Hello everybody and welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On this episode I speak with four-time individual CrossFit Games athlete Pat Vellner. What’s the difference between a good athlete and a great one? An amazing coach. Same goes for great business owners. If you’re ready to level up your business, book a free call with a certified Two-Brain mentor at twobrainbusiness.com. Pat Vellner made his individual debut at the CrossFit Games in 2016 and proceeded to finish third. Overall since then, he has been one of the more popular athletes in the sport and a perennial favorite to finish on the podium in Madison. We talk about how competing in gymnastics and lacrosse helped prepare him for competitive CrossFit, how he managed to finish third at a Regional competition despite tearing his biceps and what he thinks about the new structure of the CrossFit Games. Thanks for listening everyone. Pat, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. How you doing up there?
I’m doing all right. We’re surviving the apocalypse.
Speaking of that, how are you adjusting your training to kind of comply with this new normal that we’re all dealing with thanks to what’s going on with the coronavirus?
It’s weird. Like we, I don’t have any kind of home gym set up to speak of, so I’ve just brought some of my equipment that I just leave at the gym, I brought it home, I have a couple of machines here now. And I’ll, you know, like try to get done whatever I can do and modify things as much as I can. I’ve been in touch with my coach and we try to make it work. The fortunate thing is that I don’t really have any thing meaningful to train for right now. So, you know, if I can’t do certain things, it’s really not such a big deal. So I’m trying to kind of reframe it in my head that now’s a good time to work on some movement quality stuff. Like fix some little nagging injuries that have been bugging me. Cause obviously I didn’t take as much of an off season early in the year. I kind of plowed right through the Open, Dubai, Wodapalooza, competed a bunch early in the season and now I’m happy that I did but now I have this kind of forced off season where you know, and now it’s time I can just sorta take back my training and have some workouts that don’t have so much gravity on them. You know, I feel like a lot of the training I did in the last bunch of months was really kicking the crap out of myself and feeling like, you know, anything that was any little mess up felt amplified cause you had competitions coming up and it’s stressful to train in that environment.
Whereas now you know, I can focus on little things where you’re like, eh, maybe I’ll like, I’ll slow up the whole thing but I’m going to try to do this thing unbroken every round. Right? And just focus on little other pieces of the puzzle that now we have the ability to do. So it’s fun. It’s like it’s allowing me to kind of reframe my training and have a bit more fun with it again with no pressure.
Given the limits that are on your training right now and that you don’t have access to a home gym, obviously you’re operating under the assumption that the Games are going to take place. How do you make sure that you’re ready when the Games do roll around in August?
I would actually say that right now I’m operating on the assumption that the Games won’t take place, at least not on the same time. I think with the Olympics now postponing, I think that puts a lot of pressure on any international sporting event. So I dunno, I think that looking at the timeline of what the coronavirus has done elsewhere and what we’re doing to try to, you know, STEM the bleeding a little bit in our countries with this trying to flatten the curve, all the social distancing stuff. What it’s really meant to do is infect less people at a time to not overwhelm the healthcare system, which inevitably will cause the pandemic to last longer. So if you’re looking at sort of what China has posted as like a three-month trajectory, we could be looking at more like five months. So this could be not peaking for another two months, which means that, you know, all of a sudden you’re the end of July and you’re in a peak.
So what point is the world going to be recovered enough to allow international travel and things like that. So, I would actually say I’m kind of operating on the opposite assumption. But that said, I’m not gonna like sit on my ass and do nothing. So I think that it’s working with what you have. Like, I mean, whatever I have at my disposal, I do have some friends around that have some home gyms. So as things get closer, I might just start having to try to put some full training sessions in at friends’ houses and then try to like, do whatever I can do. Right. Fortunately where I live too, there’s a lot of, you know, opportunities outside with running and swimming and all that kind of stuff. So a lot of that type of training that we would only really see at the Games and not you know, like a Regional style or a lot of Sanctionals.
I can still work on some of that stuff and maintain my social distance. Right. There’s still a lot of opportunities for fitness. It’s just you gotta be a little bit creative I think with how you do it. And I maybe be doing less traditional, you know, barbell cycling, gymnastic stuff. But I mean hopefully I can work all the pieces independently and then just be able to put it together when it matters.
What sports did you play growing up? So I was a gymnast. I performed, I guess, I don’t know, I don’t really think you say you play gymnastics—.
Participated in it.
But yeah, I competed in gymnastics for probably seriously for like 12 or 13 years, till I was like 20. And then I played lacrosse very competitively for probably about the same time til a little bit later though till I was probably like 24. So played box lacrosse forever, played some rugby growing up, stuff like that, but kind of mixed the individual and team sports up. So, and I have a good, you know, a good mix of power output and endurance and skills and all kinds of, I don’t know, I can get beat up and keep on moving.
Those are two pretty different sports, gymnastics and lacrosse. What was about each of them that appealed to you?
Yeah, almost the opposite.
