I’ve already written about our team’s performance at this year’s CanWest Games from a coach’s perspective but I wasn’t only there as a coach but also as an athlete myself.  I’ve asked our other competitors to write about their experiences at the CanWest and if you’ll permit me the indulgence, I’d also like to share my experiences as a competitor.  Maybe it’s just an opportunity for me to talk about myself or maybe you’ll glean some helpful or inspiring insights that might help you on your athletic journey.

It Almost Wasn’t
Many of you already know that I almost withdrew from this year’s CanWest Games.  I’ve suffered sciatica for years but in May it got bad enough that it ruined my June training ramp up.  No heavy lifting, very little conditioning or skill work.  By the end of June I had lost much of the conditioning I’d had through March and April’s CrossFit Open and CanWest Qualifiers.  By July the symptoms had receded enough that I could train again though I still cannot drive a car or sit in a chair.  I decided, despite this set back, to just show up and do what I could at the Games.  I’m glad that I did!

Day 1: Friday July 26th
Woke to 4am alarm and into the gym to coach.  7am I did a scaled version of the 5 round GHD WOD.  Should you train the morning of competition?  Probably no.  I kept it light and easy using it to loosen up.  Finished coaching at 10:30am and hurried home.  Had packed everything the night before so Sunghee & I loaded the car and headed out.  I had to tilt the passenger seat all the way back and lay on my good side to avoid irritating my sciatic nerve.  Sunghee drove us into Port Coquitlam.  Because of my car issues, we’d taken a hotel room at Poco Inn & Suites for the weekend.  Checked in.  Unloaded our gear then headed out to Percy Perry Stadium for event registration and to claim a spot in the shade behind the stadium for our team.

1:55 Going Big
7 minutes, 3 attempts for  a max clean & jerk

Was dreading this event.  I’d been avoiding heavy squats and split jerks in the gym because of my sciatica.  Instead I was planning to power clean and push jerk but in training I’d missed 225lbs repeatedly.  My confidence was crushed.  Went to the warm up area with Sandman, Super Mario & Waterboy to build up to our opening weights.  In a last moment decision I decided to use the squat clean and split jerk even though I hadn’t been training these.  It’s only 3 lifts, I figured.  In warm up I missed my first attempt at 225lbs.  I refused to let it unsettle me and after a short break made a second attempt.  This time successful.  That would be my opening weight.  I had, after all, 3 attempts to make it if the first didn’t go well.

3-2-1 Go.  I loaded the barbell.  Announced my weight: 225lbs.  Took a sip of coconut water.  Looked around at the cheering crowd and my fellow competitors.  Took off my hat.  Took off my shirt.  Put on my belt.  Chalked my hands.  At the 6 minute mark I addressed the bar.  And made the lift.

Loosened my belt.  Put on more weight.  Announced my new weight: 235lbs.  Put my hat back on.  Sipped coconut water.  Cheered Sandman on the platform next to me as he made his lift.  Soaked in the energy.  At the 3 minute mark I addressed the bar.  And made the lift.  Still no pain.

Loosened my belt.  Put on more weight.  Announced my new weight: 255lbs.  Put my hat back on.  Sipped coconut water.  Felt so happy to be here.  This is where I belong.  I love competing.  So sad if I had missed it.  Last minute and the clock starts racing through the seconds trying to panic lifters into rushing.  Tightened my belt.  Chalked my hands.  Waited until 30 seconds remained.  Addressed the bar.  Made the lift!  245lbs is 10lbs under my clean & jerk max but it’s been over a year since I clean & jerked 245lbs so I was thrilled.  Lousy split though.  Landed badly on my left knee jarring something.

Limped off thrilled with my lifts but slightly concerned about my knee.  Earned 7th place overall.

Cheered on Colossus in his lifts and the girls out on the turf then cooled down, refueled and had Mr. Fantastic check out my knee.  Suspected strain of patella tendon.  Not serious.

Watched the girls destroy the lifts.

