The Castle Games 2017: ‘I need to run and swim more’

This competition promised to be different to all other CrossFit competitions in the UK, and it certainly was. From the beginning, it was clear that there was going to be some running and swimming in this competition. I’m not the best at either of these, but thought this competition sounded fun and that the swim and run wouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong!

As with any competition I had been waiting for this one to come around for what seemed like forever. The qualifiers finished just before the CrossFit Games Open and included mainly barbells and fitness, so I was excited about the workouts. Me, Sam Turner and Toby Hill had arranged to drive up and stay over in a hotel on the Friday before the competition on Saturday. The drive up to Sunderland wasn’t too bad, and we hit mine and Sam’s usual pre-competition dinner place, Nandos, which as expected went down a treat. This was to be Toby’s first individual CrossFit competition, so he was nervous. He had every right to be. This was a huge competition with over 240 athletes representing four different age categories.

We went for a look around the venue the night before the competition started as our hotel was a three-minute drive away. The site looked impressive and was a secondary school with various sizable sports halls, a swimming pool and two large 4G pitches. The competition organisers are friends of mine and also run the clothing brand I represent UGD Apparel. They showed us around the venue on the night, which only built up the excitement.

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The Castle Academy venue

We arrived at 7:30 and collected our athlete packs by 8:00 after taking a walk around where we thought the run and swim would be. The athlete briefing was at 8:30 where all the workouts were announced. Although there were some more experienced athletes like me and Sam in attendance, there were also some CrossFit competition newbies like Toby taking part. The organisers went through the workouts and explained the movement standards, but there were no demonstrations, and they didn’t take questions during the briefing. I then saw the organisers get swamped with individual questions after the briefing. At previous competitions, they have always given demonstrations which prompt questions and then the movement standards are crystal clear. What was good is that there were male and female athletes in the same heats to keep it exciting and get through the RX athletes at the same time. This did add to the atmosphere in every workout.

Workout 1A (6th)

GRACE (4-minute time-cap):

  • 30 clean and jerks for time @ 60kg

The two first workouts were to be scored individually, which was good for me, as I knew I would post a good Grace time but would struggle on the run. I was looking forward to GRACE, as hadn’t tested this workout in a while and my last time was 1:49. Sam and I ended up in Heat 5, which was the second to last heat after not taking the qualifiers seriously enough. This wasn’t a problem, as I knew a lot of good athletes in our heat who must have done the same and knew who to pace off in what type of workouts. Toby was in the first heat, so we could watch him see just how bad these workouts were before doing them ourselves.
The warm up area was based on a 4G pitch and was big. In there, was a rower, assault bike and barbells, which was everything you needed based on the workouts. We watched Toby’s first heat and the fastest Grace time was 1:45 followed by a very fast sub 8-minute sandbag run. I knew I had a crack at beating that Grace time, but knew it would be hard to go sub 8-minutes on the 1-mile sandbag run. My best recent mile run is only 6:42 without a sandbag.


Finally, it was time to go and I positioned myself nearest to the gate for the run so as not to waste any time and close to other athletes which I regarded as good competition to try to keep my eye on their finish times. Grace was going to be fast and furious and impossible to keep track of their reps, so I knew I had to go as fast as possible. I started off with 16 unbroken clean and jerks and then went for single reps to complete the 30 reps. I knew the 16 initial reps put me in a good place but knew I had to grip and rip for the remaining 14 to score sub 1:45. I didn’t look at the clock once but luckily finished Grace second in my heat at 1:36 getting a 13 second PB. I was happy with this but knew I had to go on a 1-mile 22kg sandbag run in less than 2:30.

Workout 1B (35th)

On 4 minutes (immediately after Grace):

  • 1 mile run with a 22kg sandbag for time.

