It is Thursday afternoon and the first day of the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games is over. As Dave Castro promised, it was a very, very difficult day.
It started with 10 laps of a 1200 meter criterium bike race with all 40 men starting at once. Going into this event I was seated 16th after my time trial on Tuesday. The plan of my race was to stick with the main group of athletes in the first few laps, even if it meant expending a little extra energy. Often in these races, the top cyclists will try to break away early and maintain their lead. I wanted to ensure I was with that group, and once I was with that group, it would be easier to stay with them if I could draft behind some of the stronger cyclists.
This worked quite well, in fact, because I was able to start with the first 15 or so cyclists, I learned afterwards that after the first difficult corner, many athletes behind me were caught up in a bit of a crash. One of them was my fellow Canadian friend, Patrick Vellner, whose bike basically fell apart, and for the remaining nine laps he had to use a standard issued bicycle that didn’t fit him very well, at all.
Over the next few laps, positions changed, and I was mostly sitting in around 15th position. Ben Smith eventually caught up to our group of cyclists which were about six strong. Ahead of us, by maybe 30 meters was main group of athletes leading the pack also about six athletes in that group. It was on the seventh lap where Ben Smith yelled to our group and said “Guys! We got to catch that main pack!” We were all invigorated by this and started to make the charge to catch to the main pack of athletes.
It only took us a quarter of a lap and there were all of a sudden about 12 of us in the race for the top spots. As expected, I think in the last two laps, Adrian Mundwilder pulled ahead as he’s a very experienced cyclist. I think it was James Newbury that was able to keep pace with him for a second place finish. I made a kick in the final lap, and was able to pass a few athletes, but it wasn’t enough to pass the two Europeans, Aegidius and Gudmundsson. I think in hindsight the only thing I would have changed was to make a few positional changes in Lap 8 and 10 to bolster my ranking leading into the final lap push.
I haven’t been checking the leaderboard, but I think I finished around 9th place, which I was very happy with.
The race as a whole was a lot of fun. I was glad I wasn’t one of the athletes who took a spill. I would definitely consider doing a race like that again, but only if I had a little more experience under my belt taking tight corners fast.
We had about an hour break before the next event. I stretched out my legs so they would remain useful for the remainder of the day. I began warming up for Event 2 which was 30 Ring Muscle Up’s for time. I wasn’t very stressed about this event as there wasn’t much I could do other than execute my gameplan to the best of my abilities. My hope was to do 12 unbroken, rest, 10, rest, and the final 8. However, once I began my first set, I quickly realized that probably would not happen as my triceps felt fatigued early. I still did the 12 unbroken, easily, after that I ensured I kicked out of the dip as aggressively as possible with my legs so my triceps didn’t completely give out on me. After those first 12 reps, I believe did another 7 reps, leaving 11 more which I broke up into sets of 5, 3, and 3.
I was fortunate on that event to have 0 no reps as throughout the year I’ve been practicing keeping all my repetitions to a high standard. After the event, I heard many athletes complaining about receiving a few no reps which definitely impacted their score.
I finished with a time just under 2:30 which I was very happy with. Any workout that is a single domain, simple gymnastics test, is usually not a great workout for me. To finish in decent standing was a great sign that my training has been paying off.
We had a quick turnaround time before our next event which was the CrossFit Total: a quick succession of lifts to determine who is the strongest athlete in the field. We had three attempts at the Back Squat in a four minute window, moving directly into three attempts at the Strict Press in a four minute window, and again three attempts at a Deadlift in a four minute window for 12 minutes of competition.
Again, a brute strength max lift event like this is definitely not an ideal event for me. In fact, since I’ve started working with my coach, Raw Strength and Conditioning, these three lifts have been of a primary focus for the past three and a half years. I’ve always struggled in the Back Squat and the Deadlift due to not having much experience with leg strength training in my youth and we work a lot on the Strict Press to improve my Hand Stand Push Ups. I didn’t have much pressure on me for this event knowing I wouldn’t be close to winning it. I was excited to prove that all the last few years of hard work had hopefully paid off. I had a cheat-sheet with me with the list that I wanted to hit, depending on how I felt. I had a worst case scenario lifts, along with a likely set of lifts, and best case set of lifts. I used my best case scenario because in the warm up area, everything was feeling very strong.
