I just had an amazing day of competition yesterday. Several weeks ago, I saw the Illinois’ Strongest Man contest hosted by Dave Daly included a Viking Press, which was something I had always wanted to try, so I signed up for the competition. I wasn’t sure how the competition would go for me, but as always, I knew I would have a great time. I didn’t expect to win the Master’s Division. Though there were 2 competitors, I thought my chances were less than 50/50.
To help prepare for the contest, Dave Pankow of Pankow-Performance helped create a make-shift Viking Press to give me a feel for the event. Since each apparatus is different, it is impossible to perfectly replicate the event, but it was good enough to give me confidence. We also continued to work on deadlifts, and my boot camp training with Fitness Revolution of Wixom helped me with my speed, which is what helped me win the final 2 events and the overall division.
My competitor, Dennis, was outstanding. He beat me by 1 rep on the Viking Press and by 17 feet on the Conan’s Wheel. On the Viking Deadlift, he pulled the 12th rep just after time expired, or he would have tied me on the deadlift. Fortunately for me, he was credited with 11, but I knew it wasn’t by much.
The final two events, Farmer’s Carry and the Yoke/Keg medley, were what provided the win for me. The weight on the farmer’s was light enough to just grab and go, which helped on the turn, but I only won by 0.3 seconds. Dennis had been very fast. On the Yoke/Keg medley, I believe the time difference was less than a second, and the difference was likely a slight bobble Dennis had with the yoke half-way down the run.
Here is a compilation video of the events:
The event was fun, all the competitors were friendly, helpful, and encouraging, and to walk away with my first time winning my division felt wonderful, though after the car ride home, I couldn’t wait to hop into my Finnleo infrared sauna and my Amerec steam shower to help me recover.
Now, I need to prepare for Nationals in Las Vegas on September 16th & 17th. I will see Dennis there again, and I know I have a ton of training to do to stay competitive with him.
I started training with Pankow Performance on August 1st, 2015. When I started, I was at 257 lbs and about 29% body fat. For my last contest, I weighed in at 220.4 lbs, and my last caliper measurements put me at just over 20% body fat. More important than the weight or fat loss was the increase in confidence and self-esteem, while also being shown I am not the strongest person in the room…by a long shot.
During these months and contests, I have had to push myself to or beyond what I thought my body could handle. Sometimes, I have been successful, like with the 275 lbs/hand farmer’s carry at Motor City’s Strongest Man, and sometimes, I did as well/poorly as expected.
At this latest competition, I learned a few valuable lessons:
Prepare for everything. I was sure that the contest weights were light enough, especially on stones, so I didn’t practice stones, instead I focused on circus dumbbell and farmer’s carry. My failure to prepare was preparing to fail, as I didn’t record a single rep. At the competition, I couldn’t launch the stone from my chest over the bar. Had I practiced, I would have likely recorded one.
Be aware of surroundings. In the circus dumbbell, I stood on rubber mats that I thought had been placed as a staging area; however, they were intended to protect the bell and the parking lot from each other between reps. Had I been aware of their purpose and impact they had on my lift, I would have stepped off the mat and performed the event. I might have recorded one more rep.
Get over annoyances quickly. I let a minor irritation in one event mess with my mind and also my performance. There was nothing I could do to fix it by thinking about it; rather, the lack of focus on the task at hand was more of a hindrance than a help.
Strongman has been a great sport, and I look forward to competing for years to come. Besides the fun, the gains in strength, and the many friendships I have developed, the requirements of meeting weight classes have given me a continuous goal for weight management or weight loss. As I transition from open divisions to masters divisions, the weight classes become a little less restrictive, but I intend to maintain weight for the 220 class, as it will serve me better in life and for the occasional contest that doesn’t offer a master’s division.
May you find a hobby or sport that brings you as much joy as strongman has done for me.
Here are few pictures from the latest contest on April 23rd:
14,000 lb truck 60 feet
Here are a few pictures from the 2nd contest, Motor City’s Strongest Man (March 12th) in 220 lb class:
Here are a few pictures from my first competition in September at the 242 lb weight class:
650 lb yoke
210 lb axle press
Chrysler 200 + 50 lbs Car Deadlift
Thanks, Dave, for all of your help with diet, training, and encouragement.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” Luke 16:13. I am not one to quote scripture, and I realize this wasn’t referring to running vs strongman, but it is applicable to so many conflicts in life.
New Year’s Eve heading into 2003, a friend of mine said he wanted to run a marathon before his 30th birthday. He was turning 29 in April, which meant that in Michigan, he had one marathon season to complete his goal. Determined to help my friend succeed, I told him I would train with him and run the Detroit Marathon with him. That summer, we spent most Saturdays or Sundays running 2 laps around a park with an 8-1/2 mile trail. Those were good miles and happy memories, though I ended up injuring myself in September, so I could not participate in the October marathon; however, Don achieved his goal.
