Monday, May 31, 2010

Run the Mountain

Workout of the Day

AM – WOD 1:

10 minute AMRAP w/ partner

75 meter med ball run (20 lb)

Max KB swing (24 kg)

PM – WOD 2:

Run the mountain

Last night was something of a perfect storm in Iceland. City council elections and Eurovision occurring simultaneously meant that everyone was out late, partying into the not so dark hours of the early morning. I was one of them. Sven, Asta, and I didn’t get home til just shy of 5 and I had to be up at the Level I cert by 9. Ouch.

Thankfully the guys got us working early so my hangover didn’t last too long. The workout was scored according to the total number of kb swings done by the partner not running at the end of 10 minutes. My partner and I managed 231 repetitions. This WOD was a fun way to get moving and burn out some of the stuff that had me dragging.

This evening I met up with Annie to go run Esja mountain, a “must do” activity if you’re ever in Iceland I’m told. I managed to convince Joe, Jon, and Karrieanna (certification instructors) to join us with much the same argument. This was amazing. Such a brutal run, first of all. And really not purely a run—there was much walking. The path winds 3.5 km around and up the face of the mountain, climbing 800 meters in elevation. That means one thing: STEEP. I had no aspirations of trying to tackle this thing with any sort of aggressiveness, simply to stay with Annie all the way up. My lower back was smoked; my quads, hamstrings, and calves were completely burnt, and it took us 34 minutes to complete.

Of course, the view from the top was worth the pain, even though it was frigid and windy. There was a huge sense of accomplishment and enjoyment in in getting to the top.

As I write this my hips, and legs are only getting tighter. I was hoping to squat tomorrow, but I’ll have to see how things feel. A good night’s rest is certainly in order.

Friday, May 28, 2010

BOOTCAMP!!!

Workout of the Day:

2 km run

5 x (30 steps bear crawl, 20 squat thrust, 5 clapping pushup)

400 m run

5 x (50 supine scissors, 20 second straight leg hold)

400 m run

35 atomic pushups (burpee w/o standing

5 x (50 supine scissors, 20 second straight leg hold)

35 atomic pushups

15 minutes of group log stuff… Alternating shoulder presses, bicep curls, static holds

20 strict pullups

Today was my first bootcamp experience, apart from the indirect effects of Sveinbjorn and co. in Halmstad. It didn’t disappoint. We worked for a legit hour. No water, no loitering around, no breaks. I emerged pretty beat up, with a few splinters in my hands, but overall completely satisfied.

This workout definitely had a military mentality to it. The exercises seemed engineered to make you uncomfortable and test how long you could hold out against your brain’s wish to stop working. From this point of view, it’s no big mystery why the athletes that come from here hold up so well mentally. It is physically impossible to do 5 sets of 50 spine scissors with 20 second straight leg holds in between without dropping your legs. But that’s what all the trainers were yelling and expecting from everyone. Perservering in the face of the impossible will inevitably build some fortitude.

The team log stuff was great! 7 or 8 people to a log and we never put it down. Overhead presses, curling it from waist to shoulder, even simply holding it at waist height while 2 at a time ran inside to do pullups. So creative and so simple. I loved this part.

From a physiological perspective, the movements we did today could be criticized for their repetitive nature. Sure, things could have been a lot more varied, but that’s not really the idea behind this type of workout. My hips haven’t done that much flexion in I don’t know how long so there was no way they were going to hold up. The point was to make sure they kept going even after they failed.

Tomorrow I will go to CrossFit Sport for the Level I cert they’re hosting and I’m sure there will be plenty of activity. Here’s hoping I recover quickly.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

AM...PM

Workout of the Day

AM - WOD 1:

Strict Press 3, 3, 3+ @ 70, 80, 90% 1RM

Deadlift 3, 3, 3+ @ 70, 80, 90% 1RM

Weighted Chin ups (5 kg) 10, 10, 10, 10

Good Mornings 10, 10, 10, 10

Weighted Dips (5 kg) 15, 15, 15

Toes to Bar 15, 15, 15

PM – WOD 2:

5 rounds for repetitions:

With a 3 minute running clock, row 500 meters then do AMRAP double unders for the remainder.

Rest 1 minute between sets.

Record total double unders.

I was feeling a little under the weather today. I can’t tell if it’s hay fever or a head cold, but either way it’s very annoying and my nose is getting raw from all the blowing. Hopefully it clears tonight and I can get on the plane with no congestion.

WOD 1 was the first day of my second week on the 5/3/1 program. The weights were heavier and I felt stronger. My last set of presses I did 8 repetitions at 70 kg literally was an inch from getting the 9th. Not sure where that last bit of strength went at the end, but it was a 4-5 second fight that I wound up losing. For the deadlifts I finished at 162.5 kg for 10 reps, dead stopping between again. That I was able to do the same number of reps at a weight 7.5 kg heavier was interesting. I felt that the limiting factor was muscle fatigue in my hamstrings and ass right around rep 8-9, same as last week. Strange feeling that I don’t recall getting with deadlifts, but whatever—it seems to be working.

WOD 2 was a pure recovery routine. My goal was to be consistent for 5 rounds and push things without burning out. To this end I was successful. Every 500 was under 1:45 and the double unders weren’t bad either. I hit 68 the first round, 69 the second, 75 the third, 74 the fourth, and 80 on the last. The first two rounds were lower because my rope was knotted too short and it kept clipping my toe. After MF-ing myself the first 2 sets I finally let out some slack and felt much better the rest of the way. In light of this, I think an average of 80 per round is very realistic. My total was 364, but I’d like to see 400. Overall recovery was great in the minute between rounds though, making me think that all this extra strength work hasn’t hurt me much in that area.

Resting tomorrow morning then flying to Iceland to visit Sven and company in the afternoon. I won't be back in Oxford til Tuesday, so my postings may be a bit sporadic. So ready for this trip.

Fitness is...

Support.

