The “Big” Sleep

I slept last night! It wasn’t exactly well or pretty, pain-free or enough, but there was actual sleep.

I fell asleep quickly sometime around midnight and was able to sleep on my side without immediate pain. Around 5:00 the pain woke me up and changing positions only resulted in more pain, so I got out of bed and moved to the living room. I tried reclining with an ice pack, but the pain was too intense to stay in that position. Standing would bring about an immediate decrease in pain; however, there is a significant amount of numbness in my left foot. The intensity of the numbness fluctuates but is always present, which makes standing and walking feel weird even though my butt feels better for it.

Some pain relief was achieved by laying on the floor with my left leg pretzeled over the right leg again, and this time I was also able to sleep in that position until roughly 7:00, with a couple of brief standing breaks when my legs needed a change. At 7, after a bit more standing and walking, I crawled back into my bed with the hope that I could maybe get a bit more sleep. I laid on my side and felt the stirrings of pain, but it stayed moderate enough to allow me another hour of sleep before going full blown again.

As I type I am reclining with an ice pack under my butt…and I’m squirming more than a toddler in church. My ability to lie down in any position comes with an unpredictable time limit. When the buzzer goes, the pain flashes into white hot flames until I stand up. I need to stand up. Right now!

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The Morning After

I did not sleep last night. Well, I might have had a grand total of an hour of sleep, but the rest of the night was basically torture. Over the years I have had my share of pain, from running, from the disc issue, the SI joints, shoulders, neck, knees, muscles, gallstones, childbirth, stitches, burns, boxes falling on my head. All of those things hurt in varying degrees, but I have never lost an entire night’s sleep to any of those things. Until now.

Although the disc and SI joint are likely abettors in this case, I would say, in my complete lack of medical knowledge, that the actual culprit is the sciatic nerve running down my left leg. Aside from a bit of stiffness and mild ache, my back actually feels pretty good considering the weights that I pulled yesterday. I am used to having a throbbing back for a day or two after a competition, but I’m not feeling that at all this time. No, all of the pain is centered deep in my left butt cheek and radiates down the leg a ways. Sitting is absolutely out of the question except for those situations in which sitting is my only option, like using a toilet or driving in the car. To sit is to feel instant and intense pain. And as I discovered last night, laying down is also problematic! There is not a single position in which I can sleep without intense, throbbing pain that I couldn’t sleep through if I tried. I tried. All night long.

I left my bed shortly after 1:00 AM, because it hurt too much to remain there and I didn’t want to disturb my husband’s sleep. In the living room, I tried everything. My anti-grav recliner. The floor. Ice. Heat. More Ibuprofen. A lacrosse ball. Stretching. Standing for a while. Every possible position on the floor. The only position that provided a small stretch of quasi-relief was to be flat on my back with my right knee bent, so that I could open up my left hip and rest my left foot across my right thigh. Apparently that’s a great stretch for the piriformis, which could also be a contributing factor. The position lessened the pain enough that I could almost fall asleep…until one of my legs would suddenly realize how long it had been in such an uncomfortable position and would require movement. Unfortunately, returning the left leg to the floor resulted in an instant flare of intense pain. For the entire night, I had two options, the piriformis stretch pose or standing, and neither option afforded the ability to actually sleep.

Honestly, I don’t know what I will do if I cannot sleep tonight. I do have to work tomorrow night, and I’ve essentially been awake since 5:00 yesterday morning. A nap would be wonderful right about now, but I suspect that the pain will make that impossible.

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.

6

I slept for nearly 11 hours last night. Wow! Sleep is precious to me. I know it is important for overall health, so I typically get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep on any given night; however, it is rare to get as much sleep as I did last night. Can’t say that I mind it though!

Upon waking the back feels much the same as yesterday. Not in pain but with the sense that it is lurking not too far away. I’ll take it! After coffee and breakfast, I did my foam rolling, stretching, and various exercises for rehabbing my disc, my SI joints, my knees, my shoulders. It’s less than a week before competition…I’ve got all sorts of minor aches and pains!

