THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS 2020
Colchester, ESSEX, UK
22nd & 23rd February
The biggest event of my competitive career to date. A very European field, albeit held in Colchester, Essex. It would have been awesome to need to go abroad for it, but from a cost perspective, a couple hundred pounds on a hotel room and freedom to drive there and back when we wished definitely had its upside, especially in the company of an 11-month old.
Getting to the hotel just after lunch meant we could check in early, make the most of their facilities and really settle in before the events kicked off on the Saturday morning. The venue and hotel were on the same site which was awesome, again, especially when we had Chloe with us. It meant Sam or I could pop back to the room with her if she needed some time away from the crowd and loud music, but actually she was an angel and has proven for the third time now that she is in her absolute element at a Crossfit competition. She slept 3 times on the Saturday just off the competition floor whilst people were competing. So lucky that she can adjust to what we are doing so well. We had a relaxing swim and sauna on Friday night, got to meet some of the other athletes and made sure I was all tucked up in bed by 20:00 (this is the earliest I’ve gone to bed in ages!)
Saturday morning, 06:00 alarm goes off for breakfast at 06:30. I’m quiet most of the morning. Sam kept touching base with me to see how I was feeling and although I had earnt my right to be at the competition, for me this was the big one. This was the one I had seen videos and facebook feeds from for the last 2 years. This was the one where you got your t-shirt with your name and qualifying number on it. The one where you got your name board that you had to place at the end of your lane so all the crowd knew who you were. Oh yeah…the one with the 2500 capacity crowd too. I had nothing to lose. I was here. I had achieved my goal of making it to the finals, but like many of us, as soon as we’ve hit our goal (or even got within striking distance of it) we’ve already set new ones with higher expectations. I wanted to compete. I wanted to be seen as an athlete that was worth talking about. “What is that guy’s strategy? What weight is he lifting? How is he going to break up the workout?” I guess I wanted to be treated like I had been there all my life, not that I was a complete noob.
Athlete check-in. “Where did you qualify Matt?” “Around 21st/22nd I think.” “We’ve got you down as 17th, well done.” I did actually qualify in 21st I think, but when it comes to accepting your final place there is obviously extra cost, travel etc. It’s not cheap. The qualifying was £15. Invite acceptance was £105. Accommodation was £180. £30 in fuel. £100 in food over the weekend. £50 in food to take up with you. Just under £500 for the weekend. For now that didn’t matter though, 4 people must have turned their invites down so I was already on a win – I’ve climbed 4 spots in my sleep.
So for the European Championships they didn’t release any workout information. We had no idea what to expect. Rumors of a long run. Endurance tests. Handstand walking obstacles. Who knows. What we did know though was that the first event would be a strength test and they put the options to a public vote on facebook. Either a Clean and Jerk or a Cluster ladder. If you google these two movements you’ll see the difference. One is a well known Olympic Lift, the other is more of a Crossfit movement. You’d be able to go heavier in the Clean and Jerk because fundamentally the lift is broken into 2 movements – getting it to you shoulders, then getting it overhead. Of course the crowd and athletes want to be entertained so in an absolute landslide of a win, the first event of the weekend was a Clean and Jerk.
Event 1: Clean and Jerk Ladder
Who is the strongest? Who can lift the most. In this movement yes strength plays a huge part, but if you’re not technically sound too, you’ll be limited in what you can throw above your head. This event was a good start for me as I have worked tirelessly on my strength over the last 12 months. Endless, lonesome squat sessions in the garage at home. Paying a weightlifting coach on top of my Crossfit coach to help me get more efficient at these movements. If anything, as much as it was a good event to get the ball rolling, I was probably putting more pressure on myself as I felt I needed to perform well to justify my last year’s training.
