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Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Jomad’s Year in Review

In General on December 31, 2012 at 12:08 am

Well! You knew this post was coming– the obligatory, reflective/anticipatory New Year’s post. In recent years, I’ve always been surprised by how quickly time passes. True, this year was more trying than most and there were days that seemed interminable, but after meeting my deadlines and slogging through the rougher days, I still recall the months as a whirlwind. It seems life is moving so quickly now that all I can do is cling tightly, spin my legs against the ground as it rolls beneath me, and pray I don’t fall over.

For me, highlights of 2012 include:

– Finishing my MFA– not just for my own sake, but the profoundly fulfilling experience of seeing how all the writers of my class had grown in our two brief years together

– “Completing” my novel (who’s to say when it’ll really be finished)

– Publishing with a few small journals that I really respect. I still don’t have words for my overwhelming gratitude when others see value in my work.

– Two very memorable weeks in Taiwan, during which I had some of my first real conversations with some members of my family

– Somehow lucking into a truly generous PhD adviser (hopefully) who seems genuinely enthusiastic about my interests

– Accumulating a few new friendships that I’d like to keep for the long haul

– Participating in my first (and hopefully not last) powerlifting meet (many thanks to Jefe for letting me tag along, and Squatsalot for making it a significantly less daunting experience)

– Catching up with some friends from my past, and restoring my confidence that there are some friendships I’ll never lose, regardless of distance or time

– Spending quality time with my family– in new cities and old ones

– Teaching some very talented young writers

– Figuring out that this PhD thing is something I want to do, despite how much I whine, despite how foreign and strange the world still seems sometimes, despite how strangely exhausting it is most some weeks

– Going off (and staying off) my IBS medication

– Discovering the wonderful world of heated blankets. And space heaters. And heated blankets.

– Something sort of silly, but… finding the courage to trust new people, to forge new bonds that will last. It was harder for me than I would have ever guessed… but thank god for stubborn friends, and beautifully accepting ones, and ones whose crazies balance out my own crazy.


In 2013, I hope to:

– Take my last classes as a student, ever.

– Figure out what the hell “comps” are and what I’m supposed to do to prepare to take them

– Teach a life-changing (or just really awesome) creative writing class

– Continue writing creatively, somehow, between the PhD work

– Figure out why Kenneth Burke is so damn important

– Travel somewhere for the sake of leisure

– Cry less, laugh more, learn to do that newfangled relaxing thing that people talk about

– Become a CrossFit coach

That last one will be a difficult one, I know. But I’m acquainted with difficult– I just hope I can rise to meet the challenge. In terms of training, that’s what I’d like to keep my thoughts on as a CrossFitter… what would make me a better coach, what would make me someone worth trusting. After much dithering, I took a deep breath and registered for my Level 1. It’s an investment I’ve been saving for and have wanted to make for a year and a half now– I just worry that it’ll be for nothing, that I’ll fall short. That I’ll fail. But…. we know I spend too much time worrying and I want to¬† will channel that energy into actually doing.

What about you all? Any big goals for the coming year?

Happy New Year. Stay safe, drink responsibly, and live– damn it, LIVE! ūüėČ

Expanding CrossFit

In Training, WOD on December 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I’ve been following a few conversations by CrossFit gym owners who’ve recently noticed a rate of attrition in boxes that offer purely CrossFit-type programming. The topic also came up in the most recent Paleo Solution podcast. Though I don’t always agree with Robb and Greg’s opinions, I do enjoy them and they’re well-educated in their respective fields. Anyway, the phenomenon that concerns some CrossFit gym owners is that they notice– while CrossFit is wonderful at being flashy and attracting hordes of new members– a lot of more experienced, more capable athletes drop off the box’s regular program after a while. Unfortunately, this kind of makes sense to me… We know that I was (/still am) a metcon addict for my entire first year of CrossFit. I probably ¬†definitely still grow irritable and unfit for human contact if I go too long without a good WOD. But… intense WODs for six days a week gets not only exhausting, it starts to feel aimless. This explains why a lot of boxes now program in blocks (as ours has begun) in order to give more of an overarching structure for return clients. CrossFit athletes pay upwards of $100-$150 per month for their memberships. Reason would suggest that these aren’t the casual weekend warriors looking for a good, randomized sweat once a week. They’re paying for the guidance and direction of a well-thought-out program that will progress them towards their physical/health-oriented goals.

