As anyone who has seen my log posts recently probably knows, the fall semester of my last year of physical therapy (PT) school was by far the most demanding. My training and my schedule were thrown totally off, with training splits ranging from every other day to three days on, four days off, with anywhere from two to five training days per week. I had previously signed up to compete in Maryland’s Strongest Man the weekend of November 18th, but that was prior to learning that my current clinical affiliation for school would have me living and working in the Norfolk, Virginia Beach area at that time.

RECENT: Developing Your Own Strongman Program

On the plus side, I got a membership at Brute Strength Gym and am finally an official Brute after training there as a visitor for ten years now. On the downside, the logistics in terms of travel and money for making my way back up to Columbia, Maryland to compete in Maryland Strongest were somewhat less than favorable. Thankfully there happened to be another strongman competition set for that same weekend just a couple hours away in Richmond, Virginia.

The Third Annual Beer City Brawl

The events weren’t terrible at first look. You can never tell how max events or reps for time events will affect subsequent events, because how hard you go and how much rest you have depends on how strong you are in relation to the rest of the athletes. To make it better, there were five other Brutes competing with me, as well as one of my former training partners, Temple Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Inman. So despite the fact that I only trained the events once or twice each and didn’t hit competition weights on any of them, I was pretty damn happy to be able to compete in this competition, even more so since I haven’t been able to do a strongman competition for the entire year of 2017 (which has never happened before).

I have been training for multiple competitions and was signed up for three different ones, including paying the entry fees, but had to back out of all of them due to school demands. I have still been training and competing, with my second Highlander competition back in April of this year and my first full Highland Games while I was on vacation in Scotland in August. I also ran a strongman competition back in May, but every time I tried to compete in strongman, events arose to force me to change my plans. I’m pretty stubborn, though, and after making it out the other side of the fall semester of the third year of PT school, I basically decided I was going to find some way to compete, because I refused to go an entire calendar year without doing a strongman competition.

Saturday morning my girlfriend and I woke up at 0400 (4 AM), got packed up and caffeinated, and hit the road so I could make it there in time for morning weigh-ins. I tipped the scales at a slightly chunky (for me) 237 pounds, by far the lightest and shortest athlete entered in the open heavyweight division.

Brief side note: Inman actually ended up being the lightest and shortest heavyweight. He was the sole athlete in the open middleweight division and had weighed in at 217 pounds on Friday after a water cut, but was subsequently bumped up to compete with the heavyweights at the discretion of the promoter on Saturday morning.

Last Man Standing Max Log Clean and Press

The rules for this last man standing event were that all athletes had to hit all the weights and the last one competitor to miss a weight would win. The starting weight for heavyweight was 225 pounds with 15-pound jumps after that. I didn’t warm up too much for this since the starting weight was so low and we didn’t have the option of waiting to jump in at a higher weight. I hit, in order: 225, 240, 255, 270, 285, 300, and then missed completely on 315. This was slightly frustrating since 300 is not that heavy of a log for me, but with the rest periods decreasing after almost every weight as competitors failed to press the log, the last couple weights were such that I only had time between attempts for one or two other guys to go before I was up again. I didn’t even have enough time to take off my belt, wraps, and sleeves and put them back on again, so I just did what I could. As you can see in the video, I was completely fried by the time I made it to 315. Only one other heavyweight, Graham Gill, hit the 300-pound log and he subsequently went on to basically strict press 315, giving him the win in this event and putting me in second place.

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Axle Deadlift for Reps (565 Pounds)

Suits and straps were allowed for this event, so I hustled to get into my Metal Jack Pro Deadlifter and try to get in a few warm-ups so I didn’t have to tug 565 pounds cold. Another downside of doing better on the max log than most of my weight class was less time to recover from the previous event and warm-up for the next one. We were not allowed to strap into the bar until after time had started, so I chose to wear my deadlift suit somewhat looser than I usually would in order to be able to get down to the bar to use my straps more easily. We also had to come to a complete stop after lowering the bar back down to the floor (no touch-and-go reps) and I wasn’t sure how the extra time under that much increased pressure in my head due to the suit would affect me. While I love a good pass-out deadlift fail video as much as the next guy (especially if the next guy is my teammate Matt Ladewski), I didn’t want to have mine be recorded during a competition.

