19 Aug Brandon Crabill’s 666 Challenge part 2: He did it!
666 and Taming the Beast
By Brandon Crabill
NOTE: Keep any eye out for Brandon’s training log here on PRM within the next 2 weeks as he takes his training to the NEXT level.
The truth is I wrote this whole thing out three times and knew each one was bullshit. It pissed me off because I could not figure out why it was so hard to put into words a simple physical challenge, but the reality is that this whole experience has been a purge, an awakening, a call to arms and a confrontation of my fears all in one. If you’ve been training for the better part of a decade or more you are at the point where your peer group looks different. You do things beyond the scope of normal measures of strength and it can be alienating. I love my strength, I would never lie about that, but the reality is that you put a big target on your chest once things progress to a certain level. There are questions that have obvious answers but we aren’t allowed to talk about it. Feelings get hurt, assumptions get made, but the sad reality is you know that it’s a road that most people just don’t have the balls to go down. I am far from lacking in compassion but my expectations of my own performance are beyond ruthless. I know I respect and look up to some crazy motherfuckers and that’s just not going to be for everybody. I kept trying to relay what was going on with me on a spiritual level but the reality is that as the miles and pounds accumulate and the distance only grows wider. So I will do my best to try to explain what and why I would start down a road that could lead to nothing but pain, but who really cares? In the world of powerlifting we know what we are choosing to do, but why the running? How can they be tied together in such a profound way for somebody like myself?
The simple answer goes back to an independent documentary I had the great privilege of watching, entitled “Running On The Sun: The Badwater 135”. Now, to my powerlifting friends there is a certain clip many of you have probably watched over and over again. It is where Chuck Vogelpohl pulls 816 and in fact blows the whole world up with awesomeness immediately following it. This is it if somehow you’ve missed one of the coolest moments in the history of the sport:
Now, here’s the thing: what if I told you there’s a group of runners who are just as fucking crazy and intense? In this clip at about the 7:16 mark, you see truly one of the most intense things I’ve ever seen out of a competitor.
That sort of intensity and dedication to finish against pain, fear, and incredible circumstance are beyond inspiring. https://youtu.be/pmua1daeU6M. Each one of the racers involved in that race are doing one of the craziest things you could ever do, The Badwater 135 through Death Valley. The Badwater Ultra marathon describes itself as “the world’s toughest foot race”. It is a 135-mile (217 km) course starting at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet (2548 m) at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney. It takes place annually in mid-July, when the weather conditions are most extreme where temperatures over 120 °F (49 °C), even in the shade, are not uncommon. Consequently, very few people—even among ultra marathoners—are capable of finishing this grueling race.
If that doesn’t get your attention then I do not know what else will. Do I respect runners? You better believe it; I think endurance athletes are probably more “hardcore” than any of us typical power lifters would like to believe we are. So I guess this is that point where I just put it all out there. Thanks to Harry Selkow’s 666 Challenge and Alex Viada dominating two worlds at once, I’m hooked. 666 is just the start, I love the synergy of the two worlds and it is absolutely mesmerizing how much interconnectivity there is between them. I love lifting heavy ass weights and I want to do other things that challenge and scare me the same way that a maximal effort squat does. Running has become that missing piece of the equation for me. I could feel it building as I spent more and more time on the trails pounding out mileage. It all served a purpose and it brought pain, determination and faith in myself in a way that was simply reaffirmed by the fact that I could not and would not quit. It really has been an amazing experience that’s immediately opened up my worldview immensely. Now that the truth is out there, I’ll get back to what this is all about for now, 600 Squat/600 Deadlift/6:00 Mile…666.
