Written by Peter Maksimow
What can I say that has not already been said about the #Inov8retreat in Big Sur, CA? (I don’t know if hash tags work in articles, but I am going to give it a try.) WOD has definitely already been said, but what has not been said is that the term WOD was used more in those couple of days at the retreat by the MUT runners (figure that acronym out CrossFitters!) than by all CrossFit boxes combined in the past year in the form of adjectives, verbs and redundancies (and us trail runners even figured out what the term meant at some point during the weekend). Bushwhacking is very bad for skin health and appearance but makes for gnarly photo shoots. Burpees are NOT something that happens after you drink too much beer…I could go on, don’t tempt me.
After taking an additional 4.5 hour bushwhacking detour of a 7 hour, 14 mile excursion into the backcountry of Big Sur, compliments of our adventure racer extraordinaire teammate, Joe Grant (aka the human compass), Alex Nichols, Joe and I came crawling back to camp looking like we had just run the gauntlet of angry cats. We had missed our first photo shoot, and pretty much the whole day, after willingly plowing through all types of thorned and spikey brush, small trees, very resilient Manzanita, that very pretty poison oak, engaging in some rock climbing…all to get to where we thought we were going just to turn back and follow the same direction from which we had just come. Hindsight is indeed 20/20!
Upon our return, we were greeted with, “It’s ok, you’re still alive, that’s the important thing.” This was our first day there!!! “Joe is to blame,” we said. Luckily, the three of us had come in a day early. We felt terrible about missing our schedule of events, but we just blamed Joe again for the whole situation. Let me tell you, that first beer after the whole bushwhacking ordeal was one of the most appreciated of my life (Speakeasy’s Big Daddy IPA was my #BOD, if you’re interested). It reminded me that I was still alive, although it looked like I had slap-boxed with Freddy Kruger, beat him, then advanced to the finals against Edward Scissorhands, along with acquiring a knee contusion that resembled Mt. Vesuvius. The poison oak would finally hit us almost two weeks after the “detour.”
We were #committed (to the sport, that is, not the asylum).
We began to meet our fellow teammates, some CrossFit, some trail/mountain/ultra runners: it was obvious who was who. But was it!!!??? I got to talking with Dan Bailey on the van ride from our camp to “the house” and he told me about his background as a 400 meter runner at Ohio University and how he stumbled upon #CrossFit after college. I complimented him on not being large for a CrossFit athlete. “You hide it well,” I told him. (disclaimer: it was very dark in the van and he had a large hoody on). Then I saw him with his shirt off the next day…ok, I see now, he just had a big hoody on! Dan was 8th at last year’s CrossFit Games…if you meet him, don’t ever call him small!
I also introduced myself to a few of the female CrossFit athletes, Anna Tunnicliffe being one of them. As she shook my hand, I inwardly said “UNCLE”. Wow, that handshake hurt! The conversation was brief and consisted of, “I see you wear #Inov-8s. I do, too!” It was a little awkward throwing the hashtag in there while in casual conversation, but that’s what social media wants, right? I later learn that Anna was a Gold Medalist at the 2008 Olympic Games in the sport of sailing, at which point the strong grip made perfect sense! She carries her medal wherever she goes. I told her the chocolaty center would melt if she kept it in her pocket–just some #wordsofwisdom.
Later, we learned about future updates and new, cutting-edge products that were in the making and giggled at the pale Brits, Ma’ ‘ed (pronounced Matt Head in our English), footwear designer extraordinaire, and Graham Jordison, the Project Design Manager who has designed every #Inov-8 shoe ever produced, as they used Inov-8 Wrags to block the intense Central Coast sun from their delicate necks, since no sunscreen could be located in “the house.” “Wow, how did you get this Mudclaw so light!?” were the words spoken as we witnessed the new designs. Cinderella could have definitely made it home before midnight had she replaced those gaudy glass slippers with a pair of these new Mudclaws, even if it has been through bogs and over fells! These were the guys that were the tinkerers behind all of the footwear that allowed us to perform at our highest levels…and they were getting sunburnt in the process of telling us about it! That’s #committed!