Know where to find it.

Everyone has their preferred competitive environment, not the least important aspect of which is the people they choose for company. And while your performance ultimately hinges on your ability to complete whatever challenge is set forth alone, having others nearby only enhances the likelyhood that you'll do so. Who do you lean on when you’re tired? Who do you celebrate with when you succeed? Who shares the burden of anxiety when the pressure mounts? These are pressing questions for which you'd hate not to have an answer come crunch time.

The recent Regional Qualifier in Halmstad offered a window into the different forms these networks can take. I saw the full spectrum of support in operation throughout the weekend, from family and friends lovingly absorbed in specific athletes to random spectators cheering anyone and everyone to succeed. There were many examples showing this disparity from which to pick; i've chosen three.

The Team

The crew from Iceland was like a pack of arctic dogs. They moved together, ate together, woke, slept, and breathed together. When one was competing, all were competing. During the final WOD of the weekend, Sven and I were within a few feet of each other but I doubt I could’ve heard a single word if he had uttered it. It felt like the entire island was raining down around us. It was the same when Annie competed; even louder when it was the affiliates’ turn. During the runs, they were chasing each other around the course shouting encouragement and epithets to the point that I doubt any competitor would dare not finish. After every event they crowded around offering congratulations and conciliation. In between they hung together, strategizing, laughing, and re-fueling for the next challenge. It was inspiring. I could only smile, pretend I was Icelandic, and assume they were yelling at me.

Support like this can have enormous benefit because, by spreading the burden over many shoulders, the individual feels less alone. He can drown out pressure, nerves, doubt, and even pain. It gives him pride in himself and in the group he represents, offering one more reason not to quit when things get tough. But it can also be overwhelming. Too many voices will blot each other out, leaving nothing but a wall of sound. Often it’s not the mass of noise that pushes us on, but the single voice that cracks the throng.

The Partnership

Richard Vanmeerbeek came to Halmstad with such a voice: his father; and during the course of the weekend this voice proved as strong as any crowd. I rarely saw one man without the other. Whether they were eating, lounging, or in the midst of an event there was never more than a few meters between them. Neither appeared affected by what happened in other heats or in events already completed. Their focus remained on what Richard could control: himself. When he competed the voice of his father sung above the rest, coaching and urging his son onward. When he rested their conversations were quiet and subdued, strategizing for the next event. If time allowed, they drove back to the hotel to eat and relax away from the surging energy of the Eleiko Center.

It was interesting to observe how well adapted Richard was to this type of environment in only his second or third competition. His demeanor was consistently calm, focused, and unagitated; hardly the hallmarks of a typical 22 year old CrossFitter. He wastes little energy and maintains maximum concentration. Much of that has to come from his intimate system of support and the calming influence of a person whose belief in him never falters. It’s a truism that the impact we have on a group and that which it has on us is reciprocal. Some guys are built of fire and brimstone and they need that type of environment to excel. Others prefer cooler heads with less distractions. Some seek both. Finding the right balance is crucial.

The Competitive Alliance

The support I enjoyed in Halmstad was unique from those mentioned above, primarily because its roots were so shallow (no relationship I have here is older than six or eight months). Yet there were people urging me on as hard or harder than any man there. I talked strategy with, and felt compelled by, many athletes I’d only just met. I was at ease between WODs because I was enjoying the company of people I’d visited with or competed against months earlier. A network of support like this would never forge itself so quickly in the real world, but it seems almost commonplace in this community. I think it’s this type of personal connection that makes CrossFit so uniquely rewarding.

To think that until last fall every person in Halmstad was a perfect stranger to me is truly a remarkable thing. Sven and I were fighting tooth and nail in every WOD, yet I found myself wishing for his success as much as I wanted my own. Since last November in Copenhagen, Sarah Troelson Krarup has become like a sister to me. She's the one I look to for advice, encouragement, and approval before and after every event. Jason Mulligan has been a friend since January of this year, but he's become one of my best mates in the months since. His presence in Halmstad was like that of a childhood friend you never needed to work to understand.
These people will be friends for the rest of my life. Such relationships are rare because theirs is a camaraderie built on competition, rivalry, and respect. CrossFit thrives on them. It's not rocket science that this community is so strongly knit... these people are its seams. I’ve come to realize that my time in Europe has been, among other things, a process of building such relationships.
It's a lonely journey that has produced in me a crowded soul.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back to the Pool

Workout of the Day:

AM - WOD 1:

Swim ½ mile

PM – WOD 2:

Clean and Jerk 3, 3, 3, 3

Snatch Balance 3, 3, 3, 3

Today was my first day back in the pool since February in Paris and I was a tad nervous. Turned out to not be so bad after all. I managed to get through 400 meters without stopping, then took a brief break before changing strokes (did 100 meters of backstroke and 100 meters of breaststroke to break it up). The last 200 meters of freestyle was pretty sloppy. Still, most of the fatigue was muscular and not cardio-vascular so that is a promising sign. Once my body remembers how to be efficient in the water I think I should be okay. Actually, the kicking motion is going to be therapeutic for my STILL recovering ankles. Bonus.

The afternoon session had a little extra motivation behind it after following the Northeast Regionals this past weekend. I’d never done a true 3RM for clean and jerk and was curious what I could manage. After warming up, I opened at 80 kg for the first set. Things felt good, so I went to 100 kg for the 2nd. A little shaky on the third repetition as I let my feet split too wide on the catch. This is still a nagging technical issue I have. The 3rd set I did at 105 kg. Had trouble with the wide split on the second rep, but not the third. All the jerks felt easy. The final set was at 110 kg and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get it or not. Turned out I could. The last clean wasn’t my prettiest, but it came up. Again, no problem with the jerks.

Transitioning to snatch balances felt a little awkward at first, but then actually really good. My sets were 80 kg, 90 kg, 100 kg, and 110 kg. Probably the best I’ve ever felt doing this exercise. I missed the final set, losing my balance during the second repetition, but the weight didn’t feel overpowering at all. I really think that doing these more often will vastly improve my ability to get under heavy weights.

