So if you haven’t heard…I didn’t win. Good god it feels like 2010 all over again. It actually doesn’t even feel like I even won the last two years, haha. I came in 2nd, actually. Quite frustrating because if you look at the USA Memory Championship website, it looks like I won because it says I was in 1st place overall. But that’s the nature of the competition. It doesn’t really matter how you did through all the events, but rather how you do in the last event. Here’s a recap of how the day went down:
I decided to get to the competition early this year just to scope things out. The Science Channel had supposedly put all these cameras and cranes and things up, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself and memory competitions is that I need to know the who, the what, and the where of everything before I go in or else I freak out and lose focus. So I did just that.
I did my usual walk down 3rd ave listening to my memory competition play-list, made a right on 14th street and found the all-too-familiar Con Edison building looming above me. There was a camera guy waiting outside to film competitors arriving and no sooner did I enter the building I got a tap on the shoulder from the camera guy asking if I could pretend walking in one more time. Reality TV is so not EVER real!
Anyways, I met a few familiar faces on the elevator ride up and then entered the main hall. I actually expected more of a to-do from the Science Channel. There was just one large crane and the amount of media present was really the same as previous years except all of them were Science Channel folks in orange shirts (I think other media had been limited by the organizers).
I was placed in the first table as usual, in close proximity to past winners Ronnie White, Chester Santos, and Ram Kolli (who finally showed up after a two year hiatus). I was actually pretty excited to see Ram (little did I know he would later beat me. HA.). Did a few interviews, said hello to all the usual suspects, then sat down in my seat ready as ready could be.
First event was Names and Faces (15 minutes to memorize as many names as possible). I love starting with this event because it isn’t a very stressful event because you don’t know what you’re gonna get. No pressure. Last year I got 163 names right and the record is 174. In practice I had been hitting 195-200 names. I didn’t pace myself very well and only touched 180 names this time. I usually get a handful of spellings wrong, so it’s safe to deduct 20 names or so for a final score (you don’t get points for incorrectly spelled names). I was pretty on target with that guestimate because I scored 162. Better than most everyone. Michael Glantz hit 152 – solid. I was surprised how low everyone else’s scores were compared to ours – I think the next closest was around 132.
Second event was Speed Numbers (5 minutes to memorize as many digits as possible). First trial was a mess. I was too distracted by cameras and found myself going slower than usual. I made it to about 300 digits before I had to start reviewing. Made a ton of mistakes during recall and ended up with a score of 194 digits – meh. Second trial felt so smooth. I made it to 342 digits and I felt perfect about them all. There was a stupid mistake made by the organizers though – they forgot to stop everyone at 5 minutes, so people kept memorizing and I had to awkwardly shout out that time was done. I honestly blame that moment on the fact that I made 2 mistakes in my recall. Because of that I got 302 digits instead of the full 342. The last 4 digits on the 320-340 digit row were 3161 but I had memorized them by a quick mental photograph when time ran out. But when I had to shout out to correct the judges on the time, I guess I was distracted enough to flip the 61 into a 16 in my mind. So I wrote 3116 and got that row wrong because of it. Had i gotten it right I would have beaten my old record with 322 digits. DAMN. But 302 is still respectable and miles ahead of anyone else (the next closest was 132 digits).
Third event was Poetry. It was a tough poem with long lines and super erratic punctuation. I went for about 220 points (I went for 233 points last year) and ended up with a score of 165. Good enough for tied 3rd with Mike Mirski.
Fourth event was Speed Cards. First trial I decided to play it safe just to have a good score under my belt. That usually means I need to go through the deck twice. I nailed it in 1 minute, 7 seconds. Johnny Briones did an awesome 1m28s next to me. I felt awesome because nailing it in the first trial allowed me to go buck wild in the second. I typically go too fast the first time, get it wrong, then have to stress about getting it right the second. But this time I was free to go nuts for the second trial. I just went for it and slapped the timer at 34.97 seconds! On the recall I felt good, had everything correct except two cards. ARGHHH! Swapped them. So close to a personal competition best and a huge USA record. Oh well. Until next year, I suppose. I was expecting Jared Alderman to shine here, but I guess certain things didn’t go his way. It happens.
