On July 9th the SCBC crew traveled south to Wichita Falls, Texas to participate in the 2011 Liberty Open Olympic Weightlifting meet. A 2.5 hour burn through scorched Earth landed us on the hallowed asphalt outside the Wichita Falls Athletic Club, home of renowned strength sage and meet host Mark Rippetoe.
Preparation for the meet was condensed due to some extended travel, but condensed works for me. Previously, I trained for three weeks to prep for Lock and Load and PR’d in both lifts. For the Liberty Open I trained for three weeks again, and again PR’d in both lifts. Of course, I’d like some more time to perfect technique and allow for more strength development, but the shortened format forces me to focus intensely on my weaknesses. It also keeps me clear of pitfalls such as injury and overtraining. I spent a lot of late nights in my garage chalking up and working lifts. I made April video my lifts for later inspection. She was also an important player in my nutrition and my mobility work. I was able to toil with Tom Ward at Edmond Memorial High School twice. His instruction was insightful and helped sharpen my focus and streamline my programming. I shifted my aim from progressive overload and peak loads to pure bar speed, better technique, and greater flexibility. I also incorporated some of his rotating load programming model (60%, 75%, 90%) to great effect. This was a solid move and paid dividends. I was also able to collaborate with Ryan Self in matters of work volume, tapering, and overall strategy. The amount of progress and preparation I crammed into 23 days is absolutely astounding.
The weight cut is always an adventure in and of itself. I tend to hover right around 94 kgs/207 lbs normally. Unfortunately, the Liberty Open is set the weekend after the 4th of July. I don’t want to say I spent the 4th wallowing in gluttonous drunken debauchery, but we all know it happened. Thus, I came in the week of the meet looking at a 5 lb weight cut. I was able to manage a gradual weight cut fairly well. I went 90% paleo and dropped down to 209 lbs with a day to go. I switched to distilled water and cut salt and sugar out completely. The day of the meet I woke up at 207.5 lbs. Ate light, pounded distilled aqua, and headed south-by-southwest toward Liberty.
The drive to Wichita Falls from OKC is short and sour. We went a solid hour without seeing any other life form. Luckily, there are an abundance of old school rap and Cherokee pow-wow radio stations south of Lawton. We made good time, found the place easily, and settled in.
The Wichita Falls Athletic Club is a pretty sweet gym. Not overwhelming, but a good size with lots of open space, high ceilings, and no shortage of squat racks. The gym walls are adorned with Frazetta prints, Gadsden flags, Paul ’08 bumper stickers, and other mementos of hyper-masculine, self-sovereignty. Even the meet t-shirt paid homage to Atlas Shrugged. Among the more notable gym rules: “no silly bullshit”, and “anyone caught doing FRAN owes me a decent bottle of merlot”. Can’t help but feel that we’ve wandered into the den of a cave bear, and that bear’s name is Rip.
The last guy caught doing “silly bullshit”
Rippetoe is an imposing figure. He carries a tangible presence with him when he enters the room. Dude’s about as alpha male as they come; a throwback to a bygone era when a man was judged by the amount of hair on his legs and how far he could hurl a stone. Rip would be right at home on some ancient highland, spearing an overgrown mountain boar and snapping its neck to the delight of his fellow huntsmen. As it is, he makes do with riding a Harley sans helmet and being really good at strength training.
So, once Rip walks in we gather in the meet room and wait to be called to weigh-in. The weigh-in takes place in a tiny, dark closet on a 1980s-model double-beam scale. As I wait to be called, I note that weigh-ins are moving slowly. Everyone who comes out of the closet is getting redressed. I’m surprised that so many people are cutting it that close on weight. My name is called and I make my way to the closet. Once inside the door is shut behind me and Rip commands “naked, on the scale”. This ranks as one of the top 5 most horrifying moments of my life. I’m in a broom closet with a 240-lb caveman who just ordered me to strip and turn around. So, I comply. As I stand on the scale, a gigantic, furry forearm reaches over my shoulder to adjust the scale beams. I hold my breath so not to anger him. “92.9 kilos”, he remarks. “Opening snatch?” I fumble nervously to find the list I’d made the night before. “75 kilos” I reply. He turns to jot down the numbers and I bolt for the door, happy just to be alive. Made weight, feel great, an hour to kill – time to eat!!
We load-up on Subway and spend a few minutes relaxing. Here we chatted with fellow lifter and Subway patron Tom Witherspoon of Spoon Barbell Club, host of our previous meet. After a 16-hour fast, getting some chow was carnal and I probably over did it a bit, but I felt that to err on the side of over fueling vs. starving before a weightlifting event was the proper course of action. On the way back we stopped in to borrow a set of hangnail clippers from the Asian nail salon up the street. These were used quickly and effectively for dangling callous removal. This little turn of luck cannot be overstated. “You take pedicure. You enjoy.” Not today; daddy’s gotta snatch.
Back at the club, we set our strategy in motion, warming-up with agility drills, foam rolling, and light bar work. Once the women’s portion of the meet was winding down, I started working snatch-related lifts (overhead squat, snatch balance, snatch high pull, hang snatch) at light loads with a focus on speed and technique. It felt really good. After lifting almost daily for three weeks, taking three days of complete rest leading up to the event left me feeling very sharp and refreshed. The bar speed and energy in the warm-up were excellent. I hit my opening attempt once or twice during warm-ups to give myself confidence for the platform. Now you focus and you wait. This was the best part of the event aside from actually lifting. Ryan would watch the meet from the other room and come through the hallway and tell me “you’re two out” or “you’re next”. I waited in the warm-up area and visualized my lifts. My nervous energy was beginning to build. “You’re up.”
