*Thwack*… *Thwack*… *Thwack*
Each time Jad jumps, he lands on the mat with a thwack. All the little grunts and gasps for air are drowned out by the Incubus song blaring over the speaker- all I really hear is him landing. We’re in the middle of a team Hero WOD, working on burpee pull ups, and I’m waiting for my turn.
Shit. That was four. One more.
As soon as he lands, I hit the ground for my first rep. Only one partner can work at a time, except for the runs, rows, and double-unders, which we both do.
We don’t speak much during these workouts, save for the occasional “Halfway” or “One more.” Once the clock starts, we just go to work knocking out our reps, the other silently counting down his break. Once one of us stops moving, the other instantly picks up- neither of us wanting to be outdone. The work and pace speak for themselves.
Jad and I go way back. As in 20 years back. As in played high school football together. As in went to 3rd grade together.
For all that time, we aren’t particularly close. We ran into each other a few times while we were both at Winthrop, but never spent any time hanging out or catching up. Our partnership formed when I spotted a social media post of his about a CrossFit workout he’d just completed… I knew I was about to open ABV, and I knew I needed good, solid athletes that I trusted to start developing as coaches- an elementary school teacher who I’d known for 20 years and could bench press 365 lbs seemed to fit the bill. He didn’t require much convincing, and has proven to be a perfect choice.
Jad is first on the back squats- as he finishes and steps through the rack, I rotate in right behind him. The bar feels heavy on my back, and as I start to pump out nice, deep squats, my legs begin to burn- screaming and pleading with me to stop.
I can honestly tell you that at some point during every single workout this month, that tiny little voice my head begged me to stop. And each time, I answered with a resolute “NO.” This was to remember someone who died serving the country- no physical toll could begin to compare to the price paid by these heroes, but we could push ourselves in honor of their sacrifice.
That’s the short, obvious answer to why we completed 31 Hero WODs in 31 days- to remember each of these heroes that made the ultimate sacrifice. This is what pushed me relentlessly through the rain, the cold, and all of my aching muscles… driving on through the pain is easy when you remind yourself of the price paid by our heroes.
But there were additional, ulterior motives for undertaking this project. Training is so often cyclical, with peaks and valleys in terms of volume and passion. I was in the bottom of a training valley, and needed a goal to work towards. I had to fabricate some motivation, and I wanted someone to hold me accountable. What I needed was an undertaking bigger than myself- a challenge.
So I came up with a project for January: 31 Hero WODs in 31 days, eating strict Paleo the whole month- no cheats, no alcohol, no caffeine.
There are people in the world who can easily breeze through 31 Heroes in 31 days without any assistance- I do not happen to be one of these people. Thus, I was forced to dupe Jad into completing the workouts with me, as a team. No hero WOD is designed to be a partner WOD, so we increased the rep counts for workouts, sometimes adding additional movements to ensure an appropriate amount of discomfort for each memorial.
When we take off out of the door for a 200 m run with a 45 pound plate overhead, I start to smile (although I’m quite sure it looked more like a grimace). This is a moment of clarity and simplicity that I truly cherish- when all of my concerns and worries are washed away by salty sweat, when everything makes absolute sense and my purpose is clear: remember the fallen, finish this round.
The runner’s high is so vastly different than the CrossFit high. On those long, secluded runs I’ve been filled with this sense of invulnerability, as if I could keep running forever… you can almost FEEL your fitness. That sweet endorphin rush and those moments of solitude can calm and center even the most cluttered and frustrated mind.
The CrossFit high comes right after that little voice inside of you says “Please! I’m tired! Let’s just give up!” In that instant you have to make a decision- you can choose to give up and quit, or you can choose to stay and fight. It’s your “fight or flight” mechanism kicking in… and when you decide to stay- to fight on, through the pain- you’re rewarded with a flood of adrenaline, knowing that if this workout brings you to your knees, it will be because of exhaustion, not submission. I don’t know if it was remembering the heroes, or sheer drive to carry my weight for the team, or a combination of the two- but this challenge rekindled my love affair with that moment.
What you do when you’re hurting, gasping for breath, your muscles on fatigued and on fire, feeling like you can’t possibly run another 200 meters… that’s what matters. The rest of it was just a warm up- a way to take you to that deep, dark place in your mind where most people don’t like to go. Will you give in? Just walk away? Or will you lower your head and push through? What you get out of your workout is directly tied to the effort you give after you feel like giving up- getting better is a conscious decision. It isn’t supposed to be easy– if it were easy, there would be 300 million Rich Fronings and Julie Fouchers walking around this great nation.
There is an old saying in CrossFit: “It never get easier, you just get faster.” All too often people watch a seasoned CrossFit athlete crank out a set of thrusters and butterfly seemingly endless pull ups and say “Wow, they make that look easy.” Giving a workout 100% of your effort is never easy, regardless of your fitness level. It’s NEVER easy. The part of you that begs to relent is persistent- it will always be with you, always pleading for respite. The difference is you learn to ignore it.
By the time we complete that last round, we’re both winded. We take a few seconds to catch our breaths before we go about our post workout routine- recording the time, racking the weights, mobilizing. Three minutes after we finish the WOD, the only indication of our workout is the sweat still beading on our bodies as we laugh about a Danny BroFlex video. We both go home to post our results on Facebook- never to brag, always to honor. Another hero remembered.
Of all the 31 workouts we completed this month, none of the reps or times matter to me save for one: we spent nearly 12 hours this month memorializing the lives of those who died in service of the country. We lose ourselves in our “busy” lives with our “important” schedules and meetings, enjoying comforts and conveniences that we never stop to be thankful for. Even as a veteran, I find myself taking my freedom for granted from time to time- totally disconnected with the men and women serving on the front lines at home and abroad every single day. The past 31 days have given me time to meditate on this, and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to say thank you, in my own way, each day.
About a week ago, it dawned on both of us that the month was almost over. That our beloved 31 Heroes in 31 days was almost finished. I sent Jad a simple text one night “Should we just keep going?” His instantaneous response was “Absolutely.” And so we will… we’ve decided to ease off the pace, and sprinkle in some extra strength and skill work, but we’ll press on remembering the fallen- there are far too many to count.