Monday, May 31, 2010

Canada Crossfit Regionals

I spent the weekend cheering/coaching my wife, Kim Csizmazia, and all the other athltes at the Canada Crossfit Regional Games, which are a sort of athletic torture festival. Athletes at the Regionals have already qualified through a "Sectional," and a top six result at the regionals will send them to the Games finals in California. The competition is fierce, the events nasty, and the effort level high.

I wrote most of the following as notes on my phone during the event, so it's a bit rough, quick sort and here it all is:


-Masters. The over-50 athletes are strong, every time I caught a little of their action I was incredibly stoked. I would love to be over 50 and still putting strong numbers like theirs. Solid.
-Crossfit athletic skills. Double-unders (skipping two revolutions of the rope per jump, it's harder than it sounds), overhead squats, wall balls, etc. If you didn't have these skills dialed you were going home in the bottom of the pack. Watching someone bust out 50 double-unders without breaking a sweat is impressive, give it a try... The level is now high.
-Going hard. These athletes try hard. That "dig deeper" effort is a hard thing to teach, but Crossfit does a uniquely good job of getting people to reach way outside the individual comfort zone many people never leave. Respect for that, it's one of the most valuable things Crossfit can teach.
-Ability to do an incredible amount of work for short (under 20 minutes) time. Tire flipping, clean and jerk, running, going like a total nut case for about 10 minutes for the winners. I'm super impressed, that's sick.
-Physical results. The top athletes, male or female, were physically impressive, and also impressive for what they could do. I did a workout in a local gym one day during the event, it was funny to watch a guy doing bicep curls after seeing a CF woman bust out sets of 20 pullups straight (full ROM too). No arguing with the look of the athletes, if you wanna look good naked this stuff works.
-Good vibe. Overall very positive, pretty much standard stoke for any good athletic event.
-Kim. She has a hip that's been resurfaced, a gimped knee, she's 42 and many other things that generally don't help athletic performance, but she gave it the whole comp and placed mid-field despite starting this up only nine months ago. If she could do double-unders she would have been ten places higher. Solid.
-The women. Crossfit is a great venue for athletic women to fit in. Kim said, "I've found my tribe." There's truth in that. A lot of the world still would prefer women to wear dresses and sip tea in the shade. Crossfit is for everybody, but I think it might be uniquely suited to bringing out the athletic best in women. Cool.
-The mental strength of the top competitors. I always watch for this in athletes, it's usually the biggest determining factor between winning and not. The top competitors were STRONG in their heads, cool.
-James Fitzgerald, of Optimum Performance Training. This guy is obviously one switched-on dude. He was quickly on weak judges, always cheering athletes, and generally giving it everything he had. It takes an army of hard-working volunteers to make a big event work, but the tone and direction comes from the top, and "OPT" did a great job from what I could see.

I'm less impressed with:

-The run. It was a 5K run, mostly on grass, damp mud and paths, Kim and I checked it out an hour before the race and thought it was a fun course. It was supposed to be 6.7K but the organizers cut out 1.6K at the last minute because it was "too dangerous." I ran the "dangerous" portion of the course immediately before the event, it was muddy but not bad at all. You'd think a bunch of people with sayings like, "Today is a good day to die" on their shirts could handle a little mud and even the possibility of a muddy abrasion or two, eh?

-Running times/skill. I'm sure an average junior high school trail runner would kick ass on all but a few of the running times (which, for some reason, weren't kept, just places), and an average trail racer would destroy all the times (and a trail racer would get destroyed on clean and jerks, but these athletes are meant to be "elite" generalists--this level of physical performance is like a 90lb bench press). I ran most of the course with the men to see what parts had been cut from my scout an hour earlier, their pace was generally anemic (and I'm a below average runner), as were the times I recorded. I ran almost all of it again with Kim ten minutes later, she was gimping hard on her hip, hadn't done any real running in ten years, and still finished mid-pack (which is a good effort for her). Several women and men would have easily gone to the games if they hadn't sucked so bad on the run. it was obviously a huge hole in their training even compared to the performances of others. This level of running fitness is tragically low, and really rips the heart out of the "Fittest Athlete in the world" hype for me. Running is a basic athletic skill, the Canadian CF programming is weak on this skill, no way around it.

-Event organization. Crossfit is a young sport, and young sports always have teething problems, but this event really, really needed an experienced event manager. Maybe there was one, but starting the running race almost two minutes early (there were women running hard for the start line 30 seconds after the gun went off) and a few other errors I saw like that hurt the event's credibility. CFers suck this sort of stuff up (read this woman's comments on her wall-ball experience), but it's not right.

