Permission to Try
By A Middle of the Pack Madge
I have been all over the place with my fitness over the years. Whether I was a kid sweating it out to Jane Fonda tapes with my mom in our living room or waving to my own children from the marathon course, I’ve always had to have movement in my life to manage my personality. Without it, I develop this extra layer of energy that’s used to “overthink” things and I get all emotionally knotted up inside…finding ways to ruin perfectly good relationships.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression, however. Just because I need exercise doesn’t mean I’m a natural athlete. Like, at all. I have to try really super hard just to be an Average Jo, a Middle of the Pack Madge. Growing up, the only reason I got to play team sports for my school is because small rural school will give a jersey to any warm body that volunteers for the basketball team (plus, I was always on the B Team of this group of volunteers). And further example of my solid athletic prowess was demonstrated each year by consistently placing 3rd to 4th from the last during the mile run in high school.
Movement yes, athlete absolutely not.
So where does a non-athlete go for fitness over the years? She roller-blades (breaks a wrist). She does some snow skiing (blows out an ACL). And then she thinks, “Hey! I should slow down a bit!” and she picks up aerobic classes while elevating her heart-rate with the most enthusiastic jazz hands as one can muster without drawing too much attention. Maybe some weight machines are thrown in there as well for good measure, but nothing that ever requires skill. It all becomes so boring.
And then, when I turn 30, I find running!
And it is goooood. I get fitted with a pair of shoes that keep the shin splints away, and I huff and I puff for years with a training group. I am no longer 3rd or 4th from the last on group runs. I am now a Middle of the Pack Madge!! Long slow distance runs to the middle of nowhere are perfect spots to sort through my problems, form deep friendships, and to find gratitude and spirituality.
Life was great.
Until I started spending more time on the injured list than I did logging miles. And I found myself once again with an excess of energy…overthinking things and ruining perfectly good relationships.
While living in Tucson in 2011, a girlfriend of mine took pity on me during a running slump and invited me to this thing called CrossFit. Never heard of it.
For the next couple of years while living in Tucson, I fall in love with CrossFit. I mean, I don’t do anything remarkable while I’m there, but I really enjoy my time in the box. I enjoy the variety of workouts and the people, but I have terrible form on all of my lifts. Just wretched. At my peak in Tucson, I think a great lifting day for me was cleaning 85lbs.
And it wasn’t for my coaches not trying. They would try to give me on the spot coaching, but it just never clicked. I wanted to do better, but I was too intimidated to ask for help. You see, while there were plenty of Average Joes like me, the box I belonged to had a lot of competitors training there. People who were making it to Regionals and The Games. And ugh – don’t even get me started on all the 20-somethings running circles around me because Tucson is a college town after all!
I ended up convincing myself that since I would never be as good as the athletes around me, I would just work out in my little corner, with my little weights, and enjoy all the littleness I confined myself to. I could still get a great endorphin high as the Metcon Queen, so I was satisfied.
Except there was the time I tried to force pull ups. I could at least do that, right? I ditched the band and started to kip-flop myself to the top of the bar. That was really ugly. Kip-flop to the top…then drop. Over and over until I finally tore my shoulder. Feeling defeated with yet ANOTHER injury, I resigned myself to my littleness again, backed off CrossFit and added more running to supplement my exercise.
In 2014, I said goodbye to my friends and box-family in Tucson and moved here to St Charles. Completely unhappy and depressed to move from 365 days of sunshine, surrounded by nature and strong friendships, to a state that basically has a cloud hanging over it for 5 months out of the year, I vowed not to CrossFit in IL. What I had in AZ was special and I would never find a community like that again.
Over the course of a year living in IL, I turned 40 and ate and drank my way to an extra 20+ lbs. My body felt like crap and it felt foreign to me. I felt slow and I didn’t move well. I had to buy all new clothes because nothing fit.
In 2015, I broke down and signed up with CrossFit Tri-Cities. My eating and drinking didn’t change, so my weight stayed pretty much the same. But it was nice to be back at a box, even if I was still working out in my “littleness” and was 20lbs heavier. My workouts were very labored carrying all the extra weight and I for sure was not getting the endorphin high from metcons like I previously had. Things were just “okay,” and I convinced myself that being over 40, carrying extra weight, and having the history of injuries I did, that this was just how things were going to be from here on out.
Until I couldn’t take the okay-ness anymore and in May of 2017 I asked Coach Andrew for help in loosing the extra 20lbs. With a laser focus and dedication, I dropped all 20lbs in three months…and it felt goooood. My body didn’t feel foreign to me anymore. My workouts didn’t feel slow and labored. In fact, I could feel my Metcon Queen coming back and I wanted more!
But then I had a conversation that changed how I approach everything when I step through the doors of Tri-Cities.
I was talking to my friend, Sophia, about her participation in the gymnastic and weight lifting series. I gave my usual excuse of “how it looks so much fun, but I don’t belong there.” And then she tells me in her very Sophia-humble-way, “Oh…well…I’m not the best, but every time I do it, I get a little better.”
And for whatever reason, this really clicks with me. This is my permission to try. This is my permission to be a little better and not just confine myself to my “little corner with my little weights.” I hear my physical clock ticking, and I think, “if I don’t do this now, when am I going to do it?” It’s only going to get harder the older I get. I don’t want to look back and have regrets.
I don’t have to have the ambition to be a CrossFit competitor, but I CAN be better – even after 40!
I sign up for my first gymnastics series and I work hard. I have to scale every single movement. But during the workouts, I work to failure – not just discomfort. I’m exhausted and it hurts. It becomes glaring that I don’t possess basic strength and I should have never flopped-dropped myself into tearing my shoulder when I forced pull ups all those years ago.
But I do get a little better, a little stronger.
I sign up for every weight lifting series offered and I work on technique. As my technique improves bit by bit, my weights go up. I’m still not a heavy hitter on the lifts by any means and I still have so much to learn regarding proper technique, but when you see me lift, I hope you see that I’m doing it more mindfully and not just floating through the motions.
My latest series with Tri-Cities was powerlifting. While powerlifting doesn’t require the same level of technique as Oly lifting does, I did learn that a) what it actually feels like to max out, what it does to my nervous system, and how food has a profound impact on my ability to recover and b) this is what they mean when they say “create tension in your whole body.” Oh, and I physically got stronger which is always the coolest!
CrossFit is different for me now. I feel lucky to have made some really great friends at my new place, but I’ve also have had a lot of personal growth at Tri-Cities. When I come in to work out, I move with intention and mindfulness. I no longer confine myself to “littleness” anymore. It’s okay for me to actually try now and I thrive in that kind of environment.
I still approach my workouts cautiously as to not re-injure myself. 2018 was dedicated to me strengthening those old areas of injury and work on mobility – I even gave up my beloved running in order to get my squat below parallel <<gasp!>>. Since leaving Tucson, I’ve increased my squat by 80 lbs and added 40 lbs to my clean. Even if I’m not lifting with the heavy hitters yet, I’m still really proud of the progress I’ve made.
In 2019, you will still find me in all of the gymnastic and weightlifting series getting a little stronger each time and refining my technique. I’m hoping that since I’ve put in all this work to lay foundational strength, I can finally build on it and start to throw a little more weight over my head. What ever you see me do in the box, I hope you find me working with intention and outside of my self-imposed littleness.
I don’t have to the best, I just want to be a little better every time!