Thank you Toby.

January 7, 2021 // Liza Smith

Note…I wrote this blog back in November 2019 but as we are approaching the Open once more I thought it was worth reposting.

*For those not in the know The CrossFit Open is a global competition comprised of five workouts over five weeks. The workouts are released every Thursday and all registered athletes have until the following Monday to submit their best score online. 

I originally had big plans for the CrossFit Open 2020 (which takes place in Oct/Nov 2019) but those plans had to go in the bin. To explain this, I need to go back to Feb 2019, the start of the 2019 Open. I was recovering from an illness and never going to perform at my best. It became an opportunity to set a base line and see where I was at. I had gone backwards, as expected, but made my peace with it, making a deal with myself and Kerry, my coach, that the following 8 months would be all about improving my overall CrossFit ability so that I could give the Open 2020 my best shot. Unfortunately, in May I cracked/broke my rib and it took until the end of September for it to start to heal. I made the decision to not enter to ensure I didn’t set myself back further. The Open can become quite adrenaline fuelled. I didn’t want to get a bit overexcited and maybe do something that my body wasn’t ready for so I excluded myself from the process… as an athlete. 

I spoke to Kerry, as during the earlier Open I had been available quite a lot to help judge those in the process and asked if i might be needed again. It was a resounding yes so I did my judges course, along with the hubby, and did whatever I was asked to help support the box as, from a management point of view, the whole thing can be quite stressful. 

In the first week I was asked to judge Coach Lewis for his re-do attempt and then this stuck as a regular thing. This meant that I was involved in the Monday afternoon throw down where our 3 coaches, including Head Coach Toby, plus one of our best athletes came together to re-do the workout. It is a very different atmosphere in the box at this time and it was very cool to watch the best of our box come together like this and give it everything they have. 

After the Feb Open Kerry set me a piece of homework which was to write down everything I learned during the 5 weeks and during one of the weeks in October she mentioned it might be interesting for me to do it again, having only been involved as a judge… I’m taking it one step further and explaining the 10 things I learned from our Head Coach Toby: 

1) Walk the walk.

Don’t just say you want to do something, make sure you back your words up with action and fucking do it. Toby set himself a specific goal for this Open and made sure that he worked everyday to give himself the best shot of achieving it. He tells us tirelessly to work on our weaknesses and strive to be 1% better every day. Not only does he tell us. He shows us. Toby doesn’t talk about himself a lot but if you ask him a question about what he is doing or why, he will always take the time to have that conversation. Muscle Ups were a weak point in his game, so guess what, with the help of his coach and his programming he spent time every week working on his Muscle Ups, and all the accessory work required to become efficient. This is just one example. Trust me, there are many. 

2) Control the controllable.

Now, I learned this a while ago and Toby hammered it home to me when I asked him for a chat after being invited to a casting day for SAS Who Dares Wins. I got a weeks notice and this was in June, a month after “the rib”. My head was all over the place… should I do this, focus on this, work on this and `i needed someone to just break through the noise. Kerry was dealing with her own stuff during this week and I didn’t want to burden her with anything unnecessarily. I messaged Toby and was in for a chat that same day. He made things very easy and clear for me. He told me what I already knew, that I wasn’t going to improve my fitness in a week, and helped me figure out a game plan for what I could do. Eat well, hydrate like it’s my job and get my 8 hours sleep a night… control the things that are in my control and don’t worry about the rest. 

During The Open he showed, once again, that he practices what he preaches. He was working towards a particular goal and to achieve this goal he needed a particular placing on the leaderboard. While some people would spend minutes, hours and maybe days pouring over the leaderboard looking at what everyone else is doing Toby deleted the app and paid no attention to the leaderboard. What anyone else did didn’t effect his effort or execution in each workout. As long as he gave 100% each time then he had done all that he could do. 

3) What others are doing shouldn’t concern you.

