My First Fifty CrossFit Days…

… I’m never going back.

Friends had been telling me for years to do CrossFit. I’ve been a “GloboGym” guy since high school. I’ve always enjoyed weightlifting and hated cardio. I figured I knew what I was doing after more than a decade in the gym – why did I need to do CrossFit? Weightlifting defined a big part of who I was. I spent an hour or two five to six days a week every morning before dawn. I didn’t need someone to tell me how to work out. To be clear, I did more than crunches, curls, and bench press and even competed in an amateur bodybuilding competition in college. I also looked at the guys who were at the elite CrossFit level and thought to myself “There’s no way they do a five minute workout and achieve that level of fitness.” After staring, admittedly curiously, from the outside in, my friend and business partner Web Smith finally got me to give it a go.

There was no question I was going to CrossFit Dallas Central to give it a shot. Widely viewed as the best CrossFit box in Dallas (“box” = gym), I’d even heard it’s one of the best in the US.  One of my first reactions was a bit of sticker shock at the price. Gold’s Gym was $50 a month. I was looking at $200 a month to join CrossFit. I had enough people at this point in my life telling me I had to try it that it was more than worth a one month trial. Having started a clothing company last year, something else I’ve learned first hand is that quality is never cheap. It it’s a great product or service, it’s going to be worth the cost. Our “chasing cheap” culture has distorted reality to an unhealthy level with everyone expecting things to cost less than it takes to actually deliver that product or service. There exists an almost automatic assumption that there should always be a discount, and if it costs more than something in the same product category, it’s too expensive (even if they aren’t really comparable). Past the signup, I got my world rocked.

I can’t remember my first week of workouts in terms of specific movements/time, but I can remember being humbled as never before. There will always be someone faster or stronger (unless you are Rich Froning), so it wasn’t that someone finished something faster or with more weight… It was that I felt like the workout had obliterated me. No exaggeration. I remember collapsing on the floor thinking “But wait! I’m FIT!”. The important distinction with CrossFit is that you may be able to run a marathon, but you can’t lift much weight at all. You may be incredibly strong, but if you have to row a 1000 meters, you may actually pass out. CrossFit is all about exactly what their slogan says “Forging Real Fitness”.

Perhaps even more amazing than this realization that I was nowhere near as “fit” as I thought I was, was the bonding experience that took place almost instantly. From the coaches to those getting obliterated with me, the sense of community is phenomenal. Perhaps shared suffering (and of course triumph at the completion of each WOD) is a stronger bonding tool than I had ever realized.

This false sense from those who have not ever even tried CrossFit that it’s a bunch of workout lunatics/muscle heads couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve seen the fittest people right next to those who are one hundred pounds overweight, all doing their best to improve their own fitness level while encouraging each other. From teenagers looking to get ready for soccer tryouts to men and women old enough to be grandparents, there is absolutely something for everyone. You do not need to get fit in order to show up on your first day. The coaches will tailor workouts to your level and push you, in a healthy way, for consistent improvement.

So about my “fitness” level… I rarely combined aerobic activity into workouts. I’d never done an overhead squat. I’d play with my phone or have long conversations with friends at the gym. I’d gotten really good at specific movements and while I was “strong”, I now understand I’ve just scratched the surface of true fitness.

Can’t wait for what’s next. Thanks Web and Lindsey Smith for opening my eyes. Thanks to the CrossFit community for welcoming me and making me want so much more for myself.

Jumping from Space

This is singlehandedly the most amazing picture of 2012.

Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian expert skydiver (coolest title ever), jumped from the edge of outer space yesterday, and became the first person to break the speed of sound unassisted by mechanical force. It was just Felix and gravity.  He jumped from 24 miles above the earth’s surface and ended up falling at over 800 mph. The Red Bull Stratos project inspired the world yesterday.

Surely such a feat of human engineering was directed by NASA or the federal government. The entire thing was brought to you by… an energy drink? In what has now set the bar for the greatest marketing effort in history, Red Bull shot for the stars with this one (bad pun intended) and funded the entire mission, from research and preparation, to execution and broadcast. To say it paid off is a massive understatement. Companies today pay millions of dollars to broadcast or print advertisements for a few seconds that most people ignore. Over 8 million people around the world directly participated in the event – and had to make an effort to do so – that had Red Bull logos everywhere and reinforced Red Bull is more than a company or product, it is a lifestyle that you want to be a part of.  For a company with the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”, is there any better marketing stunt? Best of all, not one part of it felt forced.  It is a part of their DNA.  Can you imagine if Chevy did this? It wouldn’t feel authentic.

There are some great lessons that can be gleaned from this experience, for all companies, as Web Smith points out. While Red Bull spent a fortune on this, it was in such a pioneering way, the return on investment is far greater than an equal, or greater, sum spent elsewhere. They were also certain to prime the (worldwide) audience for a long time leading up to the event, ensuring maximum exposure. As tired of a cliche “think outside the box” is, imagine the conversation within the halls of Red Bull the day someone suggested having someone parachute from 24 miles above the earth to break the speed of sound unassisted. Most companies would have put that person in the “crazy” corner, or ignored him or her altogether.

Jen Blackman Lavelle: The Triathlete

My amazing wife, Jen, continues to be that much more amazing every day and inspire me on a daily basis.

While many people have a hard time in challenging situations, Jen is one of those people who thrives when challenged, personally and professionally, and seeks challenges out. Triathlons are grueling, both physically and mentally, but Jen couldn’t be happier out there training and competing.

Jen competed at the Stonebridge Playtri Triathlon this weekend in the sprint triathlon event.  She was out of the open water swim a full minute ahead of the next fastest woman and about 8 minutes faster than the average time in the event. Not only that, but she got out of the water looking fresh and ready to press on while everyone else seemed to get out thanking their lucky stars they survived the 750 meter open water swim!

Jen has been a swimmer her whole life.  Her parents incentivized her when she was young with ice cream.  The need for ice cream quickly faded, and she found herself swimming hours a day, improving and competing all the time. Before too long, she was at Highland Park High School and a 16 Time Texas State Champion. Continuing her career at SMU, she didn’t stop racking up awards and accolades:

  • Former American Record Holder (800 MR Freestyle)
  • 6 Time NCAA All-American
  • 2008 Olympic Trials Competitor
  • 2008 SMU Women’s Swimming Captain
  • 2008 US National Champion (400MR Freestyle)

I started out talking about Jen challenging herself, and clearly, she is a phenomenal swimmer, so what am I talking about here? Two weeks before her first ever triathlon, I was doing drills in the parking lot with Jen teaching her how to ride a bike. Seriously. I watched her topple over several times (she made me stand back and have her do it on her own, I’m not a bad husband, I promise!) Fast forward to this past weekend, and she won her age division and placed 5th overall in the triathlon! This is a woman who challenges herself… and will not take no for an answer, from others or herself.

Driving up to the race, I said (in the most reassuring voice possible) “Just finish – get your first triathlon under your belt.” When I told her twin sister my advice to Jen, she laughed saying “Right. Jen didn’t hear a word you said. She’ll win – just watch.”

And we did.

I’m so proud of my wife. This was her first race, and she’s only going to grow from here, never stopping when it comes to challenging herself.

A picture from the race this weekend – with Jen not only doing great on the bike, but smiling!