Monday, May 25, 2009

The perfect storm

It's hard to imagine worse prep for the qualifiers. Sometimes it felt like I was maintaining a decent level of conditioning with the workouts I was able to squeeze in around work, but the dramatic drop-off in workouts in May, while I fought to meet my May 22 deadline at work, led to a humbling performance at the Qualifiers. I suffer no illusion that I would have climbed up the leaderboards significantly. Those were some brutally hard workouts, but it would have been nice to go in at my best and see what I could do. Still, I learned a ton about my training, but more to the point, the entire weekend was an amazing experience. Did I mention that I got crushed out there?

I was super nervous when I arrived Saturday morning. I watched the women complete the thruster-burpee workout and was suprpised to see almost none of them trying to jerk the weight, despite a number of them struggling with the 95# thrusters. I went to the warmup area and practiced my thruster-jerk and was happy with how natural it felt and how comfortable the Rx'd 135# weight felt. As I said on Saturday, it felt pretty damn heavy after a while.

I was in the men's first heat, so while I had a chance to say hello to a couple of familiar faces, I hadn't caught up with half the people I knew there. It was therefore a pleasant surpise to hear folks cheering for me from the sidelines. It's funny how this sort of support works. In a pure metcon, like the row, I'd hear somebody yell, "Dig deep, Patrick. It's gonna hurt, but you can do it," and I'd dig deep and soldier on; but when I heard a coach shout "Get on the bar, Patrick," I could squat clean it fine, but if my shoulder muscles weren't ready to lock it out, all the encouragement in the world wouldn't help - at least not in terms of objective performance. It definitely helped me push through the pain and put aside the frustration of yet another failed rep. The funny part about this is that aside from the judges whose athletes didn't show who in front of me cheering me on and Sean Manseau ("Dammit" owner of Pioneer Valley CF), whose voice I recognized and focused on for cues, I had no idea who was cheering me on until I collapsed on my back in the shade by the edge of the cordoned-off workout area and looked up and saw Samantha Aurelio waving and the rest of the CF Tribe tribe standing there cheering me on. It was very cool to have such a supportive crew of virtual friends materialize to offer support when most needed.

After recovering from the pain, I spent the rest of that first workout cheering on people I knew - most often yelling as they stared at the ground before hitting their next burpee, "Rest on the bar," or "Lie down and stand up." I didn't need to shout this to Joe Celso, who upon finishing his last thruster would dump the bar, turn 90 degrees and just drop into his first burpee. His 7 rounds + 5 thrusters and 5 burpees won his heat. Particularly impressive was how he dug down for the last two thrusters as time was running down, after having been doing singles for several rounds, because he knew that if he dumped the bar, he'd never get in any burpees. That one double rep was good for 6 reps on his final score. It was also neat to watch a verteran of two CF Games, Dale Saran (CFHQ and formerly of CF Veritas in RI), pace himself - checking his watch after every round and patiently waiting to start-in again. Needless to say, he put up some solid numbers over the weekend.

The row was intense. It turned the competition on it's head. Some folks who were beasts of the barbells were humbled by those C2 contraptions. It was only 7 minute or so, but it was an every-placing counts format. With times clustering together as they inevitably did on such a simple workout, a loss of a second on the clock could mean a loss of five places in the standings. As a result, everybody had to dig for all they had. The format with the judges holding up color-coded cards as their athlete passed the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, and 1750m mark made the event a spectator favorite. Plus, because there was no heavy equipment flying about, everybody was able to crowd in and really make the competition rock.

I already described my experience in the row. I gave it everything, as the post-workout picture on yesterday's post will attest. (Thanks for catching me at my best, Samantha.) Maybe it's a case of Stockholm Syndrome, but after she mercilessly coached me through row, Erin Davidson is one of my favorite CF Trainers.
Inspired by her contribution to my suffering, I lent the same support to a few folks I'd met in my CF travels, usually emphasizing the long stroke when the suffering really kicked in during the 3rd 500, and positively screaming a stroke countdown for the last 200m. (It was quite odd being so enthusiastically thanked for screaming in someone's ear, but that's the kind of energy required to finish an erg test strong.) My voice is almost as thrashed as my quads, back, traps, and triceps right now.

After the row, there was a barbecue, which created a stunning contrast to the noise of competition. I walked into the Court Club lounge where maybe 50 folks had gone to eat and stay out of the rain (which thankfully lasted for all of 5 minutes), and people were so intent on stuffing their faces that you could have heard a pin drop. There was a live band that played off and on through the rowing workout and barbecue, which made for a fun atmosphere, although when they busted out Eye of the Tiger for the third or fourth time, I decided that the band didn't quite get CrossFitters. I'm just glad they didn't play Superstition when I was on the rowers, or I might have shimmied my ass right off the slider. Talk about messing with a sensible stroke rate.

Sunday's workout was the bomb. It blew up the competition and was an obvious test of work capacity. Heavy cleans and C2B is a lethal combination. I had thought they'd go better with running than KB swings, but as it was, it was brutal enough and I was thankful not to have to shuffle about the parking lot between trips to the barbell and pullup bar. For the first six heats, hardly any of the men finished, and I'm pretty sure that only 6 women finished at all. As a result, one woman jumped from 23rd overall to qualifying for Aromas. No worries about an inappropriately difficult workout, however. There's little question that the women who finished this workout were the fittest of the lot. The demands were incredibly high, but the workout was composed of fundamental CrossFit skills and those who got through this brutality will represent the Northeast well.

