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CrossFit, Cancer and 3 July WOD

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20140626_190312This is Tony, and according to the hospital, where he had his pre-operative appointment yesterday, he’s the healthiest 55-year-old they’ve seen ‘apart from the cancer’. The ‘apart from the cancer’ is a pretty big caveat!

His appointment is 14 July – which is quicker than we were led to expect and that’s great. The no quite so great is that it will be about two months, maybe longer, before he can train again. In total that will be nearly four months out of serious training for him, and he’s not happy about it. But he is the picture of health and we need to remember that – he couldn’t be better placed to deal with cancer mentally, physically or emotionally.

I’ve been re-reading Primal Blueprint Fitness, and focusing on the proportions of exercise Mark Sisson recommends. 2- 5 hours a week of easy exercise such as walking is eminently possible for him after his surgery and I could probably participate in that a couple of times a week if I do some rescheduling … actually it’s quite interesting because although I’d have said I do 5-8 hours a week of easy exercise, looking at his definition of 55-75% of heart rate for 2-5 hours a week, I haven’t. Not by quite a long shot …

10448222_10152121214201360_1076709911877495884_nI’ve probably been doing mid-range exercise, including light-ish weights (not sure what a full watering can weighs, let alone two full watering cans, let alone two full watering cans multiplied by about twenty journeys up and down a 250 metre allotment) and digging, and taking out tree stumps for 8-16 hours a week …. I might not have been calibrating my exercise very sensibly, is the point, and perhaps this is a great opportunity to step back and look again and what I actually do. Even though many people apparently overestimate their exercise levels as reported in the The New York Times, it appears I might have been substantially underestimating mine!

Which brings us to yesterday’s WOD. I felt like crap before I went down to the box to train. Had a stinking cold at the beginning of the week, couldn’t breathe, rotten headache, the whole shebang. By Thursday I could breathe properly, more or less, but still had the headache and hesitated about training. And then I saw the board … AMRAP burpees.

WOD whiteboardSo I got 88 burpees in seven minutes. I’m happy with that, although the plank was pretty feeble at 1 minute 15 seconds. The snatch sequence was rubbish though – completely rubbish. I have a lot of catching up to do in that regard; it’s months and months since I’ve done snatch and it really showed!

The truth is, I really enjoyed the WOD – for seven minutes I could simply try and remember to breathe and hope that the horror would stop soon, and that’s the kind of WOD I love the best!



Testing WODs and testing diagnoses …

Not the greatest of weeks.

Tony’s diagnosis was a bit of a shock – two small cancerous tumours in his bladder. When I say it was a shock, we knew it was a strong possibility but the reality is quite different to the possibility! He’ll be having surgery in the next few weeks, then convalescence for several weeks. I think we’re both much more concerned about the convalescence … three weeks where he can’t train is going to be quite a tough time for us both.

There are different conventions about how CrossFit boxes handle WODs – at Connect we don’t spill the WOD, so it isn’t posted in advance and nobody talks about it online till the last class has started, so people don’t get to cherry pick WODs they’re good at and avoid ones their bad at. For me that’s all immaterial – I’m not good at any of them! We do occasionally get a warning if there’s going to be a lot of running we’re given advance notice to bring our running shoes if we train in non-running footwear, or if it’s a Hero or a Girl we get told as those are always popular and people hate to miss them.

CrossFit WOD whiteboardSo when we got advance notice that the WOD on 25 June would be a ‘testing’ WOD and different to anything we’d done at the box before, it did make me shudder. I haven’t been sleeping that well, and there’s just stress around the stuff that Tony’s facing that is making both of us feel under the weather and less than optimal, so I didn’t expect to have a good time.

In any order:

Best times for:

  • 1 mile run
  • 1000 metre row

2 minutes to establish max reps in:

  • Hand release press ups
  • Pull-ups (with a single band if necessary and in my case it is)
  • Double unders (as many as possible, not continuous)

In fact it turned out to be a really good experience. It’s weird to be wodding and not doing it in unison, so on this occasion where we took the elements in any order we wanted and as much rest time between them as we needed, it felt quite strange. I walked the run with two wonderful pregnant CrossFit women because my knee is still not right(just under 16 minutes), and I did the row last, simply because that was the only chance I had to get on the rower – we were a big group!

