A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a little green fellow named Yoda was trying to teach his student Luke how to be more elite. Yoda had Luke lift heavy objects off the ground, jump high and far, and do handstands while attempting other activities… all in an effort to thwart the evil Darth Castro. One day, Luke’s vehicle started sinking into a swamp. Yoda instructed Luke to use his newly acquired powers to lift the massive spaceship up out of the muck. Luke tried; he strained all his muscles attempting to make his ship rise, but Luke couldn’t do it. When, even against all his strength, Luke’s ship started to sink further into the swamp he gave up and deemed his ship a lost cause. He turned around and walked off, only to turn back around as he heard his ship rising back out of the murkiness. When the ship finally came to rest on solid ground, Luke turned to Yoda and said, “I don’t believe it.” Yoda’s response was, “That is why you fail.”
I lifted just shy of 4 tons over my head during 14.5. That took every muscle cell in my body. It also took every brain cell in my body.
The fifth and final workout of the 2014 CrossFit Open was brutal; a descending ladder of thrusters and burpees. I’ve done thrusters only twice, once on my first meeting with Fran and the other during a WOD that surprisingly enough also included burpees. And burpees, well everyone hates those.
Thursters and I do not get along. Not yet anyways. I knew this workout would be a killer. Add to that the fact that we “had to do 168 reps or quit in the process of trying”… yeah, 14.5 was going to be some serious ugliness.
I was so nervous before the workout started! I was set to go at 2 PM Sunday. As early as 11 AM, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was perspiring, I was pacing around the house… I was turnt up! (please don’t ever let me use that phrase again) I also had fleeting hope that maybe the workout wouldn’t be quite as nasty given that I increased my deadlift PR by 50 lbs two days ago. (holla!!)
I finally arrived at the box and began warming up and stretching. Once again I used the tips discussed by Tabata Times and Barbell Shrugged and I’m sure my performance benefitted from them. I did warmup thrusters with just the bar and they felt good, so deceitful of how they would feel at a little over double that weight.
There were four of us doing 14.5 together and we chose 2:05 as our start time. Our date with destiny aka hell aka death aka supreme suffering aka pain aka uuuggghhhhhh.
My thoughts of this workout perhaps not being as nasty as I first thought quickly flew out the door. I imagine those last few minutes before go time are akin to what someone thinks as they are being led to the gallows awaiting their short drop and sudden stop.
Alas, the moment had arrived. Cue the music, start the countdown… it was time to pay the boatman.
I had a plan to tackle all those thrusters. I stuck to that plan for about 1/3 of the set of 21. Yeah… oh well! My plan was to handle each set in descending thirds, meaning the 21 would be 8-7-6, 18 would be 7-6-5, and so on. What actually happened was I was doing 3 reps and dropping the bar before I finished 21. Oh boy, this was going to take forever.
My recollection of the workout is a bit fuzzy, but I think right at the end of my 21 burpees following the thrusters I glanced at the clock with it reading somewhere around 8:30. I remember thinking to myself oh wow Rich is done and I think I flipped off the clock. Actually, yes, that did happen. Oops! Chalk that up to being caught up in the moment!
The set of 18 was long and hard. It was brutal. It was grueling. It was miserable and awful. I would get my 3 reps on thrusters then take plenty of time to regroup before taking another three. I was hurting, and I still had such a long way to go.
I got a no rep on one of my burpees in my set of 18. I was no repped due to not taking off with both feet on my jump over the barbell. I had no idea I did this, and I am glad I was called out. Sure, I was dying and I’m sure my coach didn’t want to make me do more than I had to, but it was of course the right thing to do and it made me mindful of ensuring to get no further non counting burpees. My burpee rhythm was drop down, get up, step-step-jump, turn around and repeat. Here, for your viewing enjoyment, some really bad burpees!
The 15 and 12 sets were bad. They were ugly. I went to a dark place. I wanted to quit. I wanted to reach out and embrace the dark side. I wanted the sweet, sweet bliss of escaping the workout, to end my pain, to just let go…
I remember at one point during this dark time looking up at my wife and saying either “I can’t do this” or “I want to quit”. Maybe I said both, I don’t recall. There was another point when I was down on one knee trying to slow my heart rate and breathing when my chest shuddered and I almost just burst out into tears. Dark times indeed.
Somehow, I kept making it back to the bar to pick it up or hopping back up when burpees laid me down. What I did wasn’t heroic, it wasn’t courageous, it was just me continuing on, it was me persevering, surviving. Words like heroic and courageous get thrown around too much regarding athletes. I was merely pushing through a brutal workout in the comfort and safety of my CrossFit box. I wasn’t out in the jungle or desert fighting some battle where my opposition was actively trying to kill me. Well… actually perhaps my opponent was trying to kill me, but you know what I mean.
Somehow, I kept going. There were times when I was on one knee for probably a minute trying to regain my composure. I knew every time I picked up that bar I was going to do three painful thrusters and then find myself on the ground again. But somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that every time I picked up that bar I was getting closer to the end of my workout.
I was fortunate and blessed to have a lot of people cheering me on. I’ll admit though, at times I wanted them all to just shut up and let me die in solitude. They did not shut up and I’m supremely grateful for that! I surely would’ve quit if not for the witnesses there supporting me and helping push me through my pain.
The finish line came into focus at the 6 rep set. I still had to split that set up into 3 and 3, but that was literally the first time I thought I could actually complete the workout. I still had to pause and gather myself physically and mentally before forging ahead. I had glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel, and while it was fleeting, it undeniably shown forth. My katabasis was near complete.
By the time I reached the set of three, I was a sweaty, snarling, spitting, swearing mess. I took one last knee after my 6 previous burpees and then stood up with a half curse/half growl and cleaned the bar to my shoulders and banged out those final one, two, THREE thrusters and dropped the bar. I had three burpees to go. My cheerleaders were awesome and had a nice mix of some counting up to three and some counting down to zero so my first hop across the bar sounded like twone (two more/one). At that point I knew all I had to do was return to this spot one final time, so down to the floor I went, then over the bar, turn around, down to the floor one last time, stand up, step-step-hop, DONE, collapse.
Oh yes, collapse I did.
Into the fetal position.
Just looking at those photos gives me nightmares. Give me a moment to compose myself…
It took me exactly 38 minutes to complete 14.5. I’m not going to say that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s on the short list. I will say that that workout was undeniably the toughest workout I’ve ever done. 84 thrusters and 84 (85) burpees took me to a place I had never been before; a dark, painful place. Someone made the comment afterwards that it was funny how we CrossFitters pay for our torture… I still wasn’t ready to laugh yet but it is true, we are gluttons for punishment.
Punishment… or perseverance? Suffering… or success story? The dark side… or getting comfortable with being uncomfortable? Perhaps there is a method to our madness, maybe a reason to the CrossFit Open season? More than being better than yesterday… maybe we are truly living our lives and experiencing all the beauty and pleasure and pain and hurt and tragedy and wonder and every conceivable depth of human emotion? We don’t know what success really is without first knowing failure. We don’t know pleasure without knowing pain. Live, learn, then live more awesomely.
Yoda has another popular phrase applicable to 14.5. Do, or do not, there is no try. Do. Or do not. There were so many moments during 14.5 when I wanted to simply do not. Somehow, I kept on doing. Right now my 14.5 feels more like failure than success, but I do acknowledge that it was an achievement to finish. I’ll reflect on this and be proud of my performance… I’m just not totally there yet.
So, Mr. Castro, you were incorrect. We would not quit in the process of trying. We would either do 14.5, or we would not.
This guy did 14.5.