Sassy Sage – is ready to raise the bar again!

 ”Motherhood is my most favorite thing I’ve ever done. Mikey is only 6 months old and he already makes me laugh til I shoot wine out of my nose and fills me with an amount of joy that I thought only bacon could provide.”

Raising the Bar has been neglected for a few months due to me being committed to writing for lots of other blogs and websites! It’s been and continues to be fun, but I have decided I it’s time for Raising the Bar to be relaunched and I have a humdinger of an article to kick it off!

Continuing to focus on inspirational women (although at 23 this lady is a lot younger than some of my previous subjects) – I have been “chatting” (in the Facebook sense) with Sage Mertz (nee Burgener).

I first met Sage when I attended the CrossFit Olympic Lifting course in Scotland a few years ago – the course is led by Sage’s charismatic father Mike Burgener we were honoured as Mike bought Sage and other members of his talented family along to assist him.

I remember that Sage told me I was “sassy” – I just got around to finding out what that means – Sassy – possessing the attitude of someone endowed with an ungodly amount of cool – and as much as I am flattered by the comment I definitely think the description fits Sage a lot more.

Sage and I have a lot in common – as well as being weightlifting champions (well I did compete in the British Masters once…..)  Sage also has her own amazing blog (yeah OK her blog is better than mine too) … unlike me though Sage has competed in the CrossFit Games, and over the last couple of years Sage’s life has changed dramatically – after marrying Matt in December 2011, they now have the most adorable six month old son Mikey, Matt serves in the US military and the young family currently live in Italy.

Sage has kindly and very honestly shared some of her amazing experiences, from weightlifting to motherhood, with us;

Sage’s early memories of weightlifting go back a surprising number of years as she told me, “I’m pretty sure I started lifting in the womb. I have a few faint memories of doing 5 sets of triples in the snatch with my umbilical cord. If you were to ask anyone else, they’d say I started at age four. I can still remember standing outside of Mike’s Gym (our two-car garage at home), holding a broomstick, forcing my brothers to teach me how to lift.

“To be honest, I don’t really remember if loved it right away, but I lifted nearly every day until I was 19 years old, so I think it’s safe to say that I was very passionate about it.”

Sage started competing when she was just 6 years old!

“I insisted on wearing a singlet that was so big on me that I literally had to tie the straps around my neck,” she remembers. “They had to bring out the bar that basically weighs less than air and set it on top of bumper plates to ensure it was at the right height off the ground. Needless to say, it was a very serious competition for me.”

Sage has lost count of how many competitions she has competed in since; “That’s like asking how many times I’ve listened to Lady Gaga while cooking bacon and drinking wine! WAY too many to count.”

She isn’t through with competing either, “I’ve definitely considered training for another competition… especially since women are supposed to have some sort of super human strength after birthing a baby, but I’m waiting for the right time.

 “Olympic weightlifting is a huge commitment. You need to dedicate at least 2 hours to each training session, and that doesn’t include the chunk of time needed to take care of your body (stretching, massage, chiropractor appointments, etc). With that being said, I think I’ll need to wait until I’m back in the States with a coach and I’ll need to wait until my little one is a little bit older. Apparently, six month olds can’t just entertain themselves for a couple of hours while Mama gets her workout in!”

It’s safe to say that Sage’s introduction to CrossFit was completely different to most people’s;

“I found out about CrossFit when I was about 14 or 15. My dad told me that he needed me to demonstrate some snatches and clean and jerks to these 2 people who were coming up to videotape for some fitness website they had (Greg and Lauren Glassman). 5 hours and 456 eye rolls later, the horribly embarrassing demo videos were complete and posted on Mainsite. From there, my dad started coaching his Olympic Lifting Certifications for CrossFitters where I helped him out with demonstrating the movements, and then eventually helped him out with coaching.”

Sage was a student at USOEC (United States Olympic Education Center) athlete at Northern Michigan University for a semester when she injured her hip.

“The inability to train pain-free really took a toll on me emotionally. So, I decided to move back to California,” she explains, “Around the exact time I decided to do so, I got a job at Crossfit San Diego and I received an email from Cj Martin asking if I’d be interested in coaching at his new gym, Invictus. I coached at both for a while, but eventually had to choose one because of how busy I was. I chose Invictus, and was honoured to be on it’s team at the Games in 2009 and 2010.”

With Mikey just 6 months old Sage is gearing herself up for her next competition, which will be the Central Manchester Games in July.

“After having Mikey, it took me a while to get back into the swing of things with training. Up until a month ago, I was only training so that I could justify drinking wine and eating a ton of dark chocolate. However, I have the competition in a couple of months so I am finally getting my butt in gear. My goal is to not get last place… and looking at the results from the online qualifier… I have a LOT of work to do!”

