Crossfit Does Triathlon

I was watching the 2015 Crossfit Games on ESPN this weekend, which included a swim-paddle-swim as the first event, which was predictably amazing. But that just reminded me of the time in 2012 when they included a mini-triathlon. It remains one of my favorite sports videos. But you have to watch it in its entirety to fully appreciate it.

Crossfit Injuries

OK, yes, most Crossfit injuries are of the lower back/over-doing it variety. But, this is what I did to myself yesterday:


That’s from trying to do double-unders, where you jump rope and get the rope under your feet twice in one jump. The problem was as I got tired I started to miss. And when you’re trying to get the jump rope around twice you have to whip it hard. The result is what you see.

After hitting myself three times, I actually got really good and was better than all the boys by the end of class. And isn’t that what Crossfit is all about.


It might be hard to tell here but my third finger is jammed and swollen. I have no idea what I did.

Which is sort of how Crossfit injuries work.

A New Experience: Crossfit Destroyed My Arms


If you follow me on the twitter, then you might have seen me post this yesterday while I was standing in a gravel parking lot waiting for Steve to come get me. Posting this was actually quite challenging as I was having to hold one of my arms up by the wrist with my other arm, so as to support the weight of my phone, which I couldn’t do one-handed at that point.

Yesterday, after my super “big” run of Monday, I planned to continue this whole training momentum thing and bike home from Mill Valley — about an hour ride — and stop at the Crossfit gym halfway to do the 5:30 p.m. class. I really didn’t expect this to be a problem. Yes, Crossfit can be stupid, but generally I have no trouble doing the workouts.

After a warm-up and stuff, this was the workout for yesterday:

5 rounds of:

  • 20 pull-ups
  • 30 push-ups
  • 40 sit-ups
  • 50 squats

(3′ rest between each round)

Yes, that looks hard, but my logic was 1. the handful of times I have been to this Crossfit gym I have been solidly in the upper half of people in terms of fitness, so 2. they wouldn’t give us something more than 50% of people couldn’t do. You’ll be able to do it, especially since 3. you can modify things, so that (for example) I was doing pull-ups using a resistance band to give me support, since I can only do three pull-ups without support. And, 4. 3′ is plenty of time to rest in between.

I was totally wrong. My arms completely failed me, in a way I’ve never experienced before. By the end of the second round I was doing the push-ups on my knees. Poorly. I can’t even remember ever having to do push-ups on my knees. Not even that time I did 300 pushups (broken up on each yard line) as part of a challenge in high school and my arms were shaking so visibly people could see them wobbling across the football field.

By the third round, I was using the biggest resistance band I could find for my pull-ups and I was having to stop every two push-ups (still on my knees) because I couldn’t make it all the way up.

The last two rounds, I even switched it so the push-ups were first — on the logic that then they’d be easier because I wouldn’t be tired yet. (I had been doing it starting with the sit-ups and rotating through.) I managed about ten really bad push-ups on my knees and then I had to do them one at a time, stopping in between each one when my arms collapsed and I fell on my face. By the very last 15 or so, I basically just fell onto my stomach and then tried to push my chest up off the ground. AND I FAILED AT IT.

I have never not been able to push myself up off the ground.

The very last pull-ups of the very last round — my last thing — a decent number of people were already done, because either they had bailed or they actually had some arm strength. Everyone watched me, then, when I stopped to take a break halfway through my pull-ups and the super thick resistance band I was using for support snapped up and got stuck around my thigh. With one foot on the box I had used to reach the bar and one leg stuck in this band, I was hopping up and down. But, my arms were so tired (and the band was so thick) that I couldn’t pull it back down from where it was stuck on my leg. I flailed about and then I figured, ‘screw it, at least this is a break,’ and I just stood there until the instructor came and pulled the band down, so I could get unstuck.

And, then I did my last 10 shitty pull-ups.

