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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

This is CrossFit

In General on November 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I’ve been an English teacher for most of my life– in large and small capacities, for formal students and family members. I love language– its nuance and intricacies, its dynamism. I live for stories– the way they make worlds, and rend them apart. I will always be a writer. It’s not a job or a hobby. It’s a way of being, of thinking, of interpreting the world. I think I’ll always be an English teacher too. I’ve experienced very little in this world more rewarding than witnessing a student become more of herself through language. Watching a student discover that she has something to say…  and then seeing her develop the confidence to pitch that voice into the world– it’s magic. But there are days when my job exhausts me. When it takes everything I have.

Coordinating and teaching for the graduate writing center this year has been more demanding than I expected. Beyond the 15 hours of actual in-office teaching, I didn’t account for the sheer emotional labor. I should’ve expected it. The stakes for my students are high. They come with dissertation chapters, grant proposals, and job applications for tenure track positions. They’re not English composition students trying to please their first semester teacher. They’re adults trying to build careers. They’re full of anxiety and self-doubt and stress and frustration. Sometimes, they cry. Often, I feel limited. I feel frustrated by how little I can do in single hourlong sessions. I feel angry at the institutions that don’t offer enough to support a lot of these students. And sometimes, I feel entirely trampled over. Understandably, these individuals have a lot of their own concerns. They’re overrun by their present situations. Sometimes, they get angry at me if I try to turn a session more into a “pedagogical” moment. They want to hear what’s “right” or “wrong.” They want me to “fix” things instead of discussing the principles behind why we need to reorganize one section or another. It’s not their fault. It’s the way we’ve constructed language as if it’s a science. As if it can be right or wrong. But after enough of these sessions, I feel less like a person. I feel like the copyediting device they visit week after week… this thing that sits behind a door and reads page after page and spouts “corrections” because my students feel so pressed for time they can’t slow down for a conversation.

It doesn’t happen too often. I promise my days are more enjoyable than not. But today was definitely one of the worst. And I went home… with nothing left. I couldn’t read or apply myself to my own work. I couldn’t find enough space in head to think or feel much beyond the stress of others that I’d been hearing about all day– uncompromising advisers and professors… the pressures of the job market, the terrors of being unable to find one’s place, the loneliness of being so far from home– fears and stresses and terrors very applicable to my own life as well.

… but then I get to coach CrossFit.

I get to walk into the box where friends greet me with enthusiasm and ask about my day and listen. I get to talk to them about their days and their lives and their interests… the insignificant little minutiae that seem to mean nothing but really make up who we are. We talk not because we have to– not because business or study or social advancement puts us together. But because it’s enjoyable. We work slowly through the warm up and methodically through the lifts. When I count down and start the metcon, the athletes work their asses off. Heels skid on wood and rubber. Sweat spatters and pools. The air is a concert of burning lungs and steel ropes. And when it ends… it ends in laughter. In more conversation. In shared relief.

This is CrossFit.

When you look across the top CrossFit athletes, you will find every possible configuration of training programs and diet protocols. Rich Froning does whatever the shit he feels like that day while Talayna Fortunato diligently logs every workout programmed by her coach. Katie Hogan eats strictly low-carb, high-fat while Kris Clever chases her four-a-day WODs with post-workout beers. Like the principles of CrossFit, its athletes are highly varied. However, the one common thread I can find in nearly all successful CrossFitters is community. To much notoriety, Dan Bailey camped out at Rich Froning’s house and became his semi-permanent training partner. Before he opened his own box, Ben Smith gathered his friends and WODed in their neighborhood streets. For a significant while, Valley CrossFit housed Katie Hogan, Becca Voigt, Kristan Clever, Lindsay Valenzuela, and a wealth of regionals-level competitors. It’s no coincidence now that NorCal CrossFit boasts Jason Khalipa, Miranda Oldroyd, Pat Barber, and Molly Biss. Don’t get me wrong– the sheer adrenaline rush of thrusters and burpees does have its own appeal, but it’s a hell of a lot better in the company of good friends.

I have my reservations about CrossFit. I don’t like how certain manifestations sacrifice safety or technique for the sake of ego. I don’t like the lack of standards or regulation across the board. I love its inclusiveness. I love the way that it has made fitness social and thus more appealing and accessible to a broader population. People ask me why I would rather go to the gym than the bar after work. Because it just feels like playtime with my friends. Because there amid the clatter of iron and steel, amid the laughter between gasped breaths, amid the conversations before and after the 3-2-1 go… I get to feel human again.

Faith and Falling

In Training, Writing on May 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I don’t know if any of you have heard– but Cheryl Nasso has dropped out of Regionals. A scrappy competitor who started CrossFit at an enfeebled 83 lbs, she naturally became one of my favorites when I first started my CrossFit fixation. But this year, after a season of dogged training, Nasso had to withdraw from her Reigional competition. In a freak-accident of life, she fractured her wrist while breaking up a dog fight. Fellow top competitor Talayna Fortunato wrote a rather lovely tribute when the announcement was released. She recounts one of her most powerful memories of Nasso:

We had to climb a rope without legs to 20ft. Cheryl got to about 15ft. and was struggling. She struggled her way to 19ft. At the point most people would have saved their last bit of grip strength to make sure they could put their legs on she was still reaching for the top. I know because I watched in disbelief as her forearms finally gave out and she plummeted from the top of the gym.

While I’d never advise an athlete to push him or herself to that point, I can’t help but admire that spirit– that commitment… determination that so completely eclipses fear or reservation.

