5-Time Maryland’s Strongest Man

TAGS: Keg Carry & Load, Stone Over Bar, Yoke/Frame Carry Medley, HW class, Maryland's Strongest Man, Andy Deck, knee injury, strongwomen, Car Deadlift, strongman

ATHLETE

Despite my decision not to compete in Maryland’s Strongest Man this year due to my knee not being back up to 100%, I started to play with the idea during my drive home after the highlander competition at Brute Strength Gym last weekend. I threw around some pros and cons, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to change my mind in favor of competing. Then Wednesday rolled around and suddenly the scales of benefit versus detriment shifted and I decided to do it, but not in my usual fashion. Normally when I compete, I am going huevos to the wall unless I know that strategically I only need to hit certain numbers to get an event win or secure a certain number of points.


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This time, though, I changed up my tactics.  My goals were simple: to complete the competition without reinjuring my knee, have fun, and not bomb any events. Winning was not something I was focused on. After taking a practical on hip and knee special tests and mobilizations, I headed across the bridge on Friday to weigh in so that I would not have to drive two hours to compete on the morning of the competition. I did not need to weigh in early since I was competing in the HW class and I am way under the 265-pound cutoff, but I prefer to always weigh in early if possible just to get it out of the way and get my equipment heights and t-shirt ahead of time so it’s one less thing to worry about the morning of the competition. I stepped on the scale at a whopping 227 pounds, fully clothed and just laughed. Afterwards, I had to run a couple errands to pick up food for the competition and get dinner, and then just hung out with my girlfriend at her parents’ house the rest of the night since they live near Colosseum Gym in Columbia, MD, where the competition was held. Two current and one former training partner were also competing in different classes: Gregg Inocencio at 231, Mike Colella at 200, and Ryan Maitland in the Novice class. After warming up generally, doing the rules meeting, and then warming up for my first event, the competition was under way.

Max Log Clean & Press

The first event was one of the two I am still most limited on in terms of my current vs. preinjury strength levels. I have gotten back up to ~90% of where I was before, but that’s not really good enough when the event is for max weight. Due to this, I set a new PR for gear whoring. I armored up with: Rehband swamp shorts, Metal suit slippers (to ease knee sleeve putting on and taking off), elitefts super heavy knee sleeves, grip shirt, Rehband alpha core, elitefts P2 power belt, elitefts super heavy elbow sleeves, and elitefts super heavy wrist wraps (80cm).

The rules were that the weight started at 245 pounds and increased in 20-pound increments. Each competitor got three attempts at whichever weights they chose, but one miss and you were done. The most I had pressed overhead on the log since August was a recent single at 300, so naturally I wanted to open at 305 since I knew I would be limited in how competitive I could be with the big boys. Since that was 5 lb over what I had done in the last 3 months though, I made myself play it smart and I opened with a successful lift at 285. A few guys opened lower at 245 or 265, but a lot were holding off for heavier weights. I felt good for 305 in my head, and I was right, hitting a successfully clean and jerk there for my second attempt. Next up was 325, which I had been good for prior to injury, but was a very grey area as far as testing my current limits. I could have scratched and just stopped at 305, but I decided to give it a shot and see how it felt. I cleaned it without too much trouble, but felt completely off balance and loose in the rack position so rather than risk knocking myself out of the comp in the first event, I put it down and ended with 305 on my second attempt. This was only good enough for 3rd in the HW class since Damian Hollis finished 2nd with 305 on his first attempt and Billy Davidson finished 1st with 325 on his 2nd attempt. I was still relatively happy hitting 5 lb over what I had in training and doing no harm to my knee. SHW Troy Bennett also set a new Maryland state record at 385.

frame carry

Yoke/Frame Carry Medley

So of course, immediately following the first event,  I was worried about the second event. I guess it’s better to get them out of the way first rather than have to do them at the end when I’m more fatigued though. The medley was an 840-pound yoke walk for 50 feet followed by a 675-pound frame carry for 50 feet. The scoring was set up so that you bombed the event if you didn’t finish the yoke and then pick and carry the frame at least all the way across the starting line – no dragging allowed. This may seem unfair at first glance, but with over 100 athletes, taking distance measures for every single athlete who didn’t finish a pretty heavy medley or times on the yoke for the athletes who couldn’t pick the frame would have been a scoring nightmare and a huge time delay for the judges running the event. Also, this type of medley scoring system is what typically is used in large competitions.

