Finding fuel in an empty tank: Inferno Racing Pairs Series 2017

After Strength in Depth in November, I couldn’t wait another year to get involved with Inferno Racing’s portfolio of fitness competitions. Thankfully Inferno has a same-sex pairs competition, which I had only heard good things about. Me and Sam Turner signed up for the Sheffield fixture of the Inferno Racing Series to see if this one lived up to the hype. I’m not sure we were mentally prepared for what the weekend had in store.

Pre-competition

Sam and I have competed together once before as team ‘Hashtags and Selfies’ and podiumed at the Glacier Games in December so we were in high spirits going into this one. Although there was no rig, I was hopeful that we had the skills and the stamina to take on the brutal fitness workouts. What we did not expect was how nasty the programming was going to be on our bodies and how hard we would have to work over the weekend. We met before the event to go through some tactics, but most of the workouts were a one and done, and so I didn’t want even to try and tackle them pre-competition.

Day One

I arrived at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield and was amazed; I’d never been before. What a venue choice, but the first thing which entered my head was ‘how much must this have cost’? It was great with a 200m running track around the edge of the workout area and lots of seating for spectators. The first thing I noticed was the lack of vendors. There were no food or drinks vendors, and WIT and Bear Strength had failed to show up leaving only three vendors selling clothing and equipment. However, the facility café was open, it did a great coffee and there was somewhere to plug my food cooler into; crisis averted. I met Sam at the venue bright and early for the athlete briefing and we were ready to go at the first workout.

Workout 1A (3rd)

5-minute time cap:

  • 1RM Clean and Jerk

Sam and I are not known for lifting big weights so I was nervous for this one. I have a 135kg clean and jerk PB and Sam has a 125kg PB, and so we were just planning to aim for these numbers and if there was any time left use it to try and hit a PB if the lefts went smoothly. In the warm up the cleans were feeling super heavy and it felt like one of those days where you didn’t want to lift, but you just get through what is programmed. Sam, on the other hand, looked strong and fast and I was jealous of his nice tidy, warm up.

I went in at 125kg and Sam started at 120kg. My max clean is 135 and so is my jerk, whereas Sam can clean 130kg hence the reason he could start at 95%+ of his 1RM. Both our first lifts went up fine and then on my second lift I popped out of the clean nicely but was not feeling the jerk. I dipped once and the bar slid down my chest. I shuck my head but then thought, I can’t put this down and dipped again. Thankfully, the dip felt better and the bar went up. I was so relieved to hit 130kg. Sam hit 125kg before attempting a new PB at 130kg. He made the clean look easy before trying the jerk. He failed the jerk but it is definitely in there somewhere, for sure. I then went for an equal PB at 135kg. The clean felt manageable, but then the weight in my front rack position felt like it was crushing my core. I put everything into the jerk and (with a press out) stood it up for a CrossFit rep. I was relieved that I hadn’t let Sam down and we had both hit our PBS. We couldn’t have done any more, as by this point there were 30 seconds on the clock. We took the time to rest and get ready for Part B.

Workout 1B (2nd)

10 rounds:

  • 8 deadlifts @ 60kg
  • 6 hang power cleans
  • 4 shoulder to overhead

 

After waiting a minute at the conclusion of workout 1A, we had stripped the bar down and left 60kg on for this grippy workout. Sam went first and got us off to a flyer. What we failed to do was any warm up reps in between rounds, which would have helped and I will do in the future. Sam however, looked at home and smashed out the first round in around 28 seconds. It was over to me and as expected if felt super light. The deadlifts felt okay and then the hang power cleans felt good. The transition between the power cleans and the shoulder to overhead took my brain some time to process whether to go jerks or push press. I decided to go for push press at the end which ensured that I got a super speedy time of 22 seconds. As the rounds went on Sam got faster and I got slower (besides the last round). My grip was in bits. We went through the full ten rounds in 3:56, which we knew was a good time from looking at previous rounds. Once we found out we had come third in the lifting and second in the barbell cycling, we were super pleased to be sitting in second after the first 2 workouts.