Qualifying for the competition was a big deal for Sage, “I coped with the qualifiers by throwing up after each workout (I’m not kidding).

“In all seriousness, I didn’t originally qualify for the Manchester Games, and I took it pretty hard. It was the first time in my life that I failed to qualify for an athletic event. I had to remind myself that I’m in a very different place in my life. I have a husband and a baby to take care of, I don’t have a coach to train me and I don’t have a gym to train at. I’m not making excuses, all I’m saying it that I just pushed a baby out of my uterus 6 months ago… that has to give me some sort of leeway for not being in top physical shape (at least that’s what I’m telling myself).  As it happened a lot of women went Team for the Manchester Games, so I was bumped up to compete as an individual – and now I’m excited!”

Commenting on living in a different Continent Sage says, “It’s SO different! Living in Italy is a great experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it has been a very hard adjustment for me. I miss having multiple CrossFit gyms in one area, grocery stores that are filled with gluten free foods that I don’t need and Target…I really miss Target. Also, living here means that I am very very far away from my family. I feel the effects of missing them every day…especially now that I have a baby. It’s a good thing I love my husband! He’s the glue that holds me together.”

“Being a mom is completely different than I ever thought it was going to be. I’ve always been great with little kids, so I thought I’d be a natural, but it’s much harder than I expected.

Although she’s back in California Sage’s mom is always on hand to lend advice, “I don’t know if I check in with my mom a lot. Is 6-7 times a day considered a lot? I don’t know what I’d do without my mom… she is usually the only one who can convince me that I didn’t somehow psychologicallydamage my child just because he missed his afternoon nap!”

Many of us will be able to cheer Sage on in Manchester – and we won’t be the only ones routing for her, “This will be my first competition in a really long time and I think I’m more nervous now than I’ve ever been leading up to a comp! I’ve been training under the watchful eye of my baby and I really don’t want to disappoint him.”

You can check out Sage’s appropriately named blog here -http://thesassysage.blogspot.it/

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How one call changed Lisbeth’s life

One ten minute phone call transformed the life of Lisbeth Darsh, and placed her at the heart of the CrossFit Community where she has been busy raising the bar for the past four years.

The caller was Greg Glassman and he was asking Lisbeth to join the CrossFit HQ team. Wow! How many of us would love a call like that?

Lisbeth told me, “After a few months of doing absolutely anything anyone at CrossFit would let me do, Greg asked me to join the Affiliate Support Team. I was on that team for two years before bringing us into Social Media and joining the Media Team. Now, I do a variety of things for us, but I still help the Affiliate Team whenever they need me. My heart will always be deep with the affiliates – that was my first role, as an affiliate myself. I understand their problems, their joys, and their frustrations.”

Prior to joining the CrossFit team Lisbeth, who is 47, was teaching writing at a community college and running her own CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit Watertown, after being a reporter and a U.S. Air Force officer.

Lisbeth’s job involves a lot of travel, including visiting a number of places she might never have seen. “This year was a busy year for me: I visited Australia, Denmark, and a half a dozen states.”

She travels as much as CrossFit needs her to, but as a single mother she finds she sometimes has to slow things down, she says “I think it was Jackie Onassis who said something like ‘If you screw up raising your kids, it doesn’t matter what else you’ve done in life.”

However she is grateful that her two sons (15 and 12) understand how important CrossFit is to her. “They’re really wonderful kids. Sometimes, I wonder how they’re younger than me but more mature than I am.”

Lisbeth has a great attitude when it comes to overcoming obstacles and facing new challenges, she said; “I hardly ever think of things as obstacles. They’re challenges – and almost everything in life can be overcome  (or at least met) with intelligence and perseverance and love. That’s stupid and sappy, but it’s also true. What’s that old spiritual lyric? “Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” That’s it in a nutshell. Don’t need anything – it’s all right inside.”

As the CrossFit community has grown Lisbeth’s role has evolved, “I don’t have to post daily now, there is a staff of writers and editors to really shine a great spotlight on the many, amazing  stories out there in the CrossFit world. I serve more as a conduit and an editor: I ferry story ideas from the community to the staff, and I guess I offer some affiliate and CrossFit perspective. I’ve been around for a bit, so I’ve learned a few things! Plus, I direct our social media efforts, so I help to ensure that spotlight shines far and wide.”

Lisbeth trains at CrossFit West Santa Cruz four days a week, but on Saturday’s she trains alone at the CrossFit Media Gym and in between sets she writes! On Sundays, if she isn’t resting with her family, she likes to either go mountain or road biking.

