In any sport, the semifinal round is often tougher than the championship bracket. The road to the finals is stained with sweat, blood and disappointment. Play gets more physical, fouls add up and penalty minutes accumulate as competitors desperately claw their way to legitimacy, proving to themselves that the hours they have spent training, the very life they have chosen to live, has not been in vain.
In no sport is this truer than in the CrossFit Regionals, and never has the competition been so fierce. CrossFit has been steadily growing in popularity, but 2011 was a boom year. The level of athlete, along with the coaching and programming, has risen so high so quickly that previous Games participants are suddenly struggling to even qualify for Regionals amid a field of young and hungry new entrants.
With a season that culminates just once a year, Regionals represents the most important weekend to the most CrossFit competitors. We followed two athletes as they prepared for the crucible of the 2012 CrossFit Regionals.
Katie Hogan: “I want to tear it apart. I want to eat the dumbbells and scare everyone around me.”
Tucked inside a cavernous warehouse in sizzling Van Nuys, Calif., is Valley CrossFit. If its name were based on its reputation, the gym might be called the “Hall of Justice,” for it is home to a team of superhero-like female athletes who are known around the world.
“From what I know, there is nothing else like Valley CrossFit,” Katie Hogan says. “There is something about the way that everybody trains, it works for this group. Emotions can run high and it can get very tense, but for the most part, we have found a way to thrive in that environment.”
"It all comes down to what happens at Regionals. In the Open, you are in your own gym, you get to do the workout when you want with the gear you want. Things change when you’re out in the field and you don’t get to pick everything.”— Katie Hogan
Hogan is a member of what Quentin Tarantino might dub “Fox Force Five.” Hogan, 2010 Reebok CrossFit Games champion Kristan Clever, 2011 third-place finisher Becca Voigt, and longtime standouts Lindsey Valenzuela and Lisa Ryan make up the strongest lineup of female athletes in a single CrossFit gym. “Iron sharpens iron” goes the proverb, and Valley CrossFit proves it.
Hogan is already a seasoned Games competitor. She placed 18th in 2009, when she instigated a herniated disk in her lumbar spine, an injury that ultimately took her out of contention for the 2010 Games. She stormed back in 2011, dominating the Open and then sweeping the Southern California Regionals, along with gym-mates Clever and Voigt.
But the 2011 Games were not quite as trouble-free. A worst-case scenario unfolded for Hogan when officials announced that the very first workout of the Games would begin with a 210-meter ocean swim. “I have a phobia of sharks. It’s the rule of my life that I do not go into the ocean,” Hogan says. “I was terrified. My family didn’t ask, ‘Are you going to be OK?’ They asked, ‘Are you even going to go in the water?’”
Gritting her teeth through waves of panic that dwarfed the ripples she faced in the Pacific, she finished the swim near the back of the pack. A former All-American collegiate athlete in track and volleyball, Hogan is used to channeling nerves into motivation, but this anxiety shattered her concentration. To add to her woes, she cut the bottom of her foot on the pull-up rack when she dismounted from the bar. Soon, she was squatting amid a mess of blood and sand that further frayed her already ragged focus. By the time the first workout was over, she was near the bottom of the standings.
“I am usually more than prepared for things to set me off, but this just took longer to get over,” she says. “I would have loved to come back and annihilate the rest of the events that day, but they were average to below average for what I like to do.”
Still, she found her mojo for the rest of the events and finished in a respectable 20th place. Even though it represented an impressive comeback, Hogan was disappointed. “I think top 10 could have been realistic for my fitness level,” she says.
The 2012 Season
For the 2012 competitive season, Hogan has staked out a daring strategy. Because she carries more muscle than most of her competitors, gymnastics and bodyweight movements are the weakest aspect of her game. Instead of spending countless hours doing burpees and handstand push-ups, she has decided to hedge her bets by making her strengths unbeatably strong. She enlisted Jesse Burdick, a well-known powerlifter out of the famed Super Training Gym in Sacramento, Calif., as her coach. Burdick conducts the CrossFit Powerlifting seminars and is considered one of the top training minds in the country. “You want to be the best at what you are already good at,” Hogan says. “I am never going to turn into a gymnast. I am never going to turn into a ‘Met-Con Bunny.’ So why not make me the best mover in the strength stuff?”
To prepare for the 2012 Regionals, Hogan continued a pre-competition ritual that is typical of a Type-A athlete. She went to a park with a notebook and wrote down every detail of each workout, including when she would break a set and how long she planned to rest. It is her way of exerting a little control over a chaotic situation, to reconcile her two natures: the coachable athlete and the fierce competitor. “I think Regionals is going to be my weekend,” she says. “I have played out in my head how I want it to go down. I am pretty good at adapting, so if things start to go differently than how I am imagining, I don’t think that will throw me off.”
The Southern Californian Regionals ended with Hogan in sixth place, two spots shy of a trip to the CrossFit Games.In a bittersweet turn of events, teammates Clever, Voigt and Valenzuela all punched their tickets to the Home Depot Center in July. “I just felt like last year I was in it in a way I wasn’t this year. Somehow it just all didn’t click,” Hogan says. “I have to process that and somehow let it not suck me down.”
A perfect storm of rotten luck seemed to bedevil Hogan at every turn. Two weeks before Regionals, a neck injury robbed her of a week of training. She shredded her hands on the pull-up bar in Workout 4, something she hadn’t done in years. When she reached the final workout, her mind was in the game, but her body wouldn’t answer the call. “I don’t know what it was,” she says. “It wasn’t for a lack of preparation. I was just dumbfounded about the wall I hit. I have never felt that in competition.”
When the final results were tallied, Hogan, ever the team player, found Voigt and promised she’d be right beside her friend and partner as the latter prepared for the Games. Voigt, as emotional as Hogan about her friend missing her berth, asked Hogan to be her weightlifting coach until the Games. The shift from athlete to coach will only be temporary, though. “I am committed to the 2013 Games,” Hogan says. “I am not done being a competitor and not done being a CrossFit athlete. I plan on making my mark on the sport whether I am in this one weekend competition or not.”
2012 Southern California Regional Workouts
Individual Event 1
21-15-9 reps for time of:
Deadlifts (225/155 lbs.)
Individual Event 2
Row 2,000 meters
50 One-Legged Squats (alternating)
30 Hang Cleans (225/135 lbs.)
Individual Event 3
For rounds for time of:
10 One-Arm Dumbbell Snatches (100/70 lbs.)
Individual Event 4
50 Back Squats (135/95 lbs.)
30 Shoulder-to-Overhead (135/95 lbs.)
50 Front Squats (85/65 lbs.)
30 Shoulder-to-Overhead (85/65 lbs.)
50 Overhead Squats (65/45 lbs.)
30 Shoulder-to-Overhead (65/45 lbs.)
Individual Event 5
Snatch Ladder with Double-Unders
Individual Event 6
Three rounds of:
7 Deadlifts (345/225 lbs.)