On December 10th, 2016, I competed in my third strongman contest. The contest was called Winter Wreckage 2.0 and it was held in Lancaster, PA. This contest was hosted by the United States Strongman organization. USS is a newer organization than Strongman Corporation (formerly NAS), which was founded a few years ago by Willie Wessels. Many current and former competitive strongmen will recognize that name, as Willie has been around the sport since the days of Joel's contests. Willie was actually at this competition and at weigh-ins, which brings me to my first anecdote from the weekend.
I traveled to this contest with my wife Caitlin and training partner Sam Brown. Sam was cutting weight to make the 198 lbs division. We drove straight from South Kingstown, RI to the event location in Lancaster, PA so Sam could weigh in ASAP, begin to re-hydrate and refuel with food. It took Sam a little extra cardio and a little less clothing at the last minute to make weight, but he did! I was not worried about weigh-ins since I was competing in the under 308 lbs class. I knew I wasn't close to the limit and I weighed in at 299.0 on the dot with my track pants and t-shirt on. This was actually a little heavier than I expected.
As I mentioned, Willie was at weigh-ins completing membership enrollment and supervising. Since I knew Joel knew Willie, I approached him, introduced myself and explained how I worked with and knew Joel Sward. Willie took a second to process the name and his face lit up with recognition. He explained how he remembered Joel and that he looked like a cartoon character because he was so huge! He also recalled one of Joel's performances in a Bavarian Deadlift event in Urbana, IL where Joel tied pro strongman Brad Schoenfeld with the heaviest lift of that day. I thought it was cool that Willie remembered Joel and even could recall a specific contest where Joel excelled. After weigh-ins, we headed back to the hotel, got checked in and fueled up for the contest the next morning.
We woke up with plenty of time for Caitlin and I to head down to breakfast. Sam skipped breakfast because he felt too nervous and wasn't very hungry. For some reason I wasn't very anxious about this contest and was more relaxed going into it. Maybe it was because I am gaining experience or maybe it was because I didn't have very high expectations of a stellar performance.
After breakfast we headed to the contest. The venue was called McMillan Training Systems. It was a huge facility that had tons of great equipment. Contest promoter Rob Howe went over the rules of the contest. Since we would be using the same weights, they combined the 308 lbs and super heavyweight (SHW) 308 lbs and up weight classes, so there were 7 of us total. After the rules it was time to warm up. Here are the events and how I performed in each:
The log press event was for a max, using Wessels' rule. This means the log starts at a given weight (for SHW men it started at 225 lbs) and jumps 20 lbs at a time. You can start whenever you want, but you only have 3 attempts. If you miss, you're out and you get credit for your highest completed lift. After warmups I wasn't feeling particularly fired up or strong, so I opened conservatively at 245 lbs and got it. I took the next jump to 265 lbs and completed the lift, but it was slow and shaky. Log press is not my best event, but I had hit 280 lbs in the gym prior to this and was hoping to get 285 lbs at this contest. Although I wasn't sure if I would get it, I took the jump to 285 lbs and missed. 265 lbs wasn't great, but it put me in 2nd in the 308s and 4th out of 7 in the combined class.
Next up was the Farmer's Walk. 50 feet with 305 lbs per hand as fast as you can carry them. I was confident that I would do pretty well in this event, since 305 lbs is not too heavy and I usually can move pretty well with a relatively lighter weight. This was the first event that they had a pre-determined order of competitors. Since this contest was so large, the organizers did not re-order the competitors based on standings after each event which is sometimes done in strongman. That provides an advantage for the competitor in first place, as they get to see how well they need to do on each event to maintain first. I was about middle of the pack in the order and it stayed that way for the remainder of the contest. While waiting my turn, I noticed some of the other competitors were getting the start command, then dropping their hips to pick the implements up and go. I wanted to focus on getting tight and loading up my hips and hamstrings before the command, so I was ready to lift the implements right when the timer said "Go!". I did this on my turn and ran the 50 feet in 7.17 seconds, which gave me 2nd place. There were some fast competitors in this event. Some of the lighter guys did the 50 ft in only 6 seconds!
