Since 2008, the CrossFit Games have been a way of life for Pat Burke. Each year, his training has evolved a step further, as Burke develops new ways to stay ahead of the competition and better prepare for the unknown.
Burke’s Games story begins in Aromas, Calif., where he took 24th at the 2008 CrossFit Games. At the 2009 Games, Burke returned to Aromas fitter and stronger and took home an 8th place finish. It was the beginning of a pattern for Burke. He reached the top five in only one event, yet his ability to compete across a wide variety of tasks kept him near the top of the Leaderboard. The two most disparate events exemplify this pattern: Burke took 13th in the 7 km trail run, and reached 495 pounds in the deadlift ladder, for a 17th place finish. Whereas many stronger guys bonked in the longer events, and the more competent endurance athletes struggled with heavier weights, Burke brought a high degree of both strength and endurance to the table.
From rope climbs to squat snatches, the 2010 Games required greater skill, and Burke, again, excelled. He stood out with a 2nd-place finish on the wall burpee/rope climb workout, and finished 4th on the sandbag move. Still, he was unsatisfied and returned to the drawing board to better prepare for 2011.
One major change to his training regimen was swimming. His pool training now seems prescient. At the athlete reception, Dave Castro surprised everyone by announcing a swim test. The swim test took place in the relative comfort of a pool, but the Games events held even more surprises. Who could have imagined that Games would kick off with a swim through the choppy waters of the Pacific?
After multiple combat deployments as a Marine Corps grunt, Burke was accustomed to levels of chaos that make the Santa Monica Pier pale in comparison. Burke said his military experience affects the way he approaches the Games. He hopes for bad circumstances because he knows he can handle them. "I hope it rains, that it's the worst conditions ever,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Burke seemed confident and excited heading into the beach event. His expectations were bleak. "I don't think it's going to go according to anyone's plan.” Yet he conveyed that thought in an excited and focused tone.
The event didn't go according to Burke’s plan either. The ocean swim gave him trouble, and he took 32nd in 43:14. The swim didn't tire him though. He "could've done it a couple more times," he said. Still, his trouble with body positioning and speed kept him behind most of the other athletes, and his slow swim time left him at a disadvantage heading into the running and calisthenics.
It was the first time in three years Burke did not excel at the longest event. The 32nd-place finish dragged down his placing for the rest of the weekend. He went on to perform consistently well on the other events, including a win by 22 feet on the jug carry and a 9th-place finish on the Triple Sprint.
His later performances weren't enough to make up for his 32nd-place beach event though. Burke missed the cut for Event 8 by one spot. The top 12 went on to complete the final three events, and Burke was ranked 13th, just 13 points away from making the cut.
In addition to the swim, Burke said he drew several lessons away from the 2011 Games. The first is simple, yet profound: that he needs to "go faster next time.” He said he was comfortable with all of the movements, his body felt great during the entire competition, and the loads weren't too heavy.
But competing side-by-side with athletes such as Rich Froning Jr. and Ben Smith convinced Burke that "it's not enough to be good at a workout, you have to be incredibly fast." For example, he went into the rope climb/clean and jerk couplet thinking the event was in his wheelhouse. To his surprise, he finished in 14th place. No one component slowed him down, but he said he just wasn't as quick as Froning and Smith on either movement. They both finished more than a minute faster.
Going into the off-season, Burke is determined to keep his "training at a consistently high level throughout the year" so as to avoid "having to ramp up for competitions." For now, his training plan includes keeping up with the workouts posted on CrossFit.com. Besides his physical training, Burke said he plans to improve his mental capacity, expecting that his "greatest gains will be made between the ears."
A core component of Burke’s mental preparation is focusing on his motivation for competing. Despite the Games' explosive growth, he still just competes "for the fun of it all." At his first Games, the event was held on a "hot and dirty" ranch in Aromas, and the prize for winning was only $1,500. Despite the smaller venue and prize that year, he "wanted to win just as bad" in 2008 as he did in 2011.
Burke has an uncommon goal going forward: "Go to the Games at least 10 times and have the lowest average of placing." It's a suitable ambition for one the Games' most consistent athletes. And though Burke’s too modest to mention it, along those lines he compares favorably withChris Spealler, the only man who has competed in more Games than him. Spealler's worst finish was 25th in 2009; Pat's never finished worse than 24th.