Even after it was done and I was destroyed, incapable of picking up my water bottle to drink my water, I was still totally fine aerobically. You want me to squat for hours? No problem. So, after 10′-15′, I got back on my bike to head home, but my arms couldn’t even support the weight of me leaning on the handlebars. I was weaving back and forth in traffic for about 10′ before I stopped and made Steve come to get me.

I’m not totally sure if that workout achieved anything other than making it impossible for me to do any work last night. I’m not sure if I’ll be better at push-ups next time, because I’ve never been that bad before. Or, if the whole thing was just about a new experience. Yay.

Are Shoe Inserts Going to Fix All My Problems?

Wednesday, I went to the doctor in an effort to solve some of my problems. The previous suggestion by the other doctor when I got the cortisone shot that “Oh, I have a bone spur in my foot and might have to get surgery” just didn’t sit real well with me. It didn’t make sense, it had little reasoning behind it, and, um, surgery??

This podiatrist, who’s actually a running doctor, had some more logic and reasoning, but my eyes tend to start to glaze over sometimes and what I retained was: ‘The way you land and the shape of your foot puts undue pressure on your big toe joint. That’s why you’re having a lot of problems.’

This is what is supposed to solve many of my problems:

Magic foam.
Magic foam.

I’m not 100% sold, because I generally believe that if you just stick an insert in your shoe then 1. you’re not solving the underlying problem in your body mechanics and 2. you’ll cause other problems.

But, the doctor watched me run and videotaped me running and said my body mechanics are ok, for the most part. I may just need this temporarily to take the strain off my toe, let it heal, and allow it to stop causing bone spurs with all the pressure of the rubbing joints together. Or something.

And, anyway, might as well try some pieces of foam before getting surgery.

The thing is, my toe has been causing me a lot of angst because I’m not sure if I should make plans or not, but it hasn’t actually been my biggest problem. Here is a list of problems I have been having when I try to workout or run:

– My toe/tendons in my feet are sore later
– My arches keep cramping up into knots so bad that it woke me up the other night
– This also makes it hurt when I’m running and makes the soles of my feet burn
– Mild IT band issues
– My left hamstring (and now both my hamstrings) feel like they’re ripping out of my ass after 30′ of running
– My left calf then decided to get in on that party, when I tried to run on Tuesday, and about 50′ in felt like it was ripping/locking up/knotting
– I appear to be very, very out of shape

Some of these are supposed to get better as my foot stops trying to compensate for the toe injury. Some of them are supposed to get better with time and strengthening and massage. But, some of them are mysterious.

I have been very, very out of shape before, like serious sat on the couch for three months out of shape. I really shouldn’t be that out of shape right now — I mean, come on, I’ve been doing stuff. This leads me to believe it must be partially in my head and a lack of motivation. It’s also been like 90 degrees at my house and when I walked outside to run yesterday I was actually blown back by the sudden wave of heat. This is not motivating. But, mostly, when my legs just hurt so much and revolt against the easiest of workouts, it’s hard to get excited about what sounds like a death march.

Last week, I did a handful of short/easy runs and some Crossfit and one longer bike ride. This week I tried to step it up and went for a longer run and my calf felt like it was tearing. So, I’m back to the drawing board. Either rest and do nothing for multiple days/week OR race a 5K this Sunday and see if racing myself into shape is a good solution?


Is Crossfit Stupid?

I’m up and down on this. Sometimes, I think Crossfit is the dumbest thing ever. Sometimes, I think it’s awesome.

Short answer: Crossfit is great for general staying (or getting) in shape. It’s not really much different than any other bootcamp or personal training, though the emphasis on lifting and variety of workouts can be more interesting and effective for most people. It really depends on the place and the instructor, however. Is Yoga dumb? Sometimes. It depends on who’s teaching.

But, for triathlon/running/cycling/endurance sports? Crossfit can be effective as functional strength work. You have to be smart about it, though. Find a trainer/instructor who understands your goals and isn’t going to yell at you to do more max weight squats when you’re planning on a long hard run that day. That’s how you get hurt. (And, not fast.)