I’ve attached a clip of the 110 kg c&j.

video

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rest Day

Did a low impact run this evening to shake out the legs a little with my neighbor and I discovered what is easily my favorite part of Oxford thus far... Port Meadows. It's an enormous expanse of flood plane for the upper portion of the Thames River that flows all the way to London. The water is clear and swimmable, the fields beautifully dotted with flowers, horses, and cattle, and the atmosphere incredibly serene. In a way, it reminded me of certain parts of the American south because of the estuary like geography. Can't wait to return here for a proper workout. The ideas are piling up.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 7

Workout of the Day:

AM - WOD 1:

Every minute on the minute complete one 7 meter weighted rope climb (7 kg). Continue until failure to complete.

PM - WOD 2:

For time

500 meter row

30 DB burpee/squat clean/thruster (16 kg)

15 Toes to bar

10 Handstand pushup

500 meter row

My legs were a little heavy today, but as I was expecting as much I took precautions. By precautions I mean sleeping in my recovery tights. Never thought I’d hear myself say something like that, but it’s true and it’s not the first time. Every time there’s a heavy workload that I know will make me sore I sleep in those things and it limits the effects the next day. Made things a lot easier today for sure.

The morning workout was out in the meadow behind the University Park. BEAUTIFUL morning. It gets light by 6am here, so by 8 things are in full swing. I packed up my duffle bag with a little extra weight (around 7 kg worth of blankets, shoes, etc.) and went about climbing. I hope that I would be able to get 10 climbs in 10 minutes going in, but that plan derailed around minute 5 when I lost my feet and burned a ton of time and energy trying to recover. I ended up completing 7 rounds before failing on the 8th. Still, not a bad showing. I did 2 extra climbs afterwards without the bag just because I felt like I should. A little extra practice never hurt.

This afternoon I met Niels at the college weightroom for a classic metcon. The idea here was to make it as intense as possible—a sprint with difficult elements thrown in. The first 500 went off in around 1:35, and I could already feel my legs starting to fatigue. Not a good sign with the DB burpee complex immediately to follow. This was terrible. The DBs felt twice as heavy as they were coming off the ground, and the squats were painful from the start. I ended up doing sets of 5 and 3 until I hit 30. Not sure how long it took me but it wasn’t fast. The toes to bar I did in 2 sets, no kipping at all. The pullup bar at this fitness center does not allow for any swing sadly. The handstand pushups were actually the easiest bit of all. I was able to knock out all 10 without issue and run back to the rower with just past 8 minutes gone. By the time I was strapped in and pulling, the clock was almost at 8:20, so I knew that sub 10 was possible if I didn’t go soft mentally. This proved a very valuable motivational tool. I pulled hard the whole way, counting my strokes to keep my mind off the meters slowly ticking down. My final time was 9:54. Niels came in at 11:39 and really gave it all he had. Great performance for a guy who really only just started training a few months ago. We were both out of commission for a good 10 minutes afterwards.

So, that puts week 1 of my program in the books. I had been worried that the workload would be too heavy, but now I don’t think so at all. The rest days and the work days balance out almost perfectly. At no time this week did I feel over-trained or weak (first day may be an exception coming back from rest week), and I think the WODs were very challenging across the board. Cannot wait til Tuesday to get after it again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Squats

Workout of the Day:

Back Squat 5, 5, 5+ @ 65%, 75%, 85% 1RM

Glute Ham pushup 15, 15, 15, 15

Leg Press 15, 15, 15, 15

Back to the heavy lifting today and was feeling pretty strong. I’m a little sore from the sandbag WOD one Wednesday but nothing terrible. I really think this work/rest split is timing up perfect for my personal rate of recovery. My squat sets were at 110 kg, 130 kg, and 145 kg. The final one I was able to get 9 repetitions with full depth. Very happy with that result. The assistance exercises were a bit painful, but I got through them. Love glute ham pushups… imagine doing a glute ham raise, but with your feet wedged beneath something instead of on a machine. Then, use your arms to give you just enough help to get up. GREAT for the posterior chain. The leg presses were weird, since it’s probably been 3 years since I’ve used one of those machines. But I couldn’t think of a comparable assistance movement to substitute so I stuck with it.

Got two metcons planned for tomorrow, including weighted rope climbs. Good luck to all my friends competing in the Northeast Regional this weekend!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Sandbag Chipper

Workout of the Day:

Using a 35 kg sandbag, do the following for time:

200 meter carry

30 bear hug squats

30 chest to overhead

200 meter carry

30 ground to shoulder

30 overhead lunges

200 meter carry

30 thrusters

30 wrap arounds

100 meter throw

I had a lot of fun today. Was feeling a bit tight still from Tuesday’s session in my hamstrings and shoulders, but a good dynamic warmup saw most everything working right. Niels and I headed over to Worcester College’s cricket field where we’d have a ton of space and no one to bother us. For the sandbag, we used the bag John and I made a few weeks ago, but stuffed the trash bags inside an old punching bag that I picked up at the farmers market for 6 lbs. Talk about a bargain. Now my sandbag was practically impenetrable to the beating I intended to give it.

The first 200 meters felt great. The bag didn’t bother me much at all, but I knew better than to push things too hard out of the gate from my previous bouts with bag sprinting in Paris. I got right into the squats, doing them unbroken, and followed immediately with the overheads, breaking only temporarily with the weight rest on my chest. The second 200 meters felt good as well. My heartrate was starting to elevate but I still felt under control. The ground to shoulders I did by swinging the bag between my legs so that it struck the ground on the way back then cleaning it up to my shoulder directly from the back position. This worked great—I was able to do all 30 without breaking rhythm. The OH lunges were awkward because of the shiftiness of the bag, but the weight felt fine. I did 15 out and 15 back, stopping at the halfway point to shake the arms out.

