It has been a busy, busy past 6 months.
On September 1st, Seattle Kettlebell Club found a new home at Ridge Fitness. At about this time I decided I wanted to compete in my first kettlebell sport competition at the IKFF NW Kettlebell Championships. With only one month to train I set my eyes on the 5 minute snatch with a 24 Kilogram kettlebell. A few weeks in to the training, I realized my hardstyle kettlebell training systems were not adequate to get me to the level needed to compete in kettlebell sport, so I enlisted the help of Mikhail Marshak to refine my technique. Although we had only three sessions before the meet, he was able to get me to a level where at the competition I achieved a 1st place finish and a rank 1.
The fitness level and mastery of the kettlebell I was able to achieve during this short amount of time had me hooked on kettlebell sport. Shortly after the competition I saw an event for another competition on facebook. I immediately signed up for it, not knowing it was a much larger competition with a much higher level of athlete attending. For this competition I called Mikhail right from the start and asked him to write my program and he agreed. At about the same time I decided I wanted to test a kettlebell sport class, so we began a free kettlebell sport series that was to happen every Saturday for 7 weeks. The sport class became my favorite, right off the bat. The same people kept signing up for the class as soon as registration opened up and the class would be full only a few days into registration. I knew we had a winner. It was so great to watch how quickly the student’s fitness levels and ability increased using kettlebell sport techniques and by the last few weeks people were practically begging me to start a regular paid kettlebell sport class. On January 3rd we started the kettlebell sport series. Since I knew the program well and could do a good job teaching it, the focus of the class series was the same as the event I was training for: the biathlon. (The biathlon consists of a 10-minute set of jerks and a 10-minute set of snatches.) In just 7 short weeks, I watched our members go from barely finishing a one-minute set to having completed multiple 10-minute sets. The series ended February 21 and the next competition, the “OKC California Open Kettlebell Championships” took place the following Saturday in Costa Mesa.
Throughout the sport class series, two other class attendees developed enough confidence and skill to also enroll in the competition: my wife, Amber, and Adrian Cowens. So on Friday, February 27, 2015 my wife, son Aleksander and myself flew to LAX and drove the rest of the way to Costa Mesa for early weigh-in at 6pm. I had been adhering to a no sugar, low-carb diet for the past week to hopefully make the 73 kg weight class, but the night before the flight I was still 3 pounds off, so that Friday I refrained from any food or water and even turned the heat as high as it would go in the rental car on the way to the weigh-in to hopefully sweat out those last few pounds. I was so nervous but it worked! I came in at 72.55 kg, but Lord was I hungry and dehydrated!
At the weigh-in I had my first glimpse of our competition and they looked fierce. I know most of these people on Facebook, but kettlebell sport athletes must be a humble bunch because their Facebook selfies did not do them justice. Usually it's the opposite! LOL. After the weigh-in we went to our hosts home to get some rest - which our 23-month-old was having none of. The three of us got about three hours of sleep the night before the competition.
Game Day! The next morning, Saturday, February 28th, we woke up around 7 AM pretty groggy but we were feeling good because we had plenty of time before the competition which was supposed to start at 10 AM. As we took turns showering and fixing coffee I was thinking about a big breakfast. Amber checked the OKC website for flight times and said "Oh, no! We start at 9 AM, not 10!" “So much for breakfast,” I thought. We hurried to remember all of our gear and get our son dressed, but made it to the event in time. The flight times were: Amber 9:10 AM jerk, Adrian 9:45 AM jerk, Amber 10:50 AM snatch, Adrian 11:35 AM snatch, Nikolai 1:15 PM jerk, Nikolai 3 PM snatch. During the morning my responsibilities as father, husband and Coach were to watch Aleks, prep Amber and Adrian, chalk their bells before snatch and make sure they know what pace to work at. Oh and set up the camera to film their sets. The most difficult of all those jobs by far was watching Aleks. He could not be left for a second or he would run headlong into the warm-up area where people are swinging heavy bells or into the parking lot with moving vehicles. Amber's first set came and it was the jerk. Adrian held Aleks just long enough so I could set up the camera and wish Amber luck. I took Aleks back and watched the start of Amber’s set. She looked smooth and steady, but Aleks began to scream, so I ran him outside so as not to disturb anyone. We came back in at the very end of Amber’s set where she had put up a respectable 126 reps. I was stoked she had completed the ten minutes!