In April 2004, my wife and I welcomed our daughter, so much of the time I had spent running the previous year was now focused on being a good husband and father. I think the jury is still out on how well I succeeded in that first year of fatherhood, but I did my best; however, my marathon training was less than impressive. When Don asked if I wanted to run the marathon that October, I agreed, as I figured I could whip myself into marathon shape in a couple months. Avoiding injury, I completed my first marathon in October 2004.
I took the next year off of running, as I had decided to try a career change which didn’t pan out, but for my 30th birthday, I completed the Flying Pigs Marathon in Cincinnati, OH. It was a fun race and one I intended to do again, but laziness and depression took over, so I took comfort in food rather than the miles that gave me release and a great time to work through the problems of the world. I didn’t complete any substantial distance for another 8 years when I completed the Detroit Half-Marathon after losing 50 lbs while working out with Fitness Revolution of Wixom. Completing that race was a gift to myself saying I had taken control of my health, wellness, and fitness.
I was so excited with my return to running long distances that I signed up for the Las Vegas Half-Marathon for November 15, 2015. It was to be my great traveling half-marathon, and I had intentions of shaving 15-20 minutes off of my time from the Detroit Half-Marathon. I logged miles every day during my lunch hour. I booked travel in April when I saw great deals. In May, I was pleased to learn I could help another friend achieve a goal by creating a relay team for the Detroit Marathon, which would serve as a nice warm-up for the Las Vegas Half. Las Vegas was going to be MY race, and then in July it happened…I met my new love and master of my exercise time and goals: Strongman.
One of the first observations made about my training prior to strongman was I was doing too much, and it was hurting my goals, as I wasn’t giving my body enough time to rest. While it was difficult at first to not run during lunch, I soon found that I enjoyed a relaxing lunch, and I often made healthier choices for lunch as I made time to prepare a salad and grilled meats. The downside was I could feel my cardiovascular endurance starting to reduce after a few weeks, but I could also feel great gains in strength, and my body was becoming more muscular and responding better to the workouts and increased rest.
After the strongman competition at the end of September, I had about 3 weeks to get ready for the Detroit Marathon relay, but my desire to run was no longer there. I was participating in more bootcamp classes again, which helped my cardio, but I was not in a runner’s shape any longer, and it made me start to second guess whether the Las Vegas half would happen or not. In fact, I was concerned whether I would do well on the shorter distance of the relay. Fortunately, Frank, a friend and trainer, suggested switching legs with me on the relay, so I could run just 2.9 miles. In conversations with Frank and Dave in the weeks leading up to the relay, it became clearer that I needed to opt out of the Las Vegas Half-Marathon and pursue my other opportunity to train at a strongman gym while out there.
Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 3:30 AM, I awoke to get ready for my last run with the word “marathon” associated with it. I met Frank at 4:30, and we started our drive to Detroit to arrive before the roads closed. We relaxed and talked for a while before heading to the starting line to meet our teammates, Suzy and Sara, and then we all went to where we needed to be. Suzy took the starting position. Frank went to the start of the 3rd leg at mile 12.8. I rode a bus to the start of the 4th leg around the 19 mile mark. Sara rode the bus to her position as the anchor for the relay on the 5th leg with the final 4 miles.
For the next 3 hours as Suzy and Frank made their way through the course, I thought about running, took a nap, thought more about running, and talked with a few people on the bus. I could feel that I wasn’t as excited about this race as I had been for other races, including some 5k distances, which was about what my leg was to be. I knew this race was going to be my retirement party for my running master.
As Frank approached the exchange chute for me to start my leg, I took his picture to remember the moment. I jogged most of my distance, but I felt the need to walk a few times to relieve pressure I felt in my chest. I stopped to take a picture of the Belle Isle Aquarium, and then I finished my leg of the race and sent Sara on her way to the finish. I was done, and I had finished trying to serve two masters.
When the bus returned me to the relay meet-up, Suzy, Sara, and Frank were waiting. We collected our finisher medals then posed for a picture in front of an oversized course map from the race. Suzy’s goal had been met. Frank helped us achieve our goals, and for me, I definitively knew my long distance running days were over. I felt peace and closure.
My first competition is fast approaching (two weeks from today), and while I am confident in some events, there are others that I am doing my best to psych myself out of being competitive, and I need to stop it. After a week off for attending a conference, I did front squats and some ab work (dragonflies?) on Friday, and Saturday morning, we did strongman training. In both cases, I let “should” enter my mind and mess with me instead of focusing on what “is.” Let me explain.
