Sunday, April 3, 2016

"...The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. " Henry Rollins

Louis Cyr - Strongman
So this, Blogland, is my great great grandfather, Louis Cyr.
Louis Cyr was a French Canadian strongman, (still) holding the title of "The Strongest Man in Recorded History."
He did had a long and interesting career, with feats like lifting a fully grown horse off the ground, or lifting a 220# barbell with one hand, or lifting 1,075kg (that's literally like a ton) on his back. He even became a circus performer with his wife!
(Other pretty awesome notes, here...)

In my family, we've always joked that we've got some weird mutant muscle genes, as my mother's whole side of the family had some weird predispositions to being strong. My grandmother - at 94 years old - was still picking up her chair (a sturdy reclining wingback) and moving it around the room. At 93, we finally convinced her to stop trying to flip her mattress by herself... Although, who knows, maybe it's just scrappy french-canadian farm family genes. Women gotta get shit done, weight/strength be damned?

In any case, I always found this to be an amusing part of my lineage (I mean, geesh, he's got multiple statues of himself erected in Quebec!).  Yesterday, though, I finally really "connected" with my heritage a bit and competed in my FIRST Power lifting Competition.

The lead-up to it was pretty awful. I mean, obsessing about how much like a sausage you're going to look like in your singlet, plus the concept of having a ton of people stare at you (in your singlet)... plus the phobia of missing a lift or something like that.... It is all very abstract and terrifying if you've never done it before, so I was decidedly nervous. Thankfully, not only was I going to have a buddy - my stellar nutritionist and gym-buddy Charity was also competing - but it sounded like we'd have a cheering section from the gym, too! My Man was coming to spectate and support, as well, so I figured that no matter what happened, I'd be in good company to deal with it.

We arrived at Burlington CrossFit just after 11am, to a room full of people. I was shocked at how many people came out for a power lifting meeting. Not just competitors, but spectators! Apparently, watching people lift things up and put them down is interesting stuff.

As I was getting checked in, I was suddenly asked a ton of questions - what were my opening weights, in kilograms? Oh lord. Thank you for the handy conversion chart on the table. I stuck with the plan - Opening Squat Weight at 286# and Opening Deadlift Weight at 320#. Then, off to find my squat-rack height. Funny enough, the resident heavy-lifter and squat rack master was a dude that I went to school with. He'd also be the squat spotter for the day (more about that later..), but just funny to see a "familiar" face. I've been a spectator at highland games and MMA fights where he's competed, so it was interesting to run into him in yet another burly sort of sport.

Warming up - 225#
All checked in and ready to go, the day was going to start with squats, so Charity and I got around to warming up a bit. I'd been called to Boston for work for the previous two days and was a little worried my legs would be unhappy from sitting in the car so much, but the warm up went well and everything felt like it was working as planned.

When lifting began, the energy became really electric. All the women would go first, as there was only maybe 8 or 9 of us. (C'mon ladies! Where are the rest of you?!)

The squat rack was in the center front of the room, with competitors and spectators forming a ring around the edges. We were announced 3 at a time, so you'd have plenty of time to take deep breaths and get ready to go. The announcer struggled with my name ALL DAY (story of my life), but was a pretty cool guy that really made everyone feel welcome.

When there's only like 8 women ahead of you, it becomes your turn really quickly. Suddenly, it was my turn (ohshitohshitohshitohshit).

New Squat PR: 314.6 pounds! 
I got called up to the rack ("bar is loaded!") and tried to zone out and just take my time to set myself up, just like any other day in the gym.  You certainly do not feel "alone" during this process, because outside of the head judge/announcer staring at you, and the ring of spectators, you also have two burly dudes to either side of you, ready to help catch the bar if you need help, and the rear spotter, all up in your business behind you - just in case. Oddly, it does feel pretty safe, because you never have to worry about getting out of the way or anything, if you can't make it/need to dump it. With a few deep breaths and good thoughts to calm my nerves (I needed to remind myself that you can't lift heavy if your knees are shaking......), I stood it up out of the rack and got the SQUAT! command. Dowwwnnnnnnn..... and Up! No problem. Back in the rack.  Goal Achieved! My major goal coming into this was to just show up and get some numbers on the board. Even if I missed the rest of my lifts, I was going to be okay.  Another couple of rounds and I successfully hit my second lift (303 pounds) and went up to the table to declare what my last lift would be..... oh man. What to do!? I was in totally uncharted territory at this point. 305 was the heaviest I'd ever successfully managed in the gym, although I *almost* stood up 315 the other day... so, what the hell?, I thought. I put my last lift in for 314.6 (kilogram conversions are annoyingly often not round numbers, I found.).

Two lifts on the board, solid lift at just over three hundred pounds, and I was happy, no matter how this last lift went. Although.... being a hugely competitive sort, I wanted to get it. It would mean a new personal record for me, and put me at decidedly the highest women's squat of the day by solidly 40 pounds, I think. Granted, it's probably more impressive when a 125# lady squats 250#, as it's like 2x her body weight... but, still moving 315 up and down would be a pretty solid performance.
AND... awesomely, it worked. And it wasn't bad! I didn't have to fight to get it up. I was working, for sure, but I never got stuck. SUCCESSSSsssss! (Could I have done more? Ooo. Next time.)

Now, with like 2 flights of 10 men (or something like that) to go, then bench presses for men and women, there would be plenty of time for me to rest up, stretch and get ready again before dead lift time. I took the opportunity to eat a protein bar and drink a bunch of water, while watching all the other competitors (note to self: Powerlifting meets are a LONG DAY. Bring more snacks.).
I watched Charity kill her bench presses (my arms were crying, just watching that...) and sat in awe while some of these dudes benched 300 pounds. NUTS I tell you.
That said, I definitely need to get practicing my bench, so that in November I can do a full powerlift (Bench, squat and deadlift).

