Illinois Strongest Man

Posted by Becca Abrahams on

July 4, 2015 I competed at my first NAS strongman show. Most definitely it was an experience that I will remember! I competed against some very fierce strongwoman competitors and had a blast. It was an honor to compete alongside these women! There were a total of six women competitors who were combined into one weight class. 
Not pictured: Josie Bennett. Prayers for a speedy recovery! 
I ended up taking second place overall and qualifying for NAS nationals in October.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve done a handful of smaller local strongman contests. In general, these contests haven't been too challenging for me.  I wanted something to drive me so I ended up choosing a level 2 show.  I saw that Illinois Strongest Man was on July 4. It was just a little over a two hour drive and the events looked challenging but feasible. My main goal was just not to zero any events and see how I held up. 

My training changed slightly leading up to the event. After Relentless Minnesota, I really needed a time-out from powerlifting. I desperately, maybe even obsessively, wanted to see my squat improve and work on my conditioning.Strongman training is so much fun to me! Since April, most weeks, my training looked like this:
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Squat Overhead(log) Events Dumbbell Assistance Work Deadlift Heavy Bench Try to move as little as possible

Training strongman was going pretty well. I feel like I made tremendous progress in both my stone technique and the clean portion of my log press, PRed my yoke, max stone, and farmers.  Squats continued to frustrate me and the remainder of my lifts pretty much maintained. I didn’t get close to testing my bench or deadlift because it wasn’t very high on my priority list.
About two weeks out from my show, I started feeling really fatigued. On Monday I was supposed to finish up my squat cycle with 1RM testing. I felt nervous going into it, but just had to show up. I ended up failing a squat that should have been easy.  To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement! On Tuesday I trained log and felt pretty good about that. Wednesday I was supposed to have my last event practice day, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I have to conclude that my body just had enough. I wasn’t sleeping well, my appetite was pretty much insatiable, and I had some overuse-type injuries that were constantly bothering me. I was really struggling with the motivation to drag myself back into the gym, which isn’t like me at all. I decided to skip my last workouts and deload early, something that those who train with me know is completely out of character for me! As a result, I never really had the chance to practice the deadlift medley. I honestly felt like training was going to do me more harm than good. This was a big step for me! I ended up deloading for 10 days, which is the longest break I’ve taken from lifting in 4 years! I kind of felt like I was living in the twilight zone. Usually deload weeks are miserable for me and I go crazy wanting to get back into the gym. Not this time! I literally had no desire to pick up anything heavy! Besides, it gave me a chance to work on making weight.
I was 188.0 on Monday morning before the meet, and I knew cutting 8 pounds or so wasn’t going to be a huge deal. I cut my carbs back to about 150g per day, and kept my fats and protein high. Monday I started some moderate water loading (1.5 gallons per day). Thursday, I tapered my water intake back to about ½ gallon, and quit eating and drinking around 8 p.m. Weighins were Friday morning at 11 a.m. I was definitely very hungry and thirsty by the time we got to weighins, but I couldn’t believe how great I felt compared to my other weight cuts.. Cutting is never fun, and I never want to look at another chicken breast again (or at least for a few weeks), but I felt dramatically better this time around.

Right after weigh ins, I drank a Powerade zero and ate some sweet potato chips. We went to Cheesecake factory for lunch and I loaded up on bread, clam chowder, and chicken and biscuits. A few hours later, we stopped for ice cream (my favorite!). We checked into the hotel, sat in the hot tub and let the kids swim, and then ate some amazing pizza for dinner. In between, I snacked on pretzels, a few cookies, and gummy bears. Every hour I drank Gatorade with creatine and took fish oil. By the time I went to bed I was back up to around 185, feeling bloated but not too overly stuffed. We checked out the venue, I wrote out some goals for each event, and I was able to get a good night’s rest.
The morning of my contest, I was up early going over my goals. 

