The Great Powerlifting Experiment


For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you know I recently competed in my first powerlifting competition. You also know that I suffer from a recently diagnosed chronic illness that has been doing a number on my body. But me being me, of course I decided to give my chronic illness the bird and competed anyway.

My goals were simple: spend 2 months training under a powerlifting style of lifting, gain strength, complete all three lifts, and attain a combined lift of 500lbs.

Spoiler: I accomplished all my goals, despite a few bumps in the road.


What is Powerlifting?

From USA Powerlifting: Distinct from weightlifting, a sport made up of two lifts: the Snatch and the Clean-and-Jerk, where the weight is lifted above the head, powerlifting comprises three lifts: the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. Powerlifting competitions may be comprised of one, two or all three of the lifting disciplines.

As you may recall from my post on bodybuilding, I didn’t mean to become a bodybuilder, I wanted to do weightlifting, but a recently repaired shoulder just couldn’t handle the overhead work. That’s why I went with powerlifting instead of weightlifting; my shoulder can now handle a modest bench press, but not the overhead lifts needed in weightlifting.

Powerlifting is as very distinct from bodybuilding. The goal of bodybuilding is to mold and shape the body, through exercise and nutrition, to fit a very specific athletic aesthetic. Powerlifting is about using weightlifting to build a body capable of maximum lifting capability. And yes, your body’s shape is very different in each discipline.


What are the Lifts?

The Three Kings of weightlifting: squat, bench press, and deadlift. Regardless of sports focus, most weightlifting regimes will incorporate these three foundational lifts and their variations.

Squat: Pop it like a squat! The booty makers and quad killer. A squat requires the standing lifter to hold a loaded barbell across their shoulders and bend deeply at the knees until the knee goes parallel to the hip crease, then return to the standing position.

Bench press: The simplest of the three, the lifter lays on a bench, holds the loaded barbell over their chest, allows it to come down (slowly, please!) to the chest, and then presses up until it returns to its original position.

Deadlift: A standing lifter uses two hands to pull the loaded barbell from the ground until the lifter is standing fully erect.


How Did I Train?

As you know, I have a very long history of sports and a five year background in weightlifting for bodybuilding. Surprisingly, the program I found and used was similar to my bodybuilding regime but with fewer reps. I focus on hypertrophy for bodybuilding, which is achieved by lifting a lower weight for higher reps. The goal is to use volume to build muscle fibers and that is why bodybuilders achieve that wonderfully sculpted look.

For powerlifting, I needed the exact opposite: high weight, low reps, and go until failure on the last set. (Failure is when the muscles are no longer capable of the exercise.) Because you go to failure, you also do fewer sets overall. My bodybuilding workout takes me anywhere from 45-75 minutes in the gym and I found I could finish my powerlifting workouts in 30-40 minutes.

In bodybuilding, I used a fabulous coach who set both my workouts and nutrition/macros. Once I took a break from bodybuilding, I started leaning heavily on ExRx.net to find new and interesting lifts. ExRx.net came through for me during my experiment and I found their 5/3/1 Program.

5/3/1 Program powerlifting lifts and weights
From the 5/3/1 Program

This program builds your strength on 4 week cycles, 3 building weeks and one active recovery week. I liked that everything scales to your known single rep max (the greatest weight you can lift one single time). Everyone has that one exercise they are best at; for me it’s the deadlift, and it allows you to progress up in each lift based on your own strengths.

The only drawback was that it doesn’t have much accessory work. I know I shouldn’t be focused on accessory lifts while training for powerlifting, but after five years, I felt like something was missing from my lifting days.

And I ate. So much more than in bodybuilding. I did keep track of my intake, I did have a specific macro load I was trying to hit, but when you are eating to maintain or even gain, it’s like mana from heaven. There’s so much more wiggle room in the diet. Pizza? Sure! Another delicious cinnamon roll protein bar? Sure! A glass of wine? Well, yes, in moderation. While I do enjoy my wine and IPAs, alcohol is still a detractor when you’re building.

One note about my health and this program: the medication I’m on, Lupron, is a hell drug. It’s the G-D devil and I intend to refuse treatment before the next course. Lupron is used for folks with prostate or ovarian cancer, endometriosis (Hi! It’s me!), and other illnesses that require full hormone suppression. Lupron is chemo-adjacent and sent me into a very rapid and early chemically induced menopause while I started this program. I knew it would cause weight gain and hoped to capitalize on those extra calories for muscle building; however, it also included fatigue, bone pain, joint pain, loss of strength, sleep loss, and hair loss. I hit a few new PRs (personal records) the first couple of weeks, but as the rapid onset menopause hit me, I plateaued just as I should have been hitting my new goal lifts. If I do this again when I’m healthy, it will be a much more accurate look at how the ExRx program’s efficacy.


Day of the Meet

What I expected: I’ll admit I had no idea what to expect from this meet. It was small, run by a dedicated but inexperienced team, and many of the competitors were also new to the sport. It was perfect for me to dip my toes in but it lead to a very long day. I think the only thing I expected was that I would do my three lifts and hope I made my target total weight.

What I saw: First and foremost, lifting for a crowd is amazing! The announcer always noted when a lift was someone’s PR attempt and hearing a crowded room scream for you as you lift the heaviest thing you’ve ever held is powerful. One of the other ladies took me under her wing and helped explain how competitive lifts worked because it was very different from how I trained. (Oops!)

What sucked: I had no idea that competitive lifts differed from how I lift in a workout. There are commands to start and/or return to your starting position. I also learned that I needed to squat much deeper than I was used to in my workouts. That threw me and I had to drop my starting lift by 40lbs to ensure I could make at least one lift.

Why one lift? Well, as I learned, you get three attempts to lift the heaviest weight you can successfully complete, but once you state your first weight, you cannot go down. So, if you fail your first lift, you can’t drop weight and most people are stuck with three failed lifts. Fortunately, my new mentor helped me set three good weights and the organizers allowed me to change before we officially started. And thank goodness, too, because it got rough!


My Three Lifts

With a goal total of 500lbs, I needed to make sure I had a successful lift in each category.

Squat: I had hoped to lift between 185lbs and 195lbs (my PR), but after testing out the much lower squat depth, I changed my starting weight from 175lbs to 135bs. Thank goodness! I lifted 135lbs, 155lbs, and 170lbs successfully, but I’m not sure I would have made that 175lbs opening lift which would have resulted in a failure.

Opening squat of 135lbs

Bench press: I didn’t realize how far down I would have to go for the bench and didn’t factor in the small pause at the bottom where I waited for the “lift!” command. I’m glad I started at only 105lbs because that pause killed me. I was successful on 105lbs but failed twice at 115lbs, a weight where I can I normally do two or three reps. It was disappointing to now be a combined 30lbs below where I thought I would be as I chased 500lbs and it meant I would have to attain a new PR on the deadlift. Thank goodness for that crowd!

Deadlift: Deadlift is my specialty. I have thick thighs and dumps like a truck from years and years of running, cycling, and lifting. It’s also the only lift that I performed in the gym like they do in competition; the only difference is locking at the top until they give the command. But since I lift to lock out anyway, it was just holding on a little longer. My previous PR is 220lbs but if I didn’t try at least 225, I would miss my 500lbs goal.

I’m happy to say I successfully lifted 185lbs, 200lbs, and then went for it on 225lbs. Hearing the head judge yell “PR! PR! PR attempt” and the crowd immediately responding and cheering as I set for the lift was powerful. The weight went up so smoothly, that I probably could have added another 5-10lbs and made it, but I made the safe choice at 225lbs.