It’s a good question. My older brother was a gymnast as well, a trampolinist, and I think we were, my dad was a diver, a tower diver, so we kinda got into acrobatics when we were young. I just think it’s a cool, that’s a cool sport. Teaches you a lot about movement or about, you know, like your biomechanics, like how to understand movement and break things down well. But it’s a performance sport and you know, a lot of times it’s a very, very similar in structure I would say to what we do in CrossFit, where you have, when you go to compete, you have one chance to deliver, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or how many times you’ve nailed this, whatever. You’ve got to show up and perform on demand when they say it’s time to go.
And then, you know, despite maybe any successes or failures in an individual event, you’ve got to move on to the next one and then perform again and do it again and do it again. So it’s very similar in structure and I think that, you know, the mind, the head state you’ve got to be in for that is hard to develop in a lot of other sports and I think gymnastics did a really good job of teaching how to teach me how to do that. And yeah, like being only being able to rely on yourself, right? Like successes and failures are all dependent on something that you did or did not do. So that’s like, I feel like CrossFit, even though we’ve kind of morphed it into a team thing, I think it fundamentally is more of an individual thing.
You know, you’re competing against yourself or you’re competing against what your expectations are and whatever else. So I think that individual sports are very beneficial for that. And it’s hard. I mean, from the time I was very young that was training like 25 hours a week and you know, that was like what I did, like I’m no stranger to a lot of hard work and long days. So I think that it teaches you to work like that and just like keep working and fail a million times before you do something properly. So I think that a lot of the mind space training has been around that sport was very, very good. And then, don’t know, lacrosse is just like, it was fun. It was power output. It was, I think that that kind of sport, you know, teaches you how to compete, like how to fight for things and how to drive against other people.
So again, like despite how CrossFit may be more individual and I think a lot people have that kind of stay in your lane mentality, I think you need to be ferocious sometimes. And I think that it doesn’t hurt to look around and remember who you’re competing against and if you want to win, it does mean beating these other guys as well. And I think that it teaches you how to, yeah. How to just like put your head down and let loose. So, yeah, it’s funny and I mean they all come with various different skills obviously as well. Like the gymnastics is very skill oriented. Like I mean I came into CrossFit, you know, handstand walk forever and do strict muscle-ups and whatever. And I’ve been doing them since I was a kid, so that’s certainly helpful.
And you know, same in lacrosse. Like it keeps you to have some agility and some start and stop and power and things like that. So everything comes with its physical skills as well. But you know, I think that you can learn physical skills but a lot of the, you know, the mental skills you develop take a lot longer if you’re just starting and cross it. Cause there’s just less reps. Like you know, you play a full season of lacrosse and like how many Games do you play? But when you compete in a CrossFit season, you might only, I mean, in the old system you competed like three times. So I mean you just, you get more reps and you get more chance to drive home those skills and you’re putting more opportunities to hone your skills. So I think that those, you know, having any sports background is super beneficial, but those two are certainly great for me.
How did you find CrossFit?
I was in university in Montreal. I had just retired from gymnastics and kind of from lacrosse. I was still playing. I took like a year or two off and then I started playing for a team in Vermont while I was in school in Montreal. But I just kinda was like being a piece of shit university student and like I think that I had done enough sport to the point that I had burned myself out a little bit with the athletics career that I had had up to that point. And so I just needed to step away from it. And then, yeah, when I met some friends in Montreal that were doing some CrossFit and I think they were just kinda hanging rings in the gym, the university gym, and I kinda went and chatted with them and I was like, hey can I play around on the rings and do some stuff.
Like I used to be a gymnast and started kind of doing some workouts with them just cause I was doing little circuits on my own and it was better to do it with people and they were doing CrossFit workouts. So I just kinda like fell in with them and started training with them as a way to not train by myself. And then we kind of built a small community there at the school. And then I think like that that year they pushed me to do the Open and then I qualified for Regionals the following year. And then I started going to a box after that. But yeah, I just kinda, you know, met some people that made it more fun and at that point I was trying to get back into some sort of training or exercise without it feeling like work because I had done that for so long, so I think it was just trying to find a way to have fun with it.
And so it was good. It was everything I needed.
At what point did you say I want to be a competitor in this?
I think that I’m kind of a competitor by nature, so I think that there’s not like a specific moment. Like the second I would have started, I would have been trying to beat those guys anyway. So it’s just like, then you’re trying to find the next biggest fish. And I mean especially the way, I mean it always is like that, but especially in the old system where it was so linear of like, well, OK, compete in the Open and then what’s next? OK. Then it’s Regionals and then what’s next? And then you can always like, it’s very easy to look at the next step. I just sorta like, I just naturally did that. I just sort of said, all right, well what’s next?
