Choosing to be Happy

April 25, 2017

I competed in a Crossfit competition this past weekend.  Festivus was my first one-day competition and it consisted of four different workouts.  In Crossfit, people are usually known to either be an engine (meaning that they have great cardio endurance), or they have strength.  Some of the lucky few have both, but generally it’s one or the other.  I’m an engine.  I’m proud of my ability to knock out burpee after burpee and keep my breathing and heart rate at a mangable pace.  The four workouts at the Festivus Games challenged both engine and strength for all the athletes. 

In the first wod (workout of the day), we were to build to a maximum amount of weight that we could ‘clean’ (imagine the bar on the ground, now get it up to your shoulders using proper form, breath, mobility and stability).  This is a very complicated move, and involves hours of training to do correctly.  All crossfitters know that the tiniest improvement in form means huge gains, so technique is important.  But quite honestly, the number that shows up is important to us too.  On Saturday, it was important because it was a competition.  In the gym, it’s important because we want to be consistently building towards improvement, a PR (personal record).  Some numbers like 100 or 200 seem magically difficult because contrary to what you might think, this sport requires a great deal of mental discipline.  This discipline translates into measurable advances.  As with all goals, proof of our efforts is incredibly motivating and rewarding.  Lack of that proof, especially at a competition, is always frustrating but sometimes heartbreaking.

As I stood in lane 7, in heat #4, I knew I was going to be great. 

I just knew that I would hit a huge PR, maybe by 20lb!  Even though a 5lb PR was a big deal, I knew that today was my day.  I was going to shine. 

With my crossfit family cheering me on, I went on to ‘fail’ at 20lbs below my PR. 

You read that correctly. 

And now here comes the analysis:  was it my food, lack of sleep, was I nervous, was it the noise or everyone watching, was it my training that week prior to the competition, too much, too little…

I wish I could say that I was alone in this, but I’m going to tell you what I noticed that day.  Almost every athlete that walked off the floor talked about where they failed and what they could have done differently to get that last lift. 

There were some smiles during PR’s, but once the ‘fail’ happened, that’s were the focus was directed.  I am 100% guilty myself.  After all, I lifted 68% of my body weight.  That’s actually really impressive.  A year ago, when I began crossfit, I worked with a 15lb bar.  In a year, I added 70lbs to that start.  Nothing to be embarrassed about, right?  Of course not, I can hear you say.

Be patient.  We’ll get to the happy moral of the day.

The next wod was all about engine.  Woo hoo!  My time to shine.  And I did!  I did burpees and box step overs like I was born to do it.  I gave my all, and was happy with my performance.

Two more wods and the day was finally complete.  I made it through all four!  I did my first competition!  Talk about proud, I was full of sleepy grins and feeling that yummy, heart fluttering feeling of accomplishing what I set out to do. 

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon.  The results are published to facebook.  It turns out, I finished almost last.  Before you begin to tell me that it doesn’t matter, that I did good, trust me, I know.  But the lesson here is much bigger. 

Would I let my standing in this competition change the way I felt about my accomplishment?

(Deep breath, Jen.  Share and grow.)

Yes, I did.  I felt bad.  I felt ashamed.  I felt like a fraud as a coach, as an athlete, as a mom trying to inspire her kids.

And then it passed.  I think it last maybe two hours.  Then all of a sudden I started to laugh at the list of training I had compiled in my head.  I would attend the gym twice a day, complete workouts at home, and design my entire day around my required workouts.

Um, really?

Thank goodness for the voice of reason that began to giggle and then straight up laugh at this gut reaction.  What happened to being proud of myself?  What happened to that yummy, delicious feeling?  Gone because of where I landed on a list?  Really?  I’m pretty sure my sponsors would understand.  Wait, I don’t have sponsors!  I do this to feel strong, and healthy and sexy and fast.  I do this so I can feel like a superhero.  I do this for ME.

My big lesson from Festivus was not about engine or strength or even competition.  My big takeaway was about focusing on what’s important.  Where we are in comparison to others, is almost entirely unimportant. 

Wait, did I just type that?  I mean, isn’t the whole purpose of the competition to earn first place?  Yes.  Absolutely.  And I can’t tell you how proud of my friends who ended up on that podium.  And I am no less proud of the people who finished at number 50, or last. 

Focusing on what’s important, in this case the feeling of accomplishing so much at my first competition, is how I will remember my experience at Festivus.  Choosing our focus, whether it’s the place we ‘fail’ or the place we feel accomplished, is a choice.  And in that choice, we either choose to be happy or choose to be unhappy.


If I focus on my wins, my success, my incredible accomplishments, I will remember the day with joy and fondness.  That will help to fuel my positive attitude when it comes to training and showing up to the gym, even on less than ideal days.

If I focus on how I compared to everyone else, the lack of PR, the fact that I went home empty handed, then I will remember the day as a negative experience.  The day becomes proof of why training doesn’t matter.  It becomes the biggest reason for not working hard and striving to become a stronger, faster, more skilled athlete.

I choose joy.  I choose motivation.  I choose to be happy.  I choose to be a superhero in training with that heart-fluttering feeling of accomplishment.

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Update:  Please read Choosing to be an Athlete, about my experiences one year later.  Here’s the link.

Jen, that is exactly why I run and do races. Not for anyone but me. I have yet to come in last but by golly I'm pretty darn close sometimes. But it's my sanity and release. My one "I'm doing this parenting thing right" moment when my daughter wants to run, too... I do it for me.


Your blog post hits home. This was my second Festivus, I'm neither Engine nor strength. I'm ok at both, but I love the atmosphere around competitions and the drive to be a better and stronger version of me. I spent 6 minutes trying to clean 115. I still hit my PR. But I wanted more. I hit an amazing time on the rower. I did decent in the other WODs for me, but I too, left thinking of what I could have or should have done to be better. This is also why I have yet to look at the standings. It is an amazing thing, competing, pushing yourself and watching the athletes you train alongside hit their personal bests and smash those mental barriers. We have to remember where we came from, all that has gone into the journey (literal blood, sweat and tears), and keep on track. Who knows, next year we might not walk away empty handed 😉 Congrats on competing in Festivus, it was not easy!


Those that know me, see me smiling when I am around all my crossfit buddies. Win or lose, I am happy to be with a community of people that just "get it" and are so happy to be there! I understsnd completely! Great job being YOU!


Seeing you both look so happy in the midst of the competition says so much. Helping each other through challenging moments. Great stuff!

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