Total weight: 500lbs
Squat: 170lbs
Bench: 105lbs
Deadlift: 225lbs

Second place powerlifting medal

Will I do it again?

A strong maybe. Even now, about a month later, my health and strength are still declining and I have another month before this course of medication ends. I know I’m facing another two months or so before my body normalizes and then it’ll be time for a second round of surgery with a 6-8 week recovery. It will be a while before I can compete again and while I’m open to it, I’m waiting to see how recovery goes before committing to my next big adventure.


Happy trails!


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Race Report: Memorial Day Gate-to-Gate

Race reports in 2022… We’re going get to the race report part, but first… boy howdy, 2022 has been a dang year already, hasn’t’ it?

If you get my news letter, you know I’ve been battling some health issues. (If you don’t get the newsletter, you can sign up here.) After too many doctors visits, multiple ultrasounds/CTs, a trip to the ER, and surgery, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness known as endometriosis. Unlucky for me, it’s in Stage III with DIE (“deeply infiltrative endometriosis,” it also makes you feel like you’re dying) and I’m really going through it right now.

Surgery was semi-successful, dropping my daily pain from 7/10 down to 3/10. But the first course of medication was a failure and the new meds have some gnarly side effects. (Blah, blah, blah: “this medication has been prescribed because your doctor has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects.”)

Side effects: nausea, vomiting, insomnia, amenorrhea, hot flashes, fatigue, more fatigue, and for fun, and extra side of fatigue. To say it’s had an impact on running would be putting it mildly. However, I’ve been slogging through and trying to keep my focus on small goals. No ultra marathons for me this year, but a 4.4-miler sounded like a small, but surmountable challenge.


Today you’re getting my full race report for Memorial Day Gate-to-Gate – 4.4 mi Race

This is an interesting one because it is executed by and run entirely on Eglin Air Force Base. The race is held the morning of Memorial Day and has some beautiful tributes to our fallen heroes.

Check in:

Because this is run by the base, the first two days you can only do packet pick up on base. No ID, no pick up. Closer to the race, you can pick them up at the local running shop. I was a dumbass and forgot all four day and therefore had to pick up at 5:30 the morning of the race.

Starting line:

Wow. This was a military race. Pad the pad, to pad the pad. Race starts at 7, be in place no later than 6:30, have to get your packet by 6am and expect 30-60 minutes to get on base if you aren’t an ID holder. Fortunately I live on base so I was able to leave my house at 5:30 and be in line for my packet at 5:45. I then had over an hour to stand around.

The starting line was nice though. They had corrals for different paces but I think they over estimate the abilities of their average runner: 6 min/mi, 6:30 min/mi, 7, 7:30, 8…. then a gaggle of hundreds with those fast pace groups almost empty. They also offered paper carnations to everyone that would late be dropped at the All Wars memorial which was a very nice touch.

The course:

Not the most beautiful course, it was run on the base roads but I appreciated dropping flowers at the All War memorial and the bag piper serenading us as we ran by.

Race course
One big 4.4 mile loop

Weather: Hot and hotter! At the 7 am race start, it was a warm 78F and humid. There was a weird, early morning fog layer that laid on the upper parts of the course (looked cool running past a bag piper in the mist) but it all burned off by the time we got down the hill. Which is unfortunate because there wasn’t an inch of shade the last two miles.

Terrain: Flat for the first mile, a gentle downhill to the base of the runway. Then it’s all flat until the very end where you run back up every inch you ran down earlier in about 200m.

Aid stations:

Let me start with a big “WTAF?” to the course organizers. There were probably 600 folks between walkers and runners, Athlinks says I was the 76th person to cross the finish line, rough math says top 15%…. and by the FIRST aid station, they were out of cups. And the second. And the third. And the last.

Honest to goodness, how do you have a race with 600 registered participants and have cups for only 10% of them???

I was so mad. My running partner was mad. Everyone around us was mad. By mile three people were stopping to throw up on the side of the course due to heat and no water. They were already rolling the fire trucks and ambulance as we came up the last hill and they tried to stop us crossing to get the truck by. It was bad!

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Not really. Not for running anyway. Hot and humid with no water? Eh, not too bad. But I’ve been in pain so long they’re bumped me over into the chronic pain management regime. So, one could say I’ve made a home in the Pain Cave for the last few months. I’m ready to move out and move on.

Crew:

No crew for this race and it was short enough that I didn’t need a pacer, but my usual running partner was there and we pushed each other despite dehydration driven crankiness.

The finish line:

A little party with a small up of beer and some cold Popeye’s chicken then the usual booths of post run junk: cups, magnets, fliers for other races. My partner and I declined all but the beer then hunted down bottles of water. We were scorched and cranky and didn’t stay for awards.

Memorial Day race medal

Final time:

43:52 for 4.4 mi. My goal was to hold a gentle 10:00 min/mi pace and I was just a hair faster, clocking in at 9:54 min/mi. It was slow and plodding for a road course but I made my goal and these days, that’s a win.

Overall thoughts:

This was the first time the base was able to hold this race in two years and it showed. The volunteers were polite and friendly but the logistics of the race were a disaster. I can’t say I’ll come back again, even with it being literally in my backyard. Unfortunately, this is last local race of the season, we don’t get anything else until Paddle at the Park in August and no running races until October’s Wicked Triple. If I want another race, it’ll have to be north of here, like the Charlotte RaceFest.


The Gear List:

My gear lists so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. As usual, some affiliate links, most aren’t; I am not sponsored by any specific companies.

Clothes:

Tank top: my trusty Skirt Sports tank top. Unfortunately, then the original owners sold, they dropped this particular top and its not for sale any longer. It’s a great top layer for hot/humid runs and it gave me minimal chaffing.

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good.” I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles and I was starting to feel it coming up the hill at mile 4. I should have put my two strips of sports tape under the tab.

Shorts: Nike Fast Shorts – What a game changer for me! I have thick, thicc thighs from trail running and squats. They rub together. All the time. In tights, it’s not an issue but in loose shorts, I end up chaffed. And most stretch shorts only have a 5″ inseam which means the end *right* where my thighs rub. However, Nike’s new trail shorts have a blessed 7″ inseam which left me mostly chaffing free, but for the humidity, it was inevitable.

Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy, but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes and how wet your feet get. At some point, no sock/shoe combo will save you from everything.

Shoes: Altra Provision – I have both the Provision and the Torin but chose the Provision today since it gives a little more stability, something I probably needed with the foot pain I’ve experienced lately.

Hat: My trusty finishers hat from the River Cities Tri a few years ago. It wasn’t cool enough to need a warmer hat.

Nutrition:

Snacks, self carried: None because I didn’t think I’d need to carry water.

Other:

GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk-offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time accurately.


Happy trails!


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Book Review – Small Gods


KR Paul Book Review - Small Gods

Full Title: Small Gods

Author: Terry Pratchett (On GoodReads)

ISBN: 978-0062237378

Purchase link: Want your own copy in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook

Synopsis:

“Lost in the chill deeps of space between the galaxies, it sails on forever, a flat, circular world carried on the back of a giant turtle— Discworld —a land where the unexpected can be expected. Where the strangest things happen to the nicest people. Like Brutha, a simple lad who only wants to tend his melon patch. Until one day he hears the voice of a god calling his name. A small god, to be sure. But bossy as Hell.”

Review:

My gods, one of my favorite books ever and one I go back to reread at least once a year. Sir Terry Pratchett is a master of the craft and Small Gods is one of his best works. “Small Gods” is comedy, religious satire, and an interesting social commentary on organized religion (easily read as Catholicism) set in his Discworld universe.

