CrossFit: “Newbie Throwdown” — reflections of competition, fitness, performance

A couple of weeks back our CF gym (CrossFit East Sacramento) had the annual “Newbie Throwdown.”   The idea is to have all the newer members, and essentially anyone who is not at level 1 status, participate.  The level 1 athletes act as coach/captain.   It’s an all-day event, 3 WODs plus a floater WOD.

As it so happens I’m in my 2nd year at CFES, but I haven’t taken the level 1 test so I’m still in what is referred to as “Foundations.”  So I still qualify as a “newbie.” So I decided to sign up.  But I admit I had mixed feelings about participating.

The first thing that gave me a bit of a problem is that there is quite a bit of a lead up to the event.  Lots of time to dwell on it and get nervous.  Secondly, unlike regular WODs, these events don’t offer much of a chance to scale.  There is some leeway, a bit of wiggle room sometimes, but not much.  So failure has a larger, uglier face. But I signed up anyway.

The WODS were announced a few days before the event.  The first one was a 400m row, 30x 80lb sandbag squat, 30 lateral burpees over a 16 inch bar, and 30 GHD situps requiring touching a medicine ball, and a final 400m run.  Frankly I didn’t think I could do the 30 squats.  I was part of a four person team, and it was decided I would go first (the assumption being I would be the slowest.)

The good news is the 30 sandbag squats were not that hard, and I kept a steady pace during the whole WOD.  I came in at about 13: 40 for total time, which is the bad news because that is really too slow.  We ended up being the last team to finish (total time of 19 minutes or so.)  My feeling is that had I been able to shave a couple of minutes off my time we would have come in near the top.

The second WOD was a thruster ladder, starting with 95#, then 115#, 125 etc. I knew I could do 95#, but had some doubts about 115#.  I did the 95#, but couldn’t do 115#.

The third WOD was a 400m run, then max reps for: 20# wall ball throws, double unders, 30# db ground-to-overhead (i.e, a 30 db snatch),  jumping pullups, 6 foot wall climbs, and row for calories.  2 rounds, 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off.  If that sounds like a lot of intense work, it is.  Bruising too — the 6 ft. wall climbs were brutal on the forearms.  The wall balls were difficult, I’m not good at double unders, and I was easily the slowest runner.  I did OK at jumping pullups, and wall climbs.

At one point our team was 4th (out of 12 teams) then 5th, and finally 6th overall. At the end of the day I was really tired, and mentally worn out.  I saw quite a few really great efforts.  Lots of very strong, very fit people were competing.

The upshot of all this is that guys who outweigh me by 40 to 100 lbs not only out-lift me, they outrun me.   By quite a bit.  And many (if not most) of the women out-lifted me and out ran me as well.  All in all it’s a bit aggravating.

Now somewhere somebody is going to say, but it’s not about competing with other people, it’s about competing with yourself.  The idea being that it’s all about doing your best, getting PRs, and participating.  The problem with that sentiment is that it’s confusing “fitness” with “performance.”  I could be totally fit and still have a poor performance relative to my peers.

Next someone will say well that’s the problem with CrossFit it’s competitive.  And my response is that so is life, except for those who don’t have to compete, or those who choose not to.

In any case I signed up, I accepted the danger, I knew it would be tough, I knew the people participating were stronger — so why bother?  That’s a good question, and it’s really at the heart of the conversation.

In the end I guess I felt like I owed to myself to get in there and take the physical, mental, and emotional pain and make the best of it.  No PRs, nothing exceptional, I did as well as I could on that day at that time in that place.

Today I noticed that Chris Spealler came in 44th (huh?! 44th? yes) at the first event in the CrossFit 2012 games.  I’ve read Spealler is a great athlete — among the elite super-fit.  No doubt he expected to do better.  Of course he has quite a bit more potential for upside than I do, but that’s beside the point.  He didn’t quit, he’s ready for the next day, he’ll keep going.

Whether I sign up for another competition is an open question.  Maybe I will, maybe not.  In any case managing ego, expectations, fear, and risk is all part of CrossFit.  Sometimes that means not having as good a performance as one would like to have.  It reminds me of life.


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