Tuesday, November 14, 2017

November 10-11, 2017 – Strongman Corporation National Championships

I had written off 2017. And that was last year. This time last year I was still in the middle of physical therapy and on my second cycle of corticosteroids to deal with the inflammation. I was thinking of 2018 or 2019 as when I would be back to competing. But somehow that confidence came back over the months of recovery and proper training. I was surprised to get back to competition shape and place second at a level 2 show. I had qualified for Nationals in my first contest back. Never an easy feat for me to qualify. I was still tentative with competing at that level as I just got back to local level strength but I had a good support system and I went all in.

Nationals was in Las Vegas this year. This meant a lot of firsts. First contest where I had to fly to it, first contest on the west coast. While not firsts, I hadn’t been in PST since I was born (military brat) and the last time I was on a plane, I didn’t have to take my shoes off to board. It was tricky figuring out what I could and couldn’t bring with me as this was never an issue when driving out to contests. My dad felt it would be good experience if I ever compete internationally (still the dream). Early morning to drive out to the airport. Traffic was bad getting to BWI which it usually is as you get closer. I was originally planning to go solo but my dad was able to come and I’m thankful that he did as I was screwing up everything with the baggage stuff. I was hot and uncomfortable on the flight and to add insult to injury, the head flight attendant started singing “L.O.V.E.” once we landed. At that point, I would rather have been beaten and dragged off instead. Exiting the plane, I knew I was in Las Vegas as there were slot machines in the airport. Took a shuttle bus to the hotel (where the contest was as well as where we were staying). It was midday but still a lot of glitz and glam.

The rules meeting was at 7:00 Thursday night and was mandatory. I kept my phone for the local time but kept my watch at EST so that I wouldn’t lose sense of what time my body thought it was. I had worn pants into Las Vegas but I apparently ripped them on the flight so there was a portion of the day where I was having my ass hang out and no one told me. Changed into something comfortable to check in. I weighed in at 277.8lbs so about 13lbs more than two years ago. Meant I would be going against the under 300lbs class. Would probably mean that my weaknesses would be more glaring but my strengths may stack up more favorably. Still had a lot of time to kill so had lunch, crashed in the hotel room for a few hours and then had dinner (my dad was set on going to “Flavortown” at Guy Fieri’s). Spent a little bit of time walking around the casino/hotel before heading up for the rules meeting. A lot more competitors this time but nothing out of the ordinary as far as the rules or events. However, we needed to get yoke heights and the yokes weren’t there yet. Very reminiscent of my first nationals in 2012. Got to catch up with people I had only seen online for the first time. I was dragging as it was really getting close to when I normally was asleep. Went to bed as soon as I got out of there to get ready for the following day.

Uncharacteristically, I wasn’t a nervous ball of energy upon waking. Possibly because I was restless and felt that I was in a timeless void with everything looking the same unless a window was open. Jet lag really hit me hard I guess. The air conditioning wasn’t really working and no microwave so just used a hot water bath in the sink to heat up my breakfast. Had to go up numerous escalators to the venue. Too many people and it was starting to look like the chocolate factory conveyor belt scene from “I Love Lucy” but with bodies. Hefty division had 54 competitors vying for the elusive Pro Card. A big change has been having it be top 3 overall that would get one. I knew I was nowhere near contention but would do my best, hopefully hit some contest PRs and possibly get an Arnold Invite. Fever dreams I’d say if you asked me this time in 2016.

I setup camp in the far back to be near the restrooms, have access to the outside balcony and to be near the scores and have less people near me. I also got to finally meet my strength coach, Mike Westerling, in person as well as his wife Jolene. Reception wasn’t the best here so messages and videos weren’t sending or loading well. Another first being a contest where people were asking me how I was doing who weren’t there and weren’t family. I had told people there was a live stream but most balked at the price tag. With how these kinds of shows run with so many competitors, it can get frustrating letting people know that it is still going on and you haven’t gone yet. There is really no way to train for this with the warm-ups and waiting for hours. It is mentally fatiguing.

