There’s comes a point in competition where competition goes out the window and everyone starts pulling together.
That realization dawned on me a few feet from the top of Kahili Mountain when my nose was inches from the shoes of the person above me on the trail so lean and steep I had my hands on tree branches for balance.
We were climbing the mountain like ants, all of us, and with every inch I gained the dirt from my step kicked on the person behind me.
“Don’t worry about it,” the person said every time.
My hands hurt as I type this. There’s cuts on my right palm and both ring fingers but there wasn’t any other way up the mountain.
“Grab hold of the roots,” I’d hear from above me, though I couldn’t see anything, only shoes, the same pair, and their soles when they stepped that told me to step, too.
Earlier, we had all lined at the starting line of the inaugural CrossFit Poipu Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run competition, the rugged mountain race on the island’s Westside that attracted CrossFit pros in its first year. It was a race, and CrossFit, the high-energy workout style, can be all about competition. It’s so competitive you have to write your scores on a whiteboard when you’re done with a workout. Benchmarks, they call it. But people memorize their own scores while they look at yours, so racers looked every bit the part they wanted to win at the starting line.
From go, we ran up a hill, rounded a cone, then shot down the dirt bike trail. The trail switched back, rolled and runners were still running, though fewer of them. Then the trail cut right, hard, and the sunlight disappeared behind a cave of bushes and trees and the dirt narrowed to pole width as it went up, up, up the mountain and that’s when people started calling out.
“Grab the trees,” a voice said, somewhere up there.
“It’s a bear crawl,” another said, which is moving with equal weight on your legs and arms like how its namesake scampers and it was hot so high up without any wind and the sweat ran off my nose like a faucet but it was may favorite part of the whole run because nobody was passing anybody, only encouraging one another.
“Good work,” they called.
Then the trees ended and sky opened up again and we were tip-toeing across the ridge and I looked back over the horizon and saw the mountain falling to the brown field so far below and the highway cutting through the land like a thin, little vein and then the sea, which went on forever.
“You guys,” I said to nobody but everybody really because we were all a team whether we knew it or not. “This is magnificent.”
I’ve had that feeling one other time in a race, where I stop and the whole world seems to circle around me slowly, and it was when I was riding my bike right after the swim portion of the event, when I was pedaling along the mountain lake shoreline under the shadow of pine trees.
“You’ll remember this forever,” I said to myself then, just as I did on the mountain ridge.
And then one woman passed me. She said she didn’t have time to wait. And we all started down the trail, sometimes sliding on the dirt using our shoes like skateboards or even on my butt like a baseball player and yeah, there’s a little wear and tear there, too, like my hands, which are always beat up anyway — kettle bells, bar bells, bars you swing from or hang on.
It’s the bane of every CrossFitter, right up there with writing and comparing scores.
But back to the 10k race. Where did I finish? I’m not sure. I still haven’t looked. It was low. It was so low that at the last water station the aide told us we were way, way behind.
“I’m not too worried about that,” a woman said, and I liked her immediately because we were in it together and that’s CrossFit’s foundation.
It’s encouragement and teamwork, and every time I get nervous, I’m reminded of that, like right there at the water tent under the relentless sun or atop the ridge, which took the help of everyone in front and behind me to scale.
Tom Hasslinger is managing editor of The Garden Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org