Interview w/ Caitlin McNamara

As part of the 60 Day Challenge, I decided to interview the coaches at CrossFit Kingfield. They each play a key role in providing the help and support I need to achieve my goals, not only during this process but throughout the year.  I wanted to get to know them better, learn  some of their best practices when it comes to training and nutrition, and see what makes them tick. In my conversation with Coach Caitlin McNamara, we discussed her love for competition and how she compares coaching teenagers versus adults.

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MMG: You were a Varsity athlete in high school, played club soccer in college and continue to compete today. Why are sports and athletics such an important part of your life?

MCNAMARA: There’s a moment when you’re watching a particularly close sporting event where you get chills. It doesn’t matter if you’re invested in the teams or the athletes playing or if you even like the sport you’re watching. When you get the opportunity to see fellow humans achieve something incredible, even seemingly impossible, you can’t deny that magical moment when someone hits a game – winning three or scores a diving header to go ahead in a big game. It’s always been breathtaking for me, my version of thrill and excitement.

On another personal note, movement has always been a part of my life. Running, jumping, picking things up, and throwing them has been associated with fun ever since I could walk. My dad taught me how to throw before I could stand. Once I was old enough to join organized sports, it gave me a sense of belonging. Between the thrill that competition brings – whether participating or spectating – and being a part of something with others, it’s always kept me coming back for more.

MMG: Last year you competed in both the Granite Games in St. Cloud and the Sisu Summer Throwdown in Excelsior. What drives you to continue to compete?

MCNAMARA: It’s in my nature. I compete on everything. Back in my running days, training on the treadmill, I would, not joking, eyeball the person next to me to make sure that I was running faster. It fosters achievement, it gives you something to work towards and directs your training, learning, or education. It’s a commitment and a promise to yourself (and to others if you choose to involve them). Sticking to that can be empowers you in areas outside of your competitive area.

Caitlin competing in the 2015 Granite Games.
Caitlin competing in the 2015 Granite Games.

MMG: You’ve done individual sports – like running marathons – and been part of many team sports. Do you prefer one over the other?

MCNAMARA: I prefer the team. Feeding off of the energy from people working towards the same goals as you is a great motivator. You rely on them, you lift them up, you share your burdens with them. Even when I was training or running marathons, you’re not alone. Your fellow runners or training partners push you along, the accountability gets you to do things far beyond what you would’ve done on your own. The achievement might be yours but at the end of the day, you got there through the help of someone else. That’s one of the many reasons why I love CrossFit.

MMG: Do you take a different approach in the actual competition itself as an individual versus being part of a team?

MCNAMARA: I don’t think my approach varies too much. Even on a team, I have a role to fill, an expectation, whether placed on my by my teammates or my coach or myself or a combination of those three, to do my very best. I suppose the motivator is a little different – even if you’re not feeling up to it, your teammates can put you in the right mood or you might be more willing to fight through something for them. But I always go into a competition – or hell, my training or coaching a class or writing a blog – wanting to do my very best, to set an example.

MMG: In addition to your role at CrossFit Kingfield, you coach the women’s soccer team at Orono High School. What’s been your biggest challenge so far working with the team?

MCNAMARA: The biggest challenge is managing talent. We have an extremely solid program at Orono and the issue we seem to face most is figuring out how to get the most out of the talent we have. There are so many personalities, just like in CrossFit class, that you have to guide except that they’re at the age – a little more vulnerable, a lot less certain. CEmpowering these girls and developing their self-confidence is the best but the hardest part of the job.

Caitlin with the Orono High School women's soccer team.
Caitlin celebrating winning the 2014 Girls Class A State Champions with her team.

MMG: What has been the highlight coaching the soccer team?

MCNAMARA: Yikes. If you didn’t hear, we had a pretty fairytale season in 2014. We won our conference, going undefeated. We won our Section against our archrival in a shootout where my goalkeeper – shoutout Dubs! – made a huge save. And we ended up winning the State Tournament in dramatic fashion in another shootout with more huge saves from my keeper. But the biggest challenge we faced was that our top player – named Ms. Soccer in the state that year – went down in the championship game with a severely broken ankle with 20 minutes left in regulation. The way our girls rallied, picked up the slack and kept fighting still gives me goosebumps.

