Meet Coach Jess! Jess is the latest addition to our coaching staff and has been part of our community for a few years! Her story is a familiar one to most: an athlete that left their sport behind when they finished school and starts running to stay in shape. She provides wonderful insight on bridging the world of running and CrossFit through the story of her fitness journey! Here it is, in her own words!
During my early internship days as a new coach with nothing but a shiny new L1 Certification and a spiffy (free!) CrossFit t-shirt to my name, one of the thoughts that always went off in the back of my mind (and to be honest, sometimes still does) was, “how can I coach these people when I’m not nearly as strong/fit/experienced/good as them?”
This is maybe not the first thing you want to hear from a blog post aiming to illustrate how marvelous our coaches are.
Except maybe it is???
Let me backup and start from The Beginning (no, not that one).
I was always an active kid. Growing up, I experimented with lots of different sports, some of which included dance, lacrosse, and swimming (among many, many, others. Thanks mom!!!). I played rugby all throughout college.
It was during this very illustrative rugby career that I found running. As I progressed in the sport, I earned a starting position. I wanted it to stay that way. I’m obnoxiously competitive. I love to win. So naturally, I started running. I needed enough endurance to play for 80 minutes nonstop.
Side note/context: for readers who don’t know, rugby is an 80-minute field sport in which players are basically only subbed out if they’re dying. And even then they should probably just suck it up. I played outside center – a running-heavy position which requires speed and agility to dodge tackles, and endurance to run the width of the field several times over. Centers enjoy catching an oncoming ball at speed, getting tackled, then standing right back up to do it all over again (and no, to you American football fans, the clock does not stop when contact is made). This is of course in addition to piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.
As my glory days came to a close, I leaned into running more. It didn’t provide the camaraderie and tomfoolery team sports provide, but I enjoyed it. It was free. I could do it anywhere. I was getting better.
Eventually, I signed up for a marathon. (If you ever need a good laugh, ask me about it some time! Now is not the time nor place, but suffice it to say that it did not. go. well.) Aside from my disaster of a race day, I also had no idea what I was doing in relation to training. I’d followed a popular novice marathon training program to a T. I was making great progress! Until I wasn’t.
I didn’t know it then, but I was showing classic signs of overtraining. My quads always hurt, my times started to regress, I suddenly struggled to finish 5ks, and I felt SO tired all of the time. On top of that, my long runs were killing my back, my calves, and my hips. I couldn’t sleep at night because of the pain. Disappointed, I dialed it back.
Clearly something was missing.
One day, several months after my less than impressive marathon and a couple of smaller-stakes races, my partner and I were buying bagels. Next door to the bagel shop was a CrossFit gym. We decided to check it out. Her previous gym had recently closed and she was looking for a new place. I was just looking for breakfast.
But they had a free trial and I’m a sucker, so I signed up. What was there to lose?
Well, self, really not much (let’s all laugh together). After my first CrossFit workout, I nearly died. Of course I went way too hard and ended up not being able to bend my arms for three days after. And yet, I continued to go back, Barbie arms be damned.
This may surprise you, but despite all of these years of a high contact, physically demanding sport, I still donned what one might lovingly refer to as “noodle arms.” I have never been particularly strong. Feisty? Yes. Powerful? Not quite.
Well, that began to slowly change as I progressed in CrossFit. When I started, I couldn’t even do a push up. Now, I can do many!! I learned how to lift heavy things up and put them back down. My hands became calloused. Soon, I found myself inexplicably sticking to walls, experiencing a strange but not unpleasant tingling sensation allowing me to sense imminent danger at a moment’s noti—
Sorry, sorry, wrong story. Back to business.
I did CrossFit alongside my race training and broke my own PRs by leaps and bounds. Six months into CrossFit, I ran a half marathon and broke my previous time by 20 minutes. I have since trained for countless more races, won some age group awards, completed another marathon, and generally, have progressed in my running far beyond what I ever thought I was capable of. CrossFit literally eliminated my running-related hip and back pain. Turns out, before CrossFit, my whole body was a noodle – not just my arms. And after running 10, 13, 18, 20 mile runs week after week with weak glutes/core/quads/arms/everything, your body compensates in really icky ways. To any fellow runners out there: runners need strength training. Strength enables endurance. And those god awful omgexcusemewhileItrynottovomit-WODs give you the mental toughness to push through the last quarter-mile to the race finish.
Still, despite all of these improvements, perhaps the most important transition I underwent was one of perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still the same stubborn try-hard you all know and love. But strangely enough, as I got better at CrossFit, I realized that the numbers I was putting up and my position on the leaderboard didn’t actually matter all that much.
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t work towards higher PRs. You should! This is another gift CrossFit has given me; the ability to prioritize strength over weight/appearance/achievement of some “ideal” body type. I had belly rolls before CrossFit, and I have belly rolls now. I’ll probably always have belly rolls. Belly rolls belly rolls belly rolls. Who gives a hoot about my belly rolls?? I just PRed a lift. I am healthy. I am strong. That is enough. That is the difference.
But I’m also healthy, and strong, and enough, regardless of what others are doing! It’s not about how much weight you put on the bar compared to someone else. It’s about progress. It’s about setting a goal that is meaningful to you and smashing it through good old hard work and dedication.
This sounds nice in theory, but it’s not a sexy process. Hard work is hard. And progress isn’t linear. As a quantitative researcher at heart, I am here to tell you that practically no trend exists without variability – even the static ones! You will have good days. You will have bad days. You will have days where you just want to quit and days where you’re just happy you managed to show up. That’s ok. In many ways, the bad days are perhaps even more important than the good. Not all days will be PR days. But all days contribute to your PR.
So, what’s my point?
Well, to succeed at CrossFit, you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) compare yourself to others. Satisfaction with your performance in a WOD on any given day starts with the self.
And I think that realization is fundamental to good coaching.
Nobody wants a coach who only values the best, or looks down on you because of where you are in your fitness journey. Regardless of where you are at, there is always something to work towards. There is always something to celebrate. And I think everyone deserves a coach who not only recognizes that, but actively works to dispel those pesky thoughts of self-doubt that haunt us all to some extent (except Coach AJ, probably. Cocky bastard.).
So, sure. I’m not nearly as strong/fit/experienced/good as countless people at countless things. But I can still identify where members can improve, challenge them to do so, and encourage them to take pride in their efforts. I know how frustrating it can feel when a workout just doesn’t go your way. I know how grueling growth can be – especially when your baseline is a noodle. And I am here to remind you that you are doing amazing, sweetie.
In short: it’s not about being the best; it’s about being your best – and encouraging others to do the same. I know that sounds corny. But it’s true!
Now, let’s get to work.