Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010


The Imperfect Run at Perfection

Two weeks are gone since my return from Florida and its running convocation—a trip not lacking in symbolism, and one that maybe was the most important I have ever taken. The implications for improving our running technique and enjoyment are vast and indisputable, and these are triumphs to occur in due time. Before that, this was the first significant distance I placed between myself and MPH, myself and our athletes, and myself and Melody and Rebekka since we opened last July.

I am almost inexorably committed to the idea that if you want to try anything at all in this life, you go the distance—all the way. Launching yourself off the cliff of fear and doubt and consequence is the only risk worth taking, and the only good fight worth fighting.

Melody and I first sat down and talked about opening our own place two years ago, but it wasn’t immediately apparent that this would be our position during the ensuing agony of finding a suitable location and slicing free our financial safety nets. As our search drew on, we were never completely sure that this dream would even materialize. Then, the more we looked for space and crunched numbers, the more we saw our “Globo Gym” as the bastion for sickness and ego that it is. Worse than that, it was a business, plain and simple. That we had this extra time to spend at our corporate gym was, in hindsight, a gift. It only galvanized our resolve to make something better, and to make that leap.

While we lingered, we met more and more people who wanted more for themselves. We taught them about CrossFit and fortified our website, which until that point was little more than a home for nutritional advice and weekly schedules. We held nutrition seminars and Olympic lifting workshops with the one set of bumper plates from my garage (those all-black, “explosive” 25-pounders still in use today). We began training athletes in small groups, which in turn began our community.

All around, the other personal trainers—those that didn’t turn their noses up at us while biceps-curling and calf-raising—turned-over. So did front desk staff, sales consultants and general managers. Melody and I were at that place for five years, and by the time we left, only one staff member remained from the time we had started. Members were in and out too, and those who were in hated us and our group. Hated us. See, our athletes actually needed the lone pull-up bar trapped between the cable cross. They also needed squat racks for squats, barbells and plates for deadlifts, dumbbells for cleans and medicine balls for, well, throwing. Couple those needs with the need for a few square feet of floor space, and we were constantly “in the way.” This was an unusual complaint because we stayed about as far away from the bench press stations as possible, and we used to regularly fit 10 athletes on a swatch of rubber no bigger than the back room of our current space. It’s true.

We loved it. We loved what we were doing for people. We loved what they were doing for themselves. We even loved that we were earning less and working more. In that ill, me-first building of bodies, we loved being the cure, and so did our athletes. I used to lament CrossFit for its brashness and, among other things, for the audacity of its claim to “Forging Elite Fitness.” In fact, I regularly parodied their slogan to Melody. More like, “Forging Elitist Fitness,” I would say. I could not have been more incorrect; they are right on, but maybe not for reasons so obvious. We, those who CrossFit and volunteer ourselves to the pain and uncertainty of exercise of all things, are elite. We are a few, willing to do that which we would not normally do—that which the many would never think to do.

In time, however, we loathed our “Globo” just as much as we loved what we were doing in it. Those black polyester “Personal Jerk” shirts we donned each morning were metaphors for our life back then. Besides their obvious color, they stunk, and at some point, no matter how many times you washed them, you could never get them to smell completely right. This was our plight in a nutshell. Space upon space was too expensive, or not big enough, or didn’t have enough ceiling height, or was too far away from civilization. Oh, and did I mention we cursed the “Globo” that cursed us?

Still, we met with some close friends and advisers, wrote our business plan and did everything possible to make sure that in the event some space came available, we were prepared to act. We knew exactly who we were and what we wanted to be. Two excerpts from our business plan:

  • “The Washington, DC market is replete with over-sized health clubs that offer little more than access to the facility, without an effective plan to better each member’s health and fitness. Such lack of support undoubtedly contributes to the innumerable, persistent pathologies of their members, not to mention a dearth of any progress.”
  • “MetamorPHitness, LLC (MPH) offers an exciting, effective and fun approach to health, fitness and nutrition that transcends the modern health club model and solves the shortcomings of current market offerings. Our affiliation with CrossFit, Inc. brings the first studio of its kind to Washington, DC, and strives to create a community-based fitness program—one in which all who desire optimal fitness may receive services, not just those wealthy enough to afford similar products in other environments.”