As is my habit prior to a competition, I stepped on my scale this morning. 166.4 pounds. I need to be 165.3 or lower, but there is no need to worry or panic. My scale is not completely accurate, although I no longer remember just how much it is off. I do know that it is heavier by at least a pound, so I should be fine by the time of weigh-in on Friday. Still, I’m sticking to no wine, no processed sugars, no flours.

Excitement is building and visualization is along for the ride. I cannot control when either hits me. It simply does. Images of my squats popped into my head as I was washing my face this morning sending surges of adrenaline through my bloodstream. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe.

one week

I went to bed last night hoping that the pain in my back or pelvis (whatever it was) would be gone by the time I woke. This morning I woke up and went tentatively on with my day…without any pain in my back. It wasn’t normal. I can still feel the discomfort lurking in the wings, waiting to strike at any moment, but I know what I can do to fight this battle. Whether or not I will win remains to be seen. One week! I just need my body to hold together for one week.

Today’s training was again short and sweet, more or less. A bit of benching and a bit of squatting.

1. bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 100 x 4, 110 x 2

main event: 120 lbs x 1, 130 x 1

With yesterday’s back pain, I played it safe on the bench by having no arch or leg drive for the first three warm up sets. My pressing was rolling along smoothly until the final single at 130 pounds. Although my husband was at the gym with me today, he was busy elsewhere and I thought I’d try to unrack 130 pounds by myself. After all, it was only one rep, one set, and I had benched 125 pounds without assistance a week or so ago. I unracked the weight without too much difficulty and settled into position, bringing the bar to my chest. Since competition requires holding that position until the judge says you can press it, I might have held my pause a bit long. It’s better to be able to hold a longer pause than to not wait for the proper command. I’ve done 130 a few times recently, so I wasn’t overly concerned about today’s single…but it turned out to be more of a grind than I was expecting. At one point I honestly didn’t think I’d make it and imagined having the bar resting on my chest in need of assistance. When it comes to grinding out a bench press, I’m not exactly well known for my success. When I’ve failed a bench press in competition, I grind as much as I can and get stuck. It’s like I hit a ceiling that I cannot push through. For a moment today I thought I’d hit that ceiling again, but I managed to grind it out and finish the rep. The back held up okay, too.

2. squats

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 3

main event: 165 lbs x 1, 165 x 1

Squats felt good and easy. No back issues.

 

Argh!

Eight days out and today was not the day I had hoped thought it would be. I slept fitfully between midnight and my 4:45 AM alarm, but I woke up feeling fine. I went to the bathroom to get ready for work. A spot on my pelvis began to hurt shortly after turning my body enough to reach the lever to flush the toilet. It wasn’t too bad, so I thought maybe I had just stretched a muscle. However, the pain persisted throughout the day and even got crankier. I’m not exactly sure what is going on or why, but it is annoying and frustrating and not what I want to feel right now. Is it the SI joint? Maybe. That’s what I fear, I think, so I made sure to add SI joint friendly stretches into my daily routine. Mostly I am trying not to panic. Not yet. I could wake up tomorrow feeling perfectly fine, and I hope I do. If not, then I continue with the rehab stuff and take it a day at a time.

 

How Heavy is 275 lbs?

Just when it seems like everything is feeling decent, something doesn’t. I didn’t sleep overly well last night and struggled to find a position that would alleviate my physical discomfort while allowing me to fall asleep. I favour my right side, but any time spent laying on that side last night quickly resulted in a dull, heavy ache where my leg meets my hip. The accompanying tingling in my right foot told me that the cause of the pain could be a disc issue. Such knowledge was not comforting, even though I’ve dealt with the disc thing before. Flipping onto my left side would alleviate both the tingling and the pain, but then the snoring emanating from my husband would jolt me awake every time I would begin to drift into sleep. There is an odd difference between my left ear and my right, even though I wear earplugs at night. The only way to adequately block out loud noise is for my right ear to be against my pillow which is part of the reason why I favour sleeping on my right side. So I had a distinct problem last night. Lay on my right side and remain awake from the pain and toe tingling. Lay on my left side and stay awake from the snoring. Lay on my left side, repeatedly poke my husband and ruin his sleep. Or, perhaps worst of all, lay on my back and turn my head to rest on my right. I finally went with the last option, but I really do not like sleeping on my back. It might help my hip feel better, but it usually makes my back achy and my sleep is less restorative.

