Browsing Tag

competition

What’s Done

July 31, 2015
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In the Finals. Photographer Benjamin Brayfield.

Competing in the CrossFit Games was the hardest thing I have ever done (with all due respect to climbing Mt. Everest, and the emotional challenges which followed in its aftermath). Now that I have regained practical use of my hands and arms, I could write a book about my experiences during the last two years, culminating in those three days last week.

And over the course of several posts (to come), I will recount some of them here. But for now, a status report:

The day after (Friday), I slept until 2:00 PM. When I finally woke up, I was spatially disoriented (most noticeable when walking down the flight of stairs in my house—I clung to the railing—and driving), and I felt challenged to recall familiar words and names. My balance was off; my right ear ached inexplicably, and radiated shooting pain down the right side of my neck (an issue which persists, but seems to be diminishing). I had a big-time headache for four days. I broke out in hives on my lower back, upper arms, and neck. People have postulated heat stroke, PTSD, central nervous system breakdown, adrenal failure. I don’t know, and no symptoms have been so acute that I have been motivated to see a doctor. Besides, the “cure” for all of those conditions, as far as I know, is time and rest. So my instincts tell me to maintain the eating and sleeping routines I have practiced for the last 18 months, to stay home and putter, to coddle myself a little, and to reflect.

Everything hurt, a lot at first. The 80 deadlifts in “The Sandwich” (Event 6) on Thursday morning took a toll on my lower back muscles, and triggered a sympathetic reaction in my lower and upper body. The webs between my thumb and index fingers were ripped open, which happened during the 40 push presses before the deadlifts, and was exacerbated by subsequent events and shaking hands with so many people after the finals. But the pain has ebbed, hands healed, and today I woke up feeling nearly myself again.

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Crossing the line for a 2nd place finish in this event. Photographer Martina Paradiso.

And gratitude:

To Greg Glassman for his genius “invention,” the sport of CrossFit, and to Dave Castro for bringing authentic functional fitness into focus by organizing the CrossFit Games. And to the many volunteers who made this colossal production possible.

For the chance to meet and compete with some truly badass women: Rosalie Glenn, Bernadette Elliott, Mary Schwing (who respectively took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place), and the 16 other competitors in my division. Congratulations to you all.

For my coaches: Maddy Curley, Logan Gelbrach, Chris Hinshaw, Dusty Hyland, James McCoy, and Sean Waxman.

To my medical and nutritional consultants: Dr. Chris Renna and Chris Talley.

For my training partner, Games Coach, and friend Jessica Suver. We were together 5-6 days a week for the last three months, from morning until night, during which time we shared in many successes and breakthroughs, not to mention many laughs. She opened up her heart and mind to me during times when we were stuck in traffic between workouts, and we connected over our many other shared interests, including English Literature, our pets, fashion. The bonds we formed are sure to be the biggest and most enduring prize of this whole project.

My home gym: Paradiso CrossFit Venice, and the community of supportive, encouraging, enlightening, and inspiring members, too numerous to count, but you know who you are.

Two special friends in the gym: Matthew Walrath and Patrick Madaj, for all they did to support me through the Open and the Qualifiers rounds.

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My participation in the CrossFit Games was the result of many months of hard work and sacrifices. It was my goal to qualify for the CrossFit Games and coming in fourth place in my rookie year was a bonus. Once I qualified, it became my goal to place in the top five in every event. Four out of seven isn’t bad; I missed the podium by two points out of a possible 700.

Weaknesses: knowing how to compete, barbell cycling, consistently linked pull ups—both chin over bar and chest over bar.

My big dream move: one elegant muscle up. Stay tuned to learn my progress toward achieving it.

Strengths: endurance—always has been and always will be.

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Photographer Martina paradiso

What I know now: to be good at CrossFit, like anything where nothing less than excellence is the goal, you need to push yourself to uncomfortable places when you train. I cannot honestly say that I did that as often as I could have. This was due in part to the fact that I was busy learning essential skills that I did not possess just two years ago, like pull ups, weightlifting, and inversion work. But, in some measure, it was because I figured I could pull it out in competition (see “endurance” above) and didn’t need to go to that hurting place often in training.