  • 1000 m row – 4.56
  • HR press ups – 42
  • Pull-ups (thin band) – 27
  • Double unders 16 (every bloody one of them a single!)

I was really glad to attempt this RX and happy with my results. If I’d done the row first I think I’d have got a better time, which I will remember when it comes round again and jump on a rower early! My press ups were strict, good form, hand release – I am a bit of a fan of hand release press ups, to be honest. Double unders and pull ups … well they’re my goats and I think I’ll be working on them for a good while yet before I’m satisfied.

Against the board I don’t look so great. Amazing run and row times from some of our people and astonishing double under scores … and that’s just the morning crew! Against what life has handed me, I’m really pleased with this set of results – whatever else is going on, I was able to attempt this and give it my full effort and full attention and I’m content with that.

Paleo summer fruit custard recipe

summer fruit compoteTo train or not to train…. It turned out to be ‘not to train’. I’ve had another week off. I had a week off lifting (but not training) a couple of weeks ago and hoped I’d get to a substantially improved back squat one rep max this week. But on Sunday I developed a shooting pain in my right knee and the advice was to rest it. So I’m resting it. And bored.

Not so boring, but not much fun either, another trip to A&E on Tuesday. This time though, Tony got a different potential diagnosis: march haematuria. To whit: Causes of Haematuria
Haematuria is the result of bleeding somewhere in the urinary tract, which is made up of the kidneys, the ureters (the tubes that take the urine from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder, the urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside world) and, in the male, the prostate.

There are many conditions that can cause haematuria, most of which are not life-threatening. However there are a number of serious causes of haematuria that need to be detected.
·        Trauma. Traumatic injury to any part of the urinary tract, from the kidneys to the urethral opening, can cause haematuria.
·        Urinary tract infection. Haematuria can be caused by an infection in any part of the urinary tract, most commonly in the bladder (cystitis) or the kidney (pyelonephritis).
·        Drugs. Haematuria can be caused by prescribed medications such as blood thinners (anticoagulants) including heparin, warfarin or aspirin-type medications and cyclophosphamide.
·        Cancers of the kidney of bladder (or prostate in males).
·        Stones or calculi. These can occur in the kidney, the bladder or the ureters.
·        Glomerulonephritis. Glomerulonephritis refers to a group of kidney diseases that have inflammation of the glomeruli, the filtering units of the kidneys. It can rarely be a complication of certain viral and bacterial infections. It can also occur in autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosis (lupus or SLE) and diabetes mellitus.
·        Exercise. This is also called ‘march haematuria’, as seen in soldiers on extended marches. Very prolonged exercise in athletics, jogging, horseback riding and bicycle riding can cause haematuria, which is a non-serious condition.
·        Bleeding disorders, including genetic disorders such as haemophilia, can result in haematuria.
·        Inflammation/infection of the prostate can lead to haematuria.

Isn’t that all just peachy? But if you had to choose just one of those vile causes, you’d choose march haematuria and that’s what we’re hoping is the cause of Tony’s symptoms, not least because 48 hours or so before every episode he’s done both heavy(ish) squats and double-unders in the same training session.

uncooked pale summer fruit custardMeantime – paleo!

I spent most of today at the allotment, teaching and then tending crops. As a result I came home with lots of soft fruit: tayberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries, and red and gold raspberries. We eat a huge amount of this fruit raw, but I decided as we had so much to make a compote. And when I’d made the compote I decided to sieve it, and then to make some compote custards with pistachio maple topping.