Like, what do you do? And you know, one of the summers there though, the Games was going on and I tuned into some of it with those guys and I don’t think I ever had a moment where I was like, ah, I want to go to the Games. It was just always like looking at the next step, looking at the next step and being like, cool. You know, I went to my first Regional and I took like fifth. I did quite well and I was like, Oh cool, I’m pretty good at this. So then I like try to, you know, just, I had some very, very clear weaknesses in weightlifting and powe lifting and stuff like that. So it was let’s take a year to do that stuff. And then, it was always very obvious to me what I needed to work on, so I just had to like slowly chug away. And then yeah, I’d say you just keep finding the next biggest fish and then eventually before I knew it, I was like, I was already there. So, yeah, it’s kinda funny. I just, I think I’m just competitive by nature.
What did you learn from your first trip to Regionals in 2014?
That’s a good question. It was a different landscape then. So that was the, that was the last year of the 17 regions. So I went that year, actually that year, so I finished fifth and there was a three-way tie for second and Canada East that year. At that time they only took two. So ADL won, Paul Tremblay, Alex Vigneault and Pascal Baillargeon all tied for second. And then I came in after them and I was like a little bit behind them. It was the old scoring, the old golf scoring system too. So very different landscape. It’s probably foreign to people. I’m dating myself here, but yeah, I think at that point it was like I didn’t have a clue. I wasn’t tuned into how, you know, how fit people were. And I just sorta like, I knew I wasn’t great at some things and I was going to take a kicking and I did.
But I won two events that year at the regional out of seven. And I was like, Oh, so like I like people aren’t that fit. I was like, I kind of just like there’s just like a realization of like, you know, I have a huge athletic base. Like my training age is old. Like I’m not just because I had just started CrossFit, it’s not like I had just started training. Right. So I think it was just kind of a realization of like, Oh, like this is like, you don’t not belong. Like you could do this and you could be like a lot of the guys that were around here with like a little bit, if you were a little smarter in the next year, like 100%, like it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
So I think it was just eye-opening to see kind of people that I thought at the time were like, Oh man, like they’re way fitter than you. And then I like beat all of them. I was like, Oh wow. I’m like, Oh. That was like, OK. So it was interesting and that was a very no pressure environment for me to learn that and be like, you know, I went in with absolutely zero expectation. Like this could be fun. And then I think doing well was like, OK, like I can probably make something out of this. Like, you know, let’s stick to it. At the time, it was just like a very, very—like a hobby, right? Like I was just kinda hanging out with the boys and doing some workouts and then it was like, all right, maybe it’s time to start setting some goals and actually trying to properly dedicate yourself to certain things.
And, you know, I still wasn’t making crazy sacrifices to do it, but I think I was just more diligent about and focused on what I was trying to do. So it was interesting. It and it was cool. It was just cool to see what CrossFit was. At that point even I had done the Open then two years and I still didn’t really know anything about it. I wasn’t really dialed into what the community was about and I wasn’t really dialed into what the competition scene was like, like I wasn’t following Regionals or the Games the year prior. So it was cool. Then just kinda jumped into it as a blank slate and be like, Hey, this is neat and have it go well for you. Right? Like I think you like things that you’re good at.
Everybody does. So it’s kinda when you have some success right away you’re like, Hey, maybe there’s something to this.
So you have some success in 2014, but then you go team the following year. Why did you make the switch to the team competition in 2015?
So, well after I finished Regionals in 2014, I was just, I wasn’t training at a gym at the time or I didn’t have a coach. So I ended up, I was chatting with a couple of the women that were there competing individual. Cause they thought I was just hilarious. Like I just looked like I didn’t belong there. Right. And there was three of them, I believe from the same gym, competing individual, and they were talking about, this is back when it was teams of six again.
So they were talking about making a team the next year and they’re like, Oh, you know, we’re looking for guys like, and I live not that far from their gym. So, I got talking to their coach and they kind of invited me to come train at their gym and it was like I kind of made a deal with the gym there. Like I was going to work with that coach and kind of be around that gym and train with them and the deal was like I would go on their team for the next year. So, you know, it was good. I trained for team that whole year, which was great for me because teams a lot of at the time especially, it was a lot of power output, a lot more heavy and you know, in and out like sprint style stuff, which, you know, given my background was stuff that I needed to work on a lot.
So it gave me a year of really working on things that I desperately needed to work on with some structure, and a coach, you know, and teammates. So I just was able to kind of hammer weaknesses for a full year. And then, you know, leading into the Regional, I was like, I tested the individual workouts because one of the coach’s athletes was individual and I did pretty well on them and he was like, Oh, you might have a chance to qualify this year. And, and I had already committed to the team so it was kind of a thanks for putting that in my head kind of thing. But we went and we qualified the team and it was good. And I mean there’s no regrets. We went and did what we wanted to do. The plan was to kind of go do the year of team and then go back individual with a little bit of experience at the Games on a bigger stage and kind of seeing the caliber of athlete that’s out there.