The main character, Brutha, is seen as a dimwitted novice by all who meet him, even the god he claims to worship. AS the story progresses, the reader learns more of the Great God Om (holy horns) and how the god’s religion seems to have gotten away from him a bit. And as much as his own religion has processed away from him, his prophets seem to be running amok as well. Even his own god notes Brutha’s “not the chosen one I would have chosen” as they adventure together. At its heart, this is a reluctant hero novel with a dash of religious satire.

As a reader, I love this for many reasons, some very personal. First, I enjoy the Discworld universe immensely. The world is vast and with so many books loosely connected through the universe, almost everyone touches on characters or plots the reader has seen before. It gives everything an incredible depth and breadth so that even a single book has the feel of a whole world. I love Brutha as a character because he holds hidden depth and complexity, despite his simple description, and he is a great “straight man” to his tempestuous god and counterpart.

On a more personal level, I love this book because of how I was introduced to it. As a teen, my group of friends was religiously diverse: a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Jew, and a Presbyterian who was strongly considering being an atheist. My introduction to this was sitting on my living room floor as our Buddhist read aloud. We listened, enthralled, to her melodious voice and giggled over Brutha hoeing the melons. (“Melons. Melons. Well, that goes some way toward explaining things, of course.”) While it’s not a book that pushes one to atheism, apostasy, or agnosticism, for a teenage girl who was already questioning the need for organized religion, it was an awakening to see an entire book that gently mocked the bureaucracy of organized religion.

As an author, I love this book for its technical mastery. Like “Legends and Lattes,” it not only plays to an established world, but it uses well known tropes and executes them masterfully. Brutha is a perfectly written reluctant hero. His god, Om, is a dynamic anti-hero. And the villain is written so well that his villainhood comes to you slowly until the reader is staring at the pages in horror at their actions. It follows the standard plot arc, and the climax is perfectly timed and built.

Rating: 5 cups of tea


NOTE: Like my race reports, this post does contain some affiliate links. If you purchase from that link, I may get a small commission. That said it doesn’t impact what you pay or the author receives in royalties!


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Book Review – Legends & Lattes


Full Title: Legends and Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes

Author: Travis Baldree (On Twitter and GoodReads)

ISBN: 979-8985663235

Purchase link: paperback, Kindle, Want your own copy in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and of course audiobook because Travis Baldree is an amazing voice actor!

Synopsis:

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

Review:

As a D&D nerd, avid reader, and author, this book was right up my alley. The review that pointed me to “Legends & Lattes” said it “reads like a cozy cup of coffee,” and I found that description 100% accurate with a twist of high fantasy.

Basically, the plot is what would happen if your barbarian orc decided to retire from combat and open a coffee house. From a reader standpoint, I found it light and engaging, I loved the characters, and found the setting charming. It includes fun new phrases like “an insufferable shitweasel” and delicately balances a few other creative curses without being obscene.

From an author’s perspective, I considered it well written, with a plot that follows the standard American plot arc (which keeps things moving), and good world building on a familiar high fantasy/D&D setting.

I read it while convalescing from surgery and tore through it in a day. You could chalk the quick read up to being mostly confined to my couch or the compelling plot, but I haven’t done that in a hot minute. Even the cat loved it!

Rating: 5 cups of tea (or lattes, as would be thematically appropriate)



NOTE: Like my race reports, this post does contain some affiliate links. If you purchase from that link, I may get a small commission. That said it doesn’t impact what you pay or the author receives in royalties!


Enjoy what you just read? Please share on social media or email utilizing the buttons below, fans like you sharing what they love are what keeps this trail rolling!

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Rewriting a Novel in Fifteen Easy Steps

Edited papers

Just kidding, none of this is easy!


I was recently asked by my publisher to shift the focus of my next writing project slightly. I’m still slowly working on Pantheon 3, but my primary focus has shifted to a project I started over a decade ago. In fact, it was the first full novel I ever wrote and one that was rejected thirty-seven times. The only glimmer of hope I ever had from literary agents about my writing was being told it was “good writing/plot, but not commercially viable” because I couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to publishing a book every 18-24 months.

That little glimmer of hope was the spark that kept me going and a major factor in how I linked up with Force Poseidon. I sent them Pantheon and when they asked if I had anything else, I sheepishly handed over this story as well. My editor was enthralled, but we both acknowledged that it needed major reworking before it could be fit for publication. Additionally, due to my day job and the subject of the work, it will be an uphill battle to get it approved for release. So, we shelved it in favor of Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena, which was 75% complete at that point. But now P2 is published and P3 is only in the storyboarding phase, so it seems like as good a time as any to work on this new project. And who knows, given the possible timelines for approval from the Air Force, P3 may be complete by the time we hear back about this project.

Where does that leave me today? The work from 2009/2010 currently has 61,000 words; however, it needs a full reworking. I initially thought it might be an easy process. After all, 61k words is a lot to work with, but as I broke the process down, I realized I had more work in front of me than I initially thought. Since many of you have enjoyed reading about my writing process for the Pantheon series, I figured I could write about this process as well.

With fifteen steps, there’s a lot to write about! I’ve already written about some of the things on the list below, so I won’t re-write those posts. Expect that as I go through the process, I’ll add links to the “To Do” list.


To Do:

1. Finish re-reading old work (Complete: 12 Nov 22)

2. Character profiles (In works)

3. Scene/Act breakout (Complete: 17 Nov 22)

            A. Structure 3 Acts (Complete: 17 Nov 22)

B. Scene cards for existing scenes (Complete: 12 Nov 22)

            C. Scene cards for new scenes (B-Plot, Complete: 17 Nov 22)

4. Re-structure w/new scenes (Complete: 17 Nov 22)

5. Cut out the shit scenes

6. Re-write from plot cards

7. Re-read full plot, by Act; make notes on impact/themes/scenes

8. Edit for clarity/continuity

9. Edit for grammar/formatting

10. Beta readers; may require NDA

A. Incorporate edits

11. Publisher edit and updates

12. Update and read for continuity

13. HAF PA approval (who knows how long this is?)

14. Release process

            A. Title finalized and released

            B. Cover art finalized and released

            C. Pre-orders

15. Pub day and French 75s!

            A. Marketing before/during/after

            B. Author meet and greet

            C. Newsletter/mailing list releases

The writing process

As you can see, it’s a lengthy process, but I have faith I can get through my part with speed and ease. The hardest part right now is reading my work from a decade ago when my technical writing skills were not what they are today. Oof. That’s tough to read without cringing.

Wish me luck!

Edited papers
Edit with red pen and highlighters

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Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 3)

Show Weekend and What I Learned


I can only start this section with telling you that a bodybuilding show weekend is a wild ride and the more you know, the less stressed or shocked you will be! In my first two bodybuilding articles, you learned Bodybuilding 101 and what is takes to get on stage. Rather than breaking this into subsections like the first two articles, I’m giving you more of a timeline of events with explanations as you go from leaving home to getting home.


In the Beginning: Peak Week

It all starts with the famed bodybuilding “Peak Week,” a process to slowly replenish the lost glycogen in your muscles and dehydrate you at the end for that paper thin skinned look on stage. I won’t detail how I achieve this because it’s only designed for that one week and downright dangerous. It is all done solely for the one day on stage.

It’s also miserable.

peak week
There was no energy left in my body

For me, I had been dieting for 50 weeks, I had lost over 45lbs, and I had no energy. I still had to maintain my workouts and now I was altering my diet again. It was the suck.

peak week

Show Weekend

For smaller bodybuilding shows held on a Saturday, check in’s are conducted on Friday night. Most competitors drive in from out of town which is a real delight because most of us are also overloading on the water to drive it out the next day.

