Discovery Through Recovery—and the Other Way Around
By Heather Self
When I turned 40, I purchased coaching with Brad McCleod, owner of the SEAL Grinder PT website and owner of CrossFit Grinder in Atlanta, GA. The training was done by email as I am in Oregon. I needed to boost my training as I was no longer making gains I wanted at my standard gym. I worked hard there, generally always the only female in the weights section. A week later, I started classes at Beaverton CrossFit.
One goal I always wanted to do were chin-ups; after ten years of training at my gym, I never was able to do so. Three weeks after training with Brad and at my CrossFit box, I cranked out five.
I was in love and I knew I’d found exactly what I needed and wanted.Prior to joining up with Brad and BCF, I’d been doing research on training, some for myself as I was bored, but also for a book I was working on at the time which had a Navy SEAL as a main character. Somewhere in that research I found CrossFit, I believe, and became intrigued. My first WOD (“workout of the day”)? Murph.
I did it on my own, at my apartment, first mile run around the .25mi loop of driveway; second hobbling along at a pace that would frustrate a turtle on the treadmill in the fitness center (there’s hills on the driveway.)
It took me 93 minutes. And I was damn proud of myself.
In October of that same year, Brad sent Murph around as the weekly workout. Again done at my apartment. First mile, a little over 8.5 minutes. I cranked out those pull-ups, push-ups and squats in my own chunks. I tallied them off, confused at times by noticing tally marks I didn’t remember making–I was off in Murph La La Land.
Second mile was a combination of “wogging” (half-walking, half-jogging; though maybe it was a bit closer to plodding) and walking. I pushed through the moments of feeling gassed as best as I could. I came in at just over 60 minutes. 61, I believe.
Then, typical me, I began whining that if only I hadn’t walked and I’d continued to “wog” I would have come in under an hour! And then I realized that in a little over three months, I’d shaved one-third of my time off my score.
I was so pleased with myself, and I was further convinced about CrossFit. I went to my box faithfully, sticking to one or two main classes, or one main class and two Oly classes, in and around my SEAL GrinderPT workouts (if you want a laugh, go kick out a CrossFit routine or something from Brad’s website at a Globo Gym. The looks you get, especially from males when you’re a female, are, to use an old term, choice.) I began working on mastering the dreaded double-unders. I made myself become OK with burpees. I glowered through hard WODs, but, at the same time, adored them.
And then came The Elbow Incident.
When I began working on this website, I spent so much time over Labor Day Weekend putting it together, I leaned on my right arm in such a way I gave myself, at that time, minor tendonitis. I rested for about 4 days, then slammed out a negative pull-up/push-up pyramid, topping it off with bar hangs. The soreness I expected (damn those crooks of my elbows) came, and, as it went, I realized something was very wrong. The pain in my elbow wasn’t just typical stiffness and soreness. I couldn’t move it.
In fact, it hurt so badly, I had to brush my teeth with my left hand. I had a stuffy nose, so I had to guide the nasal spray with my right hand and squeeze with my left. I had to pour water from my pitcher by tipping it with my right but supporting it with my left. Okay, I thought, I can deal. I’ll get better.
To compensate the loss of my arm, I strapped 20lbs on my back, tied on my boots and started going for weighted rucks in my neighborhood. I live in Portland, in the “foothills of the foothills” of the Coast Range. My side of the boulevard I live on is filled with medium-to-graceful hills; cross the street and you get into medium-to-steep. The steepest one became my marching ground. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down.
I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much, I got a tidy shin splint in my right shin; I forgot about the mechanics of breaking whilst treading down a decline such as that. And I forgot about the mechanics of breaking whilst treading down a decline such as that whilst wearing 20 extra pounds on my back.
Walking hurt. Yoga, another beloved exercise, hurt (elbow). Bike riding hurt the elbow as well. I knew I was an active person, but I didn’t realize how much a part of my identity exercise was until I was faced with the inability to do anything.
It was hard not to become depressed. And I found myself facing some serious modes of thinking I wasn’t truly aware I had. Self-esteem issues I thought I’d conquered, for one. And then I became loudly, fully aware of body image issues that still remained from the time I weighed nearly 200lbs, shooting up from 135 (due to a confluence of events, one of them a terrible relationship.)
I work as a life coach, so I knew how to work with those–acceptance, allowance, shifting. But it was a major struggle not to shame myself, not to hate myself for my stupidity, not to start thinking my coaches would see me as a weak little idiot.
But I also knew that wasn’t what they thought. That’s what I thought about myself. It was a shock.
As a plus, however (depending on how you look at it), I finally realized I was gluten-intolerant (only when I chew and swallow it) and I started following a Paleo/Primal diet. I dropped 17 lbs.
