Being Remarkable (My interview with elite Crossfitter, Marcus Hendren)

Aug 24, 2012

Being remarkable is a choice. We all have it in is. Settling for average is a choice. We all have that in us as well. Which one are you going to choose?

I’d like to introduce you to Marcus Hendren – elite Crossfitter (7th in the 2012 Crossfit Games – yes, that’s seventh in the world), former Cornell football player (I think that means he’s smart too) and current farmer (he runs a farm with his family). I have the pleasure of working out at the same gym as Marcus (Crossfit New Albany). His story is pretty remarkable. He’s made the choice to not settle for average.

I’ve seen him firsthand go from a beginning Crossfitter to an elite performer. Truthfully, he was killing it from the very beginning. I remember asking him last year before a local competition (The FitClub Games – which I competed in and got crushed (freaking overhead squats always get me)) whether or not he was competing. It would’ve been a great event for him to test his skills against some good competition. He said something to the extent of “I want to fly under the radar until the Games.” Well, he definitely did that and then some.

His Quest to the 2012 Crossfit Games….

After a solid showing in the Open (Feb/March), he landed a spot in the Games (top 60 or so in the world) by claiming a spot in the top five (Central East Region). He was fortunate to get in as two former champs, Rich Froning and Graham Holmberg, finished in the top three. This allowed Marcus to get in (typically it’s top three). The funny thing is, all five of the Central East qualifiers finished in the top 10….that’s top 10 in the World. It was an amazing showing by the region and Marcus was a huge part of that. This, of course, was his first time competing on such a big stage. He wasn’t overwhelmed, to say the least. Many of us struggle to perform when everything’s on the line. Not Marcus. He brought it, no doubt about it.

Fitness and Remarkable Work are Related

If you’ve been reading The Catalyst Project (or 1440 before that), I’ve talked about the intermingling of fitness and work performance. I’m a strong believer that working out and both the physical and psychological edge it gives you will carry over to your work product (and ultimately your performance). I like to call it “The Edge”. Crossfit is the first workout I’ve found that gives me that mental edge.

12 Questions with Marcus Hendren (@MarcusHendren)

1. What has farming taught you that you can take into Crossfit?

Farming has provided me both a mental and physical edge that transitions well into CrossFit. Mentally, there are days that drag on and seem like they’re never ending. Often, especially during the busy seasons, it feels like you don’t do anything besides work and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. This is especially similar to longer met-con style workouts that really feel like it puts you through the grinder and you won’t make it out alive. The biggest take-away is the forethought to know you always have a something in the tank and can keep pushing.

Physically, farming has had an immense impact on my CrossFit capabilities. A good example of that is the ‘Double Banger’ wod at the Games in 2012. Earlier that year I purchased a greenhouse that called for driving 50 stakes 30″ in the ground. I used a sledgehammer to pound every single one of them in. On top of that, there is always the need for moving heavy and awkward objects from point A to point B that I believe will always prove helpful.

2. What has football taught you that you can take into Crossfit?

Football gave me a solid foundation of the strength and dedication necessary to be successful at the sport. I started lifting weights in 6th grade for football and spent countless hours learning the technique of squats, deadlifts and cleans at a young age. Because of that, I’ve slowly developed the strength necessary to do well in this sport. I also am aware of a typical weekly schedule that most sports programs follow to condition the body to improve. As much as I would like to devote every minute possible toward CrossFit, I know there is only so much the body can do to improve naturally.

3. How has attending a traditionally challenging school like Cornell helped your approach and experience in Crossfit?

Cornell helped me develop the mental discipline to constantly pursue a goal. It was definitely a tough act to balance school and football while in college. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the trials and tribulations were molding me into a person capable of understanding what it takes to achieve long term and short term goals.

4. When did you know you could compete at the highest level? What was that aha moment?

From the first time I watched CrossFit videos online I felt I was capable of competing at the highest level. Although that wasn’t the reality at the time, I’ve held the belief that I was capable of competing with the best of the sport from the beginning. There were a couple of ‘aha’ moments for me over the course of the year. The first real one was at the Central East Regionals in 2012. On day 2 we completed the ‘heavy dumbbell snatch’ workout and I was beating Graham Holmberg and Rich Froning until I made a mental mistake on the last leg. The second was standing in the final heat of the final event at the Games in 2012. Although I probably should have been focusing more on the workout, I couldn’t help but be proud to know I proved myself right and was standing with 5 of the Fittest Men in the World on the final day.

