Like the original CrossFit Games at the ranch in Aromas, Calif., the 2013 Northern California Regional competition is taking place on dusty ground.
The fittest men, women and teams in Northern California gathered at the rustic Sonoma County Fairgrounds — home to horse races and a home-town county fair — to determine who will earn a spot at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Much has changed since those early Games, but the essence of CrossFit remains the same — the competition, the camaraderie, the testing of physical and mental limits.
This weekend is not for the faint of heart. Like cattle heading for the slaughter, athletes are herded into metals stalls prior to taking to the competition floor.
Once out there, they’ll have to fight.
As 41-year-old Lisa Rendic — competing as an individual against women half her age — put it, “I have to dig deep, feel the pain, accept the suck and get through it.”
Most athletes will tell you Jackie is all about pacing. Go too hard on the row, and you’ll burn out on the thrusters and pull-ups.
Most athletes aren’t Jason Khalipa. The man who earned the title of Fittest Man on Earth in 2008 made a statement with Event 1, setting a world record with a time of 5:04.
“I did 5:14 at home,” Khalipa said, “so I was trying to get a world record. I knew I had it on the thrusters because I was going really fast. I wanted to do 1:28 or 1:29 on the row, go as high as 1:38 if I had to.”
Khalipa said he tried to keep his mind off what he was doing while rowing.
“You put in so much time and so much effort. It takes such dedication,” he said.
The second-place finish came from an athlete in the second-to-last heat. Marcus Filly, who has competed in the last two Games as part of a team, is making an impressive individual debut. He finished Jackie with a time of 5:12, one second behind Josh Bridges’ time.
Filly said he stumbled on thruster number 41.
“This was one second off my PR,” he said.
“I have been waiting a month to do this workout. The next workout is going to be good,” Filly said.
Before the competition, Nick Pappas said he was going to take a similar approach to Allison Truscheit, a SoCal competitor who is known for her smiles and positive attitude. He wants to stay relaxed and have fun.
Pappas finished sixth overall with a time of 5:22.
"I kept my focus on the rower and heard my brother cheering me on in the audience,” Pappas said. “By the time I got to the thrusters and pull-ups, I did not hear a thing.”
Pappas finished ninth at the 2011 SoCal Regional and has not competed since. The 22-year-old college student, who trains out of his backyard affiliate, will do his best to challenge the NorCal CrossFit trifecta of Khalipa, Pat Barber and Garret Fisher for a spot at the top of the Leaderboard.
The bar is empty, but that doesn’t make it easy.
Jackie is a mental test. After getting through a 1,000-meter row, how quickly can you gut through 50, 45-lb. thrusters and 30 pull-ups?
The winning strategy belonged to NorCal CrossFit’s Miranda Oldroyd, who started off with a slow, almost nonchalant pace on the rower.
Alessandra Pichelli, who took first in the Open in her region, led the field through most of the event. She was first to the thrusters and first to pull-up bar.
“I like rowing and thrusters,” Pichelli said before the event. “Of course, you never know what will happen when you get on the field. This one makes me the most nervous. Pull-ups are what I am afraid of.”
With only five pull-ups to go, Pichelli dropped off the bar.
The pull-up bar is where Oldroyd made her move. She completed all 30 pull-ups unbroken, taking first with a time of 6:13.
Pichelli, who went to the Games last year on the Diablo CrossFit team, came in second with a time of 6:18.
“I have to stay average all weekend,” Pichelli said. “I don’t expect to win any event. I’m not a specialist.”
Molly Biss, who trains with Oldroyd at NorCal CrossFit, competed in the second-to-last heat, next to Games veteran Chyna Cho.
Bliss took sixth overall but got a six-second PR on Jackie with a time of 6:50. She said during the row that she just tried to block out all the other competitors, “I tell myself, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.”
Annie Sakamoto, one of the original Nasty Girls, is excited for Events 2 and 3: the overhead squats and burpee muscle-up combo.
“I like the (event),” Sakamoto said. “It’s really exciting to watch and participate in it. I need to stay relaxed, not be in a rush. Once I hit my opening weights and get my squats, it’s all party time.”
The first team event, a partner version of Jackie, shook up the Leaderboard.
The top-placing teams in the Open — Diablo Anejo, NorCal CrossFit, and Rocklin CrossFit — didn’t manage to crack the top three in Event 1.
Many of the top-scorers on these teams are competing as individuals, so the teams have their work cut out for them if want to stay on top.
Rowing, thrusters and pull-ups — three of the most exhausting movements in CrossFit. This short, intense workout took its toll.
The surprise winner of this event was CrossFit Redding. Placed in the second heat, they came out of nowhere to finish with a time of 12:46, led by their female athlete who finished her portion of Jackie in fewer than seven minutes.
Close on their heels was CrossFit Santa Cruz. Cara Hipskind and Lucas Zepeda powered through the 1,000-meter row, and stayed strong through the thrusters and pull-ups. Zepeda did all 50 thrusters unbroken and kicked off with 23 unbroken pull-ups. His struggle to complete the last seven pull-ups cost the team valuable seconds, and placed CrossFit Santa Cruz in second with a time of 12:59.
CrossFit 808’s team includes a number of former individual competitors, including Games competitor Elyse Umeda.
Josh Akiona of CrossFit 808, who has competed individually at Regional competitions since 2010, said he chose team because “it’s a lot more fun and chances are better of getting into the (Games).”
While it’s important to come out strong, experienced competitors know this workout is the first of many.
Team CSA, which took seventh on this event, said they are feeling strong.
“Today will be the hardest day,” Will Blaker, the coach of Team CSA said.
He’s optimistic about the rest of the events.
“We are bringing a balanced team with some veterans,” he said.
Next up: the combination of Event 2-3, which mixes a three-rep max overhead squat with 30 burpee muscle-ups.