Wodapalooza III: Avoid the Polar Vortex, Go To Miami for WZA

woda_openingWodapalooza (WZA) is one of those super intense, sensory overload events that takes me days to process and write about. This year’s WZA was no different…besides Kokoro 25, it was the coolest, most far out, most exhaustive athletic experience I’ve gone through, a step beyond the already exceptional experiences of Wodapalooza I and II. It was by far the most challenging and rewarding CrossFit competition I’ve done.

I’m gonna write two posts, this one with a review of WZA in general and then a post on my personal performance later in the week.

Click WZA1 and WZA2 if you’re interested in my reviews of Wodapalooza from previous years.

What Was Different This Year

For starters, WZA 3 was a three-day competition for all divisions, with 2 events on Friday, 3 on Saturday, and 2 on Sunday. There was no eighth “finals” WOD for top qualifiers, so the points you had after seven events comprised your final standing.

By contrast, 2013 was a two-day competition with 3 WODs on Saturday and Sunday. I liked the format this year  because it gave more breathing room between events for athletes to recover and my guess is it was easier to manage and stay on time for the organizers with the extra day.

Speaking of timing, this year ran perfectly on time all three days. The organizers put in place an excellent system for managing the 650 competitors and many dozens of heats. WZA in past years has seen delays up to two hours, so nailing it this time around with more of everything was an accomplishment and a major upgrade. They made it easy to know exactly where and when you had to be.

There were a lot of nice touches for the athletes. The warmup area was extensive, practically it’s own pavilion, with enough weight and equipment to hold a side competition. That’s a gripe I have with other competitions; there is basically no equipment to get in a proper warmup. Not the case here.

There was a sizable athlete’s tent with couches to kick back and relax and even a table with free Progenex. Just help yourself. To top it off, there were massage, icing, and Rocktape stations for athletes to get treated between events, all free. I got a massage and had my hands taped on Sunday. When you walked into the competition stage, they had the entire heat do a walk-around so you could be introduced and wave to the crowd. I’m not going to lie, I felt kind of badass every time that happened. Most CrossFit competitions are rough and tumble affairs…all of these little perks made us feel like we were being catered to and part of something really special.

It’s worth pointing out how much work it takes to set up all the various pavilions and get the equipment up and running. As an example, they unpacked and assembled all the ski ergs on Friday night after the day’s competition was over. I know that takes awhile, as I have assembled many ergs myself. They also built a  wooden ramp for the triathlon event in the middle of the night. There’s a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes most people don’t think about, so I want to give Guido and his crew huge props right now. You guys did an amazing job and elevated the event to rarified air. It’s obvious Guido’s experience at the Games has permeated into the organization of WZA.

For a $140 registration fee, the quality of the event and the perks for the athletes made the competition a steal. I really felt like I was part of a championship event. If you’re not going to Regionals or the Games and you want to feel like a rockstar, Wodapalooza is the event for you.

WZA sets the bar high…other CrossFit competitions should look to them as the gold standard.

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More Stuff I Liked

I liked the programming and found it very challenging, even at the scaled level. I pushed myself the hardest I’ve ever pushed in any CrossFit WOD ever on Event 5, the pull-up & clean event, and I ended up puking in the bushes for my efforts. The ski erg is an interesting addition to CrossFit, although I had no idea what I was doing on it. The snatch complex was a fun and interesting twist on a max effort lift. The other events covered the gamut of CrossFit movements without anything ridiculous or weird.

The triathlon was brilliant and I think some variation of it should be included every year. It’s a real eye opener for folks who never get outside the gym. There were a lot of guys who were perfectly good CrossFitters who had no idea what to do once they got in the water. A lot of guys in my division got fished out of the water by the lifeguards.

The weather was gorgeous. While the rest of the country was getting pummeled with the Polar Vortex, I was working on my tan and bitching about how hot it was. The background of downtown Miami and Biscayne Bay, as always, was a great setting for an outdoor competition. There are lots worse ways to spend a weekend in January.

I loved being able to rub shoulders with elite athletes like Talayna, Emily Friedman, Samantha Briggs (!!), Amanda Allen, Nate Schrader, Kenny Leverich, and others. When I mean rubbing shoulders, I mean you are warming up right next to these guys and gals in the athlete area and you can see exactly what they’re doing to prepare themselves. It’s a treat to be able to get that close to the top of the sport.