Workout 2 (5th)

  • 2000m row

Nothing you do can ever prepare you for the pain of a max effort row. Me and Sam decided to split this up with two sprints each for the total 2000m. Sam started, and we agreed we would split it like 500/500/400/600. I would pick up more rowing on the second part as I am a better rower. Our plan went pretty well and I held on for 550 meters on my first pull.Sam emptied his tank the second time and got off with around 600  meters left. I knew at this point I had to go for broke. I pulled at a pace I thought I could maintain (1:35 average) and did until around 250m when I started to feel my forearms and hamstrings burning. Sam by this point had come out of his workout coma and started to get in my head cheering me on. From somewhere, I found a burst of energy and gave it everything I had. I went hell for leather and pulled sub 1:35 for the last 150m. Maybe I should have set off sprinting sooner. We both gave this workout our all. Neither of us is big or tall and so this one was a damage control workout. Thankfully 6:18 was enough for fifth place and this put us into third position overall.

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The row hit us hard 🙂

Workout 3A (4th)

2-minute time cap:

  • Max L-Sit hold (one attempt each)

It was time for Sam’s light frame and ability in gymnastics to shine. I wasn’t so confident. The L-Sit was on two stacks of plates and in practice felt much easier than the ring L-Sits I did at Battle of the Beasts. We only had two minutes and so we decided thatSam would go first in case he needed more time and then I followed him. We had the strictest judge ever for workout 3. He didn’t start the stopwatch until he was happy with our positions, which took him at least three seconds to work out each time. We didn’t let this bother us and Sam held the L-Sit for 43 seconds and I held mine for 39 seconds. 1:22 out of a 2-minute time cap was good enough for a fourth-place finish. However, it’s worth mentioning that the L-Sit ninjas Jon Bullough and Kieran Hart held on for 1:44 out of a possible 2:00. That’s crazy.

Workout 3B (10th)

  • 100 sandbag squats @30kg
  • 80 dumbbell snatches @ 20kg
  • 60 cals air bike
  • 60 burpee box jump overs
  • 200m sandbag run (each in relay)

No one was looking forward to this chipper workout. Sam and I tried to work out how to attack this one but it didn’t work. It didn’t help that Sam received seven harsh no reps in his first round of sandbag back squats. It took the head judge coming over and telling our judge that they were full reps to make him stop no-repping. We carried on and put this bad start to the back of our heads but were now behind our intended pace.  We knew we weren’t going to catch the bigger teams up on the air bike and so had to push it through the snatches and burpees. We managed to make some ground up going sets of 7 or 8 on the dumbbell snatches and had already decided to split the bike into ten calories each as fast as possible. After one round on the bike, Sam’s RPM was dropping and so I started to do 12 and then did 15 calories to finish the bike. I was then gassed. Sam had to do the first eight burpee box jump overs while I caught my breath. I started my first round of our agreed four each and nearly tripped over the box on two reps. The Again Faster plyo boxes aren’t heavy enough for me, especially if you’re used to a wooden box. Me and Sam had to hold the box whilst the other person performed the burpee box jump overs which wasn’t ideal, but, other teams were the same. We churned through the burpees, and then I said I would do the run second after resting to try and gain some places back up as I am faster with the sandbag. We were about sixth in our heat at this point. Sam set off and to be fair the sandbag is around 40% of his bodyweight and so he started to struggle after 100m. He didn’t stop moving though and got back to hand over the sandbag. I managed to settle into a rhythm and spotted three people in front of me who I wanted to try and beat. They had about a 20-30m advantage and I got into a good steady stride and made up a little ground by the 100m point, then I put the afterburners on and started to sprint. I overtook two of the teams and managed to get back to give us a time of 11:36. Nearly two minutes after the top finishing team. This was good enough for a tenth place finish.

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I hate air bikes

We were still in the third position after day one and knew that some of our stronger workout movements would be coming up on day two.

Day Two

On day two the heats changed to replicate the scoreboard. The top ten teams were in the first heat which is the opposite to how a lot of competitions run, where the ‘top heat’ goes last. However, Harry from inferno explained that the top heat needs the most rest going into the final at the end of day two and so it makes sense for them to go first. It made sense but it also meant that we had to do a thruster ladder at 9:00 on a Sunday. What an experience.

