2017 Games Recap

The 2017 Crossfit Games was one of my favourite competition experiences to date. The field of competitors were fierce, the competition floor was adrenaline-pumping and the programming exceptional. I wanted to briefly go into my Games experience this year highlighting some of the more memorable events and moments throughout the weekend.

CYCLOCROSS Event

I was definitely chapped that the Games had moved locations to Madison, Wisconsin. Not only did I have to travel farther from my hometown (Calgary, Alberta), the new location was deeming to be much more expensive (hotel and rental car). I also have a lower opinion of the continental Midwest in terms of what it offers for goods and services, “What will I eat down there? Denny’s for breakfast everyday? Is there any food group that isn’t deep fried?”

However, as soon as I landed in Milwaukee and had a pleasant conversation with my rental car dealer, I knew that Madison would be warm and inviting – like your favourite old pair of shoes. Ah yes, MidWestern charm. So much different from Los Angeles where the people are somewhat disconnected – like they don’t give a shit if you live or die. Madison was delighted to host insane, high-maintenance Crossfitters for a week. Many restaurants even created special menus for the Glutards (I am one) and the highly specialized diets of the exceptionally fit. It was great.

As the athletes and fans started to pour into the state capital, it became clear that a smaller city hosting a niche sport like Crossfit was a key move made by Castro and the Crossfit Games. What I enjoyed most is that the environment allowed the programming to become a little more creative,  refreshing almost. Like the CycloCross event. I love trying out new shit (as they say, variety is the spice of life), and the Crossfit Games always comes out with an event where the athletes are taught the bare bones basics of a highly technical skill, then promptly asked to go as hard and as fast as fucking possible. After the CycloCross event was announced I quickly YouTubed some videos and spoke with some CycloCross nerds back in Calgary. The keys to CycloCross are the dismounts and mounts over obstacles and the efficacy of your start in the race. Now add in 20 other girls who have also done their YouTube homework and haven’t ever ridden a bike over a pile of logs – or even just ridden a bike. Should be carnage… And that is exactly why I do this: for these moments of chaos and uncertainty. Can you shred it? Or will you let your fear and hesitation overwhelm you?

We first had to do a “seeding” time trial to determine our start positions. It was crucial to get a first row (or top 5) finish so you could do well on the 3-lap scored event the next day. Too bad my time trial wasn’t a scored event! Not only did I place well, I also had the largest adrenaline high from racing my ass off against other competitors (and totally cutting them off, too). I got to be aggressive right from the start and had to react quickly to other athletes’ unpredictability on their bikes. It was a pure power output event and it was such a blast. The only thing missing was a sweet 80’s hair band song blasting while we were sending it. Respect the send bro.

RUN SWIM RUN

Thursday rolled around quickly. For some reason ordained by the Vagina Gods, Aunt Flo decided to show up 30 mins before my long cardio event. Busted ol’ bitch. Although there is no compelling evidence to suggest menstruation affects performance in female athletes, the cramping, mental fatigue, and irritability alone definitely tested my patience in an already stressful situation. But hey, that’s how she goes sometimes. Life or competition will never be ideal, but it is how I respond to every situation that makes the difference.

The RUN, SWIM, RUN seemed pretty straight forward – totally doable. Yet I knew when the mile pace started out that I was in for a world of hurt (crazy athletes always sprint right out of the gate). By the time I got to the water after 1.5 miles of running, my heart rate was at 175… and now I had to swim 500m in seaweed-ridden Lake Monona. Over this past year, I swam so much more and seemed to be getting comfortable in the water. However, the competition theatre throws a plethora of obstacles at you, such as: 80 other competitors’ arms and legs smashing into you, choppy water, rain, seaweed, veering off the route around the buoys, and mouthfuls of delicious lake water. My 500m swim time was much slower than expected so I had to really pick up the pace on the run back to the finish line. As I passed one competitor, Josh Bridges, I jibed to him, “You going to let me fuckin’ beat you?” I don’t know where that came from but it sure was sassy! For some reason poking fun at the male competitors always gives me an extra push.

