#180 What’s Jason doing?

There are certain individuals who are rare in their relentless pursuit of success, conspicuous by their ever-presence and undefeatability. Annie Thorisdottir comes to mind right away. With two titles under her belt, her slow decline has been expected for many years now and yet it never comes. After injuries, disappointments, and a changing of the guard, her chances of winning a third CrossFit Games this year are probably as strong as they have ever been. There is a mental toughness there that can’t be ignored.

This weekend I am in Lisbon to spend time with another legend of our sport who I would put in that same bracket. Jason Khalipa has also won the CrossFit Games, and then spent the following 5 years fighting to get back to that top spot on the podium. He happened to run into the immovable object that was Rich Froning, meaning he had to settle for numerous podiums but never repeating his triumph of 2008. Jason became known as the number 2 guy, the best in the world apart from the champ. Every year people would predict his decline, noting he was too big, the sport has moved past him, he is finished. And yet on Sunday evening in the tennis stadium, there he would be, on the podium yet again. His chase of Froning is the stuff of legend, and was summed up in the now famous scribble on the wall of his home gym…”what’s Rich doing?”. This little message to himself for when he felt his efforts waning came to define his career, and for me, was one of the reasons I became such a fan.

Imagining what the best in the world is doing at any moment in time is what brings me to Lisbon. Jason is now surely one of the very best gym owners in the world. He opened the legendary Norcal CrossFit back in the day, and since has built his organisation to 27 NCFit gyms all over the world and is growing year-on-year. What’s even more impressive is that he built the foundations of this empire while also taking podiums at the CrossFit Games. Since retiring from competition, his seemingly endless energy has been solely focused on building his business and thankfully for me, helping others build theirs. The opportunity to spend time with him and to hear his perspective on my business is one I am very excited about.

To be honest, I am not sure what to expect. The last time I made an investment of this sort was the trip to New England to spend time with Ben Bergeron. The profound difference that made to the gym is almost immeasurable. So much so that I am almost wondering what I’m doing here. I love what we have going on at CrossFit Swords. We have the right people, a strong culture that fits and a facility I am very proud of. The business is healthy, I am personally very happy and we are producing some great athletes. So, I kinda don’t want to change a thing.

And maybe I won’t. That doesn’t mean I want to stop making improvements. What I am interested in are the simple solutions. Like any business, we run into many complex little problems at the gym that always need solving. The process of solving them, while fun, can also slow progress at times and have their own knock-on effects. When you open 27 gyms, I’m guessing a lot of these problems are recurring and become par for the course. I can also imagine that solving them many times and in many different ways brings with it a certain wisdom. It’s this wisdom that I am interested in, the direct routes to solutions, the complex made simple. And simple is what I expect. Hearing his approach over the years, he seems to have simplicity at the centre of what he does, which sounds great to me.

In truth, I have very little interest in owning multiple CrossFit gyms. One great one will do me. That being said, the owner of 27 I’m sure has a lot to teach me, and I can’t wait to get started.

#180 What’s Jason doing?

#179 Geordie Sores

I am certain about very few things in life, but one thing I am sure of is that I believe in Christopher Lavelle.

Here I am again, another plane, another hotel, another car rental, on my way to another competition. That might sound like a complaint, but it really isn’t. Life has never been more hectic, and yet I couldn’t be more excited to be on the road again. This time it’s the north of England and the Castle Games. I have set myself up in Newcastle, a place I have never been. Kinda cool to see it. Old city walls, big castles and winding side streets. What stands out though is the vibe. I have never been anywhere that is so social. Endless restaurants and bars, thronged with groups of people. Everyone is chatting to someone. Not a quiet corner to be found.

This will be my second trip to the Castle Games, where Sean And Marina took 1st place in the mixed pairs teen division last year. It was a well-run event and a good level of competition so I am looking forward to it. Christopher is here for the individual event and goes into it as he tends to…well prepared. I mentioned belief in the intro, and its easy to believe in someone who keeps delivering. For me, the competition at this point is almost beyond the point. What you really hope as a coach is that an upcoming event will adequately fuel the development work needed to take the next step. THAT is where Christopher delivers. He manages to keep finding new levels of performance and professionalism in his approach and I am endlessly impressed. Then sure, let’s go get the win. But no matter what, the work for Christopher has been done.

Whats not so obvious to everyone is that he is working with equal vigor and conviction on two fronts at once. The people who come to the gym every week see how much he puts into each class he teaches. He takes his people’s development very seriously. He is always prepared(there is it again), deeply engaged, and genuinely excited to coach. Then there’s his management of the gym. I honestly never thought I would have a business that functions so smoothly. That takes endless hours of work behind the scenes. As a coach and manager, he will be world class someday. And yet, he still manages to ever increase his commitment to training, eating and recovering like a professional athlete.