“Why am I here,” I pondered? I was definitely here for the fine Cali craft beer, but there were some fellow Inov-8 teammates that did not make the trip to the #Inov8retreat that were more qualified than myself. Fellow teammate and Ultra runner, Yassine Diboun, made the trip from Portlandia, OR (where young people move to retire) and deserved to be there with his race exploits. Alaskan Eric Strabel, who could easily be mistaken as a CrossFit athlete with his muscular physique, crushed a 32-year old record at the historic Mount Marathon race in his home state of Alaska. I haven’t had a decent race in quite some time and promoting the brand only happens when you win big races, right? Not the case with Inov-8, apparently.
I felt very welcome despite wondering how I was asked back on the team after a 2013 plagued with injury (maybe my moustache had something to do with it!?). I realize #winningraces and #layingdownWODs is only part of it. The other, just as important, part is believing in the brand that you represent and the people behind it, because those people, as we learned, put their heart and soul into it so that we can put our heart and soul into doing what we do (read: to make sure we are equipped with the best shoes on our feet and clothing/equipment on our backs so that we can kick ass up and down mountains or in the box—that’s what CrossFitters call a gym, you learn something new everyday!
The European Marketing Manager, Eoin Treacy (pronounced “Oh-ih-n”–we were trying to figure that out all weekend) sat us down in what was referred to as the Cool Kids Corner of “the house” to lecture us on how we needed to #winraces and #crushWODs…so we thought. Being the quite and soft-spoken Irishman that he is (that’s a joke, there is no such thing as a soft-spoken Irishman, they are all lively like firecrackers) he swilled his beer, gave us the background on #Inov-8 as a company and proceeded to inform us that WE were the most important part of the brand, not the shoes or the packs or that little foot that people don’t realize is actually the number 8. It was quite refreshing to hear, that WE were important, #WE the #committed athletes! It makes perfect sense: if us, as athletes, did what we usually do, we would promote the #inov8 brand, as ourselves, through our accomplishments rather than the brand merely tweeting: “this is our person, she wears #inov8s” or “the shoes were responsible for this #WOD of epic proportions.”
It was obvious that all attendees were present because they love what they do. Our youngest award-winning designer, Matt Brown, lovingly known as Singlespeed Matt because of his singlespeed mountain biking prowess and sand dune running, showed off the new, functional clothing and packs, as well as the award-garnering Race Ultra Vest with its new and improved shoulder strap shape that would make Killian Jornet himself envious. He also showed off his foot long shin scrape that we hoped he would tell us was caused by a skateboarding accident while attempting an double ollie kickflip, only to be told it was from falling off a table and catching the edge along the entire shin. We hoped this happened while he was wearing the Race Ultra Vest! He, too, was very excited about what is possible in product design…and he’s only 13 years old! OK, he might be more like 23 but still not even born when I was entering high school.
New clothing line, check. New pack line, check. #committed, check.
During the day, we would do what superheroes tended to do at night: roam around in our fancy new outfits and equipment holsters looking for crime to fight while posing for photo shoots and chatting it up in interviews. Like the roosters, we were up before dawn to be ready for the sunrise and when the master photographer, Ryan Edy, would yell, “it’s going off!!! It’s going off!!!!” we would have to jump over him, do backflips, everything he asked of us! His self-described “assistant,” Joe Patini, would be on the other side waiting to catch us. I was concerned I was going to offer him an X-talon to the head on some of my aerial acrobatics. He wouldn’t have even noticed, he was #committed! This was also a good time to catch up with teammates like Scott Dunlap–prolific blogger, entrepreneur and digital genius–about races past and future and how I just upgraded my flip phone to a smart phone. If you are ever out with Scott, make sure to discuss your cell phone because he is then required to buy you a drink. A new member to Team Inov-8 was Ashley Moyer and she was a one of the shy and quiet ones. Then you get to know her better and find out that not only does she win a lot of the ultra races she runs, she also beats all but one or two men in those races and has an impressive covering of tattoos on her body. It’s always the quite ones that are a bit wild!
