Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

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The Girl With All The Goals

“When a woman feels her own strength, it’s empowering. She believes in herself and knows she can do more. It changes everything.” ~Kathrine Switzer

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

It is always a challenge to recap a competition with the experience still fresh and raw in my mind and body. There are so many emotions and thoughts swirling within that I am liable to miss a detail, but waiting too long to put thoughts into written form can also result in missing details.

The day started early. I was mostly awake around 5:00 but managed to stay in bed until 6. The next hour was a flurry of getting dressed, making myself a doppio espresso, making sure I had everything I needed, and gagging down a bit of breakfast. My appetite disappears during a competition, but I know it is important to have fuel in the tank. We left the house around 7:00 and arrived at the venue before 8:00, which left some time to chill (literally because it was cold in the crossfit gym), stretch, change into my singlet, listen to the lifters’ meeting, and get my warm-ups in before lifting started around 9:15.

Yesterday the back felt a little creaky but generally okay. This morning it felt pretty darn good, better than it has felt for a few days. I was feeling good, too. Naturally I was feeling some nervous energy as I warmed up for squats and waited for my first attempt…even for my second attempt. I was mostly confident and optimistic with slivers of fear and uncertainty. My opening squat attempt was 100kg (220.5 lbs), which was the same weight that I re-tweaked my back on at Provincials in June. In recent weeks I have surpassed that weight in the gym, so I knew that I was more than capable but doubt is pernicious and persistent. Feeling nervous prior to the first attempt is completely normal, and it usually settles down once that first squat has been successfully completed. Although it did abate slightly this time, it didn’t completely settle until after my second squat at 110kg (242 lbs). I guess I should mention that my first squat attempt broke both the Provincial and National record!

I had several goals for this competition, big and small. The first of my two biggest goals was my third squat attempt at 115kg (253.5 lbs), because it was an attempt to break a World record. This weight wasn’t a complete stranger to me; it was the same weight that I did for a PR at Western Canadians last year. But this is a different powerlifting federation with different records…and I’ve struggled with back problems all year. As much as I believed I could do it today, I felt nervous and under pressure (self-inflicted). Succeeding on my second squat completely settled the nerves though, and I suddenly knew that I could, would succeed. Besides, I’ve never failed on a squat in competition except for once on a technicality. So how did I do on that final squat? I nailed it!

Excitement coursed through my veins as I walked off the platform into the warm-up area, accepting congratulations from a judge, my coach, my handler, and some fellow competitors. I chatted briefly with my coach and my handler about the lift and how my back was holding up (perfectly fine), then I said I was going to go see my family and friends until it was time to warm-up for the bench. No sooner had those words left my mouth than I was overcome by intense emotions that had me heaving and struggling to choke back tears. The emotion was so strong that I had to actually pause for a minute before resuming my walk to my family, and even then I was practically an emotional mess when I saw the smiles on their faces. It’s no secret that my eyes leak quite easily at the best of times, but I will not apologize for the tears or the emotion. I just broke a freaking World record! I have visualized this moment for a long time, through dark and hazy days filled with back pain and frustration and self-doubt, and today I achieved my goal.

The back was still feeling great at this point in time, and we were on to the bench press. My opening attempt was 55kg (121 lbs). I knew this should be an easy weight for me, since I’ve been smoking 125 pounds in the gym for a while now. It was respectable. My second attempt was 60kg (132.3 lbs), and I wasn’t supremely confident about it. I have been doing well with 130 pounds in the gym lately, so I did know that I could; however, this weight has been the proverbial monkey on my back for more than 2 years now. It was at a competition in October of 2015 that I was first successful in benching 60kg in competition, and that has been my best competition bench ever since, despite a couple of gym PRs at 135 lbs. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to better 132.3 pounds in competition until today! It might not have been the fastest press, but I made it. Of course, that meant my third attempt was yet another try at a bench press PR, and I had to fight against the doubt and mental block surrounding it.