Gently cook a selection of summer fruits with 15 grams of honey for each 100 grams of fruit. No need to add water. Either cook until the fruit breaks down into a loose mass or cook for another five minutes and then sieve to get a thick puree or compote. The former is probably healthier but we eat enough raw fruit not to worry about getting sufficient roughage and trace elements. Once prepared, set aside to cool. Keeps for a week in a refrigerator, not that it’s ever been a problem in our house, we struggle to keep it more than 48 hours as we eat it on everything!

pale summer fruit custard with maple pistachio Topping

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon chopped pistachios

This quantity of crumble tops four custards. Blend the ingredients together and set aside.



Two eggs per person
Teaspoon honey per four eggs

20140621_185226Beat the eggs together lightly with the honey. Pour into a pan over a low heat and cook until they just start to ‘turn’ and thicken, you don’t want to leave it a moment longer or you’ll have sweet scrambled eggs! Still good to eat, but not part of this recipe. As soon as it starts to thicken, pour into ramekins, then swirl some of the compote through the custard – don’t over fill as these custards rise (then collapse) during cooking. As you can see, judging how much is too much can be tricky! Drop a spoonful of the topping in the centre of each dish and cook for 15 minutes at 175 degrees. Allow to cool and enjoy!


2014-05-30 11.53.26Just finished week three of the four week back squat programme. As a ‘senior’ CrossFitter (can’t call myself a Master!) I took a week off after the first two weeks because four weeks of heavy lifting in a row tends to bring back RSI from decades of muscle overuse. So I just got a two rep of 60 kilos. My previous one rep was 55 kilos! The first rep was barely to depth but the second was better and I’m delighted.

I didn’t want to lift today. I woke up with a migraine, the dog was ill, I had a sudden deadline … loads of reasons not to get to the box and do the necessary work. I didn’t think I’d get the 60k because my head was pounding and my depth perception was off, but I made myself go down and try and the results exceeded my expectations – again.

The thing I’ve really taken away from CrossFit is not to listen to the voice in my head. It wasn’t the best lifting I’ve done, but it was adequate to the task and I got a better result than I’d dared to think possible. I don’t have to feel good about stuff to do stuff, and when I’ve done stuff, I often feel better than before I started. It’s a good lesson. I am going to crown myself a winner as a result. Actually it’s a crochet tiara I made for a little girl I know, but it’ll do for today.

Now I’m going to comfort the dog and meet the deadline!

Two years today

Catching up. Tony has a date for his ultrasound scan – 19th June so then we’ll know what the next stage is. He hasn’t had any symptoms for a couple of weeks so we’re starting to allow ourselves to believe it could turn out to be ‘just one of those things’ that is inexplicable and (with luck) will never recur.

This morning I picked up last year’s WOD diary and discovered that this is my two year CrossFit anniversary! When I started this blog my only focus was to achieve an unassisted pull up, and I still haven’t … but my back squat has gone from 35k to 57.5, my deadlift from 40k to 75, and while I can’t do half the exercises I most desire, such as pistols and pull ups, my overall fitness has soared. Also, compared to the me of two years ago, I’m 3 kilos lighter and so much stronger that I just can’t imagine how I was getting through my days back then.

Every time I’ve trained for the past month I’ve attempted double-unders. The most I can string together is two, but usually it’s singles. I’m not depressed or embarrassed by this – a year ago I couldn’t have imagined being able to tackle an exercise as demanding (to me) as double-unders, let alone occasionally stringing them together. As a brain injury victim, anything that happens in real time, like jumping a rope or catching a ball, gives me huge difficulty with coordination and feedback – double-unders were beyond my wildest dreams and today they’re just something I’m not very good at. That is AMAZING!

I have my ups and downs with CrossFit, and the level of frustration I feel at not being able to achieve what I want often blinds me to my successes. Most of all though, today, I’m so grateful to be part of a community that is focused on optimal achievement for all its members. The past few weeks have really shown me, and Tony, how crucial a really top-rate CrossFit experience can be. Our coaches have supported us through a some scary weeks, our fellow CrossFitters have gone out of their way to encourage us to focus on the positive and offer us all kinds of help, and our training has given structure to a waiting period that could have been fear-filled and miserable. I genuinely believe I am lucky enough to be a part of the best CrossFit box in the UK. 

