the spaz of fitness has arrived

DNF Without Shame

In Training, WOD on February 20, 2013 at 11:58 am

We know I love CrossFit– I love its spirit and community and its sheer heart. We also know I’ve had my reservations about some of its rhetoric. I realize slogans are rallying points, not meant to be dissected and overanalyzed, but some of them, I think echo attitudes that work to the detriment of the sport. Particularly, I have a gripe about “Strong is the New Skinny”– elaborated here and reoccurring here. Another token phrase that’s troubled me is “Death before DNF.”

For those who don’t know, “DNF” stands for “Did Not Finish,” a CrossFit abbreviation for any time you could not complete the WOD within the time cap. CrossFitters, understandably proud of themselves for “going hard” and leaving everything on the floor are also notoriously for pushing themselves beyond the bounds of reason (and rhabdo) before ever calling it quits. Last semester, I completed “The Seven”  in just under 50 minutes. The Seven is one of my favorite CrossFit workouts, and pretty much the only thing I remember about that long slog was hearing the clock beep at 45 minutes, knowing I only had half a round left, and rasping out to Jefe, “I’m finishing.” So obviously, I’ve imbibed a bit of the Kool-Aid. Sometimes pride kicks in. Sometimes you have to finish.

This morning, however — at least to the best of my recollection– was the first time I technically DNF’d a workout. There are many reasons for this– I spent a period of CrossFit scaling too light and not challenging myself with weights… then I went too heavy for a period, but our box didn’t really enforce time caps, so I had times like a 44-minute Eva and an even longer Manion.

Now, yesterday… yesterday was a wonderful day at the box. We did the CrossFit For Kenya WOD: AMRAP 12 of 50 squats, 30 pushups, and 15 pull-ups. A classic “Ninja” WOD that plays to my strengths. I was happy with my rounds and didn’t feel particularly beat up afterwards. But CrossFit is constantly varied– just after it stokes our egos, it douses us with reality.

When I saw today’s WOD go up on the box’s webpage last night, I knew three things: 1) I would suck at every part of this workout; 2) I looked forward to absolutely none of it; 3) I would still be there, 8:00am, trying my best to smile through it. The workout’s simple: 3 rounds, 500mrow, 10 relatively heavy cleans (RX’d 135lbs/95lbs). 12 minute time cap.

I’m a shamefully slow rower. I may be one of the slowest rowers at the box. While my strength to size ratio isn’t as shameful as it used to be, the rower doesn’t give a shit about ratios. It punishes smallness and weakness, indiscriminately. So, I’m slow. Add that to the fact that the RX’d weight is my 1RM, and I knew it would be a miserable WOD. While I obviously wasn’t going to try to clean my max 30 times in between rowing sprints, I knew I still wanted to go heavy enough to challenge myself. When I picked my weight (70lbs), Zebrapants asked, “Are you going to be able to rep that between rows?” and I said, “yeah… at least for round one.” I could– it would suck, but I could, and if this WOD was going to suck anyway, I wanted to embrace that suck.

When I stumbled off the rower in round one, I suddenly remembered how a mere 500m could decimate one’s legs. My knees shook as I reached for the bar. What usually feels like a moderate, comfortable weight seemed impossibly heavy throughout the first pull, as I fired my hips, and even worse as the steel crashed onto my chest. One rep. Two. I think I might have repped four in the first round before a breather. It wasn’t until my last row that I realized I wouldn’t beat the clock. I reached my last set of cleans when the clock sounded, my legs anesthetized by fire, my vision narrowed to the two square feet of rubber floor in front of me as I bowed forward, gasping air.

Didn’t finish. But I’m fucking glad I didn’t finish. I could have gone lighter. At 60 lbs, or even 65 I think I could have repped them fast enough to get my last cleans in before the time cap. Perhaps I overestimated myself a bit and chose something a wee bit on the heavy side. But I’m glad I did. It was 8:00am, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, the WOD was an ugly pairing of things-Jo-sucks-at, I’d slept poorly, I had to run off to the office afterwards, my apartment was too cold when I woke up… blah blah blah, life’s small imperfections, but for those twelve minutes, I can say I was 100% there. I challenged myself and, yeah, fell a little short, but I’m glad I attempted the challenge. I’ve scaled before to the point that I felt disappointed at the completion of a workout– when the victory felt hollow because I had underestimated my potential. There’s no shame in my DNF. I got a better workout than I would have if I dropped to a light clean and blazed through that part of the workout… and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m glad there was a cap and I didn’t drive myself absolutely through the ground so that I’d be wrecked for the next few days. I’d take DNF before muscledeath any day if it means I can come back and try harder the next time.

So… after nearly two years of CrossFit, I’ll take my DNF and wear it proudly. I didn’t finish, but I also didn’t give up or give in. I’ll take that before a pretty time on the board any day.

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