An Ultra, the Highest Elevation Triathlon, and Three Elite Totals in Three Weight Classes. A Year In Review with Comp|EDGE Coach & Athlete Melissa Hoff
by Melissa Hoff
2016 has been a pretty eventful year for me. I am extremely happy to have been able to achieve a few goals and complete some events I would not have thought possible a few years ago. So many people believe it is difficult or even impossible to train concurrently for strength and endurance training and yes, I fully understand that to be really great at something you do need to train specifically for that sport. However, I am not trying to be a professional athlete in any sport and enjoy the versatility and variety my training provides. My coach has recently started using the word “capable” to describe what we are doing. It is an excellent description of the athlete and person I have become, both physically and mentally. With this past year of events and accomplishments, I have been able to completely exemplify what our programming does.
Here is the abbreviated list for the year:
January 30: “ 50K Ultra Trail Run. 2nd place female
June 4:“ Backyard Bash Revolution Powerlifting Meet â€“ XPC qualified at 123lbs with a 725lbs total
June:“ Carolina Beach Double Sprint Triathlon
July:“ Escape to Blue Ridge Sprint Triathlon, Blue Ridge Georgia
September 10:“ 106 West Triathlon, Highest Elevation Triathlon in the World, Dillon, CO.
October 29:“ Revenant Rising Revolution Powerlifting Meet , XPC Qualified at 132lbs with a 770lbs total
November 19: “ Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate Meet Long Island, NY, XPC Qualified at 148lbs with an 800lbs total
To begin, I will briefly go back to September 2015, where I competed in my second powerlifting meet, my first in the 123lb class. At this meet I weighed in at just under 123 and totaled 680lbs with a 250lb squat, a 135lb bench, and a 280lb deadlift. After this meet, I realized I was close to an XPC elite total in the 123 class which is 685lbs total. However, I had to start training for a 50K race in January 2016 and powerlifting came secondary to my running. I still lifted but I switched focus to longer running workouts and low volume powerlifting training consisting of hitting each lift, one day per week with minimal accessory work.
The 50K was on January 30, 2016 and consisted of six 5.2 mile loops on a trail in Holly Springs, NC. For those of you who are not familiar with a 50K that is 31 miles (not 30, that last mile is a game changer). For more info on that race, read my article on it here. At the end of the day, I finished the race running, not walking. My longest training run was only 12 miles. It is also worth noting, I was only able to run once per week in the final weeks before the race. A nagging foot injury forced me to replace some running with cycling. Each loop’s time was consistent within 3 to 4 minutes and I finished the last mile in less than 8 minutes. Completing this race was by no means “easy”, but mental fortitude can get you through the pain and set you up to achieve your goals.
Throughout February, I stopped the long distance running and began a hypertrophy/powerbuilding training period. This mainly consisted of each session starting with a heavy triple or double in either the squat, deadlift or bench press followed by high volume accessory work (which I really enjoy, it’s my fav). It was one evening in February when Tony Cowden, my coach and some of you may know him as Sugarbutt, slid his laptop over to me with an evil grin and said “I think I’m going to do this triathlon.” In my mind, I thought “another triathlon same ol, Same ol. Blah.” However, the evil grin was warranted because this particular triathlon was the inaugural half/quarter distance triathlon in Dillon, Colorado. This race came complete with a COLD lake swim, a mountain climb for a bike course and more Colorado hills for the run. As if those were not enough of a challenge, the entire triathlon took place above 9,500ft making it the highest elevation race in the world. That being said, I was the first one of our group to sign up, make hotel reservations and book my flights. As determined as I was to be the first to sign up, I had my doubts about the race. If you have ever read any of my recounts about triathlons, you know I do not like to swim and I am not that fond of cycling. Overall the race went well. It was as horrible as you might expect. I go into detail about it in my recap of the 106 West Triathlon.