There were 8 initial bars that everybody had to successfully lift before they got a chance to show their true strength. If they failed one of these bars, they were out. The first bar was 80kg and each round increased in 5kg up to 115kg. You had 50 seconds to complete the lift, and 10 seconds to transition to the next one. If you missed the attempt, you could keep trying to complete the lift within the 50 second window. After the 8 initial bars you had 60 seconds to decide a weight on the final bar in which you had another 50 seconds to complete the lift. If you hit it, you could have another go at another weight but it still had to be within that same 50 second window. The MC was calling the commands through the speaker system, just stay cool.
Although 80kg to 115kg was not that heavy for me in this movement, I knew that I had to treat the weight as if it was, in order to prepare myself for the weight i’d choose on the final bar. Show the weight the respect it deserves or it’s going to chew you up and spit you out. The atmosphere was insane. The bars felt half their actual weight, if not less. I was more in the zone then I had ever been in anything i’d ever done. I got to the final bar and looked into the crowd at Sam and a training partner, Rachel. Rach was in the elite category and she qualified in 4th. She had been there and done this before so her advice was invaluable that weekend. What had people lifted in front of me? What was I trying to attempt? Help! My judge asked me 3 times what I wanted to lift before I answered him. “130!!” Sam is screaming from the sideline. This was my previous best ever. I had only ever hit this once and it was ropey. “If you miss the lift you can drop the weight” my judge tells me prior to stepping in. Thanks mate. I hadn’t thought about missing it until you just said that. Knob. 3…2…1…lift. Boom, 130kg flew up. Felt as smooth as the first bar. I had 27 seconds on the clock. “Put 135 on there!” I’ve got this one to my shoulders before, again only once, but never tried going overhead with it. “15 seconds!” I should have gone heavier. 5kg personal best on my clean and jerk. 135kg ticked off. I had more in the tank but thankfully I didn’t need it. Event 1 WINNER – Matt Tyler.
Event 2: Toes-to-Bar and Burpee Box Jump Overs
In an 8 minute time cap you must complete; 10 toes-to-bar (this is a gymnastic movement where you hang from the bar and using your core and momentum, lift your feet so that they touch the pull-up bar at the same time), then 15 burpees where you jump over a 24” box in between each rep, then back to the bar for 20 toes-to-bar, then back to the box for another 15 burpee box jump-overs, finally finishing with 30 toes-to-bar where upon completion you had to sprint back down your lane and finish standing on top of your box.
I came back down to earth with a crash on this one. I’m tall. I’m pretty big and heavy for a crossfit athlete. High volume gymnastics are tough – not impossible at all, just tough. I have worked on this but not as much as my strength, and toes-to-bar are probably one of my biggest weaknesses. I am ok for small bouts or sprints, but 60 reps. This was now all about damage limitation for me, something I didn’t do very well.
I finished 37th in this workout with a time of 6:08. I needed to shave 90 seconds to even have a half competitive time here. Sub-4 mins won it and I know I won’t ever be at the top end of this style of workout, but I know I can get top 10 in the field I was in. Guess what I’ll be doing first training session back.
It was easy to get deflated with this. It was easy to drop my head but that wasn’t going to change anything. I wasn’t even “hoping” for an event that will be “my event” to finish the day with. I knew that whatever it was going to be, run, swim, bike, row, pull-ups, skips, whatever. I was going to get myself back up the leaderboard.
Event 3: Isabelle with 5m Handstand Walk EMOM
Last event of the day. I was like a fat kid in a cake shop here. “Isabelle” is a traditional benchmark workout in crossfit which includes 30 snatches for time. A snatch is another olympic lift where you take the barbell from ground to overhead in one swift movement. A very sexy lift if performed well. Our weight was 50kg and my personal best is 105kg. I was excited as I’ve just proven to be the strongest ones here…but oh…wait a second. The MC then announced on the minute, every minute, beginning with the start of the workout, you must complete a 5 metre handstand walk before you were allowed to touch the barbell. Well then, this is officially my event.
