The roar of the Temescal Brewing crowd filled my ears, blue-and-white Oktoberfest banners fluttered in the breeze, dogs barked, people settled in at picnic tables to watch the competition, then the countdown started, “three, two, one.” I reeled in my focus and lifted my arm—the Masskrugstemmen had begun.
Let’s take a moment to break down the word Masskrugstemmen. Translated from German, it roughly means “massive pitcher pressing,” i.e. a stein-holding competition. Yes, this classic Oktoberfest event is exactly what you are imagining: contestants hold a glass stein full of a liter of beer straight out in front of them for as long as they can, no wobbling, spilling or bent elbows. Longest holder wins (find the official rules here).
If I asked you to picture the perfect contestant for this event, it would probably be someone like this: a 6-foot, 3-inch person with a body that closely resembles the Hulk. Their muscles are constantly threatening to break through their shirt, they are on a first-name basis with everyone at their local gym and two of their three daily meals are protein shakes. This particular individual would scoff when they heard last year’s stein-holding competition at Temescal Brewing only lasted three and a half minutes—after 30 reps of 200-pound curls a day, they’d be confident they could win.
I’m not this person. I’m 5-feet-1-inch tall on a good day. I don’t take up a lot of space. I don’t like attention. If you had seen me in the 20-person lineup this past Saturday, you would’ve thought I had no chance. How wrong you would’ve been.
A little more about me: my number one hobby is rock climbing. I have climbed for seven years and I climb at least five days a week. I’m also a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo. I once beat 30 men in a plank competition that lasted over 10 minutes, and the best compliment I ever received was that I was like a chili pepper: small, yet powerful, from a man I’d just sparred who was twice my weight.
So when I learned about the Masskrugstemmen just a week ago, I couldn’t wait to show up and crush the egos of the strong men around me like I’d done before. My friends amped me up. “I think you could beat the women’s world record in stein-holding,” one said. The U.S. women’s record is 6 minutes, 10 seconds—child’s play, I thought. I was going for the U.S. men’s record, 21 minutes, 17 seconds. I didn’t train too hard, after all, five days of climbing and some visualizing of my upcoming victory should prepare me enough.
All that is to say, after taking two rest days before the event, I was pretty confident I could hold a glass of beer in front of me for as long or longer than my weight-lifting, protein-gobbling, doubtful-of-me opponents.
So, when my shoulder started shaking uncontrollably just one minute into the competition, I felt a little surprised. Sure, people were dropping like flies around me—the man directly to my left never even fully straightened his arm, receiving multiple whistles from the monitoring staff—but competition is what fuels me. I wasn’t ready to give up. I thought of the words my taekwondo instructor used to say: “Pain is temporary, black belt is forever.” Yet, it wasn’t the pain that was getting to me, my arm just started dropping and wouldn’t lift back up. The muscles that propel me up walls and earned me a black belt couldn’t withstand the 5 pounds of weight from a stein full of Oktoberfest beer.
I was in disbelief as my arm dropped, the beer sloshing a little at the sides, and the officiant turned their whistle on me. My friends reassured me: “Your form was impeccable;” “There were so many cheaters;” “You were definitely in the top third.” I was far from assured, how could I have let this happen?
When the entire thing was over in three and a half minutes, I searched for the winner, who I knew would be towering above me. Except, he wasn’t. Instead, Louie Delgado was my height, maybe an inch taller. He was stocky, yet unassuming and he had come to Temescal from another Oktoberfest event in Jack London Square where he also won that stein-holding competition—his first ever, after holding the stein for over five minutes. When he got to Temescal, he initially decided not to compete but at the last minute decided to enter and just switch arms, and he won for the second time that day. (Temescal’s competition apparently paled in comparison to the one at Jack London Square.)
When asked, he readily offered up his secrets: Spartan race training, general fitness, and meditation. He also humbly mentioned that he believes being short is an advantage because of his shorter arms.
I soaked in this knowledge. Being short? Check. General fitness? Check. But meditation? Spartan races? I wrote these down. Next year, I won’t be caught unprepared.
So I’ve found it, the motivation that will force my rest days from climbing—training for next year’s Masskrugstemmen. See you then, Delgado.