5pm Bullet Proof
12 min time cap
150 DU
Shuttle Run
25 KB Snatch Left
25 KB Snatch Right (1.5 pood)
Shuttle Run
20 DB Thrusters Left
20 DB Thrusters Right
Shuttle Run
50ft DB Overhead Lunge

I worried about this one the most.  The hardest WOD and not something you can game.  It hasn’t happened to me before but I struggled with double unders from the start.  I wasn’t the only one.  Remained calm even as I saw other athletes moving onto the shuttle run and then onto the KB Snatches.  I’d visualized being behind after double unders so was mentally prepared to make a push at the kettlebells.  It actually helped that my DU sets were so broken up that I wasn’t winded when I finally got to the lifting.  My KB Snatch technique is much more efficient than most of my competitors and I started to catch up to and pass them here.  Nevertheless, time was winding down as I reached the DB Thrusters so I tried to power through in big sets.  My knee felt okay thanks to adrenaline.  With only 2 thrusters remaining time ran out.  Despite my bad start I’d made up a lot of places but if I could have finished my DU 90 seconds faster I could have finished under the time cap.  15th overall.  Disappointed in my DU performance but pleased with my come-from-behind in the latter half so, not a total loss.  Not everything goes your way in competition.

End of day 1 and overall thrilled to be competing.  So glad I didn’t withdraw.  Sunghee drove us back to hotel and we elected to walk 10 minutes each way to No Frills to help loosen up my stiff legs.  Bought supplies and returned to our kitchenette suite to make a late 7pm dinner.  So great not to commute all the way back to Vancouver!

Wrote a blog post to recap the day for Empower members following from home.

Day 2: Saturday July 27th
Woke to 5am alarm.  Sunghee had to get ready for very early team events and I with her.  Body feeling great after walk.  Knee a bit stiff but not too bad and, for the first time in months, no sciatica symptoms!  How is that possible?

A quick breakfast then we headed in to meet the teams.  Spent the morning in coach mode.  When teams finished up we browsed the vendor village killing time.  Bought some gear and got some free swag.  Best was free sunglasses, big, cheap plastic things that fit over top my glasses looking goofy but a godsend in the bright, hot weather.

Masters women were up first so by the time the men were called I had been on site 10 hours and was feeling a bit drained.

4pm Get After It
4 rounds:
15 cal Ski Erg
10 Power Cleans @135lbs

Come on, power cleans are my jam!  In training, Sandman beat me on this one and I was offended.  He can beat me in other things but no one should beat me in this event!  I trained cycling that barbell because that’s what the event is about.  Recover during the ski and blitz through the cleans unbroken.

With my shades on I cruised through that first ski.  Across from me I saw Pete reach his barbell while I still had 5 calories left.  Too fast, I thought, This is only round 1.  I held my pace.  Cleans felt smooth, relaxed. Back onto the ski erg.  Again, Pete came off his ski and approached his bar while I still had 5 calories to go.  He completed a clean and then dropped the barbell.  I started to grin.  I couldn’t help myself because I knew he was dead in the water.  I was going to finish the ski in just a moment and I would not drop my barbell.  I’d be done my set of 10 before he could get back to the ski for round 3.  My pacing held together and in the last round I sprinted for the finish, only the last clean was hard but I refused to let go the bar.  Finished with a personal best of 6:43 and still had wind left to cheer Sandman, then Super Mario across the finish line.  Thought I was first finished in our heat but the leaderboard ranked me 13th which suggests I was 2nd in the heat.  Pleased with my performance as it went exactly to plan.

5:30pm Axle
3 min time cap
30 cal row
30 axle bar thrusters @120lbs
wearing 20lb weight vest

Short turn around time on this one.  Barely time to cool down, refuel and warm up again.  Hate that axle bar.  In training couldn’t do more than 7 in a row.  Hate rowing with weight vest.  But 3 minutes of suffering is only 3 minutes.  As we warmed up I discovered sweet, ripe blackberries near the warm up area and, taking this as a good omen, ate several.  None of my competitors were interested in joining me but I felt much better after eating a few.

Haven’t been able to train the row due to inability to sit but wasn’t worried about it.  With adrenaline I felt no pain.  Held a moderate 1100 cal/hour pace.  With training could have been faster.  Sandman blasted through the row and was onto thrusters just as I reached 22 calories.  Good for him!  He beat me solidly on this one in training so I was just hoping to stay close.  I was counting on him having to take a few breaks and I would have to take none.

Reached 30 calories.  Picked up my axle bar and started lifting.  Not fast, just steady.  Gaining ground on those who finished before me.  I wanted to take a break but there wasn’t enough time.  I knew I was gaining on Sandman as I completed my 10th rep.  Every 10 we needed to move the bar forward.  Most put the bar down and rolled it forward.  No time.  I kept the bar racked, stepped forward then squeezed out another 2 thrusters before the time cap for a total of 12 thrusters (42 reps including row).  I finished 3 reps behind Sandman in 15th place but it was a big personal best for me.