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Discussing the GAME PLAN

Workout 4 (3rd)

Thruster ladder:

  • 36 reps @ 40kg
  • 26 reps @ 60kg
  • 16 reps @ 70kg
  • 6 reps @ 80kg

I was super sore after the last workout on the first day completely took us by surprise. I ensured that I got to the venue nice and early to warm up and get ready to thruster. We decided to split the 36s and 26s into three sets. I did two sets on the 36s and Sam did two sets on the 26s. We then split the 16 reps into eight each and then I managed to grind out the six reps at 80kg. Some teams decided to try and split all of the sets in half, and we beat most of these teams, so our rep scheme worked for us. I thought this workout would be fun for both the athletes and spectators. We surprised ourselves with just how well we did on this one. We were in a lane next to the team in second (Pinky and the Brain) who demolished this workout and so we gauged our time off them beating us. Elliot Turner from team Pinky and the Brain did eight reps at 70 kg, carried the bar forward in a front rack position and did the last six reps at 80kg. All this happened as Sam, and I were rolling our bar to the last station to do the 80kg thrusters, so I know I had to hit them unbroken to be in with a chance of getting a good finish. Thankfully our time wasn’t too bad and we managed a third place finish.

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Such a fun workout!

Workout 5 (1st)

  • 8 x 200m sprints (alternating)

I’ve never really run 200m for time before. There’s been no need to. A rugby field is less than 200m and I have only ever done a 100m or 400m sprint for time (and that was a long time ago). Thankfully I still had my running spikes from my days at the Leeds Met rugby sprint sessions. Sam runs most weeks as part of his programme and so he was excited for this one. We couldn’t decide who would be the quickest at the 200m, but I elected to go first as I wanted to try to get us off to a fast start. In our warm up we’d been practicing tagging each other on the track in a handover, but the 8x 200m weren’t what you would think! Athletes had to run back into the centre of the workout area and touch a box where our partners were waiting, before the other athletes could set off for their lap. This changed things completely but at least it gave you a box to lay on for 30 seconds or so whilst resting. During the first four laps, everyone was still pretty clumped together, and no one was making a move. It was on my third lap where some teams started to struggle. I passed two people on my third lap and then Sam passed one on his third lap.  Now there were just three teams left at the front battling hard for the top three positions. We were in third going into the final laps, but it was still close. Beckie knowing that it would push me and wind me up, was shouting at me telling me the team behind me were catching me up and were about to overtake me. I sped up and managed to close the gap between us and first and then Sam overtook both teams on the last lap with his super speed to bring it home with a 4-second lead and a first place finish in workout 5. This also moved us up into second place overall. We gave this one everything we had and paid for it. I could hardly walk afterwards. I laid on the floor face down and Beckie had to bring over the Compex to relax my hamstrings. They were super tight and I was in so much pain. They eventually loosened up but both me and Sam paid for our first place finish. However, it was reassuring to see everyone else in the same position.

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Sam bringing it home

Workout 6 (4th)

4 rounds:

  • 30m sandbag lunge @ 30kg
  • 20 calorie ski erg
  • 15 synchro down ups

For some reason, we weren’t confident on many workouts and this was another one. We knew the bigger teams like Pinky and the Brain and the JST teams would be faster on the lunges and ski erg and so we needed to do some damage on the burpees. We decided to split this one where one person would lunge, the other person would do 15 calories on the ski erg, and then the other person finishes off those calories, then reverse this for the next round. Our plan worked out for the first two rounds, but I was falling away from Sam’s rapid down up pace and so he decided to go straight into the set of lunges and give me extra rest. This proved to be genius, as I can pull harder on the Ski Erg and Sam can lunge faster. By making this little change we gained some ground and caught up the teams in front of us in the heat on the burpees, as they were starting to get tired. Sam did the lunges again, and I did the 15 calories on the ski erg before Sam finished it off. We then took over three teams the last round of the workout to finish third in the heat and fourth overall. We emptied the tank on this one, as we wanted to give ourselves the best possible start in the final where there was a delayed start based on points, and the winner takes all format. This one was a good flush out, and we both felt good going into the final.

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Synchro baby

Final (2nd)

  • 200m sandbag carry @ 30kg
  • 50 sumo deadlift high pull @ 60kg
  • 200m sandbag carry
  • 50 calorie row
  • 200m sandbag carry
  • 50 dumbbell clusters @ 20kg
  • 200m sandbag carry

We knew the final would have a delayed start based on points but didn’t know what that delay was to be per point. It was announced at 1 second per point. We currently sat in second,4 points behind Pinky and the Brain and we knew that this workout which was announced suited them much better. However, we were still going to give it our best shot and try for a first place competition finish as whoever won this workout won the whole competition. Third place was 7 points behind us and fourth was 11 points behind us, so it was close at the top. What made this one more difficult was that both members of the team had to complete the 200m run.