MMG: So compared to working with a bunch of teenagers, what has your experience been like working with adult athletes as a CrossFit coach?

MCNAMARA: Ha-ha, trick question? Umm, adults are more self-motivated than teenagers. There’s also a natural authority established just by age difference and dependency when you work with teens. Not so with adults. So much more grounded personality to contend with, specific goals they’re trying to meet and different kinds of stress that they carry that you have to take into account every time they walk through the door.

MMG: Almost sounds like more of a challenge than working with the soccer team. Any personal highlights from coaching at Kingfield?

MCNAMARA: This is going to sound so sappy but honestly every day I coach is a highlight. There’s always a new challenge that’s overcome by someone and as a coach you just feed off of that. Teaching movement is really fun and to see it well-executed is rewarding. But the best part, hands down, is when you look into someone’s eyes and realize that because you believed in them, they now believe in themselves a little bit more, that’s why I do this.

Cailtin coaching a weeknight class at CrossFit Kingfield.
Caitlin coaching a weeknight class at CrossFit Kingfield.

MMG: So much of your daily life is dedicated to coaching, training and helping others. Who do you look towards for mentorship and coaching?

MCNAMARA: I lean heavily on my co-coaches. We all bring different ideas, approaches and experiences to the table. I think what makes us good teachers is that we’re also good students, always looking to try and learn new things with minimal bias so we can help our members improve.

I follow a lot of coaches – not just CrossFit, but gymnastics, weightlifting, powerlifting, conditioning – on social media. There is hoards of great content out there if you find the right people.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I often test things out personally first before I bring them to an athlete too. I rarely implement something that I haven’t already done some version of because it’s easier to coach it that way. The more you can speak to the feeling or the sensation of what you’re teaching, the better you can tailor the information to each individual.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received in terms of your athletic career?

MCNAMARA: So I played goalkeeper in high school, but I had started dabbling with it during youth club soccer. The dad of one of my teammates was one of our coaches and he was a former Vikings free safety, captained the team. He took our mental toughness very seriously. Once, during a rainy game, I allowed a goal and I laid on the ground in the mud, mad at myself, frustrated with my failure and of course analyzing how I could’ve done better. He ran out onto the field and told me “Get up. You don’t have time to be upset because they are watching you” and he pointed to my teammates. “They feed off of your leadership and you have to get up. No matter how bad it was. No matter how mad you are at yourself or them. You have to get up.” That moment (and not making the A basketball team in 8th grade) changed my life. It reminded me that I represent something bigger than myself, no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing. That lesson reaches far beyond athletics, as you can imagine. Whether it’s coaching, it’s my family, it’s my relationships, I always strive to “get up.”

MMG: I’m sure that like myself self a lot of your athletes would be curious to know what does a normal week of training look like?

MCNAMARA: It’s changed a lot over the past three years, but right now I think I’ve finally found a groove that works for me that I can sustain as a base.

I train five days a week, Monday through Wednesday, then Friday and Saturday, with active recovery (if I feel up to it) on Thursday. Sundays are completely off.

A typical training day consists of 2-3 strength movements – think front squats, a clean complex & shoulder, for example, or heavy back squats and snatching – followed by a metcon. The metcons vary widely from long to short, but mostly couplets or triplets or monostructural intervals. I am always trying to focus on training my weaknesses too – right now it’s strengthening my shoulders. I really want consistency in my strict gymnastics game!

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of the old CrossFit Games Open workouts which tend to be higher rep, lower weight engine tests. My engine is not what it used to be! I am usually game for just about anything. The biggest barrier is time and carving out enough time to get everything in that I want to do alongside running the gym and coaching classes and personal training clients.