I finished 24th overall in that event and that was slightly deflating as I had worked so hard on running and swimming this year. But, think where I would have been if I hadn’t changed up my training approach! Baby steps. I actually began to enjoy running this year so that is a step in the right direction. Thanks to Dave and Jenn Swagar (my coaches) programming me to do bi-weekly threshold runs, I became much more comfortable with where my heart rate should be during a 1.5 mile foot race. In the pouring rain, as soon as I passed the finish line, I searched for my post-run nutrition and took off back towards the warm-up area to cool down and dry off. Lenghty cardio event out of the way. God damnit, though! I want that day to come when I can be given any workout of any combination and just say, “Hell yeah, let’s do this” and absolutely murder the workout. I am getting close!

I would briefly like to take a moment to discuss the logistical nightmare that is the Crossfit Games. Providing a testing grounds to find the fittest on earth, in multiple age categories I’ll add, demands so much equipment, personnel, and coordination. Which the Crossfit Games executes almost flawlessly. That being said, as an athlete, there is a lot of time spent, sitting or corralled, waiting for your next instruction. We have to be at the venue at 7:30 am, compete, wait, compete, wait, and so on. Most times we don’t leave the venue until 9 pm. This is where attitude is everything when it comes to the Crossfit Games. It is part of the test. It is really easy to get pissed off or tired of the “hurry up and wait” mentality that we are engulfed in throughout the week and weekend. It is really easy to question why they would do it this way or how you could do it better. This is where it pays to be a veteran. You can always see the bright-eyed, young competitors full of piss and vinegar the first few days. But then it starts to subtly pick away at them: the waiting, the lack of sleep, the discomfort, the not knowing. At one point on Sunday, I saw rookie George Sanchez meandering around the athlete warm-up area rambling on to anyone who would listen about potential workouts that Dave Castro would announce. Reminded me of Colonel Kurtz out of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (if you haven’t read this novella do so at your earliest convenience). It is also important not to engage in negative chatter amongst competitors because it can really mess up your head space. Instead, I like to talk about random shit with my fellow competitors. It is amazing what you will learn! Kara Webb is one of my new favourite people (off the cuff, witty Aussie – what’s not to love?). Chelsea Hughes wants to become a professor in the long term. Jamie Greene is an absolutely delightful human being with a great sense of adventure.

1RM Snatch

This was by far the most nerve wracking event. Two 20-second windows to hit a max load snatch, which is like threading a needle with 190lbs. Then add a couple cameras on you and a near silent stadium full of Crossfit enthusiasts. Ooohhh my tummy is turning a little as I write this! Logistically speaking, you warm up your lift in the athlete area. You then must be corralled by athlete control (great and patient peeps) and walk 15 minutes to what was dubbed the “Thunder Dome” or Coliseum. There you have time to hit maybe 1 or 2 lifts until you are corralled again. And you wait another 10 minutes until you actually get to lift a 1RM! These types of events are tough but this is where you really get to see what you are made of. I decided to open conservatively with 175 lbs. I didn’t look at any of the other lifters during their attempts. I only focused on my barbell, pacing back and forth like a lioness ready to pounce on her prey. I was repeating all kinds of crazy mantras to myself: “You’re a wild woman.” “You are unshakable.” “Set, pull, punch.” These are little positive statements that I focused on – nothing else mattered. If the “what ifs” came into my head, I immediately dispelled them. I smashed my first weight at 175lbs then loaded my bar with 187lbs. This next lift is where I learned my greatest lesson: I am more powerful than I can even fathom. I can do anything when I focus my mind on the task at hand. I missed my first attempt. The Emily of past years would have been instantly deflated. New Emily, a wiser woman, simply stepped up to the bar again and essentially power snatched the bar up. God DAMN that felt good. I love this high and that is why I compete: to keep chasing these incredible moments personal success. No matter what my placing is or how I end up as an athlete, it is these little moments in competition that force you to grow into something greater. This event provided a platform (quite literally) for a distinct shift in a positive direction. I am learning to handle the fear, the nervous energy, and the doubt that is commonplace in a woman’s mind. How cool is that? How motherfuckin’ empowering?!