So with winning 3 out of the 4 morning events, I was sure to get in the top 8. Actually 1st place. Thank the fricking baby jesus. I had been so stressed about whether or not I’d get in this year. So many people were talking about threatening this score and that, but in the end no one came even close. I never understand why this happens – it’s the same story every year. Anyways, we had lunch and then started the afternoon rounds with the top 8: Me, David Kutz, Michael Glantz, Noah Ehrich, Mike Mirski, Johnny Briones, Ram Kolli, and Chester Santos (No Ron White! I was shocked).
Random Words was first (15 minutes to memorize as many words as possible from a 200 word list). I always go for 100, but I pushed for 130 to be safe. I can usually do something close to that in just over 5 minutes, so it’s a pretty safe score for me. We went out on stage and nobody was getting any words wrong! I think we got into the 80th words before someone made a mistake. At around 100, we had our first 3 contestants knocked out. This is always the scariest event for me, just because it’s so easy to slip up and you only have ONE shot. But I made it through, thankfully.
The Tea Party was up next, and in my opinion was a total shit show. The people that the organizers got to read out their profiles were so annoying – everyone suddenly thought they were professional actors or something (I guess because they were gonna be on TV?). It made the event look kind of stupid. Either way, I hardly ever listen to the people talking anyways. I just memorize it straight from the sheet. Then we got an extra 5 minutes to review everything in the back room. Easy. Didn’t make a mistake at all. Michael, Ram, and I made it through.
On to the finals: Double Deck ‘O Cards (5 minutes to memorize two decks). I had practiced this so much. In practice I had even gotten my 2 deck time down to 2m30 seconds. Typically in competition it takes me about 45 seconds to go through each deck the first time and then I spend the rest of the time reviewing the decks as many times as possible. So the 5 minutes ended and as we walked to the stage, I mentally rehearsed both decks. Knew them down cold. As we went started reciting the deck on stage, out loud, I remember being so careful and focused on saying each card correctly. It’s easy to say the wrong card even if you are thinking the right one. Michael Glantz got eliminated on the 27th card, then I corrected him with “6 of diamonds”, Ram: “10 of Spades”, me: “9 of hearts”, Ram: “2 of Spades”, me: “Queen of Clubs”, Ram: “Jack of Hearts”. All while this is happening, Tony Dottino (the MC) is telling us to slow down and is having trouble showing the audience the cards. I remember the crowd kind of muttering at this point and me looking over at Tony briefly. I think at that moment is when my focus shifted and I temporarily lifted myself out of the memory palace I was in for the cards. When I went back in, I started speaking before I knew where I was. “2 of Spades” I said (which was the correct answer 3 cards prior)….instantly as I said it, I knew what I was saying was wrong. It was “Ace of Spades”….FUCKKKKKKK. And that was it. I lost. Just like that. Off of a stupid mistake. It felt like 2010 all over again.
Such is life.
So there you have it. My 2 year dominance stunted by a dumb mistake. Congrats to Ram for sneaking into the top 8 and having the persistence to stick it out till the end. That might have been my last USA Memory Competition….at least my last USAMC in that format.
Losing sucks, for sure. And it hurts especially when you know you could have won for a third straight time. But I have to look at the positive, and that is that losing is usually better than winning. At least in terms of where it takes you next. When I lost in 2010, it pushed me and motivated me like crazy to win in 2011. I did. But after winning for 2 years straight, it was a lot harder to push myself this time around. So with this loss, I know I’ll have to push myself in another direction, and for that I am happy. I needed that boost. So whatever it is that I push myself towards next, watch out!
But for now, on to EVEREST!
The 2013 USA Memory Championship is finally upon us! The 16th annual competition of the minds starts at 8:30am this Saturday, March 16th in the Con Edison Building (4 Irving Place, NYC). For those of you planning to go (and everyone reading this should be planning to go), the first event starts at around 8:45. You’ll be seeing us “mental athletes” memorize names and faces, massive numbers, poems, and then decks of cards. That’s in the a.m. After we break for lunch, the top 8 competitors battle it out elimination-style on stage. To me, this is really the most exciting part of the competition for viewers, so if you don’t have all day to kill, aim to show up at around 1:30 to see that. It goes till about 5ish.