I think that’s also the reason why larger boxes such as CrossFit East Valley offer a wider array of classes than just the standard daily metcon. I didn’t get a chance to elaborate much on this in my last post, but I was very impressed by the amount of separate, focused courses they had– running, rowing, olympic lifting and power lifting, etc. There’s been talk at our own gym about offering a few more focused classes, and I’m really excited about this. The Oly class that I attended at CFEV was two-hours long, but it had an entirely different feel than the usual CrossFit class. There was structure– the athletes had a set of lifts and technique drills they needed to perform (think something closer to catalyst athletics’ programming) with snatch pulls, then full snatches, clean pulls, then cleans. Afterwards, there was a strength component with back squats, and finally a power/supplementary component with box jumps. Because lifting necessitates a much less… frantic pace than traditional CrossFit, the athletes took appropriate rest periods, they chatted without losing too much concentration, they had coaches critique their form rather than rushing from rep to rep. The class warmed-up together and did their box jumps together, and still communicated between working sets, so it didn’t lose any of that community-feel we so highly value in CrossFit, but it also allowed them more focused skill work as an alternative to the conventional WOD.

It’s for this reason that I also value gyms that provide open gym hours– not haphazard open gym hours where people come in and screw around with the equipment, but hours during which coaches are available for questions and during which athletes may work on their weaknesses or on developing their particular interests. It’s a lot to ask of a gym to open its doors and provide space, equipment, and attention for people who may or may not show up… but provided that there’s a demand for it, and that athletes take advantage of it, it does wonders for the development of the CrossFitter. Everyone’s needs are individualized in more ways than the 5-day-a-week generic class setting can typically address, and the availability of open gym hours acknowledges that and allows those who care about self-improvement to work in their own time.

I know we’re spoiled by the amount of open gym hours we have a LionHeart, but I’m still disappointed by the amount of CrossFit gyms that have¬†no open gym hours. I was pleasantly surprised to find that EVCF not only had open gym, but allowed wayward drop-ins such as the wandering Jo to stop by. So I paid by second visit to EVCF and worked on my cleans (all technique I’m afraid… even 90lbs felt absurdly heavy after not touching bumper plates for a week) and did a quick WOD with kettlebell swings and burpees– mostly just taking advantage of equipment I can’t access at LA fitness.

Anyway, I think one of the best things that ¬†CrossFit has to offer is that it’s made fitness accessible and¬†fun.¬†Its format has turned something that used to be isolating into something communal and (if you want) competitive. I’m reminded of this every time I walk into LA fitness, beside the resigned patrons with their heads down, trudging their way to the treadmill where they’ll plod away for 60 minutes as if this were their daily penance. If you think about it, CrossFit introduces so many people to new ways of achieving fitness… even at our own gym– Zebrapants was a lifelong athlete before he ever trained with us, but he’d never heard of a clean before starting CrossFit and just yesterday he posted a video of a 255lb clean-to-thruster (yes what a showoff…) With my summers, I used to trudge alongside the LA Fitness zombies for preacher-curl day and long-slow-treadmill day. Now I’m the weirdo absconding with the bench press bar so I can do a clean-and-jerk/burpee ladder in the empty racquetball court. With this in mind, I’d like to think more about what CrossFit– and CrossFit gyms, trainers, affiliate owners, etc– can offer people beyond the daily metcon (which will of course remain central to the CrossFit universe). I just think that, if we introduce individuals to things like olympic lifting or powerlifting, why can we not also introduce people to better quality work in those areas? Why not Olympic lifting sessions that hone technique and form, or committed powerlifting programs for people who want to focus on strength gains? Or an endurance class for people who CrossFit to supplement their marathon goals? Of course, these expansions necessitate gyms with the funding and staff capable of supporting such ideals… but I’d be excited to see CrossFit bring its spirit, its enthusiasm, its mutual encouragement and support, and its adventurousness to modes of exercise beyond the traditional metcon.

Just food for thought.

Hope you’re all enjoying the holidays!

