The Outlaw Open – Part 1

Touching greatness if only briefly.

This past weekend Tim, Melissa, and I all flew out to Palm Springs, California to compete in the inaugural Outlaw Open.  This event was a CrossFit competition running side by side with The American Open, the 2nd biggest Olympic weightlifting competition in the U.S.  It was very fun to arrive Friday afternoon and watch some professionals and top amateurs executing their craft to perfection.

The big stage of the America Open…notice not too many people in the audience.
After watching some of the AO lifters on the stages we went back stage to the warmup area.  The atmosphere in the warmup area was full of dynamic tension.  Athletes were kept on the edge by their coaches.  Imagine this: you work for a whole year to go out on stage a make 6 lifts total, 3 snatch attempts, 3 clean & jerk attempts.  You’re up on the stage by yourself, everyone watching you with 3 judges surrounding you scrutinizing your every little move for mistakes.  You have 1 minute to set yourself and make a attempt, trying not to dwell on the fact that if you miss all 3 of your attempts you’re out.  Trust me, we watched plenty of athletes miss all 3 snatches and therefore be disqualified from the competition.  It was heartbreaking to see.  We watched a girl from St. Louis miss all 3 snatch attempts…for the second year in a row.  This is the stuff that makes athletic competitions so awesome: the juxtaposition of success and defeat, agony and ecstasy, soaring on the pressure currents like a eagle or being crushed against the ground by it.
Increasing your chance of failure was the strictest judging by a 3 judge panel (in our competition we would only have 1).  In order for your lift to be considered “good” was to have at least 2 of the 3 judges approve it.  Hundreds of lifts were completed only to have the judges give the thumbs down due to a number of technical points.  The one most lifters missed was your elbows cannot bend in the slightest when receiving the bar overhead in the snatch or the jerk.  I can’t tell you how many times we witnessed what we thought (or worse what the actual lifter thought) was  a good lift only to have it be given a “no good” due to the most minute bending of the elbows (which the lifter couldn’t feel…judging by the incredulity on their faces).  The reason I’m playing this up so much is that we ourselves would face this scenario in our first event of the competition the next morning.
Day 1
Saturday morning we began the competition with the Olympic lifting portion.  We had 3 attempts at a 1 RM snatch followed (hours later) by a 1 RM clean & jerk.  Unfortunately due to some schedule delays we kept warming up then cooling down, warming up then cooling down.  I think Tim and I did this 3 times at least over a hour and a half.  Finally we got to go.  Both Tim and I, like many of the competitors, “missed” our opening lifts by the USAW (USA Weightlifting) standards we were being judged by.  I made my 2nd attempt and missed my 3rd, but I can tell you that the pressure that came off my shoulders after making that 2nd lift was incredible.  Unfortunately I was a little too relieved and went out with a little too relaxed a attitude on my 3rd lift and wasn’t sharp.  Tim made his 3rd attempt and we were pumped.  It would have been a completely different weekend had we missed all 3 snatches.  After that I hit my first 2 clean & jerk attempts and missed the clean going for a personal record (PR) on the third attempt.  Tim made his first 2 lifts as well, hitting a recent PR to boot.
After the Olympic lifting portion we had a agility test: box jump overs and side to side hurdle jumps sandwiching a short shuttle sprint.  A minute later we had a max effort row for meters.  Tim did well on both the agility and the row, I did well on the agility but murdered on the row.  Final workout of day 1 was a CrossFit workout: 12-9-6 Muscle-Ups and Front Squats (250/170#-girls only had to do 9-7-5 Muscle-Ups).  That weight of front squat is the heaviest and highest number of reps I’ve ever heard of at a CrossFit competition, including the CrossFit Games, by 25#.  We had to clean the weight from the floor and it felt ridiculously heavy after what we’d done that day already.  Oh, there was also a 8 minute cutoff on the workout.  Needless to say, most guys and girls didn’t finish.  Tim struggled on the Muscle-Ups and didn’t finish due to a rib injury not fully healed from HOA4 competition.  I finished my last set of muscle-ups and tried to get one squat clean in with 5 secs to go but missed it in the rush.  When I tested this workout last month, I finished it in 9 minutes and 30 secs, so I was on pace to beat that by over a minute.  This was the theme of the weekend for me: I’m not strong enough.
It was clear from beginning to end that the programming was geared toward large, powerful individuals.  From the beginning to end, the top 12 male competitors were pretty much all 6′ + tall and  215# + heavy.  There were a couple of exceptions, but the standard for success was pretty clear.  This is a big reason I went, as strength has always been my biggest weakness in CrossFit.  I did very little strength work in my athletic career, so I’m trying to make up for it now.  Last year I wouldn’t even have been invited to compete at this competition, let alone hang with these guys on this programming.  My purpose was to go and get better, verify that the training I’m doing is indeed improving my weaknesses, and get re-energized for the next 3 months of training before the Open begins the CrossFit Games season for 2013.  It was a long first day from 8 am until 6 pm, but we had a treat after that before we ate our dinner and crashed for the night: we got to watch one of the most talented American male weightlifters snatch and clean & jerk: John North.  YouTube videos of John North will reveal a “character” that you either love or hate.  I personally love his antics because they are hilarious, but I completely understand why a lot of people hate them because he seems like a arrogant jerk.  Either way, he lifts a ton of weight and if you met him on the street you’d never know it from the way he’s built.  It was amazing to watch him move such insane amounts of weight so (seemingly) effortlessly.  That alone was worth the trip.
End Part 1