Lisbeth is comfortable doing anything involves the barbell and not so happy with gymnastics, which she recognises is where she needs to focus her training. Her main CrossFit ambition is to improve her double unders, “like I’m reciting the alphabet or counting numbers. No cares, no stress, no thought. Just BAM! 100 in a row! Once I get those, I’ll move to a new obsession. This could be a while …”

Outside of CrossFit Lisbeth tries not to take things to seriously, “My kids really try to keep me on track. They take turns watching me in stores. “Keep an eye on Mom or she’ll get distracted by bright, shiny objects and we’ll have no one to drive us home.”

Lisbeth has been influenced by many people, “I couldn’t pinpoint one person, although my mom and Greg Glassman certainly have helped shape my heart and my mind! My kids keep me real, CrossFit keeps me strong.”

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Bowen – the painless solution to stress and pain

Well I have just experienced Bowen Therapy Technique, and it certainly qualifies as Raising the Bar  of painless, relaxing and effective ways of relieving stress and pain. It’s not new but not something I hear spoken about much in the CrossFit or Health and Fitness world.

My friend Hilary Farrer has been a qualified physiotherapist for many years, and is also a qualified Bowen practitioners in the UK.

She kindly offered me a session so that I could experience it firsthand. She was great as she carefully explained to me what it was all about –

“The Bowen Technique uses a series of simple, gentle moves across muscle and connective tissue. It is similar to plucking a stringed instrument that sends harmonic vibrations that encourage the body to adjust and rebalance itself. Because it works in harmony with the body, the Bowen Technique is incredibly effective for any muscular, skeletal, or nerve imbalance. It has also been successful in treating chronic pain due to injury. The technique is so gentle it can be used on anyone from infants to the elderly. It produces a deep relaxation and can release blocked emotional energy, which can accelerate the healing process.

“The basic Bowen “Move” is precise and light. It targets specific muscles, and tendons. Using fingers and thumb, the area is manipulated; the muscle is then challenged and moved in the opposite direction. The patient then will be left for 2 minutes; this allows the released energy to travel through the body fully before the next “Move” is performed.”

It was first developed by Australian Tom Bowen in Australia in the 1970’s but didn’t reach the UK for a few years after that.

Bowen is heralded to be an effective treatment for; Asthma, Scoliosis, Frozen Shoulder, Fibromyalgia, hip and back problems, muscular and skeletal injury, autonomic nervous system imbalances, chronic pain due to injury or emotional trauma, as well decreasing stress and general pain relief.

With all the training I do rarely a day goes by when I don’t have any kind of pain! On this particular day I had a big dose of DOMs from a “heavy on the overhead” wod the day before, plus recovering from competing in Manchester’s Strongest Woman! However, I didn’t really have any intense pain or issues. Hilary was disappointed! – But only because she wanted me to see for myself how quickly the results kick in.

After Hilary had explained everything to me she put on some very relaxing music, I laid on my front on a massage table, and the treatment commenced. I have to say that normally when I am in that position I am preparing myself for the normal battering of a full body massage, however, Bowen is a very gentle procedure in comparison.

Although I felt Hilary touching different parts of my body (ankles, legs, hip, arms, shoulders etc) it was a very gentle touch, I think I was expecting a pinching sensation, but I didn’t really feel anything. At first it was a bid disconcerting when I heard her leave the room after just a few minutes (for the 2 minutes energy release described above) – but this happened about half a dozen times and I was so relaxed I forgot about it. Although at one point I panicked slightly as I remembered my phone was still switched on and might ring at any time!

What is surprising, and appealing to many, is that it Bowen Technique can be carried out without you needing to remove any clothing!

The hands on procedure lasted about 30-40 minutes and at the end I have to say I felt some relief in my arms, and I felt incredibly relaxed. I also slept like a log for the first time in ages that night.

Hilary told me that it takes about 3 or 4 treatments to make a difference to chronic pain and problems, and individual treatments are about £40 – making them favourably comparable with physio and massage sessions.

My brother, Jim Haddad, had received Bowen treatment from Hilary for a frozen shoulder and he told me, “I had been suffering with my shoulder for a number of years. After 3 sessions of Bowen from Hilary it is now completely pain free.”

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Paralympian “Superhumans” raise the bar

Boy oh boy, just how good has this “Summer of Sport” been?

It has been a real education for me just getting to see so many sports that I had no idea about.

During the Olympics in just one afternoon I sat and watched cycling, shooting, judo and canoe slalom, and was on the edge of my seat for each event .. yep even the shooting .. it was tense!