-Communication. Kim had to restrain me from going and grabbing the microphone and doing some announcing on the last day--there were a lot of spectators there, but nobody was getting any useful information or even PSYCHE over the PA. Here are some athletes doing some RAD shit, and the announcer has nothing useful to say at all about what they are doing, who is in the lead, fastest time in the heats so far, nothing. If Crossfit wants to make these games spectator friendly, and I fully think it's deserving of spectators, then it needs to be more spectator friendly! I was so stoked by what was going on, but unless you personally knew an athlete there was no way to figure out who was battling, or how the heat was doing relative to other heats.

-This lack of organized communication is a real problem with the Crossfit Games organization as well; the Games web site is getting better, but it's still near-useless compared to what it could be with a little work. There are no athlete bios (beyond the occasional "featured" athlete) so you can't click on a results or registered athlete page and know how old an athlete is, where he or she is from, what they weigh, sporting background, etc. I'm sure every CFer in Canada and likely around the world was checking the event out, it would have been a lot better to have all this info available, and it's relatively easy to do today.

-The hype, the "Ultimate proving ground for the world's fittest athletes," the T-Shirt slogans, "forged" stuff. This type of poseur rhetoric is a lot like the fat kid on the playground telling everyone how he's going win the elementary school running races the next day. No he's not, and you know he's not cause the kid who is going to win is out playing soccer.... Crossfit kicks ass on all general physical training I've ever seen, it is highly athletic, so talking big only makes it look weak. Talking all this smack about "being the fittest" is a form of "Compensatory behaviour" in psychological terms. When someone talks endlessly about how great they are they're usually not secure with their own worth or accomplishments. Crossfit obviously isn't very secure in its own rightful place as a worthy form of training and athletic event; grow up, get rid of the insecure hype, and celebrate what Crossfit is.

-Weak Calves on almost all the athletes. This relates to the run; most of these athletes must spend most of their time on relatively stable, flat surfaces, the relatively weak lower leg musculature shows it. More running, more time playing sports. "Paleo!" is a big rallying cry in the CF world, no paleolithic guy or gal had weak lower legs.

Overall, I completely dug the Games, it was a worthy experience to watch even if Kim hadn't been there. I'm proud of her, she put in a hell of an effort. Watch out in seven years, we're both gonna give 'er in the Masters!


James said...

Good thoughts, Will! I agree about the calves :-)

Josh said...

Thanks for the insight. I was curious about the run since they didn't post the times on the web. My experience with CF shows that they are weak runners. A guy I know finished top 10, I'm a stronger runner than he is, and I wouldn't call myself anything beyond an amateur. Last year's Canada East qualifier had a trail run that brought forth many complaints from the "fittest" athletes in the region who had never run 5k.

Maijaliisa said...

Congrats to Kim on her oustanding performance! Was looking forward to your report on her performance as a former Chicks with Picks guide! Now we are going to brag about her :-) For what it's worth I can't get those darn double unders either!

Scott said...

Great post want read something entertaining read the flame war going on at my at the CF gym I train site over the DU in the comp...

I had no idea people take this shit so seriously.

Anonymous said...

Good work Kim. Will we always look forword to your stories. All the best Lee and Dave .(The rivergums.)

Anonymous said...

Good work Kim. Will we always look forword to your stories. All the best Lee and Dave .(The rivergums.)

Anonymous said...

Hey Will,

This comment's off topic considering the subject of your post but I'll ask anyway...

Can we expect some commentary on the David Lama/Red Bull/Cerro Torre debacle? I think you should weigh in given your relationship to Red Bolt...

Will Gadd said...

Hi Anon, funny you just posted that, comment up.

Anton said...

I didn't attend the Regionals (spectator or otherwise) but have been doing CF workouts and agree that historically CF doesn't emphasize running or LSD endurance WODs as much as they should - so its not surprising that this would be a weakness. Granted, over the past year I have noticed more and more pure endurance WODs (running, rowing, etc) mixed in to their program. Perhaps they are aware of the weakness?!?

As for the competitors times at the Regionals, I'm wondering when the run event was placed relative to the other WODs? ...certainly doing a run immediately after another heavy cardio (or lower body) intensive WOD would result in slower run times, especially compared to someone who wasn't participating.

Jeff said...

Enjoyed your take! I too, am impatiently waiting for my shot in the Masters division . . . I've got 21 years to train for that one though.

Will Gadd said...

Scott, people take CF WAY seriously, it's good fun.

Go Rivergums!!

Anton, the run was the first even on Friday afternoon. That day I'd already done a workout that included "heavy" squats that day, I was pretty worked. The man who won the run was a good athlete, I'd bet he had a solid sports background of some kind.

I think the women were, on average, better runners than the men. This showed in the last workout of the weekend too, the women were certainly running with better form and more athleticism.

Let's see, if you have 21 years and I have 7 to go to the masters there's a chance we could compete against each other, how cool would that be! Yeah, I'm optimistic but why not?

Jeff Sutherland said...

It's established then - My wife and I will see you folks in 21 years.

