[Editor's Note: This was originally published on May 26, 2008.]
You think you know pain, but you have no idea. The heart thumping, chest expanding, lactic acid burn of your last workout was a walk through the meadow.
Somewhere, there’s a guy who did it in half the time it took you. He suffered. Plasma forced its way into his lungs, causing him to hack on repeat. He choked down bile halfway through, and ended on his back, pupils dilated to the size of dimes.
While you were walking around, telling your friends how hardcore your workout was, Guy Number Two was still collapsed, the prospect of driving home as daunting as climbing K2 during a snowstorm.
When he finally stood up, he didn’t say a word.
CrossFit is a decidedly masochistic pursuit. To be any good at it, you have to enjoy the pain. You have to push back the threshold day after day, until last year’s traumas feel like an hour-long rubdown at the Canyon Ranch. One day, you find a threshold that takes the whole thing just a little too far, and you get scared to go back.
The men and women that decimate your times are not superhuman. They’re not particularly genetically gifted. Hell, most of the top CrossFitters in the world would get absolutely pummeled in your standard game of rugby, buried by larger athletes begat by larger parents.
What differentiates these individuals is not a gift, but an unreasonable desire to push self-imposed suck beyond its logical limits. What comes out the other side becomes legendary.
Like any human pursuit, we seek ways around the hard part. Limited range of motion and new techniques. Dropping the deadlift from the top, bouncing it off the floor. Squatting above parallel and not standing up all the way. Chicken-necking above the chin-up bar, and reviewing the tape to see if we made it.
We want the reward (speed) without the sacrifice (pain).
This is not conscious cowardice. It’s pure out-and-out rationalism. At some point, the next threshold is the one that takes it too far, leaving us in an exercise-induced hallucination that lasts a few moments too long. Our hearts bounce around our insides for one beat too many, and our lungs beg to explode for an unwanted extra second. Every exhalation coincides with a constriction of vision, and the cold taste of copper.
No sane human being would enjoy such a feeling.
Still, the glory beckons. Surely, with enough training and the right supplements, there’s a way around the Hard Part. Enough sleep and enough vitamin B will get you the sub-whatever time without the attendant pain. There’s no need to redline your heart rate or pop capillaries. No need to ache so badly at night that you can’t sleep. Surely, there are ways around this.
Fortunately, the steroids are a no-go, and the exercises are done correctly or not at all. The only way to legend is through ever-mounting piles of pain. The meadow has to tilt at 45-degrees, and he rubdown at the Ranch must be done with Brillo Pads. If you can talk, you’re not trying hard enough. If your nerves aren’t frayed and ready to rebel, you’ll never get there.
Do yourself a favor, and realize that there’s no technique in the world that will save you. There are no pills, no secrets, no passwords on the path to greatness. You’ve got to embrace the pain, push the threshold, and feel the suck, and then you’ve got to muster the courage to go back six times a week.
After all, the world is a lot brighter when your pupils are the size of dimes, and massaging your sternum with your heart starts to feel good after a while. The plasma finds its way out of your lungs, and eventually you’ll be able to drive.
Sometimes, lying on the floor is its own reward.