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.



  1. Kimmie | March 21, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Awww man…I am smiling and crying. Thanks Coach. I’ve said it before and my actions don’t always show it, but I appreciate all of you immensely for you are almost always in my corner more than I am.

  2. StuLu | March 21, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    That was beautiful John. I am speechless. And humbled.

  3. Mrs. Finkenstadt | March 21, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    You reference mistakes in this piece, but from our (my) perspective you ARE getting it right. You get it right because from day one it has been about the relationships and the people. I’m just so proud to be part of MPH.

  4. CookingandLifting | March 21, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Amen, buddy. Its a rare thing in life to come across individuals such as yourselves who have such a legitimate and heartfelt concern for others, and rarer still that those attributes that define you, Mel, B-Kay and the MPH experience are recognized for what they are, allowed to flourish, and see the success that MPH as had. I feel tremendously lucky I wandered into Globo a year and a half ago, and tremendously happy to have been able to be a part of what y’all have put together. Thanks for the support, time, caring, and most importantly, the honesty you all put into MPH and each individual athlete every day. See you at 8

  5. swimdra | March 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    The other day someone asked me what I did for fun or enjoyment regularly, and I said that it might sound funny but that one of the things I do most frequently that brings me the most enjoyment is going to the gym. He then asked if I actually worked out at the gym and I preceded to tell him how much I can deadlift to shut him up. I feel very lucky to have met up with you all at gold’s last year. I really appreciate all the work that you coaches put in every day and I know for me personally it has paid off in a huge way. I love the community that we have, and going to the gym everyday is one of my favorite parts of the day. Thank you for all that you do!

  6. ivefive | March 21, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Ok, the picture above doesn’t look much like me, but it’s my first post, and so it goes. I enjoyed learning more about your path, so first, John, Mel, and BK—thanks. Every day, you tirelessly (and will add selflessly) help everyone that walks in door towards better health and a better life. I hope people can say that about me some day.

    Thanks for demanding excellence from us. Thanks for being supportive and encouraging (while also stopping me from meeting pukie more than once). Thanks for your patience with injuries and old(er) age.

    Most importantly, thanks for creating a *community* for us. Through many years of trying to improve my own health, you and the MPH community are the most differentiated aspect of my experience, and ones responsible for my (gradual) progress since MPH opened. So a note of thanks, also, to the community–my fellow ‘athletes’.

    Many of us didn’t fully appreciate the tremendous work and very significant personal risk you took to start MPH. Every time we walk in to the box, I hope you’ll see that your hard work and risk taking are worth it.

    Heartfelt thanks.
    Samir M.
    (I’ve five) fingers

  7. bethivy13 | March 21, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Thanks, John, for taking the time to write that piece. I’m probably one of the newest to CrossFit and to MPH – it was clear from the first time I walked in the gym that I was stepping into something different. You, Melody and Rebecca show us your dedication every day. I’m glad to be a part of this. Thanks for having me.

    ” The difference between try and triumph is a little umph.”

  8. jeremynurse | March 21, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    John, thank you for such a heartfelt post. It says in prose what you demonstrate in action week after week. I for one, saw you sit “idly back and watch this thing grow”, or put another way, I saw you and Mel and BK work your ass off day and night to create an amazing environment for us to grow.

    If after going to the mountaintop of Florida (replete with mysterious symbolism) you are seemingly setting aside the mantle of God of MPH, and if after looking into the mirrored pond of self-reflection, you have seen more clearly the visage of mistakes made, you are only reflecting more glory on yourself. For you have seemingly affected these grievous errors unbeknownst to the rest of us. What fearsome skill is this?

    John, in revealing yourself to us you have only exposed a deeper mystery that I must/will defer to Stulu to plumb.

  9. Jenny J. | March 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    I found myself tearing up while I read this as my desk. I’m just sayin’…

    Love all of you and I really couldn’t imagine a life without MPH.

  10. train2live | March 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm


    I am traveling back from a gig in Rochester NY this morning and I read your Sunday post. I can t tell you how proud it made me feel. To be affiliated with you, Mel, BK and our incredible community has been a true blessing that I thank my higher power for everyday. Your post is timely as I was thinking, on Saturday as I walked back to the Post after another awesome workout, that you guys must pinch yourself everyday. For what you have created is more than just a place to workout, get stronger and go harder, but rather you have created so much more. Crossfit MPH, while all of the above, is also the purest form of community anyone could ever experience. If you are not pinching yourselves rest assured your athletes are.

    John, since I have started working with you I have achieved so many things beyond my personal records at the gym. Here are just a few of those things:
    More energy, better sleep and faster recovery due to the paleo diet.

    – Greater focus, less joint pain due to my regular fish oil intake.
    – Greater confidence in almost everything I do because nothing I face each day will ever be as hard as the workout I faced in the morning.
    – I have gone from 90 milligrams of anti-depression medication daily to this month I will have been weaned off completely. This due to the medicine I take at Crossfit MPH everyday.
    – Learning to accept that my greatest competitor is me and not the guy or gal working out next to me.
    – And some may not know this, but my affiliation with you also landed me at the Post, which I absolutely love!
    I could go on and on about the benefits I receive or have received from my affiliation with you, Mel and BK.

    Holy shit man, I am going to compete in the Sectionals how fucking cool is that! I have to tell you though that no matter how I do this weekend please know that the reward for me and the best part of the games has already happened and that is the fun, blood, sweat and tears that I have experienced to get to this point.

    So in closing, a heart felt debt of gratitude is what I feel today. Thank you for making me (us) a better athlete(s) and person (people), for demanding excellence everyday, for the community you have created, for believing in me (us), for helping me to keep my ego in check and most of all for your friendship.

    Dave O.

  11. Ted | March 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I was at the Bristol race Sunday, and driving back yesterday, so didn’t see this post until today (Tuesday). Thank you. I really needed some closure and perspective from the Globo days. There were so many times then that I felt thwarted by the discretion I thought it was prudent to maintain so as not to inadvertenly be a pawn in the Globo’s power struggle – I even gave my notice by contract, by mail, just to be as discreet as possible. If you received any interference, or any flack at all, it was completely undeserved – you handled that transition beautifully and professionally. I loved reliving the evolution – I was so (still am) clueless – I thought Melody was going to write out some cardio and strength training routines for me and couldn’t understand why the emphasis on pull-ups I couldn’t do, squats, box jumps — where was the 3x 8 sets Monday upper, Wednesday lower, with long cardio Tuesday and Thursdays? then why the push for group classes (I was so afraid of getting in the way of Neil and Dave and Ivy and Borja). You can’t believe how much I wanted to get out of there – it was so hard to do the WODs on your own under the disapproving eyes of the patrons on the treadmills plugged into their iPods. The highlight was somebody calling me out for “looking stupid” doing the 4x 400M run/50 squat sequence for time on my own and his not backing down from his self-centeredness when I challenged him about it in the locker room (I didn’t get in his way, my crime was that I was visible to him and what I was doing “looked stupid” – on the other hand, his intervention in my 3rd set was a good WOD spoiled). Then there was that supportive community suddenly appearing, with Jeff helpfully suggesting I challenge the guy to “narF.” That place was toxic. You rescued all of us, as far as I’m concerned.


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