All of us athletes would never have been able to get to where we were going, be fed fine cuts of bovine (particularly for the Paleos), show off our culinary skills in the cooking competition, crush WODs and have had an unlimited stock of fine California craft beer at all hours, if it were not for the tireless effort of the women of Inov-8: Caitlin Fenn, Kelsey Dallara, Jill Dreyer and Lizzy Baker. Now, if they just kept leashes on us so that we didn’t get lost in the Big Sur backcountry, the weekend would have been flawless. Thank you ladies, for making us feel like we were in the athlete’s village at the Olympics!
Not only was this a #USTeamRetreat, but it also turned into a British Team Retreat and they brought the best Pee Wee Herman impressionist I know, Natalie White–if you haven’t heard her impression, ask her next time you see her. The Australians also sent a representative in Shona Stephenson—she represented the entire country single-handedly. If there was a filibuster held, Shona would definitely win. She runs as fast as she talks, which is pretty impressive because she runs pretty fast!
At one of our cross training sessions—I consider it cross training for us runners, which we don’t do much of—the prototypical CrossFit athlete and very handsome man, if I may say so, Shane Farmer, gave us a rowing clinic and I, somehow, was on the rower at the same time that all of the CrossFit athletes were on them. I looked down the line of stationary rowers and watched CrossFitters Pat Barber, Wes Piatt and Cassidy Lance pulling huge watts with every stoke. If it were a lake we were on, they would have arrived to the other side when I was still in the middle somewhere. It was promising to see trail runners Nickademus Hollon and the southern belle, Amber Reese-Young, holding their own against our more powerful teammates. I did witness Nick climbing trees like a monkey and performing burpies with the other CrossFit athletes during the weekend, so he fit right in. My rowing partner was WODTalk’s Geoff Smith, who was very interested in the trail and ultra running, considering being in the CrossFit community. I also had equally as much interest from Joel Toledano from Tabata Times, a crossfit publication, on running great distances in the mountains. As I was finding out, people from either sport were very intrigued with the craziness involved in each others activities. Then there was Bryon Powell of iRunFar.com. All he wanted to do was talk about #WODs and boxes and 14-point-somethings. He just found a niche in covering ultra running and now all we wants to do is burpies! You can find his new exploits at iWODLong.com. Next time you see him, he’ll be huge!
Runners are known to be skinny and frail, and we are; but sometimes we can surprise you! Secretly, Joe, Alex and I had devised a plan to get some of the CrossFitters to challenge me to a planking competition. Here is the back story: I was involved in a friendly planking challenge that had been going on since late-November 2013, quite a long time. It started at 4 minutes of straight planking each day with 2 minutes added every Sunday. We were up to a minimum of 24 minutes a day (I was an overachiever and never did the minimum) before finally having the “Plank Challenge Plankoff,” where myself and another formidable planking opponent agreed to a draw at 1 hour 31 minutes 19 seconds to split the cash pot of $110 (I guess that would make me a professional athlete! What would the AAU have to say about that?). Joe lured two of the CrossFitters, Stuart Trees and Nicola Simpson, into a planking conversation and, when asked, Stu said 4 minutes would probably be the limit of the planking. Then the term “violent planking” came up. “What is that?” we asked. Exactly what it sounds like: when you begin to tire, the way to knock your opponent out is to slap them until they give in. Now, Stuart reminded me of Brad Pitt’s character, Mickey, from the movie Snatch. You would not want to get into a scuffle with him in a pub, or anywhere else for that matter (I will say that Stu, a Brit, was easier to understand than Mickey. Stu, I am not calling you a Pikey, please don’t get the wrong idea). Stu proceeds to tell us that Nicola is the one that you do not want to play a game of violent planking with, as she would win. This idea definitely took a 180 degree turn for the worst. None more was said about the planking and I was relived for that. Uncle, Nicola…uncle!
Sure, the #WODs took place, the trail runners ran in the trails, we posed for photos and geeked out on all of the prototype products, but what stuck with me most was more the people than anything else. This was about people who have a love, a love for sport. People who are out there regardless of who is sponsoring them or if they are making money from what they are doing. I am proud to say that I have a lot of teammates that are these very people. Retreat on, #TeamInov-8 friends, retreat on!
There, I said it.
Editor’s note: As you can tell, I have not mastered the use of #hashtags, #useof. The age of flip phones was so much easier.