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…
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.
The 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.)