I got to go next to last on this event since I had finished in second in the previous one, and the number to beat was four reps. I hit five without much trouble, but on the sixth rep I started to feel a little more strain in my low back than I like. I stopped after six to catch my breath and try to rest a little bit, then heard the judge tell me I had 15 seconds left. I figured I was good for at least one more. I locked out rep number seven and put it down and chose not to go for an eighth because my low back was telling me in no uncertain terms not to be a dummy. Fortunately, seven reps was good for first place on this event, putting me into a tie for first overall with Graham after two events.

Farmer’s Walk (295 Pounds Per Hand)

This event was initially supposed to be a 600-pound frame carry for 40 feet, then drop, turn around, re-pick it, and carry it 40 feet back. After the novice, the lightweight division and the first few athletes in the heavyweight division had some issues with the frame, which was taking increasingly more time to resolve. So the promoter got the heavyweights together and asked us how we would feel about switching the frame to a farmer’s walk with the same distance and rules. We all felt this was the better option.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for the first few guys, they got a second chance to do the event with the farmer’s handles after having already gone with the frame. Most, if not all, of the guys who had to repeat seemed to do better with the farmer’s than the frame, though. My low back was tightening up pretty good after the axle deadlift so having to do two picks from what felt like a pretty low height with a total of 590 pound was something I didn’t feel fantastic about, but two guys who went before me had finished the full 80 feet, so I knew I had to sack up and get it done. The judge told me the time to beat when I was gearing up to go and I assured him in no uncertain terms that I would definitely do it as fast as I possibly could.

The first pick felt kind of awful, and to make things worse, I started to feel like I was going to pass out. So I deliberately increased my breathing as much as I could to get myself more air. The first 40-foot carry went fine. I got my feet across the line per the rules of the event, dropped the handles, turned around, and re-picked them. I don’t really remember how the second pick felt, or much of the 40 foot carry back except for trying to accelerate as much as possible, because I knew I had to finish and I knew my time would be the determining factor in points for the event. I think I was actually going pretty fast by the time I crossed the finish line, dropped the handles, and jumped forward to avoid tripping or running the handles into my legs. My time on this was good for first place in the event, moving me into first place overall.

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Tire Flip/Sled Drag Medley (~350 Pounds/700 Pounds)

I love medleys. A lot of guys and girls hate them, but a big part of why I got into strongman was the variety of events and different ways to train them, so logically if I’m doing an event that is a combination of two or three events back to back then I’m probably going to love that even more. One point of clarification, though: I only like this within a set (short) time limit. CrossFit is kind of the same thing, but for 10, 20, or 30 minutes. My span of enjoyment is about 60 to 90 seconds, preferably faster.

The couple of times I trained tire flips, they felt like trash. I haven’t been doing any weightlifting recently while I’ve been resolving some right-sided shoulder impingement. The extent of my power training has been speed work for the overhead press, bench press, deadlift, and squat, both with and without accommodating resistance. Not to say this is bad and it’s much better than none at all, but in terms of carryover to strongman, it’s only half of your body for these movements, versus a clean and jerk or snatch which involve full body power production moving something from ground to overhead. The point of this is that I’m far down from where I was six months ago in explosiveness. To paraphrase Gunny Hartman, I currently flip tires like old people fornicate.

The backward drag I actually felt pretty good about since I had my girlfriend bring me my ballet slippers (read: rock climbing shoes) from home when she came down to visit. I’m not sure about the exact sled or tire weights, but it looked like about 250 pounds for the sled. The tire had other smaller tires stuffed inside it for added weight and it felt about like the 700-pound tire at Brute, but could have been more or less since the feel of a tire depends not only on the weight but also the diameter and width.

Everyone had been finishing the 50-foot sled drag and then running back to flip the tire with various numbers of flips, but the best number put up was by the smallest heavyweight competing, my friend and training partner Mike Inman, with seven flips. I finished the drag and ran back to start flipping the tire. I had a pretty good rhythm going after three or four flips and then I pushed it over crooked and it did the whole spiraling, rolling landing thing and ate up what felt like a lot of my time. Split times were being taken, but I wasn’t sure what the time was to beat seven flips, so my goal was eight. I distantly heard the judge telling me how much time I had left. I don’t how what the number was, but it wasn’t much, so I hustled up and completed my eighth flip with just a few seconds to spare and stopped there rather than needlessly rushing to get an unnecessary ninth rep. First place in this event.