For any of you that used to train with Tom when Sweat-It was a boot camp held in a school hall, you’ll remember the times I tried to kick up into a handstand just to fall on my face and look like a twat. I am in no way, shape or form a gymnast – I just told you how shocking my toes-to-bar are, but I can now walk on my hands.
3…2…1…Go. 5m done in sub 5 seconds and first to the barbell. 18 reps in the first minute, 15 without letting go of the bar. Kick straight back up and next 5m unbroken too. Ran back to the bar and the next 12 reps completed making a total time of 1:51. 4th in the event. Back into a semi-final qualifying spot at the end of day 1.
“If only I hadn’t finished in 37th in event 2!”
Yes I know what you’re thinking. Surprisingly this only ran through my head for 2 hours over dinner, rather than all night like I would have expected.
Event 4: Max Burpees with 9 cal Row EMOM
Anxiety levels today were so much higher than yesterday. I felt so much pressure and I don’t know why. Maybe I didn’t give myself enough credit going into the competition and I was better than I thought, now I felt like I was actually a competitor to do well. I dunno. All I know is I sat in the stands for 45 minutes on my own prior to Sam and Chloe coming down to the arena just listening to the thoughts that were going round my head. Man there were some funky self-talk too.
This event was the one I was fearing. I knew there would be an endurance event, I just didn’t know what. A friend of mine told me that she heard it was going to be a long run. Rumors of a swim. Rumors of a bike/row combo. Athlete briefing was 0730 so it wasn’t long after breakfast until we found out.
“Due to logistical issues, the endurance event has been pushed back to the next championships. Today we will be doing the first qualifying event if you wish to try and qualify for those championships. If you don’t want to come back, you’ll be doing the event anyway.” I think due to the weather, the run was planned to involve the golf course but it was so wet outside they changed it around last minute. I’m not sure I preferred the other though.
12 minute workout. Every minute on the minute you must complete 9 calories on the rower. In the remaining time in that minute, you must complete as many burpees where you jump over the rower after each rep, as possible. Your score for the event is the number of burpees you can complete.
Big guy. Row = yes. Burpees = no. It is a long way down for us. Damage limitation again? No way, that didn’t work last time. Run your own race Matt. Put yourself in a horrible place, but it’s your horrible place. Hold on and get the 12 minutes done. GET BACK UP THE LEADERBOARD.
The 9 cal row was a chance to recover my heart rate. No different to when we ask you guys to get on the ski or bike and find a pace that you can recover on. Going hard was only going to spike my heart rate and cause me to crash so much faster. The burpees were going to have a good go at doing them on their own, they didn’t need the help. I decided that I was going to maximise the time off the rower and burpee until the last possible second. I was getting back on the rower at the start of the next minute. Not 10 seconds before wasting burpee time just so I could strap my feet in and breathe. It was a max burpee workout, I needed more time on them. The guys next to me were similar speed on their 9 calories to which I was (I was a little more powerful so could afford the slight delay in getting the handle started) and I was creeping another 2-3 burpees per round on them as they started getting back on so early.
Total 125 burpees in the 12 minutes. 5th place in the event. MEGA! I was actually more stoked on this workout then I was after winning the clean and jerk ladder – mainly because of the task in hand. More credit to the endless burpee workouts I am made to do on my own.
Event 5: Wall Ball, Double Unders, Pistol Squats
Last event. I was in a qualifying spot but only just. Sat around 13th I needed a good result in the final workout to try and secure a semi-final spot.
12 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of 40 wall balls (9kg ball to 10ft target), 30 double-unders (this is a skip were the rope passes round you twice before your feet touch the ground again), 20 single-leg squats and 10 chest-to-bar pull-ups (pretty self explanatory, your chest must make contact with the bar at the top of the rep, not just your chin over). There was a small twist to the workout though. You had to complete at least 1 full round by the end of the first 4-minute window and then carry on to complete at least 2 full rounds by the end of the 2-minute window. If you didn’t do this, you must stop your workout there and then. If you hit both checkpoints you could continue on to the whole 12 minutes. If you got the first round done in 2 minutes, you didn’t have to wait to start the next round though, you can carry straight on – hence the “AMRAP” format.