P.S. Just for fun, here are some shots of EVCF:

East Valley CrossFit

In Training on December 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm

I’m beginning to understand just how much you can gauge about a new gym from a drop-in day. Today, I had the good fortune of visiting East Valley CrossFit in AZ, and I was completely blown away. First off, the facilities are a homesick CrossFitter’s wet dream– fully decked out Rogue rig, a host of Oly-lifting platforms, bumper plates, kettlebells, ropes, plyo boxes, rowers– all the goodies, all neatly arrayed. More telling, however, was the behavior of the coaches. For me, it speaks volumes of a gym’s integrity if the coaches pay attention to their drop-in visitors, even if these people won’t be a huge source of income, even if these people might only be around for a day or two. This attitude shows that 1) these coaches actually care about their jobs as individuals responsible for the safety and well-being of those in their gym, and 2) these coaches give a damn about you as a human being even if you’re not one of their normal members.

East Valley CrossFit actually has a wide range of specialty classes– from kettlebells to rowing, running, Olympic lifting, and something called “Romanian conditioning” that piqued my interest. With my own fixation on my Olympic lifting weakness, however, I knew I wanted to at least make it to an Oly class with my limited time here in Az. The coaching staff at EVCF includes 7 USA Weightlifting Level 1 coaches. You can read more about the myriad accomplishments of their many weightlifting coaches here.

Anyway, I was one of three visiting members and I expected to just be heaped into the crowd and left to my own devices, as I often am in drop-in situations. But the coaches actually separated us and worked with us individually on technique. This meant going back to the very basics of the snatch, down to PVC drills with snatch pulls– which was actually perfect for me because in my hurry to¬†learn all the things and¬†lift all the weights, I really think I skipped too quickly through the basic introductory movements of the Olympic movements… and we all know I have trouble slowing down.

Some differences here: they taught us to keep our weight on the¬†mid-foot¬†rather than the heel with an emphasis of keeping the shoulders over the bar on its way up. Additionally (Coach) Alex pinpointed something about my pull that I never noticed– my legs extend too much before the bar reaches my hips, meaning I have no leg drive by the third pull. It’s something I’d like to slow down and work with light weight more when I get back to the box. Also, I need to begin videotaping my movements, as much as I don’t want to see how ugly they look :p

Anyway, it was really enlightening to see how another box teaches the most notoriously complex of CrossFit movements. And, my favorite thing about EVCF– it’s the first box I’ve visited that has truly the “community” feel that reminds me of my own home gym. The coaches and members all seem very familiar with one another, and they treat each other with that perfect mix of facetious derision and respect. Even better– they’re quick to embrace drop-in Jo’s as one of their own.

I really hope I have the chance to make it back before I leave town. One of the many things about staying at home that clashes with my OCD is that I can never get a handle on my family/friends’ itinerary and I’m constantly ambushed with last-minute obligations for which I did not plan.

But thanks again to the wonderful community at EVCF– I think I’ve found my new home base for all the many future visits I’ll have in Phoenix.

The Disappearing Bench Bar: A Holiday Story

In General on December 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm

So this happened…

The Wandering Jomad meandered her way southwest for the holidays and found herself once again resorting to the local LA fitness for her CrossFit fix. In the past, this LA fitness has been generally harmless, if populated with walking stereotypes of cardio bunnies and, their male correlative bodybuilder types. This morning, Jo woke up and wandered into said LA Fitness prepared for an easy day of dynamic effort lifting. She’s already made peace with the fact that LA Fitness will not have chains to¬†accommodate¬†her weighted benches, nor does it have a single unencumbered bar on which to kip. Nor does it have rings, boxes, kettlebells, ropes, bumper plates, or anything fun. It does, however, have heavy objects… and Jo needed to lift some moderately heavy objects, and was prepared to do so.

As Jo leaned back onto her bench, though, for her first warm-up set, she reached up for the bar to find that it had disappeared. When she sat back up, she saw a walking cinderblock on twig legs (henceforth referred to as Man Who Skips Leg DayРMWSLD) tottering off with her bar. Jo sat, entirely baffled as MWSLD proceeded his own warm-up set of vigorous bicep curls in the squat rack with such enthusiasm that his whole, top-heavy physique rocked off its heels with each pump of his arms. Yes, dear readers, rest assured, Man Who Skips Leg Day does not curl like a pussy.