This is a balancing act few can even attempt. It’s a high-wire sprint while juggling swords. Its spinning plates with your shoes on fire. And that really is why it’s easy to believe in him. He delivers where it counts most…in the process, not just on the big stage. There are athletes you love to work with, then there are those you are simply proud to be their coach. This weekend will be incredibly satisfying, seeing him going out and showing what hard work looks like.

I leave the event conflicted. Control the controllable’s is a well-trodden mantra of coaches in all sports. Everything else, you gotta let it go. As I watched Christopher get into it with the head judge, the coach part of my brain was shouting “get back on task”, but the friend part of my brain wanted to jump the barriers and join in. After the dust had settled, while it was important for Christopher to take the lesson from it, I’m not sure I would tell him to do anything differently if we got to run it back. Sometimes losing while making a point just feels better.

Christopher was always going to be in the mix and going into the final in 3rd place, all he was thinking was knocking the other two off their perch. Having climbed the leaderboard in every event, the win was there for him. Then the head judge, who sat on his heels for the day, saw an opportunity and he went to town. I have never seen Christopher argue on the competition floor. If there was one phrase to describe him it would be “task-focused”. Sometimes, you realise that no matter how emotionally controlled you are, doing what you’re supposed to is not going to work. Nothing left to do but fight your corner.

A fourth-place finish in an international field of 60 athletes is nothing to be disappointed about. And I certainly don’t leave disappointed. As I mentioned before the event, the competition had served its purpose. Christopher took another big step forward and has shown our other athletes the way. Strong leadership is one of those things that are rare and never to be underestimated. Christopher’s leadership within our athlete team is priceless. His role as the gym manager is even more valuable. As I said, I believe in Christopher Lavelle.

#179 Geordie Sores

#178 Destinazione Milano

Friday, in Milan
Being at an event with an athlete is one of my favourite parts of coaching. It never loses its appeal. I tend to go in having a sense of what they are capable of, but you never know for certain. Watching them confirm it is endlessly satisfying. This weekend I am in a suburb of Milan, at a huge sprawling conference centre which is hosting the Italian Showdown. Sean is the reason I have travelled. At 19 years of age, he is looking immaculate. Sean has always trained hard, but 8 weeks ago he made commitment to the athlete life, prioritising his physical and mental preparation over everything else. This involved a change to some old habits and a shift in his mindset. This is far harder than it sounds as neither of these things tend to go quietly. He has stuck with it and the results are there to see. I couldn’t be more impressed. I would like to think its the start of a new path for him, and these eight weeks was where he did a lot of the heavy lifting. Both figuratively and literally.

The challenge that lies in front of him is no small one. Its an under-20’s division, and his last time competing in an age division. After this, he swims with the sharks. This weekend he must show up on Friday night and try to qualify for the competition proper. One workout, a straight shoot-out. If you’re not top ten, you’re sight-seeing for the weekend. Real pressure. Everyone here is a savage, and with over 1000 athletes trying to get places across the different divisions, only the elite will move on. Its impossible to know what the other athletes will bring, one thing I know for sure is that Sean is ready. Never stronger, never fitter, never more confident. I have not looked forward to a competition as much in some time.

One of the challenges for me is to define what success looks like before he actually competes. It is possible to have a successful weekend while not even qualifying. If he performs to the level we know he can but the competition is better on the day, its still a success of sorts. Explaining that to Sean might not be so simple. He is here to qualify, and then to show what he can do. As his coach, I just want to see him perform but I can’t help feeling he is primed for a big performance. Its nice to be here full of optimism, ready to see my suspicions confirmed.

Sunday night at Milan Airport
I am going home immensely satisfied. Sean’s winning of the event had all of the ingredients of the most satisfying victory possible. Winning an event of this scale is always a very cool thing indeed, but this one had it all. First was his prep. I know some like to say “win effortlessly” is the goal, but for me, its the endeavours you truly invest energy in that are most satisfying when they turn out the way you want. Sean invested, and got rewarded. Then there was the fact that the competition was so close. All of the athletes were of a similar level and all came in with big track records. This was the opposite to a cake-walk. Then lastly, he had to perform in every workout, under pressure, and get the results when they counted most. High drama, to the finish. And he handled it beautifully. It was a tense rivalry all weekend between these young men and he could have easily won with less grace. I was very happy to see him being the grown-up among them. Altogether, a brilliant performance.

