You Never Know If Today Is The Day

I almost stayed home from my workout this morning.

I had plenty of reasons excuses: I have an annoying, but not health-threatening cough. It was cold outside. We were doing Helen which just seemed sooooo boooooorrrrriiinnngggg.

I just didn’t want to do it.

But CrossFit isn’t always about want. Sometimes it’s about need. And commitment. And holy shit! it’s December, and I am totally drinking Prosecco this Thursday at the company party and making Russian Teacakes for Christmas, and I better get my sorry ass up and get to the gym. Now.

I’m not saying my motives are pure – they’re just motivating.

Our skill session and workout were reversed today; Helen first, skills second. In case you don’t know Helen, she’s like this:

3 rounds:
400m run
21 kettlebell swings, RX = 16kg
12 pullups

It was 36 degrees outside and in the bathroom to blot my runny nose before the torture began, I gave myself a pep talk: Just keep moving. You don’t have to be a superstar today. You just have to do it. Just. Keep. Moving.

The first round was just fine. I felt fine during the run, cranked out 21 fine, unbroken swings, and even managed my pullups with the fine blue band six at a time.

Then the second round happened. I have never wanted to stop so badly as I did during the second lap around the building, or at least that’s what I whined inside my noggin: I have never wanted to stop so badly in my life! 

Way to be motivating, Mel.

Then twenty-one unbroken swings and pullups four at a time.

My third round run was sad, so very sad, and I can’t lie to you, even with lies of omission – I took a 20-second walk break behind the building while thinking, I would die if anyone saw me walking back here right now.

Then 21 unbroken swings and pullups four at a time, then two, then two… then two… then one… then one.

Time: 13:08.

I had T-Rex forearms, and I desperately wanted to lie down on the floor, but I had to save face with myself after that walking business, so I stayed upright. I did feel pretty struttastic about the unbroken swings.

Then the really interesting stuff started to happen.

Which just goes to show that you never what a workout will bring. You cannot predict what your day will hold. You can certainly do things–like eat right, get plenty of rest, establish strong bonds with friends and family–to increase the odds that you’ll be successful at whatever it is you’re trying to do, but you never really know what any individual day will bring.


Our skill work looked like this:

4 rounds:
5 clean pull-unders, rest :30
:30 ring tuck hold, rest :30
:30 handstand hold, rest 1:00

I groaned. I hadn’t noticed the ominous ‘handstand holds’ on my first scan of the whiteboard. Then I did that thing I hate that I do: I started asking Coach Tristy questions in a voice that sounded so incredibly high-pitched and whiny to me that I wanted to grab the words from the air and shove them back in my mouth.

I can’t kick up into a handstand yet… I mean, I’ve been trying for, like, three years, and it’s really scary, and I mean, I don’t want to do pikes with my feet on the box because I know I’m strong enough to hold myself in a handstand, but I can’t kick up into a handstand. I can’t. Can you spot me, or… should I just do pikes or….

I trailed off in embarrassment and general what-the-f*ckedness. Tristy said to grab her when it was time for the handstands so she could spot me. She made it sound like no big deal.

My palms were sweating.

I dutifully dropped under the barbell for the pull-unders, and held my first tuck for the entire 30 seconds, then sneaked over to the giant tire and did my first handstand hold in the pike position, hoping no one would notice.

“Tuck your chin into your chest, Mel,” Coach Rob reminded me.

God! I can’t even do the easy ones right, I said to myself, and now people are looking at me and remembering I said I was going to try kick-ups. Big baby. [Note to self: You are not a very supportive coach.]

Round 2: uneventful. Time for handstands.

Tristy noticed me. There would be no more tires for me.

I explained to her in completely convincing, eloquent language that I positively could not, as she suggested, put my legs in a wide lunge, reach my arms overhead, and donkey kick up into the wall.

She waited for me to get into a lunge. Then I put my arms overhead and kicked with my right foot. Tristy grabbed my legs and held them against the wall.

I was upside-down. I thought I was going to hyperventilate.

It’s not that I’ve never been upside-down before. For a short while back in 2008/2009, I was very committed to learning to do handstands and used the patented “walk up the wall backwards” technique which meant when I was upside down, I was facing the wall.