At the event venue, they check you in, give you your number, check your height/weight to ensure you’re in the correct division, and send you on your way. Most bodybuilding competitors will also choose to have their first lay of spray tan done now. Others opt to do their own, but I find them to be messy, uneven, and difficult to apply on your own, even with the little wand applicator. This is one of the few areas I don’t begrudge the money spent.

Tanning

But let’s talk about the bodybuilding spray tan process. At my first show, I assumed I’d wear my suit and they’d spray around it.

Wrong!

When I first walked in the spray area, a hotel conference room covered in plastic sheeting and filled with tiny pop up tents, I was greeted by fully nude women strolling across the floor. Needless to say, I did not expect that. However, there is a method to this madness. Those spray gun spray tanning product everywhere and there is no way to protect your very expensive suit from it. So, you get sprayed nude. Or, at least the ladies do. I haven’t seen the guys tents, so I assume it’s the same.

Now I was well on my way to becoming friends with all the other girl competing because, once you see each other naked, how can you not be friends I guess?

I was very glad that this was the best I had ever looked in my life because I strolled from the changing area to the little tent in my birthday suit to get sprayed. And damn, that spray is kind of cold! You spend 10 to 15 minutes having every inch of you sprayed then spend another 20 minutes letting it dry. I got over my initial shock fast and spent most of my drying time chatting with other competitors.

bodybuilding

You know what? They were not what I expected at all. Not a one of them was catty or mean. We may have all started our journey in a different place, but we’d all faced similar challenges: the ups an downs of the scale, unsympathetic coaches who cut calories without mercy, fitting lifting and cardio around busy lives, and slogging through workouts when dead on our feet.

bodybuilding
We spent out backstage time discussing post-show meals and fart jokes

A sense of sisterhood began to grow with these women. They were from all walks of life but shared a common goal: be their best selves, even if only for one moment. I loved the mutual respect and kindness each had for the others. We’d all driven ourselves through hell and made it to the other side.

With my spray tan done, I hurried back to my hotel to catch what sleep I could before my 5am second spray tan and 5:30 make up appointments.

That’s right. 5. A. M.

The bodybuilding show you see in the evenings is only the final event. There’s a whole pre-judging that occurs in the morning and bodybuilding competitors have to be in full hair, make up, and stage wear at show start. With my shows usually starting at 9, I was stuck with an early make up appointment do I could do my hair after.


Show Day

4:30 am: Wake up, pee very carefully to keep little splashes from wrecking my base tan. Eat meal one which consists of about an ounce of chicken and an ounce of sweet potato. Ahh, the bodybuilding speacial!

5:00 am: More naked time with my new friends and the second coat spray tan I described in “What It Takes to Get to the Stage.” I spend as long as possible letting it dry to not leave little lines from my PJ pants.

5:30 am: In the make up chair letting my MUA turn me into Aphrodite of the Weights

bodybuilding
Half way through my makeup application

6:15 am: I’m jamming meal two in my mouth while curling my hair. Wistfully eyeing the tap water because from now until the night show, I only get tiny sips of water to maximize my dehydration.

7:30 am: Pack my bags and drive from my hotel to the show hotel. I’m in loose PJ pants to keep from wrecking my tan and have my bikini plus a tackle box of make up and styling tools in a bag.

8:45 am: Battling boredom because I showed up way too early. Expediters are out! They’re dropping the event listing. And of course, true to bodybuilding show standards, the women’s bikini division is last. Always. I’m in for a long morning.

9:00 am: Show start. I’m waiting. I eat a rice cake coated in honey.

bodybuilding
Pre-show rice cake, but you get the idea

9:45 am: Still waiting. I break and sip some water with my rice cake.

10:30 am: Judge’s break, most of the men are done but the bikini division is still waiting. Eat a rice cake.

10:55 am: I sneak off to the bathroom and almost miss my line up call and glaze. Damn it.

10:59 am: A random stranger is gluing my bikini to my butt (to keep it from riding, hooray Bikini Bite) and another is rubbing/spraying me with glaze. My legs are shaking in 4” stilettos from hungry, dehydration, and nerves. I’m mentally chanting my stage walk and posing: strut, strut, strut, strut, stop! Pose and SMILE. Turn and push that hip. SMILE! Turn again and pop that booty. Half turn. Turn again and pose and SMILE. Strut, strut, strut off stage.

11:03 am: OMG I’M ON THE STAGE. I can’t see the judges beyond the stage lights but the stage is taped so I know my marks. strut, strut, strut, strut, stop! Pose and SMILE. Turn and push that hip. SMILE! Turn again and pop that booty. Half turn. Turn again and pose and SMILE. Little wave to the crowd. (There’s vague cheering behind the ringing in my ears.) Strut, strut, strut off stage.

(Fun fact, my first bodybuilding show was only 3 months after I returned from a deployment. Between the local National Guard unit providing a color guard, the National anthem being played too loud, and my own MH issues, I started having a panic attack at the show’s start. I pulled it together by the time I was on stage, but I think I disassociated a bit on stage.)

bodybuilding
Thank goodness they tape your spots because I’d be lost in those lights otherwise

11:05 am: Still trying to calm down. WHAT? I HAVE TO GO BACK OUT? Oh yeah, line up. Now the ladies all line up directly next to each other and the judges to side-by-side comparisons. Each girl hopes to end up near the center as the woman in the center is usually the first place and everyone else is moved to compare next to her.

11:06 am: They have us line up and pose. Quarter turn and pose and SMILE. Quarter turn to the back and walk 10 steps to the rear. Flex those glutes! Turn to the front and walk back up to the line. Number 1 switch places with number 7. Number 5 swap places with number 3. HOLY SHIT I’M DEAD FREAKING CENTER???

bodybuilding
All I could think was “I’m dead center, I’m DEAD CENTER! STAND IN THE BOX”

11:15 am: Off the stage for the rest of the day. We all pack up and head back to our hotels to rest until the night show.

12:00 pm: Eat meal number 3 and a nap. I try to settle into the sleeping beauty pose so I don’t smudge my make up.

5:00 pm: Eat meal 4 as I hastily repair my make up and tidy up my hair.

5:55 pm: Back at the show venue and getting ready to start. Kinda. I know I have hours yet so I’m trying to be relaxed.

6:49 pm: Magic. VIC’s “Wobble” comes on, loud enough to be heard backstage, and 37 women clad in everything from pajamas to bikinis and robes are suddenly on their feet dancing. Somewhere on my Instagram page, I still have the video one of the spray tan ladies shot of us all dancing together.

bodybuilding
Yes, that really happened

7:15 pm: Practicing my walk and posing in one of the other girl’s mirrors. We’re mostly discussing what we intend to eat once we’re off stage. Some competitions have a table of goodies set up for competitors after they’re done and it takes the utmost self control not to dive in early.

bodybuilding
The level of sisterhood I felt with these amazing women still floors me

7:30 pm: Bodybuilding night shows take forever! They do more pose downs for the audience’s benefit plus handing out trophies. The other addition is that the winners from each height or weight category are all brought up together for the overall winner. That winner and sometimes the runner up are given a chance to compete in Nationals in the fall.

8:12 pm: I’m finally called for line up. I hastily stuff another rice cake in my mouth, sip some Gatorade, and hustle to pump and get a last layer of glaze. (And Bikini Bite). I feel confident from my center stage placement earlier in the day.