The final 200 meters were tough. By this point I was out of breath and starting to dread the thrusters coming up. They didn’t disappoint. I ended up having to do 6 sets of 5 because I couldn’t catch my breath and my arms were staring to go. They sucked the whole way but got done in the end. The wrap-arounds were much more difficult than I anticipated, and I think a very valuable exercise for people dissatisfied with CrossFit’s lack of transverse plane movement. You have to slingshot it with one arm around your back and catch it with the other while trying to maintain the momentum to carry forward to the next repetition. By the time I was finished I could barely hang on to the bag, making the last 100 meters of throws a lot more challenging. I elected to swing the bag forward like the cleans but releasing it on the way up. Not sure how many throws it took me, but the final time was 16:40.

I loved this sequence and am anxious to hear what others think if they try it. The video link is below.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Get Strong

Workout of the Day:

Strict Press 5, 5, 5+ @ 65/75/85% 1RM

Deadlift 5, 5, 5+ @ 65/75/85% 1RM (dead stop between reps)

Weighted chin ups 10, 10, 10, 10, 10

Good Mornings 10, 10, 10

Dips 15, 15, 15, 15

Strict toes to bar 15, 15, 15

Sent mom home today so a little bummed. Won't see family again until the end of June... time to get focused for the home stretch.

No ill effects from yesterday apart from the soreness in the left ankle, so it seems my body was able to handle the workload. Good sign so far. This afternoon’s session brought me back a couple years to my days of hard core strength training, and I liked it. Tore a page from Wendler’s 5/3/1 scheme but just combined 2 of the days so I’ll be able to rest later in the week. The percentages were based on 90% of a 1RM, not an actual 1RM, as instructed by the 5/3/1 plan. This calculated my weights to be 50 kg, 57.5 kg, and 65 kg for the strict press, and 115 kg, 135 kg, and 155 kg for the deadlift. If I felt weak yesterday, I felt STRONG today. My third set of presses I got 9 repetitions, and my third set of deadlifts I got 10. I was especially happy with the deadlifts. 10 with a dead stop between at 155 kg is definitely a record for me. I felt evenly distributed fatigue and I think I could’ve maybe even gotten 1 or 2 more if I’d been willing to let the form slide a bit at the end.

The assistance work was pretty tough. A lot of sets and repetitions that my body isn’t used to so it was good. I did the first set of weighted chins with 10 kg, quickly realized that wouldn’t keep up, and switched town to 5 kg for the remaining 4 sets. For the good mornings I used 60 kg for all sets and felt great. Looking to bump this up each week going forward.

Tomorrow is a rest day, followed by the sandbag chipper on Thursday. Perhaps the most ambitious thing I’ve programmed in awhile, so we’ll see how it goes.

3 for 1

WOD 1 - 7:30 am:

Run 5k

WOD 2 - 4:00 pm:

Snatch - 3, 3, 3

Front Squat to Split Jerk - 3, 3, 3, 2, 2

WOD 3 – 11:00 pm:

Alternate Progression Ladder

Chest to Bar pullups and Burpees

Day 1 of my new program began early and with my mom in town things felt extra special. We got up just before 7, made a smoothie, then headed over to University Park for a run around the grounds. I was hoping that my ankles would feel like new, but alas, such was not the case. My left side was still giving me problems so I never pushed my speed much beyond 50%. But I still felt like this was productive since it’s been over a month since I’ve run that far. Hopefully this thing will continue to heal little by little. Mom did 2.5 km and then did pushups, squats, and burpees until I finished. What a machine.

After going to class and grabbing a quick nap, I met Niels over at Linacre College to try out their weightroom. It had been rumored that of all the colleges at Oxford this place had the best gym. As I have come to expect on this journey, “best” is a relative term. The positives: bumper plates, barbells, not crowded. The negatives: no dropping bars, low ceilings, small space. Overall, I’m ecstatic about this place because it at least gives me a place to go find some heavy weights consistently.

This afternoon was Niels’s first foray into Olympic weightlifting and my first with proper footwear. That’s right people, I have Oly shoes! Thanks to my boy Richard from Brussels, I have my very own pair of hand-me-down platforms and I’m ready to start breaking records. We took our time, getting Niels comfortable with the Snatch motion while I worked up in weight slowly. My first triple was at 80 kg. I felt a little wobbly, not real strong, and unfocused, but I got all three and decided a jump to 85 kg was the ticket. Not the ticket. I got the first, then missed the next two. I dropped to 80 kg, checked myself and adjusted a few things before getting back on the bar for the last set. These went up like butter. All three were dead solid perfect. The big improvement was my use of an audible cue between the first and second pull—something I learned in Holland and have recently forgotten about entirely. Finishing strong here was a lift heading into the front squats.

I began with 80 kg, wanting to start low enough to get all my sets. 90 kg felt fine as well. 100 kg was clean, but I could feel my wrists starting to fatigue. Not being able to drop the bar from overhead after the third repetition was bothering me. 110 kg I only got 2, fearing the 3rd wouldn’t make it up. I stayed here and got 2 again for the last set. Walked out feeling decent, but a little weaker than I’d hoped. Chalking it up to being the first day back and setting myself up for big gains.

The final piece of the puzzle today came on our way home from the pub. I’d hoped to get this in beforehand, but time just ran away from mom and I as we walked around town this evening. After grabbing a beer with Niels at the Red Lion and chatting for a few hours, we headed towards the bus stop. Along the sidewalk there was one of Oxford’s many scaffolding setups just begging to be utilized. The plan had been to do an alternate progression with chest to bar pullups and burpees (odd minutes pullups/even minutes burpees), and the thick corrugated aluminum piping was the perfect height. Minus a few innocent bystanders this was incredible. So much fun. The night was cool, the bar was ROTATING, and I felt unstoppable on burpees. My mom was cheering me on and Niels was taking video like a monkey, climbing up and down the scaffolding. I finished 16 rounds plus 12 pullups before failing. I was clicking along unbroken until set 14, then the thick bar and its slight rotating tendencies caught up to me. I started doing singles and doubles, losing time every repetition. Still not a bad total.

