On this slightly rainy stat holiday, when I can’t get my errands done anyway because everything is closed, I thought it would be a good time to do some annual post-CrossFit Games Open reflecting.
In 2011 I signed up for the open because JenBoss told me to. Both myself and the open were brand new to crossfit, and I had no idea what to expect except that I might not be able to do all of the required movements. I made it a personal challenge to try something scary and hard, and to set a goal that I might not actually achieve: to get one rep in each wod. I achieved that goal, and learned a lot about pushing yourself to do more than you thought you could (I wrote about it here). In 2012 I signed up to see how much I’d improved and ended up, once again, learning more about CrossFit and about myself (reflections here and here). In 2013 I was stronger mentally and physically and signed up once again to test myself (and, of course, I did even MORE reflecting here, here, here, here, aaand here)
This year was different.
In a throwback to that first of all Opens, my goal was not to test how far I’d come, my goal, and my achievement, was participation. Eight months ago I didn’t know if I would be well enough to participate at all; I didn’t know what the year would hold for me in terms of treatments, surgeries, and recoveries. As it happened, I finished my chemo and radiation 1 week before the first WOD was released, and with surgery scheduled for April, I had just long enough to fit in the open. So this year, I signed up because I could, and this year, the Open taught me the most important lesson thus far.
Some context: WOD 14.4 destroyed me, mentally and emotionally (60 calorie row, 50 toes to bar, 40 wallball, 30 cleans, 20 muscle ups – 12 minute time cap). Up until this point, throughout my treatment, I had done a reasonable job of managing my expectations to reflect my situation. I have certainly had moments where I have been frustrated with my reduced capacity, but overall I have estimated well what I could reasonable expect myself to achieve. 14.1 actually went better than expected when I borrowed Ashley’s magical rope and suddenly got double unders back after not being able to practice them for 6 months. In 14.2 I hoped to be able to get through the first round of overhead squats and chest to bar in under the 3 minute time cap, and surprised myself by managing with 3 seconds to spare (reward: do another 3 minutes! Seriously considered no repping myself on the last pullup to avoid doing so...). Deadilft is my best lift by far and so I loved 14.3 (so much I did it again 4 days later just for fun!).
Then. 14.4 and those damned toes to bar. I thought I stood a reasonable chance of getting to the cleans. On a good day, I thought, I might even finish them. I set up to do the T2B on that same bar where I got my first rep in 2011, and felt far more optimistic than I ought. I rushed too hard through the row and struggled with the T2B from the start. By the end of 12 minutes, failing reps and cursing the whole way through (but bless you, Alli, for your encouraging spirit), I’d finished only 37 out of the 50 and was nowhere near the goal I had set.
I have NEVER in my life felt so utterly defeated. Even at my diagnosis, when Dr. M told me what was in store, I felt confident and ready to beat cancer (My response to him was “Fuck. Well, you’ve killed this before? Ok, let’s do it again then.”) But after I had so very miserably failed to meet my expectations on 14.4, the enormity of everything that has happened since September, and all that still has to happen before it’s over, hit me in the gut. I sat down on the floor of the gym and full on sobbed for five minutes – the so called “ugly cry”. There were people everywhere but I didn’t care. Those effing toes to bar had squeezed out so much emotion I felt I might burst if I didn’t let it out (sorry if that was awkward for everyone else :P)
I went home that night feeling like Cancer had somehow won, had somehow managed to break me down and steal that feeling of defiance that working out during treatment has given me. Then the boyfriend said something true: “It isn’t about the cancer, I don’t think. You just expect too much of yourself right now.”
He was, as usual, right. That most important lesson that this year’s Open taught me, is to truly understand the following: accepting limitations is not the same as admitting defeat. Know the difference, and recognize when the former is appropriate.
I have struggled with this all along, even before cancer; I think it’s something we all struggle with at some point. Am I giving up on this because it feels hard and I’m afraid of failing, or because it’s the smart thing to do for my body today?
I have learned, in the past, that you will never struggle to find excuses if you look for them. Before Cancer I made a conscious effort not to look for them, not to give myself excuses that might prevent me from giving my full effort, or from accepting responsibility for my failures (and have had varying success at this). Since Cancer, though, I have struggled to find the balance of not allowing Cancer to be an excuse to stop living, while still recognizing when my body needs me to take that excuse and rest.
14.4 taught me that the key to that balance is appropriate management of expectation. A few days later, I tried it again. This time, my goal was not to get a certain score score, but to finish the twelve minutes without wanting to cry afterward. This time, understanding not to expect so much of myself, I took a leisurely row and calmly chipped away at the T2B. This time, I finished them with 30 seconds to spare, and left feeling in control and accomplished.
CrossFit in general and the Open in particular almost always have something to teach me; I’ve learned to look for those lessons, and to pay attention.