July 10, 2012
Shock and Awe
By CrossFit
Athletes react to Dave Castro’s bombshell announcements.
Athletes react to Dave Castro’s bombshell announcements.

Athletes react to Dave Castro's bombshell announcement.

Unknown and unknowable: Dave Castro announced the first day of competition at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games will feature a brutal run up Camp Pendleton’s Microwave Mountain.

Oh yeah—the Individual competition starts Wednesday, not Friday.

U.S. Marines will tell you the 11.3-kilometer Microwave run includes 427 meters of elevation gain. And it sucks. To make things even more challenging, CrossFit’s elite athletes will battle Microwave after a 700-meter swim and an 8-kilometer bike ride over undulating terrain and sand.

After the triathlon from hell, athletes will race head-to-head through Camp Pendleton School of Infantry Obstacle Course. A standing long jump is also on the agenda. Castro also announced another CrossFit tradition will be part of the Games: Thursday is officially a rest day for the athletes, mirroring the three-on, one-off pattern that has been found on CrossFit.com since 2001.

Castro delivered the series of bombshells at the athletes’ dinner at The Strand House just off Manhattan Beach, shortly after a series of videos. One of them, a short Games retrospective, highlighted The Hill in Aromas, a natural geographic challenge that’s been missing from the Games since the move to the Home Depot Center. At the end of the video, a shot of Microwave Mountain flashed on the screen for just a second.

Moments later, Castro announced the Friday-night Stadium event: three rounds of heavy med-ball cleans and handstand push-ups bracketed by 100-foot med-ball carries.

Finally, he revealed two gifts for the athletes: a set of swim fins and a single-speed mountain bike.

“We can’t let you take it home without using it,” Castro said before announcing the July 11 events. “Your CrossFit Games start Wednesday at Camp Pendleton, home of the United States Marine Corps.”

Some athletes giggled nervously, while others were completely silent in shock. A few burst into outright laughter.

“I had no idea what was coming,” said 2011 champ Rich Froning Jr., who actually created his own triathlon in training. It included a 500-meter swim, 32-mile bike ride and 5-kilometer run. 

“That was rough,” he said.

Brandon Phillips has also done a triathlon in training, though he said it wasn’t the best workout of his CrossFit career.

“I mean, I finished it,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t stop.”

Phillips, a 2009 CrossFit Games competitor, well remembers the 7-kilometer hill run that opened that event.

“It was just a grind,” he said, though he noted the sandbag sprint up the hill as one of the hardest workouts he’s ever done.

Froning doesn’t have those experiences to look back on, but has heard the stories of what happened on the Castro ranch from 2007 to 2009.

“Everyone talked about how hard that was,” he said of the 2009 hill run. “Sounds like this is going to be even worse.”

Julie Foucher, who finished first on the beach event last year, said she came to Carson this year expecting some twists.

“I thought there would be some sort of surprise. It seemed likely,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a struggle for everyone. We’ll see what happens.”

On the ride back to the hotel, the back of the bus devolved into a comedy act, with Phillips, Froning, Chase Daniels, and Aja Barto leading the charge.

“And we’ve got a standing broad jump after,” Phillips said between roars of laughter. “Let’s see if we can spit further!”

“Been swimming much?” one athlete asked.

“Uh … a little bit,” came the reply — and more laughter.

More seriously, Barto was concerned that the DOMS might really set in on Friday, making Saturday more challenging. He also noted that a long, hard workout changes a lot of strategy for the weekend. He expects bars in the Clean Ladder to feel far heavier after Wednesday’s volume.

Froning said the head-to-head obstacle course event would be particularly tough after the long opening event earlier on Wednesday: “It’ll be hard if you can still feel your legs at that point.”

Call the evening a nod to the unknown and unknowable and the legacy of the CrossFit Games. Interestingly, Camp Pendleton is also home to much of the original CrossFit HQ gear, which was donated by CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman

Athletes who were preparing to open competition on Friday now have a very different agenda.  

Tomorrow, Castro will brief the details of the course and go over technique for swimming with fins, as well as water safety. U.S. Marines will be on hand for a detailed safety briefing on the hazards of the California Hills. Athletes will also be fitted for single-speed bicycles, helmets and swim fins, and they’ll have a chance to practice swimming in the Pacific Ocean. Former NFL lineman John Welbourn of CrossFit Football will also be on hand to teach the athletes how to push the padded sled they’ll face on Saturday.

And of course, the athletes could only wonder what else was coming, both this year and in the future.

“What are we going to do next year?” Daniels asked.

“We’re jumping out of a plane,” Froning replied with a straight face.