For all that there is Crossfit Endurance and people use it to train for half-marathons or marathons or triathlons or whatever, let’s be real. Crossfit is fundamentally a fast-twitch exercise. If you’re power lifting and sprinting and jumping, you’re not training your slow-twitch muscles. Just watch the 2012 Crossfit Games championships and click to 37:45 or so to see all the ‘fittest athletes in the world’ walking the run leg of their fake triathlon. So, yes, I often Crossfit to work on my strength and that helps me not get injured (or it has, in the past), but I’m still going to actually train for whatever event it is I’m training for. Swimming requires getting in a pool. Biking requires getting on your bike. And, running requires running.

Long answer: I started doing Crossfit sort of an accident a few years ago. My friend, Nate, is a personal trainer and I would workout or train with him. He became more and more interested in functional movement and strength and started incorporating a number of moves and exercises into our workouts, which in retrospect were all Crossfit.

When he went full Crossfit and got certified and started coaching Crossfit, I just sort of transitioned and started going to his new gyms on-and-off. Until the end of 2011 my only experience with Crossfit was with Nate. I know Nate and know he knows his shit. I also know he knows what my weaknesses and strengths are and that he has a background in triathlon coaching. That meant that he also tended to put on classes and programs specifically targeted at endurance athletes, understanding what exercises would help your biking and running or what weaknesses might need addressing before they become injuries. It worked. It was also different, apparently, then just going to a regular Crossfit gym.

Then, though, Crossfit got crazy popular and there were always Groupons and LivingSocials for new gyms. At the end of 2011, I bought a Groupon for Ross Valley Crossfit and went 1-2x/wk (and still every now and then to Nate’s in the city) while training for my first marathon. After that Groupon ran out, I bought another one for TJ’s and went there for three months 1-2x/wk last summer.

Because I lacked an overall training plan last year, I didn’t particularly care if we were flipping tires one day or doing max deadlifts another. Whatever. It was interesting. It was different. And, I got to flip tires, which is what I’m trying to demonstrate here on my way home from a bar in Austin:

I got one of the tires to flip eventually.
I got one of the tires to flip eventually.

On the whole, general Crossfit gyms made me stronger and kept me relatively fit. Both those gyms i went to are also pretty legitimate and the coaches, generally, go through practicing the lifts and warm-ups and understanding technique. But, it varies drastically. One day, I was nursing a sore ankle and wasn’t going to do 400m running sprints in between lifting rounds. I’d row or something instead. The coach/instructor/banker-doing-this-in-her-free-time started to give me a whole talk about: ‘Was it that I couldn’t run or that I didn’t want to run.’ And, well, she got a full dose of bitchitude from me.

The experience at these gyms was my first experience with Crossfit as a regular workout/gym. Most of these places seem to do some kind of warm-up (which is usually rounds of simple exercises, like sit-ups or squats), then some mobility or stretching, some technique practice, and then the workout. The workout is nearly always between 10-30′ and is almost always a set of exercises that you’re usually supposed to do as many of as possible or as quick as possible, ie. 20 box jumps-10 power cleans (weight lifting)-15 pull-ups-200m run — repeatedly as many times as you can in 15′. It’s not hard to see how that can go bad quickly. So, my general rule is if you want to do Crossfit as part of an overall training program that also includes other things like running or biking or playing basketball or, I don’t care, dancing, then you need to not be stupid. You need to not hurt yourself or get injured and you need to not get sucked into some ego pissing match that’s just going to fuck you on your run later, because, you know what, that guy you’re trying to do more box jumps or lift heaver than probably isn’t going to run later. Sometimes, this means ignoring the instructor and sometimes it means working with them. Usually if you explain why you’re there and what you want to do, they’ll be on board, but sometimes they’ll try to talk you into some other version of things that isn’t what you want to do. Annoying.

If you want to do Crossfit as just some general fitness program, then do whatever you want. It’ll probably hurt a bunch at first, then it’ll stop eventually. If you want to do it as part of an endurance training program, then you need to know enough to know it’s not your priority and how to balance a couple of these workouts a week with the endurance workouts that are actually your key workouts – even if there’s no one yelling at you to go harder during those.

