Beyond the Boundary

At the end of last week I posted a blog about how my identity at any given point in time may be affecting, and driving, my adventures. I talked about becoming consciously aware of things that were stacking the deck in my favour and things that probably weren’t.

It was clear to me that I had some work to do around clearing up an old memory of feeling humiliated on the sports field – and that the part of me that was stuck as a teenager on a school sports day in the early 1980s needed some kind of liberation if I was to stand any chance of reaching my full potential as a strength athlete.

One thing that’s becoming increasing clear to me is this: my adventures are creating the context for rapid change and transformation. In the very week I realised I’ve been operating from the identity of ‘tiny, weak, sporting failure’ when I’m lifting weights, I had the opportunity to break through the boundary lines keeping that identity ‘safe’ and in place.

Last Friday I competed in the second heat of the CrossFit Open. I chose the scaled option because I’d only recently recorded a 40kg 1RM clean (lifting the bar for one repetition, only because that’s the most you can manage in one go 🙂 ) and had 30kg as my 3RM (the most I could lift 3 times) for a clean . The clean was only a part of the most challenging lift in the workout. Here’s what a clean looks like:

Here’s the second CrossFit Open 2019 heat workout – and you can see it involves something called a squat clean. A squat clean is a clean plus a full squat #DoesWhatItSaysOnTheTin.

Normally in a workout involving multiple reps for this lift, I’d take a 20kg (44 lb)  bar. So you can see that the opening weight was already more than I’d usually lift – and that the second weight (35kg – 95lb) was, well, more than 3 repetitions and more than my 3RM personal record! (55lb = 25kg, 75lb = 35kg, 95lb = 43kg).

Here’s what a squat clean looks like:

I managed to get through the 25kg squat cleans, and it wasn’t easy! When I got to the 35kg squat cleans I was in new territory. On paper, I was in the land of the impossible – and my only aim was to get through the set before the 8 minutes were up. Honestly, I thought that’s as far as I could hope for.

Well, I did it and earned myself another 4 minutes and the chance to squat clean 43kg. (I weigh 56kg, by the way. So I’d be squat-cleaning 77% of my own bodyweight.) At this stage the other competitors and our coach were standing around me, shouting encouragement. I picked up the bar but failed to get it up to my shoulders. I was going to stop at this point because I’d already got much further than I thought I would – and I genuinely believed that 43kg was impossible.

However, something very strange happened when I dropped the bar after the first failed attempt. Everyone was still shouting encouragement, saying things like ‘Plenty of time’ and ‘Take another go at it.’ In my head everything felt like it was shutting down, going very quiet. I remember swearing at the other competitors in a light-hearted way at this point but also feeling that I was really somewhere else – cut off from things, in ‘the void’. Then there was just a prickly, electric ‘head- silence’ (best words I can find for this at the moment) and all I could hear was our coach, Richard, saying ‘Pick up the bar’. So you know what I did? I bloody well picked it up, didn’t I? 🙂 And I completed the lift. And every time I put it down, Richard said ‘Pick it up.’ and I did – 3 times!

Even though I got timed out at 12 minutes, I didn’t care. Something happened after I’d failed, after I’d tried really hard but not succeeded. Something switched off inside me and allowed me across the old boundary line, the old line that said ‘This is as far as you’re ever going to get, you “tiny, weak, sporting failure”.’ I’d say the first failure at the lift was me bumping up against the boundary and that bumping up against it (actually making an honest attempt at it) was enough to destabilise it so that the next lift was possible. Weirder still, every time I squat-cleaned that 43kg bar it felt lighter!

I’m curious about what happened last Friday night. Conditions for an altered state of consciousness were perfect. I’d say I was definitely in some kind of trance when I failed at the 43kg lift, and that I was probably open to suggestion in the hypnotic sense. I’d also say that maybe ‘flow’ was beginning (I’ll talk about that more in a separate post) – and I wonder what would have happened if I’d had more time to lift. Anyway, whatever happened last Friday was the beginning of something BIG that carried over into Saturday!

On Saturday morning I went along to an Olympic weightlifting technique session at CrossFit Causeway. The session was run by lifting coach, Damien Ledger and we were going to work on our snatch technique. Now, I don’t mind a power snatch at all. In fact, it’s one of my favourite lifts:

But I’ve always found a full snatch troublesome – even with an empty bar I found it impossible to get down into the full squat position. Here’s what a full snatch looks like, demonstrated by Sukanya Srisurat, the current world record-holder for the snatch in my weight category (58kg):

Damien’s a brilliant coach, very straight forward and very direct in his approach. We started off with drills using a stick, then using an empty bar. When we got onto the empty bar, more weird things started to happen. I could feel an incredible fizzing energy in my body, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought I ought to say something, but I couldn’t find the words for it. I wondered if it might be adrenaline because I was getting ready to do something my mind-body usually ‘refused’ to do.

Eventually, I managed to do the full move with the empty bar and actually enjoyed it – but the strange feeling was getting stronger. When Damien told us to load the bar up (I took wooden plates, the lightest option), the feeling ramped up even further.

Just adding another 4 kgs to the bar seemed to make the lift impossible. I could get it over my head but I kept bailing out of the squat. I watched as the other two athletes, whipped up that bar, dropped beneath it into a full squat and stood up. Damien said, ‘It’s a confidence issue. We’ll just wait for you to get one snatch.’ And you know what I did? I went and did 3 full snatches and I was delighted! And you know what else happened? The minute I dropped into the first full squat, that strange feeling disappeared.

When I was driving home, I got the insight about the feeling: it was fear. And that fear had probably been sitting there outside of my conscious awareness, doing its thing, for quite a few years!

So, that’s me now: I’m on the other side of the boundary line. I’ve had an undeniable experience of me doing something physical that I thought was impossible and I’ve had an undeniable experience of my fear ‘leaving the building’. Now fearless and in new territory, I wonder how much more of me there is to discover and how much more there is to learn. I wonder who I’m becoming.

Here’s what I know right now:

1. Possibility lies on the other side of the boundary line.
2. Failure is sometimes the first stage of success.
3. When fear shows up, you just have to show fear what you’re really made of.
4. I’m no longer a  ‘tiny, weak, sporting failure’. (Right now I’m in the space between where I was and where I might be. I’ll let you know when I discover more about who I’m becoming and where I’m landing 😉 ).
5. Being a post-menopausal woman doesn’t need to be a ‘boundary condition’. Being in your 50s doesn’t need to be a boundary condition. Whatever your age,  it’s really worth exploring the edges of yourself : if you bump up against any boundaries, you’ll know exactly where to push a little, knowing that the full possibility of who you are lies just on the other side.

I’m just going outside and may be some time.

JT 🙂