Confidently Stubborn

Okay, so this week without training hasn’t been too bad, but I am definitely looking forward to walking into the gym in the morning. I have no idea what my coach is going to have in store for me, although I can be fairly confident that my training will be designed to make me stronger and work on weaknesses. I’m ready.

“You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.” ~ Rosalynn Carter

It would be easy to let my experience at Provincials shake my self-confidence. Although I have grown quite confident in my abilities, I am still humanly prone to stumbling along in the darkness of doubt. Whatever it was that happened in my back on my second squat, it flooded me with fear, uncertainty, frustration, and doubt. I still knew what I was capable of when healthy, but I was suddenly afraid that I might have done more damage to my body. I knew that I have determination and toughness, but are those qualities enough when you’ve been thrown into the fire? In all honesty, as much as I knew that I wasn’t about to throw in the towel and quit, in the midst of the pain and volatile emotions I wasn’t giving much thought to being tough enough to follow through. I just wanted to survive the day as best I could. Earlier this week my coach complimented me on being a person with strong character by pushing through when it was emotionally and physically tough. It’s not always easy for me to accept a compliment, but I’m trying.

Perhaps the biggest knock against my confidence was my failed bench press attempt. My competition bench press has been stuck at 60 kilograms since October 2015, yet I have only attempted a heavier press while competing twice, at Westerns last August and at Provincials last week. Having pressed more than 60 kilos in the gym means that I know I am capable, but my string of failures also plays with that confidence like a cat toying with a mouse. I will keep striving though.

“Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” ~ James Michener

With my next competition not until November, I have lots of time to heal and train and focus. I definitely have goals for November’s competition, although I am not going to say too much about them for now, partly since a lot can happen between now and then but also because I don’t really have specific targets yet. So far my goals are general. I know I am capable. I just need to be tough enough to push through and to keep trying. Or maybe I am just that kind of stubborn.

Future Me

“There’s a future version of me who’s proud I was strong enough.” ~Khanos

Five days post-competition finds me emotionally balanced and rational, maybe even beginning to resemble the future version of me who can be proud of what I did do on that day. I haven’t been spending a great deal of time actively thinking about Provincials, but my brain is always ticking and grinding away even when I am busy with other thoughts and tasks.

A few months ago, I began to prepare myself mentally for a lesser performance at this competition. I am the sort of person who always wants to improve and do more, which can be both a positive and a negative trait. Positively, I am not content with stagnation. I want to learn and grow and push myself. However, when failure comes, and it always does at some point, the desire to always improve can blow even the smallest failure into an apocalyptic event. All my efforts to prepare myself seemed to crumble into dust at the moment I felt my back give on my second squat. I was prepared for lesser numbers, but I wasn’t prepared for that unexpected happening.

I still cannot explain what happened in that squat. I cannot explain why I failed on my final bench attempt. Watching the videos a dozen or more times hasn’t helped me to figure out either situation. Does it even matter? Something wasn’t right in my back on that squat. I failed that bench press. I know what I am capable of, what I have done before and will do again.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill

I have something else going for me…the ability to pick myself up, shake off the dust, and continue on. I am not afraid of starting over or hard work. Emotions might choke me up for a moment, but I have the ability to re-group and re-focus. There is no point in wallowing in my Provincials disappointment. Instead, I am choosing to enjoy this week of rest and casting my gaze forward to November when I will compete again. A lot can happen between now and then, but I’ve got my eyes set on a few goals. These past several months have been dark and gloomy, but I’m growing through it.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.” ~Christine Caine

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” ~Bethany Hamilton

Wax & Clay

“What if I fail? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson

That’s a great quote, isn’t it! I love it for the hope and courage it inspires for the simple act of trying. But about when you actually do fail? Sure, it’s great to think about soaring with the eagles, proud and victorious, but reality isn’t always like that. Sometimes we crash and burn. We choke on the ashes of our hopes and dreams and feel searing pain. Quite often we suffer alone. Even when others may be sympathetic to our pain, very few can actually see the depths of our disappointment and suffering. They mean well, and I appreciate their efforts to sympathize and encourage. I know it isn’t always easy to wholly know another person’s innermost hopes and dreams.

Going into my competition, I had thought that I was mentally ready for disappointment, because I had months to prepare and come to an understanding of what I would or would not be capable of on the day thanks to my back troubles. And yet, for all that I was truly ready for a lesser performance, I was still blind-sided by the the struggles of the day. It certainly didn’t feel like I was flying…I had crashed and burned.