Qualifying in the top half of the category meant I could watch a few heats before I needed to go out and warm up. Man these guys were fast. 10 pull-ups all unbroken each round. The single leg squats made to look easy, when I can promise you that they are anything but. You still need to hit the standard of your hip crease passing below your knee even though you’re on 1-leg, otherwise it would be classed as a “no-rep” and you’re asked to complete the movement again.
Where was I going to make up time here? My best ever set of chest-to-bar pull-ups is 10 in a row. I’d need to replicate this 3 times mid-workout…maybe not there. Plus this was obviously standard for everyone apparently. Double unders – yes unbroken but these take as long as they take, it’s tough to speed them up. Single leg squats? Nah this will be where I will lose time, not gain it. I know, wall balls it is. I didn’t have a choice, I had to go unbroken on the sets of 40 wall balls. I couldn’t afford to put the ball down. This was my chance to limit the damage.
First round – done. 2 minutes something. The time cap wasn’t going to be an issue. I got no-repped on my first wall ball, no idea what happened I just decided to only throw the ball half the height I was required too. I almost chuckled to myself as it flopped out my hands. Also 10 pull-ups unbroken (little fist pump to myself). I was last back to the pull-up bar in my heat after the squats. “Stay calm. Wall balls” I told myself. I was about mid-table off the wall balls after another unbroken set. People were fatiguing now. I wasn’t dropping so much time on the squats. Was kind of holding the same pace. Especially as their form was drifting under fatigue and “no-reps” were being issued left right and centre. Keep to my pace, keep my form, be efficient. Boom, another unbroken set of pull-ups. “PB!” as I was congratulating myself again. With no rest on the pull-ups I was basically going straight from the single leg squats to wall balls (minus the 6 second pull-up time). My legs felt heavier than expected. I had to break the wall balls into a 25 and 15. 3rd in line in my heat now. Skips and pistols staying ahead of the rest. 3rd set of pull-ups unbroken – I was like a dog on heat now. I managed 39 of the 40 wall balls as the 12 minute time cap hit. Damn no-rep on the first round. Cost me a wall ball. Waiting game now to see where I finished. There was only 1 lad back to his skips in the last round. I must have been close then as I only had that last rep.
2nd in my heat. 10th place in the event. 11th on the leaderboard, we’re into the semi’s baby.
2-part workout – this meant we had 2 different scoring opportunities which (may) affect the overall leaderboard more.
Part A) – Max Ring Muscle Ups in 3 minutes
Part B) – 3 rounds for time, 7 overhead squats + 100m run
Before we could get into the semi final events, we had about 2 hours to wait with Eddie Hall attempting a world record attempt at a Crossfit workout called “GRACE”. Grace is 30 clean and jerks (the movement I did in event 1) as fast as you can at 61kg. The issue Eddie had when warming up was that being the “World’s Strongest Man” his mobility was horrendous and he couldn’t actually get the barbell to rest on his shoulders – biceps too big (same problem as me). They changed their workout to “ISABELLE” which is what we did in the last event of day 1. 30 snatches at the same weight. The world record stood at 56 seconds. That’s an insane speed. Nearly as insane as Eddie Hall just doing it in 49…
Games are over now. Could I make it to the final of the European Championship? In hindsight I don’t think I could have. The scoreboard doesn’t get reset even though you’re in the semi. The top 5 on the board were still a fair way ahead that I needed to win both parts of this event and hope they had shockers. Not impossible, just unlikely. Anyway I didn’t know this at the time. I still went out to try and do my best.
