In October of 2012 I noticed dozens of my area CrossFit friends posting photos from an event down in Charleston. The event was outdoors with tons of competitors and looked challenging but also fun, in a twisted way. I was still in my first year of CrossFit and knew I wasn't anywhere close to being able to compete with the people I saw in the photos and videos, so I set a goal to be able to compete in the 2013 event.
Fast forward to last weekend, and I was in Charleston ready to compete in the 2013 Integrity's Revenge event, held at the Riverdogs' minor league baseball stadium (cool venue to be sure). The WODs were released one at a time in the weeks and days leading up to the event, so each of us had time to both prepare and/or freak out if there was a skill in which we were currently deficient (more on this later).
After a lot of internal debate, I decided against entering Men's Scaled division and decided to jump into Men's Rx. I made no disguises about the fact I knew I was in over my head against some of the better CrossFit competition in the area, but figured since I don't have to scale down WODs during my training, it would be equivalent to "sandbagging" to enter a competition and sneak down into the Scaled division. For perspective, I've never been in a competition with more than one or two Regionals-level competitors. This event had probably ten or more.
My goal for the weekend was pretty simple but still somewhat intimidating -- don't finish in last. There were 72 men competing in the Individual Rx division, and all I wanted to accomplish was 71st by any means necessary.
The first event took place with competitors standing on top of the dugouts and featured four rounds of 30 double unders + 15 heavy DB thrusters at 45lbs each, with a 6min time cap.
I felt decently good about this WOD, since I'm not too bothered by heavy thrusters or double unders, plus it was the first event right out of the gate so in-theory I would be somewhat fresh.
Once I got into the second round of thrusters, that was the last time I would ever use the word "fresh" to describe how I felt during the weekend. It was a good WOD and tested most of the field since quite a few of us did not finish under the time cap. Even the best of the heats barely cleared the time limit and we were all spent. This one took a lot out of our shoulders which would be a key factor heading into the next event.
The next event (titled "WOD 2.5") was about two hours later which was another meant to severely tax the shoulders. An 8min AMRAP of 15 Overhead Squats (115#) + 15 Toes-to-Bar, then 12/12, then 9/9. Once finished with the round of nine, we had to complete 18 ring muscle ups in the remaining time allotted.
Since I had only made my first successful muscle ups within the past two weeks, I was realistic about my chances. I hoped to get at-least one, but knew that trying to pull this off on tired shoulders would be difficult. I ended up improving on my time from a testing session during the previous week (from 7:47 to 6:20) but failed three times on the muscle up rings as time elapsed. This would be a foreshadowing of things to come later.
Saturday morning I was pretty beaten up, but not in as bad of shape as I anticipated thanks in large part to a new carbohydrate supplement I picked up before the weekend -- Vitargo. This supplement (works for both pre and post workout) clears the stomach and loads into the muscles at a much faster rate than things like Gatorade, and it was a huge benefit to me with such high volume over a two day period.
Saturday morning we hung around the stadium and cheered on fellow boxmates from CrossFit Dilworth and other friends competing in team divisions, then dealt with "WOD 3" which was my favorite of the weekend. We had five minutes to set a 3 rep maximum of front squats, from the ground. Squat cleaning the weight was allowable.
Once the five minutes elapsed, a one minute clock started immediately where we had to score max effort power cleans at 155 lbs. We had to change and replace all weights ourselves.
I felt hopeful about this event during the week since while I am no all star, Olympic Lifting is one of my stronger areas in CrossFit so far and this WOD would hide my prime weakness (metabolic conditioning). My heat was due around 2pm and by that time I was beginning to feel fatigued after my morning coffee wore off. Strategy is key in a competition like this, and due to the time limit plus having to change our own plates, athletes need to have a strong idea of which weights they will attempt with confidence. My initial plan was to nail 205#, then 225#, and hopefully complete 245#, which is ten pounds off of my PR. During warmups I felt solid on 185# but failed twice on 225#, which got into my head badly. I had very little confidence as we left the athletes area and marched into our lines to meet our judges and get ready for 3, 2, 1, Go.
I remembered my coach's earlier suggestion to "just go for it", so even though I had failed repeatedly in warmups, I put 225# right on the bar for my first attempt and nailed it. I failed on 245# after that but took a quick walk around the bar and gave it another shot. I nailed the clean and first front squat...but on the second squat my decision to wear a sleeveless tank backfired because the bar slipped off my sweaty shoulder. My left hand grip was fine but I held the bar on my right side like a baby and somehow the judge gave me credit for showing control at the top on the third and final attempt. No more tank tops during competitions. I finished 18 reps in one minute on the max effort power cleans, which wasn't a great score (the elites were in the 20-25 range) but definitely in the range of being respectable.