Processing the results of a competition, for me, can be a lengthy process. Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that there can be months of physical and mental preparation leading up to a competition. Then the day of competition is often long and somehow still a blur. It takes time to work through my thoughts and emotions, even when the results are positive. I’ve competed enough now to know that this is a process that cannot be rushed or forced; it happens in bits and pieces that push their way to the surface in their own time. Usually I have the opportunity to rehash details with my coach, which is part of the process and often helps, but since I’m not allowed to train this week that step in the process is missing. For now.

Perspective is also an important piece of the process, although it isn’t something that I can always just pull out of my pocket and apply to my situation. Obviously when the emotions were still raw, I had no perspective. Now that the emotions are once again under control, I can find perspective.

This was not my best competition in so many ways. I failed on the one lift I wanted most of all, and I didn’t even bother attempting one lift that might have caused me more injury or pain. It is easy to focus on those disappointments. The squat that hurt my back again…that was a scary moment that I have never experienced before. It took a great deal of focus and determination to not give up on that squat at the moment I felt my back give. Once I got the bar off my back and myself off the platform, I was assailed by a storm of emotions: fear, frustration, anger. I could have quit. Maybe the smart decision would have been to quit, but I was determined to finish.

It’s easy for me to look at my numbers from the competition and be frustrated, knowing I am capable of so much more; however, perspective properly applied creates a new outlook. Although I am capable of more, I still moved a lot of weight that day. In fact, I moved more than 1300 pounds over the course of the competition, and that isn’t including my warm-ups! My final deadlift was only 248 pounds. It’s a far cry from what I can pull, but that is still as much or more than picking up a large man. My competition bench press seems permanently stuck, but I still pressed the equivalent or more than the body weight of a Victoria’s Secret model. As I talk about that unlucky squat, I am quick to point out that the weight was easy for me, because 220 pounds is typically an easy weight for me to squat. But 220 pounds is still a lot of weight! It is still a large man or a couple of models! Those lifts might not have equaled my best weights, but I wasn’t on the platform using fake weights. I still worked hard, even if most of my lifts were not too physically taxing.

It’s all about perspective!

“The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay
And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
And the mighty wind that knocks us down
If we lean into it
Will drive our fears away”

 

Still Angela

I had expected to go to the gym this morning. I had expected an easy and light training session, not only for today but the entire week, now that my competition is over. However, I was not expecting to be told to take the entire week off from training, and I did not react well at all. When I got the news, I was still reeling physically and emotionally from the competition, and I was exhausted from that long day and only 5 hours of sleep after it. That’s not an excuse for my poor reaction…it’s merely an indication of where I was at in the moment. I had been looking forward to the gym this week, because the gym has always been a happy, safe place for me and I knew that being there could help me process, debrief, and re-order my thoughts and emotions. I could agree that my body would benefit from the rest, but I couldn’t see how the rest would help my mind.

Thanks to hurting my back in competition and the beauty of the internet, yesterday I was able to make an appointment to see my chiropractor this afternoon. What would normally be a relatively short appointment wound up being more than double the length of time and probably half of it was just talking. Have I ever mentioned how much I love my chiropractor? I absolutely do! He is a wise, old soul with a lifetime of experience in a young man’s body, and he is someone I respect and admire and gladly call my friend. He listened to me, and I dare say he heard far more than I actually said. Then he spoke and spoke, while I listened. I choked back tears. I smiled, even laughed, I think. I countered. Agreed. Listened some more. After a great deal of talking, he took care of my back and my neck and gently sent me on my way.

Shortly after I had to drop my husband off for a physio appointment at the hospital, so I parked in a shady spot close to the beach and pulled out my “Owner’s Manual” and a pen. “Who am I?” I wrote at the top of a page. The words that followed flowed out of the conversation I had with my chiropractor. Don’t ask me to repeat what he said, because I am seldom any good at taking in information, watching it swirl around inside my head, and then spitting it back out exactly as it entered. Instead of going on about what Dr. Ben had to say, I am just going to share most of my own introspective ramblings.

Who am I?

I was reminded today by Dr. Ben that I am Angela Thompson first and foremost. Being a powerlifter/fitness type person is a part of who I am, but it is not ALL that I am. I know this. I believe it, and yet, it is a truth easily lost in the pursuit of passions and goals. Ben, as much as he understood what I was feeling, explained that I needed to not need the gym to identify myself. He’s right.