Since screwing up my knee, I had only managed to work up to 750 for 50’, 800 for 25’, and 850 for a very ugly and dangerous looking 10’ on yoke in training. I felt better about the frame carry, even though most of my training for it had been with farmer’s handles rather than a frame, but being honest with myself, I was fully prepared to bomb this event rather than explode body parts across the parking lot. The most likely course of success I could imagine was picking the yoke, stumbling as far as possible, dropping it, repicking it, stumbling further, dropping it,  and hopefully being able to cobble together 50 feet with enough time and energy to spare to be able to pick and carry the frame across the line to prevent a score of zero. The reality was much better than I had thought possible. I completed the whole 50 with the yoke with no drops and was able to pick the frame (barely) and carry it across the line. I only made it about 10 feet or so before dropping it, most likely because I had rushed the pick since I had no idea what was going on in terms of my time. I tried to set up for a better pick the second time and I was able to go another 20 feet or so before dropping again. I had tweaked something just a little bit in the right side of my low back on the second pick and since there was only 10 seconds left when I dropped it the second time, I didn’t want to risk another pick, especially since my knee had held up for the yoke. I ended up taking the frame 34’ 5”, which was good for 2nd on the event to Billy, who beat me by three freaking inches at 34’8”! The rest of the HWs bombed the event, some because they didn’t finish the yoke, but more because they couldn’t pick and carry the frame after finishing the yoke. In defense of them and all the other athletes in other weight classes who had the same problem, the frame at Colosseum is wider than normal with thicker handles than normal, so it’s akin to a snatch grip fat bar frame pick (the handles are not 2” diameter, but are larger than the normal 1-1.25”).

car deadlift

Car Deadlift

I was feeling the minor tweak to my low back in warm-ups for the car DL, which was pretty concerning to me since my last warm-up was still 90 pounds under the weight I was supposed to do for max reps in a minute. The car was a Chevy Cruze and we had an additional 320 pounds in plates on the frame. Damian went before me and stopped at one rep, not an encouraging sign since he is a pretty solid deadlifter. I was suited up in my Metal Jack DL suit and my game plan was to pull my brains out to get a single rep, then evaluate if doing more would be smart or not. I did indeed tug like a champ, but the feelings I was getting in my low back were not happy ones so I decided to be one and done, which cracked up everyone watching when I made the announcement during my rapid dismount upon completion of my single rep. Shoutout to the guys who were training inside at Colosseum who let me jump in on their bar weights to pull a few reps from the floor to help get my suit seated. That was a big help! My one rep here tied me with Damian for 3rd place on the event, with Phil Gruentzel tugging it for a double to get 2nd and Andy Ruse repping it eight times for the event win.

Stone Over Bar

We had 60 seconds to get a 275-pound plate loaded atlas “stone” over a 52” bar as many times as possible. I had trained this a couple times at Colosseum because the implement is very odd feeling compared to concrete atlas stones since the weight is not evenly distributed within the stone, even if it is symmetrical on the loading pin inside of it. No equipment was allowed except for grip shirts, elbow sleeves (but not on the forearms), and chalk. This caused a lot of problems for a lot of athletes, but as it is the current equipment flavor of the month for nationals, it makes sense for gyms with more strongmen and strongwomen to have one, at least for the time being. I had done a high pull and a single just to test out the weight more than to actually warm up, and it felt good, but not great. I had dealt with this implement slipping on me both out of my lap and at the very top of loading it when I had trained with it, so I was very deliberate on this event to prevent missing reps due to rushing, which I have done at least twice in the last three years at MD Strongest when we used concrete atlas stones. My slow and steady did not win the race, but it did get me six reps, which was good for 2nd on the event to Billy, who got eight reps.