When a stunned Jo finally recovered her voice, she approached MWSLD.

“Excuse me,” she said, trying best she could to repress the inner voice screaming¬†SMASH ALL THE THINGS¬†against the melody of Justin Beiber or Katy Perry or whatever poppish nuisance seeped from the overhead speakers… “Did you just take the bar from my bench?”

“Oh,” MWSLD looked unabashed. “I thought you were just doing abs.”

Jo must have looked even more confused because he gestured back towards the benches where, indeed, a twenty-some girl in spandex was doing knee raises on one of the bench presses.

“No, I was actually going to bench press,” Jo explained, still shushing the raging, cursing HulkJo in her brain.


“Could I have my bar back?”

“Yeah.” At least MWSLD was kind enough to want to walk the bar back to the bench press. However, pride told Jo to take the bar herself.

“Thanks, but I got it.” Jo stopped the man several stick-legged paces away and muscle cleaned the bar to a front-rack position. “But if you’re just doing bi’s and tri’s, you might want to leave the squat rack for someone who needs it to lift heavy.”

By the time Jo looked back, MWSLD had found another bar and was– in fact– still warming up in the squat rack. But she left well enough alone; she’d retrieved her own bar and proceeded to bench in peace.

Those Who Teach…

In General, Training on December 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Thank you all for bearing with my silence. As you can probably guess, I’ve had a demanding end-of-semester, though it’s beginning to wind down. I’m told that 3 seminar papers is an unusual workload, so I’m hoping this is the first and last time I’ll have to do that all at once. Really, I failed to strategize my course selection and managed to stack together three very high-stakes classes in which I could afford no performance slippage. The final papers, however, have been completed and sent off with a lot of prayers, so I hope that’s enough. This will be a bit of a meandering reflective post… so I beg your patience.

I’ve been thinking about my goals lately– in CrossFit and in life. Predictably, I struggle in finding balance. I want to do everything well. I want to give 110% of myself to everything… Because academia and CrossFit are both addictive and consuming in their very different ways, sometimes I feel divided and crazy when I try to do too much… when I feel guilty about committing myself too much to one thing and allowing the other to slip. But the thing is– I need both in my life. Maybe not academia the institution or CrossFit the specific sport… but I need mental and physical stimulus, constantly. I need a community of writers, I need critical engagement with language and texts, I need to feel in tune with my body, I need to move out of my desk and exert myself in ways that clear my head. I just need to find a way to reconcile the two.

Here’s what I know about myself, if I evaluate myself honestly: I’m an uncoordinated, often incompetent athlete with a decent deadlift and the masochism to make it through (and enjoy) long WODs. I’m a capable writer (most of the time). I’m a tentative scholar who is slowly discovering that she¬†does have contributions to make to current conversations– at least I hope so. I’m an ardent teacher, and I would lose all my time to my students if my paycheck didn’t actually depend on the work I did¬†outside¬†my teaching (the strange contradictions of academia). That impulse to teach, to share what I’ve learned, to help where I can, is something that compels me both in the classroom and at the gym. I still believe it’s possible– I can be a writer/writing instructor/CrossFit coach. But I have to keep my individual objectives in mind.

I’ve been trying to maintain an active presence in the CrossFit interwebs because I like the community and how open it is, and also because I think I can learn a lot from the individuals out there. In the process, I read a lot of blogs and training logs by different athletes. With the games drawing near, I see everyone’s competitive spirits coming out. That’s good and bad. I admire the passion these athletes have– some of whom are genuinely Games-hopefuls, others of whom are garage warriors that are beating themselves up over WOD times that will never be competitive and I wonder… is it worth it? It’s easy for me to get swept up by the energy of it all– to want to kill it in every WOD and to feel crushed again and again when I know I just can’t hold up to the many athletes out there who are and always will be stronger, faster, more talented. But in these moments, I’m trying to remember– my end-game is different than theirs. I have no aspiration to stand atop a podium. I don’t want medals or championship titles. I want to be a coach because I love this community, I love what this sport can do for people– how it empowers them in body and mind. I live for those wonderful, small moments when someone gets her first pull-up, or hits a clean PR, or finishes her first-ever mile run. My favorite memories don’t involve finishing the WOD first, but rather, those times after I’ve finished, when I could drop back down and complete a last round of burpees alongside the “slowest” athlete, who looks about to throw in the towel.

