Better Than Yesterday
A 20-inch-high box with two kettlebells resting on top. I walked towards them.
It was the end of the session. I had already done running drills and lifting skill practice. I had deadlifted for 9 rounds of 3 reps. And I had done 4 rounds of landmine presses, double sled lengths, and banded marching. My whole body had already worked hard. My hamstrings and glutes were already buzzing. My arms already felt taxed. And that made it precisely the right time for a hard finisher.
My coach knows what he's doing: He's making me a better runner by making me a better, fitter athlete. I knew what lay ahead was going to suck. And suck really hard near the end. But I also knew the pain cave I was about to enter and come out the other side of would not only inch me a tiny bit closer to the big October marathon goal time I’ve set but also make me a stronger, tougher, better human.
"Four minutes on the clock," Coach Dave said. "Kettlebells in front rack position. You're going to step up, and then down. Repeat five times, then change the lead leg. This is going to be a mental grind; it's going to simulate that point in the marathon when you're tired and your form goes to shit. You may have to shift the kettlebells to your shoulders or to the sides or get rid of them altogether. But whatever you do, DO NOT stop stepping up and down."
At around kilometre 37 in the marathon, about three hours in, my body starts telling me to quit running. That's the point at which it decides I'm insane and does whatever it can to right the wrong. Everybody has a breaking point like this, and it’s when mental fortitude must take over. Your mind has to be strong enough to keep forcing one foot in front of the other. Your mind has to know that your body can endure pretty much anything and just needs to be told what to do. You mind has to lead when every fibre of your being is screaming at you to stop — STOP. And here's the beauty of CrossFit: It took about two minutes for me to get to that point with the kettlebells and the box.
Two minutes in and my body was saying, "Hi, What are we doing here? This is not pleasant. This should stop. This should stop now." Except that's not an option when there are two minutes left on the clock. So I shifted the bells to hang over my shoulders and kept stepping. Up, down. Up, down, Up, down. Beads of sweat were landing in splatters on the wooden box below me. I could hear my coach in some distant part of my brain spurring me on. Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. I decided I hated kettlebells. I glanced up at the clock: 2:52. Just over a minute to go. I picked a spot on the floor in front of me and stared at it — every bit of pain I felt I directed to that spot. Take that, Pain — you can't hurt me.
I was breathing hard but tried to keep the inhale-exhale steady and controlled. The box felt like it had grown taller by at least a foot. My lip began twitching with every step under the strain. My slippery grip on the kettlebells made me realize that there wasn't an inch of my skin that wasn't soaked through with sweat. And that's when I heard Coach Dave's voice: "That's it! Four minutes!" I had made it to the time cap and kept the kettlebells up. It was now perfectly acceptable to drop the weight and stop. Except I had just switched lead legs and was two steps in on that side. I wanted to finish the finisher cleanly. 3-up-down. 4-up-down. 5-up-down. I ground out the final steps.
While one of a coach's roles is to be supportive and encouraging, you can always tell when they're truly happy with an effort. I love when Dave yells, "LEGEND!" when I accomplish something. But after that step-up finisher, he just smiled the smile of a Cheshire Cat, nodded at me knowingly, and slapped my hand, which was still trembling post-exertion.
This is my very favourite part of training — pushing through a limit. There are few things that can rival what it feels like to have persisted when you wanted to stop, to have completed something that felt impossible in the midst. It changes you at a fundamental level.
I changed in this way when I trained for my first marathon. I didn't think I'd ever experience that same kind of radical evolution again. But here I am, pushing all sorts of new limits. Even two months ago I never expected to be supplementing my running with CrossFit. But life works in mysterious ways. Though my physiotherapist had been recommending strength training for a long time, I never knew where to start with it in earnest. And then came along someone who offered an inside look at what CrossFit really is and how it might help me. Deciding to work with a coach has required sacrifices in other areas of my life, but I’ve chosen to invest in me and getting my body and mind to where they need to be in order to discover a whole new version of myself — as a runner, an athlete, and a human. Now, my two mornings a week at the box are the ones I look forward to most.
One more time, I am becoming — becoming someone I wouldn't be otherwise if not for challenge, and the resulting change.
I lift weight now. I know acronyms like “EMOM,” “METCON,” and “AMRAP.” I work harder than I’ve ever worked before. And here’s the best part: I’m just getting started.
On the wall just inside my CrossFit box, the wall is painted with the words, "Better Than Yesterday."
Oh, yes. I am, indeed.