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Why are these so difficult?

We decided to split the first run and then play it by ear on the rest of the workout and only rest when required. We split up the sumo deadlift high pulls to 7s and then split the second sandbag carry again. We were still in second place going into the row. I jumped on the rower and pulled 30 hard calories before Sam did 20 calories. I did the 200ms with the sandbag, while Sam rested on the run and then we were straight into the dumbbell clusters. Again we split the clusters into 7s or 8s which seemed to work all weekend. These were disgusting, but we knew we just had to get through them. The team in the third had caught us up in the row and it was neck and neck. We went into the last 20, and then they started to slow down much to my relief but the team in fourth, JST, were lurking closely behind. We finally finished the dumbbell clusters and I picked up the sandbag to bring it home. We were still in second place, but Sam had emptied the tank. I luckily had enough left to sprint with a sandbag 200m. I got back to our lane, but Sam had to also return before the JST team, as they had gained ground on us. Sam arrived back, and we collapsed in our lane knowing we had got second place. It was such a great feeling. We had done it. Our second competition together and second podium. The graft we had put in all weekend attacking each workout had paid off.

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Strong to the end

Overall result = 2nd

To conclude

This competition lived up to the high standards I had heard about on the CrossFit grapevine. It was run similar to Strength in Depth in that it was impeccably organised. It even ran

ahead of time which is unheard of for a CrossFit competition. We were done on the Sunday for 16:30. It was such a great feeling to be done and back in Leeds at a reasonable time. All changes on the day were announced and all movement standards were demonstrated with questions answered in the athlete briefings. Some of the workouts were complex and so this proved useful.

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The podium

The judging was great all day aside from workout three. However, you can’t always get a great judge and so from 7 workouts only get one super strict judge isn’t too bad. I believe that there may not have been enough judges, as it seemed to be the same ones for every workout with no room for breaks. Along with this, general spectator attendance at the event was low. Inferno set a price of £10 per ticket to get in, which may explain the lack of spectators to fill the huge sports arena. As a result, the atmosphere suffered, and it wasn’t half as loud and motivational as I expected. This may be due to the sports arena being so large, but there was a lack of people around the edge of the workout zone, unlike other competitions I have done.

There was plenty of parking at the venue, which is usually a big issue. The facilities were great with lots of toilets and two cafes on site. This could be why there were no food or drinks vendors at the competition, but I believe it’s because the competition didn’t get enough interest. WIT and Bear Strength sponsor Inferno Racing events but decided not to have a stall the Sheffield event. The event didn’t sell out, and there were only 30 male and 32 female teams out of a possible 120 teams which the competition could have accommodated. The masters and adaptive categories also had very low numbers. I believe if they had advertised the Sheffield event at the same time as their main Cardiff event then it would have sold out. All northern people have already signed up to the main Cardiff event which attracts teams from all over Europe. This may explain the sponsor’s decision not to attend and the low spectator attendance. There were also no athlete t-shirts, which athletes have received at other events and you would expect for the £100 entry fees. They did give some out on a first come first served basis, but unfortunately I don’t know anyone who got one.

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Lunging it out!

Following on from this there were NO PRIZES for podium athletes. In London, I know that the winning teams received £500, but at Sheffield, it was £0. Instead, we have been given free entry to any Inferno event.

The event had the best location and the facilities were fantastic. It is one of the best-organised competitions I  have had the pleasure of competing at. But on the other hand, it had the shadow of the low spectator numbers, no competition t-shirts and no podium prizes cast over it.

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I can’t wait to get back on the workout floor

Harry, Ollie and the team put on another great event, and I hope that it returns in 2018. However, with the financial struggle of this one with low uptake and spectators, I feel that this one may be the first and last. I would 100% do this again and recommend inferno racing to any level of athlete, as the workouts are accessible.

Next up for me and Sam is Crossfit Leeds’ One For The People on 15 July, where we will be looking to make another podium.

JT.


Photographs by RXd Photography

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