Before I knew it, it was time to run. I set off at a good pace hoping that I could keep it up. I managed to get 20 or so meters in front of the rest of the heat. But surely enough I slowed down and people started to pass me. I tried to hold on for as long as possible but just couldn’t find an efficient way to carry the sandbag. It became torturous, and I struggled to keep moving at a decent pace. I never once stopped, but instead must have been near to running on the spot. It wasn’t until around 600m to go where I saw one of the other male athletes in front of me carrying the sandbag on their heads. I copied this technique, and it gave my shoulders so much relief and allowed me to rest but still keep a good pace. I sped up and exchanged the bag between my head and shoulders. It came up to around 100m to go, and I had chased down two male athletes and now had a little bit left in the tank. Knowing it was now or never I sprinted as fast as I could pass both athletes and kept the pace all the way to the line. The sandbag slipped off my shoulder, but I was so close to the finish. I didn’t care that I was bear hugging the sandbag, I just kept running. Thankfully the other two male athletes didn’t have as much left in the tank and couldn’t catch me, but maybe I should have gone sooner? After these two workouts, I was sat in 13th place overall, which wasn’t great, but knew the last two workouts were good for me.

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The final sandbag sprint

Workout 2 (50th)

  • 100m swim for time

There was no question about it; I knew this would be a bad one. I’ve never had to swim competitively and so have never had the need to swim fast.I can’t swim fast and have never developed a fast front crawl…or any front crawl, to be honest. I stopped swimming at nine years old and have never practised it since. So, I went with the decision to breast stroke as I felt more comfortable with this stroke. I had done a few lengths of each on my recent holiday to Cape Verde and breaststroke was faster over 25m. I can’t remember the last time I swam 100m and so I was nervous.
This workout was pretty much straight after the Grace and run so I was looking forward to getting into the water for a little bit of recovery to flush the legs out. The swimming pool was impressive to say it was part of a school facility and to make it better the water wasn’t freezing.
I got there pretty early to watch the heats before me, cure the nerves and see what the good times were. In most of the heats some outstanding swimmers were going close to 1 minute for 100m, and so I knew I was in trouble. Some of these guys had competed at County level.
Excuses aside it was finally my turn to take the plunge. I knew I could swim 100m, but the problem was it was going to take me much longer than 1-minute. My heat started the swim, and everyone shot off doing front crawl apart from me. I kept up with everyone for at least one length of the 20m pool, and then the breaststroke took it out of me. Reassuringly enough a few of the other athletes in the heat reverted to breaststroke after a couple of lengths, and so I had some people to race against. This made it a little less embarrassing. I didn’t come last in my heat, which was reassuring not to come in last place (70th), but I knew it was bad. To be honest, at the start I was happy that 20 guys were slower than me, but in hindsight, it’s a poor result and ultimately cost me a place in the final with a 2:02 100m swim.
The swimming heat times ran smoothly, as everyone knew to go and get changed straight away and be ready. There were lifeguards present, and the event organisers and judges did a great job managing this unusual CrossFit movement at a recreational level. I was now sat in 24th place and knew I needed to have two unbelievable workouts to make the Final.

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The swim 😫

Workout 3A (8th)

6-minute AMRAP:

  • 30 double unders
  • 15 pull-ups
  • 10 power snatch @ 40kg

This workout was running around 90 minutes behind schedule, which was a little frustrating. I know competitions often run behind and so it wasn’t a problem to me. However, a few of the CrossFit competition first-timers in the previous heats were getting aggravated, as at first, it was 30 minutes and then an hour before it finally turned into 90 minutes. What was a little annoying is that it wasn’t known what the exact delay was or if it was this wasn’t communicated to the athletes correctly. I didn’t let this affect me, as it just made my snooze a little longer, which I was happy about.

The pressure was on and I was ready to move. Although my pull-ups aren’t great, I planned to try and make up for this with the transitions and other movements. I went for the first two rounds unbroken in just over two minutes, and then the wall hit me. I had tried to go off too fast and had to break my pull-ups into three sets. The snatches were broken into two sets which took me a little bit longer due to my grip. The fourth round killed me. The double unders were fine and then I got to the pullups and did a set of five. Previously on my sets of pull-ups, I had been lucky in that I found my rhythm on a wobbly rig which was weighed down on a 4G artificial pitch. However, on the fourth set due to fatigue I just couldn’t get this rhythm and had to split my pull ups into four sets and at one point hit my chin on the bar and conceded a few no reps. For me the rig was wobbly, but it was the same for every athlete. I have been to competitions with worse rigs or no rigs at all, and so I just got on with the workout. It wasn’t a make or break issue. After the 15 pull-ups, I had 5 seconds left and managed to perform two snatches quickly. I knew this was a decent score and I had given everything I could have.