First day in the books and I feel pretty good. A little stiff in the ankles and lower legs, but overall I’m optimistic. Also, I just received the video clips from the Regionals last weekend and will be working on those as well. Thanks again Mike!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

9 weeks and counting

Not long until the Games in LA, and my rest week is over. Starting tomorrow I am taking on a very aggressive program that I have written over the past week which I will do my best to share each day. I intend to work hard for 3, then back off for 1, then repeat. It features an 8 day training week, of which 5 days are work and 3 days are rest. In those 5 days, I intend to do 2 endurance sessions, 3 strength sessions, and 4 metabolic conditioning sessions. To do this, I intend to train 3 x on Day 1, 1 x on Day 2, rest Day 3, 1 x on Day 4, rest Day 5, 2 x Day 6, 2 x Day 7, and rest Day 8. Every week will feature 3 sessions of 5/3/1, at least 2 outdoor WODs, a distance run, and a distance swim. This program is ambitious so I'm proceeding with cautious optimism. Plans are just plans until they go into effect, so we'll see how this experiment plays out.

Friday, May 14, 2010

European Regional WOD 5

5 round for time:

5 deadlifts @ 120 kg

20 burpees with lateral jump

How I dreaded this workout. 100 burpees with a jump over the bar to start each repetition just sounds long, unrhythmic, and not fun. Then throw in the deadlifts for your brief reprieve and you have something that nobody wants to do. Thankfully, my spot in the Games was not riding on this WOD so there was no real pressure to perform. Still, there was the bid for the top spot that Sven and I had been jockeying for all weekend and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t matter who won. Additionally, this workout felt like the type of WOD that I wouldn’t do on my own, meaning it was a challenge I would have to overcome mentally—always a good thing.

Sven and I took our places at the end of the track right alongside each other. It’s exciting to compete against your friends, especially when you know exactly where you stand. Having him next to me pushed me harder, didn’t let me quit, and ultimately made me better.

My strategy was to find a pace that I could maintain throughout the burpees. No sense in racing through them then taking 10 seconds between sets of deadlifts. The lateral jumping was awkward though, and it made it hard to find the right rhythm. The first set we were on the exact same tempo in fact. Our bars hit at the same time, our jumps were synchronous, and things looked like they’d stay that way all the way through. Somewhere in the middle of the second set of burpees I took a slight lead that I carried through to the 3rd set of deadlifts. As I was finishing my 5th he was midway through his 2nd and I saw this as my opportunity to take control. I got straight into the burpees, hoping to send the message that I wasn’t tired... even though I was, in fact, very tired. I could hear a few guys down the row a few repetitions ahead of me as well, so I knew everyone else had juice to spare.

Towards the end of the 3rd set I was starting to hate life. Here the crowd was crucial. People were screaming like maniacs and yelling at us to just keep moving. It helps, I'm telling you. During the 4th set I wanted to do anything but keep throwing myself on the floor. I started to linger a little longer between repetitions, felt that sneaking feeling of self-loathing, and started wishing my way towards the finish. Then I sensed Sven picking up his pace and got a shot of fear-based adrenaline. The thought of crashing down the stretch in a WOD that boiled down to mental toughness was not something I wanted on my conscience. It reminded me of the final event back in Copenhagen. Not a happy memory.

Thinking about doing just one rep at a time got me through to my final set, and once the end was in sight I was able to close the door. I finished in 7:46, 4th in the event behind a best time of 7:20. Sven came in :30 or so behind me to round out an amazing weekend where he finished every event 6th or better. I found out soon after that Richard had gone gorilla and taken 2nd with a smoldering time of 7:21. This performance allowed him to edge Mikko by a point for the final qualification spot. Major respect to him for showing up in crunch time.

So we were set. An American, an Icelander, and a Belgian representing Europe in LA; in addition to the Mr. Salo from Finland of course. Standing on the platform at the end I couldn’t have been more proud of the result, the experience, and the road I had taken to get there. More on that in the general wrap up later this weekend. Thanks again to Mads and the volunteer crew that made the event possible. Won’t soon forget it.

European Regional WOD 4

Day 2 began with the 4th event of the competition, consisting of the following:

400 meter run

3 rounds of 15 power snatch (40 kg) and 35 double unders

400 meter run

The standings being as they were, a good performance in this event would really go a long way towards securing one of the 3 spots. A bad showing would put all the pressure on the final event later that afternoon. To make things even more exciting, the heats had been re-shuffled so that those of us in the top spots were competing alongside one another.

The first few heats went off and it was readily apparent that people were underestimating the effect 45 x 40 kg snatches would have on their lungs. Everyone came bolting in from the run and tried to rip the sets unbroken. This worked okay the first round, but the rest of the way you could see the fatigue in their double unders as people started missing, losing their breath, and wasting time.

Watching this I decided the best plan was to break the snatches into sets of 5, taking a short interval between to prevent my body from hitting total failure. This was much the same strategy I adopted during event 5 of the Games last year (3 rounds of 30 snatch and 30 wall ball) to great success so I felt confident.

The initial 400 meters felt wonky on my left ankle. The previous day’s activities had caused some swelling and discomfort that would take a little time to work out. Thankfully, for this event it didn’t matter how fast your first running leg was. I kept things under control and entered the weightroom 3rd or 4th. I got on my bar immediately and started pulled 5 fast repetitions. Behind me I could hear everyone else banging away at a consistent pace. I took 2 breaths and did another 5. Still banging. As I began my last set of 5 I could hear a few guys start their first round of double unders. I hit 15, picked up my rope and eased a nice tempo to make sure I wouldn’t miss any jumps. When I got back to my bar for the second round, I was only a few repetitions behind the leaders and I felt totally fresh. I kept the same pattern as before, except this time when I finished my 15 I did so at the same time as Sven and the other early leaders. My breath was still with me and I was able to complete the 35 double unders without missing and took the lead outright. The final round was where I saw the biggest impact of my strategy. As I continued to do 5’s with 2 breaths between, I could hear bars dropping in singles and doubles behind me. The early unbroken sets were catching up with everyone else.

