Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stronger Still

This weekend I paid $50 to prove I can pick up heavy stuff. It just shows how things have changed. Growing up on a farm, that privilege was free. When I filled out the entry form for the Strongman Competition held at Rainier CrossFit on July 21st, sponsors asked when and how I started training for the competition. I said, "I haven't. On the farm we called 'events' like these 'Chores'." So thanks Dad, or should I call you Coach?

In the time I've lived in Seattle, nobody's asked me to help jack up the barn, bring in the hay, or clear a field so I suppose in today's world I need to pay for my manual labor fix. And pay I did. I gave up the extra elbow room between vertebrae that I wasn't using. Well, I wasn't using it much. And after sashaying about with nearly twice my body weight in my hands or on my back, I'll never see 5'4" again. Drats. I dominated at 5'4".


Turns out I can't cram for a Strongman. I can't spend years training to deadlift with perfect posture and then expect to wrap myself around a rock like we're pals and hurk it off the ground. It defies all my careful consideration for spinal preservation. If I was accustomed to showing so little regard for my own personal protection, I would have accidentally eliminated myself long ago to great applause from Darwin. And the stones got my shirt dirty - I'm just saying.

Carrie and I started lugging two weeks before the event. We laughed. Turns out we weren't exactly, uh, rock stars. Carrie is tall and lanky and bruises easily. Attempting to crouch over the stone still produced the mechanics of an Olympic Lifter - a habit hard to break apparently. I waited as she pulled. It looked like it was going to be a spectacular kick-to-a-handstand. Oh, wait - wasn't she trying to pick that up? Damn, sister.

I made a few attempts to pass internal organs before I declared my technique lacking. And I got dizzy. Very, very dizzy. I asked Sean, a Highland Game competitor and Strongman himself, for some pointers. My forearms got scraped raw and I got very, very dizzy. Progress.

We couldn't clean the axle off the floor for the jerk event. I have small hands and I've been suffering from chronic limp-grip which makes holding onto the fat bar pretty tough. My only recourse was a Zercher lift, which is to say I was desperate. This is the kind of lift you should only do at an accident scene to free a small child that's trapped. Done right, this lift will bruise most of your body before slamming against your clavicle. Done wrong and this lift will bruise most of your body before slamming back to the floor. My thoughts about resorting to the Zercher? Imagine you're mingling at a swank party and you've got a big stain on your shirt - you can't pretend that nobody sees it but you're tired of having conversations about it.

Important Strongman Fashion

“Show me what you’ve got in a bus dragging shoe?” It wasn’t the question a 16 year old Sports Authority clerk was expecting to answer but then it wasn’t a question I was ever expecting to ask. Now, shoes worn while a bus drags me? That’s easy – something snazzy that fits snug and has room on the toe to pencil in my social security number and next of kin. But who knows how to prepare for this? If life threw me a set of circumstances that required dragging a bus, it would seem fashionable footwear would be the least of my concerns. Reasonable people don’t drag a bus intentionally and even unintentionally if they can help it. No, if I found myself in a desperate bus-dragging dilemma I’d probably just be happy that I wasn’t wearing Crocs though it should be noted that any day I wasn't wearing Crocs would likely be a happy one. So what constitutes reasonable planning for circumstances that are unreasonable?

On to other considerations, when shorts have a more limited range of motion than I do, shameful things happen. You're average runway models - even ones that've mastered circuit class - don’t squat with weight, deadlift, drag a bus or walk while carrying a 250 pound yoke but if they did, I soon realized, they'd be sporting butt crack with finess. Provocative on a model dancing in a club, a pedestrian case of 'plumber's butt' on the burly chick wrapped around a boulder. That's a look I hoped to avoid.

Since I was shopping for shorts suitable for a strongman competition, these would be no ordinary dressing room rigors. Based on the look the clerk gave me as I exited said dressing room, 'trying on' clothes should not resemble Kung Fu fighting or convince other dressing room inhabitants that I'm in need of rescue. I wore sweatpants and called it good.

The Day of the Event

The female competitors were friendly and continually denied having ever trained for the event either. I felt at ease and assumed the weekly photo updates posted at were stunt doubles dressed to look like competitors honing their skills. Either way, it should be said that I could have gone down to train but I didn't. And they were all very nice which I would have said even if they weren't the first group of women I've met in a long time that might actually be able to kick my ass.

One woman sparked several conversations about why weight classes are necessary. Anything else I say on that subject is just going to sound bitchy. Another woman's entire training regimen seemed to be driven by the 'double dog dare.' her technique was tragic but she was strong like bull. After the deadlift, I wanted to take her spine into protective custody. She is clearly both fearless and bulletproof. I fear her last words on this planet will be, "hey, watch this . . . ."

