Wodapalooza II: The Ultra Fest of CrossFit Competitions

ben_chipperWodapalooza is on it’s way to becoming the Ultra Music Fest of CrossFit competitions, a multi-day carnival of fitness and CrossFitting. At some point in the future, if Guido and company choose to go in this direction, I can see them turning it into the biggest CrossFit-ness event in the world, perhaps second only to the CrossFit Games. By no coincidence, Wodapalooza takes place on the same hallowed grounds as Ultra at Bayfront Park. With 3 days of events, over 500 competitors, and thousands of spectators, they’re already one of the biggest CF events.

I had the good fortune to be able to compete, my second year in a row. It was one of my most challenging and rewarding athletic experiences. Full review below.

Competition

This year featured a whopping 549 competitors across 10 divisions (male and female Scaled, Rx, Elite, Masters, Team), up in a big way from the 116 individuals and 10 teams from last year. Just to throw a few stats out to illustrate the growth, and by extension how popular CrossFit has gotten, there were 74 Rx men and 36 Rx women in 2013, compared to 37 and 11 from last year. On the team side, there were 65 total teams compared to 10 last year (!!). With that many competitors, Wodapalooza II may have been the largest CrossFit competition in the world–I’m defining competition where all the athletes are in one place, thus eliminating the CrossFit Open. Oh yeah, by my count, the CrossFit Games had 508 competitors in 2012.

If someone knows of an event with more competitors, please let me know.

The field was also incredibly competitive, with heavy hitters in the Elite divisions and badass guys and girls in the Rx. Competing in the men’s Rx, I felt like I was going against the best guy(s) from their respective gyms, as opposed to a run-of-the-mill Rx dude. I was thoroughly over matched. That’s not a criticism. I loved the challenge and it’s an observation about how popular and competitive CrossFit has gotten in the last 12 months. You simply can’t show up at a big event like Wodapalooza and hope to do well unless you’re a serious firebreather. Meeting the published standards are not enough. You have to be able to exceed the standards and crush them.

From a personal standpoint, I’m stronger and more skilled than I was a year ago, and I still finished towards the bottom in my division. I didn’t move up the curve as fast as my Rx colleagues.

Programming

The programming for the most part was excellent. All of the WODs were challenging and creative. I did have a couple of points of contention, which I’ll touch on below. The triathlon, chipper, bar complex, DB snatch triplet, and farmer’s carry / rope climb were all awesome (Rx). I opened with the paddle boarding / Watt Bike / double unders (DU’s replaced running due to weather) WOD and I really loved it. I had one issue here…my paddle board was missing a fin, which was game over. I basically couldn’t steer the thing. I believe the judges removed the board from the course after my heat but the damage had been done to me and probably a few other guys. Besides that, paddle boarding in CrossFit is totally cool. Loved the addition.

The bar complex of 3 hang cleans, 3 front squats, and 3 jerks in 60″ of max weight was challenging. It took perfect concentration to execute and a great game plan. Like some of the other competitors, I skipped the second attempt to get more rest and nailed my max weight on the third attempt. Kudos to whoever created this WOD, it was intense and fun.

The 70 lbs dumbbell snatch, 30 inch box jump, and chest-to-bar pull-up triplet was awesome and disgusting. I had never done heavy DB snatches in a WOD before so this one really kicked my ass. I was glad just to get through it without getting time capped.

The one programming gripe I had was the wall walk & overhead squat WOD, which a large number of guys in the Rx field didn’t complete under the 8′ time cap. I thought it was too much constant load on the shoulders. Combined with all of the shoulder work we did for the rest of the weekend, there was an injury risk. One hint that this may have been over-the-top was when the programmers changed the rep scheme on wall walks from 9,7,5 to 7,5,3 on Sunday morning. My guess is someone tested it out and realized how brutal it was. I can normally do 115# overhead squats no problem, but the wall walks made my arms and shoulders numb. The bar started flying and I saw a lot of bad form.

Another possible programming issue were the legless rope climbs for the Elites, both men and women. If you’re going to do legless climbs, at least put down padding. I’ve seen too many people fall off the rope messing with these.

What I’ve noticed in the last couple of years are competition programmers pushing the envelope with load and complexity and getting overly creative. Sometimes I think it’s too much and some restraint should be shown. There’s nothing wrong with using a classic CrossFit movement in competition instead of something completely new. I’m a little torn on this, though, because I like the creativity and I like to see new stuff. My advice is to err on the side of safety.