…You’re damn right we’re the answer.

Then, last June, fortunes turned, and just before I left for a certification in New Jersey, we found our current home. Before we knew it, security deposits were drawn and our exit strategy took flight. A quiet, nondescript flight because our “Globo” was breathing down our necks. For them, we were “cash cows,” and that may be the understatement of the week. Anyone who thinks a commercial gym is rationally priced, or that they fairly compensate their staff is sorely mistaken. Yet, for five years, Melody and I gave our lives to that place in a way that can never be completely described. We kept it afloat, both in business and in personality. When the time came for us to leave, we gave them ample, honest notice, but that was not enough. Something about “fiduciary responsibility…leave our clients alone, etc.” Okay, fine. In the end, on our way out, we took measures to protect our “Globo” that were almost comically unfair to us. Just ask anyone from that era.

The temperature rose, and as it did, our blood boiled. It helped that by July, demolition in our new space started. A sledgehammer can cure most of what ails you. I think I may have even shouted “F$#% Globo!” a few times as I buried that thing into what used to be a wooden stage in the space where the pull-up rig sits now.

By August, our doors opened, and our community began to grow in ways we never could have predicted. You trusted us immediately, and the fun started. Finally we dropped things, put holes in walls and left chalk everywhere. While cleaning up chalk is a pain, and while it turned out that our landlord didn’t find holes in his walls funny, we still relished in the ability to have those experiences at all.

But, something still wasn’t right. Was the break from “Globo” that traumatic? Were we nervous about being able to pay the rent? Were we worried that we didn’t know how to run a business? Did we know how to run a business? Was that insurance bill accurate? We never let our guard down, completely relaxed or fully enjoyed what we had done.

Enter my fortuitous trip to Miami this month. Finally, a moment to wipe the lens clean and look through it for the first time in months. At 38,000 feet, you see things that are not always so detailed on the ground.

We have come so far since last year, a year that in retrospect, is hard to believe ever happened. Parts of it we’d like to forget. Sometimes, despite the best intentions, you might not meet your commitment squarely. You may get part of it wrong, and maybe in strange, retrospectively fatuous ways.

Our commitment is to you and our business. We learn here everyday, and some days it seems we learn the hard way. Running our business is difficult, and we are not always good at it. Our promises to you, however, must never be obscured or even marginally superseded, because we love what we do, and we care for you, incredible people, gifted in ability and personality in ways that no words I could muster would ever do justice. Watching you get stronger and healthier is a gift—it’s fun, and sharing in that process, its successes and its failures, is even better.

Each day, whether it be the grind of 6a, the break of 12p, or the 7p close to your long day, you do the extraordinary. You, our community and the foundation of our future community, meet the risks of known and unknown demands, and overcome them both physically and mentally. You do the things most are unable or unwilling to do, and you do them exceptionally well. This is why we train. This is why we opened. To give you, DC and the Logan Circle neighborhood the opportunity at something great.

After opening, we hoped for the best, and we practically sat idly back and watched this thing grow, if we did not also make more than a fair amount of mistakes that nearly killed it. This process is far from perfect, and yet it can never be. However, this admissible gap must never distract from the real greatness of our endeavor—each other.

The best part of our day is when we get to share—really share—in your joy, and sometimes in your frustrations. The best of what we have done or will ever do has something to do with fitness, and everything to do with one another. Our successes are almost blank if we cannot share them. So are the learnings from our failures.

Speaking only of Melody, Rebekka and myself, our time together has been one of triumph and achievement, as well as one of failure and disappointment. We—rather, I, am superlatively flawed, but the worst mistake one can make, once he realizes his error, is to make it again. Part of any growth, yours and ours alike, is being patient, and forgiving, and undemanding, and appreciating what we have.

We appreciate you. I appreciate you, and more so that you have been patient and forgiving of us as we help the athletes we care for, grow the business we love, make mistakes, and learn from them.

This is and has always been, after all, about being good to each other.

Rest today.

–John