When I picked up my rope nobody was even close. I strung them all together again and was so amped up that I booked it straight down the lane, out the door, and onto the course at a pace much faster than the one I kept during the first 400 meters. Making the turn for home I only saw one other guy on the run and he looked like he was struggling. The last 150 meters were exhilarating as I sprinted past the crowd of people cheering us on. My time was 6:52, the best of the day by close to :40. Man, did this feel good. Sven took 4th in the event and Mikko 3rd, putting the point totals to 8, 11, and 22 for the three of us. Richard Vanmeerbeek was in fourth at 28, so still very much alive. This meant that regardless of the final event, both Sven and I had qualified for the Games in LA, but the 3rd spot remained uncertain.

We had a few hours before the final event so Frederick Krarup and I headed back to hotel to relax and put our feet up in the interim. We grabbed some lunch and chatted about the event and how things had gone thus far. I knew the last WOD was going to be awful and just didn’t want to think about it. Eventually, though, you have to finish things off...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

European Regional WOD 3

Event 3:

20 chest to bar pullups

20 box jumps (24”)

20 toes to bar

10 x 10 meter overhead carry (80kg)

20 toes to bar

20 box jumps (24”)

20 chest to bar pullups

I think, to a man, this was the favorite event of the weekend. It combined skill, strength, and a super creative element that few people could have practiced beforehand. The weather conditions were a little wet, making the bars cold and slippery, adding more variables to contend with. For me, this workout jumped off the page as being in perfect keeping with the non-linear style of training I had been doing for the last 6 months, so although I wasn’t so confident with the toe to bar kipping, everything else felt like home.

Frederick Aegidus set the bar high early with a time of 10:18, giving the rest of us something to shoot for. My heat featured some friendly faces, including Martin Moller from Butchers Lab in Copenhagen and the now mustache-less Jason Mulligan. My plan of attack was to try to stay as loose as possible during the chest to bars and toes to bars in an effort to save my grip for the OH carry and home stretch bar work. The pullups went smoothly, didn’t feel the need to break at all. The box jumps were a little iffy with the ankle on the first few, but things settled in quickly and adrenaline did the rest. The toes to bar were not so slick. After the C2B kip, I couldn’t regain the right rhythm for kipping this exercise. I wound up doing them all in singles or doubles, opting to make sure every one counted rather than starting to swing wildly and getting no-go’d by my judge. This was difficult because everyone around me seemed to have no problem banging them out. At this point, I will admit to doubting myself, experiencing a moment of panic, and predicting a ignominious end in my head. However, even though it was taking forever, I was still getting the reps done without exerting much effort, and that would prove crucial in the end.

I transitioned to the OH carries last or next to last in my heat. The 80 kg felt light coming up, I locked it in, and ran the 10 meters without wavering. The WOD required all athletes to drop the weight after each of the 10 meter carries, so being able to clean and jerk heavier weight repeatedly without being taxed proved the optimal skill to own. I felt strong throughout and finished my 10th carry first. Back on the bar for the second round of toes to bar I took my time and kept repping out singles and doubles, fighting off a little bit of fatigue in my grip but feeling calm and comfortable for the most part. Jason and Martin reached the bars just as I was transitioning over to the box jumps. These went just as before, in good rhythm, and I was back to the bar for the final 20 pullups with a sizeable lead. The clock was around 8 minutes at this point so I knew that if I could just string a few together then start doing singles I would have the best time. I got 5 the first set, then 4, then 2, putting me at 11 total. From there I just slammed my chest to the bar and dropped to the stack of plates beneath over and over until I hit 20. This was much easier and faster than attempting to do doubles and risking a miss.

In the end, I finished in 9:21. It was such a great feeling to have come through a slow start to finish so well that I almost forgot that Sven and Richard were still to come. I figured that if they could match my OH’s with better toe to bar technique a time of close to 8:30 was possible. But it was not to be. Both struggled with the toes to bar and had a little trouble getting going on the OH’s, coming in at 9:40 and 9:46 for the 2nd and 3rd best times respectively. That meant that Sven and I were now tied for first place at 7 points apiece, with Richard and Mikko 12 points behind at 19 points each. Things were shaping up for an exciting final day and everyone seemed ready to enjoy it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

European Regional WOD 1 and 2

The first 2 events at this year’s Regional were really a single event with a split scoring system. WOD 1 was a 2.2 km run around the Eleiko Center, after which WOD 2 commenced immediately with AMRAP 70 kg ground to overheads. The clock started when the run began and didn’t stop until it hit 15 minutes, meaning the faster runners would score points for placement based on their 2.2 km time, but also have more time to lift the weight upon arriving. That is, if they had any breath/strength left.

The fact that this event had no set recovery time made it an absolute bear physically and mentally. My heat featured two very strong runners, which wound up working to my advantage since they pushed the pace hard from the start. Turned out we were running just over a 5 minute mile pace the entire time. Eeker for a guy nursing bad ankles... Coming around the final turn I was sitting in 3rd position and considered making a push to overtake 2nd, but as I did he turned on the jets and began doing the same to the guy in 1st. As they exploded the last 400 meters I instead maintained my pace and finished 10 seconds behind their photo finish at 7:07--the 3rd best time of the heat and the day. Sveinbjorn came in at 7:08 a few heats later.

