After critical evaluation of Xterra 2018, I’m making a big change. Crossfit.
My training partner, whose talents and strengths I’ve admired for years, is a crossfit advocate. He’s actually a trainer but his expertise is partially based on his impressive weight loss of 100lbs. But that’s old news. He’s kept the weight off for several years. More recently he made a dramatic improvement at Canmore Xterra from 2017 to 2018. His remarkable improvement forced me to ask why – our training was more or less the same. Same volume, same type of running intervals, same bike training terrain – but he did a crossfit workout five times per week. I did calisthenics after every run, free weight training in my offseason and a HIIT workout every week, but nothing that resembled the intensity and group setting of crossfit. I was reluctant to join because of the competitive nature of the workouts, the lack of control over the setting and the idea that a “coach” could tell me what to do.
But after a reassuring chat with my partner, I signed up and decided to take his advice and “trust the process.” It’s been two weeks. The workouts range from racing to finish sets of weight-lifting sequences (push press, front squat, hang cleans, etc) to bodyweight workouts done for 30 minutes without rest (box jumps, situps, pullups, jump squats, etc.)
The music is always inexplicably loud, the workouts are relentless, the voice of my partner-now-coach saying “you can do it!” (“Can I?! How do you KNOW that?” my reluctant self silently seethes). Furthermore, there are whiteboards with lists of workouts and rankings of the gym members. All of this – the music, the bossy coach, the competitive squats and lifting – is incongruent with my usual style of training. I prefer to be alone, in silence, and with nothing but my heartrate monitor and a timer to compete with.
Working out isn’t new to me. I started going to the gym after school when I was 16. I researched and fanatically followed numerous strategies. Supersets, HIIT, eccentric (negative) movements, overload, rest days. I have boxes of notebooks and journals filled with fitness goals and plans; all of which I completed to the letter. Triathlon, Ironman70.3, cross-country ski races. Some I’ve excelled at, two I’ve won, several I’ve come in last and many I’ve finished in the middle of the pack. The results are always different, but the common thread is strict adherence to training plans. But always alone. Other people irritate me and after the first workout, my crossfit companions were no exception.
But, with the exception of a 50km Xcountry ski race and a small local triathlon, I don’t win. Solitary training probably has something to do with this. The winners of the big races are often running in packs. Second and third place contenders nip at the heels of the winners. It’s that kind of pressure and annoyance that I hate and the reason why I train alone. I dislike hearing other people’s heavy breathing, smelling their sweat, listen to their swearing or cries of jubilation, acknowledging their opinions. All of it. But if I want to win, I need to embrace that pressure. Embrace the annoying other people and maybe even listen to them sometimes.
Right away at crossfit, I saw it’s the competitive edge that keeps everyone working. It’s the group mentality. “If they’re doing it, then so can I.” Even if I don’t want to, even if it hurts, even if it seems impossible (TEN pullups?!). Because training to win means embracing the pain, accepting the other people, recognizing that a “coach” might contribute useful new suggestions and doing it all in the midst of a group. Racing a triathlon is not a solitary activity. Neither is crossfit.
Every race I enter is a big goal. At crossfit, each workout is a mini goal. Start where you are, work hard and see it through to completion. Some of it’s annoying, some of it is loud, some of it isn’t how I would coach myself. But in order to improve, I need to train my weakest skills. Crossfit challenges even the most reluctant competitors. Its magic is the combination of stuff I don’t want to do (Olympic weightlifting, sprinting) and stuff that I love (box jumps, body weight training). It’s the amalgamation of favourite and least-favourite that generates the strongest training plan. I’ll never improve in triathlon if I only train the stuff I love (long distance runs) and never do the stuff I hate (swim sprints), but to excel, the focus has to be equally divided between both.
My incredibly inspiring training partner said this:
“The only piece of advice I can give is to embrace the suck. I think it’s become pretty routine at Just Fitness to see me lying on the ground in a sweaty, exhausted heap after a workout. That’s because every time, before we start, the last thing I say to myself is to make sure this hurts, because there’s no easy way to meet your goals. You gotta fall in love with the grind.”
He happens to love team sports and having workout partners. So for him, “the suck,” is something entirely different than what I’m explaining. But the sentiment is the same. In order to improve, you’ve gotta train what you don’t want to. You’ve gotta have a well-rounded training plan. You’ve gotta fall in love with the whole process. Crossfit. It sucks for stubborn training loners like me, but the benefit is learning how to compete and excel in spite of the other people.