The Games are more than just another workout. Take the last event, “Amanda,” which I did not finish in the allotted time. It consists of two moves, ring dips and #65 squat snatches, alternating in diminishing numbers over three rounds for a total of 9 dips and 21 snatches. In training, I do these numbers, if not more, at least twice a week. In the final round of competition, however, I could not link two dips, and that barbell felt like it weighed twice that. It is one thing to perform them in your old familiar gym with no one watching and quite another to be on center court with a judge at your side, and an announcer calling out your name (if you are ahead) or the names of others (if you are not) to a noisy crowd in a vast stadium.

Regrets: that the competitors did not have more time to meet and converse with other athletes. Not only the 19 other women in my division, but any one of the 340 other world class athletes who competed in the CrossFit Games this year. I will make it a point to reach out to some of them in the coming months and, if they allow it, will share some of their stories here (including other members of the 2015 Fourth Fittest Club, Samantha Briggs and Dan Bailey).

Immediate Plans: I am going camping this weekend. Nothing strenuous—just an hour outside of Los Angeles to a small lake with a group of friends and acquaintances. Looking forward to reconnecting with them and to making new friends after many months of abstention from a social life and communion with nature.

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After Event 7. Photographer Benjamin Brayfield.

Day Three

July 23, 2015

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As I did on every other day of the Games, I went to bed last night at 8:30 p.m., and I woke this morning at 4:00 a.m. Early to bed, early to rise—a schedule I’d been practicing for the two weeks before the Games started.

Today challenged me mentally. The first event, the Sandwich, doesn’t take much technical skill, but you have to be able to focus. I summoned all my determination to get through it, and I felt elated at my finish.

Then, to the final event—”Amanda”, which, for my age division consisted of alternating sets of ring dips and snatch squats. My arms were really, really tired, and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to hammer out the ring dips, even though I can usually string five in a row. What I didn’t expect was how much the change in venue effected me. We moved from the soccer stadium to the tennis stadium—an unfamiliar, more intimate space. The announcer sounded much louder, and the crowd felt closer. A more seasoned competitor might have been able to stay cool under the pressure, but it got to me. The skill I’m going to have to work on: composure.

Despite it all, I am thrilled at my finishing place. I knew that I wasn’t on the podium, but I was so locked in on just getting through all my reps that I had no idea what anyone else was doing. I reunited with my family when it was all over, and they told me: fourth place overall.

I came in to the Games in awe of the athletes I was about to compete against, and I leave with even more respect and admiration for them. I feel fortunate for those athletes I train with much of the time, most of whom are younger. But it was an honor and a pleasure to compete against athletes who are my peers in every way. I hope that we will stay connected in the coming months.

 

Day Two

July 22, 2015

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I woke up this morning feeling fresh, despite the effort of yesterday, and I entered the stadium energized. My training partner, Jessica, had looked at the grind of the Long Chipper and the time cap, and decided that it was unlikely that I, or anyone else for that matter, would make it to the sandbag run. So she came up with the idea of warming up backwards: a few minutes on the sandbags, just in case, and then wall ball, pull-ups, box jump, D-ball, then running.

As we finished the first circuit, I could feel what a difference the good coaching from Chris Hinshaw was making. My legs felt strong. And taking the steps reminded me of my daily routine: I live in a house taller than it is wide, three stories high, so taking stairs fast and in twos is something I do multiple times in a day, without even thinking about it. I guess that is the definition of functional fitness.

Coming to the end of the run in first place, I knew I had challenges in front of me. I felt well-prepared for the D-ball ground-to-shoulders, thanks to Logan at Deuce Gym, who taught me good technique (squat over the ball, straight arms, and hip kipping the lift) for picking up heavy balls and chucking them over my shoulders. Then I treated the box as a restful movement, a time to gather my breath.