So here’s the thing… I want to think about my training a little differently. I’m not trying to lift the most weight or run the fastest mile. I’ll never get there, and I wouldn’t particularly love it if I did. I just want to do it to the best of my ability, with the most integrity– because that’s what you should admire in a coach, right? Instead of doing the WOD fastest or for the most rounds, I should be thinking about doing it with good form. It’s a fine line, though, because I know there’s a certain social capital in being “flashy.” The Firebreather is accorded automatic respect for how much weight he can throw overhead, for the muscleups he strings together without breaking a sweat. I really enjoyed this recent post ¬†by Justin Lescek (of 70’s Big). Basically, he points out how we tend to flock to gifted athletes for advice even though some of the world’s best coaches aren’t athletes and some of the best athletes are awful coaches. (We see this in academia too… some of the writers I most admire are just really disappointing writing instructors). I actually think there’s a reason for this… the truly gifted are freaks of nature– they’re anomalies. Their experience may not help because no one else’s body will respond like theirs. If most people obeyed the Rich Froning training plan (and trust me, I see plenty on the CrossFit forums who try), they would burn out within a few weeks. Now, that’s not to say that the gifted athlete can’t step back and understand his own eccentricities and then become an extraordinary coach by adapting to the individual needs of each trainee (I have the fortune of working with such individuals)… but that doesn’t always happen. The reverse is also true. I don’t have to be able to clean 250lbs, to be able to observe when someone’s hips don’t fully extend before he drops. I don’t need to squat 500 before designing a training plan that can get someone with the physical potential to do so to fulfill that potential. Of course, there is value in experience– and that’s part of why I’ve been more experimental in my training– trying brute-force linear progressions, the many Westside variations, more traditional metcon routines, etc… learning what works and what doesn’t– but my own experience may still vary from that of anyone else, and the value of that experience is in the knowledge that I can offer a new athlete. I don’t need to be able to say “squat 5×5, three times a week because I did it and it made me a squatting monster.” Instead, I want to be able to tell someone, “Well, the Starting Strength method works like this, but is only recommended if you abstain from most conditioning work… Wendler’s 5/3/1 model¬†accommodates¬†CrossFit well because it’s lower volume and easy to follow, but it’s also better for intermediate lifters,” etc.

So… with those goals in mind… basically, I want to be the best athlete¬†I can be without comparing myself to the firebreathers out there because that will drive me crazy and is not actually what I’m trying to do. I think it’s much more respectable if I make sure my chin undoubtedly clears the bar every time I do a pull-up than if I have a 25-round Cindy and fudge all the reps. Don’t get me wrong– I’m still going to try to become the best CrossFitter I can become, but for me that means… movement integrity before speed, mindfulness before competition. There are phenomenal coaches who are outstanding, Games-level competitors, but I don’t intend to be one of those. I will feel much better no-repping an athlete if I know that I hold myself to the same standards, whether or not it means my time is slower than his, whether or not it cuts a few rounds off my score.

I have a lot of respect for Stephanie Vincent, who coaches at CrossFit King of Prussia and writes her own blog, Radical Hateloss. She has a truly wonderful article for the¬†CrossFit Journal, titled “Coaching Fitness From Scratch”– if you have the time, I really recommend it. She undertakes a thorough discussion of scaling as someone who has required a lot of scaling in her life. If I interpret the article correctly, I think Vincent still can’t do prescribed pull-ups. And she’s a coach– and a damned good one too, based on the comments on her blog and CrossFit KOP’s facebook. I love the perspective she brings to the topic of scaling– that it’s actually a mechanism through which we can treat our athletes equally– so that we can be equally demanding of “unfit” members. It’s not patronizing to ask someone to use a band so that he can get the full range-of-motion on his pull-ups rather than continuing to jump up and kick around until his forehead nears the bar. The band is enabling. It allows him to get the full benefit of the workout– to push his body harder, to teach it the right muscle memory so he will have it when his strength gets there… and it is the job of the coach to help him see that. I also love the really creative scaling options that Vincent gives– such as incline push-ups rather than knee-push ups, or banded knees-to-elbows rather than knees-to-anything.