For a lot of the sports I watched I had to learn the rules whilst watching as they only seem to be shown once every four years! And even the weightlifting, which thanks to CrossFit I do understand, and which thanks to CrossFit has to be one of the fastest growing sports in popularity – was exciting and compulsive.

Throughout the two weeks of the Olympic Games I, along with millions of others, was captivated and when it was all over I was on a low for a few days. I was one of the lucky people who managed to buy tickets in the first ballot and enjoyed a very special and totally memorable afternoon at the Olympic Park and evening in the stadium.

But we had the Paralympics to look forward to and I had a feeling they would be quite moving and inspirational.. but I had no idea just how moving and inspirational and also extremely humbling.

The athletes, to a man and woman, have shown that where there is a will there is a way and that there really are no excuses to hide behind.  People with no arms swimming, and men and women with no legs running, but not just swimming and running, but swimming and running with incredible form and speed that would challenge some first class able bodied athletes, never mind the rest of us with all our limbs in working order – and I whinge because I grazed my leg doing a box jump for goodness sake!

Make no mistake, the Paralympics are not, as I think some of us may have believed a few years ago, a token event for the disabled. Listen to these athletes when they are interviewed and everyone one of them describes how they have trained “every single day” for four years to be ready, this is as true of the show jumpers as it is the wheelchair basketball players and the blind five-a-side men.  (Speaking of the latter, their strength of body and mind and fortitude and never giving up attitude, as they regularly trip over and fall to ground in their competitiveness and enthusiasm, should shame all of our overpaid professional football players who roll over clutching their legs and crying if a member of the opposition gets within two feet of them.)

I am fast getting through a box of tissues as I am moved to tears by some of the gritty performances and when the likes of Ellie Simmonds are interviewed I am left a quivering wreck, her pure delight and at times incredibility at breaking yet another world record is truly humbling .. but none of us will ever really understand just how much effort, work , commitment and family upheaval it has taken for her to achieve those amazing feats.

But it seems us Brits are more privileged than some other TV audiences. With Channel 4 totally dedicated to the Paralympics we are being treated so most events and an extremely knowledgeable presentation and commentary team.

This isn’t so for the rest of the world and the media centre at the Olympic Park which was buzzing during the Olympics is now likened to a ghost town. The American NBC network, which had hundreds of journalists and crew throughout the Olympic Games is now sadly empty, with just a handful of journalists remaining, and the Japanese have an hour long highlights programme each evening. However, it seems had underrated the interest there would be in the Paralympics, (sell out venues for nearly all events for example) and the numbers of journalists and film crews from the rest of the world are increasing daily!

So, my concern now is that the “legacy” that these games are supposed to leave us. I would love to think that now that our imaginations have been captured and we have opened our minds to different sports and to disabled sports, will it be another four years before we get to see it all again.

And an even bigger concern of mine is that next time I graze my leg doing box jumps I feel sorry for myself.

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Is the tide changing on attitudes to fitness?

As someone who remembers the term “celebrity” being awarded to people who had achieved great things, I have always been a bit cynical (and sometimes quite rude) about the culture of calling someone who was the boyfriend of someone who appeared on a fly one the wall TV programme a “celebrity”.

Even more aggravating to me has been the way we are supposed to care about “What Peter or Jordan or STEPS, or any other talentless publicity seeker, did next!” When I say supposed to care, when I did a straw poll around the office a little while ago I was staggered to find that quite a lot of people actually do care.  This made me realise just how influential these “nobodies” actually are to the younger generation.

Call me old fashioned but I believe natural beauty outshines anything false.  I used to think that Lesley Ash was one of the most beautiful women in the world, and could not believe that she was made to feel that she needed botox…Jennifer Grey had all of us wishing we were her when Patrick Swayze swept her off her feet .. to me the whole success of “Dirty Dancing” was based on the fact that we all were able to believe  that an “ordinary girl” would find love and happiness because her personality shone through and made her beautiful –now she is unrecognisable and frankly a bit strange!

But the womens mags headlines in recent years have made young women believe that beauty is being a size zero, with false boobs and trout lips… please!

So, imagine my delight when I walked past the magazine racks the other day and did a double take when I spotted the Now magazine headline ; “Celebs go Muscle Mad!” with quotes from the so called “celebs” of “I looked like and anorexic rat!” and “I panic if I don’t exercise” – accompanied by pictures not of skinny ribs, but toned stomachs! Yes!  And alongside that a Reveal headline of “Muscles are hot!”

