Survive Challenge: Staying Focused

The past weekend, Gustavo and I competed in our last competition in a while: the Survive Challenge. Rather than going alone this time, we paired up as a team. It’s rare for competitions to offer mixed-gender teams in CrossFit, so when we have the opportunity, we usually jump on it.

I wasn’t super excited to be doing another competition so quickly after WODSunset. I’ve been feeling pretty run down and I’ve recently developed an issue with my knee. I was very nervous about potentially hurting myself further at the competition, especially since the workouts in competitions usually require a lot more intensity than normal. After talking to my physiotherapist and making the decision to double-wrap my knee (I had both a knee sleeve and knee wraps on it!), I felt like I could handle it.

On the first day, we did very poorly. There were a lot of issues with the organization of the event, but one of the most challenging elements was how small the lanes were for each team. We were so close together that on the first workout, which called for single unders, Gustavo wasn’t able to complete the movement because the person next to him kept hitting his rope, even after asking the guy to stagger for space. It slowed us down so much on a workout that, actually, called for a lot of our strengths.

After a strategical error on the last workout of the day, we were sitting about two slots away from being dead last, just like last time. It was a hard reality check for me after I’d been a little bit out of it for the entire day. One of my biggest challenges is keeping my head in the game, especially when there are complicating external factors. I tend to be led by my emotions, which both kills my focus and my energy levels.

Because the event was so poorly organized on the first day, I found myself swept up into a roller coaster of frustrations. That, paired with an inability to move effectively on the field – at one point, I kicked the medicine ball belonging to the team next to us back into their lane while yelling at them, unintelligibly, in English – left me feeling pretty drained. It felt like there was a lack of respect from the event organizers for the athletes, which then translated into poor movement standards, inconsistent judging, and, in our case, a lack of sportsmanship between us and the athletes in the row next to us. It wasn’t just frustrating, it was disappointing too.

The next morning, I woke up feeling extra committed towards giving my all on this final day. I knew this would be the last event for us for a while and I didn’t want to end on a sour note, especially when I knew we were so much better than that. And you know what? By the end of the day, we had jumped up from the 44th position to the 25th, out of 46 total teams. Right in the middle. That’s our sweet spot.

Of the final two workouts, one was a surprise announced the night before. Our coach guided us in our strategy and it paid off so well. Since the workout involved max hang cleans multiplied by the weight on the bar, he strongly encouraged us to go much lower in weight than we would have chosen. In the end, in six minutes, we did 151 hang cleans with 30kg on the bar. We came in sixth!

By the final event, I was feeling pretty good, but ended up having one of the funniest experiences I’ve had during a competition. The last workout involved a 1000m partner row. Now, for context, the “athlete’s area” was a small, sectioned-off portion of the parking lot in which the competition was being held. In it were four port-a-potty’s for the athletes to use for, well, what you use port-a-potty’s for. By the end of the day, after sitting under the hot sun, they were smelling pretty ripe and they were positioned next to the field.

In the middle of my row, I noticed that I was completing 500m faster than I ever had. I even got into such a good rhythm that I could clearly hear my thoughts, almost as if I were having an out of body experience. That is, until, someone forgot to close one of the bathroom doors. The smell wafted over the field and my thought process went something along the lines of, “Good job. Keep going. You’re getting there. Breathe. Breathe. Oh god. OH GOD. What is that? Oh my god, that smells terrible. I can’t breathe. Focus. Focus. What would Fraser do? Breathe. Focus. Breathe. Focus. Fraser would not be rowing in the middle of sewage! Close the door for the love of god!”

At the end of the day, we were able to reach our goal. The first time we had competed together, we had a lot of weaknesses that we needed to work on. As newcomers, our lack of experience was demonstrated in our final position on the leaderboard. Over the past sixth months, the both of us have spent quite a significant amount of time to work on our weaknesses and our ability to strategize in a competition. Being able to compete individually had a huge effect on our understanding of ourselves and how we’re improving in CrossFit. Being able to compete as a team, once more, we hoped it would be an accurate reflection of how we’ve both improved over time.

We were expecting to be about mid-way. We’ve both been doing CrossFit for about a year and a half, and seriously focusing on competing for about eight months or so. Competing is definitely a whole separate skillset, so each time we enter the arena, we learn more about how to compete, not just our skills in the sport.

This was also the first time we had a coach with us, by our side the whole time. Finding a coach like Rodrigo is probably the last thing I expected to come out of this trip to Brazil. In general, I’ve been really frustrated by the progress (or lack thereof) that I’ve made here due to differences in the training styles, language barriers, access to equipment, and so on. Rodrigo, on the other hand, is one of the only coaches I’ve met ever who never judges me for how emotional I get about my training, who pinpoints my weaknesses, and who manages to push me without making me feel like I can’t do it.

I crumble under bootcamp-style training. If I’m hitting my limit, I’ve hit my limit! No one is as hard on me as I am on myself. Rodrigo has been able to find a good balance between pushing me and supporting me. He pays attention not just to the details of my movements, but also of my mindset, which is where I need the most training. It’s changed a lot of things for me and, for the first time, I’m worried about going back home and losing some of my progress. That’s never happened before.

From here, I’m working with Rodrigo 1-1 to do additional training focusing on some much-needed skills, particularly Olympic weightlifting, double unders, and my sorry excuse for cardio/conditioning. I’m also finally going to the physical therapist to get my knee in order so that I don’t end up taking any more unplanned time off. I want to keep going!

My ultimate goal, this year, is to find a competition to do in the US. Usually, the standards in the US are higher and, subsequently, more difficult. It’s been reasonable to compete in Brazil so far, but I want to bring that home – literally. That’s the place where I intend to continue participating in the sport and that’s the level I want to be at. So this is the first step.

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