My final bench attempt was 62.5kg (137.8 lbs). Thankfully, I had the unanticipated occasion to grind out a single rep at 130 pounds last week. I am not accustomed to being successful in grinding out a bench press and, for a moment, I didn’t think I would make that lift, but I stuck it out and made it. I think that grind was beneficial for me, because it gave me the opportunity to experience a tough, slow grind and to realize that I was now capable of pushing through it. It is my opinion that this recent experience was instrumental in my successful final bench press today. It was slow. It was a grind. Some might have doubted my ability to finish the lift, but I don’t recall ever feeling that way in the moment. I knew it was grinding and slow. I could hear the cheers. I could hear my coach’s voice shouting instruction. I just kept going, and once I reached a certain point I knew I had it. The monkey was off my back. Not only did I have a new Provincial record but also a PR!

With the bench press completed, my back felt slightly achy, probably from the arching, but it was still rather mild and normal. There was a bit of a wait until the deadlifts, and I no longer felt any doubts about my abilities. I had been perfect so far, and I knew that I was going to go 9/9.

My first deadlift attempt was 125kg (270 lbs). Once again, I was breaking a Provincial record on my first attempt. It was easy. The second attempt was 132.5kg (292 lbs). I probably used my back a little on this attempt. While it was still relatively easy, my back felt a little more achy immediately following this lift, but it still felt okay enough. My third and final attempt was 138.5kg (305.3 lbs). Although it was a bit tougher, I was successful in my attempt and secured myself another Provincial and National record. Unfortunately, I walked off the platform with a world of hurt in my left lower back and glute. The pain didn’t put a damper on my joy in having reached every single one of my goals for this competition. This was my ninth competition, and I have only ever had a completely perfect 9/9 with 27 white lights once before…two years ago. Today’s competition was perfect, 9 attempts with 9 successful lifts and not a single red light in the bunch. I achieved 8 records today: 4 Provincial, 3 National, and 1 World. (My total also broke Provincial and National records!) About the only thing that didn’t go as hoped for was hurting myself again!

Thankfully my chiropractor’s office was onsite to provide treatment to the athletes. Although there weren’t any chiropractors available by the time I finished competing, I was able to get some massage treatment which helped to reduce some of the pain. I will need to see my chiropractor though, which will be on Tuesday. (Gosh, I love being able to book an appointment online during non-office hours!) In the meantime, the RMT gave me some things to do at home. I also have other exercises at my disposal and Ibuprofen. But you know, I’m not overly frustrated by this unexpected twist. It’s slightly familiar but slightly different. The RMT said it was a disc, SI joint and piriformis issue. She could help a bit with the piriformis, but she can’t do any adjustments…hence my need to see my chiropractor. Although I did have some strong pain in my pelvis immediately after, right now, hours later, the most pain is in my left butt. It’s not ideal, but it could be worse. And I’m still riding the wave of euphoria of a successful competition, so I have no regrets. Okay, I have no regrets at all! While I may have only had two personal bests today (my bench and my total), I would say that this was my best competition to date.

I also have to mention just how much I love the sport of powerlifting. Since my first competition in 2014 and 8 more competitions including today’s, I have never had a bad experience beyond my own disappointment in a personal result. I have competed in two different federations, and each one feels like family. I only compete in 100% RAW once a year when they have a somewhat local meet. There is always a couple of people who make the trip from Calgary to here to bring equipment and act as organizers and judges, and they never fail to remember my name and welcome me as part of the family. Most of my competitive focus is within the realm of the British Columbia Powerlifting Assocation in great part for the simple fact that there are more opportunities to compete. RAW was where I did my very first competition. It was where I fell in love with powerlifting and competing. RAW is primarily based in Alberta, which is why I only compete once a year with them, but I love my RAW family. I liken the two federations to the Canadian Football League and the National Football League. They are the same sport with slight differences in rules, their own records and championships, and a vast difference in scope on the international stage.