It took me 18 months to recover because I wasn’t paying attention to recovery. I wasn’t recovering like I meant it. I kept reinjuring my elbow. And then, finally I could use it again, and I began training for a GoRuck Light event. I really thought if I just slapped on some mental toughness (not realizing that’s what kept injuring my elbow; I “knew” part of mental toughness was giving in to the need to rest and to stop looking at rest as “weakness) I could get my training done. I had five months, after all!
My intuition kept telling me to go easier. But I really thought five months was enough time. I’m always talking about listening to that little voice within, and I’m generally good about it. When it comes to fitness, apparently, I’m not. I also wasn’t, once more, recovering like I meant it. I let that bit slide out of (arrogance) laziness. I can admit to that. But I also lean towards a tendency to “unconsciously on purpose” think intuition, shmintuition–!
Now, at least.
One afternoon, as I started in on a run, my right hip, just over the kidney, began to cramp up. It often did that, and it shook itself out after about a mile. But 3.25 miles in I was limping and almost in tears from the pain. I stopped, limped back, and promised myself a week of rest.
What I also learned, however, was that the foam rolling I did wasn’t helping what became diagnosed as hip bursitis. I thought that pain was muscular, and that the pain of rolling was just sensitive knots. Finally, one night, as an experiment, I took two muscle relaxants, hoping two would shake out that knot. (I also realized it was likely the shoes I wore. I knew those shoes weren’t right, at least on a little voice level, but I didn’t listen.)
My main issue is I also have a terrible time telling the difference between whining “pain” and actual, bonafide stop now PLEASE pain. At the same time, I don’t. I think there’s a part of me that lies to myself about what’s really going on. I’m not sure why.
Normally one does. Two, however, did nothing. That was when I realized there was something seriously wrong and went to the doctor. Because of the still-cramping hip (this was now two and a half weeks after the initial cramp-o-rama) and the bursitis, I was forbidden to do any of the movements I needed for training. No squats. No lunges. No weighted walks. No running. The bursitis cleared up, but the knotted muscles remained. Physical therapy was out as my health insurance didn’t kick in until I paid $1000 of my own money. At $200 a pop, no. So I went for massage.
That did help. But then, one day, I wore those damn shoes again–just around the office. Those damn shoes.
Hip went from feeling good back to cramp-o-rama. Here it was, three years after embarking on my CrossFit/SEAL Grinder PT journey and I was injured. I’d spent half that time injured. Because I wasn’t doing three key things.
1) I wasn’t listening to my intuition
2) I wasn’t recovering like I meant it
3) I wasn’t honoring myself; instead, by not doing either of those things, I was essentially demeaning myself.
For lack of a better way to put it.
I believe that we keep making the same “mistakes” or having the same experiences come to us until we get the lesson they hold. The meaning. Sometimes it takes what I call a “spiritual ass-kicking” because I don’t listen around certain things until that happens. When the elbow wasn’t enough, I got the shin splint. When they weren’t enough, the hip.
Okay, okay, I get it. I get it!
But when I say that, what I feel coming from a part of me is skepticism punctuated with a raised eyebrow. I’ll believe it when I see it, that part thinks back.
So what exactly have I learned? Well, I’m still learning.
I need to:
1) Listen to my intuition
2) Recover like I mean it. (That’s my new mantra). Do what I know I need to for optimal health.
3) Honor myself by doing both those things. As well as really working harder –like I mean it–to let go of that awful thinking I slash at myself.
I’m also starting to realize that some of my thinking has bordered–can border–on body dysmorphia.
I’ve been working with yoga again, going for long, hard walks (on flatish ground, though) and I’ve bought myself some kettlebells, which I’ve been using (my father’s now interested in them, too!) And I’ve been going slowly.
I went to my first Oly class in two years tonight. It was awesome. I’m stiff, I’m awkward, and I used an ungarnished barbell. Vanilla. Naked. Au naturel. It was too light for the push presses and cleans, but just about right for the squats and snatches (for examples, go here.) I am terrifically flexible for yoga, but tonight I could feel the lack of use in my lower back, my feet and my hands. I’m all right with that.
It was a great.
Hip feels all right, elbow feels all right. I will be sore tomorrow–and I can’t wait. But I’m also going to be extraordinarily mindful of what I’ve learned these last two years about my mentality. I’m still resistant to it, still a bit unwilling to admit fully those thoughts are so powerfully-entrenched in me at times…but this time my journey back to CrossFit, back to full training with Brad is going to be me fully honoring myself.
And I’m going to recover like I mean it.
A. Weighted Pull-up, 5,5,5,5 reps
B. 2,4,6,8,10 reps for time
Hang Clean, 135/95
1 Round of
10 Russian KBS, 70/53
A. Weighted Pull-up, 5,5,5,5 reps
B. 2,4,6,8,10 reps for time
Hang Clean, 115/75
1 Round of
10 Russian KBS, 53/35
A. Strict Pull-up, 5,5,5,5 reps
B. 2,4,6,8,10 reps for time
Hang Clean, 75/55
1 Round of
10 Russian KBS, 35/26