We went out to breakfast as a family and hit up Target for some last minute essentials and I was ready! My kids spent the morning telling me how great I was going to do, making me laugh, and doing feats of strength in the hotel room…which was amazing. They are so sweet and it always means so much to see them cheering for me.  I headed down to the venue and my beautiful swole sisters had arrived to help me. I’m so happy they came! They really helped me to stay focused, keep tacky out of my ears (true story!), tape my arms, and cheer for me. I love them so much!
Walking into the venue was a little overwhelming, but I just started warming up and tried to stay focused. I met the other women competitors. The strength community never ceases to amaze me. The women all came together to encourage and support one another, even as we were also all there competing against one another. Chalk and wrist wraps were shared, tips were offered, and we all laughed together and shared stories. What an amazing group of women they were! It truly was an honor to compete alongside these fierce athletes.

Check out the video here:

Max Log:
Rules: Starting at 115 pounds and going up by 15 pound increments. Each athlete must take every weight. 30 second time limit to complete each lift. Must wait for down signal. Knees, hips, and elbows must be locked out and feet parallel.
Goal: 160 log
I had pressed the 160 log multiple times in training.  I knew that the 175 log would be a longshot. 115, 130, 145, and 160 all came up fairly easily. I was able to clean 175 and press it almost half way! It definitely will be there soon but today I just wasn’t quite strong enough.  I still managed to come in second place in this event, behind Kristin Johnson who is one hell of an amazing athlete! My favorite memory of this event will always be my little girl, Neviah, running up to me afterward, tears streaming down her face. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I really didn’t want you to miss that lift!!!!”

Goal: Finish the event in around 30 seconds.
I finished the event in 36 seconds. This event changed at the last minute. Originally women were supposed to carry a 130, 160, and 160 lb sandbag for 35 feet each. One of the sandags kept opening up, and so we ended up carrying a 100 and 200 lb sandbag for 100 feet each.  I think I placed fourth or fifth in this event, which was frustrating, but I knew this wasn’t my strong point. Tricia came up to me before this event and said, “Yeah, well…..just get this over with.” Speed is definitely something I need to work on.

Suicide Deadlift:
Goal: 5+ reps in 60 seconds
I never had a chance to practice this event in the gym. I wasn’t too worried about it, but wasn’t quite sure what my approach was going to be with the axle bar. I concluded that using straps was just going to slow me down, so I ended up skipping the straps and just pulling. My deadlift technique was fairly atrocious, but it really didn’t matter. The goal was to pick that weight up as fast as possible. I surprised myself with 11 reps, placing second in this event.

Goal: Finish in under 45 seconds
My best gym time with this event was 0:42 seconds, so I was really hoping to improve on that. The yoke wasn’t terribly heavy (only 400 pounds), but the farmers were pretty hefty. I got my best time with 0:28, which I felt great about.
During this event, one of the other competitors stumbled on farmers and was having a really hard time. I’m pretty sure she almost passed out. The women competitors rallied around her and someone brought us a glucose shot which she drank, and someone else gave her their Gatorade. She was incredibly shaky, but after a few minutes she seemed okay. It was a pretty awesome moment though, seeing everyone rally around her to help her succeed. She seemed shaky but was determined to finish the contest with stones. Later in the day, she fell with a stone and had to be carried off by ambulance. I was happy to hear that her injuries were fairly minor, but it was truly a scary experience. Just a good reminder that like all sports, injuries happen. Praying for a quick recovery for her! 

Stones over Bar:
Goal: 3-5 reps
My stones are pretty hit or miss. I hadn’t been able to practice loading stones over a bar in training pretty much ever, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I was pretty confident I would be able to get at least 3 reps. After watching the stone accident happen, it was a little scary, but Gage, Beth and Tricia did a great job of keeping me focused, taping my arms, and tackying me up (and keeping the tacky out of my ears and hair). I surprised myself by placing first in this event with 5 reps (almost 6!) which was a huge PR for me.  I ended up smashing my finger in between the stone and the bar which hurt like a MOTHER. I  lost feeling in it for probably a half hour, and thought for a minute it might be broken but thankfully I’m pretty confident it was just a really deep bone bruise. 
Afterward, it was time to celebrate!

Overall, I know there are quite a few areas where I can improve. In general, I'm very happy with my overall experience. My speed (or lack thereof) is definitely a weak point for me and something I will be addressing as I move forward.  Looking forward to the next training cycle and new challenges moving forward. 
Thanks to Dave Daly for putting on a great, well-run contest!


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