5. Some of the workouts at the Games were pretty extreme, especially the triathlon. First off, how do you handle such a big surprise like telling you that Wed the competition started (and open water swimming was part of it)? Second, when you’re struggling (or tired), what goes through your mind to push forward?

Going into the Games I knew there was going to be some kind of curve ball thrown at us. Knowing that, I expected the worst (ironically, that being a triathlon) and prepared for it mentally and physically leading up the Games.

I’ve always imagined the fatigue, pain and negative thoughts that come with every workout are the obstacles in the way of the person you dream of becoming. If you go hard enough, you’ll come to that same bridge separating you from your goals in every workout. Not being afraid to cross it keeps me pushing through the pain.

6. There’s a lot of debate out there about talent and whether it’s innate vs cultivated. Some say 10,000 hours is what it takes to become elite at something…you’ve turned that on it’s head a bit with your minimal CF experience compared to many. How do you feel about this debate?

Although I’ve only being following the CrossFit regimen for a little over a year now, I feel like I’ve definitely put in the hours previous to beginning the sport. The sport itself is basically comprised of lifting weights, cardio, gymnastic and athletic movements. While growing up, I played football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse and ran track. All those hours practicing those sports have definitely rolled over into this sport.

7. If you had to pick three things that ultimately have led to your quick ascent up the ranks, what would they be?

Dedication, work ethic and a good healthy diet!

8. After finishing 7th in the Games, what will it take to get to the next level and compete for the title next year? (aka – How will you prepare to be the best?)

I’m currently looking to start training full time. I’ve always believed in the old adage that “if you want something you’ve never had before, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done before.’ Using that wisdom, I know I have what it takes to sit at the elite table, but over the past year I felt like I never had enough time to fully prepare myself to get to the level of a champion. I know I’m willing to work hard enough to achieve special results, now I’m looking to find the hours to put in the work.

9. With all five Central East competitors finishing in the top 10, is it coincidence or is there something to it? Furthermore, should the Central East get more qualifiers in the future?

It’s definitely something in the water.

10. What’s your favorite Crossfit workout?

Anything with heavy power cleans!

11. At The Catalyst Project, I talk a lot about fueling your body to achieve top performance. What does a guy like you eat and drink during the day?

I typically eat the same thing everyday.

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs (with yolk), dark chocolate almond granola, Banana, 5 oz fruit smoothie
  • Apple at 10 am
  • Lunch : Grilled Chicken Salad
  • Energy Bar ( I like Lara Bars) at 2 pm
  • Dinner: Grilled Chicken, sweet potato

12. What’s the future hold for Marcus Hendren? Both from a Crossfit, personal and business perspective?

I’m going to put everything I have into winning the Games while I’m still capable. I’m very aware that this is a time sensitive venture and it wont be long before I stop getting stronger. From a business perspective, I want to start a sustainable grassfed beef, pastured poultry and woodlot pork farm. As I said before, you can’t train all day, so I will look into getting started slowly with the extra time I’ll have away from CrossFit.

What we can learn from Marcus:

  • Set your goals high – Don’t settle. Even if you’re new at something, don’t be afraid to think big. Think 10x – set your goals 10x higher than you think they should be. If you fall short, you’re better off than where you’d be with some small goal.
  • Focus– If you watch him workout, he’s got this super intense focus. It’s rare to even see him change his demeanor. He almost seems like he’s gliding as he works out. He’s in the zone, you can tell by just looking at him.
  • Embrace the Struggle – Crossfit workouts are intense. Most of the time you face a point in the workout where you can easily dial it back and even quit. It’s a test of mental fortitude and will, which is one of the big reasons I equate it to high level performance at work.

The Look of Extreme Focus

Remember…being remarkable is a choice and so is being average. Which one are you going to choose?

Additional Reading on The Catalyst Project

7 Ways Crossfit Helps you Crush your Workday

The Corporate Athlete – A simple process to get results

34 Catalysts Reveal What Drives Them

More on Marcus:

A Look into the Life of Marcus Hendren (from the Crossfit Games website – by Cindy Young)

Video of Marcus and Graham Holmberg doing Crossfit workout King Kong

Follow Jon on Twitter

Become a Fan of The Catalyst Project on Facebook

Side note: I’m in the process of developing a productivity tool (a mobile app to start). I will be sending something out soon where you can be part of the pre-launch team and be a beta user. Stay tuned.

Finally…welcome to all the new members of the Catalyst tribe that saw my article on Tiny Buddha. We’re excited to have you on board!

For everyone else – If you didn’t see the article you can read it here – Embracing Vulnerability and Putting Yourself Out There.


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