Swamp Challenge Recap and Review

As I clicked "refresh" on my iphone to see the updated score, my heart sank into my stomach. Sadie and I had done so well, save for the first workout, we had placed 2nd in every event. Then I took a look at the 100-yard sprint score: 8th place... by 1 second. 

1 second cost us the podium spot. 1 second was the difference between 8 points and 5 points, and all we needed was 1 point to podium.

My reaction when I found out we placed 4th.

My reaction when I found out we placed 4th.

I'm not bringing this up to complain that we "deserved" the podium spot, or how simple human error could have cost us the spot (see what I did there? hehehe). 

Honestly, this was good medicine for me, because I realized that I was hanging my happiness on whether I stood on a box and got my photo taken. I was valuing myself based on an arbitrary test of fitness. I was letting this final moment color my entire experience for the day.

That's not right.

Let's try this again...


When I arrived at the venue my first impression was that this competition was going to be incredible. I remember walking through the halls, looking down at the field and thinking, "It's all happening down there."

I appreciated the field being used as the focal point for the competition. The action was concentrated; you could see what was happening from anywhere in the stands. Teams posted up in the stands, under cover, and never missed a heat. There was ample seating for everyone.


Our first workout was workout #2. The organizers did a great job of recognizing how the handstand walks would be a major roadblock for some folks, and amended the rules so that athletes could continue the handstand walks where they fell, rather than having athletes start from scratch if they fell before their 10 feet was up. This change made that particular workout much more fun and competitive.

The wall-ball shots and the toe-to-bar were cake. Handstand walks on Florida field... priceless.

I was walking on my hands, daydreaming. Thinking of all of the famous cleats to dig and grip into the soil. I remember the texture of the turf, and how it changed from soft grass to a distinct, colored grain, not much like beach sand, but more like kitty litter; blues, whites, and greens spread below me as I marched through the painted field on my palms. Not many players have actually felt that turf, or appreciated it as I had the chance to do. Maybe they've had their faces in it, but to touch it as I did, gliding, gripping, and spreading my fingers through the grass and grain... only if they were trained monks...


Speaking of trained monks. Have you tried this body-scan meditation? I thought it was a 10-minute practice. Then, 40 minutes later, I came to and said, "Wow, that 10 minutes felt like 20!"

One of the hardest things to do during a day-long event is to kick-start recovery; to shift the body from a sympathetic, fight-or-flight state, to a parasympathetic, rest-digest/recovery state.

Thumping music, loud screams and the excitement of competition made it hard to eat, let alone relax and recover.

My recovery strategy between events was to incubate myself from the world around me and meditate: I ate some food, put my earbuds in, my sleep mask on, and I practiced this guided body-scan meditation:

After my [unintentional] 40-minute meditation practice, I was ready to go. I felt renewed, rejuvenated and focused. I was in-tune with my body and ready to go HARD. 


Our second workout was "Helen in the swamp."


I was honestly a little disappointed when I found out that we wouldn't be doing a run through the stadium. Last year, that was, by far, my favorite event. 

I could see why we weren't doing it this year, though; keeping the stadium open and making the field the stage for the entire event gave the competition an air of officialdom. Like, the field is where it's all going down.

And, in this second workout, the stadium stairs would be featured in a sinister way, adding a twist to a fast-paced workout, where in the original, athletes who do the best go unbroken and run the 400s FAST AF.

Okay, okay, I'm sold. Let's do it.

The first round was a sprint. Our strategy was to let partner two sit back and jog, while partner one sprinted as hard as possible to get to the kettle-bell swings. Since only one person can work at a time, partner two would show up at the end of partner one's KB swings with a low heart-rate, and bang out the KB swings and the pull-ups as fast as possible. 

This strategy worked well for us. 

But, those stairs... My "sprint" turned into a march up the steps with my hands on my thighs. Then, entering the stadium, the ramps inside added insult to injury. I felt like I was entering the "Derelict" world of Halo. Somehow, I managed to go full throttle and sprint through the ramps.

At one point, on the way down the stairs, I remember going so fast that I felt like I was in free-fall. 

Sadie and I placed second in that workout.


Workouts 3 and 4 were coupled together. The infamous 100-yard sprint and a barbell complex of 5 deadlifts, 4 front-squats and 3 shoulder-to-overheads.

The 100-yard sprint was a spectator's event. Simply put, it was fun to watch. You could see who the winners were. You could appreciate the speed and athleticism of competitors. It was a pure test of speed. The workout was over in less than 20 seconds, with the fastest time coming in at 12 seconds. It took me 15, but my judges fingers were a little slow, so...

Ah, yes, the spectator's event. This leads me to a topic I wanted to touch upon, because it became the drama of the weekend, and I think there's an important lesson we can all learn here. Namely, about the stories we tell ourselves.