A great part of my transformation and journey is because of the gym, but the real source of my success has been me. I put in the hard work. I made the choices and sacrifices. I pulled out all sorts of amazing qualities from within myself. It’s not like I found determination tucked in the back of the closet. I didn’t gain self-control and discipline from an injection or a pill. No one could give me a positive attitude and mindset or the ability to focus on the end goal. These are qualities and traits that have always been inside of me. Other people have definitely been a factor in giving me direction and wisdom and shaping me, but only I am Angela.

I am a powerlifter because I love the sport and the passion and drive it stirs within me; however, who would I be if I could no longer do it? That’s the fundamental question I have been asking myself for years in varying forms. Who am I when I’m not with Kane? Who am I now that my kids are adults? Who was I in my previous job, and who am I in my new job? Who am I when a relationship sours and ends? Who was I when I had to stop running? When a competition doesn’t go the way I expected, am I still enough? The variations to the question are almost unending, but the essence is the same. I am and always will be Angela before I am anything else. Is that enough?

So who am I?

I am Angela Elizabeth Thompson. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a powerlifter, a stranger who writes a blog. I am a person of faith with a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All of this is true of me, yet I am still more.

I am loyal, caring, compassionate, quiet, sarcastic, geeky, organized, focused, determined, disciplined, strong, capable, confident, willing to try something new, flexible when necessary, a planner, usually prepared, easy-going, quick to laugh, prone to eye leakage, barefoot loving, a quasi-health nut, a thinker, a writer, a dreamer. This is also all true of me.

I love going to the gym. I love training and powerlifting. A few years ago I could never have believed this would be true about me. I will always want to be at my training sessions, but I am perfectly content to not be at the gym every day. I am not so controlled by training that I need to be there all the time. I know the value in rest days, but I do not like to miss my sessions. Once I got over my initial reservations about going to a gym, I have always viewed my training sessions as an appointment for myself in much the same way as I would an appointment to colour my hair. It is something I do for myself. Do I need to colour my hair? As much as the grey tells me that I do, the truth is that I do not need to colour my hair at all! In fact, I frequently go months between hair appointments. Vanity’s control over me is not so strong. Can I say the same about the gym? I want to, yet I don’t know. Last night and this morning, the prospect of not going to the gym for a week upset me greatly. I wonder if my reaction would have been so intense had I not already been in a state of emotional upheaval. I am far from perfect, but I like to believe that I am generally a level-headed kind of person. Having that little therapy session with Dr. Ben and then writing out my thoughts has found me feeling more calm, rational, and more at peace with not training this week.

I still would like to think that the gym doesn’t control me. I can give up yummy, unwholesome food and wine for weeks at a time for the sake of cutting weight  and reaching a goal. I’m a night owl who can be completely human and functional before the early birds even wake up for the sake of my job. I have learned how to rise above, to overcome, to see opportunity in the struggle…why should this be any different? I will make it through this week, because I am Angela. I am a strong, independent, white woman, and I will be allowed to train again next week! I will learn and grow. I will be stronger for it. Through it all, I am still Angela.

 

Numb

I don’t know where to begin this blog post, or if I even want to write it now or at all. Okay, so I do want to write it, but I’m not sure I am ready. Yet, I feel like I can’t wait too much longer lest I lose thoughts and emotions along the way. My current state of mind is exhausted, frustrated, disappointed, angry, a blink from dissolving into tears, pained and numb. The numbness is comforting in a way, because it helps keep the tears from pouring down my face and softens the sting of the negative emotions, at least for a time.

Yesterday was my Provincials powerlifting competition. Even though I wasn’t expecting to have my best performance, I was hoping to go 9 for 9 and break my Provincial bench press record. I didn’t achieve either goal yesterday.

My first squat was 92.5kg and moved well. Michael opted to be conservative with my second attempt, and that turned out to be a wise decision. My second squat was 100kg, which should have still been an easy 220 pounds. I did more than that last week in training. It felt fine when I unracked the bar. I believe that I did everything that I usually do. The eccentric felt fine. I began to rise out of the squat and felt a kind of pop and something giving in my lower back, which then caused my back to round in a way that is not typical for me. It hurt. I managed to finish the squat, barely remembering to hold until the command to rack. I walked off the platform feeling pain, fear, and crushing sadness. Michael instantly decided that we’d pass on my third attempt, then we headed to the warm-up area for some chiropractic treatment. As the chiropractor poked, prodded, bent and told me to push here and there, I fought to maintain some composure. By the time I got up from the table, the pain had dropped a couple of notches, but it was still there.