We had 25 minutes before Adrian's jerk, so I helped him pick his bells and went over his strategy. Amber was itching to go over her set, so we went out to the car to talk about it. She was definitely feeling like she could've gone faster, but I assured her she did great and that just finishing is a huge accomplishment for her first meet. A quick glance at the clock told me Adrian was up! I ran from the car just in time to set up the camera as everyone was already on the platforms waiting for the countdown. 321 Adrian and the five other competitors and his flight were off. I prayed he would stick to his pace and not get rattled by the fast pace of the guy directly to his right because it was obvious he had been doing this a while and Adrian's only chance was to be consistent and catch him later in the snatch. Adrian's pace was steady for the first three minutes, but around three minutes 30 seconds he started to slow. It looked like his breathing was out of sync, but he charged along holding at about seven reps per minute. I yelled at him to breathe and he seemed to snap out of it. At the seven minute mark he was looking good again and at the eight minute mark I yelled “two more minutes!” You could see everyone was getting fatigued, but they were tough SOB's and were grating it out. I yelled again “one minute left, give me 10 more reps!” Adrian began pumping out the reps as I counted them out loud. Adrian finished with an incredible pace for him of about 14 reps per minute. All of the lifters dropped their weights at the end of the 10 minutes. It'd been a shootout for the final minute.
We had about 55 minutes until Amber's snatch set, so we focused on getting her hydrated and we congratulated Adrian on his set. With 15 minutes before Amber’s set we picked her bell and took it over to chalk it. We discussed her strategy and got her settled on the platform. I was able to watch her first minute before Aleks began to melt down. She really seemed to be enjoying herself and was actually smiling. Amber's pace was a little slower than the other girls, but I knew she could pick it up. I took Aleks outside and was able to calm him down by the five-minute mark, so we headed back in. By the six-minute mark she was still on her left hand and had not switched. She looked like she could go all day with her off hand, but that's not the goal. I yelled "okay Amber, go ahead and switch!" She did and settled into her new pace with her strong arm. The other girls had switched hands quite a bit ahead of her and were already starting to fade. At the nine minute mark her top two other competitors had dropped out. Their grip simply didn't have it that day and they had to set the bell down. Not Amber though. We had done copious glove sets in the weeks leading up. Glove sets are when you wear cotton gloves and snatch the bell for as long and as fast as you can. It can be excruciating, but gives you an iron grip. At the nine-minute mark Amber smiled and completely ran away from the other girls hitting about 20 reps per minute in the end. Everyone was cheering her on and even the judge came over and commended her performance.
We had 35 minutes until Adrian’s set - or so we thought. I helped Adrian choose a bell and took it over to chalk it for him. At the chalk station I chatted with other coaches and competitors. It's weird but chalking the handle is one of my favorite parts of the sport. It's calming to me and I can see instant results from my effort. I also know it can mean the difference between a personal record and a lousy set. At the chalking station I met Moses Dungca, owner of Las Vegas Kettlebell Club. He's a super nice guy and I was really enjoying our conversation when Adrian ran up and yelled "I'm up!" I grabbed his bell and chased him up to the stage and set his bell on the first open platform, but the judges motioned to me that he was on the far end, so I picked the bell up and ran it down to the other end, but at this point the time had already started. Everyone had about a seven second head start on Adrian, but Adrian went ahead and started anyway. John "Wild" Buckley was next to me and informed me that because he was late on the platform, his set would not count. He was very apologetic and I totally understood. I decided to let Adrian go on with his set even though the judge was not counting his reps. Adrian's pace was good and his grip has always been strong. Unlike in the jerk, Adrian was keeping pace with everyone and around the 8 to 9 minute mark his other competitors started dropping like flies. At about the nine minute mark I yelled “last man standing! One minute left!” and Adrian kicked it into high gear finishing very strong! John “Wild” Buckley came over and congratulated him after his set. I could tell there was a comradery between the two heavyweights. I congratulated Adrian myself and told him how proud I was. I carried his bell back. When I had him alone I asked him if he wanted the good news or the bad. He looked at me seriously and said "the bad!" I said "because you were late on the platform your set didn't count." His face dropped and I could see the anger and disappointment building. I said "Listen! You came here with lasting the whole 10 minutes as your goal - plus you smoked those guys! You did great!" He started to settle down and shake his head yes in agreement. Neither one of us could figure out how we let that happen, but under closer inspection of the flight roster his original start time had been crossed out and his new time five minutes earlier had been written in. A tough break, but better to learn this lesson early on rather than at a more important juncture.