I guess it’s a silly, nitpicking detail, but I think the change I’m trying to articulate is that I want to shift my mindset from CrossFitter-in-training, to CrossFit-coach-in-training. What will make me someone worth listening to and learning from– a 3 minute Fran or the discipline to make sure I break depth on every thruster? Of course, I absolutely see the value in being a competent athlete and still aspire to do so. I eventually want to participate in a few local competitions, even, for the experience, to further engage with the community and add to the knowledge base from which I can draw… I want a sub-4:00 Fran and a 1.5x bodyweight back squat. But I want to get there with my eye on the larger goal– It’s more important to me to foster the community atmosphere, to encourage all members regardless of skill levels to set and fulfill their individual goals, to learn from the gifted athletes and trainers around me, to focus on my integrity of form, to remain patient patience and an aware that ultimately my WODtimes aren’t what’s going to make me a good coach.

If this sounds a little repetitive, it’s probably because I’m just trying to remind myself. I really do get swept up in the competition fever and start to feel down about myself for not being faster, stronger now. But ultimately that wouldn’t get me where I want to go anyway, so really… I need to focus on me. On being someone worth trusting with your health and well-being. And requires so much more than a beastly squat– as much as I want that too ūüôā

Hope everyone else is doing well. Good luck to those with finals and other end-of-semester stresses. The holidays draw near– may they bring you much love and comfort.

Strength and Endurance: Can it be done?

In General, Training, WOD on December 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Prepare yourselves. I have a shocking announcement. Sit down, have a Nor-Cal Margarita, take a deep breath. Ready? Okay.

I think I’m burnt out on WODs.

… I know, right?

I know I WOD more often than most people, and that I’ve been a metcon addict for well over a year now, but the day has finally come that I’m aching for something a little different. Now, I’m¬†not sick of training, and definitely not sick of CrossFit. I’m just hungry for something¬†more than randomized workouts. After the announcement of the 2013 Games date¬†, competitive gyms all around the country have ramped up their Games-specific programming. Competitor’s WOD, whose programming (by Ben Bergeron) I admire, has started its “Goat Training” phase– aka “target your weaknesses.” In fact, Bergeron posted his Goat Training Template just a few days ago. Bergeron pinpoints what we all love and hate about CrossFit: “The idea is to be good at everything, great at one or two things, and suck at nothing.” This is a sport that tolerates no weaknesses.

We know I’m not a Games hopeful– nor do I aspire to be one. But I do aspire to be a well-rounded athlete, which is one of the many reasons that I enjoy CrossFit so much. I began with a strength-focus about a year ago because that was my greatest weakness, but now I feel I’ve almost become lopsided in the opposite direction (not that I’m a strength beast by any means). By these strength standards, my bench and press fall under the “advanced” category, my deadlift is “elite”, ¬†my squat is (alas) intermediate, and my clean is just short of advanced. My hard numbers are still lower than I’d like them to be, but by now I think that means I just need to become a larger person (peanut butter, steak, and potatoes, yeah?)… and hopefully my lifts will go up proportionally. Meanwhile, however, my endurance has become deplorable.

The strange thing is, I¬†think I should be decent endurance athlete. I’m very good at¬†not stopping. In fact, that was my single asset when I started CrossFit– I embraced the suck. I lived for it. But, I’ve become pretty crappy at sustaining that intensity these days. I’ve cut my 100m sprint time by 3 seconds in the past few months, which I’d like to think is a big deal considering that 100m sprints are measured by fractions of a minute… but my 400m is still well above 60 seconds. (I think somewhere around a 1:15… more often 1:20). It seems that I recover slowly even for lifting. I need to take closer to 4-5 minute breaks between max effort lifts as opposed to the minimum 3…

But alas strength and endurance are often posited as opposing goals when it comes to fitness. Yet, it must be¬†possible. I’m surrounded by athletes that are supremely gifted in both domains. Recently, I came across this article¬†by Alex Viada– an Ironman finisher and triathlete coach with an elite powerlifting total. Being the geek that I am, I love it when anyone explains his thought process. I don’t just want to know what to do, I want to know why I’m doing it.