The week I ‘graduated’ to WOD classes I thought I’d be lucky to get through a month. 24 months later, I cannot express how valuable CrossFit has been to me – thank you Reebok CrossFit Connect for the past two years of training, frustration, fun and focus – I wouldn’t have believed I could stick it this long, learn what I have, or gain what you’ve given me … I’m so glad I kept coming back!

My kettlebell charm arrived!

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Kettlebell charm

Isn’t that cute? It’s going on to the charm bracelet just as soon as the split ring arrives to attach it securely. Tony has his hospital appointment tomorrow … we’re hoping to get some facts!

Challenging times

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Tony and Rebus enjoying this weekend's barbecue at the box

Tony and Rebus enjoying this weekend’s barbecue at the box

I haven’t posted for a couple of months and here I am posting again within a few days. It hasn’t been the best week or so of our lives, but CrossFit has been integral to everything that’s happened.

About ten days ago my other half, Tony, came home from a heavy wod and said he felt out of sorts. Four hours later we were staring at a toilet bowl full of blood …

First thought, of course, rhabdo. Why? Because it’s part of the CrossFit landscape, because Tony often wods at RX level and because we’re that bit older than the average and more aware that we’re not immortal.

It wasn’t rhabdo. We don’t know what it is yet, but it’s not rhabdo. Whatever is causing this intermittent weirdness that leads to him urinating rivers of blood, CrossFit didn’t cause it. Since then it’s happened several times. We’ve spent a few hours in Accident and Emergency (along with bottles of water and bags of healthy food, because he’s ill, but we’re not stupid, and we know the wait will be long and the vending machines will be full of crap) and what we know is interesting:

1. He’s not anaemic
2. His blood pressure etc are fine
3. Our diet and exercise habits make doctors blink with surprise and admiration.

So he’s been training again (told to avoid ‘vigorous’ exercise he decided double-unders would be okay, I think I managed to convince him not to repeat that thought process!) and so have I. I’ve been up to London, leaving him home alone, and detoured to A&E on my way home for another prolonged pit stop with the charming and dedicated hospital staff there. I’ve been training again and managed to get 8x my previous 1 rep max in the back squat.

So what’s the point?

Without the structure CrossFit offers, we might be more dismayed and upset than we are. Tony is in the best shape of his life and so am I. Whatever’s coming, and we discovered today that he is classed as Code Three (life-threatening medical emergency), we’ve never been more ready to deal with it. But we’ve been able to scale and train at an appropriate level given that he is now ‘the man who pisses blood’ and I am ‘the woman who sleeps but lightly’. We’re still maintaining functional fitness.

Without the support CrossFit offers, we’d definitely be more frightened and alone than we are. The offers came in immediately – people volunteered to walk the dog, run errands, bring food etc. Coaches and CrossFitters alike have sent good wishes, rung us, messaged us, worked out alongside us, talked about their own health scares (mental and physical) and generally showed us that we’re right inside the circle. It’s been an amazing experience of what a community can deliver.

CrossFit taught us to adjust, then do our best. Scaling is a way of life if you’re fifty-something and you came to CrossFit late after a life that didn’t fit you to physical performance. Faced with this peculiar situation, we scaled our lives to suit. One thing we’ve decided is to totally change our plans around our thirtieth wedding anniversary this year. We weren’t going to mark it in any way, but we are now. In October we’re going to have the biggest, craziest, most laid-back Pearl Anniversary celebration ever … so watch this space!

What we’re hoping is that this will turn out to be nothing much. Some kind of burst blood vessel, a rip, a tear – just one of those things. What we know is that it might not be nothing. We’ve lived lives that tend to lead to prices being paid – we can’t shut our eyes to that, but we can maintain our current level of health, mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, while we wait to find out what we’re dealing with.

We have a lot to celebrate – and CrossFit is going to help us do it.



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~Cruising through my Life~

journey since 1989...

Elizabeth Merritt Abbott

Short posts by a midwestern, writer, reader, and occational crossfitter.