Inspiring to hear about Kim's performance considering the obstacles and relatively late intro to CrossFit.

My wife and I discovered CF shortly after our fourth arrived 2.5 years ago, and it's taken our fitness considerably farther than pre-kids era, with less time commitment.

After years of chronic cardio and vegetarianism, it exposed some pretty serious weaknesses in the strength & power areas, and we are so thankful to be able to correct that now!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gadd sounds like an almost great event. Your blog about the lack of serious running got me thinking though. Maybe you sign up for this race in the future?

I think it might offer a pleasant change from the Crossfit style.

Jaron said...

Hey Will, it was nice meeting you at the Regionals the other weekend (had Cora's with you, Kim and Greg). I was just wondering if you know the approximate finishing times for the top guys. Just trying to see where I would have stood in the competition.

Sarah said...

Been following Kim and Cultfit Coyote Way through Sarah H. Super stoked for those gals....its provided a lot of motivation for me on this end.

So Im curious about your thoughts on lower leg strength, ie the calves. Aside from running and sports playing, any good ideas for how to train this area?

Thanks for blogging, always awesome to know high performing athletes thoughts on things.

Sarah G.

Anonymous said...

Just came across your post...interesting! Want to comment on the run being too "dangerous" as you put it. At least two of the ascents were not climbable. They were far too steep and wet. Runners would have gone one step forward, two steps back (while on all fours). It would have caused some nasty bottle-necks. Likewise a couple of the descents were also axed out of the race as they certainly would have led to falls or runners sliding down on their butts. Yes, CF'ers are tough and could have done it, but not in a timely manner and we're not interested in seeing athletes injured due to course conditions in the first event, which is why the race was changed.

Not sure how you ran the "dangerous" portions as they were not marked, therefore no one could have known the original course. Finally, the times wern't posted because the exact race distance wasn't known due to the the last minute hill changes. The run was appox. 5 km. I enjoyed your post. TY.

Will Gadd said...

Hi Ty, not to be overly sarcastic, but I don't think there was one piece of muddy terrain in the entire race area that would have stopped a proficient 70-year old hiker much less a half-decent trail runner. Trail running skill levels were just low in general, and given that I can see your point that for that crowd it could have been dangerous. So would doing 50lb snatches if someone hadn't ever done those, same idea.

Not posting times because the distance "wasn't known" seems odd to me. The times are important to compare relative effort, not the pace per K or whatever. But, if distance were important, it would have been an easy thing to Google Earth the course and come up with a reasonably accurate distance in a few minutes. Heck, just GPS the course with any iPhone ap and you'll get something close enough.

Course layout: I'm reasonably sure I ran the "cut" part of the course because I had the map. As you know, the organizers handed out color course maps at registration. The course everybody ran on the west side of Crystal Ridge followed the color map reasonably closely (I tracked it on my phone, minor deviations but close enough). I just did the same on the other side of Crystal Ridge too, I didn't need markers with a map. But again, in that whole area there wasn't any "dangerous" terrain, just some muddy hillsides. If I had to guess I'd say the portion that the organizers thought too dangerous was the bit where you come off the pavement and headed south and down to the little muddy creek...

It's all perspective really, and it was a fun weekend. If you're part of the organization then thanks!

Anonymous said...

Not to be overly sarcastic right back at ya, but that 70 year old would have to be in helluva good shape to climb one section in particular, because I watched males and females on all fours sliding backwards at the section I was posted at. In fact runners were taking out other runners. If they had not omitted the other climbs it would have been more of the same.
I agree that distance and times should probably have been posted, but as the course was changed last minute and the fact that time didn't really matter, just placing, it was unnecessary. Let's be honest, an athlete having a PB in a 6.7 km (or 5 km) x-country run, over unknown terrain isn't something any of the athletes was looking for. Times were irrevelant.

Finally, oops, as a lowly marshall who only pointed the correct direction up a hill, I didn't know course maps were handed out...I recind my comment. It seems odd a map was available when Crossfit is about the unknown and unknownable? TY.

Will Gadd said...

Hi Ty,

Thanks for doing the course marshal job, it was a rough day to be out there! You should have gotten a map, sheesh.

Times are relevant to compare performances in the same way that it's nice to know what the weights were in the snatch complex so you can compare yourself to others in the same event. It's not about running PRs on a set distance or whatever, agreed, just comparison to the other athletes. Times are like weights: If DJ did the Snatch complex with 220 and John did it with 145 but would have placed second with 155 then that's useful info... Just posting places would miss the point. Same with run times. They don't just publish ski race places at races, they publish times even without any distance info at all, it really is important information for the athletes.

I have pictures of the toughest portion of the course, I watched most of the men and women go through it too. Don't make me post the pictures, the trail runners will laugh, as will many of the 70-year old hikers I know. Seriously.

Thanks again for volunteering!


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