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Keg Carry and Load (225 Pounds, 255 Pounds, 280 Pounds, 310 Pounds)

I felt pretty good going into the last event since I knew I was in first place overall, but I also didn’t check the scoreboard to see how much I was ahead by, who was in second, or what the lowest placing I could get on the last event was and still pull out a win. My approach to competition has always been to go full potato on every event unless I know for a fact I only have already won, and then I’ll usually shut it down early. But that doesn’t happen too often.

For this, even the four kegs were carried for decreasing distances from 40 feet to 10 feet and had to be loaded upright onto platforms of decreasing height starting at 46 inches for the 225-pound keg and finishing at 25 inches for the 310-pound keg. I was last again since I was in first place overall, and all I knew was that I had to finish it to win the event since one or two other guys in front of me had finished it. The judge told me what the time to beat was and I wasn’t really listening because time is meaningless when I’m actually doing an event in competition. I’m not going to go faster or slower based on things like the clock. My only speed is wide open, full throttle.

I started off and got the same feeling of impending loss of consciousness that I had on the farmer’s walk, so I once again started breathing as much as I possibly could in terms of both rate and amount to get my air to my body and avoid taking an unintentional nosedive into the floor. I felt super slow running the 225-pound keg down 40 feet to the platform, but at least loading it felt a little better. I felt fast on the run back after dropping off the first keg and the subsequent carries with 255 and 280 felt better. The 310-pound keg felt especially dense, as Inman put it, and I ended up switching to a slower pick technique to avoid dropping it and having to pick it up again, which was something unthinkable at this point in the event. I got it up and waddled forward 10 feet to the last platform, upending it and being especially happy to be done, but with cotton mouth so bad it took some serous jaw movement to unglue my lips and tongue from my teeth and the roof of my mouth.

MORE: Finding Strength with Derek Poundstone

It turned out my time was good enough for another first place, locking in the overall win in the heavyweight division. Graham Gill and Tyler Perdue finished second and third respectively, both with solid all-around performances. In my opinion, though, Inman had the most impressive performance of the day having done a week-long water cut to make weight and then having it turn out to be for nothing since he was bumped up from middleweight to heavyweight. To make things worse, unlike other strength sports, when you move up a division in strongman you also get an increase in the weights used in competition along with it. So not only had he been training for lighter competition weights, but some of the things were heavier than he had ever done before. He competed using five pounds per hand under his all-time farmer’s walk PR, carried and loaded kegs 50 pounds heavier than he had ever tried before, and held his own against guys at least a hundred pounds heavier than him on log clean and press. After all that he still managed to finish up in fifth of nine athletes in the open heavyweight division, which is extremely impressive. My temporary Brute fam also posted up four other podium finishes with Graham Gill second in the men’s heavyweight, Fish finishing third in the men’s lightweight, Crystal with third in the women’s middleweight, and Liz with second in the women’s heavyweight.

Brute Fam

On top of all this, more of my current and former training partners and Iron Strong CrossFit members from home base took home all kinds of awesomeness at Maryland’s Strongest Man, including first place in the 265-pound class for Gregg Inocencio, first place in the 231-pound class for Mike Collela, first place in the 175-pound class for Austin (in his first competition ever), second place in the women’s heavyweight open for Jen, and first place in the men’s novice for Dustin.

Huge congratulations to all the athletes in both competitions and thanks to the promoters and judges and everyone who helped with scoring, loading, setup, and cleanup. Thank you to my amazing girlfriend Michelle for bringing the equipment I needed to compete that I had left at home, and for driving me and videoing me and putting up with all this nonsense. Thanks to Brute Strength Gym for being one of the best gyms in the country. I’ve been training there for a decade and I don’t plan on ever stopping. Finally, thanks to Dave Tate and everyone at elitefts for sponsoring me and so many other athletes and coaches, and for being the best company in the world for strength equipment, information, and general awesomeness. In just over a month I will have been a customer and reader of elitefts for 15 years and it’s an honor to be part of a team with so many outstanding people.

Photos courtesy of Rob McKenney