustained exposure to heat.
Sunday had always been planned as a rest day. Despite the fact that I had only two scores I was happy with, and it was tempting to hit the gym on Sunday so I didn’t have work right up until the deadline for scores submission on Monday at 5;00 PM, I honored my commitment (and the admonitions of coaches and fellow athletes) and rested. I started a new book, Natural Born Heroes, by Christopher McDougall. His previous book, Born to Run, changed contemporary thinking about running technique. This one is an exploration into lost fitness arts and human strength capacity. I am only about ¼ of the way through it, and already, my copy is filled with notations about new ideas to take up with my coaches. (I will share those adventures in upcoming blog posts)
I tackled Event 4 first thing on Monday morning in a gym filled with people doing their regular workout. The countdown clock signaled the familiar beeps: 3-2-1…go. I lifted the #105 bar and it seemed light as a feather. 21 unbroken reps in the deadlift. I did the same number of box jumps, stepping up, not jumping (which is allowed, and takes just about the same time, but uses far less energy). I wasn’t winded when I finished and moved to the wall for the handstands. I performed them in seven sets of three, and went up and down each time feeling graceful and confident, just like Maddy has taught me to. Before I knew it, my judge counted 21. I finished the whole event in slightly more than half the time I’d expected, at 9:42. There were high fives and hugs all around.
I came home for lunch and a short session on my e-stim machine for my triceps before returning to perform Event 1, the dips and cleans, for the second time. It was 4:30 p.m.. The deadline for scores submission was 5:00 p.m, but the event would only take five minutes to complete. Jessica timed me on the seconds between each dip, and I resisted the urge to string two together. But I followed my plan (and her cadence) precisely, and, with five seconds to go, I had executed the 45 repetitions I wanted. I ran back to the rings in the hope of getting just one more in, but time was up.
Jessica typed my scores into the Games website, as I was still too shaky to do so myself. Then we went for champagne, even though the results of the MQ would not be made official until Tuesday morning.
It was very hard to ignore the news coming from Nepal over the weekend, especially since I have so many Sherpa friends who live there and climbing friends making attempts on Everest and other mountains in the region this year. I spent as much time as I needed to find out that everyone I know is alive and safe (although two dear friends were trapped, but unharmed, in the Western Cwm on Everest after the route through the Khumbu Icefall collapsed).
Beyond the still-horrifying news and with body counts still mounting, thoughtful commentary is beginning to emerge. And none I have read is more eloquent than this one, written by Steve Casimiro, in the fine publication which he founded, Adventure Journal.
If you don’t have time to click through and read it in its entirety, I will quote just two paragraphs here:
“Adventure challenges us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It forces us to confront our greatest fears, it teaches us to draw upon our greatest strengths. It makes us suffer, it makes us doubt. It holds up a mirror that shows us our truest selves. And if we stay with adventure, if we set ourselves on a course of life is that is refreshed throughout our years with the joys of uncertainty and risk, these wonderful hallmarks of true adventure, then we become stronger, better, more flexible and more able.
And if we do this with other people, if we watch as they fail, get up, and succeed, if we support them and they support us and we get through our darkest nights and longest days, we make a connection that never truly dies. Bonds are only created through shared experience, and the more intimate the experience the greater the bond. The more you’re laid bare by the cold vagaries of the mountains or the seas or the desert, the more that intimacy can flow. And while anyone can be friends in good times, it’s in those crucibles of doubt and pain and survival that the deepest, strongest, most sustaining relationships are formed.”
As a climber, I recognize the relationships he describes; but I also recognize them as a competitor in the CrossFit Games. These are useless pursuits, earning nothing and contributing nothing to the practical pursuit of survival; yet they can help us feel connected. Not just connected to each other—though they do that, too—but connected to our best selves. It’s these connections that make enduring sorrow possible.
I’m glad to be heading into a week of rest, rejuvenation, and reflection. On coaches’ orders, I’m relinquishing the gym until next Monday. Besides hiking a little and taking some ocean swims, I will belatedly celebrate my 60th birthday this weekend. Starting next week, I’ll be focusing my all on the Games. And in each rep I’ll find gratitude for these muscles, these sinews, and this sweat.