When I attended the Arnold in early March to watch Kimberly Lawrance compete in the StrongWoman World Championships and the PowerRack Strength/1020life crew compete at XPC Championships, I decided to attempt a qualifying total and qualify to compete at the Championships in 2017. I wasn’ t entirely certain when I would do this meet since I had just recently signed up for the half iron triathlon in Colorado. I continued training both strength and endurance throughout March, April and May, but shifted the focus from running to a balance of endurance work and more strength work. The below is a rundown of how I broke up my training for powerlifting and endurance:
Monday: Heavy Triple Bench followed by four accessory exercises for bench/Sprints
Tuesday: Heavy Triple Squat followed by two accessory exercises for squat
Wednesday: Hypertrophy Upper/Tempo Run
Friday: Heavy Triple Deadlift followed by two accessory exercises for Deadlift
Saturday: Long Triathlon Training. Run, Bike or Bike/Run
In late April and May, several CompEdge athletes decided to compete in their first powerlifting meet in June. This particular event would be an XPC qualifier for the Arnold and was organized by Revolution Powerlifting Syndicate and hosted by CrossFit Tier1. The competitors new to powerlifting made the lifting fun and it was nice to witness their enthusiasm for the sport. Witnessing someone having their knees wrapped for the first time brought back such lovely memories for me. I guess I got caught up in their excitement and the Tuesday before the meet I made the decision to compete. However, the only problem was, the weights I was moving would only qualify me in the 123 class. I was tipping the scale at 132ish at the time. Signing up the week of the meet left me little time to cut water. I would usually do a water load and then a deplete so I had to drop weight a little differently this time. I do not advocate dropping weight the way I did it so I will not go into great detail. Let’s just say I didn’t drink water, took a really hot yoga class and some hot baths. At weigh in, I had dropped to 121.6lbs. The next day, I squatted 260, benched 165 and deadlifted 300. All personal records and all appeared easily accomplished. This gave me a 725 total and qualified me to lift at the XPC Championships in March 2017. I ultimately needed only 685lb total in this weight class to qualify and I had increased my lifts quite a lot from my last meet in September 2015. It should be noted I did only minimal powerlifting during this time. I was basically attempting to maintain my strength while doing hypertrophy and starting my training for the half distance triathlon in September. This just proves you do not need to completely annihilate yourself during training to make gains in strength and/or endurance. The main focus of Competitive Edge Programming and 10/20/Life principles is to have adequate recovery and prevent injury while maintaining strength or making increases in strength and endurance.
After this meet, I really channelled my energy into training for the 106 West triathlon. There were several reasons I started my training a little earlier than I usually would. First, I was quite a bit heavier than I had been in the past and I knew carting around a few extra pounds was going to be challenging, especially for the run. Second, my swimming ability was lacking and I really needed to make some progress if I was going to have a chance of completing a swim in sub 50 degree lake water. Lastly and probably most importantly, the race is above 9,500ft and I was training at sea level and on some of the flattest terrain on the east coast. I needed to train at a higher intensity than I had for previous triathlons of equal distance. If you have never experienced the effects of elevation on athletic performance, you can be gasping for breath going for a leisurely walk. For perspective, I started training a good six weeks sooner for this triathlon than when I trained for the full iron distance triathlon in 2014. In August, we were forced to do swims with wetsuits so we could get accustomed to swimming with them on. It’s difficult to get a wetsuit on when it is 90 degrees outside and you are sweating, that was a workout in and of itself.
After the triathlon, I started my hypertrophy training again. It’s my “go to” training for a mental and physical reset after a particularly intense training cycle; it is my “off season”. I was still training the big lifts once per week. Basically, hitting a heavy triple or double in the squat, bench and deadlift followed by high volume hypertrophy. Again, there was a large group of people training for the upcoming Revenant Rising RPS meet at my home gym, Hybrid Athlete Mission (HAM). And AGAIN, their enthusiasm was intoxicating and motivating. Moreover, this was a meet held in honor of a friend that had passed unexpectedly in June and I wanted to participate in remembrance of him and his love for powerlifting. Since I had maintained my strength throughout my triathlon training, I was still hitting the same numbers for all the major lifts. However, I was weighing in much heavier than I had in June. Up to 138lbs, it would be difficult to drop to get into the 123 class where I competed in June. So I ultimately decided to drop 6 lbs to the 132lb class and attempt an elite total in that class. I had to add 5lbs to my total from June in order to attain an XPC total in this class (730 for the total). I signed up for the meet the Tuesday before so again, I had to drop weight on short notice. Since it was only 6 pounds, I felt confident I could do it in less than 24 hours. I weighed in at 130.4lbs with minimal water cutting procedures. At the meet, I attained a 285lb, a 25lb meet PR, a 175lb bench, a 10lb meet PR and a 310lb deadlift for a 10lb meet PR. This made a 770lb total in the 132lb class. I added 45 lbs to my total with programming from CompEDGE Training which blended strength training with high intensity endurance.