AXLE DEADLIFT FOR REPS
After getting 2nd in the Farmer's Walk, it was time to warm up for deadlift. This event was as many reps as possible with 525 lbs in 60 seconds on an axle bar, which is a 2" thick, extremely stiff bar. This makes it harder to pull on than a normal bar. To top it off, you had to wait for the "up" or "lift" command from the referee, as well as a "down" command, so you couldn't bounce the bar or do touch and go reps. Each rep was from a dead stop. About half of the field went ahead of me, and the number to beat was 6 reps in a minute. I had done 9 in training, so I was sure I could beat 6. This event was two competitors at a time pulling side by side, so I went up against another lifter. The guy to my right was first in log press and third in farmer's, so he was first overall. The clock started and I pulled two easy reps, but on my third I did not wait for the down command, so I had that rep taken away. During that exchange with the ref, I noticed the competitor to my right flying through reps and extending his lead well past 6 reps. Therefore, I figured I would pull 7 reps, put myself in 2nd place and stop. Luckily, no other competitors overtook my 7 reps so I was able to secure 2nd.
HUSAFELL STONE CARRY
After taxing our lower backs and hamstrings with deadlift, it was time to tax our upper back and our hamstrings further with a Husafell Stone carry. The rules were max distance in 60 seconds with unlimited drops, with turns at 40 ft. To be honest, I was dreading this event. After talking to my competitors it turns out I wasn't the only one. Max distance front carries are brutal events. The implement constricts your breathing and you have to dig deep and not give up if you want to do well. It is a mental battle that leaves you very fatigued. Training for this event went fine and I pushed myself a few times to work through that mental zone of wanting to quit. I have an advantage on this event because of height and arm length. I have long strides so I can cover more distance and longer arms so I can wrap around and get a solid grip. After watching the other competitors push themselves, I have to admit it got my adrenaline pumping. I also noticed that most of them would drop the stone and come up with cuts and scratches on their wrists. I got the idea to use my wrist wraps (normally used for pressing) to soften the impact of the stone, allowing me to not focus on that pain and travel further. When it was time for my turn, I honestly had no idea who was in first or what the distance to beat was. I was just planning on going until I couldn't go any further. I picked up the stone, popped it into position and began to walk. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as terrible as I expected it to be. Unfortunately, the wrist wrap idea was a mistake. The material couldn't grip the stone as well as my skin could and it began to slip. I completed 4 laps and the stone slipped too low and I dropped it. However, you were allowed to drop and re-pick the stone, and I still had about 15 seconds left. I took off my wraps, picked the stone up and finished my 5th lap plus an additional 40 feet in the last 10 seconds or so. That final burst was enough to propel me into first in the Husafell Stone carry.
After 4 events, I assumed I was somewhere around 2nd or 3rd in the pack. My training partner Sam was doing amazing in the 198 lbs class. He had won 3/4 of the events so far! As we were gearing up for stones, we noticed the contest had come to a halt and it seemed we had plenty of time to relax and recover before it was our turn to do the stones. Since the gym was huge, we were over 100 yards away from the stone platforms, and we could not hear the names being called. We were not paying attention and Sam missed his turn! That was a huge bummer, since he was almost certainly going to get first place. It turns out since he got a 0 on that last event that he got 2nd, but he did set a PA state log record and qualify for nationals in the process. Lesson learned for next time.
After that, I went to the platform and tried to focus. The stone series for the SHW class was 250, 300, 330 and 365 lbs stones to 4 platforms that decreased in height as the weight went up. I was very confident I could load 3/4 of the stones, but I had never touched 365 lbs before and that was causing me concern before and during the contest. When it came time for my turn, I focused in and went. The first stone was glued to the floor with tacky (the sticky pine tar substance used on our arms to grip the concrete stones) so it was harder than it should've been. The second stone came up and I loaded it without issue. Next was the 330 lbs stone, which I have done before, but I could not pick it up. I tried and tried but I couldn't lift it! I ended up only getting 2 stones and I was very disappointed in my performance in that event. See the videos of all the events below:
Afterwards, the dust settled and the scores were calculated. I ended up taking 3rd in the SHW class (308 lbs and 308+ combined) and 2nd out of 4 in the 308 lbs class. My 3rd place finish qualified me for USS Nationals! I did not expect to qualify going into this show, but I was pleasantly surprised that I did. Reflecting back, I did well in the moving events, but not as well as I would've liked to on log press and stones. This seems to be my current strongman situation, where I can move well but need to increase pure strength. I really need to get stronger if I am going to USS Nationals on June 24th in Detroit, because the events there are heavy! I haven't decided if I am going to yet or not, but I plan on deciding before going into the new year, and giving myself 6 months to train. I will keep you guys posted on my decision.