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2024 - Maryland's Strongest Hands - Vin's Report


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On Saturday, April 27, 2024, John Foelber hosted Maryland's Strongest Hands at his gym, Renewed Strength, LLC, in Sykesville, MD.  He ran a fair, professional, efficient comp with 11 participants: 6 men over 100kg, 3 men under 100kg (including me, at 77kg), one woman, and one teen (my son, 17 y.o. and 64 kg).  I think Doug Carney and I were the only Masters over 50.

My son came to humor me, since it was my birthday, and by coming with me to this grip competition, he was absolved of the obligation to give me any kind of gift or otherwise honor me on my birthday, and I also promised him a steak dinner to sweeten the pot.  Well, maybe that would savory the pot more than sweeten it, but you get the idea:  he was bribed.  But it also added one competitor to the mix, thereby making it sound more impressive when, say, you come in 3rd (because there weren't just like 4 people there).  I mean, I really did once get an actual medal for coming in third in my weight class in a competition where there were -- you guessed it -- three in my small weight class.  So, like, I got a medal for last.

Not this time.

I've been way out of practice since Yol Bosun in January, when I was already way out of practice.  I really have no place to work out (this is about to change because my girlfriend and I are moving into a house where I will have a shed for my grip stuff that is now in storage).  So hopefully I will have less of an excuse to not train in the future.  But here, I was really just attending because it was on my birthday and I would always like to do a grip comp when I have the option, whether I have trained or not. 

I was also intrigued that there were $150 prizes for a double body weight axle lift or a 1.3 times body weight 3x4 Saxon lift.  I knew that both these targets were well beyond my PRs, especially at body weight 183 like I often am.  366 axle?  Ha, no.  That much I cannot hold onto, let alone lift of the ground.  My axle PR is 308.5, and that is my deadlift PR no matter how I hold it.  That's just the most weight my legs/core will bring up from the ground.  So a few months ago, I thought, cool, I will just lose 25 pounds and get stronger, then I'll weigh 160 and lift 320.  And as for pinch, If I could get to a body weight of 160 pounds, I would only need 208 to win the Saxon prize -- a mere 10-20 pounds more than I ever did before.  But, I thought, I have done 242 on the 2x5, and 213 on Euro, so maybe I will have some sort of epiphany and figure out just how to hold this thing.

Also not this time lol.  For one thing, I got down to 171, which is a low for me in the last 20 years, but still not gonna make 342 axle!  That would be about the most I think my hands would hold, but I am not near lifting it.  And I'd need 222 on the pinch, which I figured was also not very likely.

So anyway, we started with axle, and I did some of the lower weights to remind myself how bad my form could be even when the weight is not hard to lift, and I saw that yes, I will still try to row whatever I am supposedly deadlifting, even though I know this is just so wrong.  I will still appear to be about to blow out some disk stuff in my back as my face turns red and whole body strains to pull up a weight with two hands that many of you can do with one hand.  Even with that awful form, I got up to 130 kg pretty solid, 286 pounds, and I figured I would be fine to jump to the first increment over 300, which was 302.5, since I had gotten 308.5 at Yol Bosun in January also without training axle.  And that had been my fourth attempt, so I might have made a little more.  Yeah, 302.5, and then I'd go for a PR after I got that ...

Not this time!  John was a fair but precise judge, and while I had no trouble holding onto 302.5 for a few seconds while I squirmed and fidgeted and pretty much rowed it up from the ground little by little and tried to lock it out, I just could not quite pull my body into position to get the down call, and eventually it just dropped.  I was almost locked out and I tried again and almost did it again, but just no.  I ended with the 286, more than 20 pounds less than I got in January and more than 50 pounds short of the prize.  I was 5th of 11 on that event.

Now to not win the Saxon prize!  There I started low in order to gradually work my way up to a PR (I reasoned).  I do better on pinch lifts with a very slow escalation that lets me warm up a lot and very gradually.  I don't recall which jumps I took except that 181 pounds went up plenty easy, so I jumped to 192.  My comp PR was 189 I think, maybe 190-ish, so I did not see the point in taking the smallest jump to 187 while I thought I still had a few lifts left in the tank.

Not this time.  I did get it off the ground and part way up, but it was not to be.  I ended there with 181, over 40 pounds short of that prize, and 3rd of 11 in that event.

And then the silver bullet, which I knew would be my best event because I am mostly a gripper guy.  I had originally entertained the idea that I would get a 2-second hold (or longer) on the COC 4, which would not have been a crazy ambition given that in the past I've gotten SB holds of as long as 15 seconds on an easy COC 4 and 6 on a medium one.  But when I haven't trained grippers and the event is not first?