When I first saw Zebrapants work out, I concluded that I want to live like he WODs– it’s a silly turn of phrase, but true. I want to be able to apply myself with that much passion, that much conviction… so much sheer force of will that everything else becomes irrelevant.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately– and feeling a lot. I do that too often, you all know. I have this theory about writers… at least, all the writers I met in my cohort during my MFA. We were all drastically different people, with such different experiences and life perspectives and writing styles, but the single thing we shared in common– the grounding force that drew us together– was the sheer excess of our emotions. Oftentimes, reading all our disparate work, I got the sense that we had all become writers because we didn’t know how else to cope with the terribleness of our thoughts. We mulled too often and too long about the ways in which people wound one another– sometimes maliciously, sometimes innocently and with such heratbreaking naivete. And because we don’t know how to process this– how to contain this realization– we write.

I won’t bitch about the things that have happened to me– everyone gets hurt. I’m not special or a victim or any more unique than the next person. Everyone gets knocked off the metaphorical rope  a few times– regardless of grip strength. And we mostly get back on the rope too because we naturally seek direction. But the question is how you regain the spirit of the first climb– how do you pull yourself blindly towards the top when you remember how it feels to have everything slip from your grasp– the indiscriminate force of gravity.

Sometimes I feel my arms giving and I’m paralyzed by fear– so much that I’m clinging to the rope, too fucking stubborn to slide back down, yet to terrified to reach ahead. So I wind up with the worst possible option– stagnation.

I started this year telling myself to hell with fear– I would commit 110% to everything that mattered to me and see where it took me. Trying to become a CrossFit coach has been the most frustrating struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like the amount of time I spend working on it is… silly because I have an entirely different career that I’m building in academia… because, despite that career, sometimes I feel all I do is cast my heart and every last bit of will into CrossFit, and it’s just consumed by an unfeeling world that doesn’t give a damn how hard I work but only how much I (cannot) lift… because I’ve never worked for so long at something and felt like I’ve made little progress.But I’m trying to commit to this entirely… I’m trying not to give a damn if I slip and fall– to be unfazed, even, when my hands yield for a few seconds and I drop a few heartstopping inches before I’m once again clinging for dear life.

Training this week has gone well. I hit four PRs in six days– in lifts as well as aerobic efforts. While rowing at a “recovery pace,” today, I accidentally beat my old 1k PR. Tuesday, I stood with 160lbs on my back for the first time– from a box squat just above parallel, but I’m chasing that 1.5x bodyweight backsquat to full depth… hopefully better now that Squatsalot was kind enough to look over my form for me.

In other aspects of life… I’m still paralyzed. I’ve been disappointed a lot lately. Some big things, some small things. I’ve been frustrated by people who fail to see the humanity in others– whose perspectives of the world narrow only to themselves. But strangely, I can’t blame these people because they’ve learned, right? The way to survive this world is to take care of yourself first because nobody else will. But this fact makes the world a frightening place for me. You’ll notice the key word I apply to often to CrossFit is camaraderie. I’m in love with people. I love the human race– I want to believe in the innate goodness of others. I want to believe that empathy is instinctual… that you will always clamber to cliff’s edge and pry the stranger from the ledge. And we see moments of selflessness and courage that are restorative. But sometimes they feel so distant and faraway when I focus too much on the pettiness that sometimes pervades everyday interactions. And I’m stuck, 10 feet off the ground, trembling fingers trying to hold on to the thread of good will amid all the… careless… mindless hurt.

I guess I want this to be a hopeful post, though… because I want to keep trying. I want to live with that blind faith that everything will be okay– if I continue throwing everything of myself into my pursuits, into my friendships and those that care for me– if I commit myself to the things that matter and keep fucking climbing… maybe I’ll make it there. Or… if I don’t, maybe I won’t regret those few weightless seconds before I hit the ground. It’s exhausting, though, and sometimes it feels lonely on this rope. So thank you for reading– particularly since I know this post isn’t altogether coherent… but those of you that believe in me, that invest a bit of your time and emotion in me… it matters. Thank you.

Fear and Faith

In General, Training on January 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm

My new classroom disciplinary method

Hello readers!

So… it’s a certainty. My strength has definitely declined. My squat is where it was months ago, my press and bench have both stalled out at one rep of my old three rep max… I’m terrified to test my deadlift on Thursday because– as we know– that’s a point of pride for me. Worse yet, my pull-up numbers are down.

Strangely, I’m not feeling nearly as crushed I normally would be. Don’t get me wrong– there was lots of blasphemous swearing today when I dropped my old 3RM push press for the second time. The wonderful Scotchy bore the brunt of my verbal sacrilege, and laughed at my general frustration. But I think that’s the key. Thankfully, the past few days ,I’ve been around people again. Saturday, I got to join the class for a normal WOD (I won’t lie, I sort of deviate from my should-be template so I can sneak in a Saturday WOD because that’s the only time it can fit in without royally fucking up my training schedule). Sunday, there were a few friends around the box, and generally the box has been more lively. I’ll diligently slog away at my lifts every day if I have to, but this whole get-Jo-fast-‘n-strong endeavor feels less hopeless when there’s company.

I am very disappointed in myself for losing a month’s of progress… I feel I work too hard and spend too much time on this to be that careless. Part of it, I think, is the creatine. As terrified as I was to try it, and as much as I still don’t trust/like introducing supplements to my system, I think its sudden absence might be partially to blame for my sudden decrease in strength. I also blame my nutrition for the two weeks I was home. Even though I was ingesting overall a lot more food than usual, my post-workout nutrition was… nonexistant. I didn’t bring any protein powder to Phoenix, and I was usually on the run directly after a workout. Because I respond so poorly to whey, buying more protein powder is both expensive and inconvenient, so I didn’t bother… thinking (apparently mistakenly) that two weeks wouldn’t make that big an impact. Next time I’ll know better and at least invest in some fruit and jerky to throw in my bag for a post-workout refuel.