I knew that the high pull-up bar would take it out of me. I can’t link many pull-ups yet, and each jump sapped a little more strength. I have the deepest respect for my competitors who were able to link them, which takes months of practice, and particularly for the one I spied out of the corner of my eye performing butterflies, which is a fast link, and one of the very hardest moves to master. Brava.

Afterward, I went to StretchLab, in Venice to prep for tomorrow morning. The therapist concentrated on shoulders, in anticipation for the morning’s overheads and the row.

As ever, I’m incredibly grateful to my training partner Jessica, who is generously, kindly, capably working as my coach for the Games (practically every Games-level athlete has someone working in this capacity). Her knowledge and experience in competing, something I’ve never done before, have been invaluable. She gives me sound advice, backup plans, pacing ideas, and plants positive images in my head before I leave the warm up area, and she has been my rock throughout.

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The judging standards at the Games are very precise: must touch the chess piece, move the block to a certain place, face a certain direction, touch a certain ball, etc. Facing the long and complex Long Chipper this morning, I was concerned I might make a small mistake that would cost me points. So I made up a wristband whiteboard to make sure I hit every mark.

Day One

July 21, 2015

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My day didn’t start out as well as I had hoped. I entered the soccer stadium feeling disoriented. During the chest-to-bar pull ups of the Triplet, the judge began to no rep me. Instead of becoming more resolute, I got flustered. I didn’t make the finish line by the cut off time of ten minutes.

In the Thruster, it happened again: the judge no repped me for not getting my hip crease below the knees. I disagreed with that call. But instead of letting that throw me off, I did it again.
And by the SQT, I felt collected and ready. During the sprint, the grass beneath my feet felt soothing after my months of track and pavement work. I moved through the event exactly as I’d practiced. Here’s hoping for the same tomorrow!

Becoming Your Best

July 17, 2015
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Photo by Paul A. Smith, Simply Perfection Photography, 2015

The message is everywhere: with the right shoes, the right watch, the right diet, and the right trainer, you can become anything you want to be. In the Age of Aspiration, where we all want to be the best, even hoping to transcend our physical limitations, all we need is the right equipment and the right attitude.

But can we? Can we be actually be more than ourselves? Or should we focus on being our own true selves, the best that we can be, thereby fulfilling our genetic potential? Indeed, each and every one of us is unique, born with the capability to realize our own genius. A few years ago, I decided that’s what I wanted: a chance to become the best that I could be.

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Up until now, I’ve sought challenge and fulfillment in physical exertion. From childhood, I wanted to push myself up mountains, ski down them, ride great distances on horseback. I wanted to do. When I looked at photos of men summiting Mt. Everest, their gender didn’t concern me, but the accomplishment inspired me. I wanted to be there, too.

I got there.

In the early 1990s, I set my goal: to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peak on each continent. Between 1992 and 1996, I traveled across the world and pushed myself past fatigue, past brutal weather extremes, past feet that looked like they’d been in a blender. I attempted Everest three times, and summited once. I knew and worked with some of the most talented mountaineers of the day, and I discovered the inner peace that comes with complete exhaustion.

Yet, as much as I met those challenges, I never felt like I was fully living up to what I could do. Then I discovered the sport of CrossFit and the CrossFit Games, the ultimate test of genetic potential, where players compete at the leading edge of every physical ability humans are made for: strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. To even make it on the field, to compete against dozens of other supremely talented women, would be a tremendous honor. So I embarked on this grand adventure, the quest to qualify for the Games, just to see where my genes would take me.

Photo by Paul A. Smith, Simply Perfection Photography, 2015

Photo by Paul A. Smith, Simply Perfection Photography, 2015

 

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I never participated in team sports when I was in school. Title IX didn’t come along until later, and girls didn’t typically play sports—they were encouraged to become cheerleaders. That didn’t interest me, so I found my outlet in the mountains, alone. That experience gave me strength, endurance, and a high threshold for pain: all advantages in CrossFit. But I had to learn—and am still learning—how to move efficiently and use my strengths in new ways. I needed to become flexible—both in muscles and mind—in a way I’d never done before.

I first started competing in CrossFit in 2012 . At first, I was solidly in the middle of the pack. But in 2013, I placed third in an All Master’s competition against a field of tough women. Standing on the podium was exhilarating, and I wanted more.