On the Back Squat, I believe I hit 435 lbs, which was a PR by about 28 lbs. This has been a personal best waiting to happen for some time, but we haven’t pushed the one rep max load in this lift for a while, focusing more on improving the quality of my squat and the speed of reps in and around the mid-300 lbs range. The bar felt really great on the competition floor. Of the three lifts, I think I probably could have lifted a little more in the Back Squat, but was still very happy with the number I put up.
The four minute windows felt very rushed while I was on the floor. My unfamiliarity with loading the bar that heavy on a Squat and a Deadlift definitely became an issue as I struggled to figure out on the fly to figure out exactly what was loaded on the bar. I was fortunate to have a very good judge, who was vocal with me and helped me pick the plates needed to hit the weight I wanted to hit.
On the next station was the Strict Press, I opened at 190 lbs, then jumped to 200 lbs, and finished at 210 lbs, for a 6 lbs personal best. Again, I was very happy with this, and I don’t think I could have lifted more than 210 lbs.
In training, I always perform my Strict Presses with a very rigid upper body to help reinforce quality movement for Strict Hand Stand Push Ups. However, once I hit 210, my mid back definitely arched in order to complete the rep, and I would definitely do it again if I needed to.
When we were briefed on this event, there were a lot of questions about the movement standards of the Strict Press and what would be allowed. I definitely was not flirting within the potential no rep territory. Many other athletes were trying confer an advantage by trying to use some momentum from their lower body, although, I don’t think in most cases it worked.
By the time we got to the Deadlift bar, I was definitely very excited to lift but I think the two proceeding max lifts had taken a bit of a toll on my central nervous system.
I opened at, I believe, 485 lbs which moved well but was definitely heavy, and then I set a personal best at 505 lbs. The positioning of my back on this lift was not as strong as I would usually keep it in training, but the bar still moved with a decent amount of speed so I was able to continue the rep.
By the time I loaded the bar properly for my third attempt, I had a very small window of time to complete the rep within the four minutes. I did attempt to pick the bar up off the ground, but my hips, back and shoulders continued to rise as the bar did not budge. I left it at a personal best for 505 lbs, for a combined total of 1150 lbs in the CrossFit Total. I was very excited to finish the event with three official personal bests and walk off unscathed as I believe one of our competitors damaged his knee on the squat and was unable to continue this weekend.
Next, I went backstage and we had another hour and a half plus until we needed to be marshalled for the row event. A lot of the other athletes were very happy with the lifts they hit as well in the CrossFit Total. Fraser and Vellner both hit some PR’s, as did many of the other athletes. It was a fun event for everyone I think.
For the next hour or so, everyone started to get their goody bags together to prepare for the marathon on the rower. Everyone had something and some people had more than others to take with them on the competition floor. There were camel packs, lots of water bottles, snacks, towels, a variety of hand grips. A lot of people were using Vaseline on various parts of their body to ensure that no chaffing or blisters occurred during the nearly four hour event.
I brought with me a lot of things recommended by both my coach and nutritionist to help my performance. I had about 2.5L of fluid to take at regular intervals which included electrolytes along with lots of simple carbohydrate gels and snacks, a towel for my seat, I pre-Vaselined my armpits so on the rower strokes I wouldn’t chafe for the nearly half a million strokes we would be doing. Throughout the row I did also noticed that my one heel felt like it was starting to blister, so I would stop occasionally and try to put some Vaseline on my heel in between strokes. Also with me, I had a yellow sheet of paper with some rowing queues I wanted to keep in mind as the row went on. It had my strategy notes regarding the paces I intended to hold at each section of the race and it had the time markers at which I would take my fluids and snacks.
These served as mentally beneficial as well as physically because every five to ten minutes I would usually have something to look forward to whether that was a small drink of water, or something to chew on.
I was surprised at how little some of the athletes drank during the row. I’d be curious to see how that affects their recovery over the next few days.
And I say curious, but what I really mean is, I don’t think it’s going to help them very much. Lol.
