2011 Reebok CrossFit Games

Better late than never. I am writing this post from the Dubai Airport, over two weeks after the Games ended. As it turned out I was a little too ambitious with my U.S. trip schedule post-Games and barely had time to sleep or breathe, let alone to blog. But now I have all the time in the world, or at least a few hours.

Some of you may have seen but I already wrote a brief summary of my experience for our team blog. Here is a more lengthy version covering exactly what happened over the few days, and my thoughts/analysis.

The first team (and individual) event had been briefed at the mandatory dinner/briefing on Wednesday night. The first workout was Friday morning, involved all six team members, and we had to move 1700 pounds worth of sandbags, ranging in weight from 20 to 200lbs, 100 yards (over a stack of 9 logs in the middle, and over a 4-foot wall at the other end), and then back. If you went around the logs or wall rather than over, you had to do a 50 burpee penalty (amazingly, a lot of teams got whacked with this!).

Our result: 14:28, 40th place. Our strategy was good, namely to divide the work into four intervals (get the bags to the barrier, barrier to wall, and back), and to load up the heaviest bag onto me and Janie to carry as the first leg. In retrospect where we could have done better was firstly, we just weren’t strong enough. I couldn’t lift more than the first 4 or so bags by myself; they are heavy and unwieldy. As a result, I was left standing around for costly stretches of seconds. It’s like driving: better to go 50mph consistently than to go 100 but have to stop at a stop light every few miles. That time at 0mph brings your average way down. So in retrospect it would have been better to have two athletes primarily load other athletes, or something like that.

The actual venue itself was comprised of an outdoor arena, and a track area with some events (such as the sandbag carry) being held on the field inside the track. By the outdoor area was a tent for athletes, with food in the form of fruit, almond butter, paleo snacks, water, and coconut water. There were also medics and massage therapists around, and a warmup area that included most of the equipment we would be using. The same setup existed under the stadium, for events being held inside. Despite the shade, the area under the stadium was amazingly hot (probably body heat combined with a decently warm ambient temperature). This was one cool aspect, though: all the athletes were together, hanging out and next thing you know you realize you’re standing next to Annie Thorisdottir or Austin Malleolo, or one of the guys from last year’s winning affiliate team is talking to you about Cape Town.

It was also a weird mix of competitors and spectators: there were some areas only staff and competitors could go, but a lot of other areas where you had to go mix with the spectators to get anywhere. Not that this was a problem, and it was actually quite good because it allowed me to visit with friends new & old, but it was a bit unusual, maybe?

Anyhow. Team event 2 was later that afternoon and again involved all 6 team members. This time we had to do as many rope climbs as we could in 2 minutes (rope was 15 feet tall), then we had to minutes to establish a 1 rep max weight from ground to shoulder (clean). Each event was scored separately.

Our result: 24 rope climbs (43rd place), 930lbs cleaned (43rd place). In both of these we were tied for last, so one more rope climb or one more pound lifted would have made a difference. Conversely, the reverse is also true which is easy to forget. Here, I can only speak for myself but I was so excited that on my first rope climb I think I climbed the entire rope with mostly just my arms. Unsurprisingly, this tired out my grip so that on my third attempt I literally got about 13 feet from the top and had to stop, rest my grip, climbed another foot … and just couldn’t make it all the way to the top. This is the sort of scenario you have nightmares about and it not only happened to me but that particular moment of ignominy was captured on camera. Well, in my defense I wasn’t terribly interested in pulling a Rich Froning and dropping 15 feet from the top because I could no longer hold on, and then not being able to do my clean at all. Considering the rope burn I sustained on the way down because I could barely hold the rope with my hands (it’s 2 weeks later and still not healed), I think it’s true that grip and safety was an issue. But still. I’m not going to be living this one down in my own head.