All that said, I’m not feeling too discouraged just yet. I’m going to reintroduce creatine, and be more diligent about my post-workout nutrition. I’m limiting my WODs to one or two a week, and I’m hoping to get my strength numbers back up. If everything’s still stagnant in another two weeks, I’ll have to reassess.

Whereas my strength numbers are down, my 5k row time was a bit faster Monday than it has previously been. I did the “Polish Crippler” today with Jefe (yay WOD company!), and completed it in 7:57. I don’t absolutely remember my last time for it, but I know it was over ten minutes… For those who don’t know, the Polish Crippler is:

100 Burpees for time

10 Double-Unders EMOM

I’m learning to make peace with the fact that not every day at the gym will be perfect. There will be bad days, bad weeks, (and right now) even bad months. But… if I go and commit 100% of how much I can give that day (even if that 100% is 90% of my old 1RM), I can’t demand anything more of myself… and if I dwell on it, I’m just wasting energy– energy I can devote to my courses, my students and this wonderfully encouraging creative writing class that I’m teaching. I’m reminded again this semester of how lucky I am that I’m paid to do this– to spend my days planning to teach thoughtful young writers… to have time to investigate my own academic interests. I’m surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people… Sure, life has issues– I have more deadlines than I can bear to write down, less money than I’d like to feel secure, and miss so many people that I can’t see and haven’t seen for so long every day. I wonder often if, after six years of graduate school, I’ll have a job or a place in academia– if I’ll love this enough to live and breathe it for the rest of my life. I wonder if I’ll ever be a CrossFit coach– if the work I’m putting in at the gym will take me in the right direction to becoming a trainer. Sometimes life seems like a continual stream of work for a distant and possibly unattainable future. But… for now, I have a small yet steady candle-wick’s gleam of faith. I will put all I can into this strange little journey I’ve started and follow it to where it takes me.

The Nineteenth Grade

In General, Training on January 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Technically, I’m about to start the second semester of the 19th grade. After elementary, middle and high school, college, a Master’s of Fine Arts, and the first semester of my PhD… I still get anxious about the first day of school. It’s worse when I’m teaching… I don’t worry about public speaking, but I worry that I’ll fail my students. That all the good intents I have for the class will be jumbled by poor delivery and somehow I’ll ruin their creative writing experience (that’s what I’m teaching this semester). I’m particularly nervous this semester, though, because I’m not yet certain if I’ve taken on too much to do it all well. But I hope not… I hope with enough discipline, I’ll survive.

In addition to the classes I’m taking (which includes yet another dreaded pre-1800 requirement), I’ll be taking a Teaching with Technology course (which shouldn’t be all that demanding) so that I can teach online courses (which I think will be useful in the future). As I mentioned, I’ll be teaching creative writing, which I love, though from past experience I know I spend exorbitant amounts of time researching new material for the class, reading and rereading my students’ works, etc… I need to start setting a wall clock and grade “for time” or AMRAP in a limited time frame… perhaps an EMOM (Every minute on the minute)? :p. Anyway… in addition to that, I’ll be working with my adviser for an extra two credit hours, editing the special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. And, finally… I’m going to get bigger, stronger, and become an overall more detail-oriented, virtuous CrossFitter…

Anyway, given all that, I’ve been getting frustrated by the technicalities of my training schedule– how to work my lifts around open gym hours, to avoid crowding class hours, how to still remain a member of the box’s community while following my strength/endurance template and participate in a few WODs without burning out. I’d like to continue doing my lower body lifts on Thursday and Sunday because they take so long and then I have the day’s worth of open gym to use the facilities. Also, I like doing ME lower body on Thursday because then I have a better chance of finding someone to spot my squat– though now that we have access to the general Lionheart facilities, I can also use the safety rails on the squat rack, assuming it isn’t occupied by someone else. But also I like isolating my lower body days because they take enough out of me that I can’t (and shouldn’t) WOD afterwards, so if I do them on Thursdays and Sundays I won’t be tempted to jump in with a class.

Anyway… my tentative, very tentative schedule will look like this:

Monday: “Long” run or row (2-3 miles running, or 5k rowing). I’m going to have to do this early morning because I then teach and have a grad seminar until 9:35pm… which really means I’ll get home around 10:15pm, and I have to wake up for another class at 9:00am, which means waking by 7:30am (I need waking-up/breakfast time). Really I kind of worry that my nutrition and rest/recovery will go to shit in this time frame… but I will be diligent about that.

Tuesday: Max Effort Upper Body and skill work, or recovery run, or light (skill-focused) wod (depending on how I feel)

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Max Effort Lower Body, sprint work (uphill tabatas on a treadmill or rowing sprints)

Friday: Dynamic Effort Upper Body, Running form drills or WOD

Saturday: WOD or short pace run/row (also want to do technique drills on oly lifts on this day)

Sunday: Dynamic Effort Lower Body

I’m not sure how I’ll feel waking up early for endurance work before a longish day of school, but we’ll see. If it doesn’t burn me out too much, I’ll keep it. If it does, I’ll need to figure out some way to rearrange my schedule. I’m also really going to focus on getting a muscle up, but I’m not sure how to do that– should be concentrate on weighted pull ups? On strict chest-to-bars? Should I do pull-ups on the rings more? Negative muscle-ups? Transition drills? I’d love any advice from all you lovely, better-informed folks out there. I’ve been doing the Armstrong Pull-Up progression for my pull-ups, which helped enormously and brought me up to ten strict dead-hangs. However, I frustratingly lost a huge amount of that capacity in the past two weeks of vacation (when I lost regular access to a pull-up bar), and now I’m not sure whether to continue because I know that doing more muscle-up skill work will also train the same muscles and I don’t want to overwork them… Thoughts?

