Monday, August 7, 2017

August 5, 2017 – Refuge Barbell Strongman

I’m really not sure where to start. I generally have a good idea on what I want to talk about after a contest with my write-ups. I feel like talking purely about the contest without context of the preceding events won’t adequately illustrate my mindset and feelings. This one had a lot more riding on it comparatively with any other contest or competition (across all activities I’ve participated in) and I don’t mean in a monetary sense. My last competition was almost 18 months ago. I had ended that competition on a high note and was looking forward to the rest of the year. This was going to be my best year. But two months later, following stupid programming, I ended up injuring my back with light weight in my garage. I’ve had injuries before like this and usually a month would be needed for me to get back to normal. But it wasn’t getting better. It impacted my life to where all I could do was go to work, watch tv, eat and sleep. It hurt to stand for a few minutes. If something fell on the floor, I had to decide if it was important enough to pick up. I was able to read a lot of books and watch a lot of tv shows. This is not to say I didn’t try to come back to training in some capacity. But my attempts seemed to reinjure, even when it was upper body work only. My lack of progress resulted in my previous strength coach dropping me without warning. Medications to reduce the swelling in my spine (along with nerve medication) only provided temporary relief. The nerve medication made me sleepy but provided no relief. I got misinformation with my MRI. I was told it would be available within 24hrs. That ended up being about 3 weeks with daily calls. I was initially told there was no issue and that it might be in my head (over the phone) and then I got to see the doctor and was told it was bulged disc. I was told there was nothing but rest and I may not be back to normal in a year or so. I cried in the office (as they shooed me out for the next patient) and got depressed (more so than usual). Had a lot of dark thoughts. Listening to the same song on repeat for days at a time. Falling into destructive habits to try and grasp some kind of control of my life. Really thinking about what was important. Standing at my brother’s wedding as one of the groomsman was one of the most painful experiences I’ve had. Just standing hurt me. I couldn’t hold my 18 month old nephew or pick up our cat. I had to have family do my yard work for me. I got two injections in my spine and that did help a little but not fully. I finally got a second opinion and was given an injection in my shoulder (I had ended up doing something from my attempts to come back plus my inactivity) and prescribed physical therapy (no one before would approve it). This seemed to help a lot. But it wasn’t without pitfalls as I relapsed once. Then the insurance wouldn’t cover it and the PT didn’t want me to be released until I was completely pain free. I saw the doctor one more time and he approved me to go back to training light. This lead me to get back to training that finally lead up the contest. Over 33 weeks of training to get back. Makes sense when you consider it was almost 7 months of nothing before that.

So why this show? Why Kentucky? It just lined up with everything. It was announced well in advance. I was honestly looking at every contest east of the Mississippi River. Talking it over with my folks and looking at each contest with pros and cons. For my first contest back, I probably would have preferred something more local but that wasn’t an issue for me. Two weeks out, I was playing the events over in my head when I went for a walk and right before I went to sleep. Every ache gave me pause. One false move mindset was there as I knew I wasn’t invulnerable and pushing it could lead to something giving. I was finding inspiration and motivation in ordinary things to keep going. Read something in the news and see a new way of thinking about an issue. Even watching television and movies (from House of Cards to Cars 3) I was thinking about how to rethink my outlook. Trying to get it so that I wasn’t overly nervous and anxious leading up to the contest. The biggest help/distraction was reading a manga called “Hajime no Ippo” which is about boxing. It was enough to get my mind right and I didn’t feel stressed out like I usually do leading up a contest. Left work Thursday with my dad and the long trip to Kentucky began. Lots of interesting folks at the few stops made along the way.

Showed up the day before at the venue to weigh-in. Derek Stone, the promoter was setting things up and I talked his ear off. Had seen him in person since he won his LW pro card. I weighed in at 284lbs. Definitely the most I’ve weighed for a contest. This was after about five fish filets, mac and cheese, grits and vegetables so I’m probably a little lighter on an empty stomach. I walked around the venue and looked at the equipment and asked my usual questions. I was told there were to be at least five heavyweights competing so that meant top two would qualify for Nats. I had been worried when the number had dropped and then no one was signing up. It didn’t matter how many showed up, I was still going to put in my best effort. Hung out at the hotel a bit when my nephew video called me. He wanted to know if I would pull a truck tomorrow. I told him no, that I would hopefully be lifting one. He then showed me how to pull a truck with a toy dump truck. He didn’t have a harness so it wasn’t really moving anywhere so he eventually sat on it and pushed with his legs. That is certainly one way to do it. Definitely helped me relax a bit. At BBQ and went to bed.

