Dealing with the Hurt (Part 1)

breatheI’ve been working with a new mental toughness newbie this month. So far, he has made it through the first three WODs. Most people don’t make it past workout number 1 so he’s way ahead of the mental toughness journey.

After struggling with a WOD that consisted of sets of 25 burpees and a 400 meter run, he asked “Does this shit get any easier?”

I thought about my answer for about a second and then responded with my best deadpan look. “No,” I said to him. I could tell by the disappointment in his reaction that he was not very pleased with my response. Maybe he won’t get to workout #4 after all.

I pondered his question all day, especially since I just did the same WOD that he did a few days ago. Being a veteran mental toughness student for over ten years, you would think I would’ve breeze through the WOD. But, like the CrossFit rookie, the burpee-run combination nearly severed my lungs.

Actually I’ve done this WOD at least a dozen times before. This most recent workout was my fastest time ever. So I have shown physical growth and improvement. Yet, at the same time, doing the WOD feels exponential worse every time I do it. It just always suck big time.

In some way then it is possible that my capacity to overcome the pain hasn’t evolved. If this is true, there must be something apparently wrong with my training methods. I was so bothered by this thought that I just had to investigate.

So, I redid the WOD another time.

It wasn’t easier and in a lot of ways, many times more intense than the last time I did it.

I just can’t win.

In retrospect, one of the reasons why it was so intense is because I pushed myself as hard as I can. I didn’t hold back at all. I let it all out on every 400 meter run and I did all the burpees in an unbroken manner. I could have coasted and put my body on cruise control and avoided any of this misery, but one of my mental strength is my integrity.

When I catch myself slacking off, I punish myself and force myself to go as hard as possible. I tend to guilt myself to do the work and beyond. This is especially true and how I always like to finish a working set by sprinting as hard as I can during the last 100 yards.

As a result, I was gasping for air so hard during the last 10 seconds of each set that it felt like I was suffocating from a near drowning. Oxygen seemed to get off to my brain. Momentarily, I worried that I will never breath normally again. When you reach this level of extreme discomfort, it can feel very scary. Fucking frightening. When I push myself this hard, it always feels like I’m only seconds a way of something terribly going wrong with my body. The fear of damaging myself is always there.

When it comes to metabolic training, this sickness is what I am seeking for.

I wouldn’t wish this anguish on any of you, especially those of you who are just starting out with this training, but when you get to my level of experience, you learn to associate this misery as something positive.

I never said this training is for sane people. This mind strengthen protocol is for those who are trying to be tough as fuck. Tough to the point of pushing himself or herself over the edge as much as they physically and mentally handle.

So in my analysis and reflection of this WOD, I was able to discern how I have grown with my mental toughness ability. Sure, I am in better shape now than compared to the first time I done this anguishing WOD, but what changed the most is my mental ability with how I can deal with the suffering.

In the past if I would have maxed out with my sprinting to the finish line like I just did; I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate the pain like I can now. Back then, my mind couldn’t take the pounding. I would have quit or shifted my effort to a lower gear.

Now, I can push my body as hard as I can, but at the same time, mentally handle and withstand the suffering. This higher level of pain tolerance is how I am have grown with this CrossFit-mental toughness training I have put myself through. The workouts have taught my mind how to hold on and withstand great amounts of physical and mental torture. My will to go on is way stronger than my lack of will and old habit of giving up. In fact, I’ve flip flop these two character traits that have defined who I am.

I no longer consider my self a person that is frail and prone to giving in to frustration. Now, when I gaze into my eyes, I see a person that is gritty and can withstand loads of bullshit and unlimited amounts of obstacles.

I have change and better myself from the hours of intense discomfort that I have learn to endure and at times embraced. I welcome the evil and the dark places where I sometimes go because I know it will solidify my perseverance skills.

So, even though my pain tolerance is not a measureable trait, it is very recognizable in my training and with how I deal with personal adversity.

Learning how to endure suffering is a powerful tool in training, but more so in life.

(To be continued)

Today’s WOD:

5 sets

Deadlift – 5 reps (use a heavy enough weight so that by the 5th rep, you are feeling very uncomfortable)

400 meter run (it doesn’t have to be exact. A good rule of thumb is a run about 1:30 or half a block and back)

Scaled down version of this classic Litvinov WOD:

1. Do only three sets.

Acceptable substitutions:

1. Run on treadmill or jump rope for a minute in place of the 400m run.