The race started, or so we thought, but there was a slight malfunction in the system and so a few of the rower monitors were not counting the meters as we stroked. There was about a 30 minute delay, during which I was mainly gossiping with Mathew Fraser and Patrick Vellner about our other competitors. We also went over to the DJ to suggest he turn down the bass slightly as we didn’t want our ears to be ringing at the end of the event. DJ LuckyLou graciously accepted our request.
Once the row started, it was surprisingly not too difficult to stay engaged. I grew up swimming which can also be pretty boring, a monotonous sport, and it reminded me a lot of that. Every few minutes I’d find something else to focus on, whether that be a technical aspect of my stroke, or doing some calculations on how far ahead the next few competitors were to me, or even thinking about some of the events that they had planned for us next Friday. The one thing I always ensured was that I stayed on the pace I had set for myself, which was to start at 2:00 per 500 meters and gradually increase over the course of the race.
On the rowing screen we could see our current pace per stroke, but also our average per 500 meter pace. I set a promise to myself that as that averaged 500 meter pace quickened, ever so slightly, maybe every 10 minutes, that I would never allow it to get any slower.
Pretty early in the race after about the first 5 kilometers, or 20 minutes, I was sitting in or around 12th place, which was a comforting fact knowing I could easily keep that pace and based on the athletes listed behind me in the ranking it seemed that most of them would be incapable of catching me as well. So I held my pace until the halfway mark at which point I reassessed the field and decided to ensure to make a push for 5th place position, or better.
Every few minutes, every couple thousand meters, I’d try to pick off the athlete in front of me. Stroke by stroke, like a very slow, painful and boring Atari video game that you could see how meters ahead the next competitor was to you, and how many meters behind another competitor was to you. So, I’d transfix on that, until I’d pass them and ensure that they were unable to pass me again.
As the race wore along like this, it eventually got to a point where Cole Sager had done something similar as had Patrick Vellner. Sager was sitting in third position, I was in fourth, Vellner was in fifth, with about 80 meters between each athlete either way. There was approximately three kilometers left, or more.
Vellner was sitting beside me and I asked him something along the lines of “are you going to make a move on me?” and he said “no, I think I’m good where I am” and I said “good!”
He mentioned that Roy Gamboa was behind him by a few meters so he was going to keep an eye on him physically and his monitor to make sure he wasn’t making a push. Otherwise, he was content with a fifth place position.
I said that was fine with me, and we would hold the same pace we were holding which at that point was about 1:59 per 500 meter pace. Between us, I think there was some mutual respect that if Vellner tried to make an aggressive push, he knew (just like I knew) that I could likely match it and we could both wear ourselves out to likely stay in the same position, or potentially he could pass me for a few more points on the leaderboard. However, with that potential reward, there was a lot of risk, as over the course of the 2.5 hours our bodies were definitely starting to break down. I could feel my legs and arms cramping.
We continued at this pace for another five minutes or so. I wanted to see if Cole Sager would start to fade before I talked to him. But it appeared he was going to be capable of holding the pace that he held. He was a few rowers to the right of me, so I had to yell at him a few times to get his attention. Once I did, I told him I wasn’t coming for him and we just needed to hold 1:59 until the end. The look on his face was one of extreme gratitude, as I’m sure he was thinking in his mind “Is Brent going to make a push in these last two kilometers to overtake me for third?
As the race wore on, the first male athlete finished, then the second, then the cameraman turned their focus to Cole Sager, myself, and Vellner and started to rally up the crowd as they put it there was a close race for third. I smiled as I knew there was not, as we had already predetermined our placings in regard to self preservation for the rest of the weekend.
The event finished, I stood up to wave to the crowd, and proceeded to lay on the floor as both glute muscles were beginning to cramp severely. The rest of my body recovered quite well, however, the repetitive flexion and contraction of those muscles as well as sitting non-stop for 2.5+ hours definitely took its toll. After laying on the floor for a while, I was able to waddle myself out of the stadium and I got home to begin the process of recovering for the next day.
Thanks for reading my blog post. Tonight, there is an athlete opening ceremony, otherwise I have a free day to rest, relax and prepare for the upcoming real competition which starts Friday. I’m excited for the next three days of competition. Now that the event is underway, I’m very,very confident that I will have a very successful weekend that I can be proud of.