Then on the cleans, I made my safety lift at 95lbs (yes, my brain is now working in pounds and miles after three weeks back here, well at least sort of), although it was way harder than it should have been because I could barely grip the bar. Then I increased the weight to 115 (53kgs) which again is a very achievable weight for me and I missed my first lift. Here I was starting to get frustrated because I knew my grip was gone and my form wasn’t very good (wasn’t opening my hip at all, really) but I decided I was not going to miss the next lift so I didn’t. It was ugly as all hell but I made it. Then I looked the wrong place for weights and wound up stealing from my teammate next to me (!), but was ultimately unable to make that next lift at 125lbs. Got it high enough but couldn’t get my elbows around/couldn’t get under it. Here is where lack of technique and practice with Olympic lifts comes in. Especially after my cert this last weekend I am recognizing the importance of getting back to basics (or, as is usual, actually doing what I say I am going to do!).

Following this event were the opening ceremonies where we all marched into the stadium behind a big flag that said Africa (well, mostly all of us … the schedule was running late so Mona couldn’t march because she had to be getting ready for her heat and Chris couldn’t march because he wanted to stay with Mona ). This was about as interesting as it sounds.

Being the fans that we are, we stuck around the rest of the evening to watch the individual competitors after Mona finished. Unfortunately, she also hit issues with grip on the rope climb which is a shame because it would have been so cool to see her get to the weights (apparently the other girls were checking her out in the warmup area because she’s so good at these Olympic lifts … the individual workout was 5-4-3-2-1 rope climbs and clean & jerk with ascending weights). As a result, we got caught in traffic on the way out, got home super late, and didn’t necessarily set ourselves up great for a good performance the next day. The more competitive teams, I am sure, went home immediately after their events.

The first team event Saturday didn’t start until 1pm so we did get to sleep in although since we missed the briefing at 8am we had to ask some questions when we got to the venue. The first team event involved four team members and was a chipper of 40 muscle-ups, 100 deadlifts, 100 GHD situps, and then a sprint relay. There was a time cap and our team didn’t quite finish within the time cap. I sat this one out which the competitor in me wasn’t happy about but the human in me was for a number of reasons not the least of which was that on Friday I had become massively dehydrated no matter how much water I drank. Saturday I took electrolytes but doing two workouts that day would not have been a good idea, all things considered.

The final team event (only the top 6 teams made the cut to the final day of competition) was only a few hours later. I think our heat was 3:45 or so. This workout was called the “Killer Kage” because it involved monkey bars (this, in addition to the ocean swim the individuals had to do, probably comprised the biggest surprises of the competition, at least in terms of actual movements we had to perform). Monkey bars! I saw this early in the morning by checking Laa-Laa’s mobile uploads to Facebook, and thought that would be super fun although there were no monkey bars in the warmup area so we had to just go out there and kind of figure out how to do it! That’s part of what makes CrossFit fun. So the team event was a relay where you couldn’t move to the next station until the person ahead of you had cleared. It started with to shoulder to overheads at 95 pounds (I remember a time maybe 8 months ago when my 1 rep max was about 110 and on this occasion I did 14 in a row before I failed to lock out my arms and dropped the bar), 20 box jumps onto a 60cm box, then a 50 foot traversal of the monkey bars, 50 double unders, and 500m row on a stationary bike, then repeat this process in reverse. So I was all happy until I hit the double-unders which are a big weakness of mine and these just took me FOREVER, during which my teammates were all waiting for me and I knew it. It was very frustrating. Then I got on the bike which just about killed me and before I knew it I had to get back on the bike again. OMG I have never felt so close to my lactic acid threshold since 400m races in high school. By the time I got back to that damn jump rope I could barely jump an inch in the air, so luckily we hit the time cap pretty quickly.

After this our team and the team from the Cayman Islands (the Latin America Regional winners) were hauled off for drug testing. Because it makes so much sense to drug test the two last place teams. Sadly the team that won the Asia Regional couldn’t afford to make it to the Games. Well, maybe next year. So this was my first experience with drug testing and according to Rika it was a bit of a dodgy experience but since we weren’t gunning for first place we didn’t really complain. But what I was upset about is that my biceps were cramping badly after that event. It was because of the monkey bars: going from bar to bar wasn’t a problem, but grip was: not due to strength but due to the fact that the bars were slippery so you had to get to the next bar and grab it, HARD, to make sure you didn’t fall off (I actually did fall off about 2/3 of the way through). The end result, apparently, is bad cramping. After my drug test I had one of the medics massage my arms, then Chris made me go see one of the massage therapists who had this cool but painful massage gun. He ordered me to go eat a banana. Lessons for the weather: bananas and salt.