Body was feeling sore. Not long to warm up after the event actually got announced. The ring muscle-ups are a high skilled gymnastic movement. From a hanging position you transition into being up and above the rings by pulling yourself over, then pressing out. If you can’t pull-up or do a body weight dip then you’re not doing a ring muscle-up. I can do these. Not many of them, but I can do them. How many in 3 minutes though? I don’t think I can be competitive here. Even at the start of the competition 15 would be a good target. 5 a minute for 3 minutes? My programming has involved me doing 3 a minute for 6 rounds. 5 would be tough. I hit 5 in my first attempt, then 3, then a couple, then single reps. The 3 minutes went fast but by the end every rep was a struggle. I didn’t miss any or get any no-reps, but I wasn’t really doing any more, even with a longer time cap.
After the 3 minutes is up, straight into the 3 rounds of 7 overhead squats (this weight was at 60kg) and 100m runs. We had a generous 6 minute time cap on this second part, to which nobody needed. I had to go unbroken on the squats to save time on the field. The bar has to be taken from the floor too which made the element harder for some but I was happy with it.
Part a – 15 muscle-ups (personal best) 15th place
Part b – 2:39 – 7th place
These two placements meant unfortunately I dropped from 11th to 12th and finished just 2 points from 10th. I don’t know if I mentioned how the points worked but depending on where you place in the events, first place gets 1 point, 45th would get 45. The lower the points the better. I finished on 127.
If you had told me that I would be making the semi-final at the start of the competition I would have told you that you must be having a laugh. It wasn’t that I was doubting my ability – or maybe it was – but more so that I knew the strength of the field. I qualified where I did for a reason.
It was the strongest performance of my crossfit career to date. It was an insane experience and I took so much away from the weekend. It as given me a pat on the back for what i’ve done well and worked hard on and also politely highlighted where I need to improve if I want to think about a podium spot any time soon.
I have to make a couple of special mentions to those that helped me to even make the competition possible:
Sam – my much, much better half. Always very supportive and encouraging of my hobbies. She gets as anxious as I do before I compete and apparently thought she was going into cardiac arrest when I won the first event. We took Chloe with us and Sam made my job so easy from waking me up, sending me to bed and ensuring I was ready for each event. So completely selfless that I wouldn’t be able to operate without her almost managing me through it.
Rich – For helping me prepare for the competition. Giving me his invaluable experience on how to approach certain things and then how to help develop the capacity to compete at a higher standard.
Tom – providing me with such a decent facility to train out of and allowing me to structure my work schedule around competing. I need some new kit in and he has helped me with everything. Thanks mate. Also the support from Sweat-It as a whole. The members were so interested in what I was doing, it was half the reason I started writing these blogs in the first place. Saves me boring you by repeating the stories. I was so proud to be wearing a “Sweat-It Athlete” shirt when out on the floor.
Abi – fixed me up good and proper before the event. I couldn’t believe I was competing injury free, when I spent most the fortnight before hand with nothing but niggles and strains. I couldn’t take an empty barbell overhead 10 days out from the event. I don’t recommend you seeing her to get “fixed”. I recommend you see her to ensure that you don’t get broken in the first place – advice that you don’t appreciate until you’re hurt, so remember that.
The Defiant Co – my clothing sponsor making me look super awesome whenever I compete and train. They had a shop at the event so it was great to spend some time hanging out with them too and see how much the brand has grown over the last year. Search them on Insta, they have some great kit. Don’t forget to use “DEFIANTMATT” to save yourself 15%.
Gareth & AJ – These two are members at Crossfit Uckfield and traveled up to just come and watch and support me through the weekend. It meant a lot that they were interested and more so they spent the money to come and support. Its not a cheap weekend but they had a blast.
Krish and Crossfit Uckfield – This is my affiliate where I train outside of Sweat-it. I’ve not been able to get over there anywhere near as much as I used to but I like to keep close to my roots where I first started Crossfit. If anybody is ever interested in starting I couldn’t recommend a more welcoming place.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. I enjoy putting it all down on paper for me to read back on. If you haven’t read my blog from my first individual competition last year then scroll back through the Sweat-It archives and enjoy it. I’m hoping my grammar has come on in the same way as my Crossfit but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
On to the next one!