A Post in Which I Explain How CrossFit and Writing are Basically Exactly The Same

Here is the post-workout photo of the amazing people I did Murph with this year. See how everyone is smiling? That’s because it’s over.

Day four, and I’m still sore.

Not bragging. Not complaining. Just saying.

We are four days out from the workout known as Murph, and I am still sore.

What is Murph, you say?

Murph is a workout named for Michael Patrick Murphy, a navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan in 2005. He was awarded the Medal of Honor–the U.S. military’s highest decoration–and he lost his life in service to our country. Later, a workout was named in his honor.

As in many CrossFit gyms, we at Bull City CrossFit do Murph together every Memorial Day in remembrance of this soldier. It is, quite honestly, a great way to begin to imagine the endurance and dedication practiced by our military every single day.

And it’s a killer workout.

So, what exactly is Murph, you ask?

Just this: a one-mile run, followed by 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air-squats, and then another one-mile run.

We do a lot of difficult things in our gym. A Lot. I have been doing CrossFit for over three years now, and I still have much to learn, and all of it is hard. Many are the workouts that leave me lying on the floor, just trying to remember how to breathe.

But Murph is in a class by itself, as you can tell from its brief description, above. My husband calls it, “aggressively difficult.”


There are lots of ways to tackle Murph, and before I go further, I will tell you that you are supposed to do it precisely as described above, in that order, one exercise at a time. But also, you are supposed to do it in a weighted vest. A 20-pound vest, to be precise. Forgot to mention that. Sorry.

This is my son Will, in the weighted vest, winning at Murph. And there’s me, way in the background in the red shirt, talking to myself about doing more push-ups.

Suffice it to say that I have never done Murph in a weighted vest. Neither have I done Murph straight through, as described. Instead, I do the run and then I break the exercises into pieces, like so: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 air-squats. Repeat. Twenty times.

Aaaand another mile-run.

(still sore)

You could break it into smaller increments (say 2 pull-ups, 4 push-ups, 6 air-squats), if you wanted, and then do more rounds (in that case, 50 of them).  Or you can go for the gusto (and potential serious muscle fatigue) and do it straight. (Some people are fit enough for that.) Whatever you choose, I can tell you this for certain: There will come a time in the midst of your Murph workout that you will wonder how you will ever possibly finish.

There’s only one answer to that nagging question: You keep going.

At the gym we have names for workouts like Murph: they’re called “chippers.” The idea is simple; I’m sure you already get it. You just keep chipping away at the workout. You just keep doing your reps. Who cares if this is round 8 or round 18? You’re not finished until you’re done, so you might as well keep going.

Need to breath a second? Fine. Need to talk your legs into squatting before you commence with that (again)? Have that conversation. Need to remember you have arms (and where you left them) before you grab the bar? Sounds like an excellent idea.

But whatever you do, just keep chipping away. Just keep going. Just do the next thing until you run out of things. And then go run your (second) mile.

That’s the thing about endurance– a thing that soldiers know, and athletes, and (sometimes–here it comes) writers. The only way to endure something is to, well, endure.


Once upon a time, I wrote a book. A novel, to be precise. The book is 300 pages long–but unlike my comprehension of Murph and its scope, I didn’t know–going in–how long it was going to be.

Instead, I knew (for the most part) what the book had to say. I knew the general plot-line, and the characters (mostly). But there were many (many) moments, descriptions, even conversations that I didn’t know were going to be in there. I discovered their necessity as the writing unfolded.

Sometimes these developments frustrated me. I thought I knew where I was going, and I wanted to get to the end. These new necessities felt like delays, but it was a disservice to the story as a whole to skip them.

As I got closer to the end, I would imagine finishing. Heading into a full day of writing, I would convince myself that today was the day I would finish. The story and its necessaries were clear and tidy in my head. It was only a question of writing it all down–and seriously, how long could that take?

But I was only right about that one time: I only truly finished writing the book once.

Now I’m writing another book, one that is simpler than the last. More on that later, but suffice it to say that I have a clear and detailed outline, and I know where I’m going.

Still, it’s happened to me already: my vision so clear, my confidence so hopeful, that I sit down to write thinking today is the day I will finish this chapter.

So often (almost always), it isn’t.

It turns out that, like so many CrossFit workouts, writing a book is a chipper. You sit down to work with the whole of the project in your head, but you pick just one little place to start. You work on that, you develop those ideas, and you finish that one bit. If you have more time, you write some more, and maybe you finish that part, too.

Either way, you chip away at it: a section, a paragraph, a sentence at a time. There’s no other possible way to get it done.

And someday you actually finish.

Because truly (I must remind myself), writing a book is a game of endurance. It’s going to take a long time–and a lot of solitude, and quiet, and keeping yourself squarely in front of your laptop/your notepad/whathaveyou–to come to the end.

I only learned this by writing a book, mind you. And maybe also from CrossFit.





3 thoughts on “A Post in Which I Explain How CrossFit and Writing are Basically Exactly The Same

  1. This is so true, and dots I had been trying to connect in my head but never have. I just finished a book that was a chipper in every sense—but I didn’t know when it would end, not really. the thing I borrow from Crossfit to apply to writing is that it’s helpful to decide when you’re done. Thank you for this!! I want to send you my book when it’s out.


    1. Thanks so much for reading, Malinda. Yes, deciding when you’re done is vital, too! I would love for you to send me a copy of your book. I would love that.


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