The timing couldn’t be better, with the Olympic Games leaving us with role models such as Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Zoe Smith and all those wonderful women rowers, cyclists, boxers and other athletes, maybe attitudes will continue to change and young people will start to realise that healthy is beautiful?  I live in hope!

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Mo gives power to the people!

Raising the Bar has traditionally focused on inspirational women and I know, from some of the great feedback I get, that these women’s stories have often inspired others.  Sticking to the inspirational, but not a woman this time, I would like to pay tribute to a man who I know has inspired a lot of people, especially young men whose lives might have taken a different course if their lives hadn’t been touched by him.

Mohammed Yacoobali – or Mo as everyone knows him, is a strength and power coach with a gym – aptly named “Mo Power” based right in the multi racial heart of working class Bolton.

I first met Mo in March 2011 when he visited 3D during the 2011 CrossFit Games Open – and not long after a few of us from 3D went to his gym in Bolton, it took us a while to find it.. he had described it as “underground” but in truth it was in a large back room which was part of a mosque, which at the time could only be accessed through a back street entrance where you had to climb a four foot wall to get in (no signs of course!). It was a treasure trove of strongman and strength toys and we literally played around with the equipment for a couple of hours whilst Mo proudly showed us his treasures! Gary and I returned regularly for weeks whilst training for UK Strength and Power and got some amazing training tips from Mo which really helped to increase our strength – and what Mo can’t teach you do with a band is not worth knowing!

He is highly qualified as well with a BSC (Honours) Sport Science & Coaching. 2:1 and an MSC in Strength and Conditioning amongst a ton of other qualifications you can safely say that Mo knows his stuff, however, what is more striking is the work that he does with the local community.

Zak Zafrani  is one of Mo’s students, and he kindly agreed to pick up Mo’s story for me:

“I’ve known Mo (previously as “Uncle MO”)from a young age initially as a friend of my father’s but also through the football coaching he used to provide for a large group of young kids from Bolton nearly seventeen years ago, with the aim of keeping them off the streets and giving them sport as a means of keeping fit yet also having fun. He has always had the community at heart and strives to aid it in any way possible.

“MO POWER started around five years ago as an idea and developed over the years from a small group of just two to three people training Wednesday and Sunday, to groups in excess of twenty  training nearly every day.
“I started training with Mo at MO POWER over three years ago. I came to him after training very intensely at a commercial gym for nearly two years. During the two years I saw a lot of weight disappear yet strength gains were few and far between.
“The first conversation with him started with “I can’t bench more than 70kg” and ended with his advice which was “Stop benching and work other muscle groups”.  In four weeks I added 10kg to my bench and in twelve months I achieved 135kg bench as well as other strength gains.
“He always stresses the importance of core and back strength which has helped me overcome a back injury which I suffered a few years before in a car accident and has allowed me to bench and deadlift a lot more than I could ever have imagined.
“His approach to training is based solely on scientific research and experience. He has vast knowledge and is always reading something to further this. He has travelled to America to train at Westside Barbells to acquire further knowledge from experts in his field. His training methods are therefore a combination of his research, his travels and personal experiences which allows him to train any sportsman of any level. Though they are unconventional, he produces magnificent results from the guys he trains.

“He has helped me to get strength gains beyond belief in an environment where everyone is comfortable and friendly, helping each other to achieve better results. The gym is convenient for me and acts as a stress relief from the pressures of work.
“The guys at the gym are from a host of backgrounds and have met Mo through various means, be it from word of mouth, from the lecturing he did at Bolton College, through his community work, at competitions or simply from seeing us pull vans in the street.
“He has helped the younger lads keep off the streets by providing them with focus and discipline. All the guys are very close to each other and that’s why we always refer to the MOPOWER “Family”.
Further to this, he likes to focus a lot of his energy in inspiring young children to get into different types of sport and runs sessions for football, grappling and boxing weekly.
“He is also currently coaching an 11 a side football team from Bolton aiming for them to play in local league.”

So, that’s Mo – he is always the first to praise other people and you can see the immense pride he has when his boys continue to improve, but I hope he has time to step back and pat himself on the back from time to time (as he rests at home in the company of Kimbo – his prized cat!)

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Me Tank Girl = me Jane!

We all face different obstacles as we trundle on through life – some are work related or home and family related and some have to do with our own battles with our own self esteem – and this can sometime be one of the hardest battles. Getting life in perspective is sometime a huge challenge, but Jane “fun-fun-fun” Elledge has come through one such battle and has kindly shared her story with Raising the Bar.