A couple of other observations about Crossfit:

– I almost always am the last one done on the first round of anything. But, I almost always am one of the first people done by the end. Why? Because no one has any endurance.

– Oh, and you’re supposed to write down your times or reps or weights at the end, so you can compete against yourself later. But, this information is like never recorded anywhere, so I guess I’m just supposed to remember and care?

– It’s become the go-to workout of stay-at-home moms, so if you want a more low-key workout go to the mid-morning or afternoon classes.

– It’s sort of clique-y, so if you go to the same workouts you’ll get to know people. But, they probably go 4-5x/wk to the same class, so they all know each other and all are doing the Paleo challenge together.

– Eating Paleo is like an integral part of every Crossfit gym and they’ll probably try to talk you into doing some 30 day challenge. I really do not care about this shit.

– The explosion in popularity is causing an explosion in gyms and certified instructors, without a ton of quality control. The gym I have a Groupon to right now in Corte Madera is eh. I’ve been twice and it doesn’t involve any lifting, which is the primary point of Crossfit to me, and I’m not sure the instructor knows what he’s talking about. This is a danger. But, you know, that’s apparently a huge problem with Pilates and Yoga too, though those are a bit more low-key, so less can go wrong.

Have you done Crossfit? Used it to train for a triathlon/marathon? What did you think?

It Turns Out I’m Out of Shape

It turns out I am not so much in awesome shape anymore. That’s not particularly shocking. My training was up and down and down and then I got hurt and then I got sick. My peak fitness (which never really hit its peak) was probably two weeks before Boston and now it’s been another two since Boston. So, yeah, while my foot is still mysteriously injured/bone spurred/possibly needing surgery, mostly the problem is I’m out of shape.

Thursday, when I went for my reinvigorating Alpine Dam ride, I told Steve I’d be back by 5 p.m. or so. When I got home at 5:50, I had a text from him asking: “Is everything ok?” I had to respond: “Yeah, just slow and fat.”

Friday, I went for a slow, slow run around Ring Mountain. Ring Mountain is pretty, but it sucks to run on — lots of uneven ground and rocks and confusing trails. At least it looks like this:

The only other reason I ever go to Ring Mountain is to watch fireworks, because you can see them all around the bay. This photo is from Panoramio.
The only other reason I ever go to Ring Mountain is to watch fireworks, because you can see them all around the bay. This photo is from Panoramio.

Then, I went to Crossfit. When I don’t know what to do or am bored, I go to Crossfit. Typically, I use Groupons to go to whatever gym is offering a Groupon right now. I will probably write more at some point about whether or not Crossfit is dumb. However, it is always entertaining. And, usually, when none of the Crossfitters can run around the block, it also makes me feel good about myself.

Generally, for me, the thing that separates Crossfit from just being yelled at while doing sit-ups is the lifting. But, the current place that has a Groupon doesn’t really have lifting, so it’s mostly really energetic doing sit-ups or squats or whatever.

I did climb the rope, though, and it looked just like this:

I think that guy's face is blurred out because he's super intense/secretive.
I think the guys’ faces are blurred out because they’re super intense/secretive.

I taught another open water swimming clinic Saturday morning and then binge-watched The Newsroom all afternoon. I subscribed to HBO so that I could watch Game of Thrones, obviously, and then Veep was an added bonus. And, then, I watched a handful of Girls, so I could be judgmental and scornful — but with some substance. Now, I’m watching The Newsroom, which is just as patronizing and long-winded and self-aggrandizing as, well, as Aaron Sorkin. But, now I’m invested and need to see if Jim and Maggie end up together.

Also, I started crying at the end of this episode — which, perhaps, has more to do with me and less to do with the quality of the show.

But, none of that is getting me back in shape. I probably will continue to be more out of shape. I have no plan or goal or plan for, you know, anything. Instead, I will watch my TV shows and eat my brownies and, every now and then, go to Crossfit.