Time zone difference was a little disorientating. Kept my watch at EST. Felt like I was a time traveler. Managed to get my breakfast down without dry heaving which is a PR for me day of contest haha. Contest venue was buzzing. As the place was essentially a metal box, no cell reception inside so you had to go outside to update. Real time scoring was going to be posted throughout the day. They also advised they would be moving quick, expecting things to be done in less than five hours. Three lanes going at a time. Did some measuring of equipment (I have a problem) and tested out the lanes to see how my traction would be. Walked around the building at brisk pace for 5 minutes to warm-up and then did a few of the mobility drills to get warm. Rules were explained for the events and short prayer was given before the event. Six heavyweights in total for this show. Time to put up or shut up.

The first event was a loading race. 75 seconds to carry and load three implements. Had a 250lbs keg, 250lbs power keg and a 250lbs stone of steel. All had to be carried 40’ and loaded over a 48” bar. Most shows start with a press event but the promoter wanted to have things start with a medley like WSM usually does. I had only practiced the medley twice but had been building the parts up slowly over the training cycle. I had no doubts I would finish this one and I was expecting to be pushing for first. I had been working on my footwork and transitions after seeing how sluggish I looked at my last contest on the medley. While waiting to go, another heavy weight competitor asked me if I was a heavy weight. Guess I’m not as imposing a figure as I thought. I ended up being second to last to go and I saw quite a few guys fly with them. I was getting nervous. Pressure was on. Horn went and I pulled the keg up explosively. My rehband belt came undone and I bolted with the keg too far out in front of me. And down it went. While it only lasted a second or two, it didn’t feel like it to me. It felt like 33 weeks. Had to shove all those doubts back in and get that keg back up. It felt three times heavier now with my momentum gone. My breathing was off and I felt like I was going to pass out by the time I chucked it over the bar. I ran back to the next implement. I never had a chance to mess around with the power keg before. I figured it was a keg so it wouldn’t be tricky. Maybe it was the drop but it felt tougher than I would have liked picking it up off the ground into my arms. Just felt off, like thinking you’re about to bite into an apple and it turns out it is a potato. But once in my arms, it felt fine and I ran with it and tossed it over. Last one, stone of steel. This was the one giving some people trouble. With how the scoring was, no distance was being given, you had to finish the implements to get time (split times given). I was a little shook from the first keg still so I was little hesitant grabbing a hold of the stone of steel. But I got it secure and “power walked” (no other way to describe it) and loaded that over the bar. Judge told me I was in second with 36.00 seconds. That time held up. I was about 3.5 seconds slower than first place but .10 seconds faster than third. Definitely thinking about how things could have been different. But I have to say the guys ahead of me pressured me to gun it. But off to a good start with a second place.

Up next was the circus dumbbell clean and press. 180lbs implement and a 60 second time limit. I had been training this and working on getting my issues that cost me points last time (feet not in line). I was expecting five going into this from training but I had doubts. My legs were still shaking from the medley as I warmed up. I had also been expecting these to be longer dumbbells but they ended up being shorted with big bells. I did singles to warm-up with the lighter dumbbells and did the pause and hold style like I’ve been doing. Last warm-up was the contest weight for a single clean to the shoulder to get the feel. Felt off but pressable. Getting 2nd in the loading race, I got to see a couple people go. When it was my turn, five was the number to beat. The commands were given and I went to work. I popped the first one up quick and just about beat the down signal for a warning. It was more from jitters than anything. Went touch and go for the next rep and it felt a little off but still went up. Another touch and go and it just felt off again and I ended up launching it too far out from my center of gravity and had to bail. After that, I just calmed down and did singles. I had thought I only had four when I finished but I was told I got five. I didn’t believe them and asked for the camera to review. I didn’t want that one that I didn’t have any control of to count. But the call was right, I had made six attempts and got five lifts. So that meant I had equaled first with the other two. Also a PR by one rep. The guy that got first on the medley had some issues on the dumbbell and managed only four. If I hadn’t kept forcing the touch and go, I think I could have gotten six for the outright win. The judge stated he was very impressed with my performance as he wasn’t expecting what I did with how long my arms are. This placing had me in first, which was not a spot I was expecting to be in today.