Harry put this out a fair amount of time ago, some time in April of 2012 I’m pretty sure but nobody wanted any I guess. I remember reading it in his log and immediately being struck by that concept and being enamored. The plain truth is I wasn’t even close to strong enough at the time to attempt it. My best squat was 505 and I’d just finally pulled 545 for the very first time. I had no illusions when I read it, not a fucking chance. Yet I did not forget it and that’s the important part. I was patient and knew exactly what would be necessary to pull something like that off. However, in the meantime I had made some mistakes in strength accumulation and I knew that I needed to get stronger if I ever wanted to stand a chance. So obviously strength and size had become my focus, in turn I ballooned up to about 270 pounds of pure unadulterated fatness. This sucked so bad I don’t even like to talk about it. I became anti everything that didn’t involve sitting down. I was big and sort of strong but really just fat as a walrus flopping around on the beach. I was hot, like seriously, no matter what I did I was fat and hot. Eventually I realized I was being a moron as my strength was not increasing anywhere near the pace of my waistline. I decided that it was time to clean some things up and get some help. I enlisted the help of a great friend and strength coach out of the Detroit area by the name of Dan Allison. We cleaned up my diet, got me functioning again and I dropped down to the mid 240s and eventually dipped down to the 220s for a bit. From there I did a meet and knocked out a 556 squat and 600 deadlift as a 198 who actually weighed 227 on competition day. So began my love affair with weight cuts, but that’s a story for some other time. The point was though, I’d gotten stronger by getting back into shape and focusing on working smarter.
After that meet in 2012 I decided to take my diet and nutrition even more seriously and had the privilege of working with Shelby Starnes. By the time Shelby had finished working his magic I was down to competing as a pretty damn jacked 181. I was cruising around in the high 190’s and had a lower body fat percentage than I’d ever experienced in my life. It was pretty amazing to say the least. Having dropped all the excess blubber, I knew I wanted to begin to accumulate strength in a much more intelligent manner. Dieting and nutrition had been a long and determined 18-month journey for me. I wasn’t about to just throw it out the window. That led me to Brian Carroll and that’s when my expectations changed immensely. I began to see strength and performance out of myself I had never thought possible. I went from being concerned about being able to meet the minimum strength numbers of 666 to knowing without a doubt that I would be guaranteed to hit them. In preparation for the XPC Finals at The Arnold I’d squatted 750, benched over 600, and pulled 715 for reps in my gear. That told me all I needed to know about my strength. I was primed and ready for a solid performance no matter I chose to do. With the Arnold, I came in at 184 and totaled 1880 with tough calls that would have put me well into the 1900s but such is life and the platform, especially as a multiply rookie. Maybe I forgot to mention that part, Brian took me to an Elite and damn near Pro total in my first real meet!
The interesting part though is that during that meet prep is when I had some thoughts take root in my head. I had the great fortune of getting to go up and get coached on squat technique and gear in general with Zane Geeting. The cool part with Zane, is just like Brian, his squat technique is damn awe-inspiring. It took my squat from a thing of terror to one of my strengths heading into The Arnold. I truly can’t thank him enough because it was in that environment that I began to see I could do so much more than what I had thought possible. It was also where a simple mention of something that stuck with me and meant a ton to me. Zane was there and so was Dirk and he said something that hit me like a bolt of lightning. Its funny in hindsight what we hold onto in moments, but I held onto this like a million dollar lotto ticket. We were working through some heavier squats and Dirk was back spotting while Zane was calling out my cues. It was maybe my third time up to squat with them, but the changes week to week were just awesome. After a heavy double set, Dirk was talking about how I would rush the transition from the first rep to the second and skip a really solid set up and thus change my hip and back positioning as I was headed into a second rep. It went essentially like this, you change your positioning and you are getting away with it because you know your body and are obviously an athlete in how you adapt. Not that big of a deal right? Fuck yes it was! You know how many people have ever used that word, athlete and me in the same sentence as such an empowering statement? Nobody! Yeah, I’d been told I was strong, I had talent, and all of that but to be referred to as athletic and having some sort of potential beyond what I knew was something entirely new to me. It wasn’t just that I could do something, it’s that I should use it and refine it. I was being coached, called out, and lifted up all at the same time. I was being taught on the spot that I needed to demand excellence out of my performances in a positive way. To have that happen with those guys who I respect immensely was very, very special to me. To be completely honest, I feel like that was the final catalyst, that that moment may have been the final push toward attempting the 666 challenge and having the faith to know I could stand a chance after all. So hats off to you gentlemen, I appreciate that more than you know and I look forward to continuing to improve.
