I try to make my vacations strongman themed. I'm not the kind of person that wants to sightsee a lot. No lazy hot swimming pool or beach vacation for me. I would be running up the walls of sheer boredom after only a few hours. Nope! I saw the light after my first trip to Iceland for a seminar. There I combined training with tourism. I only had the chance to take a few walks around Reykjavik, but it was just what the doctor ordered.
I got lucky with the planning of some events in the southern part of the UK. I could start off with a Laurence Shahlaei seminar one weekend, followed by the Big Z UK tour the weekend after that. I'd have a week in between to visit some friends on the Isle of Wight. It was perfect! The Loz seminar was a great start to this vacation and the reunion with my home away from home gave me some great memories. I had a few days after that with nothing really planned, so I figured I would relax and be a tourist for a day or 2 before the Big Z seminar. After all, I had to be in shape if I wanted to lift in front of the GOAT.
Something came up though. A few days before the trip there was a call for help on Facebook from Martin Cee, the Voice of Strongman. He was looking for helping hands for the upcoming Ultimate Strongman weekender event. There would be the Amateur UK Strongest Man followed by the Under 23 UK Strongest Man final on Saturday. On Sunday there was the under 120kg UK Strongest Man and the main event: England's Strongest Man 2018. I figured this would be a fun thing to do, so I told him I'd be there if the location was favorable.
Where is “there” you ask? Excellent question! Trying to get a hold of Martin can sometimes be like pulling teeth. He is a very busy man. He also lives and breathes strongman. It's probably more rare to not have him at your competition, because he is everywhere during the season. Really, I'm sure that tears flow, panic ensues and missing person reports are filed when Martin Cee is unseen at a UK Strongman competition. If he's also not to be found in pursuit of his new bodybuilding career at the gym, then all hell just breaks loose. Anyway, I got a proper location and time from him the day before the set-up. A boat ride and a training session in London later I was off to the Berkshire College of Agriculture in Maidenhead!
What a special place this was. We were extremely lucky with the weather as well. However, I arrived and actually had no idea where to go! Martin was unreachable and that was my only source of information. At the same time I wanted to not look too much out of place there, but the car with the foreign license plate and the steering wheel on the other side kind of gave it away... I was a tourist and a very lost one at that. So I went to find the reception. The very friendly ladies there told me that I should talk to a man named Craig at a department somewhere further into the huge domain. Luck would have it that I found him quite easily. He showed me some of the coolest spots of this college. They had an entire zoo of animals, a full-on car workshop building, lots of open fields with more animals and much much more. Our focus would be on the manège though.
Normally used for horseback riding and dressage, this time another kind of work horse was to be unleashed upon the sandy arena. The underground would be very interesting for some events at least. A truck pull would have been hilarious, but to many sighs of relief this was not part of the competition. There were platforms available for the car deadlift (thank god) and the log press too. You’d think that there would be many people available to help set this all up, but I ended up being the only non-affiliated person there! It was just Martin, Craig, 2 ladies whose names I seem to have forgotten (I am so so sorry!) and me. That was it. For an entire comp! I vigorously verified my latest possible check-in time at the hotel in Hastings and had to ask my friend Ricky to check in for me. The reception would be closed by the time I arrived there otherwise. Thanks again Ricky!
Now, what does setting up a strongman competition consist of? Volunteers-to-be, read this very carefully. I shall say this only once. First of all, a loooooong time of waiting because Martin arrived about 2 hours after the time he told me to be there :’) During the wait we transported all of the metal barriers from the university parking lot to the indoor area. They were all still tied down to bags of dirt to prevent them from falling over. Those dirtbags (in more ways than one) would not go quietly though. Some of them may or may not have been torn out of impatience/frustration. They had their vengeance on me by getting some dirt in my eye. I was not amused. I actually needed medical attention. I had won the battle, they had won the war. Wonderful! It took a while, but I was able to continue working after that.
We set up an area for the contest with these barriers. It was key to attach the sponsor banners to them in plain sight, but also to not have the banners block the view for the crowd. At the same time we had to make sure the athletes would be facing the crowd as much as possible during the events. Speaking of the crowd: people had to sit, so we had to get all the chairs from the upper floor. We got our cardio in for sure. Sooo muuuch stairs!
Hauling the heavy equipment to its rightful place was the next step. I'm not talking about logs and car deadlift frames, but a heavy ass grill and some speakers from Martin’s pick-up truck. Along with a truckload of water bottles and too much other stuff to even remember. What I CAN tell you is that both the pick-up truck and the accompanying car were completely full. It was like having to pull clowns out of a clown car. It just kept going! All of that to make sure the athletes had a good time. It was remarkable.
Then we had to put up a big tent at the entrance. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Thank heavens there was no video footage. We eventually managed, but then we found out we had to turn the tent the other way. A metal bar was hanging too low, so it could end up hurting one of the larger specimens that would "most likely" be at the competition. An interpretative dance session later the tent had been put in its rightful place.
At this point we had been at it for quite a few hours when I had to call it quits because I still had to drive to Hastings. It was getting dark and the drive is NOT PLEASANT, especially if you’re not used to these narrow roads (and the whole weird driving on the left thing ;-) ) There was still lots of work to be done and nobody to replace me. Still, I noticed that the mood never turned bad. We were always smiling, laughing, having fun, enjoying ourselves and even bantering a bit. It was cool to have this kind of interaction with the people that make so many things in the UK Strongman scene happen. I highly recommend it.
I regret not taking pictures during the set-up. I didn’t expect to be writing about this a few months down the line. Funny how that works out sometimes! So I just added some pictures from the athletes after the contest. These are the guys we did it for after all! Just try to ignore the guy making the silly face...