At the end of June, I won the 220-pound weight class and overall middleweight division at the United States Strongman Nationals in New York. This was the achievement of multiple long-time goals I have had, including earning an invite to compete in the 105-kilogram World’s Strongest Man in Liperi, Finland. I had only one month to train for this competition, but I was perfectly fine with this because I am also in the middle of my final clinical to finish up PT school. Putting together a long-term training program for the competition would have been extremely challenging for me with everything else I have going on. Travel to Finland was hell, but that was my own fault for trying to save money on my flights and for being in a situation where I was not able to get there several days early to catch up on rest and to acclimate to the changes in time, temperature, amount of daylight, etc. Finland itself was nice, and I would definitely go back because I really did not get to see much of the country or do anything touristy on this trip. With that being said, it was enthralling to be at the competition for the first time.

Deck Frame Worlds

Qualifying Round Event 1: Frame Carry

This event was supposed to be 40 meters/131 feet long with a 260-kilogram/573-pound frame. The weight wasn’t bad, but I was not used to going anywhere near that long of a distance. The first time I trained for this event, I did it indoors with drop and repick at 40-foot intervals because it was raining. After 120 feet, I realized I had ripped open a callous on my right hand, so I stopped training for that event for the day and for the subsequent week while my hand was healing. The reason I had torn open my hand with only 250 pounds per hand on the smooth, unknurled farmer’s handles I was using is because I rushed my picks and didn’t get my grip set tightly. Because of the rip and other factors, the only other time I was able to train for this event was the weekend before the competition. I hit it for 120 feet straight to practice the feel of having that much distance to get up to the top speed and to work on my control and acceleration.

Fast-forward to the qualifying round of the competition and as so often happens in the sport of strongman, the rules changed on the day of the competition. Now, instead of a set distance, we had to take the 260-kilogram frame for the max distance with a drop and repick every 15 meters. This was run three at a time, and all lanes had to alternate between going diagonally uphill first and then back downhill. The weight wasn’t heavy, but the max distance always sucks more than going for a set distance. In addition, the slope definitely made the odd-numbered lengths much rougher. My hands had just healed up enough to train for this again a week ago, and I did not want to repeat my training error of ripping them open, so I was more deliberate about my picks to make sure that I had a solid grip, as I had already seen a few other athletes come away with or even have to stop early due to ripped-up hands. The first and second lengths didn’t feel bad, but they were definitely wobbly, probably due to the slant of the course. The third length felt much worse going back uphill. Then, coming back down on the fourth length, I took a misstep to the side and felt like I was going to trip and/or drop the frame coming back downhill. I turned to go back uphill for my fifth length, but before I could get it started, the whistle blew, and time was up. I finished with a distance of 60 meters/196 feet, which put me in a tie for sixth place in the event with five other athletes. This is a classic example of why you never stop at a turn on a max distance event. Just one more foot would have given me several more points. On a positive note, I didn’t choose to stop there; it just so happened that time was up when it was my turn, but not going faster still cost me.

Deck Viking Worlds

Qualifying Round Event 2: Viking Press

The weight for the Viking press was 140 kilograms/308 pounds for max reps in 60 seconds. This was the event I was most worried about crapping the bed on due to the design of the actual Viking press itself and the rules, which did not allow for rebending the knees after the initial leg drive—for example, the push press was allowed, but push jerks were not. I have done the Viking press a few times in competitions, and I actually owned one for several years until I traded it for the stone platform I currently have. However, the setup here in the USA is always a low central anchor point with the weight hanging from the arm, which makes it much easier than having the pivot point high (above the heads of most of the athletes in this case) with the weight sitting on top all the way out near the handles. I trained for this with several setups to try to mimic the contest setup as closely as possible. The closest I got was an Iron Athletics training setup with the owner and with my good friend and long-time training partner, Steve Mattheu. We set up the axle in the highest position on his wall-mounted landmine with the elitefts Viking press handle on the end and the weights resting on plyo boxes. I wish I had been able to train with this setup every time, but I made do with similar setups when I was training at work at Healthy Baller or when I was back home at Iron Strong CF, thanks to the fact that both of these places also have Viking press handles. I received good advice from Coach G regarding keeping tight through my trunk and not losing all of my air, and I’m pretty sure this played a big role in helping me not to bomb this event. Sadly, I still managed only a single rep. After the first one, my feet staggered, so I reset them before attempting a second rep, but I was too far behind the handles/weight and almost got ejected backward when I missed my second attempt. Subsequent attempts were also pretty awful because I was rushing it instead of stopping to rest as I had planned, which probably would have allowed me to get at least one more rep, if not two. Despite being very happy that I did not zero the event, my one rep was only good enough to tie me for 14th place on this event, which dropped me down several points. I definitely need to put more work into my strict and push pressing at some point in the future if I am ever going to compete on an apparatus like this again.

