Extreme Workouts To Build Mental Strength





“Today, mission accomplished...”

Podcast Synopsis

It is 10:50 am and I have been working at a serious pace since 7:30 am.  So far, we have run 11 miles,  3 sets of stairs, 5 runs up the steepest hill in town, 30 burpees, 30 clap pushups, 200 weighted pullups, 400 weighted pushups, and 600 weighted squats (2 Murphs and a bunch of running). I have already consumed and sweated out over a gallon of water, but right now, I am just staring at a barbell and wondering if I can pick it up.  
The barbell was 155 pounds and was the single implement to a classic CrossFit hero workout called DT. With this single 155 pound barbell, DT calls for:

12 Deadlifts

9 hang power cleans

6 Jerks

x 5 rounds for time.

The workout is simple, effective and punishes athletes who have neglected olympic lifting strength in favor of endurance or gymnastics. DT is hard for me when fresh, and I am anything but fresh right now.  Over the past few years, I have completed this workout and logged 8 results on my digital workout journal, each with steady improvement from the time before, but it still hurts…a lot...every time.  This is precisely the reason that I find myself just staring at a motionless 155 pound barbell in my driveway at this moment.  It was there for a reason, a serious challenge placed strategically within a long workout to see how we would react.
I walked around a bit, drank more water, even changed shoes and tried to find the switch in my head that would allow my mind to overtake my body… but it was hiding.
Finally, I decided to take things one step at a time. I would try to complete just the deadlifts.  I did 11 deadlifts, but each one was brutally hard for me.  My hip flexors were screaming, my knees creaking and my entire upper body revolting in pain.  It was heavy, really heavy.  After a break, I decided to try to deadlift the final rep and go into the hang cleans.  I was barely able to hold onto the bar and dropped it immediately after 8 reps. It was strategic. I did 8 because I knew I would have to clean it the 9th time to get to the jerks.  Patrick was next to me and started on his cleans.  He was not able to clean the Rx weight of 155 lbs and quickly dropped to 135 pounds.  Keith dropped to 95 pounds and was on the other side of me. (I am a little ahead of Patrick, Mike and Keith in Olympic lifting.  To my knowledge, none of them had done a DT at 155 lbs so they scaled back to the weight that challenged them equally to my 155 lbs.)  Doubt crept in.  I did not think I could complete this workout at 155 pounds and thought that I would also drop to 135 pounds.  Matt Green was my swim buddy and he is very strong.  Matt would have no trouble with this workout so I decided to try the Jerks and just make it through 1 round before reducing the weight.  I picked it up, cleaned it and managed 6 ugly jerks before dropping.  1 round complete.  Matt grabbed the weights and moved them like a PVC pipe.  Feeling better, I decided to give the deadlifts for round 2 one more shot and completed them.  
“Ok, that went ok, so Ill try the cleans.”  a voice said inside my head.
Surprisingly, I did get 8 cleans this time.  Then the Jerks.  It was heavy and I really didn’t think I could do it, but I kept chipping away. Any concern over the amount of time it would take me to finish was gone.  This was survival.   Before I knew it, I had turned the corner from serious doubt to acceptance that I was not going to reduce the weight, but complete this as written. Finally, I found the switch.

This moment was the best part of the day for me and the entire purpose of this extreme workout for all of us.  Rarely in today's society do many have the opportunity to voluntarily face something that looks impossible and choose to take on the challenge.  For some people this impossible challenge may have been a 5k run, a yoga class or a single Murph.  I can certainly remember the first time I ever saw "Murph" written and wondered if it would be possible for me to complete it.
“Could I possibly Run a mile and then do 100 pull-ups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and run another mile all while wearing a 20 pound weight vest?” I wondered.
Eventually, I did complete a few Murph workouts which increased our confidence and we later strung 2 of them together. With that challenge complete, I wondered if I could do 3 in a row. I decided to do a Triple Murph for my 45th birthday and a bunch of us, including my 16 year old son completed the entire workout.  We continued adding to the challenge with the hope that we would have the opportunity to be in exactly the same position as I found myself this morning while preparing to lift 155 pounds.  Each of those challenges were completed and with each victory came increased confidence that we could use that experience to accomplish anything using the same strategy as Murph, Double Murph and Triple Murph.  The way to get through all of those is simply one rep at a time.  Never quit, never look at the entire workload, never get overwhelmed.  Simply do one more round, one more pullup, one more pushup or one more squat and soon, you will have accomplished this giant thing that seemed like a complete impossibility just 2 hours before.  A 50 hour camp run by Navy Seals called SealFit Kokoro taught me that when you feel like you have given it all, we are capable of 20x more than we think we can do.  With this philosophy, I have been able to start businesses, win tournaments, build teams, lead my family and make it through 50 hours of training on a cold California beach at an intensity similar to today’s workout.