Assault Banger Event.

Favourite event of the weekend. Short, high power output, bangin’ hams. Enough said.

2-2-2-3 Event

Sunday: last day of competition. I couldn’t cough due to ab soreness from all those insane GHD’s and I was sick of eating. By Sunday, I was forcing food down my gullet. In the morning I took little bites of pancakes every 30 seconds, making great efforts to not vomit. You just really don’t feel like eating but you need something in your stomach. May be the worst part of competition: the forcible eating, the largely liquid carb diet throughout the weekend. When I don’t feel like eating I know there is something terribly wrong.

Anyway, the day prior, ol’ Davey Castro asked me if I was tired of squats after the heavy 17.5 and if I thought there would be more. I replied, “I don’t give a shit.” Because I don’t. Whatever happens will happen. It’s almost like I take on this robotic, dissociative state… perhaps almost a nihilistic view. CrossFit is kinda absurd in a way because you don’t really have control over what happens next, as though CrossFit life is completely random. This is actually a feeling that I chase because in this state I can do anything. Nothing matters but the task at hand, the next rep, the next step. Complete presence.

Castro announced the 75 overhead squats paired with 20-foot rope climbs and ski-ergs. This event was one of the most sketch events I have ever participated in. Not because the work requirement was crazy or unreasonable, but because my grip was fucked and I took a chance on my very last rope climb. As I was climbing to the top, my hands went numb. I was a few pulls away from the top but I had to keep going which I knew would be disastrous. I grazed the top bar (which we have to touch) with my middle finger (how apropos) and then began my descent. My forearms and hands just would not hold on and for some reason, my feet and body became separated from the rope. I was in a free fall from the top of the 20-foot structure. I knew that if I at least kept my hands on the rope I would get the full rep. As I crashed to the mat below on my side, I frantically looked up at my bearded, tall man judge (coolest judge, by the way). He gave me a sweet thumbs up and a head nod. My hands were on fire from the rope but I jumped off the mat and headed to finish my ski-erg and overhead squats. As I approached the barbell (which was a man’s diameter barbell) I actually didn’t know if I would be able to pick it up. I went anyway. No holding back. Lo and behold, I could do it even though my hands were slipping with 105lbs overhead. Another lesson I took from this Games: you CAN fucking do it. Always. Your body won’t fail you. I wish someone had a video of that fall! It was so sketchy and so epic.

Wrap Up

To wrap it up (because I could talk ad nausea about the CrossFit Games), I am bummed that I didn’t place as high as I hoped. I put in a ton of effort this year. I really tried to dial it in. I put all my chips down on the proverbial table of life. This is how I want to live. A little quote from Osho I read recently:

“Living dangerously means whenever there are alternatives, beware: don’t choose the convenient, the comfortable, the respectable, the socially acceptable, the honorable. Choose something that rings a bell in your heart. Choose something that you would like to do in spite of any consequences.” 

If I live this way, I know that I will have few regrets. Putting all my efforts into competing in CrossFit will not be one of them.

This past year, I also played and explored more outside of the gym which facilitated moments of clarity of who I am in the world and learning what I really desire. So, despite the result, the process has fostered so much personal growth – physically, emotionally, and mentally. How amazing is that? What more can I ask for? Like I have said before, competing is an absolute privilege. Being apart of this community is an absolute privilege. I am so grateful for this life I lead. Hell, I think I’ll do this for another year.

Post Games, I am hanging with family on the West Coast of Canada and perhaps I’ll make a trip down to Southern California. Old Fashions will be consumed. Basketball will be played. Kook slams will be had. By the end of August, I will be heading to Marseille, France to do a competition and a handful of seminars with ol’ boy Lucas Parker, which should be entertaining and enlightening (Lucas and I always engage in deep philosophical pontification). I love adventure and Mama Red needs to make some dinero to support this exercise addiction!

Catch you on the flip side,

Abbott The Red.

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Emily Abbott

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