The competition now over for us, we could sit back to fully enjoy the individual competition (heavy front squats, the stationary bike, and the monkey bars), before heading home to collapse. Oh, wait, I mean drink a little bit of alcohol and then collapse. This was preceded by a quite amusing trip to the package store where the patrons took one look at our three bodies (you do tend to get looks if you wear a CrossFit outfit around town, imagine that). The next morning, Rika, Janie, and I woke up early to go watch the competition and I’m so glad we did because it was amazing. The highlight of the morning individual competition involved pushing a heavily-loaded sled around. Some of the lighter athletes like Kristen Clever and Chris Spealler had a hell of a hard time with it.

Then the team competition which consisted of a relay where each team member had to do a benchmark workout before the next team member could start. This was criticized after for being a boring event because the affiliates could do those workouts whenever they wanted in their gym, whereas stuff like sled pushes and monkey bars and ocean swims can really most easily only be done at a competition like the CrossFit Games. But while it may have been lacking from a creativity standpoint from this perspective, from a spectator perspective this was off the hook to watch. The leadoff girl from CrossFit New England did more consecutive ring dips faster than I have ever seen anyone, Mel absolutely destroyed Fran (Mel is one of my favourite CrossFitters: she taught me the kipping pullup and this weekend she not only remembered my face but also my name. She’s a super sweet girl, a hell of a competitor, and watching her do Fran is something I’ll never forget!). On the flip side, one girl got absolutely stuck on the ring dips and destroyed the chances of her entire team. That was very emotional, even from the stands. Similar when the leadoff girl from CrossFit Fort Vancouver (last year’s winners), got into trouble on the ring dips and it was pretty clear at that point that CFNE was going to run away with it.

OK I will say, watching anyone do 150 wall balls for time is boring as sh*t. Why they ended the relay with THAT escapes me.

The afternoon events were the individual final three events, which was actually just one set of exercises. The first time through you had 3 minutes to see how far you could get, the second time through, 6 minutes, and the final time through you had to complete all the exercises for time. It was rowing, wall balls, toes to bar, box jumps, sumo deadlift high pulls, burpees, ground to overhead, and then a sled pull. What was interesting about this to watch was how the wall balls really kind of did Kristen Clever (last year’s champ) in. She wasn’t very good at them, and it slowed her way down having that early on in the sequence for three out of nine events for the weekend. On the men’s side, Pat Barber took the 3- and 6-minute heats super slowly, then the Manimal came out. Unfortunately from the stands we didn’t have a good understanding at all of overall standings, or how places in these events were impacting overall standings.

Actually in general this is probably the biggest failing of the event from a spectator standpoint, but it gives them something to work on for next year. I am having a hard time recalling whether or not last year’s online stream was any better. I somehow think not. I think some of this was up on the monitors but what is generally referred to as play-by-play (vs colour commentary) was lacking. A lot of others have commented about this, so I won’t belabour the point here.

Afterwards the boys and Mona went shopping for jeans and I went to watch the award ceremonies with Laa-Laa and Susan. This was about as expected. I had a bit of a moment in this process when the guy from Reebok went to give the prizes to the male and female winners (Rich Froning and Annie Thorisdottir, respectively) and he was again thanking the CrossFit community, including Coach. Coach is the founder of CrossFit, named Greg Glassman. He’s a bit of a controversial figure, because he’s abrasive and no longer CrossFits so he’s like this out of shape middle aged man. But at this point the Reebok guy gestures towards the boxes and out comes coach and up stands everyone in the audience to catch a glimpse of this guy. Including me. Then I started laughing and said something along the lines of “Oh my God this is such a cult … there is our cult leader!”

