There are times your brain can hurt with the complexity of the confluence of events that had to occur to make big things happen. I was explaining this to my kids the other day, and one of the examples I gave them was about our friend Laura, and how someone we never met started a chain of events that managed to change her life, and subsequently, our life.


A memorial to 1st Lt. Johnson which hangs in the gym.

Today is the anniversary of the loss of Laura’s good friend, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. He was killed in a battle which is documented in Medal of Honor winner Dakota Johnson’s book INTO THE FIRE. When Laura and Mike were stationed together, he introduced her to CrossFit. Without him, she wouldn’t have started CrossFit, she wouldn’t have been at a Level 1 training in Japan to become a certified coach, she likely wouldn’t have met her husband Rob, there wouldn’t have been a gym planted right by my house for me to walk into on that cold February day in 2012….and the waterfall of “wouldn’t have” events just would continue from there. 

Some people might call it the butterfly effect; many people more religious than I would call it God’s providence; some might call it serendipity—but whatever word or phrase we use, I am incalculably grateful for the day that Laura met Mike Johnson, which started the chain of events that led me to her. The day I walked into that small concrete building, I never had an inkling of how our life would change for the better. We found a long term commitment to our physical health, but we also (more importantly) found a group of friends who have become an integral part of our lives. Laura herself in three years has become such an important part of my daily life (at least on the days she remembers how to text—cough–I still love her even on those days) that I truly don’t know what I would do without her. She is sweet and funny and kind and gives good advice and is just an amazing human and I’m so grateful for her friendship.

IMG_2240Each year around this day, we come to the gym to complete a hero WOD named Johnson in her friend’s honor. Each year I think about how a man I never met, and who gave the ultimate sacrifice, influenced my life. It is extremely hollow to simply say “thanks” with some electrons flying through cyberspace—but I appreciate him and am thankful for his effect on my daily life, and the life of my family. 

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3 years down, a lifetime to go

It’s my 3 year CrossFit-iversary!! Three years ago this week, I walked into a tiny little gym in Minnesota and decided I was going to do something that scared me. I haven’t stopped being scared, and I haven’t magically become an athlete, BUT I am much better off physically and mentally than I was in January 2012. (And, the gym isn’t tiny anymore—it grew while I tried to shrink, and thanks to that I have lots and lots of people who are now friends and amazingly good inspiration to me every single day.) The traditional third anniversary gift is Leather–not Barbell–so sadly I don’t have a great gift ready to go for Rob, who has put up with my crap for well over 1000 very taxing days.

The poor poor man who has to put up with my ridiculousness at the gym.

The poor poor man who has to put up with my ridiculousness at the gym.

Last year was a major learning experience—on my 2nd CF-iversary, I was about 2 months pregnant. Being pregnant for the third time at age 38-9 and exercising (something I did not attempt in any way the prior two times) multiple times a week was brand new to me. I underestimated, completely, how much harder it would be than I imagined. Most days it felt like it was like exercising underwater—everything was difficult, and slow, and a slog, and involved very heavy breathing. But I did it—many days a week, all the way until the very very end. Two days before she was born, I finished my last Baby WOD…38 deadlifts, 38 wall balls, 38 box jumps, 380 meter row (38 for the number of weeks I had been pregnant.) /Also, I swear, if I hadn’t been induced at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, I would have been at 6 a.m. class on Monday, August 11 working out before going to the hospital. Because of this, I thought it would be easy to just be done with the baby and melt all the extra weight off. WELL……..I discovered the hard way, that was IMG_0997ridiculous. Some of the pounds came off quickly, but the rest of them have wanted to hang on…and on…and on. I keep working really hard to take them off, but I also have had to work much harder than I thought to get back to the (mediocre) level of fitness I had attained. It’s hard as hell. January Whole30 helped, but I still have a lot of work to do. But I just keep trucking. Slowly. And poorly. But trucking.

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TK and MK and baby Reilly, circa 2005. We did not work out.

