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By Danielle M. Kuehnel
There are two things you should know about me before continuing to read:
1. My disdain for certain CrossFit movements has been well-documented.
2. Even though the CrossFit community is as important to me as the programming and its performance, I do not respond well to a bunch of people standing around me, cheering and clapping for me to finish. (Which, consequently, it’s been my goal since Day 1 to never finish last.)
So the challenge for the brave, brave souls who try to coach me at my home box most likely becomes encouraging me to embrace my sucks in a way that doesn’t make me want to stress eat my block of chalk.
Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by some coaches who have been able to give me the confidence to push back when it hurts (or more like when I don’t want to). There was Caleb, who initially took me under his WODing wing and showed me immense kindness, teaching me to be comfortable in my own skin. There was Austin—the CrossFit superstar—who showed me that no matter how great of an athlete you are, it’s important to not let ego cloud who you become. And, of course, there’s Kevin, who showed me my inner badass, almost always pushing me to lift more and lift faster. But then there’s Dean: the Silent but Deadly coach. The coach who observes, mulls it over, and then spits out truth. I knew Dean was going to be the one to fear when, almost two years ago, he incessantly berated me for putting bananas in my post-WOD smoothies. But he’s also the one who, after coaching me at least four times a week for over a year, knows me probably better than I know myself. That being said, he knows, without fail, every excuse I could possibly come up with to try to make a workout easier.
Me: “Hey, Dean, my shoulder’s sore. I’m not doing push-ups today.”
Dean: “Um, yes you are. You’re just going to scale to a box.”
Me: “Hey, Dean. Can I row instead of run? I get side stitches REAAAAALLY badly.”
Dean: “No. It’s nice outside, and you need to drink more water.”
Me: “Hey, Dean, I’m thinking I’m going to do RUSSIAN kettlebell swings today, because I can swing way more weight that way.”
Dean: “Does it say Russian on the board? I didn’t think so. Work on your American swing.”
Me: “I can’t.”
Dean: “Yes, you can.”
(Granted, it’s relevant that I insert here that Dean doesn’t always push like this. The best part of our relationship is that he knows when to scale back. For example, he’s been working with me to scale back weight in favor of better technique, and he’s also advised me to scale back in order to calm down, which has done wonders for my personal headspace.)
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. This is all a roundabout way of getting to something that happened recently.
You know how I mentioned that there are certain things that I avoid? Well, there’s running. To say that I hate running would be a gross understatement. I probably hate running more than burpees(?!). For the first year-and-a-half-ish of my CrossFit career, if I saw running on a WOD, I flat-out wouldn’t come in. Truly, I suck at running, I’m always last, and I suffer from horrible chub rub, but at some point I realized that if I wanted to CrossFit, I was going to have to run, at least a little. So I began opening up just a little if I saw that there was only 200 or 400 meters on the docket. And then I started coming in once in a while when we had to run a little more, or even run a mile. I sucked up being last, and just powered through. (Old me would be forced to run. I remember distinctly one morning, when I decided to walk instead of run, Kevin yelled at me, “Start running, DK, before my foot finds your ass!” Ha!)
And then, one evening, probably around 8:42 p.m., I see the WOD for the next morning, and there it is in bold letters: Run a 5k.
I immediately shrink in fear. My heart starts palpitating, and I’m sure beads of sweat begin forming on my brow.
Now is the moment of truth, I thought to myself. Am I going to be a badass, or am I going to skip the WOD?
I took a deep breath and signed up for the 9 a.m. class.
The next morning, I wake up in panic.
I can’t do this! I think to myself.
I’m not going to go today.
Yes, I’m going, I’m just going to suck it up.
No, I don’t have to go today. Nobody will miss me.
I should go; I can always scale.
Who am I kidding? Dean won’t let me scale!
No, I’m just going to go and get it over with. This is new DK—she does things old DK wouldn’t do.
I wish I was making up this dialogue running in my mind that morning, but I can’t. I forced myself into my car, and I literally almost turned around two or three times before I got there.
It was so bad that, when Dean was explaining the route and the run, I almost started crying. I really, REALLY didn’t want to do this 5k.
