2013 Battle of the Belles Strong(wo)man Write-Up

“You’re so strong, always so strong,” I remember my mom telling me frequently as a little girl.

She referred to an unseen fortitude I developed after living through several tragic events. Later in life, I fell head-first in love with developing physical strength in lifting. And it’s part of the reason why I absolutely love strong(wo)man.

When I feel strong on the outside, I feel strong on the inside.

And vice versa. It is so empowering to accomplish a feat I didn’t believe possible. Every other hardship in life seems easy. When it clicks, a sense of peace, calm, and everything being right in the world floods my entire being.

Even when it goes wrong, when training is frustrating, when nothing makes sense, I keep on lifting, chipping away bit by bit, and it all washes out in the end.

Take the Battle of the Belles competition this past Sunday. A full write-up event by event is below, but a great example of everything coming together was the last event – Last Woman Standing Stone Over Bar for Height with a 120# stone for Lightweight Women’s Open (LWW) class. This means we lifted a stone over a bar at one height, then the bar was raised for the next attempt, and so on until there was only one gal left.

Over the past month, training for this event sorely disappointed and frustrated me. Lifting a stone to chest height was one thing, but going higher involved letting go of control, literally letting go of the stone to shoulder it, and then physically jumping it over.

Lots of things could go wrong, but the main thing I was worried about was crushing every bone in my foot if the stone dropped and I didn’t get out of the way in time.

Two weeks ago, I only completed 8 out of 15 attempts at various heights up to 58″ and I knew to be competitive in this event I needed to go higher. Serious thoughts about quitting flooded my brain. Thoughts like, The competition is too far (3 hrs away), You aren’t strong enough, You hate 1/2 of these events and are seriously sucking at them anyway so save yourself the trouble, and The stone crushes your fingers and it hurts. 

But I kept at it, kept showing up for training even when I didn’t feel like it, kept moving forward when my mind screamed NO. And the last stone training day before the competition, everything clicked. By myself in the shed at TPS, I loaded the stone at 60″, 62″, 64″, and 66″. And it felt good. It felt EASY when I felt how shouldering a stone is supposed to feel a few times.

Here is a video of that training day:

I include the misses to show that it’s possible to overcome setbacks and turn them into huge successes. I “felt it,” what it was supposed to feel like to shoulder a stone and knew I could get it over, so instead of beating myself up with past mistakes I went forward. Needless to say, I felt like anything was possible and that I could conquer the world afterward.

It’s amazing what a little confidence can do for a person. 

I felt completely calm and confident going into this event. We had 30 seconds to load the stone and get it over, enough time if we missed the first to try again, but who wants to use more energy than necessary???

I took my time, got set, overcame the challenge of too much tacky being on the stone causing shirts and appendages to stick (I thought this cost a couple of gals their attempt), and stuck with it. Only at one height – the third – did I almost miss an attempt. I couldn’t get my arms unstuck from the stone and jumped forward into the bar instead of up. Thankfully I was under it and it landed back on my shoulder, so I was able to calm down, take my time, reset to get my hands underneath, and finally get it over.

The next two went over easily.

My strategy was to back up a few inches, roll the stone around to avoid the buckets of tacky fusing it to my arms and also give me room to truly shoulder it without hitting the bar (also forcing me to truly triple extend, using less energy in the process than folks struggling to use the bar to help them shoulder the stone), to reposition my arms around then stone (underneath), then approach the bar, reset and jump, launching it over.

It served me well and I won this event, probably around the 63-64″ mark, even though there were some taller women in the group.

Because I consistently trained what I wanted to do and became familiar with as many heights as possible, this event was easy.

The same is true for life…

When we do the thing we are afraid of, familiarity replaces fear. (click here to tweet this.)

I didn’t come close to placing at Battle of the Belles. The performance the 6 other women displayed was inspiring and I was excited to be in the same group. But I am happy with the experience, my restraint, and my hard work at the stones paying off.

I now know where my weaknesses are and what I need to do to become truly competitive in this sport.

 

Do you have an experience where you’ve faced the fear and overcome it? If so, scroll down and share your experience in the comments section right now. I cannot wait to learn from you!

 

<<<Below is a write-up of the events and my experience. I’ll insert a video of most of the events soon.>>>

Battle of the Belles IV was held at Punch Kettlebell Gym in Norwalk, CT, near where my training partner Dawn is from, so we drove down the night before to get a good night’s sleep!

It was a bit chilly Sunday A.M. so I dressed in tights and the competition t-shirt with a pull-over. After weighing in at 148.2 (a bit too close for my liking) for LWW Open at <150 lbs I threw on my kigos, began warming up, and waited.

 

The first event was the Overhead Press Medley. We were supposed to clean and press a 50# dumbbell with both arms, a 110# axle, and a 100# log, then clean and press a 60# circus dumbbell as many times as possible in 60 seconds. We could go in any order as long as the 60# dumbbell was last.

All dumbbells ended up being circus dumbbells with super large grips, which I had never trained, so I was unsure of how it would go. We could use to hands to get the weight to our shoulder, but then had to press it with one hand only. My strategy was to simply go down the line, starting with my weakest lift – the 50# clean and press with my left arm, then right, then axle, log, and finish with the 60# dumbbell.

Since my kigos are super thin, my toes began going numb on the concrete while waiting for the Novice Heavyweight Women to finish (we used the same weights). I went inside to try and warm them up, thinking the announcers would announce when LWW began when I suddenly heard, “GERILYN” screamed. 