Felt great about the day’s events.  Felt I performed to the best of my abilities.  Felt healthy and strong.  Knee achy between – but not during – events.

Sunghee and I stopped into No Frills on the way back to the hotel.  It had been a long day.  We were exhausted.  It was getting late and we had an earlier start tomorrow.  Made food.  Packed our bags.  Wrote blog update.  Into bed.

Sunday July 28th
Had alarms set for early.  No need.  I was up at 4am buzzing with the excitement of yesterday’s competition high.  Knew I should sleep but so keen to get back at it.  Body a bit stiff, sciatica returned to normal low-grade ache but raring to go.  So glad I did not withdraw!  Lay awake awaiting alarm trying to strategize Sunday’s events.

Finally alarm went, we rose, ate breakfast, packed car and checked out of hotel.  Met our team at stadium.  Teams had to get started right away.  Men were up next.

8:00am End Game
10 min time cap
4 Rounds:
1 rope climb
15 Wall balls @20lbs
10 T2B
Then, 4 rounds:
5 Bar MU
9 Box Jump Overs @24”

Tested this one in training.  It destroyed me.  Not sure how best to approach it.  Had been wavering back and forth for days.  Only as we were marshaling for the event did I get clear on my strategy.  90 seconds per round, 30 seconds per element.  That would get me through the first 4 rounds with 4 minutes remaining on the clock.  With a plan, I was ready.

3-2-1 Go!  Jumping for the rope makes life so easy, 2 pinches to the top instead of the 3 I use in the gym.  Train hard, compete easy!  The wall ball target was floppy.  Hitting it too high it threatened to fold over and drop the ball to the other side.  Also my wall ball was leaking sand into my mouth and eyes obscuring my vision.  These things happen in competition.  Don’t let them throw you off.  I made my adjustments and aside from one missed rep it went smoothly and I completed my sets unbroken.  Completed my T2B unbroken as well and was done the first round in just over a minute.  Made a mental note to slow my pace in round 2.  Only when I reached my second set of T2B did I realize I had forgotten to advance my box at the end of the round.  Had to advance it 2 spots.  Luckily I did not get penalized since my judge had also forgotten.

Round 3 found me leading the field.  Round 4 I had to break up my final T2B but I reached the bar mu leading my heat.  Could not get through 5 unbroken however.  Needed 2 or 3 sets.  Tom, the acrobatics & gymnastics coach in the lane next to me, could and this is where he passed me.  Kipped through my HSPU’s unbroken and reached him already a few reps ahead of me on the box jump overs.  Screw that!  With the stadium crowd cheering us on I blasted through those box jump overs feeling no pain as I easily passed him.  Only to get slowed down again at the bar mu.  He was so smooth on those bar mu’s as he strung another 5 together.  I made it back to the HSPU’s with just enough time to get credit for 2 reps finishing 2nd in our heat and 11th overall.  Congratulated Tom on his win, it was a really fun race and once again I out-performed my in-gym training.  Felt great about this one, a wonderful way to start the final day!

We had a bit of a break for cooling down, refueling and cheering Colossus, the women and the teams.

12:45pm Suns Out, Guns Out
6 min time cap
1 rep max Hang Snatch

Not my best lift.  I’ve got a strong first pull but am not as good from the hang.  Struggled with it in the gym.  Lift about the same for hang power or hang squat snatch so decided to go for the squat because it looks cooler.  In warm up I struggled missing several warm up attempts but eventually managed a shaky 165lbs.  Decided to make this my opening weight since I had as many attempts at it as I wanted within 6 minutes.   I didn’t need them though.  Under pressure, I made the lift easily on my first attempt.  I would have been content with that but decided to try 170lbs after a bit of a break.  Again, easy.  Thought about leaving it there but with lots of time on the clock I put on 175lbs then looked around a bit.  Super Mario was going heavy but I didn’t expect to beat him on this one.  Instead I looked around to see if anyone else was close to me.  Pete behind me was the only one, and he looked good for 175lbs.  Decided to go for 185lbs.  If I made it, I would shut the door on him, if not, I was content with third place.  With seconds remaining I gave it a shot but wasn’t even close.  Silly attempt but no harm done.  Third in our heat, 12th overall.  If I had been coaching me, I would have told me to stay at 175 but it is hard to have that global perspective from the competition floor.  Not a critical error but still a good lesson.