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40kg feeling like 80kg snatches

Workout 3B (4th)

Ascending ladder straight after 3A

2-minute time cap

  • 1 toes to bar
  • 2 pistol squats
  • 3 toes to bar
  • 4 pistol squats
  • 5 toes to bar.. etc

Workout 3B started immediately after workout 3A, and I had emptied the tank on workout 3A and forgot all about 3B. I was sat wiping my face with my t-shirt catching my breath when I noticed that other athletes were doing toes to bar. I shot up and ran over to the rig to start the ladder. I was mad at myself but knew I had to try and relax and focus on getting smooth pistols. In previous heats, I had noticed people doing crooked pistols with their leg resting on the back of the squatting leg. I asked the organisers about this, and they said that some judges had let people get away with these in previous heats and so they had to be consistent and let them now be part of the movement standards. I didn’t think anything about it at the time, as I could pistol, so I did full pistols throughout the workout. The first few rounds during the workout up to the sixth round were easy and just going through the motions. It wasn’t until the seven toes to bar where I started to feel my grip going. The wobbly rig was giving my grip a beating. I managed the seven toes to bar unbroken before starting the set of eight pistols. The pistols felt good, which is reassuring as I’d had a few weeks practising these before the open on MooFit Programming. The set of nine toes to bar were tough at this stage. I broke them into two sets, but I was gassed too and so needed a longer rest before returning to do the set of ten pistols. I managed eight pistols after the nine toes to bar and knew this would be a good score, as I was keeping track of the stronger athletes in my heat. I didn’t watch the final heat to see how good my score would be as I was too busy trying to catch my breath and feel human again. Luckily enough it was good enough for fourth place. A lot of athletes were complaining about the inconsistency of the judging standards on this workout and the unstable rig. For me, I hadn’t had a bad judge all day, but I had noticed that judges were letting people get away with questionable movement standards in workouts. When I tried to alert a head judge I couldn’t find anyone in charge of the judges, and there wasn’t an official head judge, the organisers just took it in turns. It was now 17:30 and we still had Female RX, Teens, Masters and Veterans final workouts to go and so I knew it was going to be a late one.

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These toes to bar hurt

Not in the Final

  • 30 bar over burpees
  • 30 thrusters @ 40kg
  • 30 alternating dumbbell snatch @ 20kg
  • 30 wall balls
  • 10 bar muscle ups

This workout was a good one for me. The organisers announced the RX athletes who had made the final and called them into a separate room to announce the final. This worked well, as the standards of the movement were explained and questions could be asked amongst those whom they concerned.
It was announced that I would be in a ‘B’ Final. The Castle Games ran two male finals the ‘A’ and the ‘B’ final. I came 13th overall and missed the A final by one place, which I wasn’t concerned about, as I could climb the leaderboard in the final right? Wrong. The B Final was just another workout and had no effect on the leaderboard. This was a little confusing, not to mention disappointing. Fair enough I didn’t make the A Final, but why get me excited to do a workout, which meant nothing. With this, I elected to withdraw and not do the B Final, as nothing could be lost or gained and I didn’t want to risk ripping my hands on the bar muscle ups. I was gutted that I didn’t make the cut as the final 12 athletes scores were reset from 1 to 12 points and so it was all to play for. I could have made a surge up the leaderboard. I was chuffed that Sam had made the final, even if he and a few other of the finalists had performed the crooked pistols. Fair play, but it forced me to think that if correct movement standards had been enforced maybe I would be in that final?

To conclude…

I think the guys at The Castle Games set themselves an impossible task for their first ever competition. The concept of the competition is amazing, but I believe the scale of the operation just caught them slightly off guard.
The movement standards and judging were a little off, but these can easily be fixed, and I’m sure they will be. Thankfully I had fabulous judges all day, and so I suppose it’s the luck of the draw at most smaller less established competitions. Judges are volunteers who are giving up their own time and so I always respect judges. The main problem for the organisers was that the judges took off their judges t-shirts between workouts and disappeared into the crowd. The numbers of judges seemed to diminish by the end of the day. Demonstrations during the briefing should sort out movement standard questions and clarity for athletes and judges to avoid a scaling option being counted as a full rep in the future.