Despite the pain, which likely came from using too much back on that final deadlift, today was a grand success. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the day. I achieved every goal that I set for myself, even the ones that I was hesitant to say out loud. After what has been a most problematic and frustrating year so far, today felt highly redemptive. I didn’t hit personal bests across the board, but this showing was the essence of what I had hoped to achieve at Provincials earlier this year. It’s been a long, tough year, but now I can celebrate my success. And heal again. Then start back at the beginning, gearing up for the next competition in February at Nationals.

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now

This morning’s training session was short and sweet. Deadlifts were the only thing on the agenda and only two working singles. I had warmed up and completed my pulls within 25 minutes. I’m not sure that I even broke a sweat, but I was stoked by how solid and easy the deadlifts felt. My heaviest pull today was 285 pounds for a single rep, and it felt much easier than last week’s singles at 275. Gym PRs don’t really count for much, but I have never pulled 285 pounds in the gym before. Of course, I’ve pulled more than that in competition…but never in training. Not ever. I am used to having heavyish deadlifts feel almost impossibly difficult in training, which is one reason why I was rarely asked to do them. Oh my goodness! So many of my preconceived notions about my abilities have been shattered these past few weeks, and I find it all exciting and scary at the same time.

With the success of today’s training session added to Tuesday’s, my emotions are being pulled in a dozen different directions. The countdown is on…9 days! I am more excited than words could ever convey. This will be my 9th competition, but the thrill of competing never gets old. I feel poised on the brink of something good. After months and months of pain and struggle and frustration, I am finally feeling good and ready. My body isn’t in a 100% perfect state, but I do think I am in a physically better place than I was going into Provincials, even though I had been feeling pretty good then. Training has been going well. Weights and volume were more than I’ve done before, but my body held up and the weights moved. One of my biggest goals is within reach. I have no reason to think that this competition will be anything but good.

With the dawning confidence comes surges of fear and trepidation. I’m not afraid of failing so much, although I certainly don’t like it when failure happens. But in the moments that I feel the most excited and hopeful, I also feel the most nervous. Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’ve been injured most of the year. Some is simply the natural byproduct of competition and the desire to succeed. I think a big part of the fear is the thought of disappointment. Not my own disappointment, although that is a real possibility, but rather the thought that I might fail and thus disappoint everyone who has been cheering me on. It’s not exactly a rational kind of fear, I know, but it is present and I must acknowledge it.

My coach shared his thoughts with me as to the numbers that he is thinking of for me at this competition. His target is a small increase in my overall best total, and I am good with the numbers that he showed me. They are realistic, reasonable, and still challenging in one way or another. Seeing those numbers allowed me to exhale all the breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding inside. With a new coach, an online coach who is still learning me, I didn’t know what numbers he might pull out of his hat. I’ve been so focused on simply getting and staying healthy and my one big goal that I haven’t thought much about too much else. Yet somehow, now I am relieved to know that my coach isn’t projecting a huge jump between my previous best and what I will do in 9 days. My husband likes to joke that he won’t be satisfied unless I deadlift 350 pounds. While that may be possible one day, I am glad that my coach isn’t looking for me to add 40+ pounds to my best lifts after the year that I’ve had. It settles the nerves a bit to know, although the sense of expectation is still high.

This is a roller-coaster of emotions that I have ridden before. I’ve got this.

Respect for 225

I opened up the week’s training plan this morning. This might have been the first time in recent weeks that my eyebrows didn’t pop up and my jaw didn’t drop while reading what my coach had programmed for me. I actually find that fact quite interesting. With competition less than 3 weeks away now, the volume is dropping. Hallelujah! Of course, the weights are still increasing, although not beyond anything I’ve done in the past. I will be doing more reps at those weights than I’ve done before, but I think multiple single reps shouldn’t be a problem. Having had a couple of weeks with strong results recently, I feel very optimistic about the week ahead.