8:15 pm: I can see the judges as I walk this time. They look happy, I react well, and get even more sassy on stage. My strut is on point, my hips pop, and I bring the very best version of me I could have hope to present. No matter how I place, I’ve achieved my goal. This time my smile is real.

8:16 pm: Instead of going back stage, we stay out there for each girls walk. This means holding your awkward, uncomfortable, and tiring pose for almost 15 minutes. You’re allow to swap from a front to side pose, but don’t be obvious, it detracts from the girl doing her walk, which is rude.

8:22 pm: The last girl has walked and it’s go time. At the night show, only those in the top five of each class are called up to the line. If you’re number isn’t called you have to stay on the wings and try not to look too disappointed.

bodybuilding
I made it out of the wings

8:23 pm: Not me. Also, not me. Also, not OH HOLY SHIT THAT’S MY NUMBER!

8:24 pm: Be cool. Be cool. Be cool. Moved closer to center. Be cool, don’t fall over. One more close to center. I’M DEAD CENTER AGAIN.

bodybuilding
Don’t cry. Don’t cry!

8:25 pm: I’ve won my height class! Someone loops a medal around my neck and drops a tiara on my head. DO NOT CRY. YOU WONT YOUR CLASS AND HAVE TO GET UP THERE AGAIN WITH THE OTHER WINNERS AND YOU CANT SMUDGE YOUR MAKE UP! I run to drop my medal on my bag and hustle back on stage.

8:30 pm: Be cool. Moved closer to center. Be cool, don’t fall over. Be cool. Not moving. Be calm. I did not win the overall.

bodybuilding
The winners from each open height class before the swaps

8:31 pm: (One single moment of disappointment)

8:32 pm: Wait, I met or exceeded every goal I set for myself. I one a pile of medals. And I pushed myself to achieve something I would not have thought myself capable of five years ago. Nah, it’s is an absolute win.

8:33 pm: I hug my fellow winners. We wish each other well and exchange Instagram handles. I saunter our in PJs ready for pizza and beer (and a shower!).

9:00 pm: Having scrubbed as much tan and make up off as possible, I’m exhausted. I grab raw oysters, cheese sticks, and a glass of wine from the hotel bar because it’s the only thing they offer this late at night.

9:45 pm: Asleep.


What happens after?

FOOD! But slowly so you don’t balloon and/or hurt your already damaged system. After weeks/months/a year on a very strict diet, too much too soon leads to some nasty side effects. First, your body isn’t used to rich foods and introducing them back quickly (like 3 slices of cheesecake in a single night) will have negative, but transient, effects. Even with careful management, your body will clamor for you to build back up your fat stores. These pesky bodies still think we have to outlast a freezing winter and constantly work to add a minimum level of fat. To that end, even a modest increase in calories always brought 5-8 pounds back quickly. Some of it was the water I had shoved off to get on stage, but some is most definitely fat as well.

There’s an emotional rebound to competing as well. I experienced it training for Ironman and for the ultramarathon as well. You set your focus so narrowly on a specific goal, and when you finally achieve it, there’s a gradual let down as you struggle to find new focus. There is the double-whammy of the Instagram effect. After struggling to achieve photo perfection like the photoshopped bodies on Instagram, it feels a little bit like failure watching your hard won abs disappear, even when it’s necessary for your own physical health. I learned to post my stage photos and then ignore Instagram for about a month.

Eventually, my body came back to equilibrium. My strength, hair, and period came back. My tan faded. And while the high of winning or low of losing faded, I could look back on my weekends on stage with a smile.


What did I learn?

The women who compete in this sport and nothing but commendable. With very few exceptions, none were catty or mean. They rallied around one another and supported each other on stage, yelling and cheering for strangers and friends alike from the wings.

I learned how to do my own make up. Not just what I wear to work, but real stage make up which has translated over to my cosplaying as well. It may seem like a small thing, but now that I do I myself, it saves me around $100 and two hours of time on show day! Or in cosplay.

Wonder Woman
I do my own makeup, but not my own stunts

Of course, I learned more about nutrition which translated into better fueling during ultramarathons. I learned how to calculate my nutritional needs to achieve a goal. Lose, gain, or maintain, I feel more confident in how I eat and have maintained a healthy weight since my last competition.

I learned more about lifting weights and how my body response to exercise of all types. I knew how I responded to long endurance cardio, but weights had only been a passing fancy every now and again, not a habit that stuck with me. Once I understood more about weightlifting and balancing muscle groups, I was able to keep it in my repertoire for ultramarathon and was arguably a strong runner for it.

Finally, I learned, or perhaps re-learned how hard I could push myself. Like endurance sports, bodybuilding show prep is a long haul. It requires strength and discipline over a long time, even if it is a mostly anaerobic exercise. It have it’s own kind of Pain Cave as you weather the ups and downs of low energy, doubt, and pain. But strong discipline gets your through. The same strength I saw shining in every woman on that stage, I found shining within myself.

You can find parts one and two of this three part series below:

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 1): Bodybuilding 101

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 2): What It Takes to Get to the Stage


Happy trails!


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Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find her novels here.

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Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 2)

What It Takes to Get to the Stage


I feel like most people assume bodybuilding is about lifting heavy weights. Slightly more informed folks understand that the diet is a massive undertaking. But, did you know that there are two other parts to competing in a bodybuilding competition? You can’t just be lean and jacked; you also have to have the right swimsuit and be able to pose in a way that best highlights your hard work. In the last article, you learned Bodybuilding 101. Now, let’s break down the four components.


Weightlifting

First off, everyone starts this story on a different page. Some folks, like myself, start with a good base level of fitness and their primary goal is to work the nutrition and add a little mass to strategic areas to make their overall body composition balanced. Some folks have never lifted weights in their life and have a lot of muscle to build before they can lean out.

Because I was already fit, just fat, I was able to work on toning down my massive cycling quads, build my glutes, and maintain shoulders sculpted by hours in the pool. My coach and I had to play a very delicate game with my nutrition so that my muscle loss was minimal over the year I trained. Others need to shoot for more muscle mass than needed as they accept that some will be lost as fat is lost.

bodybuilding peak week
Maintaining a full workout schedule while eating minimal calories is the pits

There are as many ways to tackle your weight training as there are body types. For me, I responded best to a five day a week regime with progressive overload. The first three days were my “bro split” days, designed to build muscle tissue: chest/triceps, back/bicep, and legs. After a one day break, I did two more days of lifting designed to build strength: upper and lower body. (My current workouts are a modified version of this five day split.) Judges are looking for a competitor that is balanced both left and side sides of the body as well as a general balance top and bottom. No chicken legs here! For more information about judging criteria in the different categories, you can find the NPC rules here.


Diet

It sucks.

There is just no getting around how much the diet sucks (unless you’re on gear and that’s a whole other article). Even on gear and every supplement you can buy, the diet sucks. You are tweaking your nutrition to effectively bring your body to the leanest point it can possibly be. Why? Because the judges want to see all that glorious muscles and the layer of fat that all human beings have and need to survive acts like a door, not a window. Bodybuilders must cut well below what is considered healthy in addition to dehydrating themselves to get that ultrathin skinned look.

And here is the real secret, they cannot maintain that look for longer than a day. They also rarely hold that level of body fat for greater than a few weeks. It’s why you see competitors go through several shows in a short period. They minimize the time spent at dangerously low levels of body fat then go into a reset period to allow their bodies to heal. I have done two seasons of two shows each and took over a year between seasons to rebuild lost muscle and allow my metabolism to come back to normal.