Yesterday, someone said to me, “You had the baby a year and a half ago, right?” Nope. it was 6 months ago. It seems like it was a long time ago, but it really wasn’t. On days that I’m beating myself up that I am not back to where I was before, or that I can’t do the things I used to be able to, I take a look at this photo—which was what Tim and I looked like when Reilly was a 6 month old baby. 10 years after this was taken, we’re much better off today than we were then. Back then, we ate pizza multiple times a week. We went to the gym maybe once a month (maybe. OK, we went to the gym once a quarter. ALL RIGHT ALL RIGHT…that might be an overstatement.) Today, we work hard to make sure we are eating healthy food, and going to the gym even when we don’t feel like it, or when the movements are not “our jam” (umm, for me, that would be every day, but I digress), or when we’re tired…or whatever. We go.

My goals for this year are to get back to my pre-baby weight and fitness level. During the

Left: right after the baby was born. Right: the day I got done with my January Whole30.

Left: right after the baby was born. Right: the day I got done with my January Whole30.

winter, I’ve set a goal to do accumulate a half marathon of rowing (21,097 meters) in addition to my normal workouts during a given month. When the weather gets better, I am going to restart my daily one mile running project. But I’m also not going to let myself forget what I wrote about this time last year—Melissa 2.0 is better than Old Melissa. When I started CF three years ago, the scale (never a friend) read a number that was bigger than what I was at 7 months pregnant last year. It’s not just about a scale, it’s about how I feel every day. I physically feel better and stronger, and emotionally I feel more secure and more happy.

I’m constantly inspired by the people around me. People whom I will never ever be like, athletically, but that are also working to be better each day. I look around the gym at people who are enough younger than me that I could practically be their mom but who also take the time to say “great job” even though I am taking twice as long to do work at half the weight they are. I’m so grateful that we have found such a supportive and genuinely sweet community of people to help me along on my path.

My favorite workout buddy.

My favorite workout buddy.

I turn 40 this year, a number that scares me, but I am content that I’m healthier and happier now than I was when I turned 30. I’m happy that I have found something that works for me, and that I’m teaching my girls that exercise has to be an important part of their life from an early age. I wish I had found it earlier than age 36, but better late than never. Here’s to a beautiful 2015.

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Happy 2nd CF-iversary to ME

This week was my second anniversary of starting CrossFit. Two years!!! I spent a little bit of time today contemplating how life has changed since I dragged my chunky self into that gym two years ago, fell in love with muscle pain, and then decided to stay to annoy Rob and Laura for infinity. Two months after I started, Tim did too, and our entire family is healthier and happier now. (As a super bonus, we have also been lucky to find a community of people who are fun and supportive and makes even the hardest workouts fun–and many of whom have turned into extremely close friends.)

Recently, a gym friend, Kim, correctly cited that the scariest phrase in the English language is “Rob Gerdes has tagged you in a photo.” Rob has been taking photos of me for two years, and while some of them are horrifying, I’m glad I can take a little tour backwards in time and realize that I’ve come a long way. Let’s behold some really scary “befores” and slightly better “afters”–shall we? *closes eyes and cringes a little*

IMG_8450 IMG_8451 IMG_8452I still have a super long way to go, even after two years. I still am not remotely athletic, I still am the slowest person in most of the classes I go to, my PR weights when they happen are a fraction of other people’s, and I am never going to win a race (unless it’s who can take the best Saturday afternoon nap, I have that one IN THE BAG)–but you know what? I’m a million times better than I was before. When I’m disappointed that I can’t do something well in a WOD, I tell myself–you’d kick Melissa 2012’s ass. And that is the progress I should continue to expect. As long as Melissa 2.0 is better than Old Melissa, that’s what counts the most.

14 weeks with Baby B!

14 weeks along with Baby B!

This year will be a really unusual one, since I am now 14 weeks pregnant and will spend most of 2014 either growing a baby or addressing the aftermath of the horror show body resulting from growing a baby. Rob and Laura were two of the first people I told we were thinking about doing this surrogate mom thing, and I’m lucky that they’ve been super supportive and understanding that it’s been much harder than I thought it would be to work out while growing a human (like whoa harder.)

I’m really looking forward to what the next 12 months of my CrossFit life will bring–it’s going to be interesting, to say the least. I’m grateful to Rob and Laura and to my other CFSM coaches like Amy and Mikey, who are all so genuinely caring and kind and who make me happy to drag myself to the gym each day. A million thank yous would not be enough! And happy CF-iversary to MEEEEEE!!