Cause I think every time you break through to another level, it’s kind of, you know, this is a whole other group and you know, you’re kind of starting from the bottom and it sometimes is very eye-opening to see what’s out there. So it gave me a chance to kind of like peek behind the curtain, and then take that back home again for another year, and then get, get ready for, to try and go individual. And then it was good. I think when I went individual in 2016 I was ready. Like I was, I was very, very ready to compete as an individual.
You take third and Regionals that year in the East and you had a torn biceps while you were competing. How the hell did you pull off a third place finish with basically one arm?
Actually fun story. The West Coast Classic that was gonna run, they put that snatch ladder as their event one. That was the event that I tore my bicep on. So I was like, Oh thanks guys. Relive that one. I think it basically, I got it imaged after the Games. I didn’t do anything with it. I didn’t get it fixed. But, I got some imaging done on it after the Games and basically the message I got was like, Hey, there was a lot of damage around there that looks like it was like healed up scar tissue, things like that. And they kind of said, it looks like you all but tore it already. It was like hanging on by a thread probably. And then it was just like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like it was probably an old injury from gymnastics or lacrosse or something that I had been compensating for forever.
And then they kind of said, yeah, it’s interesting, you know, like when it finally tore, you had been compensating so long that you had built enough infrastructure that it just kinda caught it and everything else was strong enough to support it. So you didn’t really have any trouble. And like not no trouble. I mean, I couldn’t, there were certain things that I absolutely couldn’t do. Like, I couldn’t really, you know, hold my hand out in front of me palm up. I couldn’t do that at all. I could barely do it against gravity. Like if anybody like poked down on it, I couldn’t support that at all. But just by happenstance, all the movements that we had to do for the rest of the competition didn’t really bug it other than, I think that year we had, so really it was the long head of the biceps.
So I lost some stability. It’s really like an anchor stabilizing muscle in your shoulder. So we had to do heavy overhead squats in the chipper that year. And that was hard. I had to like bite my lip and get through that. But the other than that, there wasn’t any trouble. Like strict muscle-ups were no problem cause everything’s so close. Wall balls were fine as long as I didn’t catch one far away from me. Cleans were fine as long as I didn’t swing the bar super far away from me. Like basically if I moved well it wouldn’t hurt. So it was a good cue. And then, except for rope climbs, the last event had rope climbs. And if I did like a full jump, like arm swing jump, it would really, really, really, really hurt. I did it once in warm-up and then, you know, at the time they were kinda, they had this medical team kind of following me around like a shadow during any warm up.
Cause the word was like, they, if we even think that you look like you’re struggling or you’re hurting, we’re gonna just gonna pull you out. Like we’ll allow you to compete as long as it looks like you’re fine. But the second we think it’s wrong, then we’re taking you out. And so I just had to like make sure I was smiling whenever I was hurting. But the last event I like, was trying not to think too far ahead because it was just, you know, I may not live longer than the next event cause they could pull you out. Right. So early on, you know, I was going into that year thinking, you know, this is like I’m trying to gun to qualify this year. And I was kinda thinking too far ahead and then once that happened it kinda brought me back down to earth and slowed me down a little bit.
So it was kind of a good thing. But yeah, I remember being in the warm-up area going into the last event being like, all right, like I’m in a good spot. And then I tried to do like one rope climb and just like fucking hurt so bad. So the only way I could do it is I had to like, I don’t think, I think they were, I don’t think they were legless that year. I don’t remember. I could do the rope climb, I just couldn’t do the jump. And so I had to like do these really weird like cheesy, like pencil jumps with like my arms super tight. Like I couldn’t do a proper high jump. So I was losing a lot of height on my jump and looking like an idiot. But I was able to do it. So yeah, I dunno. That was a, I think it’s just kind of a weird anatomy thing where I was fortunate that I had hurt myself already. And it was alls well that ends well.
What then did you think you could accomplish when you showed up to the Games in 2016?
I don’t know. Again, I didn’t have many expectations for that. I think my goal I think going in was to try to finish top 15, which is like, guess a lofty goal for someone at their first Games. But, I thought like top half just felt kind of lame to me and I thought I was better than that, especially based off like what I was seeing at the Regional and I was a little more tuned in at that point. I thought I could do a little better than that, but you know, the Games was a totally different type of test. So it was just kinda like I don’t really know. And that was at that time I was very much in that competition. I was less tuned into what everybody else was doing and I was kinda like trying to just figure out the best way for me to survive.
And I’ve since kind of changed that a little bit because I’m trying to, you know, win now. And at the time I was like trying to survive. Right. But it’s kind of interesting, like you just, it’s like little things, like when we did Murph that year, I never did more than three push-ups at a time when we did that whole workout and I finished like top ten, right. Like it’s just, it’s little things that like I wasn’t putting any pressure. I was like, no, this is fine. This is comfortable. I’m just going to do this. And it worked out right. And maybe that’s one of those know thyself kind of things. And yeah, I dunno, I was fortunate too that year. I was able to train a bit with Michelle Letendre, at the end of the summer.
