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This week’s post comes courtesy of a serendipitous moment during the past week when life offered me a friendly reminder that I’m not 19-years-old anymore.

Do you know what really fit 19-year-old CrossFitters can do? They can go really fast in workouts. It’s kind of annoying when you are trying to beat them.

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But it’s also an extremely good lesson in how, even if you aren’t 19, you still have plenty of learning and improvement available to you. You just need to be a bit wiser in regards to where you focus.

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Welcome to another round of “It’s Just Pat.” For those just joining the party, this is part five of an ongoing series where I have been reminiscing about nuggets of wisdom my father, Pat, would drop on the golf course. 

Despite their inevitable application to my current emotional and psychological awareness, these little nuggets often led me into pre-teen temper tantrums when my dad would let fly with some story from his glory days.

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Luckily, I do have a bit of a photographic memory for stories and as I recall these childhood lessons, they resonate with distinctly less emotional turmoil now that I am in my 40s. But don’t worry, even if I don’t remember the nugget as truthfully as it may have happened at the time, I’m not about to let that truth get in the way of a good story. (See Part 1 if you don’t get that joke.)

My father was a son of a bitch when it came to crushing other players with his short game. As he got older and I got a little bit better, there would be times when I actually out drove him off the tee but I seldom beat him on the green. 

Inevitably, we’d be on the green, 10 to 15 feet away from the hole, and both sitting with birdie attempts. I’d actually think I could beat him so I’d line up for my shot, put, and miss. Sometimes I’d leave it short, sometimes I’d misread the break, sometimes both. Inevitably, I’d 3-putt. 

Frustrated and highly irritated, I’d look at my dad sitting in the cart and he’d yell up to the green, “Pick up my ball and put me down for a par.”

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“Bullshit,” I’d say. “Get up here and putt.” 

He’d sigh, get out of the cart, and walk up. Knees hurting, out of breath, he’d line up, look at me, swing his putter, and sink that f@&$ing putt in one. 

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As he turned and made his way back to the cart, I’d hear him say, with a little chuckle in his voice, “I guess I’ll take the birdie instead…oh, and don’t forget to grab my ball.”

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Here’s the deal, my father knows that there are only two variables that you should worry about on almost every single green on every single golf course around the world … speed and read. 

And of those two variables, there’s really only one of them that you should try to control for … speed.

Now, as courses get harder and you get better as a player, there’s clearly more nuance than that at work, but for 99.9% of us, it truly is that simple.

Reading the grade of a green matters in regards to offsetting or playing into the break but if you can’t quite get that feel, focusing on the speed can often make up for your poor aim. Hit that ball hard enough and have a good eye to keep it straight, many times you can hit right through a break and sink the putt. 

If you don’t hit it hard enough, aka leave it short, it doesn’t matter how well you “read the green” the ball isn’t going to get to the hole. As the old saying goes, you make 0% of the birdie putts you leave short. 

Regardless of what you are working on to improve your metaphorical “game,” I guarantee you that most of us struggle to simplify our own equation down to its two most fundamental variables. 

We are worrying about our grip, our stance, our arms, the wind, the bugs, the heat, the moisture of the grass, the humidity in the air, the wind, the rumbling in our stomachs, the pressure of others watching, the color of our shoes…should I go on?

My dad played at a high enough level that he learned to let all that crap go. 

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No matter where we would be playing, he’d see the green, watch everyone’s putt whether we noticed or not, and immediately know where the ball was going to go when it was his turn to hit. On top of that, he’d putted thousands of balls across miles of greens and he knew exactly how hard he needed to hit it to make me eat my words.

Would he sink that 15-foot-putt every time? 

Maybe not but he sunk it that time because he knew how to focus on the things he could control…hit it hard, hit it straight, put it in the hole. He removed as many variables as he could to increase his chances of success. And just like parking close, what looks like luck to others could just as easily be called the inevitable meeting of skill and opportunity. (Check out Part 3 if I lost you on that one.)

In his mind, he’d already weighed all the variables that mattered and worst case scenario, he misses by a few feet and has a short tap-in to get that par he already told me to give him. Best case, he sinks it in one and the rest of the story goes down in infamy.

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This week I had the chance to throw down with Coach Sophia in a class. The workout wasn’t complicated – it was a beautiful blend of 2 basic weightlifting movements combined with a slightly more difficult gymnastics movement. Relatively light barbells coupled with slightly harder gymnastics within a medium time domain made for a wonderful recipe of very potent fitness.

