I am still so stiff from Saturday, I can’t believe that I am actually going to go back tonight for more “real” Crossfit. This is the first thing I’ve ever done like this (on purpose) that makes me nervous just to think about it. Like, about-to-give-a-speech-or-have-a-job-interview nervous. Nervous-pee nervous. For a workout. Every time. This is serious.
How many of us place our identity and self-worth in our physical appearance and performance? Do you feel superior because you are thinner or faster than other people you know? I know that I have felt that way before. Especially when you are part of an active community like we are, comparing ourselves in these ways is one of the most common ways to describe someone. “You know, the guy who onsighted that 12 on his first climb of the season,” or “Her biceps are bigger than her boobs!”
Even for people who don’t live in a world defined by feats of physical strength, admitting that you are weak is one of the hardest things any person can do. Being brutally forced via the avenue of intense physical activity to recognize your weaknesses is even harder. Two weeks into this journey, I am learning that my biggest struggles are not my physical ones (which are practically infinite at this point), but facing the reality that in many ways, I am not who I thought I was. While I have always been active – hiking and skiing as a kid; running, climbing, backpacking, snowboarding, and rafting as an adult; my quads and back (and every other body part) will tell you that apparently “active” does NOT equal “fit.”
This realization has been a tough one, honestly. The Boyfriend has been struggling a little bit with this, in some ways, too. Finding out that part of who you think you are, part of how you would describe yourself, in some senses part of your identity, is pretty inaccurate is a little jolting. To realize that just because you can navigate down a hill on two pieces of wood or climb a rock while attached to a rope… well, when it comes to real athletic-style fitness, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Not that being a skier or a climber doesn’t make you athletic (those sports can be extremely hard and intense), and in many ways those activities require a lot more technical skill than Crossfit does, but the reality I’ve been facing is that being able to row a raft doesn’t automatically make me able to do a push-up. Not even close, actually.
I’m starting to refer to this feeling that I used to have as “Fake Fitness.” A mix of ignorance and denial, in many ways I had convinced myself that my ability to do outdoor activities – regardless of the fact that I was always out of breath, the first to ask for a water break, and the last to pull into camp – meant that I was in shape. I had physical goals like running a marathon which I knew would be tough to tackle, but nothing, I thought, that was really out of my reach without a little old-fashioned dedication and not really ALL that much hard work. I mean, I had no illusions that running a marathon would be a party, but thinking about it didn’t turn my stomach.
Maybe it would be more accurate to call it “Fake Confidence.” And where that confidence – misguided or not – once lived, now is a mix of nervous tension, anxiety, and yes, even fear.
The quote at the top of this post has start to become a mental refuge for me. One of the most intense experiences I have had was a month spent in an incredibly remote area of the Yukon Territory while on an expedition with NOLS,. The whole story is pretty long, but in a nutshell we ended up on a route that had never been tried before and spent 3 weeks with fully-loaded canoes, pushing, pulling, carrying, and doing almost everything other than paddling, through cold, shallow, sometimes fast-moving water. Spirits were definitely low at times, and I am still shocked that nobody broke an ankle as we pushed our 300-pound canoes upstream through knee-deep rushing water with loose, baseball-sized rocks underfoot.
Though exhausted, confused, and disheartened at times, we had no choice but to become intimately familiar with each sound and ripple of the water and what it meant – how the strength of the river was not always in its speed or size, but in its quiet persistence. When I emerged from that experience, 7 pounds lighter and 31 days since my last shower, I was filled with an incredible sense of approaching life not with the question, “Can I?” but, “How will I?” I hope to recapture that feeling with Crossfit.