So we like the last month kind of leading into the Games it was kinda like weird, long story, but my girlfriend was living in Montreal at the time and then she ended up going to Ottawa, I think. So then I was like kinda homeless. And I ended up staying with other Michelle, and they were super nice, so they let me stay with them and her and Fred and I got to train with them for like a month. So it was cool. It was fun to work with someone who was a lot more experienced than me obviously, and build a relationship with her that we then eventually moved into being like, you know, she’s my coach now and has been since then, basically. So yeah, I think I benefited a little bit by her experience training and leading into the Games. Yeah, I dunno. I think that I had very, again, very little expectation until you kind of get to the end, right? You’re like, Holy shit. Like you got to hang onto this. So, yeah, it was cool. It was fun. That was fun. And I only got to do one one year in Carson as an individual. So, it was fun. It was really cool to have a good year there.
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What did winding up on the podium and taking third over all that year do to your expectations then moving forward?
Put a lot of pressure on me, man. I think I still haven’t shaken that. But I think it was hard going into the next year and like feeling like, Oh man, cause you know, it’s like your first time out there and it happens where you have things line up for you and you’re able to, you know, crank a few out of the park and then you kinda, you know, I I don’t know if it was a flash in the pan, right. Like we’ll see and now you got to start fresh the next year. So, I think that there was a lot of those thoughts rolling around in my head that maybe I’ve got a little bit lucky. So it was nice to kind of put together another solid year. And you know, it’s again, in that system you can kind of see a little bit from the start.
Like when the Open rolls around I’m like, OK, I’m doing OK. And our Regional, it was quite strong back in those days. So it was nice to be able to go compete a strong Regional. And again, like I think that when it came to the East Regional back in the day, I would just try to try to keep up with Mat and that’s an easy way to like good cause I just kind of looked down the floor and be like, well how close am I to that guy? I’m like, you know, I’m like shouting distance. Like, Oh you’re probably pretty good. I mean if you just do that for the whole competition and then you’re pretty good. So I was able, I had a really good guy to chase. So it was nice and it was fun to like, you know, you watch and learn to a certain degree and that’s a good way to gain some experience second hand.
So, he was a super good guy to have in your region, frankly. I was pissed when he left in the 2018 I was like, fuck, I don’t want anybody else to have that advantage cause it’s nice. It’s a good trial run. Right. So even in that 2017 year, just being able to kind of compete with him a few months out from the Games, a super big advantage. So yeah, I think that being able to do that then proved, like I was able to prove to myself that it’s fine. And you know, going to the Games and having a few hiccups and still doing quite well, it’s like, it’s fine. I think I’ve developed a little more confidence in my abilities since then. But yeah, it was an interesting start.
You go from kind of being lucky to maybe be a little unlucky because in 2017 you start off in Madison with a 36 place in the first event. What were you thinking about your chances of even getting into the top 10 after that?
That was like, that was probably being more dumb than unlucky. I think I just was like, see that was kind of a point where I was, it was like, OK, like you’re good. Like you can hunt now. And I just was trying to race in the wrong scenarios and I just kinda screwed myself over like got like roasted right before I jumped into the water. Right. And just like struggled, right. Made dumb decisions. But it was a weird year. I felt like every time I got some momentum I’d have a big hiccup that would kind of knock me back. And it wasn’t bad. Like I think that at the same time, you know, I won two events at the Games that year, so like that doesn’t hurt the confidence as well. Right. So it just sorta, I think I was floating in like I was inside the top 10 probably for the last two days, but just kind of floating back.
And it wasn’t till like the last day with the Madison triplet and stuff that I made a bit of a charge. But yeah, it was like a little too much like floating around on the top 10 and kinda like throwing a 20th place in there every now and then. That wasn’t great. Like, it wasn’t the consistency I had the year before, which was a bit frustrating. But, that happens though. And I think, like I said, it was nice to be able to see that and as it turns out, this is like gonna be my legacy that when when things go poorly, I’m able to still figure it out and right the ship and I can make it work. I’m like, I’m phenomenally good at that. I wish I didn’t have to be, but apparently I’m really, really good at that.
And I think it’s one of those things in a competition that long, sometimes people check out, and then they start to lose ground late in the competition. You know, everybody’s tired and beaten down. But like there’s a lot of points still in the last day of competition, day and a half. And if you could just stay focused a little longer than everybody else, you can win a ton of points. So that’s how like Cole Sager always crushes the last bit of a competition and like jumps from, you know, 15th to fifth in like the last day and a half. And you’re like, what happened? And it’s cause he didn’t stop trying. Right. And sometimes people do and it’s just whether it’s, you know, the focus on a podium or whatever it is and when you feel it slipping, you kind of just like, you take your foot off the gas a little bit and then you slip even farther.
So it’s important to just kinda, I’ve always been good at finishing and I think that that’s, you know, it’s like something I didn’t get to do last year, but that’s lesson learned I guess. Right. But I think that that’s, you know, something that in that year I was able to show that I can close at least. Right. And then same thing kind of the the following year. Yeah.