But this was different. I could see the whole world. Upside down.

Don’t panic, I said inside my head. Breathe. Tighten your abs and thighs. Listen to Tristy.

After a while, I kicked my legs down.

I was alive! All my limbs were attached!

I went through the other skills, thinking about round three of the handstands. Then Tristy and I repeated our partner act. Hyperventilation was off the table.

Round four. Everyone else had finished. Tristy was at the desk, updating the web site. My classmates were stretching or waving goodbye. I was on the weight lifting platform, doing my last set of pull-unders. I sauntered to the rings. My shoulders and core were shot. I was holding the tuck position for only 10 seconds at a time. I had one 30-second handstand hold left, but Tristy was way over there at the desk (where “way over there” is, like, 20 feet).

I considered skipping the last round of handstands. You did two sets with Tristy – that’s practically a PR. You can be done.

I considered the tire.

I looked at the wall.

I glanced around to make sure no one was watching me.

I put my left foot forward and my right foot back. I stretched my arms overhead. I committed. Then I kicked over and… pffffttttt… my foot didn’t make contact with the wall.

Then I kicked again. The world flipped over. I was upside-down. With no spotter.

Just me. The wall. My breathing. And the delicious absence of fear.

Then the yelling started. I’m doing it! I’m doing it! 

Then I did it two more times, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.

[Hold on. I’m going to do it right now to make sure I still can…. OK! I’m back. I did it. My palms got really sweaty thinking about it, but I did it.]

Let’s recap the lessons in this story:

1. Keep chipping away. If you make it your mission to conquer a move in CrossFit and keep chipping away at it, you will most likely succeed. But you’ve got to keep working it. The only way to fail is to stop trying.

2. Trust your coach. I kicked up into the handstand today because I trust Tristy’s knowledge, advice, and helpful hands.

3. Trust yourself. When I was doing my whine-routine about handstands this morning, I said, “I know I’m strong enough to do it” but I let my fear drown out the validity of that statement. I am strong enough to do it, whatever it is. And so are you.

4. There’s a time to retire your spotter. I absolutely would not have been successful today without my reliable spotter to get me started. But eventually, you have to face the world, even if it’s upside-down, without a spotter.

And finally…

5. Show up. The first step to success is simply being there. Sure, just getting your butt to the gym (or the park or the pullup bar or the running trail) isn’t ALL it takes, but you sure as shit are not going to have an awesome training day if you don’t show up for training.

And you never know if today is the day.

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  • Jen says:

    This is fucking awesome! Congratulations!

  • Aaron says:

    Way to go!

  • Tanya (a Taste of T) says:

    Ah awesome! Nice work.

  • Mary says:

    First of all — Congratulations!!

    Second, your post is so true! I have been thinking a lot lately about just "chipping away" at CrossFit challenges. Things I thought I would never be able to do become possible if I just keep trying. It's almost like I have to forget about the goal and focus on the reps. And, one day, I can do it! It's almost seems like magic — but it was just a lot of work over a long time.

  • Anonymous says:

    I needed to read this today. Perfect timing. Thanks.

  • emily says:

    i loved this post! because kicking up into a handstand combines fear (upside down???) and explosive power (like a snatch…) it's my goat too. but if you can do it, maybe i can do it.

  • Meghan says:

    Beautifully stated Mel! My short-term goal (aka, 3 months, aka my birthday) is an unassisted handstand for 30+ seconds. Kicking up against that wall is half the battle, but doesn't it feel GREAT when you claim victory! 🙂

  • Lydia says:

    That. Is. Fantastic.


  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Thanks, everyone, for celebrating with me. Pretty fun, right?!

    Mary –> Good on you, sister! It seems like CrossFit requires a lot of thinking then NOT thinking and just doing. It's tricky stuff, but it really does work if we stay at it. I love that!

    Emily –> Yes, you can do it! In your time. In your way. You'll do it. I had no idea it was going to be my day — and then it was. Let me know when you have your day!

    Meghan –> I want a photo of your unassisted handstand when it happens! That's VERY exciting.