MMG: How does diet and nutrition factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

MCNAMARA: At this very moment, it’s calculated. I’m working with Emily (Field) on leaning out a little while maintaining body composition. I’m macro-ing out my food and cycling my carbohydrate intake from day to day. It’s tough but it’s only week one so I’m optimistic it’ll become easier as I settle into more of a routine.

In general, I eat pretty Paleo – no refined sugar, no grain, no dairy, no soy, no legumes. That option has been the most effective for me over the years. However, I love the not-so-good-for-your-body-but-so-good-for-your-soul food – donuts, french fries, burgers, fried chicken, pizza, tortilla chips, red wine, ice cream. I’m a big believer in 80/20 and indulging when you want to as long as you recognize it as such.

MMG: Are there any other factors that are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?

MCNAMARA: Sleeping – I function beautifully on eight hours. More or less makes for a not so productive day. Second, making sure I have time to “recharge my batteries,” as my dad phrased it to me once. At the end of the day, I’m an introvert so doing what I love – coaching, being around people, helping people – takes a lot out of me and need time to reset. I typically go about that by watching movies or TV shows  – yes, I have a few obsessions – Game of Thrones, House of Cards, New Girl, The Office, Friends. I also have a penchant for crossword puzzles and adult color books.

Finally, people. My support system around me is what keeps me moving from day to day. Alex is my front line. His unwavering support gets me from day to day. He never questions what I ask of him and is always there – when I coach late, coach early, when I’m going just a little crazy. He’s my rock and my best friend. Then comes my family – my parents, my two brothers and my sister. My folks live just west of the cities in Maple Plain. I make a point to go out and see them and my baby sister (senior in high school) at least once a week. We always prioritize family time when everyone’s in town. And lastly, of course, my gym people. From day one, Danny has never failed to be there for me and has never stopped believing in me. The opportunity to grow, as a coach, a business owner, an athlete and a person started with being introduced to this amazing community. The people are what make it and I will never stop bragging so hard about how awesome it is be a part of Kingfield.

Caitlin and the coaching staff at CrossFit Kingfield on Halloween.
Caitlin and the coaching staff at CrossFit Kingfield on Halloween.

MMG: How do you define strong?

MCNAMARA: Strong is feeling comfortable in your own skin. Whether you come to that on your own, you’d like to lose weight or you’d like a bigger back squat or snatch, I think everyone is capable of finding their own version of “strong,” they just have to know where to look.

MMG: With such a wide age range, from 15 to 75, what is your overarching goal for all your athletes?

MCNAMARA: I want them to leave their time with me feeling accomplished, empowered and like they’ve taken a step, no matter how big or small, towards their goals.

MMG: What are some of your favorite lifts, movements or WODs?

MCNAMARA: My favorite lift is the clean. I love all versions – power, hang, full, squat, light, heavy – doesn’t matter. The raw expression of power & strength that the clean allows for is unparalleled for me. Secondarily, I love squatting. I used to hate it but now it makes me feel like a badass. Rope climbs and handstand push-ups are becoming favorites as well. Also, wallballs. I know most people hate them but they might be a favorite non-barbell movement – #sorrynotsorry.

My favorite WOD is a challenge. Anything that tests me, where I have to decide to keep going, to push through even though it hurts. I like the hero workout “D.T.” which is 5 rounds of 12 deadlifts, 9 hang power cleans, 6 push jerks at 155/105. I love the community approach to “Murph” too – nothing like slogging through 2 miles and 600 reps with your gym to honor our fallen servicemen and women and those who continue to serve.

MMG: What is your goat?

MCNAMARA: In CrossFit, toes to bar. I am terrible at that movement. I always have been. I keep trying to find drills to get better at them. I know one day they’ll get better but they are the movement that when they come up in the workout, I’m already slightly defeated in my head. The first step to overcoming this goat is to reframe my mindset, to attack the movement as best I can. I know they’re going to take time. Eventually, I’ll get over this goat but for now, you see toes to bar come up in an Open workout and I’ll cringe (inwardly) a little.

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