And yet, there is that teensy sliver of apprehension with tomorrow’s squats. 225 pounds for 1-2 reps. It is only 10 pounds more than I did last week for triples. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I haven’t had that much weight on my back for a long time! I keep saying that because it is true. It’s been more than 4 months. The last time I squatted 225 pounds was leading up to Provincials in June. Hitting that weight in training then was fine; however, my second squat attempt at Provincials was 220 pounds. Although I was successful in the lift, something tweaked in my back in the process and the squat was painful and ugly. What should have been an easy second squat wasn’t and the back issues continued.

I think my back is generally doing quite well now. There was a little flare up a few weeks ago while deadlifting, but I’ve been aggressive in rehab and it seems to be doing fine. Squats have been feeling good the past couple of weeks, so I honestly have no reason to expect anything drastically different tomorrow. They could feel a bit heavy or tough and still be good. The first set will be important as it is where my confidence can be made or broken. My first set isn’t always the best, but being able to push through to finish well can fill me with the confidence needed to regroup and improve the next set. Alternatively, a really tough first set can make me feel weak and incapable. I am not either of those things.

225 pounds should be a relatively easy weight for me, but I also know that you need to respect the weight on the bar. That is a decent amount of weight! There are grown men who weigh that much…and I’m figuratively about to throw one of them on my back and squat once, twice, and over again.

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.

The Week’s Post-Mortem

Exactly one week ago, I was roughly halfway home after a long day of frustration and disappointment at my Provincials competition, and yet, I didn’t hit the depths of despair until the next day. By Monday afternoon, I was pretty much back to normal.

Not only was I required to take this week off from training, my Precision Nutrition course, quite ironically, also had a week off of sorts. Although I have been okay with not going to my training sessions, I am looking forward to resuming my training on Monday. This week has been nice, but it has also felt quite long. I’ve enjoyed my down time. I’ve gone for some walks. I’ve enjoyed just having extra time to relax, hang out, do whatever. I have eaten whatever I have wanted, and I’ve enjoyed a fair bit of wine and a couple of sugary drinks that I typically avoid. My eating habits have been mostly controlled for the past month or so as I had some weight to cut to make my class for competition. I cut roughly 10 pounds without too much effort; in fact, I had to relax my self-control in order to not lose too much weight. Even then I likely lost too much, since I weighed in more than an entire kilogram under the limit. This week I’ve enjoyed burgers and fries, poutine, pastries, wine, Frappucinos, and ice cream. I stepped on the scale this morning and weighed in at virtually the same weight as I did for my competition! That won’t last for too long though. My next competition is with a different federation with slightly different weight classes, and I’ll be competing in the 75 kilogram class, which means I can add a few pounds to my frame.

One thing I have noticed with this week “off” has been that I am finally starting to sleep better again. I haven’t taken my ZMA for at least a week, but I’ve been falling asleep fairly quickly. While I still wake up at least once or twice a night (and toss a fair bit throughout), I am falling back asleep more quickly. It is a rare occurrence for me to actually be woken by my alarms. Yes, I have two alarms. One is through my sleep app, and the other is your typical alarm clock. My sleep app alarm is set to go off within a 10 minute window, which I always set so my real alarm would go off in the middle of that 10 minutes. For someone who is never late and never sleeps through her alarm, I go to a lot of trouble to make sure that either situation never happens! One day this week, my real alarm did actually wake me up! It had been a long time since I’d heard that annoying beep.

Despite the way the back felt during my second squat a week ago and the pain I experienced on the long drive home that night, my back actually feels pretty good this week. Sure, it’s still not perfect, but I am back to how things felt prior to the competition. For reasons unknown to me, my back feels the worst when I am sleeping. There is a great deal of achiness in my back whenever I need to change position in the night, but it feels basically okay once I’m up for the day. Go figure! I’m still doing my stretches, and I am determined that this will get better!

So, a week post-competition and I’m sleeping better, feeling better, and chomping at the bit to get back to training. I think those are all good things. My head is screwed on properly. My attitude has been re-adjusted. Tomorrow will be one more day of rest. I shall drink coffee, especially since I am staying up late tonight. I might go for a walk. I will do some laundry and housework and make dinner for the family. And, I will prep my gym bag for Monday morning.

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