The first event of the day was log clean and press. 320lbs for as many reps as possible in a 60 seconds time period. Log has gotten better and I have been consistently hitting 300lbs or more every heavy session. I managed to improve my all-time best in training by 10lbs to match this weight. However, this can be troublesome as the contest weight being your max any little thing could disrupt it. The log was also somewhat new to the strongman scene. Very dense and bottom heavy. Warm-ups felt good with the more standard and balanced log. I hit my easiest 290lbs ever. However, the singles I did with just the empty competition log felt heavy and awful. I had Mr. Westerling observe some of the singles with the comp log. It was great to have instant feedback like that. I had decided to go with my grip shirt under my contest shirt for the contest for the extra gripping power. I was in one of the later heats and got called out. Had to wait a bit for blood to get cleaned off one of the logs. Aim was just one. Log felt heavy on the pick and it felt like it was crushing me once I got it to my chest. If I had not been doing those static rack holds in training, I’m certain I would have passed out. It felt way heavier than I was expecting. I had to lean back to have it on my chest and went for the drive but it didn’t really go anywhere. I tried to control the log back to the ground and that was not good. My right hand hit the inside of the log when it bounced up slightly. Adrenaline was high so not feeling any major issues yet. I took my time and waited to give it one more shot. While video says it looked just a strong a clean as the first one, it felt infinity pounds heavier. I tried to get myself under control with it on my shoulders but it was too much and I barely got it off my chest. It wasn’t happening today so I ended things there. I knew this was a possibility. Tied with about half the field for last place.

It takes a moment for the hyped up feeling to calm down and that is when you start to notice things like pain. My shins were bloody from the log but my right hand was starting swell as was throbbing. Not good. I was 2,374 miles from home and flight didn’t leave until Sunday. I’ve never withdrawn from a contest that I’ve started and I wasn’t going to start now. Prepared with first aid kit supplies. My dad and Mr. Westerling both got ice and I wrapped up my hand and wrist. This was definitely going to be a new challenge. There was also event changes. The yoke and farmer’s walk medley was going to be the following day so the next event was going to be the frame deadlift followed by the husafel carry. Not sure why but the rumor was that it was damaging the floor and disrupting a poker game downstairs. A bit of a blessing in that I doubt I could finish the farmer’s walk with my hand as it was but it also could effect how I do on my best events.

Up next was a frame deadlift. This event had a few changes leading up to the contest and had some even on the fly. Originally, it was going to be from 19” with 820lbs. Then dropped to 16”. That drop put the weight from possible to near impossible at the start of the training cycle. A lot work went into building up my weakest event. The goal being to shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll be among the stars. And then eventually die from lack of oxygen. Depends on the day where I stop the analogy haha. 60 second time limit and straps in own time. If this was a light weight for me, I would have practiced that part of it but since this was going to a max single I just focused on getting everything tight before going. The handles ended up being 17” and while billed as 790lbs (not enough metal plates) it was closer to 770lbs. All changes in my favor. Mr. Westerling suggested that I try to pull in the handles before lifting but I found with my style with the figure eight straps and setting in my fingertips, I wasn’t able to do that and pull with the back muscles. They were more of a supporting role. My wrist did not appreciate warming up for this event. I really had only one shot at this. Pain wouldn’t stop me. I strapped in and gave it a tug. It budged a little but no more. I tried to adjust my foot placement and gave another attempt but no go. In desperation I adjusted my grip to the front of the implement to just see if that worked but no dice here as well. Another zero and tied with a few people with last place here. No pain in my back at least. More ice and Motrin before the next event.

Final event of the Day 1 was the husafel carry. 400lbs with turns at 60’. Shot loaded so should be fairly balanced and bottom heavy. Which is good for picking up. Normally, I’m confident in my abilities with a carry event like this but my hand was my anchor hand with how I normally carry this kind of implement. While the mechanics of switching sides should be the same, it could throw me off and I really wanted to see how it felt to determine if I could do it or if just out in front using my wrists was best. No tape or anything on the arms or hands due to the rubberized coating of the implement so I couldn’t wrap my hand. I asked if I could work in with the women classes with the empty implement and I was told no as there would be time to warm-up for the men. This did not end up happening. Since I was in last place essentially, I was in one of the first heats for the event. I was worried I wouldn’t get it off the platform into my lap. It didn’t help matters that the competitor in front of me fell trying to get it off the platform. My time to go. I wanted this day to be done. I had 15 seconds to get moving. I got it off the platform of bumper plates and my first thoughts were “shit, shit, shit!” as I felt off balance. I was struggling to figure out the geometry of the implement with the switched grip (the thing is the same width as length) that eventually I just said “screw it” and started moving. I didn’t feel secure with my grip at all and I wasn’t sure I could make it down one length. But I did and I made the turn and somehow got back. I made another turn and saw there was only one other person left in my heat. He went down shortly after and saw Mr. Westerling at the other end and felt that I could get one more length. Got that and then turned and made it a little further before my grip went. I finished with a distance of 188’3” for 10th place here. Finally something went well and I felt a sense of relief.

After the first day, I was in 43rd place overall. Lower than I was expecting but zeroing two events isn’t a way to get points. The possibility of it was definitely something that had crossed my mind. Before I left for the night, I told Mr. Westerling that I appreciated everything he was doing for me. It wouldn’t be genuine of me if just smiled and shook his hand as I had been a dark place mentally most of last year. And while day one had not gone as I wanted to, I wasn’t dead (as one of my friends/competitors told me). Spent a bit more time walking around the outside of the casino this night as well and got some more good food. Sleep again felt weird. I did get a video of my nephew wishing me good luck for the following day. I also made the decision to not wear wrist wraps for the following day as I didn’t want people treating my differently due to the injury like I felt the day before. The craziness getting up to the contest wasn’t present this time.

