One Month At A Time

The road to Spartan: Meet “Fran.”

I didn’t fully understand the point of the named workouts.

In CrossFit, the Workouts Of the Day (WOD) are frequently named after a slain soldiers, a firefighter or someone else who has died in the line of duty.

I don’t know who “Fran” was. She was probably a great human being, helped lepers or people lost in supermarkets, which seems unfair that the workout named after her would be so ugly.

When I showed up at CrossFit WV Friday evening, a couple of people were joking about how the class seemed a little light, as if the wary had decided that Friday night was a good night to stay in and watch Netflix, rather than take on “Fran.”

It was explained to me that, along with special names, some of these workouts serve as benchmarks to help you figure out what your fitness level is.

At the beginning of my time at CrossFit WV, instructor Caroline Price and I assumed I was about a “3” on a scale of 1 to 10.

That was being generous. I was probably closer to a 2. After over a month of taking classes, exercising some on my own outside of that and watching my diet, I would put my level at a 3 now –or still a 2 if I compared myself to pretty much anyone else currently taking classes at the CrossFit WV box.

I was a mess going in. I’m still a mess, just a little less of one that I used to be.

Fran was a partnered workout, with just two exercises. First, you were supposed to do a set of “thrusters,” a barbell lift that turned into a squat, which was followed by a set of pull-ups

The sequence was 21-15-9, which meant you did 21 thrusters, followed by 21 pull-ups. Then you followed that with 15 of both and then 9.

It was a timed workout. The point was to get it done as fast as humanly possible. Presumably, the faster you accomplished this, the better off you were.

Easy peasy, I thought. I could do this.

But my partner, Parker, who is in vastly better shape, struggled to knock this one out, but she still finished under five minutes, which seemed impossible to me.

I joked, “Watch me as I double your time,” like being slow as a magic trick.

Then the clock started –my turn.

I got through the first round, feeling a little wobbly, but without completely collapsing. I couldn’t do all 21 pull-ups, but had to break them up into bits –no shame there.

By the second round, I was getting winded, my heart was pounding and by the end of the thrusters, began to get disoriented. I started trying to press the weight over my head instead of just leave it at my collar and squat.

I dropped the weight. I broke up the set into smaller segments and did the same with the pull-ups. I stopped repeatedly, gasping for breath. My lungs burned. Blood pounded through my skull. I could feel it in my teeth.

The last set was sloppy, ugly and slow, with several starts and stops, but I finished and then fell to the floor mat, as if I’d been walloped.

“You did good,” the others told me.

I nodded. Survival was good. Anything past that was a bonus, I figured.

It took me several minutes to catch my breath and get to my feet. Even then, my lungs felt full. I kept coughing and spitting.

Instructor Dusty Foster told me this was called “Fran Lung.” The medical term is Exercised Induced Interstitial Pulmonary Edema.

According to the CrossFit 7220 blog, “it’s a form of flash pulmonary edema where you body is essentially drowning itself. Primarily due to the high rep, moderate weight thrusters and the short time in which they’re done, your body consumes a large amount of oxygen and generates a lot of lactic acid quickly. These both create a massive drive to breathe and blow off the acid (as carbon dioxide) and breathe in O2. Since people who do Fran are generally young and very fit, your diaphragm and chest wall muscles are able to generate a huge amount of force when breathing in. This creates a large negative pressure gradient in your lungs that actually sucks fluid out of the capillaries within your lungs and into the airspaces themselves. Although the amount of fluid is relatively small, it’s enough to slightly impair your ability to exchange O2 and CO2 and make you feel like you’re drowning (burning, coughing, air hunger).”

I’d felt something like this before, during those early workouts just before high school soccer season and, more recently, three years ago when I trained for the mini triathlon.

Once again, I finished last with a time of 7:51, but I still felt pretty good about it. I felt like I’d pushed myself in a way I hadn’t before, survived and walked away to tell the tale.

The time gave me a place to start, a number to tell me where I’d been.

With a little luck (and a lot of work), next time around I’d do a little better, be a little more fit and one step closer to being prepared for the Spartan race in August.