I loved the music. They had three DJ’s, one for each pavilion, and it’s like an EDM concert all day and night spinning loudass dance music. If you don’t like EDM music, you’ll hate WZA. If you don’t like Pitbull, you might also hate WZA. They played a lot of Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Swedish House Mafia, which makes me happy. Also, I heard this Martin Garrix song like 50 times over the weekend and it made my fist pump:

 

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/98081145″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Area of Improvement

There were a couple of glitches, so I’ll bullet point them as possible areas to review for improvement:

  • Online scoring was a little delayed/wonky, especially after the Triathlon event. The tri used chip timers, and my guess is that threw the scorers for a loop.
  • I talked to a couple of vendors and there was a complaint about the high cost of the sponsor fees versus the foot traffic and gameday sales.
  • I get why the Vendors were set up along one edge of the fountain–to direct foot traffic that way–but it also bottlenecked access for everyone else. There were barricades and walls everywhere as opposed to an open walking plan from years past.
  • Because of the site plan, you couldn’t use the avenue around the fountain as part of a WOD. In years past, we used it for prowler pushes and farmer’s carries.

Demographics

WZA III had over 650 competitors this year, compared to 520 in 2013. There were a couple of interesting demographics:

  1. Masters men had only 20 guys competing (down from 22 last year) and the women had 10, up slightly from the 7 of last year.  Masters competition is getting more popular in general (look at Masters participating in the Open) so why bucking the trend? I think because the Masters standards were the exact same as Rx, you saw some of the masters filtering into the scaled divisions. Is it a mistake to expect masters to be pushing the same weight as Rx? I’m not going to offer an answer to that, but it’s a conscious decision by WZA to set those standards, and the masters participation was light as a result.
  2. The Rx standards were tough as usual, tough enough that I didn’t think I’d be competitive just like I wasn’t last year. After I saw the WODs, my estimation was correct. Scaled was the right division for me to be in.
  3. Women’s divisions are showing growth towards the upper end, with 27 elites and 46 Rx this year, compared to 16 and 36 last year. The elite category in particular is picking up…if you recall, only two women registered elite in 2012!
  4. Team divisions continue to be popular, with 63 and 27 teams in the men’s and women’s divisions respectively.

Scaled vs. Rx

I consider myself a solid Rx competitor. At the gym, I always do either the Rx or the RTG WOD depending on the loads, and I have all the skills you commonly find at competitions. Based on my experience from last year where I was mauled rabid pitbull-style by some serious Rx dudes, I decided to try the scaled division this time around. Thankfully, it was the right move.

I was in the 2nd or 4th heat (of 5) variously depending on my standing (as low as 43rd and as high as 14th) and the demographics were interesting. There were huge dudes who looked strong but slow as molasses. There were tiny body weight ninjas. There were old dudes who were clearly refugees from the Masters division (Mr. Jacinto Bonilla, a 3-time Games competitor at age 74, was in one of my heats). There were plenty of regular looking guys who looked every bit like regular Rx guys I’d find at my gym. All in all, it was a mixed crew and the right division for “regular folks” who aren’t  CrossFit cyborgs.

The bottom line, scaled at WZA is pretty much Rx at any other competition, with Rx more like a Rx+ or a “lighter” RTG.  Elite is exactly what it sounds like…it’s for Regionals and Games level competitors. WZA is a very very very challenging CrossFit competition and it’s only going to get tougher next year.

Scaled did all seven WODs, whereas in years past scaled only did four of the WODs, which would have been too easy. I was thankful for that decision by the WZA organizers. I wanted the full experience.

Bottom Line

What does all this mean? In my previous reviews of WZA (WZA1 and WZA2) I pointed out the high standards, suggesting they were perhaps too high considering the lack of participation in certain divisions. It scares off regular folks. After thinking about it a bunch and doing the event three years in row, I don’t think this is the right way to view WZA. I think Guido’s vision, which is coming to fruition, is to make WZA a destination event on a national scale, so that the some of the best elite, Rx, and masters from all over the country show up. That means setting high standards and offering a class event with a reputation for quality. If you do that and word gets out, people will come.

There are plenty of local and regional throwdowns. This isn’t one them.  WZA is the weekend you circle on your calendar and train for a year out. It’s the event you fly to and take time off from work. I consider it a privilege to be able to plunk down the registration fee and participate, even if I’ve fallen into the scaled division after three years. That’s how much I like Wodapalooza.

Interested in reading more? Check out Amanda Allen’s insightful reflections on Wodapalooza 3. Also see Talayna’s recap of Wodapalooza.