Learning to Breathe Fire: An Interview with JC Herz

TB: So you’re a techie. Are you still involved with video game programming?

JH: Not currently, but have had some informal conversations with people about front-end design for fitness tracking apps. Right now, the leading apps capture all the geeky high-level athletes, but do a lousy job of getting non-nerds and novice/intermediate athletes to enter their information. There’s a lot more that could be done to make those platforms more satisfying for beginners and for CrossFitters who are more socially oriented. There need to be better progressions before athletes get to Rx’d. For a beginner, achieving one double under or unassisted pull-up or ring dip is a big deal! Scaling pull-ups from a two-inch band to a one-inch or half-inch band is a big deal. There could be a lot more milestones that scaffold beginners and pull them along, i.e. “if you can do ten of X, then you’re ready for Y.” More kinds of PRs, and ways to get high-fives for those. Etc. Most of what’s out there could have better interactive design – it’s not just about making data comparable for large populations of athletes. Happy to talk with anyone about this – message Learning to Breathe Fire on Facebook.

TB: You were a rock critic. Who’s your favorite artist? Who do you like to WOD to?

JH: One of the strangest things I’ve noticed about CrossFit is, music is typically blasting inside a box when the WOD starts. And yet, once you’re in the WOD, you don’t hear the music (unless something slow and mopey comes on Pandora). This is very different from gym classes where people anchor their attention on the music to engage mentally during repetitive, otherwise boring aerobic workouts or spinning. You could put a gun to my head after most WODs and I wouldn’t be able to name half the playlist, because the WOD itself – the coordination of effort and the self-talk – is cognitively all-consuming.

Laura Photo

Photo Credit: Chris Nolan, Metcon Photos

Musically, I tend to reach for “road trip music,” stuff I can groove to. Recent fave is the Kongos “Come With Me Now” (there’s a girl jumping rope in the video – if she’d been doing double unders that’d have been awesome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gz2GVlQkn4Q). Imagine Dragons, etc. Musical taste is all over the map, though, from rap to country to tango. I like lyrics with a sense of humor. Luke Bryan’s “My Kind of Night” made me laugh: “Put in my country ride hip-hop mix tape/Little Conway, a little T-Pain/Just might make it rain…” Really shows the generational difference from 20, 30 years back – rap and country used to be oil and water. Now people grow up listening to both, and don’t skip a beat from Jay-Z to Blake Shelton.

"It became a running late-night joke – which CrossFit megastar would call, right as we were brushing our teeth."

TB: Did you have a strategy for compiling notes and interviews into a readable narrative?

JH: I usually have a good idea of the story I want to tell, and the threads that need to be woven into it. The most important thing – and an increasingly rare thing in the age of “Google journalism” is to actually do the gumshoe work – go places, talk to people, listen, look around, take notes, ask questions that only a human being knows the answer to. Interviewing is a skill – figuring out where the story gets deeper and more interesting, and engaging someone in conversation about that. Reporting requires intuition and attentiveness to cues and details – really noticing what’s going on. I think the ability to do that has been compromised by social media and mobile devices – the mentality of surface-skimming and distraction. But then, I’m someone who thinks 300-page books are a satisfying way to spend your time.

TB: A common theme in CrossFit testimonials is how CrossFit gives people the confidence to re-pursue lost or forgotten goals. Have you experienced that?

JH: In terms of personal experience, in June of 2013 I figured out that I’d have to work 7 days a week to finish the book by the September deadline. I called it the 100 Day Chipper. My experience with CrossFit made that level of work more tractable, no doubt.

"Interviewing is a skill – figuring out where the story gets deeper and more interesting, and engaging someone in conversation about that."


When I reached the final page of Learning to Breathe Fire, I was sad my journey through the beginning years of CrossFit had ended. For several nights, I had pulled tires under the I-95 overpass with Jerry Hall; thrown down some serious weight with the Nasty Girls; pushed violently against my limits in the desert of Iraq with Christmas, Chazz and Ray; and cheered as Caity Matter snuck in for the win of the 2008 CrossFit Games. These stories, by the sheer power of the bond CrossFitters share, had become part of my own history.


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