Most satisfying for me is the confirmation for Sean that his hard work paid off. Sean has always shown ability, but never shown to himself how dedicated he can be, and just how potent a thing commitment is. Having it pay off so clearly is definitely the highest value take-away. There is something about raw talent that is so distinctive. Its an instinctive thing when you see it, a strange knowledge that somebody has the endless potential. Its not without its dark side however. Its very easy for talented people to learn the lesson that winning while barely having to try is whats impressive. The “effortless” curse. Actually having the guts to commit, to try with everything you have is far more scary, far more unique and certainly more impressive.The least gritty athletes I have come across have tended to be the talented ones. Sean has proven himself to be a worker too, which sets him apart. This was an important next step for him and I can’t wait for the next few months.

For me, in analysing my own role this weekend I think I got a couple of things right. Sean knows how to do most things himself, so trusting him to figure those things out was big. Keeping my mouth shut when he is not doing things perfectly. Then, where its needed, I played the dictator. Looking back I wouldn’t change where I decided to do one or the other. I am also satisfied with the fact that Sean’s strengths this weekend were things that were identified as weaknesses earlier this year. What I would change would be to have a more nailed-down, boiled-down, bullet-point approach to one of the workouts so he could have been clearer in his head about the task at hand. Again, he had this largely covered for himself but we could have been stronger. Overall, a very satisfying and successful weekend, so I will enjoy it. Can’t help the mind drifting to next week though, getting back to the training and ready for the next one. Joy tends to be fleeting, but the enduring motivation for more is where the real gold is.

#178 Destinazione Milano

#177 Twenty-Seventeen

2017. A year of massive forced growth.

In summary…

A painful public conflict, Bergeron, a team restructure, a mission redefined, an uneasy reintroduction to formal education, an event of events, a meltdown for the ages, and finally a break.

And the right people.

If ever a concept was hammered home this year, it was this one. The support, the expertise, the hard work, the love and friendship of those around me this year have made all the difference.

I have never experienced a worse start to a year. Nobody likes conflict, but when it’s public, it’s a different animal. Let’s just say there were plenty of growth opportunities in January. It’s funny, you come through these things stronger, relationships fortified and you find out who you are. But at the time…

The whole episode taught me two things. Firstly, good work eventually gets recognised. I always hate seeing lazy, cynical work being rewarded. This year, my faith in the power of good work was restored. Secondly, self-delusion is a very dangerous thing indeed.

From there followed a year so jam-packed, it’s hard to believe it all occurred in the same 12 months. Bergeron changed the game for me. Simple, simple solutions, so obvious to the point of embarrassment, but brilliant in equal measure. I have to think it was a timing thing. It was the right information, delivered in the right way, just at the right time. I will be forever grateful.

From this flowed everything. The new team are brilliant. I say this not with any throw-away use of the word brilliant. I mean each of them, in their own way, are actually brilliant at what they do. I am bursting with pride for our coaching team. I love being part of it. Again, the right people.

We also defined who we are as a gym, and where we are headed. This has been a powerful engine driving everything forward. My favourite aspect of having a clear mission is my new-found ease with saying no. It is instantly obvious what to me what is a yes and what is a no. So many bright and shiny “opportunities” pop up and where previously I always said yes, this year was very often a hard no. I have not one single regret.

Then, I went back to college. This was a big step, and one I never saw coming. And so far, so good. The material is hugely interesting and I am learning an awful lot. I have lived with this stuff my whole working life, so there is a certain comfort with it. The structure in which they want it regurgitated on the other hand is not so straightforward. The academic world is not immune to it’s own set of politics and bullshit, which is taking some getting used to. I suppose it’s all part of the learning process, but I do wonder about the value in some of it. If this time next year I am writing about having a MSc, It will all be worth it. If nothing else, I am appreciating the struggle.

In the middle of all this was the small matter of the Filthy 150. Without a shadow of doubt, the best one yet. Like every year, you hope the programming works out the way you imagined. I was quite satisfied with it, although there were still lessons in there. I loved working with the judging team this year, what a great bunch of people. And the volunteers again were so supportive…not least, the wife. Watching her bring her skills of persuasion to the world of CrossFit was something to behold. Games athletes, company CEOs, and big sponsors were all standing on the floor of the National Show Centre saying, “I am in Dublin and I am not sure why..but here I am”. Once wifey decides something is happening, it tends to happen. In the end, it was quite a show.

Which brings me to my meltdown. My exams this Christmas were an eye-opener. I went full tail-spin, questioning my existence. Didn’t see it coming either. All of a sudden I found myself in the middle of something that I couldn’t control and it was utterly disorientating. I considered skipping exams, quitting college and just walking away. It was all on the table. At the end of the day, I had to coach myself through it. “Where’s your growth mindset?…control what you can control…take on the challenge, grow from the experience”. It got me through it…well to show up and write stuff down at least. As for the results, I will find them out soon but going through the experience was something I have learned from and hopefully will make me a better coach.