The third event was the car deadlift. 12” pick height on a front bar attachment with a 60 second time limit. I doubted I needed the full minute to get what I could. Hard to figure what the weight is going to be at contests so I always have to error on the side of heavy for me. This was going to be the event that I felt would sink me. It was already a weakness before the injury and I’m still coming back to my former strength on deadlifts and squats. I thankfully had the opportunity to train this so that I could get used to the lift and know what I could grind out. The car we lifted was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. I wanted to get some warm-up in. People were using the lightest setup as seats (ATV) so I went for the next one over, the large pick-up truck. No hard belt on, that felt hard. Enough that I knew I didn’t want to attempt budging our car until it was time to go. The Chevy was the same weight for the 175lbs on up and thankfully no more weight was added. I couldn’t afford to bomb an event. I went last since I was in first so I knew what to expect. I had no illusions of getting first (13 reps) or second (9 reps). My goal was to get more than 0. I got set and pulled. It moved but I wasn’t in the right groove. I readjusted my stance and got up a hard rep. One down. Goal achieved. But I had another one in me. Another rep and another loud grunt/bark. I took a longer rest and put everything into on more pull. This one was a grinder. Loud grunt to lockout. Eye sight was like pinholes, just waiting for the down command. I was done and I had to kind of collapse to try and get the straps off. Someone told me to go for four for points and I shouted back that four would put me in the hospital. Turns out it was Derek and he said that wouldn’t be a good idea as it isn’t a very good one. My effort was enough to tie for 3rd and keep me a float. Weakest event out of the way and only off 2nd place by .5pts. Had to have my traps massaged immediately afterwards to get them to relax for the next event.

The next event for the day was farmer’s walk. 335bs for 65’ with a 60 second time limit. I had been confident in this one leading up to the show. That was until my testing day where I failed to complete the course. I just had to get over it by telling myself it was from the cumulative fatigue from the hard training and from the extreme heat and humidity that day. I can usually hold on to anything once I get it off the ground. But the specter of doubt was still very much present. Pick wasn’t as low as the handles I was training on but with how much the deadlift took out of me, it was possible that this was going to be a struggle to even get the weights off the ground. I had two light warm-ups (tried to simulate training) to get ready for the run. The guy who bombed the car deadlift finished the course in about the time that I would do it. I figured that would happen. The next two couldn’t get the handles off the ground. Not a good sign. These handles were solid pieces of metal so you felt the full weight, no flex or nothing. It was a slow pick and I started moving. I wasn’t certain my grip would hold until I was about half way down the course and once I knew I was good, I was able to pick up speed. And as I usually do, I held the handles for a few seconds at the finish and lowered them slowly to the ground. Ended up getting 13.25 seconds. Most bigger shows have had higher pick farmer’s so this was actually a PR over my training times from the lower pick heights. Another nod of approval from the judge as he was surprised with my footwork for my build. First place blistered the course in 9.28 seconds. Another second place for me and back in second place.

The final event was the stone of steel. 300lbs over 50” with a time limit of 60 seconds. I started with the empty stone of steel and worked my way up from there during my recovery. This is actually the exercise I was doing in my garage that my back went on all those months ago so I had to prove a point. I’d been beating this thing up in training regularly. Only time I had doubts was when it came to that darn testing day where I was a sweaty mess and got just four lifts with the contest weight. I was beat by this point. Still willing to do what needed to be done. Midsection and lower back wanted to cramp up so I kept my rehband belt on to keep them warm. There was cushioned chair that was out in the competitor’s area and I just sat in it until it was close to go time. Like a boxer waiting in the corner, waiting for the final round to start. Waiting for the bell. I got to see everyone but 1st place go before me. When I was up, the number to beat was six. It didn’t matter if the number to beat was one, I was going all in. Conditions were perfect and I had no issues lifting it. Just the right amount of effort used so that I could control it up and over for the helper to return it quickly. I doubt I could really extend much higher with the fatigue. I got eight reps to beat the number my training partner had gotten at his contest earlier this year. The rep had bobbled a little so I really slowed it down to get one more for nine. I definitely could have gone up another gear if needed. Lettering on the stone of steel peeled off on my arms and looked like it was saying “FU”. Guy in first, Nick, managed to get eight for second. This was a big PR as he had never gotten that weight before in contest for one. A first place for me.

With my consistency, I was able to get 2nd place. Too many mistakes for first and I need to keep working on my deadlift strength. I got what I wanted out of this contest and more. I completed the show with no injuries and no return of pain. I grinded out heavy deadlifts and farmer’s walk without form breaking. I lifted a weight on the stone of steel that was almost 60lbs heavier than the weight that I injured myself for nine reps with some in the tank. I put in the effort and qualified for Nationals. That was something I wasn’t expecting. I was hoping it would be the case but you never know. Some rust still needs to come off and I will be on top of my game. I think as long as I still can “make excuses” for why I’m not done or reached my peak, I still have the drive to keep going forward. I also got to compete again and it is a different feeling. I missed it. But now, I need to get some rest. A week off will do me some good.

1 comment:

  1. So proud of you. Unrelenting pain is horrific, depressing. I think Liam is a great motivator to his Uncle Cookie Monster. Love you.