Eighteen months ago, I dedicated myself not only to competing but excelling as a player in the 2015 CrossFit Games. I put together a team of coaches, nutritionists, peers and trainers who advised me every step of the way. I wrote up a plan, I followed it (with a few minor tweaks). To my surprise, I advanced into the 60+ Division this year. And, in April, I qualified for the Games, which commence in three days.

In these 18 months, I’ve seen that anyone, with time and dedication, can meet his or her own potential. People who train for the CrossFit Games have varying skill sets and body types: some of us are tall and strong, others are small and agile. But we all work at the limit of our genetic abilities, and I’ve come to relish the feeling of hitting that mark, the ache of your body and mind stretching forward beyond what you ever thought possible.

I’ve realized that chasing a dream of being the perfect athlete, or the perfect body, is a fool’s errand. We can’t all become the ideal—whatever that ideal might be, in any given age—but we can all strive to be our own best selves, whether that’s to compete in the Games or to lift a weight you never thought possible or to run a mile faster than ever before. In my training, I’ve met many people who are reaching for their own personal bests in many different arenas. They aren’t all doing CrossFit, but they are all living up to their genetic potential. They are all inspiring.

On July 22, I will walk onto the field knowing that I am the very best athlete I can be. By doing so, I will have won the Games before they even begin. I am going into the competition in a state of “personal best”: never stronger, more nimble, faster, or skilled than I am right now.  And I will walk onto that field grateful—for all the support I have gotten these past few years, for the chance to stand among a field of my peers, and for the privilege of living a life that has allowed me to express my genetic potential.

Photo by Paul A. Smith, Simply Perfection Photography, 2015

Photo by Paul A. Smith, Simply Perfection Photography, 2015

Building Joy

July 8, 2015
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Untitled (your body is a battleground), Barbara Kruger, 1989

My many hours in the gym getting my body prepared for the Games—practicing techniques, building endurance, stretching and mobilizing my joints—are only one half of my work. As much as training is about pushing your body to the limits of its fitness, it’s also about mental strength and positivity: breaking the patterns of any negative thoughts that might hamper you and creating positive expectations for your performance. I used guided meditations from Invictus during the CrossFit Open and the Masters’ Qualifier, and I’ve continued the practice now.

My current focus is on the sheer volume of effort I’ve been putting in during these days of preparation for the Games. I am pushing myself up to and beyond the edge of exhaustion. I need to be able to approach my days with a smile on my face, with a sense that each repetition brings me more power, more energy, more fulfillment.

 

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Repeat after me, Barbara Kruger, 1985-94


To that end, I asked Heidi Fearon, one of the Invictus coaches, to create and record a meditation for me based on the “power of yes.” In it, she guides me toward what she calls “building your joy”—finding vitality and exuberance in my work. Every day, upon waking, I listen to her words.

“Breathe into your determination and enthusiasm. You’ve got this. You’re present and focused. Yes….You are open to the possibility of what is in this very moment, and that is….Yes…You are able to focus intently on the present moment, the moment of…Yes.”

Untitled (no), Barbara Kruger, 1985

Untitled (no), Barbara Kruger, 1985

 

 

Prep Work

May 29, 2015
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Rudolf II of Habsburg as Vertumnus. Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1590.



I love food. When I look at my fridge, I want to see pleasure, not obligation. Not antithetically, training also demands that I eat thoughtfully. I need to eat not only for taste, but for performance.

I follow a plan that ensures that I have energy when I need it, in balanced proportion (more or less 40% carb-30% protein-30% fat) without the sluggishness that follows a heavy meal (I eat about 1800 calories per day). But I’m often traveling between gyms during the day, which means I don’t have time to get home to prepare a sit-down lunch for myself. And my days are usually so packed that when I come home hangry, I won’t be forced to make a desperate choice, because what I need and want to eat will already be there waiting for me. I need good food, fast.

