As the final hours wind down to submit your scores, the 2017 CrossFit Open is almost officially over. Some of us are happy, some are disappointed, most of us are relieved, but we can all agree that there is some stuff we need to work on.
Each year, communities worldwide gather around their computer screens to listen to Castro decide their fate – the suspense usually is anti-climatic, with most people cursing his name and dreading the next few days, as we all start to dissect the workout and strategize ways to best avoid death.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Some say, it is to prove our fitness, but is the Open truly a test of overall fitness?
Fitness should include aspects of all modalities, but as you can imagine, it would be too difficult to judge, too messy to organize, and a logistical nightmare to make available to all boxes. Could you imagine trying to do a 1000m run at a box that is located in the downtown core of a city like Toronto? Or trying to fit a rope climb with a 15-foot standard in a box with a 12-foot ceiling? What about trying to incorporate elements like swimming, cycling or climbing? There is a reason we see the same movements each year. It becomes less about being ready for the unknown and unknowable, and more about the process of elimination. The last two workouts of this year did not leave much up to the imagination but it was still the necessary dose of hurt that everyone was looking for.
Even though we won’t see things like atlas stones, throwing elements or sprinting in the Open any time soon, it is still fun to come together as a community and compete. Each year the CF Open is an opportunity for some real magic to happen. We have seen it with people getting their first bar muscle up, hitting personal bests in the snatch, and beating old scores from repeat workouts. Whether it is displaying the fruits of your labour or getting some sweet redemption, the Open can provide 5 weeks of high fives, standing ovations, and glory for the sake of competitive exercise. It brings the tribe together to celebrate in the name of fitness.
On the other hand, maybe it didn’t go so well. Maybe the 50 dumbbell snatches left you bedridden for a week. Maybe the bar muscle-ups chewed a hole through your hand and left your palm looking like deli meat. Maybe the double-unders lashed your body and left whip marks on your soul. It is not uncommon to have experienced frustration, defeat, and heartbreak. Is this still all for the sake of fitness?
This idea of mental warfare is where The Open really shines. It digs deep into the psyche of all of us as athletes and as human beings, and it pokes and prods to discover where our real limits are, how gritty we can be when shit hits the fan, and how much we can take before we decide that it’s time to give up. The Open is the “quick and dirty” of what happens to you when life puts its foot on your throat. Maybe we are all just suckers for pain, or maybe we need that reminder of what it feels like to be alive.
The workouts this year did their fair share of dishing out punishment and served to solidify the harsh reality of some of life’s best lessons. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – a message heard loud and clear during 17.1. Those that went out the gate way too hard, paid for it dearly in the end. Those that paced it properly still experienced some of the suck but it was a much more manageable amount of suck. Sometimes no matter which road you take, there is going to be suffering.
Trying something new. A task and challenge that inevitably will find it’s way to your doorstep. I present to you, dumbbell front rack lunges and dumbbell power cleans, a.k.a. the closest thing we will ever get to a bicep curl in the CrossFit world. Two new movements in maybe the only real surprise of the Open, forced us to adapt to change. New challenges expand our list of experiences which in turn will help us to gauge, react and ultimately perform better – skills that all apply to the real world. Change is inevitable, but how you react to that change is your choice.
And then sometimes life doesn’t give you a choice. The hands of the clock for example will continue ticking whether you like it or not. Time doesn’t wait for anyone…but what if I could grant you more time? Enter 17.3 where the clock is your enemy, and learning how to use it appropriately will determine whether you are rewarded or eliminated – but it will require some effort. The hardest workers in the room will grant themselves more time, but it all comes at a cost. How much will do you have to get back on that bar when your forearms are burning and your heart rate is clawing its way out of your chest? Do you have the courage to put yourself under a heavy weight when you don’t have the time to think? How you respond on autopilot under the stress of time is a quality that a successful life will look for.
It seems to be a tradition now that each year we have a repeat workout. This grants the opportunity to compare scores, and relive some of the painful memories that haunted us last year. This year, 17.4 was a repeat of 16.4. The workout itself is a war of attrition on your weaknesses. Your pace is heavily dependent on how good you are at each of the 4 movements. If you learned anything from last year, you should have improved your score. Those that did worse, failed to address the chink in their armor. Mother Nature will always prey on and eliminate the weak. Knowing what you need to work on and improve can avoid life’s ass kickings from leaving you so battered and bruised.
The last workout of the Open was an interesting one for me. The couplet did not surprise me, but the setup did. Watching the Games athletes do it in under 7 minutes made the time cap seem out of place. Is 40 minutes excessive? It’s like they were daring you to attempt the double-unders…and people did. This had to be the greatest display of how an emotionally – charged effort can be the ultimate demise of the athlete. We witnessed several people get absolutely obliterated by the rope. Dare to be great. This was a victory for those who decided to take the plunge and try the double-unders. Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to string together double-unders under fatigue, but the victory lies with those that refused to give up.
The Open is just another workout for Games – bound athletes. The Open is a gateway to the next level as a Regionals competitor, or a competitor on the verge of making Regionals. But what if you don’t fit either of those categories?
If you are the recreational CrossFitter, the take home points on paper for this year’s Open can be fairly simple: get a stronger deadlift, master the double-under, improve on your rowing. But I’d like to think it’s much deeper than that.
Forget the numbers. Forget your place on the leaderboard. The Open is a good long look in the mirror. It’s a test to see if you are as tough as you tell yourself you are. It’s a measure of how much suffering you are willing to take, how much pain you are able to handle. It’s an honest reflection of how you will react to unpredictable change. If you repeated a workout or even thought about it, it’s a strong notion that you demand more from yourself. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you to look beyond the confines of fitness and understand what the last 5 weeks have really done to you. It hasn’t just made you a better athlete, it has beat up on your soul and prepared you for some tough life lessons.