I’m Jane, TankGirl or Badwolf, depending on which role you meet me in. I’m 43 and mum to three kids, wife and have a full time job as a freelance IT Trainer as well as teaching group fitness classes and Personal Training. I also battle with CrossFit – it’s a love:hate relationship. The last six months have been a bit of a roller coaster but my family and my CrossFit family have kept me going

Four years ago my best friend setup a gym. I trained, studied and qualified as a fitness instructor and started working with her. It was always difficult as a small private gym trying to keep everything going and her struggling to pay bills each month but we all mucked in and helped, staff and customers all working together especially over the winter of 2010/11 when they moved to new premises and we worked into the early hours getting it ready to open. Around that time we were introduced to CrossFit by our awesome PT, an ex marine who got the nickname marine boy – soon after one of my PT clients started calling me tank girl which seemed to fit ! We did our CrossFit Level and one opened as a CrossFit Affiliate.

A few months later things started to go wrong, after falling out with my friend I lost my job. A few weeks earlier we had all been doing the qualifiers for the London Throwdown and I’d made it through to the individual event in February and suddenly I had nowhere to train and no one to turn to for support. I pulled out.
I joined Birmingham Functional Fitness (now affiliated as Second City CrossFit) but initially I only went a couple of times a week as I was still feeling a bit lost.  I spent a lot of time with family and reassessing what was important in my life, and I was on the verge of packing it all in and giving up but the fantastic coaches and members at SCCF soon made me feel part of their team.

Eventually a couple of us “oldies” decided to enter the Raising the Bar Masters Comp in Cardiff. I was really worried as my fitness had dropped as  I  wasn’t training as much as I used to I felt a lot of my fighting spirit had left me. I agonised over entering but in the end I was determined to face my fears and not only compete but meet lots of new people and have fun, as for me it’s not just about getting fitter and stronger but about the whole community and I refused to let my bad experience over new year stop me progressing with my CrossFit journey.

The Master’s comp was scary, challenging but great fun and it didn’t matter that I didn’t even come close to winning as I faced my demons, completed the wods and had a great day meeting lots of lovely people. It was great finally meeting up with people I’d met on Facebook.
I came away realising I could do this – CrossFit for me is about competing against myself … not against others, but the competitions give me things to aim for and go to in order to push myself harder.

After Cardiff I started to focus more on my nutrition – trying to eat well rather than going all day forgetting to eat then stuffing my face with junk in the evenings. Having been a vegetarian for 26 years I also started eating chicken and fish along with protein shakes to trying and increase my strength. I realised that as someone in their mid-40′s with a job and family I shouldn’t be comparing myself with youngsters – my cross fit journey is unique to me. Rather than constantly trying to improve quickly and getting stressed, tired and injured, I am going to take a slowly but surely approach. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if I suck at pull-ups whilst it seems everyone around me is getting better – I just need to keep practicing pull-ups, there is no short cut and so what if I’ve yet to get 50Kg over my headl I can do 45kg which I couldn’t do a few months ago and eventually if I keep at it I know I will do it.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the Reebok CrossFit fitness championships in Birminghamwith people from all over the UK and again was terrified of making an idiot of myself. I tried to ignore the big arena and hundreds of people and focused on what I was doing and pushed myself to MY limits. I heard all the SCCF-ers and friends from other boxes cheering me on as well as my family and that kept me going. It has fired me up for more competitions and feels like I’m part of one huge cross fit family across the UK and beyond, not just SCCF.

I now train 3-4 times a week (about a third of what I used to). I listen to my coaches – even though I know what I should be doing I’m awful at doing what I tell my clients to do and really need them to reign me in when I attempt too much or try to train on a rest day! I have fewer injuries and am gradually increasing my PBs on most things.

I spend much more time with my kids instead of striving to be the best and wearing myself into the ground. So what if others are stronger, faster, fitter; they don’t live my life and what’s right for others isn’t right for me. I’m giving the Manchester games a miss – I have a family Olympic party to attend in London which a year ago I would have missed as CrossFit came first. But the following week we have a Throwdown at CrossFit Cannock – so, as I have realised – there’s always another Comp

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Some wod inspiration

A short and sweet post today ..

‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right’ – Henry Ford

They’re splattered all over Facebook and Twitter and other places – but do we really take any notice of motivational quotes – do they spur us on or just go in one ear and out of the other. With tonight’s wod at CrossFit 3D looking particularly brutal, I have been looking for a little inspiration myself..and I remembered this from Teddy Roosevelt..

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

I think it sums up the CrossFit mentality very well but is also a good creed for life – you will never know if you are able to do something until you try it.

The wod is one that was on the CrossFit mainsite the other day.. give it a go and let’s see how we all get on..good luck!

