Are You Afraid of the Dark?

This article first appeared at Unapologetically American on January 27, 2016. 

I won the workout tonight at Crossfit. By a lot. On some level I’m happy about it — I mean, who doesn’t like to win? Who doesn’t appreciate knowing their hard work is paying off? I certainly do. I love knowing that I put in the effort, trusted the process, and came out a better athlete on the other side.

But I have mixed feelings.

See, here’s the thing: tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve won the workout. It’s happened several times in recent weeks. I got a big new max on my clean and jerk. I shaved almost 25% off my Grace time. Prescribed weights are light. I finished tonight’s workout several minutes before the next person and still had gas in the tank. It keeps happening, and that’s a problem.

You see, the problem is that I’ve reached that point where I now have to do more work to keep progressing. I have to put more weight on the bar, take the next larger kettlebell, graduate to chest-to-bar pullups, and move faster.

Part of me doesn’t want to. I just reached this glorious place. It’s nice here. It’s comfortable, sunny, and warm at the front of the pack. But it’s not the top of the mountain; it’s only a plateau. And while I’ve enjoyed basking in the glow for a few weeks, I know it’s time to redouble my efforts and keep pushing forward. Because there are still girls out there who are faster, stronger, and better than I. And there are several hardcore ladies right on my heels. And the fittest, fastest, strongest version of myself is still out there.

It’s time to press harder. To dig deeper. To get stronger. It’s time to go into the Dark.
Every athlete knows about the Dark, but not every athlete goes there. Some fear it while others embrace it. Others can encourage you to go, but only you can take yourself there. It’s that dark, scary place deep inside of you where “what you’re really made of” is located.

I hate the Dark. I’ve been there before in my training, and I despise going back. It never gets easier; in fact, now that I know what the Dark looks like, it makes venturing into the forest that much more daunting. There are plenty of reasons not to visit that place.

  • For one, it is dark and scary (duh), and it hurts. It’s the place where your lungs burn and your muscles cry for mercy, where sheer resolution is the only thing moving you forward.
  • But there’s also the fear of failure. Digging deep and leaving it all on the table, but finding you’re not as strong or as fast as you want to be can be disheartening.
  • And certainly, a lack of drive can prevent an athlete from truly pushing themselves into the Dark. It’s an experience closer to the Fire Swamp than to CandyLand —  you really gotta want it in order to psych yourself up to go there and battle the Rodents of Unusual Size.

But there are rewards for venturing into the Dark, and they are totally worth the risk.

  • You only find out what you’re truly made of in that place. It’s where you learn whether your will is stronger than your desire for rest, whether your determination is greater than the pain. It’s where you truly discover just how strong you really are. And you have to know who you are today to make a plan for who you want to be tomorrow.
  • Sometimes, all the hard work you’ve been putting in pays off. Some days, the Dark isn’t as soul-crushing as it used to be and you find you are fitter, faster, and stronger than you’ve ever been. Relish those days, because there is light at the edge of the Dark; you invested in yourself and have come out better on the other side.
  • The journey is yours alone to take, but can inspire your community. When you plunge into the Dark, you inspire those around you to push themselves to be better too. Like the soldier leading the charge with the colors, you inspire confidence in others as they challenge themselves to begin their journey.

I really, really hate the Dark; but I know I must return there to improve in my training. It’s gonna hurt, but I’ve gotta go back. A better me is waiting on the other side.

Does anybody have a flashlight?


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