I’m the King of the World

If there’s one thing that Crossfit is not, it is not predictable. Not only do the workouts vary wildly from one day to the next – your body’s ability to conquer them grows and changes as well. The repeated exposure to new challenges and unknowns taps into reserves of courage I didn’t realize I had. This truth was quite evident to me this week as I stared down the barrel of a 12-minute row.

Three weeks ago, I survived a WOD that duplicated the 2014 Crossfit Open workout, 14.4:

60-calorie row
50 toes-to-bars
40 wall-ball shots
30 cleans
20 muscle-ups

Well, I survived some of it; we were scored by reps completed, and I made it 17 reps into the wall balls for a score of 127. (I also replaced the toes-to-bars with med ball situps, as I’m still working on hanging from the bar).

That 60 calorie row was brutal. It took me at least 7 minutes. I was the last one off the rower (as per usual), and I could barely stand when I was done.

A lot of Crossfitters seem to hate rowing, but I don’t mind it. I might actually like it someday, if I can ever get better at it. I lack two crucial elements at this point: power and lung capacity. The rower is the second fastest way (after running) to cash out my lungs and throw my heart rate through the roof. Long before my legs or arms tire, I hit the wall of “I… can’t… breathe…”

When I checked out the WOD a few nights ago and saw a 12 minute row, I immediately flashed back to the 14.4 workout. Oh, how awful that row felt! It reminded me how out of shape I’d let myself get and made me suck wind like never before. If I could barely survive 7 minutes, how would I ever survive 12? I went to bed that night with a dark cloud over me, sad that I was heading into a workout that had a real chance of beating me.


Pooh: Have you ever had one of those days when you just can’t win, Eeyore?
Eeyore: Yup, I know how that feels.

I woke up the next morning and tried to look at the bright side: at least I didn’t have to count! The rowers have performance monitors that track all of the numbers for us. I headed to the gym and tried to formulate a game plan that involved not dying on the rower. The only thing I could come up with was: row slow.

Before I knew it, the timer counted down 3… 2… 1… go! And we were off. I tried to keep a slow and steady pace, but by 3:00, as usual, my lungs were on fire and I was breathing like a maniac. A couple minutes later, Coach Lauren cued me to put more power in my legs. “Push through the heels… strong pull!” The calories/hour rate on the performance monitor jumped significantly, but I was having trouble balancing my power output and my need for sweet, sweet oxygen.

I’ve watched a lot of videos on rowing. They all say to have a fast, powerful pull, and a slow, smooth recovery. That sounds great in theory, but somehow, my recovery was never slow enough to catch my breath. In a state of near-hyperventilation, it’s pretty hard to turn around and give a fast, powerful pull. Some videos address breathing, but only to state that you should get into a rhythm, with no suggestions on how to do that.

As the halfway point of that 12 minute row approached, I knew I had to find some way to catch my breath, or I would be toast.

At 6:00, my monitor showed 55 calories. Coach Lauren wanted to see us maintain our first half pace in the second half. I had to do something different. How could I slow down that recovery phase so I could catch my breath and push off consistently stronger on the next stroke? It wasn’t pretty, but as I slid forward into each catch, I took the slightest of pauses – just long enough to get one big inhale. Then, I pushed off again.

I was taking fewer strokes per minute, but I started to catch my breath, and my power output stayed consistent and was slightly higher than a few minutes prior. It didn’t feel at all smooth and graceful, but I felt much better and started to get into a rhythm of breathing, too.

The remaining 6 minutes were hard – but they weren’t worse than hard. I expect most of what I do in Crossfit to be hard. I want it to be hard. Worse than hard sucks (I do not at all believe you have to hack up a lung or puke your guts out to have an intense and acceptably hard workout), but hard is a challenge I’m up for. Those last 6 minutes felt good and hard.

As Coach Lauren called time, the rower reported 112 calories. I was 25 calories lower than the next lowest athlete, and a good 50 calories or more below most of the class (100 calories below the 9am top score). I only compare myself to the class to marvel at how fit my gym mates are, and note where I stand for future progress checks. The bright spot in my result was that I rowed 57 calories in the second half (compared to 55 calories in the first half). Not only did I maintain my pace, but bettered it by 2 calories, despite the onset of some pretty serious fatigue as the clock wound down.

And, I rowed for 12 minutes. Not only did not die, but pulled out what I feel was a strong improvement over 3 weeks ago. I still have a lot to learn about rowing, and a long way to go in rebuilding my fitness, but this day was a win.

It sure felt good to kick that rain cloud aside and take some comfort in the fact that I stared down yet another scary thing, faced it with courage, and emerged victorious. You won’t get me today, rower. I’m the king of the world.

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