And thats the whole point. Here I am on a break, reflecting on another huge year. No work, just a holiday. Yet all I can think about is the gym and what the next 12 months can bring. I am truly in some sort of dream where everything I could possibly want is right here in front of me. The people I want to train, the coaches I want to work with, in the facility I always wanted to build. Nothing left to do but to take a breath, be grateful and kick in the door to 2018.

#177 Twenty-Seventeen

#176 Filthy Programmed

So it’s done. Workouts are written and ready for release.

Overall i’m satisfied. Simple, challenging, interesting tests. Well, I find them interesting. Here’s a few thoughts.

5 is now 4
I planned for 5, programmed 5, then 4 made sense. 4 workouts and a final for those who make it through. The volume works better at 4, not a beat-down, but enough to ensure the best teams can leave the rest behind. A floor-plan and athlete-flow re-design later and we’re all set.

Obstacle Course
This one was always going to be difficult, and thanks to Mairead from the Beast Challenge, we have ourselves a real race. Lets face it, obstacle courses are meant to be fun and thats what we’re aiming for. However, in a fitness competition with four tests, it also has to hurt. With outdoor events, the weather is always a factor. A nice crisp autumn day would be nice, but honestly, I’m hoping for the wettest, windiest, dirtiest day of the year.

Scaled? Intermediate? RX?
I hate these terms. Everyone has their own definition to the point of meaninglessness. But that’s what we have to work with. Most teams don’t sit purely in any one of those categories. Its usually a mix, so thats what we programmed around. Mainly Intermediate challenges with RX or scaled elements to test/accommodate the athletes at both ends of the spectrum.

CrossFit
This is not a combine. We are not simply gathering performance data on a range of exercises and seeing who’s numbers are best. We have 4 events with heavy elements, gymnastic components, odd objects, all mixed together. We will run, row, bike, ski. Are we testing the ten physical skills equally? No, but thats the idea. Simply put, its CrossFit.

In summary
We have a teamwork-burner, a technical test with strategy, some fast grunt work and an obstacle course. I tried to make them easy to judge, easy to follow and easy to attack…but not easy. What matters most is that teams have a great weekend with each other, and then the best team wins. I hope everyone is enjoying their training and bring their best on the 21/22nd.

The first workout announcement will take place on October 6th.

#176 Filthy Programmed

#175 Simple, Not Grand

One of the best programmed events I have been to in Ireland was the Blanchardstown Throwdown this year.

Hats off to Andy Ewington.

He managed to come up with very simple workouts that were at the same time, very interesting.

Thats the sweet spot.

Its in the making them interesting that things can get very complicated very quickly.

You start off with a simple couplet and before you know it, you have a part a and b, multiple partner transitions, rules for those transitions, separate scoring for both parts…layer upon layer upon layer

Shit show.

The other extreme is just as bad.

Power cleans and burpees will do. Eh, maybe thrusters and pull ups next. Then, assault bike. Lots of assault bike.

Done. Grand. Sure it’s all grand.

So here I am again, programming Filthy, trying to keep it simple, but not grand.

The team element is the crux. Challenging 4 athlete’s fitness in 20 minute workouts that are interesting yet not complicated.

I see Niall mentioned syncro in the lead up to Capital this year(which looks like its going to be even bigger and better this year).

He was right, too much syncro last year all-round.

For us, it was the only way we could get through over 1000 athletes over 2 days. We had to over-use it.

This year, we have reduced the number of teams, changed the format and increased the variety of equipment, all with a view to making the events more fun and challenging for everyone.

Every year it’s scary. Every year it seems more difficult.

Lets hope I don’t fuck it up.

#175 Simple, Not Grand

Munich – Day 3


Shortened, compressed, lengthened.

Occlused, perfused, oxygen saturated.

Scraped, distracted, smashed.

Exhausted.

Two days of finding the extremities of my mechanics.

So, do I possess complete mechanics?

I most certainly don’t.

Basic capacities I was born with have slowly drifted away.

Or have been sacrificed to the combat-sports-gods.

But here’s the thing.

There are world champion athletes with incomplete mechanics.

The very best on the planet, yet athletically incomplete.

And I recaptured some of mine this weekend.

Whatever I am missing is simply potential for growth.

I can’t wait to get into this stuff with I get back to my athletes.

In all of these drills, tests, protocols, all I see are my athletes, and all that athletic potential.

Munich – Day 3