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Melissa Gets Inspired by the CrossFit Games: The Half Half Marathon Row

Sunday night, with an event called The Cinco, the annual CrossFit Games ended. Each year since the Games started, the challenges that the athletes participating in have gotten increasingly insane–it was really great fun to watch these incredibly fit people struggle with the events that were set forth for them by people I’m starting to wonder are really those in charge of the Hunger Games.

One of these really crazy events was announced to the stunned silent Games athletes at a dinner the night before the opening. Typically, the start of the Games has had a running event, so when the Games director announced that the athletes would have a half marathon, no one was much surprised. Then he said–a half marathon…ROW. The equivalent of a 13.1 mile half marathon run done on a rowing machine is 21,097 meters.

We row a lot as a part of our normal CrossFit workouts–we often warm up with a 500 meter row as the first thing we do as a workout begins (a mathlete could tell you that this is 2.3% of a half marathon row.) The longest distance I’ve ever rowed in a single sequence is 2,000 meters–and we often have 1,000 meter rows as a part of our WODs, which is a tough workout, and one I’m glad to finish. During the winter, when running is difficult or flat-out impossible, we row constantly, and more than anything it’s intensely boring. No scenery to look at, and only a screen that painfully outlines–in 1 meter and one second increments–how much more work you need to get done. I have to play mind games with myself to get through rowing workouts–don’t look at the screen until you’ve done 25 pulls, make sure your strokes per minute never goes under 27, make your 500 split under 2:05, etc. But it’s rough, generally.

When they announced that these athletes would row 21,097 meters, I decided two things:

a) that sounds absolutely awful

b) I want to try it.

The CF Games athletes are elite, fit people who train every single day, often for hours, and are in peak physical condition. I am none of the things in the sentence I just typed. However, the beauty of CrossFit is that it is “infinitely scalable,” which means you can take any exercise and make it work for your abilities. A realistic scale for me to tackle when the CF Games athletes were doing a 21,097 meter row is half of that–so I settled on rowing what I called the Half Half: 21,097 divided by two…10,098.5 meters. (Please note: I am aware that this would be a Quarter Marathon, but that is not more fun to say than a Half Half.) On Saturday, I told my coach Rob and a gym friend, Marc, what I was thinking about doing. Rob: “That would be cool.” Marc: “That sounds terrible.”

The BEFORE photo...

The BEFORE photo…

So on Sunday morning, I found myself pulling down my favorite rower, putting on my headphones, and settling in for the long haul. I set the rower to count down from 10,099 meters–while my coach Laura had said she wanted to see me do a teeny half pull at the end to get to the 10,098.5–I said, nope, I’m an overachiever–I’m ROUNDING UP TO 10,099, BABY. I covered up the rower display so I wouldn’t go bonkers looking at every meter counting down and…I started. And then, after four pulls, I stopped. Don’t worry, gentle readers, I just needed to take off my sweatshirt (it’s been unseasonably cold here. July, whatevs.) Laura heard the rower stop, came around the corner and said, “You’ve stopped ALREADY??” I assured her I hadn’t given up quite that quickly (but in my head thought, when is it that I really will want to quit? After 15 minutes? 5? 4,000 meters?)

I listened to my headphones. I watched one of the gym dogs, Hank, go to town on a tennis ball, rendering it unrecognizable as something that used to be useful as a sporting implement. I watched the wall. I learned how to row one handed for a few pulls so I could take a few sips of my iced coffee. I contemplated the universe. I watched as one of my earrings fell out and rolled across the floor, and wondered how long it would be before Hank had it for a snack. I chatted with Laura while she cleaned. I watched Hank decide that the Swiffer WetJet was the scariest thing he’d ever seen and bark at it as if it were an alien attacker. (Without Hank, this row would have been really uneventful.) And I kept rowing.

IMG_5630The meters clicked by. I kept pulling. Legs extend, arms pull, arms return, legs bend, rinse, repeat. Over and over, hundreds of times. And then there were 1000 meters to go. That was the longest 1000 meters I’ve ever rowed. I wanted to get the Half Half done in under 50 minutes–I tried valiantly to make that happen, but when the meters clicked to zero, the clock told me I had been rowing for 50 minutes, 42.1 seconds. Even though I made it a little past my goal time, I was happy that I had finished it, and accomplished something that was really hard, and that I wouldn’t have ever imagined I’d do.

