You want to get better? Do the work.
March 29, 2017
My first CrossFit Open was in 2013 although I don’t count it because I only hit 2 of the WODs. Technically I logged 1 rep in the third workout, 13.3 (wallballs, double unders, ring muscle ups), but that one rep was only for vanity. I headed in to shoulder surgery not long after I counted that one rep. 2014 was my only complete Open. In 2015 and 2016 injuries kept me from completing the 5th workout. Add to that, in 2015 I was only a few months away from from hip surgery and in nowhere near being in shape.
Even with the no-reps in 15.5 and 16.5, I had 3 years of data to look at, and I wasn’t very happy with the results.
In my age group, Men 45-49 years old, I was finishing roughly in the top-25% every year. Even as the pool of participants grew from 5,726 in 2014 to 14,175 in 2017 I would still lock in around that 75% mark. Granted, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Right shoulder surgery in 2013 and right hip surgery in 2014. Hey! Who knew excessive swimming and running would screw up your body? I thought only CrossFit caused people to get injured. Nope. My injuries are all from pounding the crap out of myself after years of triathlon, running, adventure racing, and MTB and running epics. Lot of fun. Also a lot of wear and tear.
Leaving the 2016 Open I was disappointed. I was a little better at top 20% vs. my usual top 25%, but that was purely incremental. Odds are I would have fallen back to 75% if I’d been able to do 16.5. Thrusters/burpee WODs wreak a special kind of hell on my back. This will come up later in this discussion also.
If I was going to get better I needed to have a target. Being a master’s athlete I have an easily recognizable target, and, if one is going to have a goal, why not make it an audacious goal.?Yeah, I said fuck it and targeted the Master Qualifier – or finishing Top 200 in my age group. Let’s ignore that this would require in improvement spanning multiple orders of magnitude. As they say, “Dream Big or Go Home.”
I didn’t pick a goal that was Top-50 in California or some other region because I find those pretty meaningless. The Open is a worldwide thing, but I’m not going to Regionals as a 49 year old who is decent at Crossfit. Top 200 in my age group would be the goal.
What I didn’t have was the answer to a pretty basic question. “I want to make it to the top 200, but how the hell do I get there?”
Crossfit classes are great. With classes, I keep learning and improving. This tall, skinny guy (6’2” 170# in my prime running years) now weighs in at 200# and can squat, deadlift and clean weights I didn’t think were possible for me. That said, I’m still weak overall (225# clean, 300# back squat, 435# deadlift). It was obvious if I really wanted to get better I’d have to go outside the box, or outside of the box’s programming. I trust one coach a lot and asked her for opinions on what programming to start following. There are a lot of great choices out there. Some are free – weekly training programs, some are purchased. None already knew me though. I was surprised when Cheryl offered to run a custom program for me. I was stoked too.
It took us a couple of months to pull together because things were hectic for both of us. In that time I retested all of my lifts and benchmark WODs. I had improved on almost every one of them. Like I said, Crossfit classes are great, and consistency builds competence. Finally, in mid-June I had a program in hand that was tailored specifically to me. I was also a little bit concerned if I would stick with it. I like the atmosphere of a class WOD. I like pacing off of someone who is stronger or faster than me to make me go a little bit harder than my comfort zone would normally allow. By “faster” I mean barbell reps. Very few in my gym are faster at running. Trust me, if I could I would readily trade some of my run pace for some barbell endurance.
Let’s be honest. This was not an easy process. It took me a month or more to get the feel of doing my own workout. Our box is huge, so I could always find space. Initially it felt really weird when I would be doing pull-ups and wallballs next to a class of 30 people who were backsquatting. Then I started to like doing my own thing. It was just me and the clock. My coach programmed a lot of EMOM style WODs because she knows I needed the practice to stay intense and yet not burn myself out.
We had a lot to work on. I sucked at thrusters, HSPUs, wallballs, double unders, mobility of any kind, and any form of overhead work. My olympic lifting skills are pretty poor too. Tall, lanky, immobile and didn’t pick up a barbell until I was 44. That’s not a recipe for olympic lifting success.
I am good at running.
Have I mentioned that?
I’m also pretty good at rowing and on the assault bike. There’s an aerobic theme there even without looking too deep. Old habits die hard.
Back to the process. Did I mention that I also run product at a startup? Oh, and I have an amazing wife and two kids. My wife is awesome with my exercise addictions, but I still had to find time to bump up my workouts from 1 hour of a class to 1 1/2 hours at least. There were a ton of 4am alarms bells so I could get to the gym by 5am (opening time), warm up, do my work, cool down, cleanup and be on the phone for 7am conference calls. Oh yeah, I also run our China operation, so that’s some late night calls.
And travel? Since this training plan started there were 3 trips to China, 2 trips to Europe, and several jaunts around the US. Consistency was not easy to come by, but it was up to me to make it happen.
I purchased templates for RP Diet and got my nutrition on point too. Every time I see someone’s meal prep with on Instagram with all of their meals perfectly proportioned, in individual containers and laid out to coincide with their training calendar I’d get a little jealous. Some days I can get to the gym at 5am. Some days it’s 5pm. Some days I get notified of a meetings that obliterate all training time. It sucks, but I also love startup life.
So hours and hours later there was clear improvement. My ability to rep out wallballs was improving. I still sucked at thrusters. I hit a few PRs here and there. I still sucked at thrusters. I improved a lot on my lifts. I still sucked at thrusters.