For time:
Run 1600 meters
150 Double Unders
50 Burpees
Run 800 meters
100 Double Unders
35 Burpees
Run 400 meters
50 Double Unders
20 Burpees

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The Master of the Masters

Masters Champ Mary Beth Litsheim shares her secrets to success

It has been a while since the last blog post (the day job proving to be a nuisance!) – But what we have lacked in quantity we are just about to make up for in quality!

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of people who read the blog are CrossFitters, and we have often celebrated the achievements of some of our Masters women who have been known to leave younger athletes at their gyms standing with their fitness and abilities.

A lot of us entered the CrossFit Games Open competition, and the top 20 in each age group of the Masters qualified directly for a place in the finals, and I think I can safely say that most of us can only imagine what it must be like to actually participate, and the thought of actually winning is a very distant dream .. certainly for me!  Well, Mary Beth Litsheim did just that last year and has also qualified top of the 50-54 age group this year and she has kindly agreed to tell us all about it.

Mary Beth, who is 51, lives in the beautiful state of Colorado where she trains at CrossFit Red.  Like most of us Mary Beth has embraced the community side of CrossFit and said; “I train with my friends at my box, CrossFit Red. They are wonderful and I do socialize with my CrossFit Red Family, a great place to belong, at the gym or out in the world!”

Mary Beth has been described as a bundle of energy and fun and there are videos of her on the CrossFit Games site where you can see what people mean.  Her enthusiasm is infectious but more impressive is her incredible level of fitness and the skills that she has.

After winning the competition last year and heading up the Open scores this year (first in two events) Grandmother Mary Beth was invited to participate in the South West Regional where she finished an impressive 23rd leaving many younger girls in her wake.  (And those of us who may have blamed injuries or illness for poor performances this year – and I hold my hand up to that – should be aware that Mary Beth completed the first three Open wods with a bulging disc!)

So what is her sporting background? Growing up with three brothers who included her in all their games, Mary Beth played softball, volleyball, basketball, track and field and gymnastics, as well  as some body building later on, all great prequels to CrossFit training.

Staying with sport in her career Mary Beth has been a Physical Education Teacher for the past 13years. “However”, she explained; “due to budget cuts in my district, my job has been eliminated recently. It is sad, because I was implementing CrossFit into my students Physical Education Curriculum and they loved it.”

Mary Beth trains a sensible three days on one day off: “More importantly, I listen to my body and make my plans from there as learning that rest is just as important as wodding has been my biggest challenge.”

Coached by Samuel Matthews from CrossFit Venture and all the coaches at Red, Mary Beth’s programming is done by Chris Gizzi from ZoneReady.net.

Nutrition wise she sticks to Paleo/Zone – the diet of champions! And is also a non-paid endorser for Advocare; (www.advocare.com) “I love their products and they help me to recover more quickly.”

I asked Mary Beth which of the Open wods she preferred and she said: “Gee,I am not sure, I love each of the challenges they all brought!  As far as what I am hoping to see at the Games, anything – that is what I love about CrossFit, the element of surprise! My favourite exercise is bar muscle ups. My least favourite are all my weaknesses!”

Mary Beth will be cheered on at the Regional by many members from CrossFit Red and her youngest daughter Rachelle.

Finally I asked her for any training advice she could give us and her words of wisdom are: “Listen to your body and “Finish Strong!”

So, I’d like to offer the same advice to you at the finals Mary Beth and I can guarantee there will be a gang of us in the UK following your progress and cheering you on from across the pond!

Never too old to brew ?.. you’d think so..

Well, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with some really great pals of mine the other week – great friends who I hadn’t seen for months, but the type that you always just pick up where you left off when you see them again.  We all used to work at the same place.

Chrissie, who has spent the last 20 years or so being the hostess with the mostest, and  a very supportive wife to a successful businessman. The wife who could turn round a dinner party for a handful of business contacts in a matter of hours, who kept a very large house in tip top condition so they were ready to welcome overnight guests at a moment’s notice. These are skills that I don’t possess so I was always in awe of her abilities.

However, Chrissie is now divorced and decided she wanted to re-enter the world of paid employment (God knows why!) Maybe being slightly over ambitious initially, she hadn’t realised that a medical secretary was a specialised trained role, she decided to try and combine a job with her interests which include art and reading. After a few knock backs she applied for a job in the cafe at a local arts centre, she really felt that at the age of 50 something she had probably made enough cups of tea, sliced up enough cake and served enough food to be ideally qualified for the job, and her extremely personable character and winning smile would have been enough for me to employ her .. but sadly it was not to be and she lost out to a younger model!