keg carry

Keg Carry & Load

I had trained this event only once, and with lighter kegs just to test out if it was doable for my knee. I had met my goals for no injury and no bombs through the first four events and I really wanted to keep the streak going and finish happy and healthy. So while I did not go slowly here, I definitely didn’t go full potato. The weights were 250 pounds, 275 pounds, and 300 pounds carried 20 feet and loaded upright onto a 40” platform. This all felt pretty easy and I went a little faster (I think) on each successive keg, then like a dummy I didn’t get my bottom arm out of the way fast enough when I set the last keg upright and I smashed my forearm between the 300-pound keg and the platform. Time was still going because it didn’t stop until the last keg was upright on the platform and the athlete’s hands were off it so I tipped the keg and yanked my arm out to finish up, but didn’t feel happy about my time. I had wanted to go faster, but at the same time I was trying to make myself find a balance between speed and the avoiding the danger zone for my knee. Not sure if I found it or not, but my 27 seconds was good for 2nd on the event, again to Billy who won the event with 22 seconds.

The HWs and SHWs ran through all five events in about three hours, which was outstanding. The rest of the athletes finished up within four hours or so because things slowed down a little bit on the max overhead events since each athlete had up to three attempts versus one for all the other events. Even with all that though, it only took about 15 minutes from the last athlete finishing to the winners being announced, which is the best I have ever seen a competition run at any level ever. Despite winning not being any part of my goals for the day, I still managed to finish up in 1st place in the HW class with 32.5 points, giving me my 5th win at Maryland’s Strongest Man (’07, ’08, ’13, ’15, ’16). I edged out Billy in 2nd place at 32.0 by half a point, and was nine points ahead of Phil in 3rd place who finished with 23.5. Gregg finished up in 3rd place in a stacked 231-pound weight class despite some trouble with his left hammy on the kegs. Also, one of my former football players, Jeff Kryglik, finished in 2nd in the 200-pound class.  And finally, a huge congratulations go out to Adam Somers for winning the SHW class this year!

Many thank yous go out to many people for making this competition happen. Jon, Tim, Fernando, Matt, Sean, Rob, Ian, and all the guys and girls at Colosseum Gym who helped set up, judge, score, weigh-in, promote, and clean up for this competition. Over 100 athletes got through five events in well under five hours and there was no horrendously long delay to figure out the final scores. This is amazing and like I said before, was the best run big event I have ever been involved with in my 40+ competitions. Thanks to all my training partners, past and present (but especially the current crew: Gregg, Ryan, Bill, Ryan, Marc, and Nick even though he is out on the left coast now), for helping me get better as an athlete and coach and making training a little less awful thanks to the shared misery. Thanks to Michelle, Linda, and Kelsey for coming to support me, and Paul and Linda for letting us stay with them. Thanks to Dave and Lisa at Iron Strong CrossFit, the best facility to train on the eastern shore of DE, MD, and VA. Thanks to Kevin and Joey for trading times to let me take my practical earlier on Friday.

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Thanks to Ronda at elitefts customer service for working with me to get the right size Metal Jack DL suit back in June when I was planning to go to USS nationals (even though I then subsequently had to cancel the trip at the last minute due to PT school). I finally got to use the suit in competition and couldn’t have won without it! And as should be obvious from this whole write-up, thanks to Dave Tate and everyone at elitefts for sponsoring me and helping me and all the other strength athletes, coaches, meatheads, and anyone who wants the best info and equipment for strength training anywhere be strong(er) than we were yesterday.

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