Entering the Eleiko Center after this was not fun. I wasn’t quite hypoglycemic, but my head was far from clear. Knowing that I had just under 8 minutes of max effort remaining was not comforting either. My first few repetitions went okay and I think I made it to 10 within 90 seconds or so. My strategy was to do a single repetition, take a breath, then do it again, and try to find a rhythm I could maintain ad nosium. It was a decent plan that I kept up until the mid-20’s. Then my ass and hamstrings started to light up big time. I don't remember getting this feeling during Olympic lifts ever so I'm assuming it had something to do with the pre-fatigue of the run. I was still completely out of breath and getting more and more mentally defeated with each repetition. I literally could not wait to be finished. I know the feeling well, but it never gets comfortable. Asking the question, “Why am I doing this?” is the first indicator that you’re there.

The crowd was ablaze and honestly carried me the last 3-4 minutes. I'd love to say I finished strong, but that just wasn't the case and it wound up costing me a few points when all was said and done. I struggled the last few minutes with total exhaustion where others like Sven, Richard Vanmeerbeek, and Mikko Aronpaa picked it up down the stretch. I was dizzy and blurred, and I couldn’t control my breathing so my technique got rougher and rougher as I went along. Luckily, I still wound up finishing 39 repetitions when we hit 15 minutes, good enough for first in my heat and 3rd overall behind Sven and Mikko (41, 40).

Kudos to Mads for programming an absolute beast of a WOD right out of the gates. This thing set the tone and tested everyone’s toughness more than any other event in my opinion. It was maximum effort the whole way, no possibility of strategizing around any element. Raw, difficult, perfect.

So after 2 events I was in second place with 6 total points, 1 back of Sveinbjorn of Iceland and 1 ahead of Mikko from Finland. This meant that the 3rd event of the day was going to be vitally important to set myself up to have a chance of winning it on day 2.

Thanks to my buddy Mike from RAF Mildenhall, I’m going to have access to video footage of this and other events from the weekend. I will do my best to edit them quickly into a series of videos showing everyone exactly what it was like to do these WODs. Depending on the UK’s mail services, you can probably expect those to be done later this week.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Qualified!

What a weekend!!! Couldn’t be happier or more excited to qualify. There is much to tell, which I will do my best to do over the next few days. I intend to recap each event from my perspective and the Regional itself overall. Currently I am sore, exhausted, and hungover from a big night out with friends and competitors in Copenhagen, so rather than writing a half assed synopsis now, I will wait until tomorrow to begin. For now, I just want to say thank you so much to everyone who sent notes and supported me, it really does mean a lot to hear from you. And congratulations to everyone who competed, the staff who organized the event, and to the 5 others who will make the trip to Carson in July! Good tekkers.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tapering

Tapering for a competition is a tricky thing. If you ask 10 guys their thoughts, you might get 10 different trains. Lately, many questions have been directed my way leading up to the European Regional and, at best, I am capable of answering but a few. These answers are hardly scientific and are rooted more in lessons learned from past experience than anything else.

First, the most discussed issue by far: How much time to take off?

Many coaches instruct their athletes to begin tapering their training up to 2 weeks in advance of competition. Others train up to the day of competition, arguing that the body needs to be peaking in order to perform. Undoubtedly, these different philosophies align most adeptly with the different sports/competitions from which they were born. Necessarily, then, borrowing a scheme from a track and field guru or an Olympic lifter isn’t necessarily going to be the best approach to prepping for a CrossFit event. Ideally, I’d like to be peaking but rested.

How to do that… My programming runs in 6-week cycles (1 week of rest to follow each), during which I tend to feel best during the 3rd to 4th weeks. This would be the time when I feel most ready to compete. Additionally, I’ve noticed that during my rest week, I find that after 3 days I start feeling stiff, a little less mobile, and tend to have less energy. When I have nothing else to do, this is fine—I can just work out of it during the first week of training. With a competition coming up, however, this is not ideal. With these facts in mind, then, my optimum tapering program would see me train hard for 3-4 weeks, take 3 days of complete rest, then hit the competition with high energy, high confidence, and fresh muscles. So, that’s what I try to do. I missed the mark a little this time, due largely to the unexpected ankle fiasco 2 weeks ago, but overall I still feel pretty decent. Nothing is too sore, I don’t feel too tired or stiff, and I’m starting to build up nervous energy for the weekend. All good things.

Another big question is what to eat during a tapering period. Some will say that the lower training volume necessitates a lower calorie intake. I’m not convinced of this. For the most part, I eat the same way I normally would. If anything, I eat more. 3 days of high calories is not going to weigh you down. It might actually jack up your metabolism and speed the recovery process. I try to eat more of the things I know my body needs in the days leading up to competition, including supplemental multi-vitamins and protein. “Carbo-loading” is a thing of the past and hasn’t really held up to heavy scrutiny, but I think nutrient loading is hugely beneficial. Knowing that my body is going to be shouldering intense demands without optimal recovery between, it only makes sense to top up every reserve.

Last thing is the sleep/stress relationship. In my experience, the 3 days before a competition should be spent as horizontal as possible. I may throw in a few bodyweight squats, pushups, or good mornings to generate some circulation, but for the most part, getting off my feet is the name of the game. Take naps if you can, go to bed early, and get quality sleep. When you are awake, working, or doing other things, try to keep your mind off the event. This is hard to do, and I say this with severe self-criticism. Nobody won a competition 3 days before it happened, but many wind themselves up so much that they nearly lose it. Over-analyzing minutia does not help you do any better, trust me. Establish a subtle strategy for each event, visualize how it’s going to feel to do the movements, imagine concentrating on the workout rather than the other competitors, then leave it alone. Letting go and getting quality rest will help the body be in top form when you need it.

I’m really looking forward to this weekend, both for the competitive atmosphere and to see a whole host of friends in the process. I doubt I will be able to post much while there, but I’ll try.

Best of luck to everyone competing here in Europe and back home in the States. Go get it!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Scottish Highlands

Workout of the Day:

Climb 4000 feet

Along the way...