Deck Box Load Worlds

Qualifying Round Event 3: Box Carry & Load

We had four wooden crates loaded with different-weight sandbags that were set up with the carry distance decreasing as the weight increased, so it was something like 8m x 80kg, 6m x 80kg, 4m x 90kg, and 2m x 90kg. However, I’m not 100% sure about the weights, and they may have gone as heavy as 110 kilograms. This is not at all heavy, but the crates were one of the more awkward things I have ever tried to pick up and carry. It also didn’t help that we were not able to warm up with them and that we didn’t find out that we would be using crates until a couple of weeks out from the competition. In light of this, all of my training for this event was done with atlas stones, which are immensely easier to pick up and carry than the boxes were. I knew I needed to be fast here if I wanted to make up enough points to get through to the finals the next day, but I also had no plan for picking them up, as no one who had gone before me had really looked like he or she had an easy time with them, and I was up early due to my poor placing on the prior event. I completely bobbled the first crate when I went to pick it up, but once it was up, I felt pretty good about the load. As I said, I do not know what the weights of the boxes were, but it felt as though each one became progressively heavier and that my picks became slower each time. During the last pick, I actually felt my left hamstring start to cramp up and/or pull because I was having to lift the box up in such a crooked position. However, I still managed to get it up on the platform in one go, which gave me the second-fastest time up to that point and hope for making the finals. Unfortunately, after I went, the guys went a lot faster, and my time ended up being only good enough for 12th place out of 23.

Thanks to repeatedly not quite doing a good-enough job on all three events in the qualifying round, I ended up in 13th place overall out of 23 athletes—one slot away from getting to compete in the finals the following day. I could blame this on a whole bunch of factors, and although each may have played a role in my final placing at the competition, in the end, I did not do a good-enough job that day. As an athlete, this sucks to have to admit, and even when I win, I can always evaluate my performance and find places where I could have or should have done better. So, objective self-criticism aside, I am extremely happy to have finally made it to the competition after 12 years of training for and competing in Strongman events all over the country and around the world. I obviously wanted to place better, but 13th out of 23 in the world is not the worst I could have done, and I know that next time I go to the competition, I will do better thanks to this experience. By comparison, at my first nationals in 2007, I placed 12th, then eight the next year, and third the year after that. Then, a few months later, I won my pro card in April of 2010. So, I know I can learn from both the positives and the negatives, taking this information and using it to train better and smarter and to make myself strong(er) the next time around. Seriously, walking around complaining about being 13th in the world at something you love to do is about as first-world problem as you can get.

Big Group Worlds

Congrats to my fellow Americans Darin Heltemes for finishing in fourth place in the 105s and Mike Lusby for finishing in 15th place in the 90s. Both did solid work, and I had a great time hanging out and competing with them. I have a lot of people to thank for helping me to achieve my goal of making it to the 105-kilogram World’s Strongest Man. Thank you to everyone who made this possible, including Dave Tate and everyone at elitefts, Willie, John, Todd, the United States Strongman, Michelle, Coach G, Steve Mattheu, the Meat Head Dream Team, Teddy Willsey, Kristy Boarts, Dave and Lisa, Iron Strong CrossFit, Healthy Baller, Iron Athletics, Brute Strength Gym, Nick O’Brien, Dave Terry, Kevin Dickhut, Brendan Curry, Andrew Pepiot, Stella, Mike Lusby, Caroline Lusby, Darin Heltemes, Ilkka Kinnunen, Marcel Mostert, the Strongman Champions League, Jason Menges, Healthbridge Chiropractic, Gregg Inocencio, Jeff Kryglik, the town of Liperi, Finland, all of the athletes and spectators, judges, timers, scorekeepers, loaders, the setup and cleanup crew, and everyone else who has helped me along the way.

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