So, should I have focused on speed or read as I dreamed of beating 19-year-old Soph? 

In CrossFit, we have a very simple equation to determine our fitness – work completed across time. In other words, power output. The more power you exert, or the higher intensity you maintain across a broader set of time domains through as many movements as possible, the more work capacity you have. He or she who displays the highest work capacity is fittest.  Look, I’ll make it easy and write it down for you…

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In the case of this workout with Soph, I knew I had little to no chance of beating her. Kind of a no brainer, folks. 

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But I also knew that as much as I hate losing, I had an opportunity to improve my own fitness at a slightly higher level of intensity by using the healthy competition with Soph to push myself just outside my comfort zone.

This workout mainly scared me because of the rope climbs. Rope climbs crush me. I’ve gotten better at them over the years but they cost me a lot of energy in a workout. Combine that with the barbell movements and I knew if I didn’t play it correctly, I’d fail to maintain a level of power output across the workout that serves my fitness goals. 

Come out too hot and I’d not only lose to Soph but I’d fall well outside the intended stimulus of the workout.

So I asked myself, speed or read? Does that even make sense? Yes, it does…stay with me here. 

In CrossFit, we can translate speed and read to load and volume. You could argue that there is a third variable in regards to the difficulty of the specific movement, but for the sake of my argument’s conceit, I’m going to say that the difficulty of a specific movement could be considered the equivalency of load.

What do I mean by load and volume? 

Load can be defined by the weight of the barbell/dumbbell or the difficulty of the movement as in pull-up vs. chest to bar pull-up vs bar muscle-up – the harder the movement, the higher the load.

Volume simply means the amount of work required to complete a designated task. This could be the number of reps of a movement, distance of a run, or amount of calories on a rower or bike.

These would be called the independent variables. They are the things we can control to vary an intended stimulus and impact the dependent variable – how long it takes to complete a certain amount of work.

As directed by my coach, I knew that I should complete the workout in about 9 to 12 minutes to get the intended stimulus. I knew that I had the capacity to meet the stimulus but I also knew that I was going to have to move well, be smart, and try to push myself just outside my limit if I wanted to go under the 9 minutes and get a little something extra from the workout…and maybe, on the off chance that I was a little lucky, beat Soph.

Back on that golf course three decades ago, sitting 15 feet away from the hole with a chance for a birdie, I left my putt short 100% of the time because I invariably second guessed my read, failed to swing through the ball, and focused on way too many things completely outside of my control.

Staring at that workout a few days ago, I could have gotten wrapped up in an equally distracting number of concerns – the difficulty of the rope climbs, the load of the barbell, how fast Soph was going to move, or any other set of things that would have had no direct influence on improving my time.

Instead, I chose to listen to the voice of my father in my head and simply focused on speed. I knew that if I wanted the chance to go under 9 minutes, I needed to move at a certain speed through each round. 

I felt fine that day; I didn’t have any abnormal aches and pains during the warmup; and I trusted that I would move well when fatigued. So by staying within a reasonable set of time goals, I probably wouldn’t “win” the workout, but I would win in regards to my own fitness.

In other words, I let go of all the other concerns, I ignored my read of the green, and I swung my club a little bit harder to hit that ball a little bit faster than I normally would.

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When it was all over, I went 8:53 and was exhausted. I’m not sure I sunk the birdie putt but I got it really close.

In fitness, just as in golf, you may not make your birdie putt every time, but you probably only need to make it once every now and then to keep you coming back again and again. 

It’s setting yourself up to have the chance of making the putt that keeps things exciting. So, when in doubt, give yourself that chance. Hit that ball a little bit harder than you think you should and see what happens.

That means you may need to make the barbell a little bit lighter. You may need to make that movement a little bit easier. You may even need to go with less volume or maybe even a completely different movement than what’s written. And, conversely, you may need to up the game a bit and stop second guessing yourself. Go heavier. Pull yourself up on that rope. Run that 400m a little bit faster than you think you should.

In the end, whatever allows you to move well and move just a little bit faster than you think you should might be the thing that gives you the chance to surprise yourself and feel a little bit better. Worst case scenario, you get a par instead of that birdie. Best case scenario, well…

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This is a long game, folks, and the more you simplify the variables, the more likely you’ll stick around to play it a bit longer. And who knows, stick around long enough, and someone might write about you in 30 years too.

See you on the Creek.

-Coach Jack