But it's not what you think.
Athlete, to me:"You're one of those Green Army guys from the Sault, eh?"
Me, still grinning after the 4th WOD: "Oh, yeah!"
Athlete: "You guys brought some awesome athletes down! Thanks for making the drive, man!"
This was the story, echoed over and over to each of us individually: that the Catalyst crew was always smiling; always having fun; always polite. Almost as if we were grateful to be there. Which, of course, we were. You do not, as a rule, get to pull up stakes, commit two days to driving and another two to competing, without massive support. Our friends stayed with us all weekend on facebook and twitter; our spouses took care of everything you could ever imagine; our other coaches kept the Park alive and thumpin'. Thanks. We ARE grateful.
On to the event itself:
The goal of this new level of competition, Sectionals, is to qualify athletes for the Regional (National) level of competition based on skill. Obviously, there's still a time element, because the more skilled will be able to complete each task faster. But what matters at Sectionals is not how fast, but how well. It's a screen for Regionals. And that means simpler WODs, lighter weights, and an atmosphere of inclusivity.
The goal of CrossFit is to improve work, defined as force x distance. And force, in turn, is mass x acceleration. Before the event had even begun, there was plenty of criticism on various discussion boards regarding the light weights and short events. My thought: if the weight is too light, then just go faster. If the Sectionals day is too easy, go home and train afterward. Sectionals is not part of the preparatory phase for Regionals; it's just a filter. Welcome the newcomer, and elevate the most proficient.
Now, the exciting part. The following is a play-by-play, from memory. You'll have to click to read it all, and I warn you: it's going to be long. But the magic is in the details, and I don't want to leave any out.
A 3000m row doesn't seem like much, on paper. But add a 12-minute time cap, a massive room full of nervous hormones, and very excited judges, and you've got an event. After Renny tried his time at a 1:55/500m pace on Thursday, I decided to attempt a 1:50/500m pace throughout. I took off at a 1:40 pace, and had to tell myself to slow down. It felt easy. And then, I hit the 500m mark. I was still putting out the same amount of energy, but my pace slowed first to 1:45, and then 1:50. My judge – Kevin – started climbing up my back. "Get that pace back down!" So I did. I held onto 1:50 until the 2000m mark, but I was starting to burn out. So I fought to keep it under 2:00 for the rest of the event, with Kevin in my ear every pull. "Drop it 2 seconds faster! Reach in farther!" Nowhere else do you get the kind of coaching while you're in the heat of battle than at CrossFit. Ray credits his referee with at least 15 seconds' improvement in his time, for reminding him to get the handle away from his chest faster. There were a lot of good technical rowers there; the kid next to me was on the Ontario Rowing Team, and his coach was behind him, yelling. I finished at 11:23; I had said I'd be happy with 11:28. That put me in 58th position after 1 event, and I was pretty happy.
Event #2 was the one I feared most. Five weeks ago, training with the Army on our Friday afternoon rip, I came close to blacking out on overhead squats. I DNF'd the workout. I went outside and lay on the concrete. Even though I came back and finished later, I was still pretty scared. But we knew this would be Josh's workout – short, crazy, and full of overhead movements and burpees.
Alecia was nervous, though. She had missed the rowing cutoff of 13:30 by a mere 37 metres, and it was heartbreaking. She wasn't sure she could snatch the 65lbs bar, and would have to clean it, press it, change hand position, and then squat every time. Brent and I took up position behind her while Ray and Josh moved in close to Whit. But first she strung 10 together. Then she hammered the burpees. After one round, she was close to Whit, who was in first place, and absolutely demolishing everyone around her. And then – she linked 10 more overhead squats together, arms shaking, and bottomed out every single rep! She crushed the burpees. Brent and I were yelling, "You're crushing it! You're way out front!" and I hope we didn't sound too surprised. I was jumping up and down, elated after knowing how nervous she'd been three minutes earlier.
And then, she cleaned the bar up. Set it on her shoulders. Back-jerked it overhead. And slowly, painstakingly, ground out every. single. rep. unbroken. I went crazy. She paused for a half-second before dropping to burpees,and I thought Brent was going to tackle her to the ground to get her down there. But she ground through them to finish in an excellent time, ahead of everyone but Whit and another girl. I thought Brent was going to heave her up onto his shoulders and run around the room with her. Me, I was pounding her on the back and yelling and trying to find her a good place to sit down.
I chose my running shoes instead of my Chucks, which was a critical error. I got all 10 overhead squats in the first round, and was catching a few people on the burpees, but kept rolling forward. The heel on my running shoes was just too high, or I was too inflexible. My quads were far more fatigued from the row than I'd anticipated, and chasing the bar 2 or 3 steps every rep was killing me. I finished in 4:52 and dropped to 70th. I mentally prepared myself to finish in that position, since the last WOD didn't look tough to anyone. Clint and Brent absolutely dominated to finish in the low 4s. And then went Josh and Ray.
We knew this would be Josh's event. But we still weren't prepared to see Josh's feet leave the damn ground on every overhead squat. We weren't prepared to see 10 overhead squats in 16 seconds, or two whole rounds done in under a minute. As he dropped the bar after his third round, I can remember thinking, "he's still got a shot at 1:40." But then, four burpees later….confusion. Judges told him to re-do two of his ten overhead squat reps. To his credit, Josh didn't question or hesitate; just grabbed the bar and went. He returned to the burpees to find that the judges wouldn't count the four he'd already done. He still came first in the entire event, with 2:05, but there could have been some bad mojo there.
Afterward, Josh was characteristically mature about it: he told me that he'd ask for the same judges for every event, because he wanted to 'be held to the highest standard. Give me the strictest judges out there.' How can you NOT love that kid?
