Karen and value of the dark place – by Coach Ben

“Karen” 150 Wall Balls for Time (20/14) 

The workout Karen has a special place in my heart. It was the first benchmark I ever did in 2013 and it changed everything I thought I knew about exercise. Being the hotshot I thought I was, I did it as prescribed with a 20lb ball. Because it’s only a 20lb ball, how bad could it be…. The answer was bad, very bad. Everyone in the class had finished and I was still doing sets of 3-5 while keeled over my ball during breaks. I swore I would never do it again. That was, of course, a lie. I now do it every few months as a personal check in. There are two sides to the workout, the physical and the mental. I’m going to focus on the mental side since lots of workouts are physically challenging.

A 315 lb snatch is cool, so is a sub 5 minute mile, but the person who can do an unbroken Karen is who you want with you in the zombie apocalypse.  Now most of us mortals will probably not go unbroken and that’s ok.  One of the original sayings in CrossFit is that the greatest adaptation is between the ears. Karen is the epitome of that epithet. It teaches you how to take an intimidating goal and break it down.  You don’t focus on the daunting 150, you just get through the next set (whatever that number is for you).

The unique thing about Karen is that there is no change of scenery, you don’t even get to watch other athletes, it’s just you, the ball, and the wall, and in that way it’s beautifully simple.

It is a test of character, it is an opportunity to go to the dark place. An opportunity to have a nice 5-15 minute chat with the demons in your head.

Just seeing 150 wall balls some people will think about maybe staying at home. Maybe they will go for a jog to justify their absence and make them feel less guilty. Right there was your first check in, the demons won. The good news is if this is you, you have a chance to make a change.  After the warm-up the coach yells “3-2-1 GO!” and the real conversations start.  The demons will tell you to go get a drink because that seems like a valid excuse to pause and walk away.  But somewhere in your head you know the water you consume in that moment will have no effect on hydration.  The demons will say that squat was deep enough, keep going, when you know you didn’t hit the  standard. The demons will tell you to count the rep that was so close to the target but didn’t quite hit. They will tell you it’s ok because your lungs are screaming for air and the burning in your muscles justifies it.  Welcome to the dark place….

This is your chance.  It’s time to make a choice.  Yes you already showed up to do the work and you could settle for that. Just cruise it in with lots of breaks to the end…  Or, you can say “F*** you demons, pick the ball up and embrace the darkness.  Force a gasping smile, stay moving and hold on.  Trust yourself you’re not going to fail a rep.  Convince yourself it’s just discomfort, not pain, and you can deal with a lot of discomfort*.  Stick to your plan, focus on finishing your current set and nothing else.  It will end, and the rubber mats of the gym floor will feel like a soft cloud knowing you gave it everything you had. And after your legs and lungs start working again, you will wipe up your sweat puddle and go about your day wondering what other challenges you are capable of conquering.

Coach Ben holds a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and Master’s in Physical Education from the Univeristy of Maryland.  He has been a CrossFit coach since getting his Level 1 in 2014 and currently holds a CrossFit Level 3 certification.  He is a full-time physical education teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools and proud father of two beautiful children.

*line paraphrased from Ben Bergeron CFNE