The second-place finisher was cute, twenty, and slightly built yet she was amazingly gifted. She had only been CrossFitting for a few months and had entered the strongman competition for fun. She was enthusiastic and confident and very supportive of our efforts. After marveling that more woman should be like her, I tried strenuously to crush her spirit and undermine her self-esteem.

The men were a little harder to cozy up to.

Two brawny men used chalk like war paint and rushed the platform in a fit of adrenalin aroused by the ritual pre-lift slap and grope they offered one another and the smelling salts they used. If you squinted, the slapping and in-your-face caterwauling looked a little like a 2 a.m. drunken girl-fight on a Pioneer Square sidewalk. One of them got so excited he nearly slid from the platform when he charged the bar for a deadlift. I was mesmerized and I wasn't above such tactics either. If it looked like it worked I was going to start the next event by yelling to Carrie that she's a 'stupid face' and then sniffing old Tupperware fished from the back of my jeep. It didn't appear to be necessary.

Chris Davis (if you link to this site, watch the fight and don't be distracted by the boobs), one of my favorite CrossFit converts and a Saturday Open Mat grappling buddy competed. He's the sweetest guy in the world if he's not punching the snot out of you. Luckily I just spent Saturday's squirming out of his arm bar. The combination of fear and fitness fueled my bottom game. It had Chris asking me how I trained. He's been at Rainer CrossFit ever since.

Tim Tolliver was impressive as always. At around 160 pounds, this was not his event to win but his athleticism was so apparent and his efforts so strong that he was certainly a stand-out. He teaches classes at Level 4 CrossFit Seattle but he stops by NorthWest CrossFit occasionally to post sub 3 Fran's. Yikes.

Tim also trains with us at CrossFit Eastside occasionally and the strong O-lifting influence was apparent in Tim, Carrie and me. I won the jerk contest, in spite of the Zercher, and Carrie's movement with the bar was precise and poetic. It was a Fred and Ginger moment: just a girl and her axle. I admired her clean which she executed with the hissy-fit stomp of a Lifting Shoe and attitude. It pretty much screamed, "Take that, Big Girls!" especially since we could never clean the bar successfully in practice.

Play by Play

The yoke was the first event and I realized that I wasn't prepared for the swing of the weights. It's a forward marching Merengue with short choppy steps and hip swing to the rhythm of swaying weights. A pity I was wearing tap shoes and feeling sorta salsa. The woman next to me took off in a sprint. Apparently she wears this thing around the house while she does the laundry.

Dragging the bus turned out to be a Letterman 'Stupid Human Trick' gone wrong. Damn public transport. One by one the first three of us strained at the harness in an attempt to budge the thing and it wasn't going to move. The other competitors were getting nervous and Tim said he couldn't watch anymore because it was psyching him out. Sean stepped in and gave the thing a tug to see if something was wrong. Turns out it was parked in some kind of pothole. The good news is they moved it to a higher location, the bad news is we got to pull it again. After an eternity of straining, I didn't have a lot of fight left in me for another round. I'll also never be able to take the #49 downtown again without my intestines aching. I dragged it the distance but it wasn't my best work.

I didn't win. A Strongman Competition is a specialized event that requires specialized training and Carrie and I were two generalists that crashed the party. It's easy to say that I would've placed better if I had trained harder but that kind of speculation is pointless and unfair. Anything can happen and it's unwise to assume your competition wouldn't rise to the occasion. It's easy to sit on the sidelines and make bold claims without giving credit to those who worked their asses off and had he balls to show up.
But why enter a competition you haven't trained for? Because life is like that and so is CrossFit. That's why we folks have first aid kits, emergency supplies and mixed modal training. CrossFit offers a foundation which will serve you well in any competition but will not score you a victory when specialized techniques are called for.
My strength in that event may not have been impressive but the strength of my community that day was remarkable. Over twenty Eastsiders showed up to play along or to cheer. Whether it was for me, for Carrie, for CrossFit or for the spirit of competition itself, each of our members contributed a valuable part of the experience.
We went to our Buckley outpost for a barbecue at Sean and Madonna's after the event to eat and to play. Nick, who attended the event with his sister, Sophie and their father Bruce, pulled out his own blossoming competitive spirit to declare his plans to kick Brock's ass at Guitar Hero by playing 'Stairway to Heaven' behind his back. We watched the guitar solo in awe knowing that this was a shining moment in a day of sacrifice on his family's part. They gave up almost an entire day of reading the newly released Harry Potter - days later Sophie declared it was awesome - to watch us work.
We sat around challenging each other to pull-up variations mostly spurred on by Bridget's first ever pull-up earlier in the week. We swung, some drunkenly, on a bar strung across the doorway and I remembered why I entered. These people would've supported me no matter what and they'll come back to better my scores next year because I helped pave the way. I almost got to enjoy a moment of contentment until I heard that Matthew, the 20-something ex-college-football player was challenging me to a 'Grace' face-off. 30 Clean and Jerks for time and my time was the fastest. Damn, back to training . . . .