Trail run intervals

Handstand pushups

Turkish getups

L-sit holds

Spider climbs

We arrived late Saturday night and had a couple drinks with Magnus's family and the rest of the crowd still mingling around the hotel bar. After some good conversation and a bit of planning for the following day, we headed to bed to get some rest. It had been a long few days of traveling and everyone was wiped out.

I awoke to a view I recognized. The bay window of the hotel looked out on Loch Leven as it stretched towards the North Atlantic, the same view consistently shown in the Harry Potter movies. Pretty cool to see it in real life. We were met with 4 full Scottish breakfasts (consisting of 2 eggs, 2 pieces of ham, 2 sausages, baked beans, black pudding, potato bread, and a grilled tomato), and some hot coffee. After enjoying this warm hospitality, we prepped for the day, one that would include a hike along one of North Scotland's many picturesque ridges to a peak just under 4000 feet above the valley.

The initial part of the climb was tame, slowly gaining altitude as we wove our way through creeks, trees, and small climbs. Jason and I did a series of interval runs through this portion, running about a minute at a time then walking a minute or so. The idea here was to spike the heartrate without killing ourselves before the real work began. After about a mile or so, Magnus took an abrupt right turn and started heading directly up the side of the mountain. This meant we were hiking through a minefield of prickly heather brush and soggy algae pockets. After a few hundred yards, everyone had swamp foot, but no one seemed to care.

During this part of the climb I started to get into a Tabata-like rhythm. The grade was getting steeper, to the point that every step was practically a full range single leg squat. I would go 20 steps hard right up the face, the rest 10 seconds. As we approached the lower crest, the workload had built up, I was getting hungry, and everyone needed a break.

When we reached the lower ridge, I lost my breath. Suddenly we were faced with a 360 degree panorama of some of the best country there is anywhere. I was transported back in time, imagining every highlander who had hiked the ridges that connect Scotland’s many lakes, seas, and oceans. At this point the sky couldn’t have been bluer, the breeze was calm, and everyone took a moment to appreciate the experience. We continued the climb up beyond the grass-line, over some loose rock and steep grade until we reached the summit. When we arrived there were only 2 others resting at the top. Everything was visible from here, including the highest peak in the UK, not far from us to the North. We enjoyed the moment, did some handstands, L-sits, and fireman squats, took some water down and killed as much time as we thought prudent before heading back down the climb.

I felt much worse on this part, my ankles starting to fatigue and wear out after the long day of activity. Coming down the heather actually felt like a nice cushion. We stopped for air where an old foot bridge stood guard along the main trail. The undercarriage was lined with steel I-beams set roughly 3 feet apart, a perfect distance for doing connected spider climbs. Magnus led the way, being the avid climber that he is, and the rest of us followed. It was good to see him do it first just so that we understood how important using your feet can be. He finished all four braces where John, Jay, and I each failed somewhere after 2.

The remainder of the hike was just about getting back. We rolled into town exhausted but fulfilled, and had time for a quick meal before heading to catch the train back to Edinburgh. This was a whirlwind adventure, too short by years it seems, but it’s one I can’t imagine living without. Magnus’s family is a collection of incredible people that I feel privileged to have met, and I’m hoping to return for another visit while writing my thesis next month. Cannot thank them enough.

The video of the hike is below.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Edinburgh

Workout of the Day:

5 rounds for completion

10 meter rope climb

50 air squats

We got in to Edinburgh Friday night around 10:30 and met Jay and his Clark Gabel mustaches about the same time. Great seeing him again. The three of us stumbled our way to a hotel for the night, popping our heads in to a couple of pubs and restaurants before crashing hard.

Saturday morning came early, and the plan was to fill it with as much as possible. John came through with a huge connection from the fire department back in Sacramento, hooking us up with his friend’s brother Magnus—physics student and rock climber extraordinaire. We jumped over to Magnus’s place (just a few blocks from our hotel it turned out) with all our gear and a lot of energy. He lived on the top floor of an old townhouse that featured a weathered spiral staircase connecting all levels. John turned to me immediately and said, “Rope climb?” Magnus was down, so we checked the top banister for strength and began tying things off. Save a few abrasions and an ill-advised barefoot climb (Mulligan), this came off really well.

We staggered our starts and didn’t keep a running clock, figuring just finishing 5 rounds of this sequence would be a victory in itself. Technique was key, and we quickly learned that avoiding the ledges of each floor was the most important factor in saving strength. After doing 50 meters of this kind of climbing, a simple straight rope will feel like a walk in the park.

Everyone finished, though different periods of rest and recovery were utilized for safety purposes. Personally I felt pretty good throughout. Pacing on long climbs is important so you don’t hit total failure before you get your feet on the top ledge, so I tried not to blow things out at any point. We hit a big brunch upstairs after we finished before heading over to Edinburgh castle for some sightseeing.

This castle is legit. The huge block of stone it sits upon rises up like a cliff, making the castle look literally impenetrable. Just getting up to the thing from the cliff side is a workout in itself. We saw the crown jewels (unreal sword, sheath, and crown), the great hall filled with weapons and old execution re-enactments, and spent some time in the memorial to fallen Scottish soldiers. This last bit was especially impressive. No pictures allowed, but the central shrine featured a beautiful green marble tomb, on top of which sat a chest that has been unopened since it was first placed there. Hanging above in chandelier like manner is an enormous statue of Saint Michael, the archangel. Needless to say, this was a moving atmosphere.

After the castle, we hustled back to Magnus’s house where we learned of our next adventure…the highlands. His parents own and operate a hotel just on the edge of Loch Leven, famous for its spectacular hiking and location at the mouth of North Atlantic Ocean. Magnus was needing to grab some stuff from his folks anyways and thought we might enjoy the experience. To say this was agreed upon quickly is an understatement. We gathered up our things and got on the earliest possible train from Edinburgh, fully prepared for what was turned out to be one of the best 24 hour adventures I have ever had.