Training Smarter, More “Intentionally” Helps Emily Rolfe to Her Best CrossFit Games Finish Yet

Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi

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Though she spent much of the 2023 season rehabilitating injuries, Emily Rolfe managed her best ever finish yet at the recent 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games, finishing 12th in the world.

Her secret:  She trained “smarter” and “more maturely this year” than ever before, she said.

  • “Partly because I had to. I was forced to (because of) injuries and going through rehab,” Rolfe said. 

But also, she cared for her body just a little bit more.

Remind me: Rolfe withdrew from the Games last year after being rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency surgery for a blood clot in her left arm after the very first test of the competition.

It took until October before she was 100 percent recovered from a medical standpoint, but she had lost fitness in the process. In fact, even by December when Rolfe made her competition comeback at the Dubai Fitness Championships, her fitness wasn’t where she wanted it to be, especially her upper body strength from having taken so much time off in August and the fall.

Then came TYR Wodapalooza in Miami, FL in January. Healthy again, Rolfe was leading the entire field by 45 points on the final day of competition, but then tore her calf doing double-unders on the sixth test of the weekend. 

The calf injury was more serious than Rolfe had realized, and again took weeks to heal.

  • “I made it through the Open but it was still pretty bad,” she admitted. And then just as she thought she was 100 percent, the injury flared up again just before Semifinals. 
  • “It took a lot longer (to heal) than expected. I tore it pretty good,” she said. 

Getting to 100 Percent

The experience spending the large part of her year healing injuries, though, didn’t derail Rolfe from focusing on being 100 percent when it really mattered: The CrossFit Games. 

She was able to do just that. The 34-year-old arrived in Madison, WI with a healthier body than ever, she said. 

  • “It was so nice to go into the Games with nothing concerning me. This year there was nothing. I felt great,” said the four-time Games athlete.

To get there, Rolfe put more “time and care” into her warm-ups than previous years, she said, including diligently following her bulletproof calf program every morning that her husband and coach Kyle Rolfe designed for her.

Further, this season she “didn’t waste energy on things I didn’t need to work on” like she had in previous years, she said. 

For example, Rolfe never even bothered to do any long runs in training, as running is one of her big strengths—which she proved again with a test win on the Cross-Country 5K test at the Games—and focused more on “being intentional with everything,” she explained.

On top of it all, Rolfe continued to work full-time all year as a radiation technologist, which she thinks was actually an advantage at the Games, as many of the turnaround times between tests this year were really quick, she said, which is something she’s used to.

  • “I train like that everyday because I have to get to work, so I was so used to it. People were really hurting. It was hard. I’m not going to lie, it was a hard turnaround, but because I train like that, and I don’t have all day to train, that was a huge benefit that I had.”

She added: Working “prevents me from overtraining. And I’m a lot more focused and intense when I’m in the gym.”

Rolfe at the Games

To say her training paid off is an understatement. Rolfe started the weekend with a second place finish on the bike test, and followed that up with a 12th and a seventh on Day 1, helping her finish Thursday in second overall. After that, there were a number of other wins in Madison, including an easy test win on the 5K run.

Rolfe finished the run 32 seconds ahead of the next female athlete Katrin Davidsdottir, meaning she ran pretty much the entire race without a competitor even close to her. 

She was so dominant that she never even had to go to a remotely dark place to win, so dominant that she beat 17 of the 30 men and had to stop herself from trying to beat more of them.

  • Part of her wanted to pick up the speed and race them, she said, “but then I was like,’ Emily, it doesn’t matter, Save your energy for the next one,’” she said.

Looking to 2024

Though Rolfe is happy with her performance at the 2023 Games, she’s a competitor and always wants more.

  • “I’m pleased considering what I went through in the past year…But obviously as an athlete, I wanted more. So I guess you could say I’m pleased, but I’m not really satisfied,” she said.

Ultimately this has led her to double down on her commitment to continue in the sport.

  • “We’re going another year, for sure,” said Rolfe without hesitation.

And although her mother keeps asking about when she’s going to retire—“I think she wants grandkids,” Rolfe said, laughing—Rolfe intends to keep going as long as she’s still getting better.

“If I can continue to get better, which I am, and I’m continuously improving and on an upward trajectory, then I’m going to keep going,” she said.

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