First event of the day was to be a medley of yoke followed by farmer’s walk. However, the farmer’s walk part of it got scrapped. Came to find the yokes had carpet feet on them now. The billed event was 840lbs for 60’ in 60 seconds. But appears that it was closer to 856lbs. One drop allowed so that made things interesting. I had been training for that so wasn’t that big an issue. I wanted to make sure I got some warm-ups in and I managed to get two light runs and one pick before they started going. Unfortunately, I was in the last heat so I had a lot of down time between my last pick and time to go. However, this was still one of the better warm-ups I’ve managed to get on yoke. I always seem to have an issue with yoke come contest time. I’m doing well in training. Weight moves relatively fast, I rarely have any drops and sometimes I’m doing more than contest weight. But come show time, I’m struggling. I either have multiple drops or I go at a snail’s pace and never pick up speed. I don’t have this issue with farmer’s walk or frame carries. But I felt good and hoped today wouldn’t be like that. I’m happy that I was able to time my pick just right with the commands as sometimes that is an issue for me. I felt like I could move with the weight but then it felt unstable. Like any misstep was going to cause it to get me off balance and drop it. I couldn’t afford that and I slowed down more and more. This felt like the pace I could go and not drop it. I’m sure a lot of people thought I wouldn’t finish the course with how slow I was going but I know from my years of training that slow and steady still works and I got plenty of grit to grind out things that shouldn’t need to be grinded out. I had told my judge that I knew he didn’t have a sundial but would appreciate it if he got my time. Ended up getting the course done in 32.25 seconds. This was not the slowest time of someone who finished the course. This was enough for 38th.

The final event was one I had been looking forward to. At least when I didn’t have a bum hand. Stone of steel over bar. 360lbs over 52” with 60 seconds time limit. I saw some people say it was 5lbs heavier than billed but I don’t know. I was just ready for this contest to be over and would have been fine with a single. But really, I wasn’t going to be fine with a single as I’m competitive and I wanted all the reps. I was in the second heat as I was near the bottom of the overall placings. This is a good event for me so it was possible that I could move up a bit in the standings and I could have the number the beat for a little bit. This ended up being just like the husafel carry in that the men didn’t get a chance to warm-up. I had to make sure that my hand would hold up and fit into my receiver gloves. Luckily someone in the back put PVC pipe through some bumper plates so I was able to do some bear hug plate rows. Everything felt fine. Then it was time to go. Timer went and I attacked. My first attempt my gloves slipped right off the stone of steel like grease. Never had that happen before. I’ve had it where it felt lose but that was when I started using it with 300lbs for the first time. I wasn’t going to let that stop me. So I got one rep easy. Then I went for another the gloves were slipping again and I caught that one barely into my lap. Got it set and another easy load. The loads were easy, just having issues getting the stone of steel into my lap nice and secured. I could hear someone yelling at me the whole time and I wasn’t too sure who it was but I think it was Mr. Westerling. I had 15 seconds left after I got the fifth lift. I went for another and got it too my lap but the thing was too far forward and I lost my balance and fell backwards. I feel that I left at least two reps on this but I still did well. Good enough for a tie at 13th.

I pretty much knew that I had not done well enough for an Arnold invite and it would be very impressive if I improved my placing over last time. I spent the rest of my time walking the strip with my dad. One of the oddest 3 miles I’ve ever experienced. Just trying to walk to a movie theatre lead to many odd sites such as a man dressed as Spiderman wearing a tinfoil hat with a sign saying “flat earth”. I could write pages about that experience alone. While the food was good there, Las Vegas is not for me. Every corner with a hustle. I felt like I needed real life ad-blocker. All the glitz and glam, a simulacrum of paradise. I was too beat to go to the banquet as that was going to be late and I had to catch and early flight home the following morning so it took a few days to find out my placings. It appears I was 37th out of 54 in the overall and 15th out of 19 in the under 300lbs weight class. The competition was draining with how long it took. Perhaps this year was an overreach but I think I can improve and get even better as long as I stay healthy. Two weeks off was already the plan but with my hand in a splint and having possibly the flu, that two weeks is mandatory. I’m not sure what the next step is but I will be taking it.

1 comment:

  1. Craig so freaking proud of you. I remember last fall I was almost crying watching you try stand up for your baby brother's wedding. That you managed to find and recover your body to qualify and compete at nationals -- in awe. Then to bang up your hand in the first event and to battle through to compete and finish! YES.