As we waited for my flight and the next to finish squats, I did the things the chiropractor told me to do and I gingerly tested my ability to set up for the bench press. Arching wasn’t too bothersome on the back, so we felt okay to stick with our plan there. My first two bench attempts, 55kg and 57.5kg, were decent. I am the current Provincial record holder with 60kg, which is the weight I have been stuck at since October 2015. Although I had some options, I chose to make a third attempt at 60.5kg in an effort to break my Provincial record. I was so close but failed. Words cannot express how I felt and still feel. Even as I lay on that bench, desperately trying to finish pressing the bar and realizing that it wasn’t going to happen, I felt so utterly crushed by disappointment and frustration. I know I am strong enough. I know I can do it. I have lifted that weight in the gym, including just last week, and it was easy. I came into this competition knowing that my squats and deadlifts would be sub-par, but the bench press record was something I knew was within my ability and I wanted, WANTED it!

My deadlifts weren’t going to be super heavy, but, with the fresh back injury, we opted to drop my opening attempt even more. An opening deadlift of 85kg wasn’t anything I could fake pride in, but I just needed to get a number on the board. It was embarrassingly easy. My next attempt was 102.5…again easy. My final attempt was 112.5kg or 248 pounds. Still easy. That final deadlift was 60 pounds less than my best deadlift. I think it would have been easier to feel some peace about low deadlift numbers if the rest of my competition had turned out differently. If I hadn’t hurt my back. If I had broken the bench record. If only. But, the last thing we wanted to do was inflict more harm to my back. Thankfully, I was able to deadlift without any added discomfort or pain to the back, which is something I wasn’t sure would happen after that squat.

At some point in the competition, Michael pointed out that there was another woman in my age/weight class after all. She hadn’t made her weight class and was bumped up into mine. Being the competitive person that I am, as soon as I realized that I could potentially lose, I wanted to win! However, I was no longer operating in a position where we could give any thought to making sure my attempts put me in a position to win. I still kept an eye on her numbers, chafing inside with the desire to win and re-familiarizing myself with a positive mindset in the event that I lost. Both my squat and deadlift were far from my actual ability and potential, but I still managed to come away with the win.

This was my 8th competition, and, in my opinion, my worst one. I had my third lowest total. The two lower totals came from my first two competitions. My Wilks score was my second lowest. The only one lower was my first competition. This was my second 7 for 9 meet. Not a single personal best. The first time I’ve ever passed on an attempt. The first time I’ve hurt myself in competition. The only goal I achieved yesterday was checking off the final requirement for competing at Nationals next year.

As much as words cannot express how I am feeling, there is so much more yet to say, but it will have to wait for another day. I left my house at 7:50 yesterday morning, and I didn’t get home until 12:30 this morning. I was in bed by 1:00 this morning but woke up before 6:30. My back is sore and achy, and I am exhausted. I need to decompress and process. I need to go hang out with some friends in a couple of hours, feel loved and celebrated, even though I don’t feel worth celebrating. Then I need sleep. Precious sleep. Tomorrow I will walk into my gym and begin the process of rehabbing (again) and rebuilding.

The 2 Week Plan

“Optimism isn’t a life plan, but it is a great tailwind to have at your back.” ~Indra Nooyi

My Provincials competition is two, yes 2, weeks away! A murky soup of emotions is beginning to simmer within me. How does Shakespeare put it…bubble, bubble, boil and trouble? With the hope that I am mostly through with trouble, I feel like the contents of that cauldron. I am excited to compete again. I am nervous about training this coming week without my coach, although I’ve done it before and survived. I am keeping my expectations in check, because I know it is extremely unlikely that I will be in a position to better my last competition results across the board. And yet, I can’t keep optimism from seeping through the cracks. Sure, I am wholly aware that I am NOT going to have my best performance, but there is a feeling stirring inside of me that I cannot squash. I can’t help feeling that I just might come out of Provincials having surprised myself.

I am reluctant to give voice to any goals or targets for Provincials, mostly because I honestly have no idea what I am capable of at this point in time. Between my SI joints and a disc, I’ve had nothing but lower back pain and problems since the end of January, which means absolutely nothing about my training has been normal these past several months. I have not been able to do a proper peak. My back is still not 100%, but it is greatly improved and still improving. I have barely done any deadlifting since January and nothing heavier than 225 pounds for a few singles. While I do have the expectation that I will beat my previous bench press record, I feel a sliver of doubt. My squat is finally starting to come back, and my coach thinks I could be close to my previous best. Still, I want to be cautious in my optimism, because hope can be a dangerous thing.