We laughed about it and made cracks about her potential employers being scared of employing another Mrs Overall.. but really, has it come to the stage – or has it always been the case – that the older women will take second place to the younger despite maturity and experience?

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It’s time for a rest!

 Finding the balance between work and play

If you are anything like me and addicted to training and particularly CrossFit, the thought of missing a training session is often disappointing.  Sometimes work gets in my way, which I totally resent, sometimes it‘s other home commitments, and sometimes I’m just plain tired! However, on the increasingly rare occasions when I am injury or niggle free I just want to make the most of it and train, train, train.  Obviously there is a floor in my logic, as it’s probably over training that causes the injuries or niggles in the first place.

Struggling to know how to best handle the balance of work, training and rest I sought out expert advice from the oracle himself – James Jowsey (check out Jowsey’s website and blog if you want to know the real deal about training, and looking after your body). I asked him if he could explain to us how we should be addressing rest and also to explain the different requirements the more mature athlete has compared with the younger ones.

“Rest is a vital and often long forgotten aspect of training just like mobility. Rest and nutrition are more important than the training itself as this is the time when the body adapts to the stress or stimulus that you have trained in. Training breaks down the muscle fibres creating small micro tears, it then takes the intake of protein to rebuild the fibres and also time/rest for this to occur. Neurological recovery also needs to happen – notice how more tired you are after a competition? This is partly because of the extra volume that a competition would have but also massively due to the nervous and hormonal systems that have been under fire with all the extra pressure you are under. A week off post competition is a must!

“So….. How does this affect the over 40′s? Unfortunately, as we all age everything gets slower so after you train it takes longer for you to recover than a CrossFitter in their twenties due to slower cellular repair etc. How do you implement this into your programme? Look at your own training and ask yourself how many days in succession do I train? How do I feel on those days – do you feel ‘good to go’ every single session or do you feel like you are clinging on and dragging yourself through it? If so, the likelihood is that you have either had inadequate food or insufficient rest!

“Think about adding a rest day every other day or every two days if you feel good to. It is better to able to hit each session going in with a tank of energy and recovered muscle system at 80-100% full than it is hitting the sessions at 50-75% full. Working with a tank at 50-75% is not conducive to creating intensity where all results are achieved and the whole ethos of CrossFit (with form of course)! Not only will your training benefit, you will get less run down and less likely to pick up niggly injuries.”

So, it sounds like I need to reign in my enthusiasm and “train smart” as Karl Steadman is always telling me!

But I thought it might be interesting to find out if any of our newly crowned “European Masters Champions” had a training/rest plan in place, and if they adapted their training before and after the competition.

Martina Calgey, (winner 40-44) trains and is a coach at Crossfit Waterford in She took a few days off from training after the masters and was in another competition the following Saturday in Ireland.  “This was a big mistake and my body had not fully recovered and I felt very tired during the second competition.  I learned the lesson that you should listen to your body!

“I learned a lot about myself and my abilities at the Masters, particularly thanks to Andy Edwards programming of Wod 5.  I know I need to get my speed and skills up so I have started to do some track work (sprinting) at our local track and I am working on my weaknesses after class as I hope to get better at CrossFit.”

Maz Glover (winner 45-49) is not known for taking it easy! Usually training twice a day with 2 days rest, Maz listens to her body; “If I have overworked myself or feel any DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness), I will either take that time off or work a difference muscle group.”

“Strength is my strength and I suit more short explosive wods, but I guessed that Andy would keep the weights reasonably low, so I trained accordingly, but rested for the two days before the competition.

“The following week my body was feeling the effects, Andy had just about hit every muscle group with the five wods, but I felt I had prepared for it well. I rested well the following week as I was attending the Outlaw Way course and knew that we would be hitting heavy weights.”

Sharron Lowe (winner 50+) didn’t do anything different in her actual training leading up to the competition and said; “Because of my full time job I am limited to when I can get to the gym and I can usually only get to the pre-programmed classes at 3D. I just do what Coach Steadders throws as us each day.  I usually train 4 days a week, it was five but Jowsey recently told me I need to have more rest days, and I am trying to be sensible.

“I did actually increase my mobilisations before the comp and made sure I had plenty of Fish Oil, Vitamin D and Nurofen!  Post comp I made the mistake of only mobilising on Monday and Tuesday and then getting right back into training on Wednesday, and I felt very tired the rest of the week, and really struggled with niggles and tiredness since – it’s extraordinary how much five wods in one day can affect your body.”

So it seems rest is critical to the success of your training programme.  Which leads me to my next question … how much training is enough training in one session?… next time…..

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