Cheryl consistently programmed new variations of workouts to push me into areas where I had to dig deep and stay steady. She had me doing a lot of dumbbell work: snatches, overhead carries, stuff to get me balanced. She also insisted that I work on my double unders. A lot. Until I actually had them again and could rep them out.
And then December came. Who knew it would have been a good idea to get a flu shot?
I lost almost the entire month of December being sick twice. That wrecked me. A chunk of January was lost too. Of course my whole family was sick too. And work stress? Oh no, that didn’t let up either. By now I had shelved my goal of hitting the Top-200. In all honesty it was a pipe dream anyway. I wasn’t really sure if the new goal should be top-500 or top-1,000. December and January really kicked my ass.
Come January I registered for the Open and watched the days click by. The best part of all of this was how calm I felt. Although I commented on the ubiquitous “what will 17.1 be?” threads, I didn’t really care. Bring it Castro. I was as ready as I was going to be.
17.1 dumbbell snatch/burpee box jump overs
My lower back locks up when I do a lot of flexion/extension with it. It’s becomes real pain. This workout really hit on my problems. I didn’t finish in the 20 minute time cap mainly because I couldn’t bend over and pick up the damn dumbbell. The round of 50 was excruciating. That said, I was only 12 reps shy of completing it. Even if I had wanted to there was no way I could re-do this one for a better score.
WOD: 2,880th place. Top 20%
Overall: same…. it’s 17.1.
17.2 lunges / T2B or bar muscle ups / dumbbell cleans
I like stuff like this. I’m not great at lunges, but they fit into that “embrace the suck” mindset. I can string together toes-to-bar, and I do have bar muscle ups. I did the workout once in Barcelona and got 3 rounds. After flying home on Saturday I did it again and added another set of lunges to that tally. Could have had a couple of bar muscle ups, but I screwed up and started doing toes-to-bar instead.
WOD: 918th place, top 6%
Overall: 1,494th place, top 11%
17.3 chest-to-bar pullups / squat snatches
Although I have the motion for butterflying C2B’s I can’t hit my chest to the bar because of bad shoulder mobility, so I kipped all of them. My snatch is not the best, so I stalled out at 135# not getting any lifts there on Friday. This pissed me off. My personal best is 145# (or so I thought), so I should have been able to hit at least 1 at 135#. Thankfully my coach didn’t correct me. My personal best was only 125#. I still didn’t realize that when I went back in on Sunday and hit 4 reps at 135#. Instead of jumping from 95# to 135# I did a rep at 115#. Clearly that paid off.
WOD: 2,776th place, top 20%
Overall: 1,606th place, top 11%
17.4 deadlifts, wallballs, rowing and HSPUs (repeat of 16.4)
This would be my third time doing it this year. In 16.4 I got 2 HSPUs – had plenty of time but really bad HSPUs. this year I PR’ d that by 2 reps in January and by 13 reps in February, but neither of those were to the standard or while being judged. For 17.5 I got 12 HSPUs and 8 no reps. I tried to re-do this one, but at 30 reps of deadlifts I quit the WOD. A re-do was not in the cards.
WOD: 1,428th place, top 10%
Overall: 1,409th place, top 10%
17.5 thrusters and double unders
I was still calm as hell about this announcement. The absolute knowledge that there was nothing more I could do to change anything is so calming. Thrusters and double unders: my thrusters still suck, but they are a LOT better. My double unders are awesome, well, for me. On Friday I hit this one straight through and struggled to a 21:00 finish. On Saturday I mobilized, got a massage and strategized. Coming in to Sunday my plan was to go 1:45 for the first five rounds and and 2:00 for the last 5. EMOM style. It worked. I finished the WOD in 18:18 for close to a 3 minute improvement
WOD: 1,645th place, top 12%
Overall: 1,282nd place, top 9%
BOOM!!!! Top 10% for my age group.
If you want to see what this looks like graphically here ya go….. That doubleheaded arrow is what we like to call “improvement.”
Let’s be honest. With those results I wasn’t even close to hitting the top 200 in my age group. That said, I’m really stoked with how things turned out. The road has been rocky to say the least, but this is clear proof that hard, consistent work pays off. It’s also proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
When we started this journey, my coach Cheryl was very clear, “to be great in CrossFit you CAN’T HAVE ANY HOLES in your game. You don’t need to be perfect in everything, but you MUST be GOOD in everything.” She built a training program that kept my wheelhouse movements in my wheelhouse and dramatically improved the areas where I was weak. As she also mentions, “Ron, you did the work.” That’s true, but I needed a guide, and Cheryl totally kicked ass getting me here.
Am I better at everything? The proof is in the results. 3 of the WODs this year were definitely out of my league in previous years. The pain in 17.1 was real, but I got to a good enough score to keep me moving forward. I knew I would not do well in 17.3, but hitting a PR weight 4 times was enough to keep me from falling too far down the leaderboard. And 17.5. Thrusters have always been a problem for me, and last year I didn’t have double unders. This year I was able to do the thusters in sets of 5/4 and went unbroken on several rounds of double unders.
There is still a lot of room for improvement, but clearly I am better at everything.
Oh yeah. Next year I cross the threshold and enter the 50-54 age group. If you know me and assumed that I was tracking my progress in this Open relative to the 50-54 age group you’d be right. It’s only simple math.
What does the math say? I wouldn’t have hit top-200 in M50-54 this year, but I would have finished in 332nd place.
11 months is a long ways off. My kids need me. My wife needs me. My job needs me.
But I’m still gonna keep fighting. I will be in the Online Qualifier in 2018.