Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It All Comes Down to This

This Saturday I'll be competing at a powerlifting meet in Fairbanks. It's a USA Powerlifting sanctioned meet where state records can be set. Lucky for me the rules of USAPL dictate that as a Masters athlete (that is, 40 years old and up) you compete in the age bracket based on the age you'll be on December 31st of that year. 

I don't turn 45 until May, but I'll be that age on December 31, 2016, thus I'll compete this Saturday in the 45-49 age bracket. This is fortunate for me because the Alaska state records in that age bracket, and in my weight class, are open. Every one of them! Depending on who else shows up to the meet, I may very well get all the records! 

The training cycle leading up to this meet has been intense. It's not just the heavy squats and deadlifts that are tiring, it's every push up, pullup, kettle bell swing (70lb kettle bell, mind you!), triple broad jump and box jump that do me in. Most nights it's all I can do to lay on the couch and throw a handful of kibble at the cats when I get home.

I thought by now I had experienced all the levels of soreness there possibly are. But I haven't. The other night, laying in bed, I couldn't fall asleep because my legs were throbbing. The pain was reminiscent of growing pains when you're a kid -- a deep, undulating ache that ibuprofen doesn't quite reach. 

For the first time ever, I've put all of myself into this training. I haven't half-assed any one of the workouts. I didn't skip the triple broad jumps (which I loathe). I didn't go easy on the dumbbell presses when I was too tired to hold my water bottle. I did it all.  More than the possibility of a state record, I'm more proud of showing up and putting in the the work. I even did seated, weighted box jumps. 

For several weeks, the programming called for these seated, weighted box jumps as part of our warmup. Standing in front of the gym computer monitor, reading the workout for the day, I'd roll my eyes, shake my head and mutter, "Oh, hell no! I'll do regular box jumps, non-weighted from a standing position, thank you very much!"  

I'm typically at the gym before the afternoon classes start, when no one is there save one or two hearty souls. No one actually hears my declaration of independence, railing against the evil seated, weighted box jumps. I'd voice my opposition, look around and realize no one was there. Or if someone was there, didn't give a hoot. I guess the power of rebellion lies in having an audience. 

It gnawed at me though. Skipping out on those box jumps. I know from experience that everything in the programming is there for a reason, not just to piss me off or make me look like an idiot. If I was worried about looking stupid I would've stopped after day one!
Several weeks later when they showed up again, my resolve was less. Just try, I thought. So I did. It wasn't a particularly tall box, but I donned the weighted vest, sat on a bench, and jumped onto the box. And I did it again, 19 more times. I didn't die, and it was easier than I had imagined.

Henry Rollins wrote an article years ago about lifting weights that I love and have commented on in a previous post. He writes about how we often live our lives not living up to our full potential. Thinking that if we fall short of what we can do we won’t be disappointed. Yet, we end up being disappointed precisely because we never reach what we want.  I don't know what has changed in the past year but at some point I decided I want to know. I want to know what I can do. Subsequently I've been willing to do the work.

Rollins writes, "Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart."  

Saturday's meet will showcase great strength from many people. Behind that muscle strength though is the mental strength it takes to show up every training day. The mental strength has to be built bit by bit, everyday.

I've certainly gained muscle strength in the past 8 weeks. More important though is the mental strength I've gained. I used to be so afraid of meets and competing, and even trying. I'm not sure what that fear was about. That I wasn't good enough, or didn't belong training much less competing? I'm not sure. But that fear is gone now. Either I lift the weight or I don't. That is all.

My friend John Walters says on meet days, "the hay is in the barn". Meaning, the work is done. Whatever you did or didn't do in training the weeks leading up to the meet, is done. 

As for this meet, there's a lot of fucking hay in that barn. I can't wait to see it.