Pro’s

All of the same highlights from last year were in place. The venue was spectacular. You can’t beat the cool factor of being next to the water in Bayfront Park with downtown Miami as your backdrop. It’s just…awesome. Competing at night, with the lights and the cheering of the crowd and loud music is an experience unto itself. You’re on stage and it’s total sensory overload. If you’re good enough to compete in one of the last heats at night, you feel like a rock star. Glory is yours.

Six WODs in 36 hours!!! I loved it. Energy management and recovery were huge factors. It was awesome to be able to hang out with the other guys and gals from my gym and watch everyone compete. There was always something going on. Some of the best moments are the moments in-between WODs when you’re comparing notes on performance and getting ready for the next one.

There were a good handful of Regional and Games level competitors in the Elite divisons, so that was a real treat to be able to mingle and watch them go to work.

The soundtrack was amazing. There were three DJ’s, one for each stage, and they played awesome music from morning till well after sundown. I’m a little biased because I’m a huge EDM fan, and they spun a ton of EDM, so I loved it, but trust me it was killer for both audience and competitor. It’s like being at a concert all day long.

The organizers, judges, and volunteers were all super friendly and accommodating. There were some issues with timing and they accommodated the athletes as best they could. Huge kudos to all the organizers for pulling off such a massive event. I can only imagine the amount of work that goes into it. It has to be a labor of love.

Con’s

Some suggestions for improvement: They needed more bathrooms – there were zero port-a-johns. Could have used more food options for folks who didn’t bring food. A couple of food vendors in the vendor village would have been awesome…I would like to have seen Paleo Rx Cafe or someone similar cranking out plated meals all day.

The competition ran late both days. This created ambiguity for when your heats started. To illustrate: WOD 1 ran 2 hours late and WOD 2 ran about 1 hour late. The two WODs were on two different stages, so I had to run back-and-forth between the two staging areas and track exactly where I was in the heat order. The differing heat timelines actually caused the two WODs to catch up to each other so they were practically back-to-back. On Sunday I missed my heat because of this weirdness, but the organizers were kind enough to slot me into a different heat.

To be honest, the cons I listed above are minor gripes for me. I’m fairly used to being uncomfortable and figuring shit out from doing all the GoRuck and adventure sports stuff I’ve done in the last year. The only thing that matters to me is the competition, and that was outstanding. I’ve read they didn’t have a lot of amenities at the first couple of CrossFit Games, and the early Games are enshrined in legend and lore, so really there’s nothing to bitch about.

There was a group of great photographers snapping pics all weekend…check out a few:

Personal Takeaways

The level of competition was eye opening. It was much harder than I expected. It changed my perspective on the training I do in the gym and what’s happing on the competitive scene. Basically, there’s a huge difference between doing Rx in the gym and Rx at a competition. Guys are stronger, working out longer, and more skilled…to compete, you need to put in serious gym time and be the best guy in your box. It really inspired me to step up and do more when I got home.

I had some challenging personal moments. I’m terrible at heavy dumbbell snatches and I knew I was going to get pwned in the triplet that featured 70# DB snatches. I had only ever done maybe 5-6 reps at that load ever. Anyway, I came in DFL in my heat and it was one of those situations where everyone was watching and the other competitors were cheering me on to finish. It was a humbling couple of minutes. But, it was cool because it forced me to push through all the mental trash and those are the moments I look for as a competitor.

The Wodapalooza experience does a great job of making you feel like you’re on stage and giving the performance of your life…mostly because you are. It brings out your best. If you truly love performance and the rush of competition, Wodapalooza delivers. It’s one of the best competition rushes I’ve ever experienced and it’s something I’ll count down the days for until next year.

Shameless self promotion: Me and my two partners, Jack and Corey, launched our  latest Web-based endeavour, unbrokendeals.com. We did some pre-launch marketing at Wodapalooza and got great feedback. Site is launching in February. Give us some love on Facebook.

Bottom Line

Best CrossFit competition on the planet not named the CrossFit Games. Guido Trinidad and the Peak 360 crew do an incredible job and it’s only going to get better in the future. Bring your A game or you’ll get rocked. Also, Wodapalooza is already super popular and sells out in a few hours…it’s a question mark how tough it will be to register in the future. Get in and get to Miami if you can.

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