Finally, the day wore on, and it was dead lift time! Dead lifts may be my favorite (although they're close with squats... just depends on the day..), so I was ready to go for this one. I'd worked through the jitters that morning, and felt a lot more comfortable in the gym.

My opener was a successful and easy 320 pounds. It seems that what Charity told me is true - the dead lifts feel just a little lighter at the meet. Maybe it's the bar (it's more bendy?), maybe it's the grippiness... maybe just the adrenaline you have... but it went up pretty easily.  So, I was right on track with the plan: my second lift would be my former max lift - 340 (although in kilograms, I ended up at like 342 or something like that). That one stood up also pretty smoothly.... uh oh. NOW WHAT? Again, uncharted territory... I didn't want to pick a number I was going to fail, but legitimately had no idea what my capability might be. As I was agonizing over the conversion chart, Charity came running up to me, telling me that was way too easy and I needed to add at least 20 pounds to the bar. Uhm WHAT? my brain said.... but, again... What the hell? right?

I set my third lift to be 358.2 pounds (the closest conversion I could see to 360), and then I went back to my place in the crowd to quietly freak out and watch the other ladies lift, until it was my turn again.

"Bar is loaded!" sounded the announcer, and I stepped up to the bar. Lifting crowds become oddly similar to golf crowds, as they go -completely silent- until you start lifting. I was a little worried about this one, but was feeling strong, so I took a few deep breaths, sat back into my hamstrings and just let it rip.

358.2 pounds for a new PR Deadlift!
This one fought me a little bit - I believe the lingo is that it was a little "hitch-y" - but nonetheless, I got that bad boy stood the eff up. Knees locked, shoulders behind bar, good form. Commence a jersey fist pump celebration. WOO.
I was definitely proud of that one. That is a new PR by 18.2 pounds. YEAAHHH buddy.

I couldn't be happier on finishing that last dead lift. Seriously.

My first meet, I survived the singlet-wearing AND got two new personal records (by significant amounts - 10 pound PR on my back squat and 18. 2 on the deadlift!). You really can't ask for more than that.

I thought I was going to have pulled the heaviest squat and deadlift (for women) for the day, then this woman - Kim - walked out of the crowd. Kim hadn't squatted as heavy as I had, and her opening dead lifts were lighter than mine, so I assumed (very wrongly) that I would out dead-lift her.

Well. Kim walked up to that bar and pulled 385.6 pounds, like it was nothing.

Hot. Damn. You go, girl!

I got the chance to congratulate Kim after, to hear that her goal is to come back in November with a 400 pound dead lift. YIKES.  Looks like I've got a new goal to chase! ;-)

Dead lifts (because of the sheer amount of weight) seem to be the fan-favorite. The men's dead lifts got ridiculously heavy. I got to watch a 17 year old absolutely CRUSH at 600 pound dead lift, to set a new state or national (not sure) record for his age group. Let me tell you - the crowd gets pretty psyched up to see lifts like that happen. I know all the fellow lifters were "lifting" along with him, chanting "up up up!!!" as we watched it sloowly come to height.

As the day wrapped up, I gotta give it to the organizers. Awards were ready and lifts tallied, less than 5 minutes after the last lift of the day.

Charity grabbed a trophy for an age-group first place (Happy Birthday!), and *drumroll* I ALSO got a first-in-my-age-group trophy!
... now, I will say, I'm pretty sure there was no one else in my age group... but. Screw it. LOL.
I'm choosing to use this trophy to commemorate:
1) conquering my fear of the singlet
2) crushing all my lifts that day and
3) Putting up the biggest women's squat for the day. BOOM.
April 2, 2016: Vermont Powerlifting, Age Group Champion 30-34

So, BlogLand, what have we learned here?

Well, it was a good chance to again remind myself to keep taking risks and pushing limits. I feel like I'm doing pretty good so far this year, and it's only April! YEAH.

I have to say though, I found this to be a pretty cool experience. This was legitimately the first time in my life that I've been involved with some sort of "athletic" competition and didn't feel huge and out of place. I've competed in a lot of things - horseback riding, running, obstacle racing, crossfit, etc. - and no matter how well I may do in the scheme of things, I always feel like the biggest chick in the room, or wildly "robust" among long, lean people. I'm just not made that way. Even at my fittest a few years back, running half marathons, I'd be running along side 120 pound chicks that had legs as big around as my arm. I'm telling you BlogLand, it gives you a little bit of complex.

But yesterday, at the power lifting comp, I never felt that way, ever. There were a lot of big people - and I mean big in a variety of ways, tall, muscular, athletic, chunky, etc. - but they were all moving some big weight. If you were there, making an effort, they were right behind you and supportive. After standing up my 314.6 back squat, I got applause and a hearty round of congratulatory "nice lift!" that I never expected. This is a "skill" that comes somewhat easily to me, but it was really cool to be in a room full of people who didn't diminish that skill, or underestimate me, just because I was squishy around the middle. I like these people. :-)

After a pretty intense few months - finishing up my Hatch squat program, completing all the WODS for The Open and gearing up for this competition, it's nice to be returning to my regularly scheduled programming, so to speak.

Tomorrow, I start Week 1, Day 1 of the Couch to 5K program with Holly. This week, I'll get back into the "routine" - restarting Hatch with some bigger weights, getting back to bootcamp a couple times a week and personal training with Robyn (where I fear she's going to go on a mission to wreck my arms.). No particular "big" things on the horizon, other than long term goal of revisiting this Powerlifting comp in November.

Now, I simply wait for/enjoy the arrival of Spring (Dear VT Weather, WHY did you snow today? WTF.), get back to training, and see what happens next!

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