THIS IS THE FIRST OF A MULTI-PART SERIES on Chris Hine’s recent trip to Utah for his Level 3 Gym Jones Certification. Expect plenty of training tips and a preview of how Chris’s training will affect programming in the box, but in this first episode we meet a side of Chris we don’t often see at Huntsman…
At 5’7” in his Jimmy Choo’s, Chris Hines is not built for rowing, but when Rob MacDonald announced that everyone would be completing a 2km row for time on their first day at Gym Jones, Chris kept his cool. Sort of. He had a plan. All he had to do was sustain a 1:48 500m pace for the first 1500m and then pull something out in the last 500m. Simple. He might even go sub 7:10. Now that would be an achievement. It was a good plan. Stay calm. Breathe.
Hang on a minute, what was Rob MacDonald saying? All Chris heard over the sound of his rapidly increasing heart beat was “You shouldn’t be attending a Level 3 if you don’t have a sub-7min 2km row”, which Chris’s mind translated as, “Row this in 7min flat or go home.” Chris’s PB was 7.20. His plan, with luck, would take a whopping 10sec of that, but where the hell was the other 10sec supposed to come from? Heh! Have you seen my inside leg measurement?
So now he had no plan. Shit! Fly and die baby, fly and die! What else could he do? Oh, shit! This was what he’d always been afraid of.
The nerves started over eight months earlier, on Christmas Day 2014 at Chris’s parent’s house when he opened a Christmas card and found that his brother had arranged a rather special present – a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, to attend the Gym Jones Level 3. By Boxing Day, Chris had already upped his training, introducing long Fuck You Friday training sessions into his week and quickly developing an intimate love-hate relationship with the Concept 2. He rowed for hours. The only thing he avoided was the 2km for time. Sure, he’d start 2km rows, he’d just not finish them. As soon as his goal pace fell away he’d get off and find something better to spend his time on. Not to worry, it was just a mental game after all, and Chris told himself he could win that when he really had to.
By August 17th as his flight was taxiing past the icy peaks of the Wasatch Mountain range, which dominates the Salt Lake City skyline, Chris was in the best shape of his life and eager to try out his fitness at altitude. At Brickwall Crossfit he soon found that things were as bad as he remembered from his last visit for his Level 1 and 2. Five rounds of 400m runs out to the ubiquitous lamp-post felt like sprinting mile intervals breathing through cotton wool. Recovering back at the hotel, he checked his Facebook page, hoping for a message from Rob MacDonald, the director of training at Gym Jones, but there was nothing. By the time he made contact on the Saturday evening he was too late to join in the prep session at Rob’s house aka The Church of Bobby Maximus. Chris was gutted. If he’d known what they’d been prepping he would have felt even worse.
Chris spent the Sunday before the first day of the course in Little America doing his own preparation: swotting up on his Level 1 and 2 notes, stocking up his cool bag with chicken and salad from the local Supermarket Harmon. There it was now, next to his North Face bag, his Gym Jones T-shirt, his Nike MetCons, all ready for an early start. He turned out the light and tried in vain to sleep.
Monday morning moved slowly. He woke at 4am. At 6am he got out of bed. Breakfast an hour later and by 9am he was finally on the empty roads, watching the mountains out of the windows. When the taxi driver pulled up outside the Gym Jones building, the only clue that he had arrived anywhere special was a small picture in the window of the iconic Dude, buzz cut and ripped abs, toting a barbell above his head and a kettlebell at his ankles. Inside, Chris mingled with the other 32 candidates, the most ever on a Gym Jones Level 3. He was relieved to see three familiar faces from the UK, but they broke the bad news: they’d spent Saturday evening with Rob MacDonald doing rowing intervals. That probably meant a row for time was on the cards that week. Chris was digesting this information just as Beanie, Rob’s son, climbed on the Concept 2 to demonstrate a 2km row. Okay, maybe even sooner. Not a problem. Chris had a plan.
