Apr 012014
Pulling 275 for 15 reps almost killed me. And I never felt better.

Pulling 275 for 15 reps almost killed me. And I never felt better.

14.1 nearly broke my left foot.

14.2 damaged my confidence.

14.3 landed me in the hospital with exertional headaches.

14.4 ripped open both of my hands.

14.5 beat me down for more than twenty-six minutes, and left my arms nearly inoperable for four days.

And I can’t wait to do it all again.

My rookie season of the CrossFit Open has drawn to a close. It was five weeks of nail-biting anticipation, brutal punishment, personal triumph, and soul-crushing struggle. I simultaneously performed better than expected and worse than I hoped. I was able to post a score for all five workouts, which is a huge victory in itself. I also found that I have huge gaps in my skills that are impossible to mask with any amount of strength or hard work.

Trying for dubs. Sometimes, even getting them.

Trying for dubs. Sometimes, even getting them.

The final tally shows that I finished 4188th out of 4494 men in my region who submitted a score for all five workouts, and ahead of some hundreds more who didn’t, or couldn’t complete them all. It is not a spectacular result, but it is a result, and that is spectacular in its own way. Given that I only started CrossFit a few months ago, finishing at all is an accomplishment. Come to think of it, given the nature of the workouts this year, finishing is an accomplishment for just about everybody.

In a way, I’m glad that it’s over. Glad that I can get back to some goal work and some “regular” workouts. Glad that I don’t have to listen to Dave Castro’s smugness or that announcer’s screaming, overdramatic athlete introductions (seriously, that guy’s gotta go). Glad that I can take the time to work on some skills again, instead of just pounding through the best I can with what I’ve got.

Now that it’s over, how do I feel about how I’ve done? In a word, unsatisfied. Don’t misunderstand, I did as well as I could. I put in a maximum effort on each workout. But I made some mistakes, and I’m missing some skills, and down on some strengths that I know I’ll have in a few more months. A study of the leaderboard shows that with just a little more work on those skills, I could move up hundreds of places. The game of what-if is irresistible.

Adam has an impressive snatch.

Adam has an impressive snatch.

Unexpectedly, I had as much fun judging as I did competing. There is an intense intimacy between athlete and judge for those few minutes of a performance. While it isn’t the judge’s role to cheer on the athlete, all of their focus and energy is directed at the athlete’s success. The effect is nearly tangible, and when they are finished, you feel as if you shared in their triumph, in a small way. And it has nothing to do with the relative skill of the athlete. I was as enriched by judging some of the our beginners as by the elite athletes at our gym.

There has been no small amount of controversy surrounding this year’s Open workouts. The Open is pitched by CrossFit corporate and at boxes around the world as the “Games for the rest of us,” but this year’s barriers to entry were pretty high. There were several movements required for this year (double unders, overhead squat, toes to bar)  requiring skills that a whole lot of the rank and file simply don’t have.

My mustache is sort of the opposite of Samson's hair.

My mustache is sort of the opposite of Samson’s hair.

One workout required the use of a rower, which is expensive enough that most boxes only have a few, and nobody has in their home gym. One of the founding concepts of the Open was supposed to be that anybody, anywhere, with a minimum of equipment, could compete, regardless of their access to a CrossFit gym. This year, that was plainly not the case.

The athletes felt overwhelmed. The affiliate owners felt betrayed. And then we all muttered something about Dave Castro’s mother under our breath, laced up our shoes, and did it anyway.

Where the 2014 CrossFit Open succeeded was the same place all previous editions did: with the community of athletes. We came together as teams, put out efforts that were beyond what we thought possible, and pushed ourselves well outside our comfort zone. For a collection of people who do something as randomized and intense as CrossFit, that last bit is really saying something.

Chicks dig strong dudes. Fact.

Chicks dig strong dudes. Fact.

The enduring images I will take away from my first Open experience will not be of Rich Froning and Sam Briggs, hammering out in less than 8 minutes what takes us mortals at least 18. I will remember Mike, laughing at himself between reps of toes-to-bar. I’ll remember Julie, hoisting an impossibly heavy bar over her head for one thruster at a time, chipping away at it until she finished. I’ll remember Adam, power cleaning so hard that I thought he was going to die. I’ll remember Katie, digging deep for those last two sets to finish strong. And I’ll remember all the clapping, and fist bumping, and cheering, and the commiserating over huge plates of food when each workout was over.

And I’ll be back, to find out how much stronger I can be.