Walking out into the main room I was overcome with a huge rush of adrenaline. The announcer spoke, “the bar is loaded”. My opener was 75 kilos (165 lbs). This is a medium weight for me. My PR is 86 kilos (189 lbs). As I chalked-up I told myself to relax, but it wasn’t happening. I stood over the bar and forced myself to take a few seconds, breathe, clear my mind, and get set. This was helpful. The room got quiet as I found my grip. The bar felt thin and light in my hands. It felt good. I rolled it back to my shins, set my back, took a full breath, and paused, crouched and coiled, ready to explode. My mind went completely blank. I pulled the bar off the ground, trying to remain patient. Once it cleared my knees I jumped with everything I had and almost threw the bar through the ceiling. I was shocked to find myself standing completely upright – a power snatch was not my intention, but it’s what happened. The lift felt light, very fast, and a little chaotic, but it was a good lift and I was happy to get the opener out of the way. It is vital, especially for emotional lifters, to set the tone with a good opener. With each successive attempt I felt more confident, more relaxed, and more capable. My second attempt was at 85 kilos (187 lbs); one kilo shy of my PR. I hit it with ease. My final attempt was scheduled for 91 kilos (200 lbs) if I felt good, 94 kilos (207 lbs) if I felt really good. We opted for the latter. This would be a body weight snatch and a new PR by 18 lbs. It went perfectly. Good bar speed, good control, and still a power snatch, but my best lift of the three. After I dropped the bar I gazed eagerly at the head judge. He signaled the lift was good. What a thrill. Tiger Woods fist pump and high five Ryan as I leave the room. I’m learning just how big of an impact the nerves and adrenaline in a competitive environment can play.
There is some down time between sessions. Maybe 30 or 45 min. You take a pee, drink water, foam roll a little, and find a good bench to lie on. Ryan tries to gauge warm-up times based on how the meet progresses. When I’m 20 minutes out we start working clean and jerk. This, too, feels good today. I work up to a 100 kilo (220 lbs) lift and then relax. My opening attempt is 109 kilos (240 lbs). This is a medium-heavy weight for me. My PR is 116 kilos (255 lbs). However, I’ve also cleaned 265, 270, and 280, so I’m pretty confident that if things go well, I’ll be in uncharted territory very soon.
In this portion of the meet, I am much calmer and more confident. I still have an adrenaline spike, but most of the nerves are gone. I hit my opening lift with ease and move on to a 118 kilo (260 lb) attempt that will be a meet PR and a jerk PR. I kick its ass. It really felt great. This is where things get interesting. I’m only a few kilos out of 1st place and things are feeling phenomenal. We opt to roll the dice. After announcing 125 kilos (275 lbs) as our final attempt, we elect to change the load to 126 kilos (277 lbs). This accomplishes a few things: I get an additional 90 seconds of rest, I psyche out my opponents, and I put myself in position to win my weight class. This is what we came for.
I still can’t think in kilos so I have to know what the pounds are in order to wrap my mind around the lift and properly prepare and visualize what I need to do. 277 lbs is a big lift. Its 3 lbs shy of my clean PR and 22 lbs above my jerk PR. I feel confident, but I know that the lift needs to be perfect in order to succeed. As I walk onto the platform I stomp my feet. Hard. It feels solid. I feel strong. I clamp down on the bar like a vice, roll it in, tighten up, and prepare to kill. I rip the bar off the ground and clean with all the force and speed I can muster. I hit it perfectly. Good catch on the delts, hands in good position, ride the clean to the bottom and use the bounce to start my assent. At the top of my squat I get a nice re-bend on the bar which I use to re-grip. Everything feels right. I take a few seconds to breathe and prepare for the jerk. This is the most dangerous part of the lift, especially for me. Luckily, someone in the crowd yelled “heels” so I’d remember not to push 277 lbs off of my toes. I fill my lungs, tighten up, and thrust the bar off my shoulders. As I drop under the weight I catch the bar perfectly, locked out and stable. It’s heavy. I struggle. I find my footing and make eyes with the head judge who signals me to drop the bar. My gaze is locked on his hand. Thumbs up! Tiger Woods, high five, walkout.
My total of 220 kilos was enough to take 1st in my weight class. I was very pleased to be called up and awarded.
Even the Dog got a Medal
My new total puts me at 111 nationally among 94 kg lifters according to USAW. An additional 5 kilos puts me in the top 100. I plan to do that and more at the Copperhead Open October 8th. Having completed two meets now, I have to say I could not be happier. I’ve gone 11-for-12 on attempts and set 4 PRs. I’ve made tremendous progress mentally and technically, and I still have a long way to go. It was a phenomenal experience to lift at the Liberty Open, to see the WFAC, to meet Rippetoe, and to kick ass on the platform. All of the lifters and staff were great. We made some new friends and accomplished some valuable networking. It really could not have gone any better and I can’t wait to do it again.
Jeremy Rutledge a.k.a Jimmy Ray “Bodine” Ray-Ray Simmons
Editor’s Note: I prefer Jerry Ray. That’s simply out of hand.