Whoops! I ran outside, threw off my pullover and approached the first dumbbell. Talk about not being ready… The first dumbbell went easily on both lifts, the axle felt heavy (or maybe it was the grip after the first dumbbells) but went up fine, the log felt pretty good, then finished with 3 to 5 reps on the 60# dumbbell. Time ran out milliseconds before another rep locked out, but it was a great run, especially considering I was minding my own business, blissfully unaware of what was going on outside!

 

Next was the Car Deadlift. The deadlift is my weakest lift and I have only recently become accustomed to truly straining under the bar. The implement was raised off of the ground to make it a bit easier and the handles were right underneath my knees. They guestimated we were attempting to lock out around 300 pounds, give or take some.

The last time I maxed on deadlift was in January of 2013 at 250#. This summer I did a couple of Farmer’s Walks around 50′ with 150# in each hand, so I knew I should be able to lift the car at least once. I know I am stronger now, but this would be max effort for me.

I belted up and got ready to lift.

I was super tight but felt my shoulders and back rounding big time. I know I got 2, maybe 3 (the video and scoresheet will show!), but I decided not to sacrifice my form for the crowd screaming. I’d rather get stronger and come back later than get injured for a few reps. This is a huge improvement from my days of balls-to-the-wall no matter what, so I’m proud of my ability to walk away at the right time rather than force it.

The LWW were crazy strong in this event.  Dawn locked out 6-8 reps and I always love how she gives it all to every event. So inspiring!

 

The third event was a Crucifix Hold with 8# kettlebells in each hand for as long as possible. I have been training for 8 kg (17+), so it was a relief to hear it was 8# instead! This was my least favorite event and I didn’t feel solid on the technique.

The rules said our toes had to be behind a chalk line (~8 inches from the wall), back and butt touching, elbows locked. We were to hold the handles in the center and the KBs facing outward with palms facing out (not down). We got one warning to raise, lower the KB, or touch the wall.

To begin we raised our arms straight up overhead and lowered our arms into position.

My strategy was to use my traps to hold the bells up instead of my deltoids, which would fatigue quicker.

I finished at 49.5 seconds in this event. I kept thinking my elbows had to touch the wall too, so I may have gotten more if I had moved my arms forward slightly. I wasn’t last but I sure wasn’t first. One competitor got 120 seconds.

 

Next was the 150# Keg, 150# Sandbag, & Heavy Sled Drag Medley. The goal was to carry the keg 50′, set it down upright, run back to grab the sandbag, and drag the sled across the line as quickly as possible in 90 seconds.

Eight plates were on the sled making it 375#. I’d been training with around 300# on a prowler, so I knew this would be hard but thought it would be doable. I was also concerned about the sandbag since it was a long one with handles instead of the blue, hard and solid beast I’d been training with, but it actually turned out to be easier.

I was super fast on the keg (it felt light), sandbag, and sprints, probably in 30 seconds for both, but the sled wouldn’t budge. I dug in, yanked, and struggled through 4-6 feet, but it just. wouldn’t. budge.

I thought I would finish this event or at least middle of the pack, but I think I was closer to the bottom. 🙁 I definitely know what I need to work on!

No one in any of the classes that used this weight got it over halfway (or even halfway, I don’t think). It was just heavy, plain and simple (and I am weak).

 

Finally, we finished with stones, but that event is covered in detail above.

 

All in all, it was a great day. I am happy with my performance, but definitely know where I stand and what I need to improve on. The bottom line is that I need to get stronger, MUCH STRONGER, and learn to train safely at max efforts.

Up until this point, I touch max effort, but never really train at that level for many reps. It’s time to get (really) comfy there.

This experience also helped me clarify my goals. I love the sport of Strong(wo)man and want to take it as far as possible. I’d love to compete at Nationals and Arnold in the next 2-3 years and now I know what it will take to get there.

1. (HUGE) Increase in Strength

The major thing I learned this weekend is that I am weak. I know strength is relative, but in strong(wo)man, strength is everything. I honestly thought I could take my near-last place finish at the deadlift and make up for it in other events to place better. And I probably could have, if that sled hadn’t been so darn impossible to move… which is a circular argument to say I am weak!

This will be my primary focus for my training for at least the next year. I pick up technique on events pretty quickly, but I need the strength to make it happen!

2. Cutting Weight

Training a 3-4x per week, eating whatever I want (i.e., my version of Paleo), and sleeping well, I naturally weigh around 145#. This is great, but to compete in LWW, I need to weigh <140, so leaning out more (~5#) and maintaining it safely will be a focus of mine over the next few months.

I want to do it safely where I’m not doing the extreme craziness a few weeks before competition like many strongman and powerlifting folks do, often coming down to the last few hours for them to successfully make weight. Nothing against it, but I know it’s not for me. And yes, I know 5# isn’t much and that probably 3# is water, but I’d rather cruise into competition than diet, drink tons of water, or even have to strip down for the scale!

3. Training Events

Training events at and beyond competition weight has been the thing that has helped me most in the last two competitions. Recreating the actual competition as closely as possible means that the competition will be easy because it’s already been done before.

And going beyond competition weight means the actual competition weights feel easy. The events I struggled with at this competition were the exact ones in which I didn’t train the actual weight – the car deadlift and the 375# sled.

***

A BIG shout-out to Eric Dawson for helping me prepare for this event! I LOVE how he incrementally dials me in, day by day, week by week. If you need an amazing PRO Strongman Coach, Eric, a.k.a. “Cookie Monster,” is your man.

And thanks to Dawn for her unending inspiration! She packs a lot of power, heart, and drive in a compact package and it’s an honor to train with her.

Also LOVE training (and now working) at Total Performance Sports. If you’re anywhere in the Boston area, it is definitely worth the drive.

 

 

 

 

 

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