My imagination is strong and vivid. I can picture everything that might go wrong, but I can also see everything that might go right, even better than right. I can see both extremes on the spectrum, and yet I will always cling to hope. I am an optimistic realist. I prepare for the worst case scenario, but I’m always expecting sunshine, rainbows, and good things. As much as I know that Provincials will not be the best showcase of my abilities, I still have hope that my results will be better than I anticipate. By that I mean that I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Not blown away. Not breaking all my Provincial records and having personal bests in every lift. Not my best performance ever but not as horrible as I expect it to be. Does that make sense?

My coach jokingly made a comment the other day asking if I’d have a deadlift heavier than my squat at Provincials. I know he was just teasing, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t entertained thoughts of that not happening. I might not better my best squat on that day, but at least I know that I can squat. With my last heavy pre-comp deadlift being 225 pounds, I’m not so certain that I’ll even be able to better the result from my very first competition! But I am hoping that the emotion and adrenaline of competition will help me do more than I think I am capable of. Unfortunately, I think, when a deadlift doesn’t feel good, I am pretty good at shutting it down rather than attempting to pull despite how it feels.

As optimistic as I am, I realize that reality is conspiring against me. I cannot get through Provincials, let alone the next two weeks, on optimism alone. It isn’t a life plan; however, I can let optimism push me along, like a gentle breeze. I can soar on that breeze for a spell, if I like, and let it guide me. It is the hope that fuels my fire and keeps me going.

Not Enough Time in the Day

My morning didn’t go quite as I had planned or expected. I had a training session first thing in the morning, followed by taking my husband to a doctor’s appointment. Mentally, I allowed for 45 minutes at the doctor’s office, because I know that making people wait is what the office excels at. After the appointment, I expected to have roughly two hours to get stuff done before going to work. The stuff I had to do wasn’t super important, just writing this blog post and making preparations for tomorrow’s early start and busy day, because sometimes I am smart enough to plan ahead. Unfortunately instead of rushing off to bed now that I’m finished work, I am rushing around trying to get this blog post written and my preparations for tomorrow finished. My generous allowance for the doctor’s appointment wasn’t quite generous enough. We were there for just over an hour, and then we had to go get a prescription filled. By the time we did get back home, the two hours I had hoped to have was reduced to about half an hour. That only gave me enough time to eat and change my clothes.

1a. deadlifts-conventional

double overhand grip: 95 lbs x 8, 135 x 5, 165 x 5

mixed grip/with belt: 185 x 2, 205 x 1, 225 x 0, 225 x 1, 205 x 1, 205 x 1, 185 x 3

Deadlifts were a mixed bag today. Last week I only worked up to 205 pounds, and there was some discomfort in the back beginning with 165 pounds. Today those same weights felt much better and without any back discomfort. Unfortunately, 225 pounds didn’t feel so great. I gave up on the first attempt, because it seemed like my back was rounding and it felt uncomfortable. Apparently I was lacking in tightness. Tried again, managed to lift the weight, but it still seemed as if my back was rounding horribly and it felt uncomfortable, though maybe not quite as bad as the first attempt. The back down sets were better.

The missed rep was disappointing and frustrating. Michael said I was allowed to feel disappointed, but I couldn’t let it get to me. I’m trying not to let that happen. There is no way that I am going to squat more than I can deadlift at Provincials!

1b. rope face pulls

30 lbs x 15, x 15, x 15, x 15, x 12

orange band pull-aparts x 15, x 15

1c. bench press-competition grip, flat shoes

feet on bench: 43 lbs x 10, 63 x 5, 83 x 5, 103 x 3

with legs & arch: 115 x 3, 115 x 3, 115 x 3

My bench was generally all good, but the final set at 115 was the best.

I will be back at the gym early tomorrow morning, like 8:00 in the morning. My coach is leaving for holidays on Friday and I start work at 10 tomorrow, so early it is! I’m pretty much okay to train at any time of the day, but I’m a little less keen on an early start after a later night. I’m eyeing the clock, knowing I need to get to bed but also knowing that the night owl is awake and won’t be easily settled. That’s what happens when I work a close shift. Unfortunately, I worked until 9:30 pm. Being at the gym for 8:00 am means I need to wake up around 6:00 am, which means I am not getting enough sleep tonight! While I can function quite well on short sleep, I know the value of a good, proper night’s sleep. Guess I’ll sleep tomorrow night!