That’s the Jo-update the night before the start of her next adventure. I had a lovely, relaxing day yesterday, catching up with State College friends after the holidays. I’d also like to do that more… As much as I love my work, I need to remember to be a human being outside of it more often– otherwise, I develop this awful, hollow feeling and I lose myself in day after night after day of writing and research. It becomes difficult to put my work aside, and I develop this miserable tunnel-vision that feels isolating and hopeless. SO! Let’s not let that happen this semester.

Good luck to those of you also starting your new semesters. Happy Monday to those of you with those fancy, stable, secure jobs. As always, thank you for reading.

The Jomad’s Journey Continues

In General, Rhetoric, Training, Writing on January 3, 2013 at 12:52 am

Jo bought Jobot Coffee! New wonderful indie coffee discovery in downtown Phoenix.

Activities witnessed in the LA Fitness squat rack, December 2012-January 2013:

– Bicep curls with a straight bar

– Bicep curls with dumbbells

– Bicep curls with an EZ curl bar

– Calf raises

– Unweighted calf raises by the woman that glared at me until I rushed through my good mornings and vacated the squat rack for her. Apparently she can only perform her calf raises while lightly caressing the frame of the squat rack.

– Shoulder shrugs with a straight bar

– Dumbbell shoulder shrugs

– Half squats

– Quarter squats

– Dude-are-your-knees-even-bent squats

My actual favorite:

– Pull-ups (by racking the bar at the highest possible position), since the gym has no actual straight bar available for pull-ups

… long story short, there’s a (un)suprising lack of squatting in the LA Fitness squat racks– the frustratingly limited amount of LA Fitness squat racks, that are somehow, confoundingly, frequently occupied by people who use them for unneccessary exercises.

You’re getting this wrap-up because this morning marked my last LA Fitness visit for a while. Tomorrow, I shall fly for State College and return to home-sweet-box where squatting is a part of everyone’s vocabulary.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit a workout in tomorrow (literally traveling from 9am to 9pm), I did my Max Effort lower body work today. It was a deadlift week, but I was really reluctant to deadlift from the floor with the obnoxious decagonal plates that roll off their corners each time they hit the ground. Even when I did dynamic effort work these weeks, the plates really screwed me up– either banging into my shins or rolling away from me before I could set up for the next rep. So… I tried rack pulls for the first time. Unfortunately, the very lowest position I could set up a rack pull was just above the knee, but youtube tells me that’s a legitimate training position, so I tried that and managed to pull 255×3 for a new max. It was an interesting experience– just to hold that much weight in my hands. I don’t think I’m going to keep it in my repertoire though because I’m pretty sure my back is the stronger part of my lifts, and I have more trouble getting my deadlift off the ground than locking out at the top.

I’ll be happy to be back where I can train with familiar equipment and familiar resources– even more happy to be among friends. I’ll even enjoy the small comforts of my little basement space, assuming it hasn’t iced over due to two weeks without heating with all the snow that’s hit PA in the past couple weeks. However, I get melancholy every time I have to leave Arizona. It actually works both ways… I’m always reluctant to leave State College, then I remember how much I love my hometown and want to cling to its security, then our little pocket of Pennsylvania eventually reminds me of all its small joys. It’s really the distance I hate– the fact that I feel constantly incomplete. And that’s a fault of my mindset rather than my situation, I feel…

Honestly, that’s what I’d like to change most about 2013. I want to feel more comfortable with where I am (physically, emotionally, professionally, etc). On the one hand, I’m more determined than every to prove my worthiness. I want to become a better, more capable CrossFitter– one deserving of a coaching position. I want to settle in as a PhD student and really dig into my niche of scholarship. I want to be a better teacher…. I want to structure this creative writing class that I’m teaching so that the students really get something from the experience– so that they walk away with at least a new appreciation/understanding of stories and why we tell them, and how and why they matter. I want all of that and I’m determined to work my damnedest for all of that. But at the very same time, I know and I really want to be able to chill out more. I’m… really, very tightly wound too often. I know. I know. I know. I spent too much of last year– too much of the last two and a half years feeling like I’m madly flailing just trying to keep my head above water. If that’s all life is, it’s not worth living, right? I need to be able to sit back and enjoy. That’s strangely difficult for me. I need to be honest with myself about my faults, but also be able to accept that– for now, they’re there, and I can work on them, but I can’t frantically punish myself for them either. I need to continue striving towards my goals but at the same time learn patience… be satisfied with working towards and hoping that’s enough. I also need to spend less time hoping and more time enjoying the doing because– let’s face it– the PhD is a 5 year degree and after that there’s finding a tenure track job, working towards tenure, etc… even if that’s just an isolated metaphor for all the other aspects of life, we spend more time journeying than we do at the destination, so we must learn to embrace the journey. 

Even just thinking about my neuroses makes me want to apologize to those of you who put up with it all the time. Thank you! Here’s hoping the Jomad’s journey continues with a little more grace, and a little more calm this coming year. Here’s hoping you’ll journey with me– a few steps, or vast distances, your company is always appreciated 🙂

Happy New Year, friends.

