My name is Matthew Wiebke. I competed at the 2016 CrossFit Games in the 40-44 age group, where I finished 15th. While I was displeased with the result, I learned a ton about preparing and about competing. After the Games were over, I took a little time to relax and recover, then I made a training plan for one more run at making the Games and a better result. I put this together to share my perspective on our little slice of the Games, and to share some of the lessons I learned for competitors and aspiring competitors at all levels.
Most of you have already seen pictures of the gear we received. If you haven’t, here it is:
The Reebok team on site processed us through a seemingly endless assembly line of gear. I especially appreciated the socks. I know that sounds a little silly, but, given the abuse our feet take, high quality socks really make a difference. After we finished with Reebok, other sponsors like Gatorz, RomWod and Compex provided us with still more gear. It was actually difficult to carry it from the tent back to the parking lot, even if I used the huge, well-designed duffel bag provided by Reebok. The next day, we had an athlete briefing to familiarize us with the key people and procedures. A familiar face kicked things off:
Dave Castro greeted us, congratulated us and told us to compete hard, but have fun doing it. Dave came to a few of our events and twice talked to me personally after events, asking me how it was going, if I was having a good time and if there was anything I felt he needed to know. I told him I was having a blast and I thanked him for his efforts. He came across as very sincere, hardworking and genuinely interested in how we older athletes, the undercard, so to speak, were doing.
The WODs for our division were as follows:
I met my coach in the warm up area and finalized our plan for this collection of easy but not-fun movements. In practice, I learned that if you fail to pace the first half, a pace will be imposed on you during the second half. So I planned to pace the first half, take pre-determined breaks, and push the second half.
I was very nervous in the tunnel, and I was not the only one. Many athletes were pacing back and forth and it was quiet. One guy asked me how I was doing and I told him the truth, "Nervous, anxious, but excited to finally do this". He replied, “I’m way more nervous than you. I think I might shit my pants”. Thankfully, that guy did not shit his pants. (No one else did, either.)
Early in WOD 1, I fell to near the back of the pack as I stuck my planned pace. The announcer made it abundantly clear that some guys were building up quite a lead. For a split second, I contemplated breaking the plan and chasing the field, but I reminded myself that there were six or seven WODs and even if I got crushed on this one, I had plenty of others.
Those who didn't pace well got hammered by the 80 wall balls. I did 5 sets of 16, as planned. My rope climbs were smooth. (I'm pretty sure that rope was much higher than 15 feet, by the way). I fought through the second set of 40 GHDs, finished up with eight quick deadlifts and crossed the finish. My friends in the stands were holding up six fingers; I finished sixth. It could have been fifth place, but I jogged to the finish line and someone else got a half step ahead of me.
WOD 1 Result: 6th place.
Lessons from WOD 1:
Being nervous is normal. Aim to control your nerves, not eliminate them. As Castro said, it should be (at least a little bit) fun.
Before the WOD, make a plan and stick to it. If you’re new to competing, it takes a little practice to figure out how to break up a WOD and set realistic expectations. Like anything else in our sport, you get better with experience. A plan helps with nervousness.
Run to the finish line. Don't jog. Run.
I was excited for the combination of increasing weight snatches and muscle ups. I considered this a winnable event. I can power snatch around 225, so a top snatch weight of 185 played to my strengths. This was basically a heavy Amanda with more reps, but power snatches were OK. A great one for me.
My coach did not want me to do any heavy lifting in warmups. I wanted to hit a triple at 185. “Hell no”, he told me. “Do you think you forgot how to lift since you came to CA?” We agreed that I would do 3 at 135, 2 at 155 and 1 at 185 and that was it.
I moved through the 135s, hardly breaking a sweat. The muscle up rings hung from the huge Zeus rig, with the long straps increasing the "pendulum effect" and slowing my muscle ups a bit. The entire field was impacted by this; it was a frequent discussion topic afterwards. The muscle ups were a little slow, but I moved on to the 155 snatches and eventually through the 185s without any difficulty.
WOD 2 Result: 5th
Lessons from WOD 2:
Your coach’s job on game day is to make sure you’re ready, including in warmups. Listen to your coach. If you don’t trust your coach to get you ready, get a new coach.
Equipment in competition won’t always feel like your home gym. Don’t worry; this probably affects all competitors.
I knew this WOD was not going to be a great one for me. I relied on the rowing machine and the assault bike for most of my aerobic conditioning, and rowing a 5k in under 17:15 meant nothing in this WOD. By the last lap, I could see (from the top of the berm, 300 or so meters behind the leaders) that about half the field was already working on their last set of burpee box jumps and the rest of them were off the berm and on the grass. By the third lap I knew this was going to be a lousy result. I should have taken off my shirt and gotten some Sun. I was out there long enough!
WOD 3 Result: 19th place.
Lessons from WOD 3:
Competition will shove your face right into your weaknesses. Your weaknesses are simply the things you didn’t do enough of. Anyone diligently pursuing fitness should compete, at least locally. The feedback is priceless.
This WOD was a “light bulb” moment. I realized I had been training to get to the Games, not to succeed at the Games. We don’t run in the Open or the Masters Qualifier, and even the Regionals usually relegates running to a treadmill inside of a long chipper. I relied on the (more frequently tested) rowing machine for conditioning, and left a gaping hole in my fitness.
WOD 4 and 5
My coach and I expected WOD 4 would take around two minutes. 22 toes to bar, 22 light C&J, and run like hell. No breaks, and no brakes. Five seconds in this WOD would make a huge difference, so even one no-rep would be devastating. The plan was to go ~95%, just below all-out-max pace, to be sure every rep counted. And of course, breathe. This was going to be intense!