DT, however, presented a slightly different challenge for me.  Most of the other challenges were endurance related but upon picking up this weight, I did not seem to be physically strong enough to complete 1 round, much less 5 rounds.  I had done this workout many times before… but always fresh.  However, I began to think that if I could do it fresh, there was no reason that I couldn't do it now and I broke it down in my mind as to how this could be possible.  While a 155 lb hang clean or Jerk is very heavy for me, a 155 lb deadlift is not.  So, why not just get the deadlifts out of the way and then see how the cleans go.  If I had focused only on the cleans or become overwhelmed by the looming 5 rounds, I would have given up right then.  Once the deadlifts were complete, I didn’t rush it.  I dropped the weight on the ground, got some water, chalked up and tried the hang cleans.  As with so many other things, what seemed like it was going to be impossible actually wasn’t.  It was certainly difficult but not impossible.  Soon, I was chipping away at a goliath obstacle one rep at a time.  The turning point to this stage of the workout and to so many things in life was when I committed to completing this workout.  No more thoughts about reducing the weight.  It might be slow and ugly, but the work was going to be completed if it was the last thing I ever did.  This is the key to accomplishing anything of value in life and this lesson is amplified in physical training through sweat, grit, pain and misery.  These same feelings are available when starting a business or making a difficult parenting decision, but they are never more clear or obvious than when using your mind to overcome the storm of pain going on inside your body to complete something that seems physically impossible.  It is a cathartic experience.

 With a piece of sidewalk chalk I made another hash mark on the driveway;  four rounds complete…I knew I had it.  The last and final round felt better than the first and I was more confident than at any other time of the morning.  It didn’t matter if it was ugly or slow, I was going to finish … one rep at a time.

At 11:16 am I dropped the barbell onto the driveway for the final time and felt a sense of accomplishment having faced the challenge and pushed through.  I still had a mother of a workload to go to complete today’s workout but it was all downhill now.

By the end of this workout we will have completed:

13+ miles of running
1.3 mile Assault Bike
2000 m Row
2000m Ski
300 pullups-200 of them weighted
600 pushups-400 of them weighted
900 squats-600 of them weighted
155 burpees
60 Deadlifts @ 155
45 Hang Power Cleans @ 155
30 Push Jerks @ 155
30 clap pushups
25 Waterball over the shoulder
8 runs up Woodhill
5 Tire Flips
5 runs up the steepest hill we can find, Kent
3 Stair runs

At this point in the workout, my mind was right, and nothing would stop me.  The experience of overcoming this doubt in myself was worth this entire year’s training and I gained as much out of it as finishing SealFit Kokoro.  A group of friends had come together to wish one of our own goodbye and good luck. There was no better way to say those things than to break down the body so we could open up the mind. The ones who had done the work to prepare their bodies for this test and then overcame all the voices of doubt and insecurity finished this giant physical challenge. Each of us had to face those voices and each of us had to go to a very dark and lonely place to figure out just exactly what we were made. Then, one final step had to be taken and that was to go directly into the fire and commit to finishing, no matter what.

As I accumulate more experience and overcome more self imposed obstacles like this one, it becomes harder to achieve a cathartic experience like flipping that switch on this day. The challenges become bigger, longer, more difficult but the rest of things in life become easier.  So to answer so many of my friends and relative’s questions about “Why are you doing this?”  That is why. 

Today…mission accomplished.  

I have compiled some notes in an after action review (AAR) of exactly what this workout looked like for those who are interested:

The official start time was 7:30 am, but a few people got started earlier.  Several of the early starters chose to do just a portion of this workout while a couple just got a head start.

I warmed up as usual and by 7:15 I was ready to go.  There were around 15-18 people going for the first part of the workout.  5 of us finished the whole thing.  For those who may be interested, here is my AAR of the event:

7:30 am- Strapped with 20 lb vests or rucks, we left on the first run of the first Murph of the day.  This Murph was done with a 20 lb vest and non partitioned.  This means that we had to do 100 pullups before we moved to the 200 pushups and complete all of those before we move to the 300 squats and then go on the mile run.  All of this is done with a vest.  Non partitioned is definitely the hardest way for me to distribute this workload, it was nice to get that out of the way first.  This Murph took me 41:02 to complete.

