As a lifelong reader, I find stories, characters, and fantastic turns of phrase one of the most delicious pleasures in life. Sometimes even a single word can capture my attention. Usually when this happens, it’s because I’ve either learned a new meaning of the word, or because something happened to make it resonate with me in a different way. That happened for me recently at the CrossFit box.
The word that took new meaning? Grace.
www.dictionary.com defines the noun form of grace as follows: “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.”
Most people who hear the word grace think of people or activities that are almost ethereal in nature. They think of the pas de deux in the ballet Swan Lake captivating the audience, or perhaps the manner in which someone like Jackie Kennedy or Grace Kelly carried herself. Most often, when people think about what it means to “be a lady”, they mean that a woman has fine manner, wears elegant looking attire, and is soft spoken and can make others feel at ease, and that behavior is considered graceful. But I don’t think that’s all there is to it – not anymore.
One recent Friday, my coach decided to break out a benchmark workout for the CrossFit On Track athletes. For those of you not familiar with benchmark workouts, they are standard workouts with precribed weights and reps. A particular benchmark workout is done on a fairly infrequent basis – generally you only want to do a benchmark every couplefew months, which provides ample time for the athlete to see gains from the constantly varied training that is the heart and soul of CrossFit. Benchmark workouts can have a number of components to them, so somewhere along the line it became standard practice to give them them a name. After all, saying that your WOD was 100 pullups, 100 pushups, 100 situps, and 100 squats for time takes a helluva lot longer than just telling your buddies that your workout this morning was Angie. A lot of the best benchmark workouts have women’s names and are referred to collectively as “The Girls”.
I’ve done a handful of benchmark WODs in my time as a CrossFitter, but on the particular day in question, the WOD selected by my coach was Grace, which is 30 Clean and Jerks for time, at a precribed weight of 135 for men and 95 for women. I didn’t go to CrossFit that Friday, but since I dearly love to lift heavy things, I was excited to find a time to tackle Grace later in the weekend. Saturday had a great team workout scheduled that I didn’t want to miss, so I made a date for 10am Sunday with one of my favorite CrossFit buddies Melissa.
I got to the box at about 9:30 and decided to knock out 1500 meters on the rower, do a bit of mobility work, and warm up my Clean and Jerk to see what weight I would do, since it’s more likely that I would fly to the moon and back that it is that I would Clean and Jerk 95 pounds 30 times. By 10:10, I had decided that I would do 50 pounds, a weight which is so light that a lot of people at my box can’t comprehend it, but certainly plenty heavy for me. Melissa showed up at about 10:12, and by 10:15 I had completely lost control of the situation because next thing you know, my bar was at 55 pounds. Now 5 more pounds might not sound like a lot, but it’s 10% more than the original weight I planned, which was more than I’d jerked before that weekend, and 10% can make a hell of a difference.
The clock was set, and I heard the beeps counting down “3-2-1-Go” like I’ve done so many times, and off I went. Melissa and one of my other favorite CrossFit On Track friends, Mike, were right next to me counting and coaching. My first 10 reps were unbroken – I didn’t drop the bar or take a break a single time – and my next 20 came in smaller sets of 2-4. Around rep 12, Melissa told me I should have put more weight on the bar. Around rep 19, I wanted to die, as I always do in a WOD involving 30 reps of lifting something heavy. Around rep 23, I started feeling better because thank the sweet baby Jesus in the manger, the workout was 3/4 done. Finally, I did my 30th rep, dropped the bar, and looked at the clock.
My time was 2:55. Without a doubt, I had just experienced (almost) three minutes of Grace.
“Elegance or beauty”: There isn’t much that is more elegant or beautiful than a well-performed lift. This is doubly true for a two-part lift like the clean and jerk.
“of form, manner, motion, or action”: I was too busy lifting to look in the mirror, but Melissa and Mike spent the whole 2 minutes and 55 seconds telling me how good my lifts looked, and I don’t remember feeling weak or off on many of them. They looked good to my friends, and they felt good to me. And anyone who has tackled any of these benchmark WODs can attest that it’s not uncommon for them to feel like complete crap while you are doing them.
Grace isn’t just about the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and it isn’t just about looking like someone out of a Coco Chanel ad from days gone by. Sometimes it’s about showing up, picking up something heavier than you thought you could over and over and over again, and at the end, after you’ve collapsed in a heap, being able to say….
“I did that. And I can’t wait to do it again.”
Next time, I’m doing 65 pounds.