Getting a 770lb total at this meet was quite gratifying but also made me realize I was only 20lbs away from obtaining a qualifying total in the next weight class, the 148lb class. While brushing my teeth the next night, I made a flippant comment to Tony about maybe trying to get an elite total in the 148s. In true “Tony” elitist style, he asked “What if you got an elite total in three weight classes within 5 months”. Apparently, I thought it was a worthy goal as well, because the next day found me perusing through any available RPS meets before the end of the year. I happened upon the RPS meet on Long Island on November 19th just three weeks from my last meet. Since spots were limited and this was a huge two day meet, I went ahead and signed up. It wasn’t three minutes after I signed up that I received a screenshot of a text message conversation between Tony and Gene Rychlak of RPS asking if my sign up was a mistake and an underlying text stating, “So, I guess you signed up?”
During the three weeks between meets, I used one week for recovery. The second week I worked up to my openers and determined my warm up sets and weights. The last week I hit my warm up sets again and my openers. This was when I decided I would actually commit to driving all the way to Long Island and compete. I was still a little apprehensive about gaining 20lbs somewhere in my lifts. At the last meet, I hit an easy bench at 175. So I knew I could gain 5 â€“ 10lbs towards the total there. My 310lb deadlift also was relatively easy, but I was not certain I could gain 15 to 20lbs on that lift to make up the difference. My squat was a grinder at 285lbs at the last meet and appeared to be my max. I knew I would need to have a great day to lift that weight and I was really worried I would not be able to hit that number. If I did not get at least a 285lb squat, I would be dead in the water and any hope for the 790 total would be gone.
I weighed in Saturday, November 19th at 142lbs, well hydrated and carb loaded. The women and teens lifted in the morning on Saturday. Even though there were over 40 women and teens competing, RPS kept the meet moving quickly. I had barely enough time between squats to unwrap my knees, decide on my next squat weight, and take a breath before I was sitting down getting my knees wrapped again. Strategically, I decided to take 265 for my opener and 285 for my second attempt. This would give me a second chance to attempt 285 if I missed it the first time. My first attempt at 285 was a good lift and relatively easy so I decided to go for 295 for my third attempt. My “coach” wanted me to go for 300 but as always, I’m conservative and I wanted those ten extra pounds secured to take a little of the heat off the remaining two lifts for my ultimate goal was the elite total not maxing on the squat. The 295 squat turned out to be easily attained. With that burden off my shoulders, we proceeded to the bench where I hit an easy 165 and 180. I went for 185 and just could not finish. However, I only needed to add 5lbs to my last deadlift meet PR to make the elite total. As usual for me, deadlift warm up was difficult. I tend to get mentally and physically tired going into the deadlift and my deadlifts during warm up were slow and lazy. I started to worry a little that I may not even be able to pull 310 much less the needed 315. But true to form, I thrive under pressure, took a huge whiff of ammonia and pulled 315 for a second attempt with ease. This good second attempt secured my elite total so I decided to go for an all time PR of 325. The 325 deadlift was a good lift with a minimal amount of powerlifting twerking. I ended the meet with an 800lb total, ten pounds more than I needed for an elite total in the 148 weight class. GOAL ACCOMPLISHED.
I want to clarify some things in conclusion. I did not write this post to brag about my accomplishments. I do not believe myself to be an exceptional human being or cyborg. Anyone can do what I have done, ANYONE. I tell people all the time, you can do anything. With the right programming, training and mindset, most athletic goals can be attained. You can do a full distance tri, you can become a powerlifter, you can compete in figure competitions, you can do it ALL at the SAME TIME. The only difference between me and someone that has not accomplished these goals is I choose to put myself in uncomfortable situations. In discomfort you learn about yourself, your mental fortitude, your drive and your desire to make yourself better. You can live a comfortable life and thatâ€™s OK..for you. But if you want to succeed, you have to get off the couch, computer and smartphone and make it happen. You may need some help or some guidance. That is not only acceptable, but recommended. No person has ever succeeded solely on their own. Whatever your goal, there is someone who has accomplished it or something similar to it. Ask them to help you!
Melissa Hoff is a successful dentist and business woman. She is a CrossFit Games athlete and an IronMan Triathlete. In addition to CrossFit and Triathlon, Melissa has competed and won in figure, powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, and countless other endurance events. She is a leader in the END|Stength hybrid movement, as displayed in her recent accomplishments in endurance and strength. Melissa is Comp|EDGE Performanceâ€™s lead nutrition coach and is available for personalized programming and coaching. Read all of her articles here.