CrossFit: Lessons in How to Live

In General, Training, WOD on September 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Today, a friend of mine was tagged in a Facebook photo. He’s doing a handstand on a bridge in Pittsburgh. Actually, he’s doing a handstand on the railing of a bridge in Pittsburgh. He’s gripping a steel bar, inverted hundreds of feet above the Pittsburgh skyline, with nothing between him and a fateful plummet but 20-odd years as a gymnast. That’s probably enough… that trust, and familiarity with his body and balance must give him the confidence to do such a thing (such a thing that most people would still call stupid). Regardless of how I train, I still don’t endorse death-defying handstands. But the photo looked so carefree, so bold and celebratory, that it reminded me of a sentiment that frequently delights me in CrossFit. This sport hasn’t just taught me how to train, or how to be fit. The athletes around me so often remind me of how I want to live.

I have a strange relationship with my fears. As a child, I was terrified of heights. A memory that I still don’t entirely know what to do with… on a hiking trip with my family, my father picked me up and held me over the Grand Canyon until I stopped crying. It didn’t cure me of my fear. In fact, I shirked from the railings on the second stories of shopping malls for years. I was thrown from horseback at age 12, and decided that that– too– was too high. But as I got older, that fear became an obnoxious impediment. And though my day above the Grand Canyon did nothing to dispel my terror, it’s instilled in me a will to confront my demons. In order to become certified as a stage technician, I had to scale 15′ up a ladder to hang a stage lamp. I did it, hands shaking, teeth clenched, remembering my father’s grip beneath my arms and the way the hard, desert earth gaped open beneath my swinging feet. Even during my first rope climb, my heart skipped a beat the first time I reached the top and looked down. (For those that are curious, I also avidly avoided horses for two years before enrolling as a stablehand at the zoo, where I became a competent rider… and fantastically good at cleaning hooves).

That said… I’m still a very cautious– overly cautious– individual. I plan for everything. I start assignments the day they’re given. I cannot relax unless I’ve checked off my entire to-do list– and, since to-do lists in graduate school are actually neverending, I live in a perpetual, overly-wound psychosis. But the gym allows me moments of reprieve. We did “Wood” on Monday (5 Rounds for time of: Run 400 meters,10 Burpee box jumps, 10 sumo-deadlift high-pulls, 10 thrusters, rest 1 minute between rounds) and– despite the inconquerable mountain of work I had awaiting atop my desk, I felt entirely weightless by my 4th round. I was running through the rain, soaked to the point that I could feel the water splashing off my sneakers each time I landed a box jump, but for those twenty-some minutes, nothing mattered but this moment and the strength of the athletes beside me.

Some athletes like the Gymnast remind me to live, occasionally, with abandon. To shed our fears and celebrate what we have. To break free of my chronic timidity. Others, like Jefe, remind me to live with integrity. Some members were discussing– in good-nature– this coach’s high standards earlier this week, about how he’ll “no rep” anything short of perfect form. But the thing is, he does so because he holds himself to those same standards– or higher. I’ve never seen an athlete more honest about good form, solid reps, refusing to let anything count unless it’s completed 100% in compliance with the spirit of the movement. I think I’ve also (in a possibly tipsy stupor) told Coach Zebrapants that I want to live like he WODs… which is still entirely true. An absurdly gifted athlete, he’s now a hell of a competitor and likely to make a sincere splash in the professional world of CrossFit soon. However, I was lucky enough to be there at the start of his CrossFit career– when he had nothing going for him but sheer strength and dedication. It was actually a hell of a sight to see someone with no sense of technique, no finesse, just plow through workouts with sheer will. (I can say this now, because his form and technique and well beyond anything I could critique these days). But regardless… I want to live like that– to approach the things that I don’t yet have the knowledge of skill for with enough heart and determination to make it, with enough enthusiasm to absorb technique and finesse and the finer details along the way, with passion and wild abandon.

But it’s not just the gifted athletes that are inspiring. I know I mention it lots, but there’s always a soft spot in my heart (or perhaps a shared camaraderie/inborn empathy) for the not-at-all-natural-athletes at our box– for those that have never seen a barbell before, picking one up for the first time. With the wealth of new members we’ve acquired this month, I love seeing the ones that come in during open gym times to drill their power cleans or double-unders, to strap bands to the pull-up bars and work their way to their first kip. I love all that CrossFit teaches us about persistence, about picking ourselves back up after we’ve stumbled, or fallen, or smashed our shins against the plyo box (so many sympathetic hugs for Scotchy who did just that this week).

Anyway… that’s my thought for the week.

Also, this morning, I repeated a WOD I do on a fairly regular basis now:

4x prowler push 40m

25 burpees

4x prowler push 40m

200m sprint

4x prowler push 40m

25 burpees

As I mentioned a while ago, I’m trying to learn to “push through the suck,” so I tried giving myself less rest time this go-around. Anytime I stopped, I only let myself count thirty seconds before I started again– which, if you’ve ever done prowler pushes, you’ll know is fantastically awful. At some point, I may have actually lost the ability to count… my brain was spinning circles in: “twenty-six mississippi… twenty fi-six mississippi… twenty-eight missisipi… twenty— should I be going now?” But I still love this workout. It gets my heart working, but doesn’t leave me trashed for the rest of the day.

Also, a little bit of bookkeeping:

Friday marked the end of my Coconut oil giveaway. Many thanks, hugs, and general good karma to all those who entered. Also thanks again to Tropical Traditions for the fantastic opportunity to share their lovely product. To keep my process transparent, here’s what I did for entirely randomized winner selection: I inputted the number of entries into a “True Random Number Generator” (thank you internets) to determine the winner. So don’t blame me. Blame computers.