And guess what? Dean wasn’t going to let me scale it to a mile or two miles or even two and a half miles. He wouldn’t let me start early to save myself the embarrassment of finishing last. And he wouldn’t listen to me when I said there was no way I’d finish the 5k in less than 50 minutes. He did, however, mention that he was floored that I even showed up that morning.
Realizing I had sealed my fate, I made a few requests from my fellow CrossFitters, as well as Dean: Under no circumstances did I want anyone to finish their 5k and then run back to find me, and then run with me until I finished mine (because, yes, this sweetly but embarrassingly happened before); and, I didn’t want anyone clapping for me when I did [presumably] finish.
Shaking, I walked over to the start of the route. Dean did his 3-2-1-GO, and we were off. I had already made peace with the fact that I would finish last, so I tried to not be bothered when, after just a few blocks of running, everyone was far ahead of me. I knew that if I was going to finish this run, I would have to pace myself
I ran for what seemed like a lifetime. Dean passed me a few times in his car, making sure I was running, and yelled at me to not stop. I finally got to the halfway mark, and Dean was stopped in his car at a corner, waiting for me to turn around. Most everyone else was close to the end of the route by now.
“C’mon, DK! Halfway there! Do this last half in less than 15 minutes.”
He didn’t even give me an option. After I passed him, he drove off to be at the finish line for the rest of the athletes. He didn’t come back looking for me, which made me happy, but I replayed the words “less than 15 minutes” in my head, over and over.
I oscillated between anger and relief: “Fifteen minutes?! Is he frickin’ crazy??!
I’ve been out here at least a half hour already. There’s no way I can do this in 15 minutes!” and then, “Only 15 more minutes! Almost done! Only 15 minutes!”
The return trip was much easier on me, mentally, and it was an incredibly joyous sensation to get to be a few blocks away, seeing Dean waiting for me on the sidewalk. Each step was heavy, but I didn’t stop. Everyone was expecting me, and I wasn’t going to let anyone down, especially Dean. Today would not be a DNF.
I finally made it back, and Dean clicks the stopwatch. I am, indeed, the final person to finish the run, but I made it, and I was already happy about that. The time wasn’t even going to matter, but I suspected it was going to be somewhere around 45 minutes.
Dean stares at the time with a look of concern.
“Do you want to know your time?” he asks me, with a sadness in his voice.
“Um, I guess. I probably didn’t do very well, though.” I reply.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, just show me.”
As he turns the timer around, his frown quickly turns to a full smile: My time was 31:28.
I was shocked. I started swearing (in front of a kid, no less) and hollering, and acting like someone just told me they were going to pay all of my student loans and then take me on a tropical vacation. I was so, so, so excited.
“I’m so proud of you, DK,” Dean told me through my hysteria. “I knew you could do this.”
I was on an endorphin high the rest of the day. I told anyone who would listen that I ran my first 5k. I posted my leaderboard score on my Facebook page. I slipped it into casual conversation. I acted like the CrossFit Queen that day. Because I certainly felt like it.
And what did it come down to? Two things:
1. My own personal agency (let us not forget that nobody put me in my car and drove me to the box that morning, and that nobody else ran that 5k for me), and
2. Some really fantastic, intuitive coaching.
I’m not saying that any other coach would have let me scale the distance or allow me to row instead of run. But I am saying that sometimes I can make a very convincing case as to why I shouldn’t do what I’m told. And this time, and many other times, Dean knew to push me out of my comfort zone, which ultimately lead me to a major PR.
And because of that push, after completing that 5k, I felt empowered. And since that initial run, I’ve felt empowered enough to try to incorporate more running into my extra-CrossFit exercise plan: I’ve been running or walking 3+ miles almost four times per week, and I recently participated in my very first race, the Color Me Rad.
I’m not sure that I will ever fully embrace or enjoy or love running, but if nothing else, this experience—and the sensation of having someone so fully believe in my abilities when I did not—has opened up the door for me to do more, try more, push myself more, because I know now that I can do it.
And really, with that on my side, who knows what will be next….