I had a little over an hour until my jerk set and I was a ball of nerves. I had only completed 10 minute sets with 16 and 20 kg bells in practice. Now I'm going to be on stage with a pair of 24 kg kettlebells at my lightest weight in 10 years and barely anything to eat. I continued drinking water but didn't have much appetite and kept having to use the bathroom. Not exactly nerves of steel. When my time came I grabbed two matching bells and headed to the platform plenty early. I did not want to be late! I anxiously awaited for the time to pass and finally the other competitors took the platform. We waited out the countdown, cleaned our bells into the rack and it was on. Initially I felt pretty good finding a slow steady pace, but at about the four-minute mark my leg started to fade and fast. Each second in the rack felt like an eternity. With my legs cooked I had to wait longer between each rep and with each rep my form deteriorated. About halfway through, my judge began telling me to "fixate more" and "lockout". I knew I was in trouble. At about the seven-minute mark I started missing reps. First one, then two in a row. When I missed three in a row at seven minutes 30 seconds, I dropped the bells. I was totally dejected. I’d been trying so hard up till then, but that day the weight was just so darn heavy. Amber and Adrian tried to lift my spirits, but once I get down it's best to let me alone.
I had another hour to stew before my snatch set and that's what I did. In my head I told myself I could pull off a miracle snatch since that is my strength. I had originally planned on 13 to 14 reps per minute but now I was thinking I would do 16 to 18 reps per minute. Crazy! Finally the time had come. 15 minutes till go time. I headed over to choose my bell. I had a dilemma… there were two to choose from. The Valerie Fedorenko with a wider handle and smaller hole for hand insertion, or one similar to the ones I had back home, but the handle was super rusty and would take a lot of work to prep. I grabbed them both, but started prepping the Valerie Fedorenko. After checking the bell I looked at it and had a moment of doubt, so I grabbed the one with the rusty handle and began sanding the old chalk and rust off. I soon realized this would be a tough job. I had another moment of doubt and said "screw it," grabbed the Fedorenko, and headed to the platform. I set my bell on the platform and ran to the bathroom one last time before my set. I arrived back to the platform with a minute to spare. Kevin Jodrey was on the platform directly to the right of me and gave me a little elbow bump. I was feeling pretty good at this point. I love the snatch. They did the countdown and we were off. In order to work at a higher pace I only did one to two breath cycles at the lockout position as opposed to 3 to 4 when I work at my normal pace. My pace was fast, but I was getting more torque than normal during the hand insertion and on the drop I was feeling my grip start to slip. This has never been an issue. I really pride myself on my grip strength. I felt my grip slip really badly at about the four-minute mark which led me to pull the bell up very awkwardly and outside of my center of mass. This rep was getting away from me and fast. I knew I had to switch hands. I began to let it drop, but it was still quite a bit outside of my sweet spot and when the weight hit my grip it popped right out of my hand and fell on the ground. I was disqualified and dumbfounded! I hadn't even gotten a chance to use my strong side and despite the bad form I had been cooking at 20 reps per minute. I left the platform and took a seat to watch the rest of the guys complete their sets. It was tough to watch. I had so much left in the tank. I let my team down, my coach down and myself down. These are the risks you take when you go for it all. Sometimes you fall flat. In retrospect though, in four minutes on my left arm I had completed nearly as many reps as I completed with both arms five months earlier and I still had plenty left!
I learned a lot during this competition and it's because I set high goals. Because of the way the competition was set up, people who had never competed in a Ketacademy event were placed in a beginner class. That included Amber, Adrian and myself. Adrian took first place in his class, Amber took 2nd and a “rank 1” - a very high honor especially in a first competition - and I took a humble third place. The event was full of ups and downs, but the one consistent theme was “how can I improve and where's the next one?” Our new goal is to increase the number of team members, continue to improve on our technique and finish the next sport series with a trip to Vancouver, B.C. for another competition!