Meanwhile, Back at The Ranch

July 20, 2016

Mike Warkentin

 Aromas hosts first CrossFit Games events since July 12, 2009. 

The Aromas Airlift began at 3:30 a.m. in Manhattan Beach. 

In an unprecedented escalation of the now-expected annual offsite event, all 80 individual athletes were flown to The Ranch in Aromas, California, site of the first three editions of the CrossFit Games.

At this time, please ensure your seat backs and tray tables are locked in the full upright position, and stow your nerves under the seat in front of you.

The Fittest on Earth went into the trip completely blind, save for a simple piece of paper that outlined a list of gear they should bring. Most prominent on the list: valid photo identification, typed in all caps and emphasized further with bold italics.

At a reception at the Manhattan Beach Marriott the night before, Games Director Dave Castro had simply told the athletes to be ready to roll the next morning, leaving them to ponder what they might do with the 5.11 pants, Reebok GTX shoes, gloves and lifting belts noted on the list.

As the CrossFit Games broadcast the trip live on Facebook, some athletes and fans correctly guessed their final destination, which was confirmed when Castro (@thedavecastro) posted a picture of The Ranch and the caption “Feels good to be home” to Instagram at 7:05 a.m.

The athletes, judges and medical teams arrived in three buses from Mineta San José International Airport at 9:09 a.m., greeted by Castro, who grew up here: “Welcome to The Ranch.”

After rolling up a door to reveal the warm-up area—complete with the hopper and scoreboard from the 2007 CrossFit Games—Castro rolled up the back door to reveal two seas of 20 bars, one side loaded from 425 to 615 lb. and the other from 275 to 415.

“Look at the weights. I think we got them right this time,” Castro said during a group picture, referencing the second event of the 2009 Games, in which 16 men lifted the final 505-lb. bar and created a scoring log jam.

In a barn briefing, Castro revealed the athletes were going to take a second run at a bulked-up version of the paired events that kicked off the 2009 CrossFit Games: an even more challenging 7-km trail run followed by a deadlift ladder, with the lifting order determined by finishing position in the run. It pays to be a winner, as they say: as in 2009, slower athletes would lift sooner, with the slowest runners starting the deadlift ladder 10 minutes after the completion of the run event.

In the men’s field, only Sam Dancer (665 lb.) and Alex Vigneault (600 lb.) listed deadlift PRs near or above the heaviest bar, while Whitney Cappellucci (400 lb.), Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault, Becca Voigt (400 lb.) and Brooke Wells (405 lb.) might be candidates to lock out all the lifts if the “Aromas Effect” makes an appearance in 2016.

Castro then detailed the trail run and the various dangers of The Ranch, including mountain lions, snakes and tremendous amounts of poison oak waiting for athletes who step a run course that dictates single-file running, walking or even crawling at steep points.

Vigneault said he hasn’t done 600 since after the Open in 2015, but he hit 500 for 7 touch-and-go reps two weeks ago. He thinks he might be able to clear the bars.

“I think I could be better in a ladder. I think a ladder is the best way to PR a lift,” the Canadian said.

Spencer Hendel emphatically said he won’t clear the ladder this year—“not even close!”—but had time to reflect on the athlete he was in 2009: “I’m thinking about a young kid … who didn’t really know what he was doing.”

Hendel said the trail run was bad in ’09, but not as bad as the sandbag sprint, which is often flagged by Games competitors as a particularly horrible test of fitness that only took about 75 seconds. He said 2009’s “trail run” included “a lot of walking.”

Standing nearby, defending champ Ben Smith, who competed in the Games for the first time in 2009, shared his thoughts on the 2009 run, which featured a famous duel between Chris Spealler and eventual champion Mikko Salo.

“It was a fun event. It was really, really hard,” Smith said.

The older, wiser athlete continued: “I didn’t pace (the run) well last time—first time competing at the Games, went out too hard."

At press time, the athletes had just watched their judges demonstrate the deadlift ladder and were prepping for the run—set to open the individual competition at the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games at 10:30 a.m.

Back in Time

Here are the max deadlifts pulled in the ladder by athletes who competed in 2009:

  • Annie Thorisdottir—305 lb. (15th)
  • Christy Adkins—295 lb. (22nd)
  • Becca Voigt—275 lb. (32nd)
  • Stacie Tovar—275 lb. (32nd)
  • Spencer Hendel—505 lb. (tied for 1st)
  • Ben Smith—455 lb. (33rd)

Best 2009 run times (on different course):

  • Sarah Dunsmore—41:44.3
  • Chris Spealler—37:43.2


Watch the events on Facebook Live.