8:11 am- We drop the vests and pick up a Camelbak full of water and run 1 mile to the Normal Park Stairs.  This is a common workout for us that includes running, burpees, clap pushups, and stairs.  We simply run 1 mile to the stairs, run up them, do 10 burpees at the top, 10 clap pushups at the bottom and complete this 3 times before running back to the garage.  Today, we took a left out of the stairs instead of a right and ran to another common workout destination for us. is 2 miles.  We ran 2 miles from the stairs to the bottom of Kent Street, behind Publix and then started in on the Kent/Hartman workout which is 5 rounds of running up Kent (the steepest hill we could find in town) and down Hartman.  When finished with the 5 rounds, we ran the 3 miles back to the garage.

9:30 am- We return to the garage and put the vests back on to start our 2nd Murph of the day.  This Murph is the same as the first with a 1 mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and run 1 mile and was done with a 20 lb vest, however, the reps were partitioned.  A partitioned Murph means that you can break up the reps in different ways to get the workload done as you like.  The most common way is probably a 5 pullup, 10 pushup, 15 squat round done 20 times to complete the work followed by a run.  Others may like a 10/20/30 x 10.  I did the 5/10/15 x 20 on this 2nd Murph and I was back to the garage at 10:23 am.

The second Murph was tough, but I still felt pretty good at this point.  Many people were having issues with cramping calves, arms and quads and had to walk or stop and work the cramp out.  Cramping is an electrolyte issue that seems unpredictable to many, but can be solved with diet and nutrition.  From my experience in SealFit Kokoro and Goruck Selection, I had ideas on how to fuel for this event.  First, drink a TON of water.  Cadre Bert called Goruck Selection a "water drinking contest" with some work in between to illustrate the importance of hydration when pushing your body to this point.  To give you an idea of how much water we are talking about, I woke up at 6 and drank 2 8 oz glasses of water.  I had a 1/2 gallon Yeti and a full gallon Yeti ready in addition to a full Camelbak with a 3 Liter Source bladder, 6 gatorades and 6 Coconut Waters.  By 10:23 am, I had finished:

2 8 oz glasses of plain water-16 oz

1/2 gallon plain water-64 oz

3 Liters plain water- 100 oz

18 oz Gatorade-18 oz

2 Endurolyte pills-

1 8 oz coconut water- 16 oz

Total= 214 oz

I did not cramp the entire workout.  I was sweating heavily but the air was drying my skin off on the runs.  The tell tale sign that I was not drinking too much was that with over a gallon of fluid taken in before 10:30 am, I had not peed yet.  I didn’t pee until 1:30 in the afternoon.

10:49 am- 2nd Murph Completed and the vests are dropped, another coconut water drank, 1/2 a gatorade and I started on my second gallons of water. I left for the next phase which was Woodhill street where we simply run up and down a steep hill 8 times.  Woodhill is about 1/2 mile away and when I got there, I started on the 8 rounds.  I was able to run up and down the hill most rounds but did walk up a few times.  When finished, I headed back to the garage and arrived at 11:16 am.

11:20 am- Changed out of the running shoes and into a training shoe to start DT workout. This was also a good strategy to avoid having to pick up the bar for a few minutes.

I have no record of the time at the end of DT- DT was complete and it was time to move on to the next phase.  I named the next one "Mike" and the one after that "Drew" for our friend Mike Drew that is moving.  Mike is a team workout where the team of 2 has to complete 25 burpees, throw the waterball over the shoulder 5 times and do a 2 man 700 lb tire flip x 5 rounds.  I was ahead of my swim buddy by a few minutes so I went ahead and knocked out the 25 burpees and 2 waterballs.  He finished the waterballs and then helped me flip the tire.  We broke up the burpees 10/15 and alternated each round.  We made it through the 5 rounds and moved on to the next phase.  I did not look at the clock at this point.

The next phase "Drew" was an endurance portion that consisted of

1.3 mile Assault Bike

2000m row

2000m ski erg

This was the easiest portion of the workout for me because we could take it slow and just get through it.  The bike was actually very nice to move the hip flexors and helped me to feel better. I made it through the rest with the rowing being the most painful for whatever reason.  At this point I was almost finished with my full gallon of water as well, putting me at about 350 oz so far. I was sweating heavily and felt good.  No cramps at all.  I still had not eaten anything.  Michael Lebovitz brought 2 dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts for us and as I was leaving for my 3rd Murph, I grabbed 3 of them.  As it turns out, I like running while eating doughnuts.  It is fun.