I ran to the bar and got started. My judge didn’t count the toes to bar out loud. The silence was momentarily confusing, because I like to break long sets into manageable mental “checkpoints”, so I need to know the count. Oh well! He isn’t no-repping you. Keep going. Soon, his hand was in the air and he counted down 5-4-3-2-1. The whole field advanced nearly in unison to the 22 clean and jerks. This judge thankfully counted every rep aloud. 22 unbroken, every rep good, time to run. I turned and I could feel the hydrogen ions and lactic acid taking over my body. Just keep going. It’ll be over soon. I finished in 2:12, which is just a bit faster than my Fran time. I felt about the same as after Fran: I hit the ground and didn’t move for at least a minute.
I had about three minutes of “rest” before the 1RM squat clean. The plan for the squat clean was: 225, 275, 305, and then take a shot at something if there was time and if I felt it. I made 305 in practice, wearing Nanos, so I felt good about this event. When the event started, I did a quick rep at 135 and then I quickly made 225. (I used the 135 rep to get the feel of the bar. It’s a personal preference which my coach does not like one bit.) At this point, my cheering section was yelling 277! 277! to indicate the highest lift so far. I loaded 275 and then spontaneously grabbed the 2.5 pounders and went to 280.
As I set up for 280, a camera guy set up just off my platform. This was an NFL-sideline-style camera. Huge. It was a bit disconcerting in my field of vision. That thought immediately gave way to “My friends are watching at home. Let’s do this!” 280 went up easily, and I later received about 100 social media messages indicating that it looked great on TV.
Next stop: 305. I heard my coach yell “one minute, thirty seconds”. I walked off the platform to look for the weights I needed. My judge reminded me to “please stay on the platform”. Sure. Now where are the 10s? I couldn’t find them. There were 1 lb. weights, 2lb., but where are the 10s? Clock is running. Clock is running. Clock is running. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Screw it. I grabbed the 15 pounders. 310. This is the Games, right? My (rested) 1RM is around 340. I got this! I lifted the bar and caught it and started to stand up. But the front squat wouldn’t happen. It was a close miss, the worst kind, because the fight for the rep is so taxing. 45 seconds left. No time to change weights. One more shot. 40 seconds. 30. 20. 15 seconds. I tried to tap into the energy from the now–frantic crowd. 10 seconds. Time to go. Same sequence as always: Set up, chest up, bar up, elbows up! Again I got under it and began to stand up. Here we go! Top 3, baby. But, no. I got a little further this time, but the front squat just wouldn’t happen. No rep. Time.
WOD 4 Result: 13th place.
WOD 5 result: 10th place
Lessons from WOD 4:
Make sure your running (you know, that thing we learned about in WOD 3?) includes at least a little speed work. I'm 6’ 3”, so I know that some guys will always do long sets of toes to bar faster than I do. But more people passed me on the running portion of the WOD than the “CrossFit” part, and that shouldn't happen.
·Before a WOD starts, ask your judge if they plan to count out loud or not. Either way, at least you'll know. Being unprepared for silence threw me off a little, since I wasn’t counting my own reps either. It probably didn’t matter, but on a short burner, every second counts.
Lessons from WOD 5:
Observe the layout of the lifting area before the WOD if you can. See how the weights are laid out, where the clips are, and so forth. It is a lot harder to process everything while dealing with a running clock, an excited crowd, and fire in your chest from the preceding WOD.
Stick. To. Your. Plan. A lift of 305 pounds would have placed me in the top 5 or 6. I ended up 10th with 280 because I jumped to 310. I finished behind guys I can easily out-lift because I came off of the plan. This may have cost me a top 10 overall finish and a shot at WOD 7.
By Day 3 I was exhausted. The hill run and the max clean torched my legs and hips. I’m sure others were likewise fatigued. My coach and I had very little experience with the 150lb medicine ball, but I was not alone in this regard. A few of us sort of coached each other in the warmup area. Eventually I figured out a way to lift the thing quickly. That would have to be good enough.
But it wasn’t. This WOD was a disaster. The DBall in my lane lost its shape, presumably from prior heats dropping it, so I had to rotate it in the grass before I could pick it up. My judge no-repped me once because I didn’t open my hips all the way(?), and another time because he said the ball went off the side of my shoulder. Carrying the DBall to the next station was very hard; I’m sure I did it inefficiently. There is probably an easier way. My forearms were fried and by round 3 I was reduced to doing singles on the Bar Muscle Ups.
WOD 6 Result: Dead last. Under the time cap, but, last place.
Lessons from WOD 6:
Take care of your body and think about recovery. I didn't really feel the cumulative effect of fatigue until Day 3, but it hit me like a sledgehammer. The athlete area had ice baths, massage tables, Airrosti people and air conditioned tents. I took advantage of none of it. Use what is provided. If I make it back next year, I am going to bring a cot and live in the recovery area.
Some WODs will go badly. Equipment may be banged up, especially in local competitions. Judges will frustrate you, but standards are the reason we have a sport, so just do what they say and keep going. I try to just smile and keep moving.
Last happens! In every competition, someone has to finish last. In WOD 6, I was that someone. Whether it is constructive or destructive is up to you. I lost that WOD but learned from it! It's OK to bomb out of a WOD if you understand why you bombed out and work to correct it.
After WOD 6, Castro assembled all the Master’s athletes in the tennis stadium. I don’t have any pictures because we went straight from the WOD to the tennis stadium and I didn’t have my phone. He asked us if we had fun and invited several of us to talk about our experiences. Then he directed Brooke Ence and Paul Tremblay to demonstrate WOD 7. Unfortunately, I did not get to complete the final WOD, as I was not in the top 10. It featured a heavy axle bar, so it probably would have been a good one for me. The experience at the Games was fantastic. For three or four days, it felt like the entire CrossFit apparatus was designed to support us. I'm putting in the work to get back!
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