There are two main ways to alter your nutrition to achieve that stage look: crash dieting and slow dieting. Both are valid if you know the impact they will have on you. I have always done the slow method to preserve muscle, but I pay for it by being super restrictive for a long time, which has mental health impacts. Crash dieting will get you quicker results, but it has the greatest impact on health and the greatest muscle loss.

bodybuilding meal prep
Prepping meals on Sunday saved me from making poor choices later in the week

Regardless of your weight loss method, there are certain dangers associated with being at low body fat. The mildest impacts are being cold and tired constantly, more susceptible to illness, muscle loss, and sleep loss. The greater impacts are loss of sex drive, hair loss, changes to skin texture (that crepe look in the skin of older people), and organ failure if maintained for prolonged periods. Ladies, some of you may not consider this a negative impact, but low body fat can cause you to lose your period… but you’ll also lose your sex drive as your hormones go out of whack.

If you read my article on nutrition or balancing weight for racing, you know there are several ways to alter your nutrition to achieve weight loss. I use “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) during show prep because it works best for me: how I eat, how I think, and how I plan my meals. My coach sets my calorie intake with an approximately 250 calorie deficit. We then determine the appropriate protein intake to preserve muscle and fill in the rest of the calories with fats and carbs. My protein intake remains constant as we continue cutting calories while my carbs get cut. I appreciated the latitude it gave me to pick my own meals so I wasn’t eating chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes every meal.


Posing

Have you ever watched a bodybuilding show? Been curious why the men and women on stage move so oddly? Why don’t they just walk normally? And what’s with those ridiculous poses?

It’s all about the muscles, baby!

Each and every person on that stage has spent hours perfecting their walk, stop, flex, and turn to display their muscles to the greatest advantage. The posing side of bodybuilding competitions is the most transparent. When done well, it seems natural, fluid, and displays the competitors’ bodies to emphasize their best attributes while minimizing flaws. Done poorly, you look stiff, nervous, and an otherwise trim waist for which you worked months to achieve is thickened by the wrong shift of a hip.

bodybuilding pose
Posing? Nailed it!

I’ve worked with two posing coaches, one for each season and both were good for different reasons. I adored my first coach and the foundations she taught me set me up for success in both seasons. She talked about posing in terms of choreography, which I could understand with my moderate background in dance. Sadly, she isn’t a coach anymore and I wasn’t able to use her my second season. In my second season, I did both bikini and figure in the same competition (called a “cross-over”) and I hired someone through Instagram to help me build my figure posing. I felt very confident in my bikini style posing based on my excellent coach from the season before. My new coach was good, effective, but I never clicked with him, and unfortunately, I think it was reflected in my posing.


Stage Prep: On Your Body

I wish I could say that bodybuilding is 100% about the perfect balance of muscle and leanness that each competitor brings to the stage, but it is a subjective sport judged by humans and those humans can and are swayed by a broad range of other areas. Everything from the cut and color of your suit to the hue of your spray tan can impact the overall look you have on stage. Blonde? Sorry, most of the top female competitors are brunettes. And don’t get me started on the epic levels of makeup you wear… only some of it is really enhancing your facial features!

Stage Wear

Each bodybuilding category has guidelines for the style and cut of suit required and each league has varying levels of modesty requirements. That said, even the more modest women’s suits are still bikinis. When you step on that stage, you will be wearing no more clothing than can fit in a sandwich bag. The most modest of all categories is the men’s physique, where they are allowed to wear surf trunks. And here’s the real rub: men can buy an off the rack pair of trunks and be fine; there are no off the rack bikinis in a bikini competition! Oh, and those competition suits? The cheap ones start at $100. Want bling? (Yes, trust me you do) It’s $200. Want a fully crystalized suit with crystal connections? $500 and up! Men’s suits are a fraction the price of women’s suits and not having the same bling as the other girls takes away from your “overall package.” (Which is a fancy way of saying, “honey, you need to pretty up a bit.”)

The suits generally vary but cut, coverage, and color. The cut will be determined by category. Bikini and wellness wear what is closest to a normal bikini, but the suit bottom is … shaped? Shrunk? To display your glute muscles appropriately. And if you think that means that you’re wearing a very skimpy bottom to show off your bottom, you would be right. For physique and bodybuilding, it’s a much more modified cut. Instead of a normal tie in the back, the two ties connect to the bikini bottom. This design enhanced the competitors’ V-shape (shoulders to waist).

Coverage is how much of your ass-ets you’re really covering. There is some variation in top coverage but it’s comparable to a normal bikini. The bottoms vary from semi-modest (about half the cheek covered) to the “pro” cut, which tends to be no wider than 3” at its widest point along the competitor’s bottom. Various shows state they won’t allow “pro” cut suits for amateur competitors and they say they inspect suits at check-in, but I have yet to have my suit checked and haven’t seen anyone told to change.

Color is the last factor in suits and while I’ve seen rowdy debate on how much it could impact your “overall package” based on tan color or hair color, I don’t buy it. Why? Because all of those debates seem to happen on suit retailer Facebook pages and messaging boards. Is it possible to pick an unflattering color? Sure. Are there colors that work better with some tan formulations than others? Yeah. But pick a color you love and feel confident wearing! That confidence will shine through more than a slightly less than optimal color detracts.

Next up are the heels, a mandatory item in three categories and forbidden I two. Bikini, wellness, and figure all require heels. There is no minimum or maximum height, but the average is 5”. I tried 5” heels and then bought 4,” so I’m an outlier. That said, I already compete in the tallest height category and I’m a graceless klutz in the 5” heels. My stage walk and posing smoothed out considerably as soon as I switched down. Like the swimwear, you can’t buy these off the rack and there are varying levels of bling involved. I chose unadorned heels as a cost saving measure. For the physique and bodybuilding categories, the mandatory poses preclude wearing heels. So, if my bulking season goes well, I hope to never have to compete in heels again! The last bit of “stage wear” is the jewelry. Don’t ask me why every girl is decked out in twenty pounds of fake crystals, but they do. Of all the aspects of what you wear, I think this impacts your look the least. I grabbed a three pack of stretchy, sparkly bracelets from Claire’s and slapped on a pair of CZ earrings and was fine.

Makeup

Based on the stage photos alone, I initially thought bodybuilding was nothing more than beauty pageants for girls who like lifting heavy objects. There is so much makeup! However, I did learn there is a purpose to all that makeup, not just looking like a toned down drag queen.

makeup
I used what I learned to perfect some of my cosplay as well. Like, Morticia

Anyone who has done theater can tell you that stage lighting washes everyone out. No matter who you are or how good your physique, stage lights will blank out your face. And because it’s the “overall package” that drives women to slap on layers of makeup to bring back what stage lights wash out. We look garish off stage, but on stage I don’t think I look too much more made up than at work. The makeup also lets you match your face to your (very dark) spray tan. The chemicals in the tanning products are harsh and can lead to bad breakouts, so most ladies skip spray tanning their faces and use a darker foundation to match their tan.

Tan

Oh, that tan! For the same reason we do heavy makeup, we have to get a spray tan. Those stage lights will wash out every curve and shadow from muscle. The spray tan helps bring back and enhance those curves and striations, allowing the judges a chance to see your muscles. It also serves to even out any flaws or imperfections and puts almost every competitor on an even field. Even POC competitors get spray tanned because it can cover tan lines. It also has a side benefit of everyone walking on stage as almost the same color and shade.

