England's Strongest Woman 2015
It's been a while since we heard from our resident strongwoman. Today, Joanna's back on the blog - and she has some exciting news!
Last year was my first year of competing in Strongwoman and I placed 4th at the England’s Strongest Woman final. It was a lot higher than I expected to finish, but being so close to the podium made me hungry to do better.
2015 So Far
2015 has been a mixed year for me. In February, I moved from Newcastle - and my gym, Spartan Performance - to London. Over the last eight months, I’ve moved house four times, spent two months in San Francisco, visited five different countries and eaten about sixty burgers!
I’ve had the pleasure of training in some incredible places (San Francisco CrossFit, I’m looking at you!) with some amazing people, and I’ve hit PBs I didn’t think I’d be seeing any time soon (thanks, burgers!).
My life has been exciting, interesting and adventurous… but definitely not consistent. I couldn’t find a good gym in London so I wasn’t really sure what the year was going to hold for me and had wondered if I should take a step back from the competition circuit altogether. But at the end of the day, I do it for fun, so I decided just to keep putting myself out there and see what happened.
I competed in the London Qualifier for England’s Strongest Woman a week after returning home from San Francisco. I placed 2nd, which was a pretty good result given that I’d spent the previous few months training at FuBarbell, an Olympic weightlifting club, and hadn’t touched a strongman implement for ages.
Over the summer, I battled several more house moves, Fitness First gym visits and eventually a shoulder injury which knocked me out of several competitions. I was starting to wonder if life was telling me it was time to move on, when Nadia, a fellow competitor, told me about a great gym on the outskirts of London. “You should come up with me at the weekend,” she said, “it’ll be great”.
A Fresh Start
And so the following weekend I ventured past the end of a tube line, to a magical place called Villain Barbell Club. Villain is the kind of place I thought I’d never find in London. The kind of place where it doesn’t matter how good you are or how much you lift; where everyone supports each other and pushes themselves to the limit. The result is a buzzing, friendly environment where everyone can be the best versions of themselves. From my first session at the gym, Andy, the owner, welcomed me and gave me a program to train to in the run-up to England’s Strongest Woman.
For the next few months, I ploughed away at the program. The first week I couldn’t walk, but by weeks two and three the strength gains (and my quads) were coming thick and fast. Even on holiday, amidst lots of pizza and wine, my lifts went up.
England's Strongest Woman
By the time the big day rolled around, I was feeling pretty good. After placing 4th last year, my aim was to place top 3. I was competing against a new bunch of girls from last year, including some mighty strong ones, so I wasn’t sure how ambitious I was being.
The first event was 50kg on a barbell, floor to overhead, as many reps as possible in 60 seconds. My Olympic lifting helped me out a bit here as when my press got tired I could switch to split jerk. I got 6 reps, just missed the 7th within the time limit, which I was amazed to discover put me in joint 1st place.
Next up was a 60kg farmer run straight into 180kg yoke. I hadn’t been under a yoke for months and every girl before me struggled with the weight, so by the time my turn rolled around I was starting to doubt myself; the adrenaline boost from my joint 1st place was starting to lose its edge. Fortunately, months of squatting 3x a week seemed had given me stocky little legs to run on, so, despite a couple of stumbles on the grass, I got through it and took 1st place.
Third up was the deadlift. I was dreading this event. The week before I’d rolled up at Villain, fresh off a flight from my holiday, wailing about how I’d never done a 15” deadlift. Fortunately Lisa, a coach at Villain and ESW competitor, has dealt with my kind before and although I didn’t hit competition weight (130kg) that day, she managed to reinstate a modicum of confidence. On competition day, I somehow managed not only one, but 14 reps of the deadlift - and won the event!
The keg carry was the next event; 40kg, 50kg and 60kg kegs from one end of the field to the other. Carrying and loading is usually one of my better events but it was a bad day for me and I dropped a keg twice. I’m not sure where I placed in this but it was so low I fell to 2nd place overall, despite having won 3 of 4 events so far.
Last up was the squat; 90kg for reps in 60 seconds. I’d been training for this like a trooper and was knew I could do 15+ reps. By chance, I was last up and only needed 6 reps to win, which I banged out and won the event in 21 seconds. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those people who stopped an event once they’d won, I wanted to keep going, but it was the last event and I was exhausted. When your mind/body knows you don’t need to do anymore, it just sort of… gives up on you. So I failed my 7th rep and stopped, although it still keeps me awake at night that I didn’t keep going!
With the events over for the day, I still didn’t know what the overall score was. It had been so close going into the last event that I had no idea whether I’d finished in first or second place.
Fortunately luck (or more appropriately, hard work!) was on my side and I took 1st place overall by half a point. Lisa, a fellow Villain, took 2nd place in her weight category, finishing only 2 points behind the reigning champion.
It’s been three days and I still can’t believe it happened. I can’t believe I’m England’s Strongest Woman under 63kg! Hard work doesn’t always translate to success but when it does, it’s beautiful.
I'm sure you'll all join us in congratulation Joanna - well done! Such a fantastic result.