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Growth through Adversity: An Example

Matt Chan was one of the original badass CrossFit competitors and one of the last CrossFitters to compete at a high level while maintaining a reasonable balance in his life of nutrition, competition training, family, running an affiliate, and spending time outdoors doing what he called, “Expressing fitness.”

Because I “grew up” in CrossFit with Matt Chan as a role model, I have taken his phrase of Expressing Fitness, and apply it to what we do outside of the gym.  One of the great benefits of CrossFit is that we gain the ability to use our fitness to experience new challenges.  For example, running in the Pittsburgh Marathon, stand-up paddle boarding, throwing axes, white water rafting, hiking, etc.

On August 10 and 11, 2018, a group of us decided to use Express Our Fitness by taking on a new challenge, A Trail Ragnar.   For those who aren’t familiar, A Trail Ragnar is a race in the woods where a team of 8 people each have to complete a loop of 3.5, 4.6, and 6.5 miles.  Only 1 person can run at a time.  You have 30 hours to complete it.  It starts around noon on Friday and you run all day and night until you finish on Saturday.  Those who aren’t running hang out at a camp and rest/recover.

As with any challenge in life, the Trail Ragnar came with lessons that are applicable to every day challenges.  Here is some of what we learned:

Growth happens by going through adversity, no around it

I am not talking literally about the bolder that we had to go through in the middle of the 6.5 mile trail run.  Throughout the months leading up to the race, we had team members drop from the team.  Our 8 person team dropped to 6 at one point.  The Ragnar doesn’t care if we only have 6 people, we have to make up the miles for the remaining 2 people.  Thankfully, we were able to add a 7th member, but still had to make up one loop on the 3.5, 4.6, and 6.5 trails.

Through a great start on Friday that turned to miserable rain conditions, running at night on soaked trails, but still completing the job in front of us, we all learned that we can push through more than is expected of us.  It is when we set out to overcome adversity that we grow as a person.

You have no control over adversity

After a great start to the race, Friday night at 7:15pm the clouds opened up.  Rain was pouring.  The race was postponed for three hours.  Two of us didn’t have a tent and another teammate’s tent was not set up for rain and flooded.  We couldn’t control the weather, we couldn’t control the race, and we all had loops to run in the pitch black woods that were now soaked, muddy, and covered in deep ponds.  It would have been really easy to pack it up and quit.  Instead, we adapted, we adjusted, we squeezed into a larger tent, we used the time for extra rest, and we accepted our situation and moved on.

You do have control over how you respond to adversity

While we couldn’t control anything going on around us, we could control how we responded to each situation that presented itself.  It was 3:30am Saturday morning, the temperature had dropped, everything was wet, I had slept maybe three hours, and it was time for me to run the 6.5 mile loop with only a headlamp and knuckle lights.  Two miles in, I was running a 15 min/mile pace.  Three miles in, I hit a hill that I knew was about one mile long.

To say that the hill destroyed my spirit would be an understatement.  I was absolutely exhausted and devastated.  I walked most of the hill.  Every time I attempted to run, I twisted an ankle, stubbed a toe, or slipped.  I could have chosen to REACT to the situation and let it continue to tear me down.  I chose instead to RESPOND to the situation by taking control of my thoughts and concentrated on small positive mental wins.  I broke the larger task of finishing down into small accomplishable sections.

I finished in 1.5 hours and the two pieces of Hershey’s Chocolate I took from the s’mores station were the best pieces of chocolate I ever ate.

Stay in the present and don’t dwell on the past or future

The dark finally broke and it began to get light around 5am.  We were getting close to finishing, but some of us still had our final loops to run.  Moral in our camp was wavering.  Talk of, “I can’t believe I still have another loop,” started creeping up.  Like I said before, three of us had to make up the extra loops for our missing eighth team member.  All three of us were focusing too much on how bad the loops MIGHT be.  However, once on the course, all I could concentrate on was the beauty of the woods in the morning hours.  We all agreed that the last run was the best.  Before the run, we were so focused on what might happen in the future that we lost site of our mission.  Once running, we were so present that we couldn’t help but love it.  The future seemed too daunting.  The present was easily accomplished.

In the end, we all survived and wouldn’t change a thing.  We finished Saturday around 12:30/1pm.  Our team finished 2nd place in the CrossFit division.  We had all learned these valuable lessons and we can’t wait to do it again.  One of our team members called the experience, “A miserable blast,” and he is exactly correct.

The next time you are faced with some adversity, don’t go around it, go through it.  That’s how you grow as a person.

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