In my case, I look like a walking brownie.

bodybuilding brownie
I’m literally the same color as the brownie

The tans are multi-layer too. The first coat, done the night before, is a base coat to darken your skin. The second coat is the deeply tan bronzer. Finally, just before competing, most competitors receive a final touch of and glaze to give them that slightly shiny look that makes muscles pop.

bodybuilding tan
Everything about the tan is shocking at first

I hope this helps you build a better understanding of what it takes to get a competitor on stage. From lifting, to eating, to lights, camera, pose! It’s a more complicated sport than I ever realized, but I learned from the experience.

In the next article, I’ll walk you through a typical show weekend and you’ll learn what surprised me.


This is not be a post focused on weight loss because everything you need to know about nutrition can be found here. (Warning, this article has swear words; but if you’re on my blog, you’re probably ok with that.) Second, I don’t care about weight loss right now. I care about fueling my body.

You can find parts one and three of this three part series below:

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 1): Bodybuilding 101

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 3): Show Weekend and What I Learned


Happy trails!


Enjoy what you just read? Please share on social media or email utilizing the buttons below, fans like you sharing what they love are what keeps this trail rolling!

Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find her novels here.

Want more than that? Follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebook, or check out my fiction on Amazon. Stay up to date on the latest KR Paul news by joining our mailing list.

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 1)

Bodybuilding 101


My dear readers, you’ve followed along my ultramarathon journey and read about adventures in blacksmithing and paddleboarding. It should be no surprise that I’ve also combined my love of adventure with endurance sports to compete as a bodybuilder. And like many of you, I had no idea what I was getting into with this new sport.

I didn’t set out to be a bodybuilder and thought it was just a beauty pageant for girls who liked to lift weights. Over the course of a year, I learned what bodybuilding was really like, how many different categories exist, and how much effort goes in behind the scenes. From backstage drama to meeting new friends to learning to count every gram of food that entered my body, it was a wild ride and as much an endurance sport as Ironman or ultramarathons.

How did I become a bodybuilder?

I never had serious plans to become a bodybuilder. From the outside, it’s tiny ripped women in sparkly bikinis prancing around on stage. No thanks. I had a decent background in endurance sports: five half Ironman’s, half and full marathons, and obstacle races. I’m a tank on legs, and the idea of walking around on 5” stilettos wearing an outfit that could fit in a sandwich bag was intimidating. Plus, all that god-awful makeup. I wanted to keep doing endurance sports.

Before bodybuilding, I was an Ironman
Thicc and on the run

My body, of course, had other plans. During my month of training for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, I was diagnosed with a heart murmur/flutter. Not a huge deal, the doctor explained that the strength of my very well trained heart was squeezing so hard it caused the flutter. “Keep calm and if you feel faint, call us back. Maybe dial it back a bit, eh?” No biggie, I kept training. Two weeks later, on what was supposed to be one of my last long rides, I start feeling… weird. (This sounds a lot like my last long run before MS50k, TBH.) Finally, I decided I should head back, slow down to turn towards my car, and wake up lying in the middle of the road.

Yup, I had blacked out mid-turn and more than 10 miles from my car. I, being a dumbass, biked it back and called the ER as I drove. Long story short, I could do my race, but I had to dial back the aerobic exercise for a while.

Ok. Fine. New goals.

I can’t do as much aerobic exercise? Cool, I’ll go anaerobic and switch to weight lifting. I find a coach who will work with me and we discuss cutting down to an appropriate weight class and my level of knowledge/familiarity with lifting. The day after Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, I started a cutting diet for the 50+ lbs. I need to lose to get to my planned weight class (59kg/130lbs). You see, I was strong. I could swim, bike, and run with the best of them. But I was carrying a lot of postpartum (and PPD) weight. I was living proof that you can be fat and fit, but I needed to lean out for this sport.

Fat Ironman to lean Ironman to bodybuilding queen
Fat and fit (2015), to fit (2017), to lean and fit (2018)

My coach had to focus on the two most important things: keeping up my fitness and learning how to appropriately fuel my body. Not diet. Fuel. He also set realistic expectations: it would take at least a year to reach my goal weight without sacrificing muscle.

Fast forward several months: the shoulder that I had repaired a year before and held up through Ironman training is struggling to keep up with bench press and overhead lifts. Depending on how I compete, I’m not going to have a high enough total weight to be competitive. Somewhere in a flurry of emails back and forth (I may or may not have been on an extended work trip to the Middle East at the time…), my coach mentioned that he also coach bikini girls and if I’d be willing to lose a pound or two of fat more, I could easily compete in NPC bikini.

Training for bodybuilding in a land far, far away

Well, seemed like a good shift in goals and not too far off from the original goal, I suppose.

And that, friends, is how I started the journey to the stage.


Bodybuilding basics:

What the heck is bodybuilding and why compete? At its heart, bodybuilding is a journey. The stage is neither the end, not the beginning, merely a single point in time. It is a goal to work towards when you want to shape your body into your idea of perfection. But that perfection is fleeting, as is the look. It’s why bodybuilders talk in seasons or cycles. We strive to bring a better package to the next show, build more muscle, adapt to new judging criteria, or earn that elusive National Qualifier that grants you an opportunity to chase down your pro card.

Regardless of which league you compete in, competitions are broken down two main ways: your division and class. The division is which type of physique you are bringing to the stage. The class is your height (women) or weight (men) category. Larger shows will even break down into novice (never won), true novice (never even competed), and age categories.

For women, the most common categories are:

Bikini: The smallest and most feminine of competitors, a bikini competitor looks like a very athletic bikini model.

Wellness: Created for bikini competitors who, like me, end up with a lot of lower body mass than their upper body. Thick thighs and rounded glutes for these very lovely ladies.

Figure: Very athletic competitors but still in heels.

Physique: These women are ripped as hell but still beautiful! Thick with muscle and vascular, they’ll be larger than figure competitors and can ditch the high heels.

Bodybuilding: The only women’s division divides classes by weight. There are the most muscular and most lean competitors. These are the woman you envision when someone derisively says “female bodybuilder.”

For men:

Physique: This is analogous to the women’s bikini division. They look like very fit fitness models with defined abs and a body fat short of vascularity. These lucky dudes get to wear Walmart board shorts and still stay competitive.

Classic physique: A well-balanced athlete that balances dense muscle mass with low body fat. The division is split into specified weight ranges for the height, with competitors aiming for a very narrow window in which to meet a classic look. (Up to and including the classic briefs.)

Bodybuilding: The true beasts of bodybuilding. These men aim to add as much muscle mass to their frame as possible while whittling down their body fat to almost nothing.

There are also multiple leagues from which a competitor can choose. Some are muscle focused (NPC), some are modeling focused (WBFF Diva), and some are professional only (IFBB, which is fed by NPC). Some are also strictly tested while others… aren’t. I chose NPC for my first season because they had the greatest number of shows, including one in my town, precisely one year after Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. NPC is not a tested league which puts me at a disadvantage. Because I’m not on gear, my coach pushed me to pick a tested league for my second season, but the best shows were too far from where I lived to justify the cost of an airline ticket. That said, the next time I compete, I want to go against other drug-free competitors. I have nothing against anyone on gear, it’s a personal choice, but when my job precludes me from using it, I don’t want to compete at a disadvantage.


I hope this helps those unfamiliar with bodybuilding gain some understanding of the basics of the sport and how I ever ended up in such a wild sport! In my next article, I’ll cover what it takes to get on stage: the work outs, the diet, the stage wear, and all the things I never considered!

(Spoiler alert: I did ok!)

Bodybuilding: sometimes it's worth it!

This is not be a post focused on weight loss because everything you need to know about nutrition can be found here. (Warning, this article has swear words; but if you’re on my blog, you’re probably ok with that.) Second, I don’t care about weight loss right now. I care about fueling my body.

