Burning Runner: Inside The CrossFit Culture

What It’s All About

CrossFit veteran Chris Spealler emerges from the water during the swim portion of last week's CrossFit Games. Photo: Colleen Baz

I’M WATCHING the final women’s heat of the Saturday series of competitions, the last race of the night. Having seen all the elite men and all the women it’s apparent that the toll Serrano speaks of is not just hormonal—many of the athletes have multiple strips of athletic tape applied to shoulders or legs or backs in an attempt to yield some physiological relief. But it’s the hands that get the most attention—they are taped up like NFL linemen. Chalk, tape and gloves were critical to survival, and if you watch closely and you can see that accumulating damage to the hands is slowing down some of the athletes. I asked Max Wunderlie, a CrosFit Endurance coach based in Connecticut, about what they’re going through. “A correct grip can help you stave off the wear and tear,” he told me. “So can gloves. But there’s only so much you can considering how much friction these guys are being exposed to.” He asked if I noticed how volunteers were using towels to clean the monkey bars after each round of competition. I said I did—I imagined they were wiping the chalk off. “Chalk? No, they don’t care about chalk. They’re wiping off blood and chunks of flesh.”

The friction and force applied through the hands of the top Crossfitters is unreal. Chris Spealler is the owner of CrossFit Park City in Utah where he also coaches. He’s 32 years old and a rarity: He’s competed in every CrossFit Games since its inception and picked up three top-five finishes. Most of the male elites are around 5’10 and 190 pounds. Spealler is 5’5 and 145 pounds, yet can dead lift 420 pounds, snatch 210 and squat 375. He has also knocked out 106 pull-ups at once, double what most of his competitors have recorded. In a three-day competition where a considerable about of pulling, lifting and pushing transpires through the grip of hands on metal, the hands are to CrossFit what tires are to Formula One race car.

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