The Wodapalooza Experience

A guest article by Lauren Hunter – UK athlete, CF-L2 & L3 PT at District Wandsworth

(Banner image credit: Sheldon Herron)

As soon as the swabs were out of our nostrils and we were given the Covid all-clear, myself and my teammates were out of frosty London and onto a plane set for sunny Miami. Wodapalooza (WZA) was to be my first CrossFit competition abroad, and without a doubt the biggest competition I was yet to attend. I’d heard great things from many other athletes, bloggers, vloggers and spectators who’d attended in previous years, so the bar was set high – and it did not fail to deliver.

My team, consisting of myself, Georgia Smith-Ball and Nicole Crouch, were to compete in the RX division, representing Team Training. We were sharing an Airbnb with our coach and strategist Fraser Mackenzie, skilled cameraman and videographer Sheldon Herron, who is responsible for the incessant Miami spam you will have been subjected to if you follow me on Instagram, my boyfriend and allocated personal cheerleader, Samuel Dell, and a Team Training male elite team made up of Blueprint Training co-founder Will Kane and German athletes Joshua Wichtrup and Felix Rehder. The situation rapidly took on the feel of a school field trip, with the teacher responsibility falling to Fraser to handle any tantrums (of which there were many), issue instructions and make sure things ran smoothly.

Photo credit: Sheldon Herron

Our first night in Miami was largely spent settling into the Airbnb and getting some sleep ahead of a few busy days of competition preparation, as well as exploring what the local area had to offer. In terms of accommodation available, hotels closer to the venue earned points for proximity, but were vastly more expensive, so I’d recommend finding an Airbnb if you plan on keeping the costs of the trip a bit lower. Our Airbnb was a 10-15 minute Uber from the competition and had everything we needed. Wynwood, where we were staying, had the same vibrant appeal as London’s Shoreditch, with the walls plastered in loud, creative art and various ‘superfood’-spiked latte concoctions available from the independent cafés lining its streets.

On Day 1 of our stay, we went to explore our closest box; CrossFit Wynwood, where the welcome was warm and the dog cuddles were plentiful. CrossFit Wynwood is a vast space in comparison to the gyms we’re used to in London, with an outdoor area for open gym training whilst classes run indoors. We used the space to prepare for some of the workouts that had already been released, and plenty of other athletes had the same idea. Having refueled with protein acai bowls from the vendor truck located by the gym’s entrance, there was a quick turnaround and the afternoon was spent on the iconic Miami beach. Originally planned as a practice session for our open water swim event, the session was curtailed due to high hazard warnings which resulted in 30 minutes of trying to stay upright in shallow water instead.

Photo credit: Sheldon Herron

The next couple of days followed a similar format; we visited Downtown Strength & Conditioning to get some light training in, which was equally friendly and full to the brim with athletes training and preparing for the weekend ahead, and in the evening we enjoyed swimming in the world’s coldest pool with our friend and superstar; Isle of Man representative Aimee Cringle, her coach Dan Bonnett, friend Joe Kane, and UK athlete Richard Hill.

WZA Day 1

Elite teams and individuals were scheduled to start on the Thursday and one day before us, so we headed down to watch our boys, and Aimee Cringle, who was competing as an elite individual. The sun was blazing down (speaking as an unacclimatised Brit) and led to the panicked purchase of a fluorescent pink NOBULL bucket hat that will be lucky if it gets worn more than once a year.

The crowds were swarming (whilst also giving the impression that Covid did not exist in Florida) and the reverberating music achieved the festival appeal associated with WZA. The athletes kicked off the event with a combination of heavy double unders, weighted GHD sit-ups and the introduction of the Flipsled, which provided a new challenge for many of the athletes, despite being impressively handled like it wasn’t, particularly by Aimee and our Team Training family.

In-between playing the role of support squad and Instagram content providers for the day, we roamed the numerous vendor stalls, taking full advantage of athlete privileges and the numerous discount codes available. I secured myself a free pair of sport sunglasses from the TYR store – which stayed on very firmly during our first event and, despite being slightly dislodged, did not fall off my face even when doing HSPUs, so they get my recommendation for anyone looking for a pair of sunglasses to sweat in.

WZA Day 2

It was now time for us to experience WZA from the competition floor. Our first event, The MIA Bar Complex, featured a heavy barbell, and we had strategised well enough here to chip away through the reps to a first place heat finish. Off to a good start, that afternoon we moved into The Bayside Chipper, securing a second-place heat finish. This was a fun workout with an amazing view over the bay for both competitors and spectators alike – especially from the top of the rope climb! The venue was filling up now that the weekend had arrived, which certainly added to the already energetic atmosphere, but also reduced the motility a great deal. Due to heat timings and crowds, we had to prioritise the divisions with our friends in, but if we’d had more time we would have loved to watch some of the other divisions. We even struggled to watch our own men’s elite team as the location was restricted to a set number and the queue was working its way far back along the vendor village.

WZA Day 3

Our first event of the day; Celebrate Ten, didn’t go so well for us but I’d expected it to be our weakest so it didn’t come as a huge shock. Our second and final event of the day was an interesting and somewhat controversial event. Our heat was scheduled to do Row Swim Run for about 7pm, which meant we’d be doing our Open water swimming in the dark. The elite individuals had gone during the day, and whilst it was hotter, it felt safer during daylight hours. Open water swimming was a new experience for me, and being asked to do it in the dark made it all the more nerve-wracking. The area by the bay was poorly lit and tinted goggles meant that I couldn’t see a thing during the 250m distance. Although we got through it and surprised ourselves by doing far better than expected in the event, the scheduling of the evening heats was possibly a bit unwise as we later discovered that the heats due to go after us had been cancelled after the safety team had failed to spot a girl clinging to a buoy for over 10 minutes. I ended up loving the event but I do believe that it may have run more smoothly and safely had it been held earlier in the day.

Photo credit: Sheldon Herron

WZA Day 4

Day 4 was full of highs and lows. Our first event involved the worm and ring muscle-ups; it was one of the workouts I enjoyed the most and we did well. Unfortunately, we were then hit with tornado warnings and ushered into the nearest hotel with hundreds of others to shelter from the extreme weather. Luckily we got to spend our time in the hotel with Craig and Jas, the lovely founders of HSTL. Made and certainly the favourite CrossFit vlogging pair in the UK. They were kind enough to fully kit us out for WZA so we’re extremely grateful for their generosity, and couldn’t be more glad that we got to hide from a potential tornado with them as they were full of interesting stories to keep us entertained. We waited for 2-3 hours before discovering that our final event, which we were looking forward to, had unfortunately been cancelled due to the delays. Elite individuals and teams still went ahead and finished their competition, and we stayed late to cheer on our own men’s team and the other UK athletes present, including Aimee.

Photo credit: Sheldon Herron

It was dark by the time we’d finished screaming at the athletes, and the competition had come to a close. We were buzzing to have taken 7th place overall, having initially qualified for WZA in 34th out of 40 teams. We flew home the next day still riding the high from an incredible week. It’s difficult to capture the true nature of such a unique experience in writing, but I am keen to go back in future and experience it all over again and I hope you get the chance to experience it too!

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