All that morning they talked theory and worked on deadlifts — heavy single then 5×2 at 80-90% of 1RM. This was textbook preparation for a row Gym Jones style: a large dose of post-activation potentiation, pre-fatiguing the muscles you are going to need. “At Gym Jones they put a lot of emphasis on preparing to perform for a specific event,” explains Chris. “The clue was the 3 hours prep for a 7min row.” Chris grimaces: “7 mins or…thereabouts.” It was then that Rob MacDonald broke the bad news – thereabouts was not going to cut it.
The waiting game was the worst bit. At lunch Chris tucked into his salad box “I didn’t want to risk one of the sandwiches that were on offer,” he says straight-faced. Finally they all started warming up on Airdynes, ski ergs and rowers. Before he knew it the first wave had started. Out of the first five guys to go, four of them pulled a sub-6.50. Chris cheered them on, heart racing. Where was he going to find that 20 secs? Five secs off every 500m split. 2.5 secs off every 250m. That must be do-able. But he hadn’t slept well. He had missed the prep session at MacDonald’s house, then there was the jet-lag, the altitude, his short legs. Stop the excuses Hines. At least he hadn’t risked that sandwich.
Chris doesn’t remember what music was pumping out of his headphones as he started to pull. “I just needed to get rid of the noise, the noise in the room, the noise in my head.” Keep tight, he told himself. Three quick pulls and the wheel was spinning and he was smooth. Coaching his strokes. The clock showed 1:38 per 500. Well on target. He felt good. Boom.
Anyone who’s ever done a 2k knows what a mind fuck it is. That first 500m trying to establish a pace and stroke rate that keeps you on target, settling into a rhythm, at least something that feels like a rhythm, but the numbers on the clock say something else, you’re pulling with the same strength and speed, but no you’re not: it reads 1:43. Slow down! 1:49 too slow, don’t panic, get it back down. Then in the second five hundred things start to unravel, that 1:45 per 500m pace you need begins to slip, but it hurts so much. So you readjust your ambitions, hold at 1:49, no problem, until it is a problem. You hit 1k already in oxygen deficit slipping, slipping and what’s the fucking point of carrying on when you’re out of the game already?!
And that was Chris’s problem. He was prone to back out at 1km when the PB slipped away. There was no hiding from the truth because the Concept 2 helpfully predicts your finish time. How thoughtful! Chris’s eyes were glued to it that afternoon at Gym Jones, and he was bringing it home for the first 10, 20, 30 pulls. At 500m he was on schedule for a sub 7min though his pace had dropped to that magic 1.45, but he was ahead of the clock. Chris liked to get ahead of the clock. It was looking good right up until the moment it wasn’t looking good, until he blew up so badly, in his words “there was a mushroom cloud over Salt Lake City”. At 1000m it was all over, but unlike his training sessions, he now had to carry on.
By the time his pace dropped to 1:59 the trainers were all over him: “Pick up the stroke rate, pick up the stroke rate!” They screamed. But Chris’s body wouldn’t respond. His throat was like sandpaper, his mouth a desert and 30 odd people were yelling at him. He was down to 21 strokes a minute, nowhere near high enough for a short arse like him, but he was hanging in there, hanging in there. 200m to go, 100m to go.
And the predicted time ran away like sand until it stopped at 7mins…
….and 18 secs.
A PB. A fail.
“All I could think was that I wasn’t even allowed to collapse, because nobody lies down at Gym Jones,” says Chris shaking his head at the memory. “I did everything you can think of wrong, but nobody could tell me I didn’t give it everything. There was not one part of me that didn’t want to speed up, I couldn’t.” Those are the words of a man who has talked to himself a lot about what happened on that rower. Back then he just told himself, “Tomorrow should be better.”
But would it, and was tomorrow too late? Is this where the journey would end?
In the next episode, we go back to where the journey began, to how and why Chris first fell in love with the Gym Jones philosophy and what that meant for the owner of a CrossFit affiliate.