Not surprisingly, I woke up reluctantly, although I at least had the luxury of allowing a natural return to functionality. There is still a heaviness in that spot at the base of my right buttock, but the toe tingling only seems to happen when I go to bed. There is also an ache of sorts low and center of my back, or more appropriately my pelvis. It doesn’t feel quite like my previous SI problems, so I don’t honestly know if it is anything to be concerned about at right now. My previous disc issues never caused pain in my back. So I don’t know. I will just keep doing my back rehab stuff and I can add in the things I did for the disc problem before.

Today was deadlift day, and I am now down to single reps for my working sets. However, I was also supposed to do singles at 275 pounds. In training, I have ever only done 1 single rep at 275 pounds. I am not used to doing more reps at that heavy of a weight. Ever. The fact that I did 255 pounds for doubles for multiple sets last week made me believe that I could do three singles at 275 this morning. One heavy rep with 4 minutes of rest between…I could do that! But that little obnoxious ache in my back and hip ricocheted through my head, leaving a trail of carnage in its wake.

1. deadlifts (2-2×1) 3 sets of 1

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 5, 135 x 5, 165 x 3, with belt 195 x 2, 225 x 2, 255 x 1

main event, with belt: 275 x 1, 275 x 0, 275 x 0, 275 x 1, 275 x 1

Warm ups felt good. The first single at 275 felt a bit heavy but decent, and my belief that I was capable was solid. I set up for the second single, began the lift, and had to let go of the bar. Although there wasn’t any pain, it just didn’t feel right and I knew I couldn’t finish it. I took a moment or two or three to regroup before trying again. I set up and initiated the lift, got the bar even higher than the previous attempt, then had to drop it again. Same thing. No pain. Just didn’t feel right. That second aborted attempt pissed me off. I sat and waited my four minutes before trying again, thoughts racing. What if I fail again? Should I just quit? Am I even supposed to complete all three reps after two failed attempts? Why can’t I get it? I know I can! Am I going to hurt myself in continuing? What if the disc issue is flaring up again? Why?! Can’t I just get a break already? 

A lot can happen inside a mind in 4 minutes. It was a battle between my body and my brain, probably one of the biggest mental battles I’ve ever had in the gym. In the absence of someone to slap my back, I slapped my thighs a few times, chalked up my hands, and stalked to the bar with a tinge of anger. This time I was successful in completing the lift. It wasn’t any easier than the first single, but I did it and I knew that I could do it again. And I did.

2. bench press (2-1×0) 2 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 5, 85 x 5, 100 x 3

main event: 115 x 2, 115 x 2, 115 x 2

The first two warm up sets were done without feet or arch. Just because. My bench press has been feeling quite solid lately, and today was no exception. For something completely different, I put wrist wraps on starting with the second warm up set. Although I’ve owned wrist wraps for more than a year, I have never used them. Lately I’ve been experiencing some minor aches in my wrists after heavy bench sets, and the aches and stiffness seeps into my fingers, as well. I’m not sure if I want to use the wraps when I compete, since I am generally not used to using them; however, I wanted to try them out and see if they help. The weather has been cooler, damper, and I am, I suppose, old enough to have some arthritis creeping in. 😦 The wrists felt pretty good with the wraps on, so I will try them again on Saturday when I do heavy singles.

3. plank

x 30 seconds, x 25 seconds, x 20 seconds

I know I can plank better than this, but that achy spot on my low back was particularly uncomfortable with the planks.