And now I have to go plan the next ridiculous challenge. (PS I’m still running every day.)

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THE ONE MILE PROJECT (AKA: “It Sucks Being Proactive About Your Own Fitness”)

The couple that runs together...

The couple that runs together…well I don’t know. The hubs and me at my first ever 5K.

If you have even a passing knowledge of me, or have read anything I’ve written here even one time, you’ll know I am not a big fan of running. I’m now on my second “Running Sucks” t-shirt (good news, my first one is too big!) I do not understand, for one millisecond, the elusive concept of a runner’s high. The only high I get running is the one where I’m two feet from the door to the gym when I know it’s almost over.

The other day, I was trying to explain to my friend Mikey the extent of my dislike of running. It went something like this:

Me: “I don’t think you understand how much I hate running.”

Mikey: “It’s not really that bad, is it?”

Me: “Mikey, I hate it so much I am miserable by the time I get to the top of the hill on the 400 warmup.”

Mikey: (pause) “That’s not even a hill. It’s barely a GRADE.”

Me: ” I KNOW, THAT’S THE POINT! I AM SO BAD AT RUNNING IT FEELS LIKE A HILL.” (note: I lied, it feels like a mountain)

When I think about the things I’ve improved since I started at the gym, running is way down the list. I keep thinking that as I continue to lose weight and get stronger, that running will get better/easier–but it just never really does. I am BETTER than I was a year ago–I used to walk on pretty much any run during a WOD, now I run consistently, even on WODs where there are multiple runs–but it still is an activity that I find almost unbearable, and wish every single step that it was over.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided this had to change. While I will never, ever LIKE running, I decided I had to do something to hate it less. And the only way to get better at something is–to do it a lot. To practice, to hone skills. And the only way to do that with running is—to run. So, I started the One Mile Project. I have to run a mile a day. Period.

I gave myself some rules to keep in check:

  1. One mile a day. Rain or shine. Treadmill if I’m traveling at a hotel.
  2. One day off a week (I usually pick Sunday, which is a regular rest day from the gym.)
  3. If I miss a day (work travel sometimes makes this necessary), I do double the next day.
  4. No walking. Tough it out even if it’s 90 degrees and I’ve just finished the normal gym WOD and I want to pass out on Rt. 42. I have to remind myself: Suck it up, buttercup. It’s just a mile.

I have many friends who are distance runners (including a friend who is an ultramarathoner), and my dad and brother are multiple marathon finishers. I realize one mile may sound laughable to almost everyone, but for me, this is a major accomplishment. Every step for me is a struggle to get better. My strength and endurance have gotten so much better since I started CrossFit–now it’s time to improve my running. I will start with a mile, and maybe I increase to two, or three.

I’ve talked about the One Mile Project to people at the gym, and one day as I was whining a bit (imagine) about having to do the mile post-WOD, my friend Dusty said, “Yeah, it really sucks being proactive about your fitness.” I think about that one sentence a lot when I’m cruising down the stretch of Route 42 in Burnsville–I’m doing something to improve an aspect of my fitness that isn’t clicking yet. And it’s getting better. I don’t LIKE it any better, but I will tell you–it doesn’t feel as terrible as it used to feel. Every day, I feel stronger, and feel better for longer (“today I didn’t want to cry until the fire hydrant. Hooray!” etc.)

(Know what else? It’s working. I’ve PR’d my mile three times in a row, including yesterday, when I shaved off 13 seconds. Stay tuned. This practice bullshi* may actually DO SOMETHING GOOD.)

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Stream of Consciousness June 2013

