The memories of the “off” season are long distant. As the race season drew to a close after Gateway Cup last year, everyone on the team looked forward to something different.
Cross for many, relaxing or casual coffee rides for others. I am a goal oriented athlete and need some form of competition or personal best to break to maintain my motivation.
After a long race season I have generally had enough of the form that comes on two wheels, so I take the opportunity to pursue my other passion: picking things up and putting them down. Let me explain. I was a powerlifting in a former life (ie college) before discovering the many joys that bike racing brings.
After a few years away from serious gym work I got back into it after deciding to “bulk up” a bit for my wedding in 2014 (I’ll revisit my transition to a hybrid athlete approach in an upcoming article). The last race at Gateway Cup had barely rolled to a stop when I was already thinking about my first opportunity to lift something heavy.
In fact, my instagram feed has proof that less than 24 hours later, CityMD athlete Meg Schloat and I were knocking out some (not so) heavy squats at our neighborhood New York Sports Club.
Working with my coach, Alex Viada, we transitioned from race prep to powerlifting meet prep as I put a date for my first competition on the calendar – November 14th. Ten weeks and ten pounds of (muscle?) mass later, I was on the platform at a competition in Newark, NJ, ready to throw down with some fellow meatheads from around the tristate area. I’m guessing most readers haven’t been to a powerlifiting meet – but think of it as a track meet for weightlifting. There are three lifts: Squat, bench press and deadlift, each of which you get three attempts in to try to lift the most you can for a one rep max. Judges are on hand to ensure each lift passes muster (as in, you better be squatting deep and pausing that bench press). You compete by weight class and the total of the three events determines your placing. I had a great meet, setting competition PRs in all three lifts and taking third place in my weight class. Successful start to the “off” season, so I planned another meet for January. (Thanks to Michael Kuehn for documenting the day and coming out to explore another sport’s subculture!).
January came, I peaked, I tapered… and a shutdown of NJtransit during our ONE major snowstorm of the year derailed my next meet. I sat on the coach and watched snow piled up outside my window, wondering what to do with my hopefully enhanced yet unproven gainzzz from the last couple months. Maybe it was a moment of weakness, but while browsing Facebook I came across an acquaintance promoting a Crossfit competition at a gym in Connecticut.. and I signed up. It was a two man team competition, which meant I’d get to compete with my training partner (we’ll call him Big C). The entirety of my Crossfit experience consisted of ONE workout I’d done a couple years prior. And let me be clear – powerlifting and Crossfit are not very similar, they are as different as comparing a MTB and road race. Some attributes (strength, endurance) might transfer, but it is an entirely different ball game. Three weeks later, Big C and I were still somewhat perplexed by our decision to enter as we started the 5am drive to Connecticut.
After stocking up on doughnuts and coffee and circumnavigating a strip mall, we arrived at the gym. The perks of having abundant and cheap suburban square footage was apparent upon entering – THIS was a gym I’d like to work out at. Elevated DJ booth, full bar, rows and rows of squat racks… The energy from the other competitors in the gym was infectious. There would be around 50 teams, or 100 athletes, competing with a near equal number of friends and spectators. The entire event was sponsored by Relentless Jeans (tagline: Now you can have quads and jeans), a company that surely cyclists and weightlifters can both agree on fills a very necessary fashion niche. After making a few new friends (who were similarly perplexed why two dudes would drive to Connecticut from NYC to compete in something they had no experience in) we received our briefing on the competition, which would consist of three workouts.
Workout #1 - Relentless Jeans Time Total
Each team has 15 minutes to establish a combined 1 rep max Strict Press, Back Squat and Deadlift.
Workout #2 - 100 clean and jerks with a kicker
100 reps of power cleans and jerks with 135lbs. 1 person working at a time. Every minute on the minute one teammate must stop working while the other performs 5 Toes to bar.
Workout #3 - Quad Buster
Each team will row 3k row. The partner not rowing will perform wall balls with 20lb medicine ball. If your team completes the row in under 12 minutes both players will perform wall balls.
The first workout would be our bread and butter – lifting things up was what we did well and was a reason we signed up in the first place. When the whistle blew Big C and I got to work. We had one rack and barbell to share between us, so we quickly built the weight up going back and forth on reps. With the DJ blaring Lil Jon we each successfully squatted 365lbs, then 405lbs before finishing with 425lbs, a personal best for me in a competition setting. We ran through the overhead press and deadlift and then time was up. Once the dust settled we checked our position - of all teams entered we were in third place!! Not a bad way to start one’s first Crossfit competition.
We had about an hour of rest as the other teams worked through the first workout, before #2 started. This would be foreign territory – while we both knew how to clean and jerk we had never done anywhere near 100 repetitions. We intended to split the work fairly equally, so we’d each be responsible for about 50 reps. As the lighter and more agile of the two of us, I’d also be responsible for a majority of the “kickers” with the toes to bar. As workout #2 started we settled into a rhythm, quickly getting up to 50 reps between us. The toes to bar were taking a toll though, as I had no idea how to do the “kipping” movement that most competitors were using to quickly motor through the reps. The other teams around us began to finish and we slogged on, our “sets” reduced to just two or three reps at a time. Big C took a brief break on the floor and had to be coerced back to the bar with my yelling. Sarah, our referee, offered encouragement: “Just 20 more, just 15 more…” and eventually – abdominals and quads burning, shoulders spasming, we finished. Not the last team, but far from the first.
Finally, the “Quad Burner” lay ahead of us. Watching several groupings of teams compete ahead of us we saw we were in for some torture. 12 minutes of pure lactic pain, if you weren’t rowing your heart out you were repeatedly front squatting and chucking a heavy medicine ball 10 feet up a wall (with constant harassment/motivation from the partner behind you on the erg, telling you to squat faster, throw harder). Sweat poured, shirts came off and finally the whistle blew. The floor space immediately next to my erg provided sweet, cold solace from the burning in my quads. Eventually we limped to the sidelines to watch other athletes take our places and begin their suffering.
While our podium spot was long ago surrendered, the entire day was a blast. The energy, the music, the fans.. this is how competitions should be run. Imagine having a couple DJ’s spinning at your local crit (Orchard Beach perhaps??). We discussed that we would try this again someday, but not anytime soon. And maybe a little more practice beforehand.