Viada’s program is geared towards someone training for a longer-distance race. While I admire marathoners, I don’t think I’ll ever be one… I much prefer the thrill of short sprints or the meditative calm of heavy lifts. I¬†am, however, interested in building my endurance– I just don’t need 26.2 miles of it. So, being the research-freak that I am, I contacted Alex.

I hesitate to call myself a self-made athlete because, though I’ve built a knowledge base from obsessive research and so much trial and even more error, I owe a lot of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown to a handful of much more experienced and very generous friends. I’ve also found that the fitness community is just so welcoming and willing to help. Alex wrote back and answered my questions about what to do for form drills and how I should think about distance if my goals are to become a better CrossFitter. While we both agree that CrossFit distances rarely demand more than a mile, Alex recommends over-distance training– since the sport requires you to do things beyond the mile you just finished, it’s useful to have something left in the tank. So for “long, slow distance,” he suggests that I fluctuate between 1.75-3 miles and tinker with speed and intensity depending on the intensity of my other workouts during the week. He also recommends shortening my recovery times during my sprint intervals– which is… a really good idea that I also dread. One of my favorite go-to workouts is 100m repeats. But I walk back the full 100m to allow for full recovery. I’m pretty sure I’ll suck at them with a reduced recovery time, but I think that may also help me push through WODs.

Here’s my problem: I’m terrible at training via WOD-ing. If my only goal were to burn calories while having fun, WODs would be perfect… but the same intensity that pushes me through each WOD also means that I sacrifice a lot in favor of beating the clock. I was thinking about this last Saturday, during a WOD with toes-to-bar. I can actually link my kips in toes-to-bar– I figured it out about two months ago and can do it consistently on my pull-up bar at home. I have never, however, successfully linked my kips during a WOD because 1) at that point, I’m fatigued enough and my endurance sucks enough that I can’t quite manage that strength and coordination, and 2) I’m stubborn enough that I’d rather crank them out 1-2 at a time so that I’m working-out while everyone else is working-out… and I can’t bring myself to take a break and let my body recover to do the movement properly. If I keep approaching the movement like that, I’ll never learn the right muscle-memory to time the kip during my WODs.

So… for the next month, I’d like to try something new. I’m going to continue with my Westside-Conjugate strength training, which I love, and I’m going to try working with Viada’s strength + endurance template, which is Westside-based anyway. It means I don’t have to change any of my strength work– I’m just trading WODs for more distance. Due to the PA weather, I have a feeling I’ll be doing more rowing than running… though I’m still waiting to hear back from Alex on what he thinks about that and whether that will translate to okay running when the weather warms back up. I also want to continue developing my skills as a CrossFitter, but I want to do that properly– so I’ll do skills as skill-work. I’ll work on things slowly, for form rather than sloppily for time or for max weight. To keep from burning out, I’ll limit most of the heavier stuff to my strength work, and only do skill stuff when my body feels fresh. I’m not entirely sure how this plan will go since I’ll be spending about half this month in Arizona– on the one hand, it means I’ll be able to run, but on the other, I won’t have access to a lot of the usual toys.

As of right now, I think my weeks will tentatively look like this:

Monday: Cleans (weight will vary depending on how I feel– nothing structured, just working on form), ¬†“long,” slow run (today that was two miles)

Tuesday: ME Upper Body, light recovery run (or row), some light skill work

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: ME Lower Body, Sprints

Friday: DE Upper Body, (not sure about the running form drills if I don’t have access to the outdoors… maybe some running form drills, maybe some skill work, maybe a metcon, maybe it varies week to week)

Saturday: I may switch this up between short pace runs and more traditional metcons, also, a good day for skill work.

Sunday: DE Lower Body

I’ll have to do some tinkering as I figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how much the running wears me out. I can already tell you that today’s two miles has my calves spasming (lacrosse balling as I type). But… the surprising thing about today was that I enjoyed the run. I’ve spent so long hating distances over 400m because I’ve adopted a habit of trying to push 110% on everything. I have no sense of pacing. Trying to push 110% for distance means 1) Jo hates life and 2) Jo breaks down too much to do the rest of the workout well. So I embraced the “slow” part of today and worked on form, keeping in mind all the drills that Alex gave me… and surprisingly, my knees didn’t hurt (my IT bands usually seize up around the 800m mark) and… I loved it. It cleared my mind… after the first 3 minutes of “why am I doing this,” I enjoyed the breeze and watching the pavement scroll beneath my feet… Who knows, maybe someday, I’ll voluntarily run a whole 5k.