The men's heats started to get really exciting with three heats to go. In fact, by then, enough folks were finishing that it actually looked like a race, rather than a contest of survival, and that's when I knew the organizers had developed a winning workout. In Jason "Rhabdo" Kapan's heat, we witnessed another amazing display of pacing. Just about everybody hit the pullup bars at the same time in the round of 10, but Jason was still working his cleans patiently - clean, dump, set, clean, dump, reset. By the round of 8, he was in the lead - his beautifully efficient butterfly kip gaining him tons of time. However, even he couldn't maintain a butterfly kip throughout the workout, and he wasn't exactly enthusiastically running to get to the pullup bars at the end. (Of the ~180 competitors, only Lauren Erwin from CF Milford, who won this workout for the women and finished 2nd overall, managed to keep running from station to station at the end. The rest of us would move extra slow to whatever exercise it was that we most dreaded.) Jason set the time to beat, being the first to go under 12 minutes for this workout, and he was appropriately fired-up afterwards. His Guerilla Fitness crew was staying at my hotel and said that he was extremely but quietly disappointed in having what was for him a bad day Saturday. His comment after the workout was that he realized before going out there that all the pressure was off. He could just walk in there and do his workout, and he put in an awesome performance. (I think it was the third best time overall in the end.)

The finals of this event were insane. Judges were given cards to hold up as their athlete got to the rounds of 7, 5, 3, 2, and 1. As before, the fastest out of the gate in the rounds of 10 and 9 didn't take the day for either the women or the men.

As an aside, that first round was of the workout was crazy. They had constructed this pullup bar contraption, which when laden with 16 competitors agressively kipping at the same time, shook like crazy. There were a couple reps where my chest didn't hit the bar, not because I hadn't pulled high enough or hard enough, but because the bar I was pulling on had moved a couple of inches during my kip. My judge either had mercy on me or I came close enough that my shirt made contact. (He wasn't so merciful when I truly missed a rep.) I actually sped up my second round, so I could get on the pullup bars at a less popular time relative to the folks on my end of the contraption. (That strategy may have backfired a little.)

Sorry, back to the finals. The women's heat was neck-and-neck all the way among the top three overall finishers. By the time they were at the round of 7, Heather Keenan (CF New England) was in the lead, then Stacy Kroon (CF Boston) passed her, then Lauren came on in the later rounds. They all finished within ~30 seconds of one another and the emotion of the moment as they all completed the workout was truly inspiring. They were the top three going into the finals, and they each knew that their finish would send them to the Games.

The men's heat was harder to follow - only becase there were so many more guys who kept going strong into the middle rounds. Of the 15 in the final heat, only one didn't finish. The rest of them handled the weight and the C2Bs most capably. It was obvious that the earlier workouts had already selected an elite crew. As the round of 3 came around, it was clear that it was a race between James Hobart (CF Boston) and Brad Posnanski (displaced, I assume, from CF Invictus). They were within seconds of one another, but James's light weight on the pullups was the difference. His form never wavered on the cleans, so he was able to keep pace moving the heavy bar and stay just ahead of Brad. Brad, incidentally, is a complete beast. I watched him during the first workout, and he was doing strict burpees with a proper pushup, and still put up better than 9 rounds. He was tied for 1st going into the last round and ended up tied for points with James Hobart, who won on the tiebreaker, which was based on the final workout time. I was also thoroughly impressed with Dave Lipsom (CF Gotham), who came into the final workout in 1st place but was clearly suffering on the c2B pullups as the workout wore on. He fought through, however, finishing after most men in the final heat but finishing well enough to earn himself 4th place overall and a trip to Aromas.

The intensity these athletes mustered both in the arena and out-of-view doing their training was amazing. The effort put out by all the competitors, from those who tossed a 155# barbell around like it was a plaything to the woman who didn't have a kip and grinded-out deadhang C2B pullups in the final workout - literally spending minutes in isometric contraction trying to finish the last few inches of each rep, was truly inspiring. I made a bunch of new friends, connected with old ones, and have about a dozen affiliates that I now absolutely must visit. As poorly as my training ended up going leading into the event, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.


Dominic Beardwell said...

Fantastic Patrick, I really enjoyed reading this report on your qualifier. Sounds like there was a tremendous atmosphere there with a great crossfit community.

Great work buddy!

Bill said...

Outstanding reporting Patrick!! Thank you.

Jay Ashman said...

Pat, you did great. I wish I could have made it but I HAD to work that weekend with the grand opening of the summer bar... as far as me competing, I would have done VERY well, but I wasn't 100% from the recent injury, so next year.

I'm proud of you for going and doing your best, even though you know you didn't train like you should have, you still did a great job.

That means, next year you can improve... so come back better and kick some ass, bro.

Because I will be there for SURE and I'll be making sure you do your best as well.

Samantha said...

Are you a writer? How did I not know of this blog before? Anyway. Amazing writing. Amazing post. Amazing effort! So happy to have been the smiling waving face you saw after passing out in the grass haha. The whole experience was incredible and you did nothing less than phenomenal. The workouts were ungodly awful and when I find it in me to tackle ANY of those 3, I'll let you know how badly I cried.
Time to train for me -- I'll be competing next year, for sure :)

It was a pleasure meeting you! And I think I have a few more pics if you want those!

Happy resting!

gregg arsenuk said...

Patrick, Great work as always. Good seeing you and congrats to everyone at CF Boston for turning out fierce competitors.

Jenn said...

Great report, Patrick. Sounds like you left it all out there - be proud of yourself!