Cause I wanted to bring up the following year, like it was twice as bad the following year. People forget what happened in the criterium race. When you get a mechanical problem with your bike because of what happened to you on the cargo net in the battleground event, what were you thinking when they are taking you to the hospital off site for further evaluation?
I didn’t want to go, for one thing. I kept arguing with them cause we had a briefing at whatever time and I was like, look, if I go to the hospital like I’m not going to make this briefing and then I’m not going to be allowed to compete in the next event.
And everyone’s like, look, it’s going to be fine. Like we’ll make sure that you can compete in the next event. Like as long as you get cleared. I was like, all right, I better, cause I kinda like, you know, again, lesson learned. I like kind of tried to discreetly like talk to somebody about like, Hey, so I’m coughing up this blood. I don’t think it’s good. I don’t feel really bad. Kind of self diagnosed a little bit. And then yeah, obviously that’s a pretty big red flag. So they weren’t gonna let me crawl away with that one. But yeah. And then it was just like, it was scary I guess especially cause at that point, you know, I had the issue with the criterion race, but right after that, like my rest of day one was actually very good and so I was in like fourth or something like that and then going into the next day, like still finished battlegrounds quite well.
And I was like, well like screw that, I’m on the up and up like fuck this, I don’t want to go to the hospital. So it was fine. And then the medical staff did a great job and they kind of, you know, they definitely were careful and they said, Hey look, here’s the deal. We’ll let you compete. But if there’s any sign of something off and you know, if you ever come off a floor and you’re feeling weird or you know, you start coughing up blood again, we need to know right away because there obviously is internal damage and whatever. And so we don’t know if there’s any little ruptures that weren’t detected or weren’t ruptured yet. And over-exerting them is going to cause more damage. So the rest of that day I felt fine and did very well. And then I was a little concerned I was still just running on adrenaline and the next morning I’d wake up and feel like I got hit by a truck. But, it was OK. And then, you know, we had to swim the next day, which is a longer aerobics, sustained effort and I survived that. So at that point I kind of had just forgotten about it and I was like, it’s fine. I didn’t need to think about it anymore. But those things are stressful. It’s stressful when you feel like you’re not in control of your scenario where it’s like, all right, well somebody’s going to walk in here and tell me if I’m allowed to compete or not. And I can’t do anything about it, and I can’t argue with them. I can’t do anything. Like you don’t feel like you can advocate for yourself. So it’s scary.
Fortunately like twice now, I’ve been in that scenario when I’ve been able to compete, and you know, both times end up on a podium. So, I just need to stop putting myself in those scenarios, frankly. 2018 was hilarious. It was just like a classic, anything that could go wrong would go wrong. I remember being in that last event when my plate kind of flipped off and rolled away and I like, we were kind of all but done the event. I had to move the yoke like two more times and I was looking at like another top 10 finish and I was ahead of a couple of guys I needed to beat. So I was like, I knew I was in good shape, but I just like, I remember thinking like of course I would have like, fuck, I’m thinking like I’m going to get struck by lightning right before I cross the line. But that was an interesting year and again, like it’s cool when you know you can have things like that happen and come out the other side and still be successful. And so I’m certainly thankful that everything went well and I was able to handle everything that was thrown at me. But yeah, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating at times.
Things changed drastically as far as the structure of the Games is concerned from 18 to 2019, what was the experience for you like competing in Madison last year with a completely different competition structure?
It was interesting. I think it was sort of like, I liked the setup of the Games, you know, we didn’t have much information. Which I really liked. I like to have as little information as possible cause I’ll probably just overthink it. But yeah, it was cool. I think we were not really sure how all the cuts were going to work, how all the assimilation of the national champions and things like that. Like how that was all going to pan out, which is I guess like a little stressful, but it’s something that you can’t really control, so there’s no sense stressing too much. So it was interesting. I think that like right from the start I had identified some question marks that I thought were going to present problems, hopefully not to me, but that they would be like, they would be issues in the long run. Like things like the sliding point scale as the cuts go along. And again, I don’t know if there’s a better way to do it or like what the right way is. It’s just, I’m glad it’s not my job. So it’s, it’s cool. Like I think I like the structure. It’s a fun— it’s like a new look, right? I think that the whole thing now is the test is a bit subjective and arbitrary, kind of depending on where you put things. It’s certainly gonna get super fit athletes through. It’s going to be entertaining and it provides a new dynamic of entertainment. And I think that it’s just, you know, it’s like, it’s got everything now. It’s got heartbreak, it’s got all this, everything. Like it’s got all these new dynamics to it and it creates a certain amount of emphasis on execution.
