Into the Red

OK, there were many great photos from the Rumble in Paradise competition at CrossFit Elysium last week. This one is my favorite, from the final workout of the Rumble, one incorporating heavy squat cleans and hand-release pushups.

Scott and Leon
“Scott requested this level of attention,” says Coach L.

On the floor is Scott Caraveo, and to state the obvious, he is in extremis. Coach Leon Chang, co-owner of Elysium, is carrying out a promise he made to Scott before the WOD.

“Scott had specifically asked me to get in his face for the whole workout, so I did,” Chang wrote in his blog post. “Every time he tried to stop, I’d be there yelling, and you know what? He never quit.”

It’s fun watching great CrossFit coaches like Chang and Paul Estrada motivate athletes to the very edge of their abilities if not beyond. They seem to see and understand everything that’s going on and know more about your limits than you do. They also spot the most glaring missing links and articulate what you need to do to make high-speed repairs. During the snatch WOD of the Rumble, Chang was coaching several athletes. In my case, he watched one attempt–a failed lift– and gave me an instant piece of advice. It was maybe six words in length, a fastball of information wrapped up in concision and clarity. The next time attempt I applied what he said and the bar practically popped up into the air above my head.

In the final rounds I was mustering in the first workout, which was an AMRAP of burpee-box jumps and kettle bell swings, every time I picked up the bell for a round of 15 swings–with the accumulation of fatigue really digging in–Chang knew exactly what to say to me.  He was standing behind me in one of the spectator zones and there was no mistaking the coaching instructions.

“TJ, don’t let go of the kettle bell.” Meaning, don’t take a break from the set of swings.

Following Coach L’s advice exacted a specific toll that is readily visible within the following photo.

Thanks to Coach L who is on the left of this photo, I was in my happy place.
Thanks to Coach L who is on the left of this photo, I was in my happy place.

It was a simple sounding thing but quite brilliant. Chang knew I was sliding into a state where I could easily be seduced by a voice to put down the KB for a quick breather. During the last set that I was able to post before the clock ran out, I made the rather unfortunate and untimely mistake of not following through on a swing and getting a no-rep call from my judge. I hadn’t raised the bell high enough. Which really sucked, because the price of the no-rep is not just a bit of lost time but a considerable amount of lost energy. At any rate, thanks to the implicit and explicit accountability that had been rendered by Coach L–“Don’t put down the kettlebell”–an instruction that  I was well aware of being also heard by my girlfriend watching from the other side of the floor, I was in no position to betray the order. In running races, if you are running hard, you inevitably collide with a level of fatigue and discomfort where you start having a conversation with yourself about backing off. It’s a devil on one shoulder and angel on the other thing. The thing that keeps you going is that you know how much guilt will slam into you if you ease off. And  that was the case in the swings. You are thankful for the coach pushing you into the red. Maybe not while it’s happening but certainly after.

Another layer of accountability is added by your teammates at these Throwdown events. Amongst others,  I was thoroughly inspired by two gals in the gym that, like myself, came into CrossFit from the distance running world. Jill Hanks Ketchum and Karen Gallagher.

Karen Gallagher. I remember when Karen joined the gym. We’ve had many conversations about the value of CrossFit for runners. We both recall how much we struggled just with a PVC pipe when we started.
Jill Hanks Ketchum. Jill’s determination at the Rumble was nothing short of electrifying.

And then there was my competition buddy, Jack Barry. Jack and I, both on the Elysium intermediate team, competed side-by-side all day.

Jack Barry ripping through KB swings.
Jack Barry ripping through Kettlebell Hell.

It was after the advanced competition on Sunday that Jack and I just about blew it because we somehow had become distracted and almost missed out on being in the team photo. Oh yeah, that’s right, we had just stumbled on a couple of cold beers and lost our focus. Fortunately CrossFit Elysium had invested in a bullhorn and we were snapped out of our beer reverie in time to make it into the shot.

The great gang at CrossFit Elysium.
The great gang at CrossFit Elysium. Note the bullhorn in Coach Estrada’s hand.