It was a long road to Fargo, one that started back in February after I completed the Freeze Fest Team Challenge and decided I wanted to compete on my own.
I registered for the Dakota Games soon after and have been training for the past few months.
Finally the weekend arrived and 230 miles later, I had crossed the state border into North Dakota and found myself at the Southwest Youth Ice Arena with 179 other fellow athletes ready for two days of competition.
I’m not sure if recounting each event blow by blow will do much for my ego or really be of much interest.
The important thing to know right off the bat is the punch line – I didn’t finish last! I came in 37th place out of a field of 38 competitors in the Men’s Intermediate division (a nice euphemism for scaled). And that’s okay.
I had a great time competing, especially since I was there with seven other fellow athletes / friends from my gym.
They, especially my carpool pal and hotel roommate Ryan, were an amazing support system the whole weekend.
Our time spent together as a group having sushi after the first day of competition makes me smile as much as any PR that I achieved in the arena.
I went to the Dakota Games wanting to win. I believe I completed each event with as much sweat and effort that I could muster. I might have returned home without a trophy, but here are the lessons I learned in Fargo:
Locate all the restrooms. Part of me wants to think I did a really good job keeping hydrated the entire weekend, but the truth is my nervous energy related to competing led me searching for the bathroom repeatedly, especially right before it was time to line up for my heat.
My brain seemed to be able to communicate with my body that something intense was about to happen and it would be best if I lightened up before the starting bell. I was like a trained race horse. It’s just unclear if I was more of a thoroughbred or a nag.
You be you. As mentioned, there were eight of us from our gym competing. Eight different personalities. Eight different body types.
Eight different strategies. Knowing all that, we discussed each event together ad nauseum. We talked about how to best approach it, rep schemes, etc. However, in the end, we each did our own thing.
One event involved deadlifts and I decided to not wear my weight-lifting belt while my friend Michael did. One approach wasn’t better than another. The important thing was we each listened to our gut and did what was best for ourselves.
Fair is fair. The staff at the Dakota Games did an amazing job of quickly posting scores. As I caught my breath after event 5, I checked the Wodcast and saw that my score was wrong.
They had given me credit for ten reps that I did not complete. The mistake didn’t make a big difference in the standings as I was second to last in the event.
However, it did mean a lot if I let it go unnoticed. It would be cheating and I would be denying my fellow competitor, Will, the fact that in that event he beat me fair and square.
I informed the staff and had them update it. I would rather be loser than a cheat any day of the week.
Better to be last than not be there at all. I know I have spoken about how important it is to compete to win rather than just participate; and I’m not trying to backpedal. However, competing for two days is mentally exhausting.
It is stressful and tiring, especially when you are at the bottom of the leaderboard throughout the weekend.
You have to go into each event wanting to win and putting forth your best effort. But you also have to take a step back sometimes and give yourself a break and remember that at least you are there. I showed up.
There were a few people registered that did not even check-in. Perhaps they had an excuse. Maybe they were injured or had a family emergency.
But maybe, just maybe, they were scared. And you weren’t. You took the risk and so reward yourself for that. Otherwise you will be a sad, miserable person.
Don’t be a lunkhead. My friend Alice tore up her hands during the 40 toes-to-bar in Event 6. Despite the injury, she desperately wanted to get in there for the last event and go for the gold. She had already taken first place in a few of the previous events.
She knew she had a great shot in the finals. But her hands were in terrible shape and the medical staff advised against it.
Alice could have been a lunkhead and ignored common sense and suffered the consequences. Instead she smartly bowed out of the finals with her head held high because she knew that her long-term health was a hundred more times important than any momentary glimpse of glory.
Trophies lose their shine and eventually get buried in garages among old baseball mitts and newspaper clippings.
Your health and wellness can’t be so easily discarded.
Take a step back. Here’s the hard truth – I need to hold off from competing again for awhile. Not because I can’t handle the pressure but because my base is lacking.
I have a lot of the skills down now thanks to three years of CrossFit but I’m missing the strength.
I knew this after Freeze Fest; yet I turned a blind eye and convinced myself that a few months would move the needle.
Then I showed up to compete and did a 3 rep max of the bear complex at 125# and the top half of the leaderboard beat me by 50 to 100 pounds.
Then on day two, I spent four minutes attempting to get one rep in the snatch at 115#. Sure, I didn’t give up, but after awhile no one is going to applaud the guy who keeps trying out for the PGA Tour if he always bogies every hole.
I need to spend a lot more time building my base if I really want to compete. I’ve had the experience, now I need the win.
And I’m never going to win if I don’t put in the proper time and training required. I’ll show up again in the arena, but next time it will be with so much more than just the right attitude.
Overall, the Dakota Games was absolutely worth it. The organizers did a fantastic job of keeping everything running on time, being clear with the rules and instructions, and setting a tone that was both fun and professional.
The venue worked out great and the events, while tough, were a perfect mix of strength and endurance.
I’ve got a lot more training to do and it is hard to say right now if I will be making the trip back to Fargo next year.
While things are a bit uncertain, I know that what I learned this past weekend is going to propel me forward for years to come.