Good god it’s gonna be a good one! This is how excited I am: here and here and here. I’m trying to win my third title in a row, while a good handful of new-comers are setting their sights on the title as well. Some competitors are even throwing around the world “world record” for a lot of the events. I’ve set records that are respectable in the world of memory, but to see a world record be broken on the USA stage would be unprecedented. We will see.
How am I feeling? Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so calm before a competition. Back in 2010 when I first tried to win, I was nervous as hell. In 2011 I was slightly nervous but confident more than anything. In 2012 I was an absolute wreck – I have no idea how I kept it together. But this year I for once, feel great. Not because I’m kick-ass confident or anything, but more because I don’t really care as much this time around. And when I don’t really care when memorizing, I memorize the best. Either way, I’ll be trying to break all the US records as usual. Hopefully I can walk out with a few new ones and a few old ones improved.
Hope you can make it out there. If you can’t then you can follow my twitter. I’ll be tweeting as much as I can throughout the day.
It’s 5:30pm and I’m reviewing the list of attendees for the night’s Fusion-io event – an event celebrating their top 100 customers in Japan. Yeah, Japan. I’m trying desperately to make some sense out of all these crazy looking names I’m reading. Takenori, Takeshi, Katsutoshi, Yoshihiro, Kazuhiko, the list goes on. To a native, names like these are no problem, but for me they literally look like Japanese. I’ve memorized rooms full of people before, but with names like Bob, Steve, Carol, and maybe a lengthy asian name here and there – but for the most part not.
At 6pm, I’ve positioned myself at the entrance of the banquet hall where the clients will enter once having registered. At first two stroll in: Yuta and Toshikazu. I bow and introduce myself and they politely return the bow and present their business cards. I pause for a moment, work my memory magic, and I’m good; I’ve memorized their names.
A few more people walk in and I repeat the process. So far so good. But soon, the volume of people coming in is too much for me to handle and I can’t introduce myself to everyone so easily. I do my best but soon find myself flustered in a room full of 40 (and climbing) Japanese men. What’s worse, and I hate to say it, is that I’m having a hard time telling the difference between many of them. They’re all wearing similar business suits and they all have very similar facial features (at least to me, an American who’s not accustomed to being around asians). I can typically pick out a feature on an a Westerner in a split second, but here it’s a real challenge.
Time is running out – I only have until 6:30 to make my way around the room and learn as many names as possible, then the event will start. Ryusuke, Yousuke, Kensuke, Horishi, Tonesuki, Daniel (phew, an easy one), Hideki, the names keep coming. I make it through about 60 or so people before time finally runs out.
The event begins. Founders David Flynn and Rick White do their magic on stage, and soon after The Woz joins them for a Q&A. A sake barrel is hammered open in custom, a toast is made, and dinner is served. It’s nearly showtime. I scan each of the 11 tables in the room to make sure I remember all the names. I’m drawing a lot of blanks. This is gonna be a disaster.
Finally I’m ushered backstage. They play a short media clip about me and I’m called to the stage. “If you remember shaking my hand when you entered, please stand up.” Over half the room stands up. Yikes. “If I say your name correctly, have a seat. If not, stay standing. I apologize if I mis-pronounce your name, I’ve never had to memorize so many Japanese names in my life! It was quite a challenge.” The audience lets out a polite laugh but I know I’ll have to nail everyone’s name or else it’s not gonna be very impressive.
I walk over to one of the tables in the front that I feel very comfortable with. I nail the names of the 5 people standing. Each one lets out a resounding “OHHHHHH” as I correctly say their name. Okay…I got this, I say to myself as I move on to the next table. Boom, Bam, Boom, name after name I fire them off almost without thinking. More ooohhhs and ahhhhhs. “I’ll come back to you later” I say to one guy in particular whom I can’t remember. I circle the room, flawless. I mispronounce one name, but I can see they are very understanding and still impressed. I come to the last table and name “Toshikazu” – “Aha!” I turn to the gentleman I had previously skipped over in the front of the room. “Your name is Toshikazu too!” DONE. The room bursts into thunderous applause. I have no idea how, but I’ve done it.
That was a short recap of my recent business trip last week. The point of the story is to emphasize how important it is to trust in your memory. I’ve talked about this before, but I’ve found that the fastest times and best scores I’ve achieved while memorizing have all happened when I wasn’t really thinking. I know that sounds odd. How can you memorize something, which in itself is a process that requires a great deal of thinking, without thinking? I don’t have a solid answer for that, but I do know that memory works better when confidence is high. I guess because a lot of the thinking/memorizing power can get lost in the thoughts of self-doubt and unsureness while memorizing. If you remove that and just “look” at what you are memorizing (using techniques of course – just looking at stuff won’t help you memorize better) it’ll flow and stick better.