Leading on from the above, I have learned to become unconcerned with what other people are doing. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, it just means I am more able to be comfortable with what I’m doing. The Crossfit gym can become a competitive place, especially when everyone’s weights and scores are published on the board for all to see. I am not a competitive person at all but I can feel a little insecure about not choosing a heavy enough weight, or being too slow at a particular movement. Watching Toby over these last few weeks has really hammered home what I have been trying to tell myself these last 8 months. It doesn’t matter if everyone else in the gym is lifting heavier than you, running faster than you, cycling a barbell quicker… the list goes on and on. We all have our strengths, we all have our weaknesses and the sooner you concern yourself with just what you are doing, the better things get. Its something I have been working on a lot this year but over the last few weeks it has really clicked. That doesn’t mean a sly, well timed comment from Coach Harry won’t make me swap to heavier set of dumbbells though! I am still me and when a Coach encourages you to step a little further out of your comfort zone, you listen. They wouldn’t say it just to be mean and have fun watching you suffer… although in Harry’s case, he might ;0)

4) Be positive and don’t make excuses.

Toby’s attitude is just fucking brilliant. He was thrown a massive curveball just before that start of The Open which meant that goal he wanted to achieve became way harder. Did he complain, bitch or moan about it? Maybe behind closed doors with Kerry or his coach, a little, but not once was it a negative in the gym. If you asked him how he felt about it you got a cheerful “it is what it is, right?”. It all comes back to controlling the controllable but to see him again put that into action, get this done and just deal with it, was pretty inspiring. 

5) It’s not just about the training

Just as he had advised me to do back in June, Toby looked at all of the things within his control. He logged his food… I know this because we both work with the same nutrition company and he, along with Kerry, helped me get to grips with it. He logged his water. He focussed on recovery. He focussed on sleep. He did everything needed to support his training and ensure he got the best out of every training session. 

6) It takes a village.

As mentioned Toby doesn’t just rely on himself. He knew where he needed support and found the best people for the job. He has a Coach, the other Coaches and members at CFID, he works with We Dominate Nutrition, he works with a sport therapist. If he needs help he gets it and is never too big or proud to admit he needs it. I have massively adopted this approach during my Iron Man training. 

7) Who you are when things don’t end the way you want says way more about your character than who you are in the good times.

I said that Toby had a specific goal for this Open. I told you that he was thrown a huge curveball that meant achieving it would then be way harder. The end to this tale is that he didn’t achieve his goal. Was he disappointed, probably. Did he scream, shout or cry? Very unlikely. To quote the man himself when I asked him how he was “I’m ok. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done anymore”…which I 100% believe…I’m currently in the best shape of my life and there is still room for improvement” What a fucking legend! 

8) Find the good, and the lessons, in every situation.

The above quote proves this one. No feeling sorry for himself or making excuses. Just acceptance of the situation, recognition of the hard work done and looking ahead to the future. Not everything will go your way but every situation will present a learning opportunity. 

9) Extreme ownership

Ok, so this one actually belongs to Jocko Willink, but it was Toby that turned me on to him and his book. And, it was Toby that demonstrated this. It’s ok to feel sad and disappointed but it is not ok to blame others or the situation and wallow in negative emotions. Dust yourself off and figure out what you can do to own your situation. 

10) Enjoy what you do, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. 

At the end of the day, all of this training, competition etc is a choice. No one forces us to do it. We chose to do it. So, if you take it all too seriously and stop enjoying it all then it becomes pointless. Toby’s final placing in The Open doesn’t actually change his life in any significant way, he has put in all this hard work and effort because he wants to, because it’s what he enjoys and it adds value to his life. This will be the same for my IronMan… if I complete the challenge and get to call myself an Ironman, my life won’t fundamentally change. I will have achieved something and the pursuit and achievement of goals is something I value but it won’t make me a different or better person. If I started hating the process I would stop. At the end of the day, no one actually cares if I’m an IronMan or not, apart from me… and I’m only really doing it for the tattoo ;0)

About Liza Smith

Hi, I’m Liza; A badass, mud-loving, bear loving Fitness Professional. I’m happiest when doing Obstacle Course Races, Mud Runs and Triathlons and whilst doing all the training that these hobbies require.

I am a continuing work in progress, always striving to be the best version of me that I can be.

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