As it so happens, 8 is my favorite number. 8 also belongs to a lucky lady named Krista, who’s about to enjoy a wealth of coconutty goodness in her life. Congratulations Krista, do let us know what you make with your delicious winnings!

That’s My Secret

In General, Training, WOD, Writing on May 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Saturday’s conditioning work was actually a hero that’s topped my wishlist for a while.

Rahoi: 12 Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)

12 Box Jumps (24″/20″)

6 Thrusters (95/65)

6 Bar facing burpees

I realize it’s not a particularly heavy hero, but it still feels nice to be able to Rx the weight for a hero WOD. I also particularly enjoyed yesterday because I got to work out with a few friends I haven’t seen in a while just due to scheduling chaos. It’s remarkable how much more fun a workout can feel in the right company. Don’t underestimate this one– it’s only 12 minutes, but Rahoi packs a sneaky punch. The trio of explosive moments gets exhausting quickly. By the third round, that bar felt unusually high to jump over.

Today was more strength work:

Back Squat: 3×5

Bench Press: 3×5

Dips: 3 sets to failure. I’m up to 3 sets of 10 on the dip station, so I think I’m going to move to the rings to add instability, and hope that helps me build towards the ever-elusive muscle-up.

Then, a quick metcon. Have you ever started a workout and realized two movements in that you want to be doing something entirely different? I was going to repeat the WOD I tried a couple weeks ago (1o rounds of 3 front squats @ 65 lbs, 100m sprint, 60 second rest), but after the first round, I decided that each segment of the round felt too short. I wanted something slightly less ADD today. I’m sure I’ll regret saying this the moment I get to commit to endurance work in earnest, but for right now I really miss longer, focused workouts (as opposed to short bursts). So… still keeping it within a “sprint” framework, I revised my workout to the following:

5 front squats at 65 lbs (Power clean from the ground)

400m run

2 minutes rest between rounds

Felt great. I have to confess that I’m pretty shamefully behind on my work right now because I did nothing  yesterday but read all of book one of The Hunger Games and watch The Avengers movie. I make it a point at the start of each summer to read something less self-consciously “literary” than the stuff I read all semester. I actually don’t have anything against either camp– the “genre” fiction, or the “literary” register… they’re composed differently with different audiences in mind. I can enjoy both, though during the semester, I tend to miss the exhilaration of being able to consume an entire novel in one day. While I can (and have in a pre-seminar panic) fly through an entire volume of Pynchon in one afternoon, it leaves me feeling drained and headachey whereas… spending an entire day visiting Panem’s dystopia just provides a thoroughly satisfying adrenaline rush. I’m now trying to hold off on the latter two Hunger Games books until my trip to Taiwan so I have some good airplane material… somehow, I don’t think rhetorical scholarship will be as good company during a 13 hour flight (not counting the other 10 hours I’m spending on two slightly shorter flights and in three different airports– State College, Detroit, L.A…

If you’ll bear with me, I’m about to launch on a long bout of self-analysis. This is where those of you just here for the fun CrossFit tidbits can sneak off ;). Actually, I’m about to conflate some exercise philosophy with teaching experience, with comic book trivia, and some overly personal confessions– that should give you some insight as to the strange matrix of interests and experiences that informs my worldview. It’s strange to be inside my head.* Anyway buckle up–we’re about to get crazy.

There’s an article I love by Henry Rollins called “Iron and the Soul.” It’s oft quoted and often abused in service of poor arguments, but it’s a beautiful meditation on strength and training. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone.

It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

So Rollins (a bit like me) has a penchant for hyperbole. But the sentiment resonates with me. Though I don’t technically prefer to work out alone (and often miss the company when I do it too often), sometimes I love these Sunday mornings when the box is silent and it’s just me and the bar (and the Mean Machine or Jefe vacuuming somewhere 😉 ). These mornings are the only time I can feel my thoughts slow down. I overthink everything; I know. I’m overly sensitive and spend too much time inside my head. These mornings, I can narrow my world to just the pounds of iron and rubber in front of me. I can erase everything but the next five reps, the next 400m loop, the next 12 minutes before the clock sounds and calls me back to earth.

And the thing is… some mornings I shatter PRs, sometimes I fall drastically short. But it’s not about that. I find these sessions satisfactory regardless of the total weight lifted or the time of each round. I spend so much of my time dealing with abstractions and theory that there’s something profoundly comforting about the reality of the gym. Here I’m rewarded for my efforts, struck down when I’m overeager or overambitious. Here, I can try and dream, but two hundred pounds is two hundred pounds and if I don’t have the strength and mass to move it, I won’t.

I wrote a difficult email this week to a student who protested the A- she received in my creative writing course. I struggled with it because… she’s been a fairly diligent student. She’s obviously done the reading, turned in everything on time, and attended office hours. She answers questions in class and cares about her grade. Unfortunately, writing is not her thing. In fact, I was rather proud of how far she’d come throughout the semester– from writing almost purely expository essays to at least understanding the concept of a scene vs summary. But her characters were single-dimensional, her conflicts buried or nonexistant… I couldn’t in good conscience give her an A when I’d held her peers to a certain standard for the quality of their work… She’d argued in her email that she tried. She mentioned nothing about the final product, but that she put in so much effort. I accounted for that effort in her participation grade– balanced out her quiz scores and figured out extra credit opportunities that would improve her course average. But it’s also an awful fact of life that… the end product still matters. Her process was fine… given another year of this effort, I could actually see her writing A stories. But… she’s not there yet. Yes, grading writing is very subjective, but contrary to many accusations, it’s not as if we’re throwing darts to determine grades… All good writing instructors I know have thoughtful approaches to their grading and they evaluate based on a set of standards for what the piece does or does not achieve. But I wanted to tell this student that I was sorry… that I understood, that I felt like I’d failed her somehow for not helping her get there faster, but that she should still take pride somehow in how much she’s achieved this semester. Strangely, at this time, all I could think about was how the gym has taught me that… effort isn’t everything. I can yank on the bar all I want, but a 135lb clean is still well beyond my reach. It will take a lot of patience, a lot of intelligent training, a lot of recovery and nutrition, etc to get me to that point. And when I’m ready, hopefully, someday I’ll drop below 135lbs and bear it up across my shoulders. But there’s no… “I tried.” The Iron doesn’t give a damn.