See the thing with this whole challenge is that I didn’t know if I could really do it. I tried cross-country in high school and quit in my first practice. I don’t know that I’d ever even run anything below 9 minutes really in my whole life. I’m not kidding at all. I just fucking sucked at running and hated it. I really want that to be understood, I was not heading into this fearless. I was terrified and knew I very well could get hurt, fail, embarrass myself, and just not have the heart to see it out. Yet there’s been so many beautiful coincidences and reaffirming moments along the way that its hard to ignore that I was on the right path. First, there’s Harry Selkow himself, seriously a philosopher sage with the heart of a lion. His mere presence in my mind refused to let quitting be a real option. Can you imagine having to quit in front of Harry? I’d rather die I’m pretty sure. Then some of the other people that came into play blow my mind. Seriously within a matter of weeks of coming to the decision of trying the 666 challenge, I discovered Alex Viada and his training. Seeing a dude that squats and pulls in the 700s raw, while also having a mile time in the low 4-minute range pretty much made my mind explode. I’d just stepped into a world of pure fucking awesome and completely unintentionally I might add! Alex immediately became a cornerstone of how I would organize my own training. I learned quickly from his writings and my own body disintegrating that I would have to be damn serious and smart about my training to pull this off.
With that backdrop we come to my deep, dark secret that I was in trouble from the outset. Here’s the tale of the tape for the folks keeping score at home, my first mile was 10:23, I’ve been holding that one close to the vest for a while now. It was really bad and embarrassing, so I’d say things like, a little under 10 or around 10 or not fast when people pressed me for specifics. I sucked ass to start, I had a minimum of 4-minutes to cut off…great. Next up, the squat, an awful 565. Deads were still fine with a 605 pull that wasn’t the end of the world to do. My bench, I don’t even get, but it was an easy 425 to start. In a nutshell, not the worst possible scenario, but not so damn hot either. I needed to add 40 pounds to my squat, at least maintain my bench and pull and somehow go from a deconditioned power lifter to a guy who could run pretty well. The last part was mortifying. It hurt to run, my lungs were burning, my whole body felt like it was made out of garbage once I stepped on the track. The one positive is that I knew that there was at least one other person out there who could run fast and lift heavy stuff. The problem with him though is that I’m still not convinced Alex Viada isn’t secretly a T1000. Though it was encouraging to have a banner athlete to look up to, it was also incredibly intimidating to know that the pool of athletes to draw experience from was seemingly scarce and hard to seek out. I absorbed what I could and Alex, Brian, and Harry have been very encouraging to me through out and that was a lifesaver at many points. I never wanted to quit and to be honest it never even entered my mind. Quitting is something I couldn’t even consider. So I put out there openly what I was trying to do. From then on there was no turning back and the momentum began to carry me with it. It’s amazing what happens when you just stick it out and believe in what you are doing.
Speed work on the track became cool because I learned how to get over vomiting every time my throat would get to dry and my conditioning sucked so much. Long runs started to become the reset point in my week and my chance to cut loose on ridiculous music playlists. Accompany that with the fact that I learned to fight back against the local asshole geese on the trails and it was all like a never-ending adventure. Pro tip: when the resident alpha goose steps out from the flock hissing and trying to bite you, hiss back and tell him you’ll end him. He will totally back down and admit to your dominance. They may only be two feet tall, but never show a goose weakness, it only empowers the bastards. Anyway, the point is running became fun. Mile tests every 2-3 weeks saw minutes falling off steadily and the whole process was reaffirming. Did I learn tons of things about training? You better believe it! Hopefully as time goes along and I get better at this I’ll be able to lie out some more concrete ideas of how I did it and what I learned not to do! The basis of all of my strength training was straight up 10/20/Life. That’s the beauty of having something at your hand that teaches you to get over templates and one size fits all thinking. I’ve learned some cool things to do when things aren’t clicking right, that all comes from the consistent coaching and guidance I’ve received from Brian along the way. Because at the end of it, I still want to be strong as hell. Yeah my shorts may be a little shorter some days now, but my goals have not wavered. I’ll keep on pushing along and improve on my 606 Squat, 405 Bench, 625 Pull, and 6:18 mile. My deepest gratitude goes to Harry Selkow and his awesomeness that is his brainchild. I will be shaving the final bit off the mile so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime I’m ramping up for a meet and pushing the distance much, much further in the coming weeks. I’m excited to have guys like Brian and Alex in my corner to be so encouraging and show an interest in what I’m doing. It’s beyond cool for me and keeps me excited when things get tough. Included here is the 12-week test mark for my 666 attempt. Hope you enjoy it and it’s only the start if I have my way about it!
666 Test VIDEO
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