Not this time.  Nick the Tick Spencer and I unilaterally decided that we were going to compete for 1st and 2nd on this event and both go last, and he was kind enough to let me go last of all, which I kind of wanted.  Nick opened very conservatively by getting on the board with a 2.5.  I decided to open what I thought was conservatively by opening with the 3.5, because I knew I could get that, and I did -- for 4.93 seconds.  For Nick's second attempt, he did a decent hold on the COC 3 for longer than he had held the 2.5, and he calmly declared, "I get better on this when I get warmed up by doing a few."  Ruh Roh.  Should I focus on getting a longer time on the 3.5?  I was still vaguely thinking I might be able to go for 2 seconds on the COC 4 even, but it was rated 217, so that was not too likely.  My toughest COC 4 hold -- when I was in better gripper shape, and it was the first event, and it was a much easier COC 4 (rated 204) -- was 6 seconds.  So as soon as I saw that I could not actually even set this puppy as deep as the SB requires, I just put it down.  My strategy shifted.  For Nick's third attempt, if he wanted a shot to beat me, he had to go for the 3.5.  So I figured, if he beats my 4.93, I will just do a 3.5 again and beat that.  I have gotten over 10 seconds every time I've done SB on a 3.5, so I felt like I could still win that.  Only Nick really had a chance to do that, and he just missed.  He got 3.96 seconds on the 3.5.  My 4.93  beat that, so it was just as good as if I had done the 4, since we were doing reverse strongman.  I decided not to waste my energy with a third attempt.  First on silver bullet!  

We moved onto the medley, which we attempted in reverse order of how we were ranked so far.  I was second!  So I got to go second to last on the medley.  There were a slew of plates to hub to platform and blobs to lift to platform, from ridiculously easy that everyone could do blindfolded to so hard that no one would do them.  There were also 5 sledge hammers to lever from the floor: 6, 8, 10, 12, 16.  Then there were some weird not-kettlebells with internal handles (forgive that I do not know the name for them).  You had to do the items in strict order, and the way the event was scored, the plates and blobs were all only 1 or 2 points each, but the levers were 15 points each, and the bells after them were 10.  The bells were so easy that everyone got all four, so the medley scoring was mostly about the sledges.  By the time the top three finishers did the medley, no one had yet gotten past the second (8-pound) sledge.  But grip newbie Rob Brockington -- who at first missed the 10-pound sledge -- tenaciously kept at it until his medley time was almost completely out, and just eked it out in time to rush over and muscle up the four bells faster than anyone else, ending with maybe a second to spare.  The 15 points put him solidly in first place on the medley, and I went next.  When I got to that stage, I got the first two sledges and almost got the 10-pound -- I honestly thought I might tenaciously keep at it like Rob had, and get it also -- but each time I tried, it fell just shy of topping out, and I had to abandon it and get those four not-kettlebells.  Close but ...

Not this time.  And then Nick did the medley and also got the 10-pound sledge, easier than anyone else, but he came in second on the medley because Rob got more blobs.  Had I gotten the 10-pound, I'd have been second on the medley, because I beat Nick by one point on the rest of it -- but instead I ended 4th on the medley (after someone who got one point more than me on the blobs).

All told, my finishes of 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 4th put me in 3rd place overall for the comp, and 1st of the lightweights.

Although not one of my performances came close to my own personal bests, I ended up placing about where I had been hoping to place, and better than I should have expected, given the paucity of training.  I always say this, but I mean it more this time, now that I will be living in a place where I actually can train at home:  I am going to lose weight into the next lower weight class (74kg), and train myself stronger.  If I get to 160 pounds body weight, I think I can get a 320 axle and 208 wide pinch.  Not by hoping, but by training.

Let's do it!


After the competition, my son said, "Let's find a pickleball place to play before we have dinner!"  So we called around and found one, and went and played an hour of pickleball so that he could beat me at something on my birthday.  When we were done, I realized that we had passed the sign for a town that I remembered a law school classmate had lived in once, and I hadn't seen her in a few years, so I emailed her my text number and asked if she and her husband wanted to meet my son and me for steak.  They did!  We figured out that they were living in a new house, not near where we played pickleball, but 20 minutes from our AirBnB.  We met them for dinner at Longhorns, and chatted about life.  My friend had quit her job as a partner at a law firm to join her husband and start their own firm about a year before, and they were doing FANTASTIC -- they had grown to 10 employees, had already expanded their office space and were expanding again, and had bought a new house (without even selling their old one).  I was so happy for them.  And then they pulled that trick of the guy pretended he was going to the bathroom, but while he was gone he went and paid the bill before it came, so I couldn't try to pay my part.  So then I was happy for me, too.  I mean, if they were struggling or something I certainly would have fought this one out, but they were so rosy about how good everything was going, I figured they wouldn't miss this $100.  And then they took us to see their office, which was sprawling and gorgeous and confirmed that yes, this generosity they had extended to my son and me on my birthday (I didn't tell her, but she remembered that mine was three days after hers) was not going to stop them from renting a movie later.  A sweet present, and I thanked them.  We went back to their house after and played a board game, and I could see that yes, they were doing quite well in this new venture.  Good for them!

It was great to meet new grip friends and to see old grip friends and old law school friends, all while enjoying a weekend with my son.  I think he had fun, too.  Score!

Edited by Vinnie
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Awesome meeting/competing with you Vinnie!  Hope to see you down this way again! 

This trip/comp/post needs something stronger than "like."  I'd give it nine thumbs up but I only have two hands...🤪



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