Going into the 3rd event, I was overjoyed to see Robin and my kids sneak in at the last minute. I was focusing too heavily and not letting myself have fun (breaking my own rule for the day.) They camped out right up front to get a good view, and Avery started chanting, "go daddy go!" long before the event was underway. Two false starts later, I was first off the deadlifts. I had to repeat four pullups; the event standards mandated that your chin had to jut out over the bar, breaking its vertical plane. The bar was exceptionally fat (2" plus tape,) and my judge had a hard time seeing my chin going over every time. I asked him to stand beside me instead of in front, and nailed the missed reps. The ring dips felt easy, and I was back on the bar in 3rd. I had to repeat a few dips on the second round, but was really motoring until the fifth round, when I started having trouble with locking out my right arm on the ring dips. It was a very minute problem, but it must have been obvious to Kevin, my judge. After the fifth round, I wasn't very tired, thanks to my nice breaks on the rings, and so he was surprised when I paused by the deadlift bar to trade thumbs-up signs with my kids. Then I cranked out the deadlifts and finished at 6 2/3 rounds. I was tired but could have gone a bit more if not for the dips (I'm sure every single person is writing the same today.)
I was a little pissy about the pullups, I admit it. But I thought about Josh, and decided to ask for Kevin as a judge tomorrow. I didn't wa
nt to get away with ANYTHING. Josh and Ray lined up with Matt Lefave (at that point, ranked #1 overall, and featured on a video on our site a few weeks ago when he visited the Sault.) Both pushed hard; Ray made the rings look absolutely easy, and Josh did his thing to finish very high. We waited for the last 5 heats to go, finishing around 8pm, and then the 'big reveal' of the fourth event. We figured Chipper; there were reports coming in that it had been posted to the CrossFit Games site,and a friend from another affiliate suggested it was 50-10 of both wall balls and double-unders. I winced. Then, when I heard the REAL workout, I wished for wall balls.
On the surface, it looked almost impossible. I dreaded the length, just because half-hour heats would meant that I'd have to be back at the hotel for checkout before my heat was called. We walked back to the hotel in the dark, with me brooding.
Way too early, in the dark and sleet, we met again for the final walk. Brent and Alecia had been up since 1:30am, when their ceiling started to leak. I was awake at 1am when Orrie fell out of bed, poor kid. Josh was anxious to be done, but was already sitting in 3rd, so we knew he was bound for a Regionals invite. Ray, ever the statesman, shared a terrific analogy of two bulls on a hilltop.
We learned about the 15-minute time cap for WOD 4 when we arrived. I was relieved; not because it meant that I'd finish in under 15 minutes, but because I'd likely have a chance to do the WOD before our hotel time limit was up. The event had become an AMRAP, with few expected to finish. My goal: finish one round.
The climate was definitely more loose than on Day One, when it was very tense. Lots of handshaking and picture-taking, and more 'good luck' wishes. Since the results were fairly certain except for those in 10th-20th place, the pressure was off. I asked Kevin to referee for me; he was surprised. I told Clint and Brent that we wanted to be the loudest if not the fastest. We three were in the first male heat; after watching the women, we knew that just accomplishing each task in the chipper would mean that we'd leave other competitors behind. For instance, completing the snatch x 10 would drop everyone who couldn't snatch 135lbs cleanly. The muscle-up standard was quite different, so I knew I'd be doing singles instead of attempting to link them.
The effect that close technique judging has on performance is unnerving; so much so that after every single repetition on the snatch and muscle-up, I'd stop and ask the judge if the rep counted. Multiply that by twelve competitors in each event, and you get the feeling that you're watching a dozen Ferraris cruise around a track in third gear. I was very loose, and started cheering for a competitor when he finished the muscle-ups ahead of me. In the middle of my snatch reps, I was yelling, 'Go Rosie!' at Brent, and my judge told me to hurry up and pay no attention to the other competitors. Haha. Luckily, Ray snuck up behind the pullup bars and talked to me as I was starting the muscle-ups: "You have plenty of time. You're way ahead. Just get them one at a time." I talked to judges between reps; they thought I was crazy, but I didn't want to do any extra. When I finally grabbed the water jugs, I was shocked at how light they were, and sprinted the 50m course, then turned and sprinted back. From the crowd, I could hear competitors cheering. It's one of my favourite memories. Then I started double-unders; slowly worked my way through the box jumps; got 15 of the knees-elbows. The judges pushed me for one more rep with 5 seconds left, but instead I said, 'I'm done, thanks' and shook their hands and told them what a great job they'd done. I didn't find out until later, but Rosie and Clint both got stuck on the muscle-ups with some technique errors.
Whitney and Alecia smoked through the double-unders, hammered the box jumps, and whipped through the knees to elbows. Sadly, that was the end of the day for Alecia, who had to spend the next 10 minutes attempting a 85lbs snatch, which would have been a PR. Her referees coached her well, and she came close 2 or 3 times. Whit hammered through a round and a half, finishing with 3 or 4 knees-elbows, one of only 4 women to make it through a round. Quite an accomplishment.
Besides the awesome atmosphere, we were surprised by a few visitors: first, Tom and Katie Rose came in to cheer for us (Mel Rose's siblings, who work out at CrossFit Kitchener) and then Rob Shaughnessy and Kelly Booth drove from Niagara with their little kids to watch! Thanks, guys – it meant a lot to have you there.
On several different occasions, judges and other competitors commented to us that we were among the happiest; the most polite; and we looked like we were having more fun. If that's our legacy, I'm ecstatic. And finishing in 55th? I'm elated. In a room full of athletes for whom "ridiculous" is the <default> setting, it's huge.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for your comments (Renny read them to us in the bleachers) and thanks for making up Green Army. You pushed us every step.