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My First Highland Games – Results, thoughts, and Pictures of Me in a Skirt

Gang, this is a long one.  If you’re just wondering how I did, I got second in my class–way better than I thought I’d do.  If you want to know more, read on.

On Saturday I competed in my first Highland Games, held in Payson, Utah at their Annual Scottish Festival.

I can’t remember the last time I had more fun. In this post I’m going to tell you what it was like, how I did (way better than I’d expected), what I would do differently, and try to outline what my training is going to be like as I prep for more contests.

When we got to the park in Payson, there were kilted people milling about everywhere you looked. Bagpipes droned on and on in the background.  Everyone but me seemed to be enjoying funnel cake.  But there would be time for that later–I had to find the field and check in.

It wasn’t hard.  “Listen for the screaming,” said one gentleman.

We–my wife and son were with me–followed the sounds of grunting and yowling until we found the field.  A bunch of guys in kilts were spinning around, stretching, pacing, and talking.

I checked in and got my shirt.  Ancient Athletics, it says.  That worked for me.

About 20 minutes later one of the judges called us all in–there were 39 athletes–and gave us the rundown.  I was in the C class.

Highland Games classes

It can depend on the size of the games, but the amateur class is generally broken into a couple of levels. In Payson we had A, B, and C class athletes.  C was for the rawest of the novices, and everyone had told me it was an appropriate starting point.

There was also:

  • Master’s class for competitors between the ages of 40-49
  • Master’s class for competitors between the ages of 50-59
  • Lightweight class – I wasn’t sure what the cutoff was here.  most of the guys looked like they were probably 190 lbs or less, but they weren’t required to compete in lightweight.  There was a 19 year old kid competing with the giants in the upper classes, and he was incredible
  • Women

Each class would start at a different event on the field.

C class started with weight for height.

Weight for height event

C class used a 42 lb weight.  It was a cone shaped piece of metal with a metal ring attached.  Competitors try and throw the weight over a bar.

The bar started at 10 feet.  Everyone takes a turn.  If you get it over the bar, you get to move on to the next height.  If you miss, you get two more attempts at that height.  If you never throw it over the bar, you’re out.

Once that’s done, the bar gets moved up.  We jumped up by one foot each time.

Also, you can sit out until the bar gets up to a certain height, if you’re confident.  I wasn’t.

Here’s one of my throws (click it for a bigger view):

By the time we got to 15′, there were two of us left.  We both  made it, then moved the bar up 6.”  Then we both missed on all three tries and that was that.

I saw a video of my misses and I was throwing it high enough with ease, but at that point it was just going straight up and coming right back down, not going over the bar.  Duh.

I won the event because I had fewer overall attempts, meaning: I didn’t miss until 15’6″, while the runner up missed a couple of earlier attempts.

Being tall definitely helped in this event, and the strong hips and base I’ve built with heavy kettlebell swings and snatches made this pretty easy.

Sheaf Toss

A strange event.  You take a pitchfork, stick it into a 20-26 lb burlap sack full of straw (or twine, in this case), then throw it over the bar again.  Same rules as in the weight for height event.

This was an incredibly awkward movement, which probably won’t surprise you, unless you’re used to throwing straw into the air with a pitchfork.

I got second place in the sheaf toss, clearing 20 feet but couldn’t get 22. The guy who beat me beat me by about six feet, I think.

The most interesting thing about this event was that the guys who did the best moved the least and didn’t seem to use any effort at all.  The master’s division had some incredible tosses.  People who had obviously put in lots of reps.

I know for a fact that I managed to invent a brand new technique with every attempt.

Heavy Hammer throw

It started to rain, which felt great but didn’t help anyone with the 26 lb hammer throw.  Not that I would have done much better.

Here’s what it looks like when someone good does it.  The monstrous Steve Angell:

The first time I threw, the hammer threw me.  I nearly fell down and scratched by yanking myself all the way out of the box (not a real box, just some lines painted on the grass).

The second and third times were nearly as sad.  My best throw was 49′ and .05″.  This was beyond awkward and will require some real practice to improve at. There were guys outthrowing me by 20 feet who probably weighed 90 lbs less than I do.

I was second or third from last place in this one.  Boo!

Caber Toss

I really thought that if I had trouble with this, it would be because I couldn’t figure out how to throw it.  Well, just picking it up proved to be the hard part.  So hard in fact, that I dropped it the first two times before I could even attempt a toss.

C class used a metal caber that, depending on who you asked, weighed between 80-90 lbs.  It was about 16′ long.

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like.

on my first two attempts, I couldn’t even pick it up. When I jerked it and tried to get my hands under it, it just slid through my fingers and I didn’t even get to try the heave.