  • KIC says:

    Thank you for this. I hit my head on the wall 12 times before doing my first one….

  • Steph says:

    Way to go Mel!!! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Kimberly says:

    congratulations! that rocks 🙂 perseverance!

  • Angie says:

    Congratulations!!!!! New skills are always so much fun!

    I haven't been reading very many blogs the last little while and I came over to read today and it made me smile. Apparently, I needed to read this. I

    've been down on myself because, from my 47-year-old perspective, I'm "too slow" and there are so many improvements I need to make. You put it in a better light for me, and I realize I am pretty darn good at lots of stuff and it's ok because I'm showing up 5 days a week and trying my heart out!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hey, Angie! I'm so glad you stopped by and commented… I hear you! It can be really hard being "of a certain age." But you are absolutely right to acknowledge how totally badass it is to show up. Think about it this way: if you're doing it right, you're never 'done.' Even the winners at the CrossFit games are right now, at this very minute, thinking about what they need to be able to do better, faster, stronger. Everyone is always working to improve — the trick is to keep working on it. You say you're "too slow"… compared to what?! Sounds to me like you're just right. XO.

  • DagneyTaggert says:

    What a fun post! Well said. Yes indeed, chipping away into the sculpture…

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Oooo, Dagney! Love that! "Chipping away at the sculpture." We're works of art.

  • gotamigo says:

    "I'm not saying my motives are pure – they're just motivating."

    That is one of the best lines I've heard – nice!

    Nice work on the handstands too. Way to overcome the physical and psychological hurdles.

  • thegetinshapegirl says:

    I can totally relate to this post in two ways:
    1. I sometimes drag ass in the warm up part of my workouts. a lot of it is simply because i hate running, but then when its over its awesome to see that our bodies CAN do the work
    2. I did my first handstand on my own today in yoga. sometimes you just have to get out of your own way and stop thinking about whatever you are doing, and just do it.

  • marianne taylor says:

    Melissa, way to be determinded and get Hand Stand!!!!!! you motivated me to get back to practicing hs. I was doing head stands. Also going to challenge myself to get to crossfit gym once a week (see if fit my schedule). Thank you for sharing!!!!! marianne

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Good on you, Marianne! Keep me posted on how you're doing! I practiced my kick-up at the gym this morning, just to make sure I can still do it. It was fun — and scary — and fun!

  • MindyK says:

    Just saw this. I’ve been practicing handstands for a couple of weeks. Some days I make it, some days, well, not so much. It seems like everyone at my gym spends half their lives happily upside down, so I’m glad to know others have found it challenging like me–and I’m especially glad to know that practice can make perfect! Belated congratulations!

    • Mel says:

      Hey, Mindy! Welcome to the Handstand-Obsessed Club. I’ve been doing at least 30 seconds after every WOD, just to stay in practice. Sometimes for fun, i try to move my feet away from the wall a little bit. I haven’t had much big success with that yet, but I’m working on it.

      Last week, I tried and crashed three times before giving up for the day. I think heavy core days make it really hard to get upside down.

      Good luck with it!

  • Linda says:

    I simply cannot believe that I’ve just finished reading this post on the eve of my fellow CrossFitters and I having to complete Helen as the finale of our 30 day Paleo challenge! I have had one nightmare about it and several “daymares” too! Mel, you totally rock! Thanks for posting just what I needed to hear! I’m going to walk into that gym tomorrow and “trust myself” as I “chip away” at round 1, then 2, and finally 3… one step, swing and pull at a time! I. Am. Going. To. Kick. Helen’s ass!

    • Mel says:

      Oh, Helen. She’s not a nice girl 🙂

      Hope you have/had a great workout. Tell us all about it!

      • Linda says:

        Thanks! Finished in 12:40. We had a 13:00 cut-off and 30 days ago I didn`t finish (got to the 14th KBS in the 3rd round), so I was proud of my results! I feel great after having done Paleo and plan on continuing…all I miss is: RED WINE!!! That is coming back, but the rest I can do without!
        ps. My husband bought me `Well Fed` (and a bottle of red wine!) for Valentine`s Day! Can`t wait to start cooking!