And yes, Henry Rollins, that is my antidepressant too. The greatest comfort I can find in the harsh realities of life is the reification of it in something I can touch, can lift– or fail at lifting, whatever the case is that morning.

My friends who do yoga talk about the revelatory moments they’ve had during stretches or poses where all the tension, all the trauma of their past releases and they just can’t stop crying. I’ve found similar moments in WODs… a few of them. The WOD I talked about with The Cyborg– back when I could scarcely front squat 65lbs and he coached me through 12 rounds of 4 reps each minute followed by V-ups. More recently, 12.3, which I conducted a lone on a Saturday after I returned from a AWP (a writer’s conference) in Chicago. Sometimes, in “digging deep,” I unearth more than I intended. Like Rollins, I find working out as a way to deal with feelings of isolation, frustration, inadequacy… Sometimes something snaps and each movement feels like an exorcism… the burn becomes a slow bleeding out of the toxins I’ve unconsciously imbibed.

Then we get to the geekiest reference in this post… if you’ve seen the Avengers movie (not-much-of-a-spoiler alert), the skittish (and very well-acted) Bruce Banner (The Hulk) eventually says “That’s my secret… I’m always angry.” Randomly, throughout my life and in very different groups of friends, I’ve always drawn many references to The Hulk. I think mostly people find humor in the irony of imagining a 5’3″ Asian girl converting into a colossal, florescent-green tank of rage. But the thing is… there’s a little more truth to it than that. I mean, I don’t have an invulnerable, radiation-induced alter ego (though how cool would that be), and I’m not constantly angry. But I feel like I’m constantly… contained. It’s not a feeling I’ve always had– more like something slowly accumulated in the past couple years of trying to become an “adult.” I’ve always had a penchant for overexpression. I attach very easily and completely to people. I want to state everything with probably too much honesty (hence… the blog). But I’ve slowly accepted that mostly that doesn’t work in real-world settings. That, as we get older, people become more reserved, more protected. And a lot of our interactions are dictated by more social forces and precautions than I care to tally. But that leads often to me feeling… silenced. I suppose “the iron” is my way of working through that– so that, unlike Bruce, I don’t become constantly angry. But it’s why, when I spend too long away from the gym, I start to feel edgy– breakable… perhaps about to morph into hullking green terror.I don’t suppose that’s a healthy state of being and I’m trying to figure out a way to be more balanced. Perhaps this is a stage we must all progress through? Or… at least one that I must before I find more stability. Until then… I’ll try to keep it to more productive smashing.



* It occurs to me if I actually had to paint the landscape of the inside of my head, it would be an hazy assemblage of Minas Tirith, Gotham, and Stormhold. My mindscape would be frequently visited by the Fellowship, the Justice League, and the Avengers. Occasionally, it would be raided by the Joker. Also, there would be an arctic training facility a la Rocky IV, and every morning, Rocky and I would conduct focus mitt rounds to Eye of the Tiger.

Shameless Self-Promotion

In General on May 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Well… I’m trying not to use this site as my own pulpit (not too much, anyway), but I couldn’t resist this small opportunity. My box, CrossFit LionHeart is participating in the May Madness competition run by Ask Athletes. The premise is this: individuals post 4 sentences on the Ask Athletes’ facebook page about why they would like the free membership. The posts with the most “likes” wins a free month’s membership, funded by Ask Athletes.

I’ve posted my four sentences here: (I believe I’m comment #52ish, or close…)

This fall, I will downgrade my living space to a basement studio in order to keep paying my gym fees. It was not a difficult choice. CrossFit LionHeart has helped me reclaim my body from years of abuse and neglect; the coaches, the athletes, and the community inspire me daily to shed my limitations and to have faith in my abilities. If I could blanket myself in the rubber floor mats and wake to the alarm of the wall timer, I would—because no other place has ever felt this much like home.

I think I’ll use this space for a little more justification. I hesitated before posting because I’m… not actually sure that I deserve a free membership. I’ve been a member since the gym’s opening and I visit it on a daily basis– just to hang around sometimes. The amount of time I spend abusing their hospitality and patience probably means that I should pay more. However, I’m hoping that the box also has something to gain from its participation in this competition (perhaps even just increased visibility?), and at the very least the gym knows that I’m not going to take the free month and run. With at least four more years left in State College, I’m going to be a constant there, whether they like it or not. And, of course, I’m not going to pretend there’s not a great deal of selfishness in this pursuit. Who doesn’t like free things? I’ve been feeling a little guilty about my spending habits this month, as the trip to Taiwan (May 15-30!!!) has ripped a significant chunk from my savings. I started my MFA unaware that I’d eventually choose to pursue a PhD. The idea of spending 6 years on a grad student’s salary isn’t particularly appealing to me, but I didn’t exactly go into English for the glory and money ;).

