CrossFit: getting to being there

The thing about CrossFit that I really enjoy is that it’s possible to feel 100% grounded during the workout.  By that I mean totally focused on what is going on.  I typically start a WOD by thinking “globally” — what the movements are, the sequence, how long the workout lasts, how I’m going to manage it, and so on.  And for a few moments into the workout I might have that global focus.

But after a minute or so I start to get absorbed in the actual performance.  And by that I mean I go from thinking “OK another 200 meters” to “OK that’s a 100 meters” to “OK just get one foot in front of the other” to “don’t stop” and finally a state of non-verbalization.  At that point it takes all the willpower I have to make one more motion.  Time seems to stand still.  Of course time isn’t standing still, it’s my perception of what’s going on that is shifted.

The other day we did a WOD using kettlebells — goblet squat, swings, lunges followed by a 200 meter run.  It was hot outside, about 95 degrees or so.  We had three rounds of 5 minutes with a 1 minute rest between rounds.  The sets were 4 squats, 5 swings, 6 lunges and then run.  I choose 35#.  The idea was to get as many sets completed in the 15 minutes of activity.

I don’t know what the Rx was, I didn’t look. I didn’t have any particular end goal for sets completed.  I just figured I’d give it my best shot.

At the end of the second round (10 minutes into the workout) I was on fire.   I remember leaning up against a set of truck tires, and pulling back because the tires were too hot.  I stood a moment in the shade, but that didn’t help either.  I tried to get “small” by leaning forward a bit and resting on my thighs.  My world was reduced down to just about nothing. But not “nothing” really — more like an elevated state of awareness.  Let’s call it “focus.”

Many years ago (decades actually) I had a job doing hot-tar roofing.  The thing about hot tar is that it has to be about 475 degrees F to be able to apply it.  The application is done by mopping it on, so it has to flow easily.  Anyway one day I was in charge of the kettle, which is a huge square cauldron that we towed behind a stake truck.  The heat came from huge roaring propane burners.  Now the trick to hot tar is to keep it about 475 F, but less then 500 F.  Because if you let it get over 500 it catches on fire.  And that fire cannot be put out easily. It’s very dangerous.

Well I wanted to keep the hot tar hot, and it got to about 525 F and caught fire.  I turned the flame off, closed the lid to cut off the oxygen, but that didn’t help: every time I opened the lid to check on it the flames would shoot out.  The whole crew came down to watch.  And I’m thinking “Wow! This thing is out of control! It’s going to blow!” which it didn’t, but it was, for a moment, really scary.  One thing I can tell you: I was really, really focused.

That’s the feeling I had after the second round of that WOD.  I felt like I was that hot tar kettle, my body on fire getting ready to explode.  I was thinking what’s the next level from here?  Do I just faint?  No, I just keep going.  It’s an odd feeling, like I’m out of the body and totally in it at the same time.  Is that some kind of elevated state?  I don’t know.

The third round was slow.  By the time I got to the run I was shuffling along.  Eventually I got up to slow jog, and then finally for the last few meters something that someone might call “running.”

Total number of rounds: 6 1/2.  I didn’t get a final set of lunges or a run.  I was covered in sweat.  I wouldn’t say it was brutal, but it was really, really tough.  6 1/2 doesn’t seem like much.  But it was, on that day, all I had in me to do.


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