In all workouts, training cycles, or programs there is a start, middle, end. The beginning is exciting! It’s fresh, so you are energized and your focus is laser sharp. You are all in, one hundred percent, doing all the required tasks and staying on top of it completely. You have a game plan in mind and are thrilled to be doing whatever work needs to get done. Whether it’s a multi-week program or a 10 minute AMRAP, the beginning is like flirting — fun and exciting with high hopes of victory!
The end is very similar to the beginning. You aren’t as fresh as the start but you can actually see the END! That knowledge gives you power and reaffirms your hard work to that point where you can keep going and happily drudge through the final parts to complete your task. You are IN IT because you have worked so hard, and there is no pulling you away from that finish line! The thrill of the hopeful ending is back, full force, and you are ready to reap the rewards.
The middle, or as I prefer to call it, purgatory, is that ungodly part of training where you just want it to be over, when you don’t care if you win or lose. You can’t see the end goal anymore. It’s not fun. It hurts. There’s no end in sight. It’s worse than hell.
Purgatory is the no man’s land where most people will fall off and die (figuratively here…hopefully). It is literally the Bermuda Triangle of training and fitness. People start out with enthusiasm and commitment, but two weeks into a four week program they are MIA, never to return.
In a workout, the pumped athlete starts off strong in the first of three rounds only to come to a complete halt in the second round. They look around, move at a glacial pace, and secretly pray for an injury to “just make it stop” before they finally hit that third round boost of energy.
If you think this won’t happen to you just because it hasn’t happened yet, then I respectfully suggest that you probably aren’t working hard enough. That purgatory — and how you handle i it — will define who you really are and how badly you want to reach your goals. We actually need this purgatory to help us understand what we’re doing and what we’re made of.
Purgatory invokes some wild feelings. For example, the first time I completed “Fran” RX (my first scaled attempt was a hot mess), my demons come out to hunt. The workout is simple enough: 21,15, 9 of 96/65lb thrusters and pull-ups.
The first round of thrusters and pull ups was fast and effortless. Then, that second round hit, and it hit me HARD. The second round, a.k.a. purgatory, is when I fell apart, mentally, physically, and especially emotionally. Just fifteen damn F*%#ing thrusters and pull ups…I was being crushed. I looked around hoping that a barbell would fly out and knock me out so I could rest and not finish this devilish workout. No such luck. Knowing I was physically capable to keep going didn’t help the situation; it only compounded my hate.
I looked at my coaches, wanting to blame them, and cut them with my hate stare. Well, that didn’t work either. The only thing that was going to save me was to get through this damn round, to a point where I could “see the light” in the last and final round of this death WOD. I wanted to kill people or be killed, but I sure as hell didn’t want to finish this workout.
Reluctantly (and much slower than I had planned and was capable of), I went into the third and final round. Nine reps of light-ass weight is a mind f*ck, but it was just enough to invoke a fury to finish. It was physically just as brutal as the second round, but mentally, something was different. During the last set of thrusters, my homicidal mindset shifted to something more akin to fight or flight. I needed to get out of this workout and into safety as soon as possible. Those nine pull ups were laughing at me at this point, because they knew they were the only thing between me and calling “TIME!” to stop this pain. I pushed my body as hard as I could only to finish as fast as I possibly could.
Afterwards, I recouped myself and apologized to coaches and the surrounding people within earshot of my uncontrolled foul mouth. I looked at my trembling hands, that “light” bar (which felt like 65 kilos instead of 65 pounds) and up at the pull up bar. I thought about the absurd things that went through my head in that second round, that purgatory, and took it all in. I hadn’t wanted to finish at that point but reluctantly I had kept going and drudging through the task given to me. I had, even with very colorful words, stayed the course and not allowed myself to quit even with all of my being telling me to quit. I had pushed through the unforeseen pain and came out on the other side, pained but most of all, proud.
Vintage “Fran” footage, circa 2011
That insane amount of pain that I had willingly inflicted onto myself helped me see a few things more clearly. I realized I am capable of enduring more than I had previously believed. I realized how bad I wanted to finish and NOT QUIT even though in the moment, my mind and body told me a different story. Then, most surprisingly, I discovered that I wanted to do it again. Yep, my crazy self wanted to redo that hell of a workout to prove to myself that I could mentally PR.
It actually took me more than a year before I actually redid Fran, but when I was ready, I was ready. The purgatory round wasn’t pleasant, and it never will be, but it was better because I knew it was there and I knew I was capable of persevering.
Of course, Fran is a minutes long workout. That purgatory is over and done with just as quickly as it arrives. I still find myself in that purgatory state during longer cycles of training when I just don’t have the motivation and drive to reach end result. In those moments, or days, or even weeks, I remember my experience with Fran. I also keep constant reminders of WHY I am doing what I am doing. I have visual goals all around my living spaces and work. I recruit others to help with motivation and accountability. Most of all, I have faith. In the end, purgatory will lead me to a great victory.
Featured Image: Christmas Abbott (@christmasabbott)
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.