Back to school

Yes, it's as painful as it looks

While I heave my weights around back in the lifting corner of the gym, I often keep my eye on the CrossFit classes in progress, watching members challenge themselves in barbaric/fun ways. As much as I love my power lifting work, I am a little jealous watching the classes, and seeing photos later of friends wiped out, lying on the floor after a brutal session. I want to be a part of all the fun!

So today when I came in for my regular program, I was happily surprised when Ben said “you’re doing a class today.”  It’s been weeks and weeks – actually maybe even three months or more since I’ve done a proper CrossFit, so I had some trepidation as I changed into my workout clothes. But I was excited to be part of it.  How cute and naive.

First up for me and my classmate, Paula: Shoes off. Jump rope. Five minutes. Five minutes is a pretty long time to hop up and down, and my triceps began to burn too from my work yesterday. But I made it with only a little heavy breathing at the end and a couple two or three second stops to switch styles. I felt good remembering my first 30-second attempts a few months ago.

Then some push presses. 15 reps with 10lb kettlebells. Not too bad on the first set. A little quivery on the second. And had to scrounge for some gumption to finish the third.

So far, so good though. Then we hit the team pull-up/jump-rope combo. Paula is on her third day here, so Ben gave her help with a nice thick assistance band. He hung a thin one for me, but told me to start without it. I haven’t been working much lately on chin-ups because of a shoulder issue that lasted a while, so I wasn’t sure I could do one, let alone five. The great thing about working with a group though, even as small as one classmate and a coach, is you push yourself way harder than on your own. If he told me to do five without a band, then that’s what I would do. I’m still thankful I can do them at all after all the work that went into getting there. It took every scrap of strength to haul myself up to the bar four times, and I had to have help for the fifth, then it was more jump rope – 50 each till we hit 200. Back to the pull-ups — I had what I thought was almost nothing left, and used the black band this time (although I managed to slide my foot out and get smacked in the back with it. Undeterred, Ben helped lift me a little, like in my early training days). I lost count of the rounds we did this, although I’m sure it was only a few. My arms were noodles.

But the fun (this is fun, right?) wasn’t over. I haven’t picked up a sandbag in months. Now we had two. A 40 and a 50 pound. The game was Paula would run the heavy one the shorter part of the block while I ran the lighter one the longer part. Then we’d trade, rest if we beat our teammate back, then do it all over. And if we didn’t make it in the time Ben gave us we’d do it all again.

I lost any sense of pride quickly. My breath tore through my throat and lungs on the way up and back, and because I had the longer run, there was no rest. On the shorter, heavier bag run,I heard a hideous wheezing sound that it seemed I was making, but couldn’t spare the energy to care. My face contorted and I thought I saw Ben with his sly camera skillz, but didn’t care what I looked like. I had precious few moments to rest before Paula made it back, and I hung my head between my knees, desperate for breath. I very definitely did not want to pick up her bag and do this again. Blood roared in my ears but I heard Ben booming at us, “Pick it up, GO!”

Only fear of the eternal humiliation of giving up in front of my coach spurred me on, because my heart was thundering.  I slogged up the sidewalk at a shuffle just fast enough to pass for an attempt at a run, wanting with every step to throw the bag down and lie on the sidewalk. I couldn’t form coherent thoughts, but the fragments were all in the same vein: you don’t have to do this, you can stop, you’re dying! But some urge to not fail overrode it. I had one more to go – drop the bag, pick up the heavy one. “If you don’t make it in 45 seconds you’re going again!” Ben yelled.  Like hell I am, I thought. I couldn’t even count down in my head, I could only try to suck in air and propel my feet to carry almost 50% more than their normal load. I learned early on that the sidewalk outside the gym magically grows in length. It’s still true. Ben — and my finish line — seemed a mile away. Paula was coming at the finish too, both of us aiming for one thing — to drop the bags and be blissfully still.

No pride left at this point, the last few steps, when I knew we’d make our time, I slowed to a walk.  And with tremendous relief I slid the bag off my shoulder then promptly collapsed into it.  “It’s been a long time since I thought I’d throw up,” I thought blearily. My head roared and my vision was dark around the edges.  “water. seriously.” I said to Ben, and made my ginger way on spaghetti legs to the water fountain. I just let the water hit my mouth, as I couldn’t seem to swallow it. So I lay on the floor instead until I had the energy to take a drink.

We finished with some deep stretches that I’d have gladly skipped to stay on the floor.

But after my heart had resumed a normal pace I was able to smile, and to ponder how much I need to work on conditioning.  But that old feeling returned, that immense satisfaction at conquering what felt insurmountable. Looks like I’d better take some more classes.

Pick 'em up and go!

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