Murph Programming

I wasn’t really planning to write out another Crossfit Programming post for quite some time, but a giant overflow of rich thoughts came to me today when I was suffering through what is the annual Memorial Day Workout no matter what Crossfit gym you’re a part of: [The Murph].

Odds are, if there’s one workout you’ve heard about from Crossfit folk its probably The Murph. Reason being: Its really hard and pretty much everyone gives it a shot at some point. The workout is as follows:

  • 1 Mile Run
  • 100 Pull Ups
  • 200 Push Ups
  • 300 Air Squats
  • 1 Mile Run

Often times in under 45 min or an hour. The time cap depends from gym to gym. The point of this workout being: Its really hard. Even folks who have been doing Crossfit for quite some time have a hard time with this because there’s a a second level to it: With up to a 20 lb. weighted vest.

Why Talk About a Workout That Dominated You?

What’s interesting is that most really fit folks can knock out The Murph in 45 min to an hour and take a really long nap afterwards. However, present the element of the vest in there and its like a reset button on their ability to tackle the workout. To me, this is why the Murph has a really long replay value. Its like trying to summit a mountain. Every year, you’ve got another chance to get closer to actually completing the workout given the time cap or another shot to shave off your previous record.

In my mind, The Murph is like a skill aptitude test for how in shape you are. You can look good or feel like you’ve got muscle, but how do you fare when you have to put your body to the test? Its one of those challenges that pushes you in a good way and is totally normal to not finish. The key is pushing yourself and improving from your last attempt.

This got me thinking about programming. We often design programming interviews and challenges like The Murph. We say vague things like: “We’re trying to see how you would solve the problem even though is designed to not be able to be finished. “

Those interviews can sometimes be really good or really bad depending on how they’re run. But I want to dig into how we can start shattering a culture of “I have to dominate and completely solve this problem or I’m a failure mindset” that we often see in programming.

Growth is A Process

Suffering through The Murph reminds me that growth is a process. I want to continue to grow each and every year, but its often not a pass / fail kind of grade. Some problems or tests deserve to be of the pass / fail nature, but I believe that the real struggles are ones that don’t necessarily have a result. They just have a time and quality factor assigned to them.

Here’s another thing about The Murph, you can scale it as needed. I found a pretty interesting way of breaking that work down today. It’s as follows:

Start with an 1 mile or 800 meter run depending on your aptitude

Then proceed to do 25 rounds of the following:

  • 4 Pull Ups
  • 6 Push Ups
  • 12 Air Squats

Around the 45 min cap, if you’re not on the verge of passing out, stop where you are and attempt another 800m or 1 mile run. Your time will be whenever you finish that run.

Approaching the problem like that today, it took me 48 minutes to get through 10 / 25 rounds capped with 800m runs. Reading this now, I feel like there’s room for improvement. Looking back in my memory of it today, I have no idea how I even made it through 10 rounds. It was intense to say the least.

While effort put towards the problem is hard to measure, I now have a baseline to look at next year or next time I attempt the Murph. I want to take a spot to start pushing forward with my development and not just to stay put in.

The cool part of this is I can’t say I “failed” at the Murph. I showed up on a holiday and took a shot at one of the most intense workouts out there. I’m not quitting working out after doing the Murph either. I’m showing up to the gym again this week. This is because something deep in my bones believes that growth is a process. There will never be a point where I completely dominate all of working out. They’ll always be a new level or thing to conquer. However, I want to rest easy at night knowing I’m moving forward and going after that next milestone.

Ok. So, What’s That Got to Do With Programming?

I used to have a hard time with leaving work. Maybe you have too. My instinct wasn’t as much to hustle for x hours more than your peers and then profit. It was that I had a hard time leaving problems unfinished at the end of the day. I had to get to a “good” stopping point. While its one thing to run this kind of life as a single person, having this habit in a family causes a bit of strain on your relationships. I never felt like a perfectionist but rather someone who was a bit over-eager to complete work. I valued resolution and shipping things over having a “perfect” feature.

So, how do you start breaking this kind of behavior? I didn’t realize it until recently but going through workouts like The Murph were breaking my perseveration on having “complete” solutions or work.

We have to approach work every day knowing that we’re striving to get better at what we do. You’ll often see - especially developing software - that the bigger a feature gets the more vague the state of being “finished” becomes. I actually am currently on the verge of finishing a slew of features that have taken up the past 6-8 months of my time. Bigger units or work are more abstract and that’s ok. However, we’ve got to come into work with a mindset of getting better and doing good work and sweating less about how we compare to others or when something will be “done”.

There’s a cadence or guidance that we accomplish our work by - just like The Murph has a round system or a limited time cap. However, I’ve been leaving work a lot happier these days because I know that I’m shipping small pieces of code that are making things better and closer to completion each day. Even the frustrating days are now a bit lighter because I’m able to realize and appreciate the slow march of growth. Its so much more of an intention rather than a resolution.

Leaving in a good state of mind from work can be life changing. You engage people and situations much more fully because of this. It helps take the load off of your body and soul. Its hard to explain, but living in a more clarified state of mind like this has helped me make some really great strides towards where I want to go in my life and career.