That stuff’s great. Like those elements are awesome in sport. Like I can’t hate it. It sucks when you’re on the wrong end of it and whatever. But nobody wants that. But that’s the way it is. Right. It is the one thing I will say is it’s a bit frustrat—I think that last year, especially before people knew about it, cause I think like, you know, telling people I’d qualified for the Games before it was announced. You know, people are preparing themselves for a 12-event test or a four day, five day test and whatever. But it can be frustrating when you put a lot of prep and effort time in and you don’t get, you don’t feel like you get to show what you worked for. So that can be extremely frustrating as an athlete. And I guess the argument would be like, just like be better I guess, but it’s a cool structure.
I think it’s like, it’s got this urgency to it. It’s got this emphasis on execution. Like any little mistake could knock you right out of the competition, not just back a bunch of places. So, it’s crazy. Like it’s almost like a game show in the like anything can happen. Like, so I think that there’s something cool about that. And like I’ve talked about this a lot with people like how these changes work and we’ve just become accustomed to a certain look and like, you know, being able to say, OK, here’s this competition. This is a CrossFit competition. So the fittest person will always win, which isn’t necessarily the case ever. And I feel like especially not now. And it’s never the case in any other sport either.
I think that like we’ve kinda got wrapped up in this like fittest whatever thing, like the fitter you are, the better chances you’ve got, 100%. But execution and little things and a lot of factors play a role. So you know, if you look at like other other sports, particularly extreme sports, I think do a really, really good job of this. Where they, let’s say you get like a downhill ski, like red bull or whoever, like some big company says, Hey, we’re going to host this big competition. We’re going to invite slopestyle skiers and skier cross and downhills and like moguls guys, and like everybody, and everybody can enter and everybody can come in, throw your hat in, let’s go. But the race is, you know, it’s a big mountain top to bottom race. So if you’re a big mountain skier, probably gonna win or you got a better shot.
But nobody looks at when, at the end of this race, nobody looks at like the halfpipe skier who came third and says like, what an idiot. They didn’t win. Like they’re not a good skier, right? They’re just like, Oh, like wow, I didn’t know that that guy could do big mountain skiing. Right. Like the framing is just completely different where everyone just kind of says like, wow, that’s cool. Like this guy did that. Like if we ran a competition and like let’s say in the Reykjavik Sanctional one year just decided like, Hey, all of our events are going to have strongman elements to them. Cause that’s our, you know, our cultural component. Like OK, like the guy who wins is going to be like the best strongman, not necessarily the fittest or best like overall CrossFitter. And that’s just like, it’s kind of understood.
So now just when there’s a different look at the Games, like there is potential for things like that to come out. Like OK, the way that this test funneled and the way that things happened, you know, it will always select us to a certain degree for a certain thing. But that doesn’t make it bad. Like, it doesn’t make it a bad competition or a bad, you know, not like, not entertaining or things like that. It’s just like, it’s a different look. So like, you know, heaven forbid, you know, we run this test the next time we get the chance and you know, Mat or Tia doesn’t win, like it doesn’t mean that they’re not like super fit, right. It’s just like, it could be that like some problem that they made or right before the cut to top ten they just like made a crucial error at a crucial time.
And like boom, like that’s it, right? And then everybody can say whatever, but it doesn’t take anything away from the people who executed well and got through. It’s just like, Hey man, like sometimes that’s sports. It’s sort of like, it just needs to be, I feel like the community and culture and fan base and everybody’s kinda wrapped up in this. Like if you win, you’re the fittest, the fittest always win. And like the fitness is a component of sport. And if we’re doing this as a sport, there’s a lot of pieces and the fitter you are, the better chance you have. Don’t get me wrong, but you can make bad decisions. You’ve seen people blow up at workouts all the time. It doesn’t mean they weren’t fit enough to do better than they did, just means that they made bad decision or they did this or that and dah, dah, dah, like there’s a million scenarios, right?
So I think it’s a new look that’s pretty cool and it’s got a lot of potential and we just need to start to like allow that space to grow and it can be awesome.
You mentioned Michelle Letendre. Why did you decide to go with her as your coach? So partly, well I guess I worked with her in 2016 when I first year going to the Games and that went very well for me. So I feel like I was like, Hey, it’s not broken. Don’t fix it. And the coach that I had prior to that, who like he was, he was technically my coach at the Games in 2016, the guy, Simone Bellzel from Montreal. He was like trying to stop coaching elite athletes and he had kind of like, at that time, he wanted to coach somebody up to the Games and then he kind of checked that box and he’s like, yeah, I don’t really like coaching elite athletes, so I’m kinda out. All right, fair enough.
