The 2018 CrossFit Games featured what Dave Castro called the most challenging and difficult event in the history of the CrossFit Games. Event 4 was The Marathon Row and it was 42,195 meters with a time cap of 4 hours. Athletes who did not complete the row in the time cap would be excluded from the rest of the competition. The fastest male was Lukas Esslinger who completed in 2:42:50 and the fastest female was Margaux Alvarez who completed in 3:00:42. The 38th fastest (I refuse to call them slow) male was Pablo Chalfun who completed at 3:22:54 and the 39th fastest female was Alessandra Pichelli who completed at 3:34:22.
What made this event so special was it took more than cardiovascular endurance, strength, and speed. Out of the 42,195 meters each of those athletes rowed, the most important distance in that event was the 6 inches between each of those athletes skulls. That’s right, this event was all about mentality.
A few other morons and I decided to tackle the row this past week on August 16th and we all finished below 4 hours with Coach Shelley finishing with the fastest time at 3:27:00 and I wanted to take a minute to recognize her effort. Coach Shelley woke up at the butt crack of dawn and went to work, put in a longer8-hour8 hour workday and paired it with a fight through traffic. I watched as she strolled into the gym after this full day of hardcore “adulting” at around 4 PM and nonchalantly decided to hop on a rower next to me and Mike who were struggling to cling to life with less than 15k to 17k meters left. She fought against the will to stand up and take a break and she pulled her ass off for more than 3 hours straight, surviving on some leftover Swedish fish I left behind. Finally, she hit her wall at somewhere around 1400 meters and her body cramped up so bad she fell off of her rower. With some motivation from those around her and sheer determination, she sat back on that rower and finished out her remaining distance in true badass style and finished with the best time of the day. The wall hit Shelley hard and for all intents and purposes, her body was spent. Her brain, however, was not, and I couldn’t be more proud of how she finished!
Mental toughness is trainable. But how do we do it?
Prospective Navy Seals go through a source of mental toughness training called “Surf Torture.” During which, the classmates link arms, walk back into the freezing cold Pacific Ocean and lay down on their backs in the surf so the water can flow over their faces and bodies over and over again. They make “sugar cookies” or get “wet and sandy” where they jump into the water and then roll around in the sand making sure to smother it on every wet piece of clothing and skin, JUST to make the hours spent running and all around existing, that much more difficult. The attrition rate is extreme at BUD/S yet the minimum physical requirement for attending isn’t very high. The experience is viewed by individuals in that community as a game of mind over matter. How bad do you want to be a SEAL? How much pain and suffering can you take? How many times can you flirt with hypothermia in the Pacific Ocean? Only those who want it bad enough, the 20% who graduate, have the brain power to survive the ordeal.
How is mental toughness like this feasible for the everyday athlete?
There are several events out there, Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, Go-Ruck’s, and several others meant to test one’s mental toughness by pushing you out of your comfort zone. Now I’m not saying you can’t increase your mental toughness through CrossFit, but get out of the gym and experience the fitness that you work so hard for. Hike a mountain, run a marathon, go rock climbing. Do something you never imagined you can do and find inspiration in all those who have gone before you. Find inspiration in yourselves. Find a weakness in a real experience. Go a few miles past your comfort zone and see just how far your brain can take you!
Most of all, remember that when things get tough and you are hitting that wall, think about the hardships you’ve experienced in life. Think about that breakup that left your heart wounded. Think about that job you lost and how you thought your life was over. Think about that crippling debt that you fought your way out of. Think about that workout you did that made you reconsider life *cough* marathon row *cough*! When times get rough, remember that you’ve been knocked down before and you got up every time and kept moving Forward.