I’ve also at times felt guilty for the amount of time I spend at the box. I worry that I’m in the way or a nuisance… but I stay because it’s the first place in State College where I felt visible or empowered. If I’m going to be entirely honest here, I came to State College at a weird time in my life, following some major familial issues and interpersonal conflicts. I’d resorted to exercise as a form of self-flagellation, in a way… It was cathartic because it hurt because I wasn’t allowing myself to think about the other things that hurt. This CrossFit gym– its observant and understanding coaches– were the ones who brought me out of my unhealthy routine. After graduating college, I spent six months in New York City and encountered a real-world beating that I needed but wasn’t ready for. Afterwards, I moved to State College– degraded, demoralized, and pathetic. The box was the first place where I saw myself as capable of anything. Confronting fears like box jumps and rope climbs (heights!) reminded me what it felt like to be strong— reminded me that fortitude comes from within, and that I have to stand on my own rather than waiting for someone to come along to prop me up. And even so… as I staggered on my trembling knees, the community formed my safety net. The trainers and the athletes here supported me when I needed it– and yelled at me too, when I didn’t know I needed it.

This past week, I conducted my MFA thesis reading for the completion of my degree. Traditionally, MFA candidates read excerpts from their theses for a small audience. Most MFAs invite family members. Mine couldn’t attend. I received a few odd critiques from peers in my department that I had invited CrossFitters to my reading– that, instead of parents or siblings, I had the friends with whom I grind out thrusters and pull-ups each morning. But these people have pried my sobbing, trembling body off the ground. They’ve helped me bind ripped hands and torn shins. They’ve caught me when I staggered, nudged me forward when I strayed, and pulled me back when I stumbled too close to the edge. If that’s not family… what is?

Burpee On, My Friends…

In General, Training, WOD on April 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I owe today’s dose of aw(ful)esome to the Burpee Warrior. For those State Collegians reading this blog, there’s a madman in town who’s doing a Burpee Mile to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. I’m rather disappointed that I’ll be out of country when he completes this feat of insanity (mostly because I wanted to be his uncoordinated, burpee sidekick), but it’s a beastly gesture for an admirable cause. For those of you who will be in town this summer, I know he’s looking for people to cheer him on/burpee any part of (or the whole) mile with him, and/or make fun of him for his general ridiculousness in thinking up this project. Some money would be nice too. I believe his donation page is here.

Now onto today’s lesson: if you wish long enough and hard enough the CrossFit Fairy may make your wishes come true. I didn’t do any real strength training today, but I did get to enjoy this doozy:

(WOD credits go entirely to the Burpee Warrior)

Burpee/Prowler Partner WOD:

Partner 1 stands at one end of 25 yards, partner two stands at the other.

Partner 1 pushes prowler 25 yards, burpees back to starting point while Partner 2 holds plank.

Partner 2 pushes prowler 25 yards, burpees back, etc.

Repeat for 15 minutes.

Burpees. Partner WOD. Prowler pushing.

Alas that there’s a bit lot of a strength difference between me and the Burpee Warrior, so I pushed the prowler with two 45 lb plates, and we added another set of 25lb plates for his rounds. It actually worked as a part of the workout. While he burpeed back, I unloaded the plates, and while I burpeed the 25 meters, he added the plates back on.

Wow… that may be the most times I’ve ever used the word “burpee.” Ever.

Anyway, after today’s burpeefest, I started thinking about the “general physical preparedness” aspect of CrossFit. I am one of those people who has CrossFit to thank for a general improvement in my physical well-being. Unfortunately, between grad school stresses and my own life OCD, I’ve not really taken advantage of that very well. Something I’ve only come to appreciate in the past few months– how much more energy I have, and how much I want to spend time exploring my surroundings. As a kid, I hated going outside and resented any additional amount of walking, running, or physical exertion. With my asthma problems, I had to sit out a lot of the times when my friends at camp played soccer or even just tag. I saw physical activity as unpleasant, exclusive, and unapproachable. Often it resulted in me feeling weak, lonely, and inadequate on a bench somewhere watching my peers engage in activities I could not.

But I’ve come a long way from bench-bound asthma-ridden Jo, and I want to celebrate that more. These days I find myself craving a more active lifestyle (a desire often frustrated by my classroom and cubicle-bound job). For example, during my trip to Chicago, I wanted to spend my time walking the city, jogging through the parks, etc. Whereas before, vacations for me indicated ample amounts of hotel and tv time, I’ve redefined “relaxation” to a leisurely, but active engagement with my surroundings (with appropriate amounts of sloth and gluttony as well 😉 ). As part of my CrossFit weirdness, I’ve also decided that, when I can afford it, I want to buy a set of gymnastics rings so I can hang them off tree limbs and sign posts and WOD in all sorts of odd locations. But anyway, I think my point is that I’ve let my preoccupations with life and training get in the way of actually enjoying life and training sometimes. This summer, since most of my work will be independent study and I’ll have to spend less time inside classrooms, I hope to take that as an opportunity to experiment with other interests. I hear there’s good hiking in these parts. I also want to try a 5k for the first time in my life and hopefully conquer my aversion to running.

Anyway, I think I’m reminding myself that the real point of fitness is to be able to enjoy life outside the gym– to be able to join a game of beach volleyball, to go jogging with a friend, to shove a prowler around a back alley with a burpee buddy– or even to be able to burpee a mile in tribute to a favorite charity/cause. That thought helps me put some things in perspective. So what if you didn’t hit a new one rep max today? So what if you failed to beat your old Fran time? Make note of it, adjust your training. But if you’re at the gym to improve your life outside the gym, there’s no use dwelling on it and letting it bleed into other aspects of your life. Just keep calm and burpee on 🙂