“The workouts don’t get physically easier. In fact, they probably get harder because you learn how to push harder and go faster, which makes it suck worse. But you’re ready for anything. That’s what makes it easier. You’re just mentally more prepared.”
It was an event few completed.
Regional Event 4 — the 100s — took its toll on competitors in all heats. Blood stained the pull-up bars, agony was seen across the field of play, and after 300 reps of wall balls, pull-ups and one-legged squats, the final 100 one-armed snatches were, for most, more than could be completed in the allotted time.
But in the final heat of Event 4, Austin Malleolo, this year’s first-place finisher at the North East Regional, pulled ahead and killed it with more than two minutes to spare, well ahead of the nearest competitor.
“A workout like that is a lot about strategy. That’s a CrossFit marathon,” Malleolo says.
He divided up the movements into workable sets and got into a rhythm that allowed him to move through the exercises, particularly the snatches, very efficiently.
A first-place in Event 5, a second-place tie in Event 1 and a third-place tie in Event 7 all helped ensure that Malleolo would be on his way to Carson, Calif.
This is Malleolo’s fourth trip to the Games.
His debut at the 2010 Games led to a sixth place overall finish, scoring in the top 10 in nearly every event. However, 2011 couldn’t have been more different. A beach event, as well as the skills — L-sit, softball throw and handstand walk combination — threw him. It got into his head, and even some more traditional movements confused him. He ended up in 18th place after seven events, and failed to qualify for the final three.
Disappointed, he reevaluated his lifestyle, diet and the way he trained, bringing in CrossFit HQ Seminar trainer Eva Claire (E.C.) Synkowski as his coach.
“When I first started working with Austin in 2011, it was with a heavy technique focus and specifically on the Olympic lifts,” Synkowski says. “We did a ton of positioning work with light loads and lots of reps for months. Other than that, it was just CrossFit, with a slight bias towards super short, heavy WODs because that was what we perceived to be a weakness.”
Working with Synkowski paid off. At the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games, Malleolo rebounded, and finished in the top 10.
Could 2013 be his year to stand on the podium?
“The biggest thing I learned is that you don’t train for the Regionals or the Open. You train for the Games. You try to win every workout, or get a good time," Malleolo says.
“This year, his training placed a large emphasis on the lifts and increasing strength numbers after the 2012 Games,” Synkowski says. “Post-Regional, we add in more outdoor work, long events, swimming, odd objects, etc. The main change is that we are targeting that eight-to-10-minute time domain more than sub-five minutes, as it seems that is worse for him than we thought, based on Open and Regional events.”
A key part of training is understanding that the Games always throw a few curveballs.
“You know you’re going to do a lot of things that challenge you outside the box,” he says. “At the Regional, we’re probably not going to be running up a mountain or swimming in the ocean. At the Games, we’ve seen that before and it’s definitely a possibility. You have to make sure you’re ready for that.”
Part of that preparation involves getting the body attuned to those types of events that fall outside the typical CrossFit routine, such as swimming, running 20 miles uphill, throwing baseballs and footballs and so on.
“You do all that to make your body more familiar with that stuff,” Malleolo says.
Malleolo has found that while his four years of CrossFit Games experience has made some things easier, they’ve made other things harder.
“The workouts don’t get physically easier,” he says. “In fact, they probably get harder because you learn how to push harder and go faster, which makes it suck worse. But you’re ready for anything. That’s what makes it easier. You’re just mentally more prepared.”
Malleolo has become something of a jack-of-all-movements, and is now open to whatever challenges are thrown at him.
“I don’t have one specialty,” he says. “I’m generally good at everything, but not great at one thing. So, a one-rep max something I wouldn’t be super-stoked to do.”
A large part of his approach is conquering the mental aspects of a workout, particularly a punishing one.
“Last year was great,” he says. “I won’t mind a longer run, I don’t mind workouts that are just treacherous, because then it becomes very mental. I can handle the death matches.”
“Austin is an amazingly gifted athlete and brings a commitment to training that is hard to comprehend,” his coach adds. “I'm looking forward to seeing him put all the hours of training to the test. He is ready.”
As he goes up against the fittest in the world, he has his work cut out for him. At the same time, when he says he strives to get a good time, he means that in two senses of the phrase. He still enjoys CrossFit and the spirit of amicable competition the Games engender.
“I love it,” he says. “When I feel like it’s a job, I’ll reevaluate.”