And then Michelle was planning to retire after the Games anyways. So when we did the Invitational in Canada, we talked a bit there and after she retired she started launching her deca comp stuff and then, you know, I contacted her about like, Hey, you know, I’m coachless now and we worked together great last summer and I figured like, we might as well, if you don’t mind, I’d love to continue that relationship. So I’ve been kinda with her all along and it’s worked really well. I think that our styles mesh very well. I like the way that she thinks. And the way that she is. And she’s not, no offense to people that are or anything like that, but she’s just like not a sunshine and rainbows kind of lady and you know, and like I’m not either like I feel like sometimes to a fault I would say, but it’s, I sometimes tend to think rather cynically and think about worst case scenarios and I plan accordingly. Right. And I think it’s part of what makes me good, but I think that she has that in her as well. So when we talk to each other, it’s not this clash of style where it’s like, well you shouldn’t think that way. You shouldn’t like dah, dah, dah. Like don’t think about not hitting the lift. Like you’re always going to hit the lift. Like well, but sometimes you won’t. And you gotta know what to do if you don’t.
So I think that we have a good meshing of styles and it’s just always been a good relationship. I’m sure I drive her crazy. This year at Wodapalooza I probably took like two years off her life. But it’s good. I think that at the end we understand each other well and it works well.
You might be the wrong person to ask this, but I’m just curious why you think that there aren’t more female coaches in the CrossFit landscape? Because as far as I know, she’s like the only one that deals with multiple elite athletes.
She’s definitely got a few, but there’s a few out there though. I think certainly less spotlighted and I think that partly that’s because of her career as an individual. She’s a little more well known. But I dunno, honestly, I don’t know.
And I know that there’s probably some athletes who like want to work with, like the same sex coach. So I dunno. I think that there’s probably some guys who don’t want to be coached by women for whatever reason. I kinda think it’s a cool opportunity because she thinks differently than I do just based on little things like that even. Right. She sees things that I don’t see because you know, I might look at something and say, Oh, you know, like I’ll probably do that unbroken. And she’s like, well, like why? I would do it like this. And frankly like what’s cool about our relationship too is, you know, she was a very, very different athlete than I am, almost opposite. So just hearing her input on things is interesting to me. And I think helpful cause, it’s things that I don’t see and I don’t think about, so it doesn’t like, just because it’s not my first instinct because of my, you know, my style as an athlete doesn’t mean it’s bad.
So I think knowing it and being able to see everything from every angle is only gonna benefit you. So it sort of gives me an extra voice in my head that’s like, Hey, you know, she does a lot of like, she cycles barbells like better than I do, but does a lot of small sets and like weird breaks and you know, but she’s like crazy good at handstand push-ups and I’m not, like things like that. Like she just like the way that she thinks about stuff often reflects her strengths and weaknesses as it should. And so it’s cool to sorta hear that other voice and sometimes some really great ideas come out of it when it comes to forming a strategy. So I think that you don’t necessarily want to have a coach that thinks exactly like you do. Cause I can think for myself, like at the end of the day when I’m on the floor, like that’s what I’m going to do. But the more time you have in training where you can have another voice to kind of bounce things off of and like kick the ball back and forth with, I think it’s just going to benefit you in the long term.
Final question for you. I know you have a lot more time that you want to be competing in CrossFit, but so far in your career, what are you the most proud of?
Oh, that’s a good question. Whew. I dunno. And in terms of, I don’t know, I mean I’m 30 this year, Sean, so, yeah, you know, there’s a lot of young kids coming up looking pretty good.
30 is young, Pat. It’s very young.
I still got a few good years in me, Sean.
I think you do.
These old bones. But, I dunno, you know, like I think, not like any individual accomplishment, but I think that the way that I—like the way that I dealt with everything over the course of my career, like maybe save some unsavory comments in the latest documentary, but I think that I’ve done a reasonably good job of trying to stay intelligent and trying to speak well of people and of events and trying to, you know, like stay humble and let my actions speak. And I think that it’s been good.
I think that I’ve done a good job. I actually, I think that I’ve promoted education well and I think that I’m proud of the way that I finished school and started working in the middle of my CrossFit Games career. And I think that that kind of almost goes hand in hand with what I was saying, but I think that that’s a big one for sure. That I was able to do that, you know, in parallel and not suffer for it. And I mean, in spite of tons of people telling me that I should just like put it on hold or do whatever and just compete full time and blah blah blah. I’m really, really happy with the way I did that and have always kind of spoken for, I’ve been a representative for people who like have a life outside of that and you know, to have to work a full time job or have to go to school or have to things and then, and then have to try to deal with their fitness goals on the outside of that. So, I think it’s cool to be a representative for that cause that’s most of the community.
Well listen Pat, it’s always a pleasure, man. I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to do this and best of luck and I hope that we get to see you compete in August at the CrossFit Games.
Yeah, fingers crossed. Yeah, we’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll be eating lots of snacks on the couch.
You and everybody else, my friend. Thanks again Pat. Appreciate it.
All right, take care Sean.
I want to thank Pat Vellner one more time for taking the time to speak with me today. If you want to follow him on social media, he is on Instagram @pvellner. Make sure to subscribe and join me every Wednesday for inspiring stories from the fitness community and interviews with your favorite athletes and coaches. Miss an episode? Well, you can find them all in our archives at twobrainbusiness.com. Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio, everybody. I’m Sean Woodland and we’ll see you next time.