  • There are (cliches coming, beware) peaks and valleys in any journey. No less on a fitness journey (or my fitness journey.) I’m in a valley. My peak was at my Avon Walk in May, I wish I could rewind time a month and make a different turn in the road.
  • Why have I not written anything here since February? So many things have happened on Aforementioned Journey.
  • My friend Laura and I joke about the number of times the word “journey” is used on The Biggest Loser. We created a drinking game. So far, dear readers, you can drink five times. Drink is your choice.
  • My valley is puzzling since I’m still extremely motivated to continue getting better. I don’t know what is causing me to be more lax than I should be on my eating, which has been pretty disciplined in the last year, with limited exceptions.
  • It’s more puzzling since I’ve been frustrated lately in the gym–feel like I’m not getting any better at certain things, and I have conscious moments where I say, if you were being more disciplined at the food side, your exercise side would be better. While I will never be a great athlete or even a mediocre one, I want to be BETTER.
  • I have a major, major problem with “comparison disease.” I look at other people in the gym, or even worse–people on the internet (CrossFit Facebook pages, etc.) with great stories–and go, huh, why am I not “x,y,z”–I need to continuously remind myself that I have to take things at my own pace. I struggle with this and have to actively manage my own brain. I wish so much this were different but it’s not, and that’s me.
  • It is summer. In summer you go “let’s get ice cream” or “another chardonnay, please.” I need to find another outlet for summer fun other than off-plan food and drink.
  • Sometimes you see a photo that makes you go “you’ve come SO FAR.” Sometimes, you see a photo and go, “God, you still have a long way to go, sister.”
  • Traveling makes diet and exercise infinitely harder. Some days I think I’m strong for being able to do it on the road and sometimes I just want to cave. Sometimes I do cave.
  • I wish I could be less neurotic about all this stuff. But I can’t. Part of cataloging this journey (drink) is honesty. I’m neurotic about my weight, my progress, my gym performance, what people think, etc. etc.
  • I idly wonder what I will be feeling/doing/looking like a year from now. I think about a  year ago and what I looked like/felt like and know I’m totally different, but still have a long way to go. I wonder in a year what I will be writing/feeling/looking.
  • Did I get this ridiculousness out of my system? I hope so. Onward.
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One Year CF-iversary

According to my workout record book it was one year ago today that I dragged my 36 year old, ball of goo, out of shape, tired body into a industrial park in Burnsville, Minnesota, and said hello to a man named Rob Gerdes and his dog Teeko. (It would be a couple of weeks before I met Laura, the other half of CrossFit South Metro.) My life hasn’t been the same since.

My friend Ann started CrossFit about 18 months before I did, and I saw her transform–I only get to see her every few months, but each time I would see her I was amazed at how different she looked. She would tell me that she was weightlifting and doing pull-ups–but all I heard was a list of things there was no way I could ever do and I kept going to walk on the treadmill (umm, like maybe once a week. OK, once every two weeks.) At some point I started to notice online updates from my friend Jim, checking into his CrossFit gym. Two people I adore and trust, in two different places in the US, were both telling me the same thing. I have no recollection of what made me finally cast the die to make the appointment to go to my first class. I only regret it took so many months to listen to Ann and Jim.

I am super proud of the things that I have accomplished after a year of work with Rob and Laura and a total revamping of my eating habits with their guidance (this is far from an exhaustive list):

*I am down 3 clothes sizes and three dozen inches
*I like putting weights on bars and lifting them over my head repeatedly, who knew?
*I once knocked over a chalk bucket twice in one workout and ran my bar into the pull-up structure on the same day
*I love swinging heavy kettlebells and I have never once accidentally let go and hit someone
*I haven’t ever drawn blood on a box jump, and I am very uncoordinated
*I look up Russian weightlifting videos on the Internet to learn things
*I would rather meet Rich Froning than most movie stars
*I’ve cried in the gym on multiple occasions (I probably shouldn’t be proud of this)
*I run ON PURPOSE and not because I’m being chased
*My hands are calloused from pull-ups
*I have muscles in a million places that were previously the composition consistency of turkey gravy or grape jelly

All of that aside, I realized this week the best thing that my year of learning from Rob and Laura has given me is the simplest thing of all. I like myself now. I am a wholly different woman than I was in February 2012, and I really like the person I am today–not just what I see in the mirror superficially but also how I think and what I do each day, and the choices that I make. I am a happier and better and healthier person because of what I’ve learned from Rob and Laura and through the encouragement and friendship of all the other amazing people at the gym with whom we spend so much time each week.

I’m insanely happy to be celebrating my first CF-iversary. Sadly, I was traveling today and couldn’t do the workout in MN but instead I made a playlist of some of Rob’s favorite workout songs and hit the treadmill to run until the playlist was done shuffling. Serendipitously and quite fittingly, the last song on shuffle was gym standard Call Me Maybe. The perfect ending to a year. Happy anniversary, Gerdi. A million thank yous wouldn’t be enough.

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