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Pistol squats

The venue was unbelievable and a great find by the team at The Castle Games. It has everything to test fitness and so I hope to see the guys using this space in the future. It was clean and modern as you expect a secondary school to be. There was lots of different rooms and areas for athletes to use, which were sometimes confusing, but it’s good to see a competition have too much space instead of too little for once.
The equipment suppliers let The Castle Games down by sending the wrong equipment including the shaky rig. The rig only arrived the night before the start of the competition. I feel for The Castle Games team that they had no alternative other than to use a rig which they didn’t order. The rig was a 6 x 2 station rig and so quite short, whereas the one ordered was a longer 12 x 1 station rig. This would have been more structurally secure. Every rig which isn’t secure is going to have a little bit of movement. However, the rig was the same for every athlete. Everyone struggles to find their rhythm in the pull-ups and toes to bar.
The time delay was made more annoying by the fact that no one told athletes the exact delay time, as no one knew. We were waiting for events to finish or for the rig to be built – I think. Either way communicating any delays with athletes is essential for warm up times and courtesy. With the delays I didn’t get home until 22:00 after the final not finishing until 20:00. However, the finals were exciting and good to watch, so I didn’t mind staying to cheer on Sam and Charlotte (also from Form) who made the final.
The leaderboard was available to see in two locations and was live, which was useful. This was a great feature to have a member of staff updating this at all times. The vendors were next to the leaderboard, and there was loads of space for these. Although the line for the coffee vendor was always busy, there was a good range on offer including the school canteen, which was serving up some tasty meals and hot drinks.
Gold Standard Nutrition were partners of the event and gave each athlete a Pot O Gold to eat on the day. As you’ll see in my previous review of the Pot O Golds – these are incredible. One minor problem was that 240 athletes were trying to use three microwaves for five minutes at a time each. There were delays in people being able to cook their Pot O Golds, but the wait was worth it, I’m sure. I love these little pots of goodness. On Average, they’re around 60g carbs, 40g protein and 4g fat and consist of Chicken, rice and veg with a flavouring.

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Yummy 😋

The programming was well thought out for the RX athletes and there was something in there for everyone. This attracted a lot of fitter and less technical CrossFit athletes who were maybe good at running and swimming, but not so much at the more conventional movements. With this having a ‘CrossFit’ type final caught a few of these athletes out with the introduction of the bar muscle ups. It frustrated me a little that they had made the final over me and couldn’t do a bar muscle up. But that’s my fault for not being more consistent all day. The two A and B Finals were a little pointless as if there’s nothing to compete for it is a little hard motivating yourself to move at the end of a long day.
It seemed that the Masters, Veterans and Teens had a full day doing burpees and thrusters as I believe these appeared in three workouts for them. Although different variations it was almost like a burpees and thrusters competition. I would have loved this, as I like both movements, but some of the bigger athletes may not have.

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Close your eyes and don’t let go

The atmosphere at the competition with 240 athletes competing in the North East was as you’d expect, brilliant! The event was a sell out for spectators, and it was loud, especially during the first workout. Noise only spurs athletes on and I always enjoy competing in front of the North East crowds for that extra push.
I enjoyed the first two workouts before the wait and then enjoyed the final workout. It’s a shame about the result, but it’s clear that I need to work on swimming and running more or restrict myself to only attend more conventional CrossFit competitions in future. I only have myself to blame for the poor finish, as I hadn’t prepared for the run or swim. In hindsight, I felt good moving through Grace and workout 3A and 3B, so that’s a positive.

Thanks for having me at The Castle Games. A great first competition, which I’m sure will grow into an enormous national event in the future. The different workouts do have something for everyone. Hopefully, I’ll practice my swimming and be back to smash The Castle Games in 2018.

Onwards and upwards.

JT.

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