Performing at a high level without thinking is a phenomenon that applies to a bunch of different arenas. The idea is that you become so proficient in a skill or task through practice, that you can almost operate without thinking. Think of when a basketball player catches fire. He has no idea why, it just happens. And then compare it to someone in a slump, à la Tiger Woods. Suddenly the best golfer in the world sucks and everything he tries to do to fix his poor performance just seems to make him even worse.
So if you’re ever frustrated with your performance, in whatever field that may be, just remember that sometimes less thinking can improve performance. So just let go. Step back form the situation and just do it.
Last time I climbed Everest my training was roughly 5-6 days a week running 4-7 miles, with 3-4 of those days also lifting, working on strength. Nothing super over the top, but still a pretty good schedule. I felt strong on that climb, but as many of you know, it didn’t get me to the top. I think that was because I had too much of a predictable workout schedule, and after a while, running just wasn’t pushing me enough.
This year I’ve been varying my routines on the daily to keep my body guessing and ready for anything. Typically I do 3-4 days on, 1 day off, then repeat. It really depends on how my body is feeling. Some workouts hurt for longer, so for example, this week I rested Friday and Sunday. The goal of my training is to keep my whole body in shape and capable of attacking any type of physical situation. Granted, climbing is pretty predictable – it’s pretty much just carrying a heavy pack and using your legs to walk up a steep incline. But I truly believe that being fit means being ready for absolutely anything. Here’s a taste of what I did last week.
Strength: 10 Rep Max Lunges (5 each leg)(Front Rack Position)
3×5 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible), 1 minute rest between sets
5 bar muscle ups
10 squat jumps
Buy In: 1000m run
5 rounds of:
8 deadlifts 185 lbs
10 wall ball shots 20 lbs
12 kettle bell swings 55 lbs
Buy Out: 1000m run
EMOM (every minute on the minute) for 10 min.:
3 hand-stand pushups
15 min. AMRAP:
10 ring aussie pull-ups
10 weighted step-ups with 35 lb dumb-bell (5 each leg)
5 strict pull-ups
Hi-plank hold for 5 min.
15 min. EMOM:
2 hang squat snatch 95 lbs + 5 burpees
For time (split between a partner):
150 thrusters 95 lbs
200 double unders (jump rope)
10 rounds for time:
7 chest-to-bar pull-ups
7 front squats 115 lbs
7 hand stand push ups
Active rest day – 5 mile run.
So, there you have it (If you’re not sure what some of those movements are, just youtube ‘em….you’ll find plenty of tutorials). I’ve been following this training regiment for just over a year, whereas in 2011 I had only started training 6 months before. I feel incredibly strong – stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life – and my endurance and stamina are through the roof.
Onto the next week of training!
Yes, the memory championship is in less than two months (March 16th), but more importantly my Everest climb. Every day I get more and more excited for it. I really can’t believe it’s been nearly 2 whole years since I last went. I was 27 then, now I’m 29. I really feel a difference in how much better I am able to focus on goals. Back then, with climbing, memorizing, etc., I was pretty solid when it came to having a strict schedule and working my ass off. But now, the difference is not so much the volume of practice and training (which is what I used to think it was all about) but more about the quality of it. I’m a lot smarter about what I do to prepare and I avoid wasting time on the things that don’t really matter.
Just to give you an idea of what will be happening here on this blog during the climb. There’ll be updates as often as possible as I climb up to the different camps on the mountain, more frequent tweets and facebook updates, live satellite position broadcasting, and once all is said and done, another series of Everest videos. Should be fun. The North side of Everest is a classic climb but there’s never as much coverage on that side as there is on the South…so hopefully I can change that a bit.
Remember that this climb is all in the name of Alzheimer’s Disease. I started climbing and memorizing because of my grandmother, after she passed from the disease a few years ago. The goal is and has always been to raise as much funds and awareness for the disease. If you haven’t done your part yet and would like to help out, please make a donation here: www.climbformemory.org/donate