There was some walking on the 3rd Murph for sure, but I was able to get moving and run down the hill despite serious argument from my knees and hip flexors.  Once back to the garage, I drank as much water as I could get down, 1 gatorade, 2 Endurolyte pills and dunked my head in the ice bath.  I looked at the bar and wondered if I was going to be able to complete it.  The first 5 rounds of the final unweighted, partitioned Murph went brutally slow and were painful.  Everything hurt.  I was light headed and got an Rx bar from the garage which was the first thing I ate besides the doughnuts.  While there, I grabbed another doughnut, why not?  I had not had sugar in 3 months and these things were delicious!  I took a bite, did some pullups and completed a few rounds while chewing.  More water, the doughnut and Rx bar down the hatch and I felt much better.  10 rounds in, I felt better than I did on the first Murph. 15 rounds in, I kept drinking and going 1 round at a time until I was ready to mark the final round of 20 with my sidewalk chalk.

I grabbed 2 more doughnuts and dreamed of the ice bath that I was going to sit in after this final run.  You could call it a run, but it was more of a walk/limp at this point.  I ran downhill after being passed by Patrick St Charles who looked about as fresh as he did on round 1.  I made it back to the garage at 12:57 which was about 20 minutes longer than I had forecasted for this workout.  I thought that was pretty good.

5 of us finished the entire workout.  Patrick St. Charles, Keith Gray, Mike Drew, Matt Green and me.  Many others completed parts of this monster and all had personal records for volume.  Excellent job to everyone!

I sat in the ice for 10 minutes and finally had to pee at about 1:30.  I kept drinking water until I was peeing regularly through the afternoon.

I laid on the couch for a while and watched Shark Tank.  It was on and I did not have the energy to change the channel.  After a while I moved to the floor because I couldn’t get comfortable and finally to the bed for an hour of rest.

5:30- Party at Rusty's with Beer, BBQ, Banana Pudding and good friends.

I looked around and enjoyed seeing everyone communicating on a different level than in the dark at the garage.  I am so fortunate to have so many good friends and it was so nice to see wives and kids all getting to know one another.  They all had good conversations wondering why their husbands or dads were so crazy.

Next Day- I took the day off and slept til 8.  This really helped the recovery.  I was slow to get out of bed, but I felt better than I thought I might.  My ankles, knees and hips were arguing with me but I made it out of bed and started moving around.  Lower back tightness and the standard soreness from doing over 200 pull-ups was definitely there, but I felt pretty good.  I started drinking a lot of water early and followed that with coffee and my vitamins. I didn't feel like eating anything right away.  After walking around for a while, I felt much better.  Life called and I had to take my son’s boat to the mechanic, mail some packages and go to work.  I took my son, Hayden who completed his first Murph the day before, to Whole Foods for lunch and indulged in way more carbs than normal.  Mashed potatoes, Lasagne, fried chicken, plantains and whatever else looked good went down the hatch chased by a Turmeric milk and another 64 oz of sparking water.  

By now, I was feeling really good and went home and took a 10 minute ice bath followed by another 5 minutes about an hour later.  Light stretching and more water had me ready for a dinner date with my wife and friends at 6:30 pm.  I was even able to stay up and watch an episode of the 3rd season of Bloodline with my wife.  That show is awesome.

Wednesday- I designed a light workout to rid our bodies of lactic acid.  It was simple
1000 m Row
1000m Ski Erg
1 mile Assault
20 KB swings @ 53
100 m Farmers walk with 2 53’s

Not for time…

We concluded with some breath work and 10 minutes of still water meditation.

Back in the saddle!


00:00 - Introducing the idea of challenges, wanting to give it a lot of thought an a good answer

02:21 - Physical challenges and how they have always been apart of my life

03:28 - Getting me to encounter the voices of doubt and the challenges I’ve created for myself

04:52 - Memorial Day workout and my experience

05:56 - The crossfit called DT

08:57 - The opportunity to voluntarily take on a challenge and choose to do it

10:00 - Using the experience of challenges to accomplish anything, just take it one step at a time

12:58 - Having pushed through the challenge and what I was able to accomplish by pushing my mental strength

15:06 - The challenges have become bigger and harder, but the rest of life has become easier

15:25 - A quote from Mike, a dear friend who has done more of these workouts with me than anyone else

18:26 - The take-home value of having challenges and organizing your life

20:25 - Create a challenge for yourself and let me know how it goes, tag me on social media @tom_rowland or send me an email updating me on what you’ve been up to podcast@saltwaterexperience.com.

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See you next week - no excuses,

-Tom Rowland