After missing my normal Friday morning workout since I had arrived home late Thursday night/Friday morning, Dave invited me to join him and a couple other guys to do a quick (5×5) squat session with some ab work to follow. I appreciated the opportunity to still salvage the day with a workout after being gone for a while, and it was fun to see the guys and to train, but as we were doing front squats (perhaps my best session I have done), I found myself judging and comparing myself to Dave and Ryan, both of whom have been squatting longer. I outweigh both of them by at least 40 lbs, and my legs are not chicken legs, so to see both exceeding my weight, instead of being pleased with having accomplished 5 good sets of front squat, I was telling myself I should be doing more weight than both of Dave and Ryan. While it is a goal to work towards, letting the comparison and self-judgment diminish my workout did nothing to make me feel more competitive nor did it focus on the positive upon which I could build. By contrast, Dave, Ryan, and Frank (who was doing back squats) recognized my improved form and performance, and they complimented me on the work. They are a great reminder of the benefit of excellent workout partners/trainers, as they find the good and offer feedback on how to improve, without diminishing what has been accomplished.
Saturday morning, we worked on event specific lifts: log press, axle press, one-armed circus dumbbell, and car deadlift. For fun, they brought out a few other implements for a medley, including a duck walk. I am fortunate to have strong shoulders and pressing skills, but I am still working on form and coordination, especially with the log. We were not working with heavy weights on the log or axle, since there was a general agreement that reps were more important for the day. I was able to do press the axle and the dumbbell with relative ease, but I struggled with the log, and again, people I outweighed (one by 70-80 lbs) outperformed me or kept pace with me on the log, and when we got to the car deadlift, I was blown out of the water. In my frustration caused by comparing myself to others (with more experience) and determining I should be lifting more than they were, I missed the fact that I did better on the car deadlift this week than I had when I first tried it two months ago. Again, I lost perspective on personal improvement, and I was turning a good day of personal successes into a “not good” day because I didn’t perform as well as others.
Like Friday, the guys with whom I workout on Saturday’s at Bob’s garage gave encouragement, recognized my strengths, and offered suggestions on how to improve. They focused on techniques and didn’t let negative terms like failure, weak, or can’t enter their critique. I need to begin to internalize the positive views my workout buddies have so I can see my successes and see where I need to improve while enjoying my gains. And, I need to stop comparing myself to others, especially when I am only beginning competition, as I will psych myself out of competing, if I don’t accept that I am only competing against myself and my personal bests.
Thanks to Dave, Ryan, Bob, Tom, Bryan, Shane, and all the other fine people who are helping me to learn more about this fun sport and to face my challenges and see the positives while acknowledging changes that need to be made.
This weekend, I learned a lesson in how valuable the Girl Scouts can be in achieving my fitness goals. No, this has nothing to do with Thin Mints; rather, their song, Make New Friends, applied to my Sunday fun and helped me grow in my training.
For those unfamiliar with the song, it goes:
Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, and the other’s gold…
I have known and respected Dave Pankow for over a year, and he is my mentor and trainer through these weeks ahead of me before my first strongman competition. In the Girl Scout song, he would be the “keep the old” and has proven himself to be worth the weight he can press in gold (he presses far more than he weighs). In my short time of training with him, I have already started to learn more about my strengths, where I need improvement, and some first steps I need to take to get there.
Over the weekend, I got to enjoy the other part of the song, “Make new friends.” I had met some of the guys and gals on previous weekends, either at workouts or volunteering at an event, but this was the first time I was going to be in a foreign area with people I barely new and challenging myself physically and mentally as I tried to grasp how to successfully complete lifts with odd implements. With accomplished athletes all of whom packed on the muscle, I arrived intimidated and concerned about my place…that changed quickly.
From the first lift to the last and from the newest lifter to the most seasoned veteran, each person sought to help the other. Adjusting weights, spotting, advising on form or safety, and preparing equipment for the next event, people worked together in a friendly environment. At the end of September, each may be a competitor, but until then, the goal was to help each person be the most successful version of his or her self. While that should be the goal of all friendships, I found it unique and very impressive that while confidence and competitiveness abounded, there was no room for arrogance or belittling those who had much to learn.
What did I learn from my new and old friends this weekend? I learned how to clean and to press a log with better form with greater conservation of energy. I was actually able to get the 210 log up (30 lb increase over previous attempt. I also learned what the frame carry and the yoke felt like, as well as the fact that if equipment can be adjusted and you need it to be to be safe: ask. My short legs had difficulty getting the 560 lb yoke off the ground when it was set for the taller guys, but when it was lowered, I was able to do it better. I learned not to fear but to respect intimidating equipment as we wheeled a 900 lb wheelbarrow. Finally, I learned to listen to people when they offer advice and instruction. When I had last tried a 210 lb Atlas Stone, I struggled immensely. On Sunday with the 215 lb stone, I struggled on my first attempt as I focused too much on what I was doing that I missed instruction. My 2nd attempt, I listened, and when I did as instructed, the stone was easier to lift over the bar. Now, I only need to add another 100 lbs to the stone in 6 weeks.
If you get the opportunity to challenge yourself, do so, especially if you have great friends to guide you through your journey. If strongman interests you, find a great trainer/mentor, like Dave, to help learn the lifts and to help guide you through the muscular development needed to safely lift strange items. I am thankful to have made news friends and to have kept the old. I look forward to the day they all are gold.