The third time, I caught it, but it’s so long that when the top is waving around because you’re a confused oaf, the best you can do is yell and get it away from you, only have it fall back toward you.

A perfect throw, or “turn,” is to toss your end, have the other end hit the ground, then the end you threw lands at a perfect 12 o’clock across from you.

Braemer Stone

Heaving a 23 lb stone for distance, but you can’t move your feet.  My best throw was 26’9″.  I got second in this one.

This isn’t really a “I can just muscle it up there” throw.  When I tried to do that, my elbow screamed at me.

I will definitely need to work on technique for this one.

Open stone

A 16 lb stone, tossed for distance.  The difference is that you can run up to the edge (called the “trig,” a small platform of wood at the front of the throwing area) before throwing.  Your feet can’t touch the ground on the other side of the trig, but your arms can extend over the line for the throw.

I got second place in this one, too, but I knew my technique was atrocious.  And my elbow was getting angrier with each throw,  because I could tell I had no idea how to involve my hips or legs in the movement.  All arm.  All duh.

My throw was 36′ and 6.5″.

Heavy weight for distance

I won this one with a throw of 35’8″.  For C class, heavy weight was 42 lbs.  The weight was attached to a chain of maybe 18″.

You could spin or whirl it around however you wanted.  Three attempts, throw it as far as you can.

On my first throw, I scratched, fell over the lines, and somehow tore my kilt off.  I was wearing shorts underneath, but still…

But this is where everyone really started falling down, literally.  Spinning around with a weight this heavy will drag you off balance if you’re not rooted, and some of the lighter guys got pulled right out of the box, or straight down into the ground.

Here’s a picture:

Light weight for distance

Same as the heavy weight, but with 26 lbs instead of 42.

I got second place with a throw of 46′ and 10.5″.  I also tore the most gigantic callus off my hand and was glad that we were wrapping up for the day.


This was a great group of competitors.  Everyone was willing to help each other, everyone cheered for the others, and everyone had a blast.  It made me want to do another one as soon as possible, so…

What’s next?

I’ll be competing in Spokane on August 4, then sometime in September in Cache Valley, Utah.  It’s same to say that I’m hooked.

I’ll be moving up to the B class.  We’ll see how the step up treats ms.

I would say that I can’t wait, but that’s not entirely true.  I’m more sore than I’ve ever been.  Lots of weird movements over a seven hour period.  So I can wait, but only until I feel ready to go again, which will probably be, oh, tomorrow.

How I’ll be training

I need to throw and throw and throw.  I’ll be using workaround since I don’t currently have access to all of these tools, but I think I can rig something up to get close.

The main thing is to practice the throwing with whatever I can get my hands on.

Otherwise, the goal doesn’t change: get stronger everywhere.

Take two athletes of equal ability.  Make one stronger, that’s the athlete who wins.

The big stuff.  Squats, jerks, cleans, deadlifts, dips, push presses, and swings.

Ask questions if you’ve got ’em.  I’ll answer them if I actually have an answer.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • EdK July 16, 2012, 7:45 pm

    What events will you train the hardest for? The ones you did well at or the ones that you sucked at? Will you even be able to try to mimic the caber toss or is that going to flirt with disaster?

  • Doug July 16, 2012, 8:34 pm

    Congrats Josh,
    Great writeup and great work. Sounds like your only need some technical practice and you will be unstoppable.

    I was going to try a Highland event last year but it got canceled. I have never done any of the events before, this article shed some light as to what the events are and what I might need to do to prepare for one in the future.

  • Todd July 17, 2012, 6:40 am

    Josh, there are a number of places on the web that can instruct you on making your own throwing tools to train with.

    Might I suggest training at the local high school? They have a throwing area for shotput, and it’s already dinged up (saves your yard, and makes wifey happy).

    Speaking of the shotput, watch video of how to do a basic glide throw. It’s easier to learn than the spin, and honestly works just as well. Many record holders have used this technique. I learned both in high school, but preferred the glide.
    Where did you end up getting your kilt?

  • John Sifferman July 17, 2012, 11:02 am

    Great review, Josh, and congrats on placing 2nd in your division. If you did that well without knowing the basic techniques of the throws, I bet your results will skyrocket once you do. Keep up the good work and please keep us posted on Spokane and Utah.

  • Josh Arnold July 18, 2012, 2:56 am
    • Josh Arnold July 18, 2012, 2:57 am

      The one with the Scotty dog sorry.

  • jntswally July 18, 2012, 10:31 am

    Josh, How totally cool! It’s been years since I’ve been to the games, but I always loved watching the competitions. I have no doubt that you will totally own this sport!