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This year I decided to sign up for the Crossfit Open.  For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s a worldwide athletic competition that takes place in Crossfit ‘boxes’ simultaneously every year.  While hundreds of thousands of athletes join up, it is only the elite-level that continue on past the first five weeks.  So I registered, fully aware that it would be  a five week endeavour – and not an easy one.

Crossfit BradfordThe general format is that every Thursday evening there is a workout announced.  These will have a wide variety of components, but with a mix of heavy lifting, high intensity movements, and gymnastics components (think barbells, pull up bars, body-weight movements and more)  All participants must be judged for technique and accuracy by a certified Open judge with scores submitted online by the following Monday.  (If you haven’t heard of any of this yet, check out www.games.crossfit.com)

I almost didn’t register, mostly because I knew that my stress threshold this year has been sitting pretty close to full.  Workouts stressful?  Well, they can be.  IF you have the potential to be as competitive as I can be (which I’d say most crossfitters are).  As a recovering perfectionist, I’d say that the tendency to have very high expectations of myself are always up there.  Yes, it’s just a workout.  But I’m competing against my most fierce and unforgiving opponent:  myself.

At first I didn’t sign up. It wasn’t even on the radar.  But it slowly crept in.  I’ve been training this way for more than 2 years now.  The Open is a great community builder.  It’s a great measure of myself, as well as a way to compare my own gains against those of a larger group.   And maybe it would be a good idea to have something on my plate to push myself that was not work or home-life-related.

I felt like the only way I could take this on and avoid overburdening my stress-meter was to set up some of my own ‘rules’.  I realize that many of the other athletes who do this do so with the attitude of “give it all I’ve got” – (and my approach may actually be considered blasphemy in some circles) –  but for me, I had to take that level of intensity off the table.  I wanted to go through this experience feeling happy with my efforts, while picking up on the areas I want to work on more.  Finally, once I discovered that I wouldn’t hold back my team if any of my scores were low, my decision was made.

My Rules for the Crossfit Open:

Rule 1 – I was doing this for myself.

Rule 2 – I would only compare myself against myself, not anyone else.

Rule 3 – I would not stress or spend undue time ‘strategizing’ my workout beforehand.

Rule 4 – I would only do each workout once.  No repeats.

Rule 5- I will revisit all 5 workouts at some time in the next 6 months to see how I fare at those times. (This is how I’ll let this be a competition of me against myself)

Rule 6Technique, technique, technique.  More important than score, time or ego.  I was using this Open as a chance to hone my skills, push a little harder than usual, and more importantly, I want to avoid injury.

Rule 7- I would let this be fun.  For me this meant that I would push like a regular crossfit day.  80-90% effort was my goal.  If I had more, I’d give more.  Ultimately I wanted to walk away from each workout feeling happy with my efforts.

I questioned Rule 7 many times.  This didn’t mean that I didn’t work hard, or that I didn’t push myself.  And the questions did pop into my mind at times: Was I being lazy?  Why wouldn’t I want to push as hard as I could?  Why wouldn’t I want to see how well I could really do?  I think it was that I was concerned that without giving myself permission to do so, I would be at risk of pushing past that hard-to-discern point between maximum effort and stupidity.  I chose this route for this particular Open to have the experience of participating while minimizing the chances of injuring myself, pushing myself into overload / stress mode, and losing sleep over a competition.  Quite frankly, other parts of my life are too important for me to not consider those things.

My rules worked for me… until I started to break them.  I saw friends and acquaintances posting their experiences and results on Facebook.  I was being texted about it and responding in kind.  It was like I was back at school where I hated the whole “How’d you do?!” frenzy that often came after tests.  I guess it was the same mentality then too – I wanted to do my best and not compare.  A hard thing to do.

I started to hear people mention strategies that made sense.  Maybe I should look into the workouts more beforehand, too, I thought.  (I shouldn’t have.) It just started me thinking, and once I went down this road, I slept poorly the night before the workout, and felt almost nauseously ill all day leading up to it.  Not the mental or physical state I was wanting to be in.

So I returned to my rules.  And reminded myself again WHY I was doing this.  I was doing this for myself. Me, Myself and I.

Instead of giving into the frustration of “I could have done better;”  or that yucky feeling of failure when you feel like “someone beat me”, I chose to see what I was gaining from this. (I may potentially reflect and blog more on this after it’s all over.)

Yes, I’ve been working hard.  Some of the workouts are as mentally taxing as they are physical.  But through it all, I see the community in our Crossfit coming together, and  I see the sharing of virtual high fives on Facebook pages everywhere as people post both their wins and challenges.

As with so many things in life – it is what you make of it.  The Crossfit Open is simply a tool – one that will be used in many different ways for the participating athletes.  And as with any tool, it can be used in useful or potentially harmful ways.  My rules were my way of making this a positive experience.

After all, I joined Crossfit to get strong, lean and fit – all in my quest to be as vibrantly healthy as possible.  I discovered a way of training that made sense to me for how we are designed to move, and it opened my eyes to a whole host of skills and strengths that I would not have otherwise had.  But I also got hooked because it was enjoyable to me.  (I still can’t quite say fun, although there are times that it certainly is).

Am I strong?  Am I healthy?  Am I learning new things?  Pushing new boundaries? You bet.  Even in the Open.  And with my rules in place – for me – there are still some times that it’s even fun.