What Katrin Davidsdottir & Brooke Wells Learned While Doing 20.1 Three Times

Tuesday October 15, 2019
Christine Bald

It’s Monday morning during the first week of the CrossFit Games Open, also known as Redo Day. The vast majority of athletes tend to improve their score when repeating Open workouts, which is why practically every serious competitor does it. It’s a stat CompTrain athletes Katrin Davidsdottir and Brooke Wells are counting on heavily as they prepare for their second date with 20.1.

Both Brooke and Katrin have characterized their first attempts as “meh,” and are looking for big improvements the second time around. It’s not going to be fun. Considering how bad it hurt the first time, the idea of going even faster has Brooke feeling almost queasy as she walks into her gym in Tulsa. Meanwhile, in Boston, Katrin is so nervous that her Whoop band detects an elevated heart rate before she even arrives at the gym. 

The nerves come from the enormous pressure both women feel to improve. They know that their existing scores will not put them where they need to be to contend for a CrossFit Games qualifying spot. They have to be faster. Coach Ben Bergeron purposefully programmed a lighter training day on Saturday to set them up for a strong redo attempt today. Mentally, Brooke and Kat are feeling the pressure. Throughout the morning, they also begin to feel it physically, as a growing knot of nerves and dread taking root in their chest.

They’re focusing on all the wrong things. Instead of focusing on effort, Brooke and Katrin are projecting forward and thinking about results. They’re distracted.

At CrossFit New England, Katrin goes through her normal warm up routine looking anything but normal. She is quiet and somber, speaking only to Ben. Anticipation has rearranged her features into a mask of anxiety—the mood is exactly what it would be if she was holding a live grenade. Hundreds of miles away, Brooke is experiencing the same thing. “I was so caught up in just beating my previous time that I worked myself up to be so nervous,” she says.

By the time the workout starts, both women are completely wound up. Their nervous energy has taken a physical toll. “I felt exhausted in the first round of the workout,” Katrin says. It’s a feeling shared by Brooke. “It was a complete disaster,” she says. “I wanted to put a good score on the leaderboard, and once I realized that wasn’t likely to happen, I quit.” Katrin finished her second attempt, but ended up with the exact same time she got on Friday.

“I have never quit a workout,” Brooke says. “This was not like me. So I spent the afternoon regrouping myself and focusing on the important things—like doing this workout for me, and proving to myself I am not a quitter.” 

At CFNE, Katrin is doing the exact same thing. Sitting quietly in the coaches office in a pair of Normatec boots, she resolves to give 20.1 a third try. Two times in one day sounds crazy, but Kat is adamant. “I was so disappointed in myself for how I felt before the workout this morning,” she says. “I’m doing it again for me. Whatever happens, happens, but I just want to feel like myself.” She writes her new mindset on a small whiteboard: “This one is for you. Just breathe.”

Three hours later, Katrin is ready. Her body language is completely transformed. Her trademark 50-megawatt smile is back, her shoulders are square, and she has that tiger look she gets in her eye when she means business. She records her intro video with zero fanfare, and doesn’t even bother to turn up the music. There are no spectators, no cheering section of any kind. Even Ben isn’t here. Kat nods gamely at her judge and begins 20.1 for the third time.

The difference is noticeable immediately. Her movement is smooth and consistent. Her face is calm and impassive. She looks the way she does in training, where she makes a habit of focusing on her effort instead of her results. When the pain comes in Round 7, you can almost see her lean into it, embracing it. Her last three rounds are 45 seconds faster than they were this morning. She lands on the other side of barbell after her final rep at 8:59, among the top 30 female scores in the world. Halfway across the country, Brooke has done the exact same thing. In her third 20.1 attempt, she shaves a whopping 50 seconds off her previous time, good for 17th in the world.

The experience shared by Katrin and Brooke during 20.1 is a relatable one—who hasn’t been overwhelmed by anxiety before an Open workout? It is as common as it is instructive. Kat and Brooke are living proof of how the often ambiguous notion of “mindset” can have tangible, physical effects on performance—for better or for worse… or both on the same day.

Katrin and Brooke didn’t improve their scores by getting fitter in the hours between their second and third attempts of 20.1. They improved their scores by getting themselves into a mental place that allowed them to tap into the full extent of their abilities. “I went 50 seconds faster by focusing on myself, and believing in myself instead of focusing on what the clock had to say,” says Brooke.

In other words, she found her confidence. 

Confidence is not what we’ve been told it is. Despite everything we’ve been told, confidence does not come from the experience of winning. True confidence comes from knowing you can give your absolute best effort in any given moment. Wheelhouse workout? Hell yeah. Workout full of weaknesses? Let’s f*ckin go. Never done this before in your life? I’ll figure it out. Confidence is being in complete control of how you respond to your circumstances, no matter what’s thrown at you. Do your circumstances influence your attitude and effort? Or can you perform to your potential anytime, anywhere, on any playing field? That’s confidence. And it’s a superpower.

This notion of confidence is something that both Katrin and Brooke understand on an elemental level. Their ability to channel it is a big reason why they are successful at the highest levels of our sport. But their parallel experiences during 20.1 illustrate a powerful reality of mental toughness: Nobody, not even Katrin Davidsdottir or Brooke Wells, has perfected it.

Mental toughness doesn’t come naturally to anyone. It’s a choice that we have to make over and over again, every single day: the things we choose to focus on, the perspective we choose to have, and what kind of story we choose to tell ourselves about what it all means.

If Katrin and Brooke are any indication, it’s always going to feel hard. We’re never going to feel like we’ve mastered it. But maybe that’s the point—mental toughness is wherever somebody is trying to find it.