The final event ("WOD 4") had been staring me in the face for over a week. 8min AMRAP of 7 burpee box jumps + 12 Wall Balls + 1 rope climb. We don't currently have a rope at our gym, so my boxmates and I who competed in the event don't have the same amount practice as other competitors did. Saturday morning, during some of my down time I found a man (clearly a CrossFit veteran) and his teenage son doing a brief workout on their own and asked him for pointers in climbing the rope. I explained that I was competing in two hours and had only learned about rope climb strategy three days ago. The man was extremely helpful and encouraging, teaching me to get up the 15 foot rope one solid time which definitely went a long way in helping my confidence with WOD 4 looming.
The event run of show fell a bit behind schedule so after WOD 3 (squats/cleans) there was an effort to move things along quickly. I was sitting in the athletes village finishing my shake when I heard the emcee call out athletes for "Heat One in WOD 4". Since I was in Heat Two...that meant I needed to throw my crap back on and sprint across the field and up the stairs to go check in and have a fight with these rope climbs.
Things did not go well.
After the first set of 7 burpee box jumps, my strategy of taking everything slow and conserving energy didn't matter. I was out of gas. I was like your iPhone when the battery meter turns from green to red. I made it through the wall balls (a regular nemesis) fairly easily then got to the rope. At this point, much of the event became a blur. I remember failing a few times (even with gloves) to hold my grip, but eventually made it up the rope thanks to teaching tips from the man I met, plus my judge who was an incredibly supportive guy during my failures.
After reaching the top of the rope and descending, I remember feeling completely empty. I was spent and out of gas. I walked (read: stumbled) back over to the burpee box jumps and worked through both those and the wall balls.
Coming back to the rope a second time was a long miserable walk, and I proceeded to fail more times than I can remember. My arms were completely out of gas. My grip strength was non-existent.
I've been doing CrossFit for a year and a half and have never been in a workout before when my mind kept telling my body to do something that it refused to do. I could feel the other competitors in my heat moving up and down the rope climbs without problems on both sides of me, while I kept failing and failing, then grabbing my shorts bent over gasping for air. In reality it was probably two or three minutes of clock time passing, but it felt like an eternity until the clock hit zero.
It was a bad failure and the lowest moment I've had in CrossFit since I first started doing this.
One of the unique things about "failure" in this sport is that it presents you with two choices, two paths. In one sense, CrossFit mirrors life, because failure and defeat present us with a fork in the road.
We always have the option to accept our defeat, and let that failure be part of what defines us moving forward. In the course of accepting that defeat, there is comfort in the litany of excuses nearby, ready to be grabbed and claimed. I could talk about being much older than most of the competitors in my division that weekend. I could point to the fact that my work travels were abnormally high leading up to the event which kept me from training with anything close to the consistency necessary to compete well. I could point to our gym not having a rope installed and use that as a crutch to excuse my poor performance.
I always like to say that there is a difference between a reason and an excuse. A reason is the cause that leads to an eventual effect or happening. An excuse is meant to eliminate blame and responsibility. Reasons will always be present to hold us back from achievements. Excuses are the things you latch onto when taking the easy way out after a failure or a defeat.
The second path involves facing up to those reasons, then pushing them aside and continuing to get better. Despite the debacle in the final WOD, it was still both a fun and productive weekend in Charleston. I know where my deficiencies lie. I know what steps need to be taken to work on them. Once in a while it's good to have a low moment like this, because it teaches you a lot about yourself. Both who you are and who you desire to become. This doesn't have to apply to CrossFit, it carries over into any walk of life. A bad test score, a failed relationship, losing out on a job or a promotion or sales account, defeats happen. Failures are inevitable when you challenge yourself.
Minutes after WOD 4, I sat alone in a corner away from the crowd and had a fairly depressing pity party. Light-headed and dripping sweat into puddles on the concrete, I felt like never seeing (let alone trying to climb) a rope again in my life. A little while later, a friend pointed out that Rich Froning had his rope climb failure in the finals of the CrossFit Games (2010) with everything on the line. If he could endure something like that, then I could endure this. I laughed off his comparison at first, but then it started to make sense. One reason why Rich is such a great ambassador for our sport (read his book, it's good...) is because he was introduced to us by first being humbled. Then he came back from his failure and choked out his weakness the following year. Something we can all learn from.
Defeat can have benefits. Once it shoves you to the floor, standing over you laughing and pointing, the question becomes how will you deal with it?
Which of the two paths will you ultimately take?
As for me...I have to get back on the rope.
*Note - I made my goal, I did not finish last in the Men's Rx division. 68th place out of 72 overall. (fist pump)