2:00pm We the North
8 min time cap
3 rounds:
12 cal Ski Erg
Handstand Walk (30ft, 40ft, 50ft)
Shuttle Run

Another quick turn around between events.  Limited recovery time.  A lot of shoulder strain today.  Thankfully my shoulders are capable of carrying me through high-volume work.  Before the workout I tested a few steps of handstand walking to see if it was possible to do while wearing sunglasses.  It was.  How cool is that?

I was excited for this event.  Never have I had the opportunity to handstand walk in competition, it has always been hidden behind a cardio gate.  I always train in minimum increments of 25ft so was pretty confident with the 10ft minimum and the round one 30ft stretch was an opportunity for a personal best.  Tom from Rocky Point, co-founder of the CanWest Games was my judge so we had a good chat at the start line.  Tom, the acrobat from the morning, was in the lane next to me again.  He has a personal best unbroken 100ft handstand walk.  I was not going to beat him on this one.  But that didn’t concern me, I just wanted a chance to test a skill I’ve been practicing for so long.  It was not about the ski erg.  I took my time.  And when I was ready, I scored a personal best with a 30 foot handstand walk!  Win.  I was happy as I jogged the shuttle run back to the ski erg.  Did not rush round 2 and, guess what?  With no expectations I made the 40ft stretch unbroken too for a second personal best.  Double happiness!  My shoulders were tired, so I walked the shuttle run.  What’s the rush?  Completed the final ski erg and while my shoulders recovered I took a break to cheer on Tom in lane 9 as he completed his last round.  Congratulated him as he became the first in our heat to cross the finish line.  We’d go #1 & #2 in the opening and closing events of the day.    Then I tackled the 50ft walk.  Not unbroken this time.  I was tired!  10ft.  Then a missed attempt.  30ft.  Then I looked at the clock, saw there was a minute remaining and realized I could finish this WOD.  Put all my focus and determination into those last 10 feet and then sprinted that shuttle run and crossed the finish line at 7:06 11th overall but second in the heat and the only other athlete of our heat to finish inside the time cap.  Another big best for me.

“Did you do that event wearing sunglasses?”  Hard Rock asked.

Yes I did, Hard Rock, thanks for noticing!   One of the many things that I love about Hard Rock is that she often notices and comments upon the stupid things that I do, sometimes even the ones that I hoped someone would notice.

The only regret I have from the final event was that I didn’t roll out of the handstand walk straight into the shuttle run ninja-style the way Silk did later.  Once again I feel like she one-upped me because everyone knows that on a scale of coolness handstand walk to ninja roll to run > handstand walk with shades on.  Try as I might, Silk is always a couple degrees cooler.  And very quiet and smug about it too.  She doesn’t even have the courtesy to rub it in like Sandman does, she just brushes it off like she wasn’t even trying to be cool.  That’s so cool!  If only I had thought of it first, I could have earned instant legend status by performing handstand walk to ninja roll to run with shades on.  Upon reflection, this is my biggest regret of the 2019 CanWest Games.  Sigh.  Maybe next year.

And that was it.  Our CanWest was complete.  We moved on to cheer for Colossus and the Masters women, waited out the award ceremony for Motor to claim her hardware and then went for a team dinner at a local sushi place.  That was the end of our 2019 CanWest competition.  Everything we’d worked toward for the past year.  I had some very satisfying performances finishing easily top of my heat.  13th overall but only 8 points shy of the two guys tied for 11th and only 14 points behind our friend Daryl in 10th.  Even though some very strong young guys aged up into our division this year, I am still creeping closer.  And I nearly withdrew from competition!   So glad I didn’t.  Even though you’re not at your best, you can still go out and give it your best.

Despite my fears, my sciatica was not aggravated by the events at all.  My knee seems to be only minor and is healing well with gentle treatment.  My right trap/neck was stiff and sore the day after the CanWest from that final effort on the handstand walk but it loosened up by Tuesday.  All-in-all my body feels good as I ease my way back into training.

Sad it is over so soon.  Such a great event.  I really feel at home on the competition floor.  Will refocus my training season on getting healthy with the hopes I can make it back to play again in 2020.

A special big thanks to my darling wife who spent the whole weekend being Morgan Freeman to my Miss Daisy.  And thanks to you for reading this far!  Hope there was something in this lengthy reflection to help you in your training journey.