After five grueling weeks, the CrossFit Open 2020 has come to a close. CrossFitters everywhere breath a collective sigh of relief, pop some Aspirin, lick their wounds, and return to workouts that are not 20 minutes of sanity-testing effort. As we all return to more reasonable forms of torture and exhaustion, most of us will reflect on skills that could be improved and lifts that we’d like to hit over the next year. Before moving on to plans for improvement and News Year’s Resolutions, I wanted to take some time to solidify the lessons that this year’s exercise in madness taught me. I’m hard headed, and often need to learn things by failing multiple times, and as such I am hoping that if I sit down and write things out, maybe I don’t need to be the victim of my own folly once again. So, here they are, six lessons I (re)learned during the 2020 Open.
Endurance Is Important
It did not go unnoticed that four out of the five workouts featured this year had time caps that exceeded 12 minutes. In the CrossFit world, 15 minutes is a long time to keep moving. For the most part, CrossFit is about pushing and red-lining and max efforts, and it’s not easy to go full throttle for any truly extended period of time. While it is so valuable to have the ability to go hard and move efficiently, these skills are of limited value if you can only engage them for two to three minutes at a time. What CrossFit is really about is functional ability; building skills that will allow you to move through the world as a stronger athlete overall. Outside the box, most of the important things in life are a result of constant, steady efforts and the ability to keep pushing forward even when your mind is begging you to stop. Building the mental ability to keep going when you’re exhausted, worn out, and ready for a beer and a nap is something I see so many people struggle with. When you’re used to having ready access to most of what you want and need, it can be easy to lose that endurance muscle. Let me tell you though, it is a whole lot easier to press forward when you really need to if the concept of endurance is something that you have practiced in one way or another.
Even Strong Bodies Have Weaknesses
I don’t consider myself some sort of Wonder Woman, with the strength to pick up a Buick or hit a 255lb power clean. But for a 130lb girl, I do consider myself to be fairly strong; strong enough to move a heavy ass dresser on my own and carry all 19 bags of groceries from my Jeep to my kitchen #teamonetrip. Not only do I think I’m reasonably in shape, it’s also a big part of my identity. I identify as a physically capable woman, and that’s something that is important to me. Because of this, it can be a sort of ego check when I’m smacked in the face with a movement that my body just isn’t able to do correctly. I’ve spent years trying to get my back squat up over 200lbs, and please don’t ask me how my bar muscle ups are coming along.
It’s frustrating. It can be frustrating enough to induce tantrums when a body that is otherwise strong and capable isn’t able to do something that by all logic it should be able to do. And yes, I know a lot of movements require a combination of form, body awareness, and strength in order to truly nail them, but that can be hard to remember when you’re upside down, trying to get your feet over a line on the wall only to hear “no rep” for the 6th time. But the weaknesses are important, because they force you to be tenacious and gritty. And I can tell you that while being able to squat clean 145lbs hasn’t really made any impact on my life outside the box, being able to stubbornly try something for the 9th time because I’m just not willing to take no, that has had some real benefits that are not limited to CrossFit.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Almost every single workout during this year’s Open had some sort of surprise for me. I had serious doubts about whether my legs would be able to survive 30 pistols after 90 box jumps, but they did (barely, but it counts). 65lb clean & jerks sounded pretty light, until I tried to do 100 of them. Handstand push-ups on a mat seemed like they would be more difficult than on a flat surface, but I was irritatingly wrong. I learned after 20.3 just how important it is actually try something before making a decision that you can’t change midway. I also learned that sometimes things that sound impossible aren’t, and sometimes things that sound easy will be maddeningly difficult. This reminded me of just how important it is to be able to be somewhat flexible and remain open to exploring things. It’s easy to think after years of doing something that you have a good understanding of the best way to approach it, but it’s a real super power to be able to roll with things as they come and problem-solve in the moment. That’s part of what I love about endurance running. Once you move past marathon distances, it is inevitable that you’re going to run full force into some sort of obstacle (GI distress, blisters, muscle cramps, hallucinations, etc). Survival depends on your ability to adjust and find a way to manage these obstacles, which is equal parts mental and physical. When things aren’t going the way you had planned, it’s easy to lose your shit, but that’s the exact moment you give up the ability to think creatively and find a solution. Coming back to CrossFit and life in general, it’s a lot easier to make adjustments to your plans in the absence of assumptions.
Be Willing to Try
I could spend every day for the next five years of my life in the box, and I still wouldn’t ever find myself magically at the Games. Hell, I could do two a days for the next seven years and not even make it close to Regionals. Yet every year, I find myself doing these ridiculous workouts, just to see what I’m capable of. I always remind myself that the purpose of the Open isn’t really to see how you stack up against anyone else, or even to get in a good workout. The purpose is to put yourself in a position where you’re willing to try something that you probably wouldn’t go for the other 47 weeks out of the year. Being open to sitting with doubt and discomfort and pain and frustration all just to explore your own personal limits. There’s something written into the genetic code of human beings that makes us curious, and while I can’t speak for all humans, I can say that there’s certainly something written in my own coding that makes me want to push up against all of those boundaries. I don’t like confines or restrictions, and while it can be really intimidating to show up to something that sounds impossible, it’s also really freaking exciting when all those personal ceilings crumble.
Shit Doesn’t Always Go As Planned
This lesson was hard learned for me during the last Open workout that I did not complete, or start for that matter. It was also learned when I spent seven minutes trying to get through the hand stand push ups that I didn’t think would be all that difficult for me to complete. It’s part of human nature to become frustrated and agitated when the outcome you experience and the outcome you predicted are separated by a rather large delta. Being able to stay focused and calm during times of disappointment and stress can be the difference between staying stuck and being agile. Like I mentioned earlier, approaching life with ability to problem solve and stay flexible can be a real game changer. Some of my best athletic performances and life experiences have happened when I’ve let go of my plans, and decided to bet on myself and my abilities even when self-doubt was screaming at me to retreat to the safety my contrived limits.
Burpees Still Suck
No need for explanations here. They just do. The end.
While I didn’t hit any PR’s or nail a new movement, I consider this round of Open workouts a success. I showed up to every single one that I was physically able to with the intention of simply doing my best. I was open to seeing whatever that was for me on that day. I didn’t have any meltdowns, and I didn’t ever give up. In 20.4, I tried five different times to hit that 145lb squat clean before my time ran out. As much as I wanted to throw something when I had to drop down to singles 14 hand stand push-ups in to 20.3, I took it for what it was and kept doing those damn singles. I’m proud of myself for showing up, I’m proud of myself for taking care of my body, and I’m proud of myself for taking things as they came and doing most of it with a smile on my face, plus or minus a few cuss words here and there. So no, I didn’t learn how to do ring muscle ups, but I reminded myself of a lot of lessons that have been meaningful to me inside and outside the box.