The Jo’s New Clothes

In General on December 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Okay dear readers, I’ll let you in on a little-known fact of Jo: I hardly own any clothes that fit. I guess it might not be that little-known, depending on how much attention people pay to my wardrobe. But between all the dramatic weight loss and subsequent weight gain in the past couple of years, coupled with my graduate student salary, I haven’t really had the resources or the will to adjust my attire each time my body shifts. As such, about half my wardrobe is composed of clothes from the days of 130-140lb Jo, prior to any fitness practices whatsoever. The other half of my wardrobe I bought just before grad school, when I was 88lbs and everything billowed off of me like tents. So… these days, as I’m somewhere in between those extremes, but very differently shaped than pre-workout Jo, most of my clothes either are uncomfortably tight or require much cinching/belts/etc. I don’t really enjoy clothes shopping in the first place– with the exception of CrossFit gear (oh the addiction…)– and I have just been too lazy to update my wardrobe each time my body composition has changed.

However, this past Black Friday, I succumbed to the sales and finally bought myself a few pairs of jeans that fit– with a little room to grow because damn it I’m going to squat 150 soon. More importantly, officially¬†none of the 88lb-Jo pants fit anymore. As in none of them will zip/button and a few can’t make it up my thighs anymore. I remember very distinctly having to buy a new set of jeans. It was actually only a week after my stomach biopsy, on a new course of pills that made me intermittently dizzy and nauseous and still didn’t settle my stomach that well. I remember staring at myself in the dressing room mirror wondering at how I ever let myself get so frail… how I didn’t notice six months of wasting away.

A few months ago, when I was frustrated with how my lifts weren’t going up, Jefe showed me a picture from when I first joined the gym and I actually teared up. I don’t think I ever realized how¬†sick¬†I looked. So… today, I packed up the last of my sick-Jo clothes and I donated them. I’m not going to let that happen again. My IBS has been pretty manageable lately (*knock on wood*). Thanks to a friend, I’ve seen a gastroenterologist in town and he’s prescribed me pills that I only need to take if I have a bad day, which hasn’t been often. I do notice that I get worse with stress, so the end-of-semester blues hasn’t been helping, but definitely nothing terrible. But every time I start to feel overwhelmed by life and its many uncertainties, I remember how¬†low I let myself sink in those days… I hadn’t heard from graduate schools yet and I hated working two jobs that hardly paid. I worried constantly that I had thrown away my education and my parents’ trust, and I’d chosen a career path that would leave me jobless and broke… I was in an unhealthy relationship that made me constantly ashamed of and angry at myself. And I let all these thoughts subsume me to the point that I didn’t care if my health deteriorated… And even in the past couple years as I outgrew the clothes, I’ve kept them around “just in case”– just in case I wind up needing them again, in case I start shrinking away to nothing. But I’ve gotten rid of them now. It won’t happen– I won’t let it. Life can have its hiccups and uncertainties, but I¬†will take care of myself… I am strong enough for that.

Watch Some Sports!

In General on December 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I write to you from amid the depressive storm of end-of-semester madness. I made a major rookie mistake in selecting my courseload this semester and wound up with three equally demanding classes with equally high stakes in terms of how well I should perform. As such, I’m rather worried about finishing everything I’d like to do on time. I actually do have some programming and workout thoughts for you, but I’m going to hold off on those until I get a breather. I wanted to let you all know, though, that the Outlaw Open is happening this weekend– a major CrossFit invitational hosted by Outlaw CrossFit, which trains a number of Games Competitors including this year’s third place finisher, Talayna Fortunato. Right now and all weekend you can follow the invitational here via their livestream:

Also the USA Weightlifting Championships is happening this weekend and is streaming here:

Big weekend for lifting heavy things. And me with too many papers to write…

Hope your weekend goes much more smoothly than mine!

EDIT: You can also keep up with the Outlaw Open’s live scores here:¬†