Yes, stories...

They run our lives. Everyday, we tell stories about ourselves and about other people. Rarely do we ask why, or try to clarify the story. 

"What's going on here? Why would they do that?"

Most of the time, instead of asking others, we answer those questions for ourselves, and it plays into our own narratives of what we think is going on.

So here's my take on the drama:


This is the most important point: No one was disappointed that the organizers charged $10. The disappointment stems from WHY WE THINK they wanted to charge $10. That's where your story comes in.

Story #1: The organizers are charging $10 because they are greedy. They are nickel and diming us. They charged too much for the event and that should be enough. This is not the CrossFit Games or Wodapalooza. This is an inconsequential, local event.

Story #2: The organizers do not make any money at this event. The venue is expensive. They want to continue doing this and they also want to make a decent living. They need our help—our investment—to make sure that happens. The demographic they are serving can afford a $10 dollar entry fee.

Two stories.

But, are both valid?

Remember, these are people on the other side of the screen. These are people with feelings that get hurt. These are people you know, who busted their asses to serve us on gameday. Would you walk up to that same person, and tell them they are greedy? Or, if you were really trying to understand, would you ask them why?

If you asked why; if you had taken the time to clarify, maybe your opinion would change. 

Or, maybe not. It's still worth a try. And, it's even easy to do in the comments section of a post. Most people threw shade. No one asked, "why," before passing judgement.

I mention this incident, because I think it is an important life lesson. What people actually say and do is NEVER the issue. The issue is ALWAYS, why we THINK they said or did the things they did. The issue is ALWAYS the stories we construct; what we think the motive is behind what is said or done.

Did I like the charge? Hell no. Do I wish they would have come out with this earlier than 5 days before? Of course. But, you know what? I'm not the one running the event; I'm the guest. And, if they feel like a $10 admission is necessary to help bring in revenue so that we can keep throwing down in the swamp year after year. So be it. I'd rather give them the benefit of the doubt than label them as greedy people. 

Challenge the stories you tell yourself and you will be happier and healthier for it, because your relationships with others will flourish. Seek to clarify when you find yourself making judgements. Be curious and try your best to empathize. This is a skill worth practicing.



Oh shit. That was a tangent and a half... But, a necessary one. 

Sorry, not sorry.

Can we move on now?

To Ark Sauce?

To the best looking team of the 2018 Swamp Challenge?

To our stellar performance in that barbell complex?


That beast of a complex that had me wondering why the hell I thought I could hit 275 for what amounts to 13 reps (13 if you include the clean as a hidden movement). 

My opener at 255 was supposed to feel "easy."


Sadie went on to hit her opener like a boss. Now, I'm up. I'm not ready. Ok, let's go... 265...

I go out hard. 5 deadlifts. bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.

1 clean. Boom.

3 more squats to go. Boom.

1st jerk. Boom.

Now I'm recovering, bringing my feet together from the split. My left elbow breaks a little early aaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnd.......



2nd rep. Boom. No problem. 

So, there I am. With 265 on my neck and it feels like 315. I need two more.

At that moment, I decided that it wasn't going to happen.  I was crushed. So, I drop the weight with 2 left to go.

Luckily, I had my partner to hold me up. Sadie added 10 lbs to her previous attempt and we place 2nd in the workout with her effort. 

What a wicked barbell complex. I loved it...


The Swamp Challenge remains the best fitness competition in Florida, maybe with the exception of Wodapalooza (which I have never attended). 

But, I have attended Crush Games. I have attended other local competitions. And, I can tell you something: running a legit exercise competition presents major challenges. In a sport where everything is "for time," competitors are constantly trying to cut corners. The organizers made it so that cutting corners was not possible.

There were no embarrassing moments, like this from The Crush Games a couple of years ago:

s'cuse me. there's no lunge in your lunge.

A post shared by Paul Castaneda (@kickasstaneda) on

Overall, Swamp Challenge was a great event. I'm fired up to continue competing alongside my Arkmates and the greater fitness community. Some of the best moments were the times between events. Slacklining, meditating, skateboarding through the stadium, catching up with old friends, cheering on other competitors...

These events bring us closer together. They bring the fitness community together, and solidify the bonds within our gyms. They also have the potential to bring out our ugly sides. But, I know you all. I know that you are capable of compassion and empathy, and that you will challenge your assumptions for the sake of friendship and community, even when it's hard.

I want more of this. I want more high-quality competition. I want more challenges. I want to stand on the podium next time, or eat some more humble pie... Either way works for me.

The Swamp Challenge organizers delivered a high-quality, fair competition, and an experience that rivals the best in the state, but where I can still compete RX and have a chance of winning...


I can't wait for next year. Let's do it again.