Local farmers’ markets take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Shopping at the Santa Monica farmers’ market is one of my greatest pleasures—a sensual and aesthetic abundance and a chance to talk with the farmers who grow my food and to meet up with friends who shop there, too. But for now, I use a service, Good Eggs, to shop for me, since I don’t have the time to do it myself. They drop off a cooler packed full of locally grown vegetables, fruit, and meat.

Thursdays and Sundays are my rest days, and a perfect time to think about my meals and prep them. This is what’s in my fridge for the next four days:

Thursday

Dinner:

  • Roasted Squab with morels, roasted broccoli and kabocha squash puree
  • Mara De Bois strawberries

Friday

Breakfast:

  • Halibut with braised collards and kale
  • Oatmeal with roasted plum jam

Pre-Training:

  • Bone broth
  • Carrots with sesame and cilantro

Post-training:

  • Roasted sweet potatoes and golden potatoes with Herbs de Provence
  • Braised beef short ribs with peach salsa

Dinner :

  • Opah with tarragon, roasted asparagus and sautéed English peas with lemon
  • Papaya

Saturday

Breakfast:

  • 4 eggs
  • Chicken patties with beet top pesto
  • Sautéed red cabbage with caraway seed, mustard seed, and champagne
  • Apple-cinnamon oatmeal

Pre-training:

  • Bone broth
  • Roasted Celery root with orange, cumin, and coriander

Post-training:

  • Baked sweet potato
  • Blackened Chicken breast
  • Nectarine

Dinner:

  • Duck breast with cara-cara orange glaze
  • Roasted purple cauliflower with balsamic and basil
  • Kiwi

 

Sunday

Breakfast:

  • Pork sausage, asparagus, zucchini, and broccoli saute
  • Oatmeal with almond paste and stewed blueberries

Lunch:

  • Bone broth
  • Roasted rutabaga with lemon zest
  • Chicken breast with chili sauce, cilantro, chives, lime, and basil with tomato
  • Roasted sweet potatoes with herb scented salt

Then I prep. Chopping, zesting, dicing, sautéing, and cooking everything I can: a working meditation. By mid-afternoon, I have a pleasingly stocked refrigerator, organized into labeled containers. In the following days, when I get home, mind and body fatigued past the ability to make decisions, dinner is ready. Voila.

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Time Again

May 17, 2015
The Alarm Clock.  Fernand Leger, 1918.

The Alarm Clock. Fernand Leger, 1918.

Time is on my mind. Measuring my performance by reps per minute, pacing my lifts so they start slow and finish fast, all in a matter of two elapsed seconds, noting the skills that need to be mastered before competition—is there enough time for me to master this? Time expands—when I’m working at my best, the ten seconds from setup to lockout in the deadlift feel like an hour—and contracts. Only three months until the Games.

In the gym, I’m constantly surrounded by time. The analogue clock on the wall, the countdown timer, my wristwatch, my timer app, a stopwatch: I use them all, sometimes simultaneously. I break hours into minutes, minutes into ten second intervals, those intervals into second-long movements. I turn my body into a metronome. The sound of my own breath keeps pace.

Whenever I lose myself in the physicality of time, I’m pulled back into the awareness that time equals achievement. Can I fit more pull-ups into a minute than I did last week? Can I shave time off my mile run before the Games? Even as time suspends during an intense workout, the countdown clock is ticking away in my mind.

L'horloge (The Clock).  Fernand Leger, 1918

L’horloge (The Clock). Fernand Leger, 1918

Claudia Hammond, in “Time Warped,” talks about the many ways in which we perceive time: “We construct the experience of time in our minds, so it follows that we are able to change the elements we find troubling — whether it’s trying to stop the years racing past, or speeding up time when we’re stuck in a queue, trying to live more in the present, or working out how long ago we last saw our old friends. Time can be a friend, but it can also be an enemy.”

The constraint to be the very best I can be on July 21—the day the 2015 CrossFit Games begin—could seem hostile and looming, but I actually find it exhilarating. Urgency makes every moment feel vital, which makes the days feel slower, more meaningful. I feel, as Joseph Campbell put it, “the rapture of being alive.”