After the award ceremony Reebok had sponsored a (non-paleo) dinner in which we partook (the cornbread with maple butter was awesome!), then went home and got prettied up for the SICFIT party at a club in downtown. That was a bit insane. I did meet some cool girls from one of the other affiliate teams, and a guy who was a firefighter from I think Washington State. I was much more interested in talking to him about the scariest situation he’d encountered in his career than I was in drinking (still dehydrated I guess), and I was very happy when the time to depart arrived.

And I am not kidding when I say that the drive home was more enjoyable than the entire time at the club because our cab driver spoke about as much English as I did Spanish (actually that’s not true, my Spanish was better). I obviously had more to drink than I thought because I was realizing the next day how sorely lacking my vocabulary had been the night before, which is just sad. But it was great: first we took a long detour to get food for the boys, then the cab broke down on the side of the 405 (when the cab driver says “oh no” it’s never a good sign) …. Anyway it was literally a laugh riot or at least that’s how I found it. Even better was the conversation with the cabbie who was asking me if Chris was Mexican (he has dark skin, see, although he doesn’t actually look Mexican), so I said no, no, he was from Sweden. Then he asked if I was Mexican (because my Spanish was so good, obviously).

And that was pretty much our weekend! As I said in my post on our team blog, all this experience does is make me want to be better. I made some rookie mistakes and paid for it, although I was not lacking in focus; so while I’m disappointed by some of my results I am not disappointed in the effort I put in.

The takeaways:
• This year’s Games seemed to bias towards strength. Strength is never a bad thing and we need more of it. We’re just not as strong as these other teams which we knew but being confronted with it is a whole other matter.
• I need to practice my weaknesses. And not sprain my ankle again. In a way, this injury gave me a bit of a mental “out” for the areas where I did poorly (it was only a few weeks ago that I could climb the rope again because of the pressure on the ankle from the ankle wrap, and similarly as recently as 2 weeks before the Games I couldn’t even do double-unders reliably). But I don’t accept that: excuses are just that; there is a world of difference between what you CAN do and what you DO do.
• I/we need to practice those Olympic lifts more.
• We need more competition experience. Looking forward to the United We Stand team competition in Durban at the end of October!
• I need to make a plan regarding the weather because my body does NOT handle heat well when I’m not accustomed to it.
• Renting a house is definitely the way to go. We could cook our own food, and relax in a more chill environment than a hotel room.
• Having a team manager/coach along, if possible, would be ideal. Coordinating lots of people at once is always a bit hectic, and taking that responsibility away from a competitor would only be a good thing.

Our team managed to get quite a good bit of airtime in the live streaming broadcast, at least for the events I participated in. Between that and the fact that I didn’t pack much training gear so I wound up wearing around my numbered tights in the following weeks, I sure did get my 15 minutes of fame with people coming up to me, asking how it was to compete (and some of them claimed even to have seen me in the stream or on ESPN3). Hey it was one childhood dream of mine to be a professional athlete and be on ESPN. This is as close as I’m gonna get, so I enjoyed it.

These were for my team blog post but repeated here because, well, it amuses me to do so, and really the only good quote from the weekend was Susan’s “Not all cults give you results like these.” (true…):
• Most amusing celeb statement: “Why are they making us do stupid shit?” – Pat Barber
• Most un-paleo celeb statement: “I’m thinking about having one [a beer] right now.” – Kristen Clever
• Best t-shirt seen at the competition: “My girlfriend is stronger than you.”
• Second best: “Don’t use a machine. Become one.”
• Most sexist comment fit to print: “Don’t worry, the girl saved you.”
• Best hair: Taylor Richards-Lindsay
• Funniest one-liner: “Is that peanut butter?” “No, it’s almond butter. Peanut butter’s not paleo.”
• Best quote related to a bad rumour: “Do you really have to ride a bull?” (there were rumours that the team competition on Day 2 would involve riding a mechanical bull … don’t ask …)
• Most amusing pickup line: “I don’t give two f*cks about your Fran time. Mine’s 3:10.” (I would have challenged him to 50 burpees for time right then and there but I wasn’t wearing the right outfit….)


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