You can find parts two and three of this three part series below:

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 2): What It Takes to Get to the Stage

Bodybuilding – My Other Endurance Sport (Part 3): Show Weekend and What I Learned


Happy trails!


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Race Report: Recycle Run

Instead of an endurance run, today I’m giving you the race report for a 5k. Yes, just 5k. No, I’m not sick (Update, Mar 22 – turns I was in fact very sick, but it wasn’t hitting me as hard as it did later. Oops). My Mom came out for Thanksgiving and requested to do a 5k with me, so we did!

I’ve written extensively about other endurance racing events over the last 18 months and you can find those links below. Since finishing the Mississippi 50k, I’ve also run the Charlotte RaceFest and completed my first paddleboard race.

It’s the day after Thanksgiving 2021 as I write this and the weekend is about family. While I love, love, love my crazy endurance runs, this race was (more or less) about spending time with family. I also love the premise of this run: instead of charging a ton for another medal and shirt, they use all the left overs from the year!

Today you’re getting my full race report for the Run With It Recycle Run

Check in:

Like all the Run With It races this season, packet pick up was easy-peasy! Packet pick up was on a small table by the local park and was *not* complete until you stopped by a second table to pick up your t-shirt. Not a t-shirt for this race, but a leftover from one of the races this year. Or, in my case, a very nice Pearl Izumi singlet from the Northwest Florida Running Club. I love my PI tank (was wearing one t race in, believe it or not) and was delighted to get a new one.

Starting line:

After the three runs from the Wicked Triple, this is beginning to feel familiar. Same location, same corral, and same feel. I really enjoy the small town race feel, it feels more like an ultramarathon start: intimate and for runners who are genuinely happy to be there. Maybe because it was Thanksgiving morning, and everyone had things to do and places to be, the race start was exceptionally short. Call for line up, count down, and go! Not even a goofed up National Anthem or safety briefing.

The course:

This course covered many of the same roads as the 10k and half marathon courses from the Wicked Triple but far less vehicular traffic, probably due to it being Thanksgiving morning. Flat and fast, it’s a great course for a PR.

Weather:

Brisk and perfect! A cool 55F to start with very low humidity for Florida. It was in the mid-60s by the end of the race and really just as comfortable as you could desire.

Aid stations:

A single water only stop at mile 1 / mile 2. Really, this cool and short, we didn’t need aid stations.

Did I hit the Pain Cave?

Nope! My foot issues are healed and despite running 5k on the trails the night before, I was perfectly fine. That said, I think my Mom dipped a couple of toes in the pain cave. She twinged her hamstring in mile 1 and had to walk the remainder of the course

Crew:

Mom and I started together but soon split by mutual choice. My spouse brought my kiddo out and both cheered on runners as they crossed the finish line.

We’re that family that runs 5ks on Thanksgiving morning. I’m not even mad.

The finish line:

A quick jaunt through the chute and they took your name tag. A cup of water and a cookie finished it off. Of note, there were no race specific medals, just an assortment of recycled trophies from other events. (Hence the name.)

Very pleased with my effort

Final time:

5k (Saturday night): 26:08, 32 second faster than the Wicked Triple

Overall thoughts:

It was nice to just race 5k. It was lovely to run with my family.

That said, I’ve got another multi-race weekend planned for early February. I loved the Wicked Triple so much that I’m ready to try it again.

Gotta love that wobble for the gobble!

Want to read more about past races? You can find them here: Bear Bait 25k, BUTS Bearly Heavy half, a quick post on pain of training in times of COVID, the ups and downs as I chase down that ultramarathon goal, and the fact that I finally finished an ultramarathon. It was a long journey: four attempts with three failures over five years, an ER visit, and enough self-doubt to sink a person.


The Gear List:

My gear lists so folks can see what I’m carrying and how it changes between courses and weather. As usual, some affiliate links, most aren’t; I am not sponsored by any specific companies.

Clothes:

Tank top: My old yet still beloved Pearl Izumi top. So old, I can’t find it for sale online any more but its a quality top that has lasted nearly a decade.

Bra: SheFit ULTIMATE SPORTS BRA – a qualified “good,” as per sualy. I like that you buy based on cup size and both the chest band and shoulder straps are adjustable; it’s probably the most comfortable sports bra I have. That said, the metal loop that holds the chest band tab tears my back up after 5 miles. I did not put two strips of sports tape under the tab and paid the price after the half marathon.

Tights: Curve ‘n’ Combat Boots Empowered Black (V1) – As with my bra, it’s not desired as running gear, but it fits me well and does the job. These are designed as weightlifting tights and the dimensions are for a woman with thick legs. Like, babe, you are squatting 225lbs as a warm-up and the squat boots/thighs are strong and the waist is small! They fit me perfectly, but if you have a more traditional runner’s body, then they may be too baggy or slip while you run. Since I cut down to race weight, these slipped a bit the first mile but after that I sweat enough that they stopped slipping.

Socks: Balega Blister Resist Quarter Socks – These are thick and comfy, but the “blister resist” is only as good as how well you lace your shoes and how wet your feet get. At some point, no sock/shoe combo will save you from everything.

Shoes: Altra Torin but with my brand new orthotic insoles. These insoles have been so helpful. No heel pain, minimal bone spur pain, but I did get a wicked blood blister in my right big toe..

Hat: I wore my brand new rubber ducky hat that my Mom gave me for my birthday and she wore her matching flamingo hat.

Nutrition:

None, duh. It was a 5k on Thanksgiving. We all know where my nutrition came from today!

wild turkey
Photo by ASHISH SHARMA on Pexels.com

Other:

GPS: Garmin Forerunner 945 – Y’all know I love this watch and I’ve talked about it before, the good and bad. I didn’t have any tracks walk-offs today and I’m confident in the recorded distance/time accurately.


Happy trails (and roads again)!


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Cave Diving: An Adventure Not Worth the Cost

Once upon a time in Mexico…

Truthfully, it really was a little over twenty years ago in Mexico that I did my first big cave diving exploration. A team of five of us explored caves that had been on the Earth for tens of thousands of years but were rarely visited by humans. Two dives a day, trekking through the jungle, down rickety staircases, with gear that weighed nearly as much as we did. At night, we drank margaritas on the rocks, ate the best food I’d eaten in my life, and hashed out the plan for the next day’s dives.

If you are a dive bum, you were living the life. If you were a normal, sane human being, you had the nagging suspicion that death stalked your every movement.

The trip was twofold: first, exploration of new and well-known caves. Second, a photoshoot for what, at the time, was one of the few dedicated dive equipment manufacturers for cave and technical diving. They footed most of the bill for our excursion and we posed for the necessary photos between gawking at the most beautiful rock formations known to mankind. We were able to get our photos as well as explore new caves, but with twenty years of hindsight, I now recognize how batshit insane the entire trip was.

Why is cave diving different?

First, if you have any experience as an open water diver, think of your favorite dive. It’s probably the bright, clear, and warm tropical waters of the Caribbean or Bahamas. Cave diving is done in dark, truly lightless caves. Many have silty floors that will obscure all sight with the flick of one errant fin. And finally, because they are caves, untouched by the warmth of the sun and fed by frigid unground aquafers. Cave diving is not for everyone. There are no beautiful fish or coral heads. This is a sport for people who enjoy pushing themselves to the limit, against the odds, and with the risk of death.

Clearly, you can see how I was drawn into it. (That and having a parent who was a fully certified instructor willing to lend/loan me all the very, very expensive gear I needed.)

Cave diving differs from open water in three main ways: environment, training, and gear. The most obvious is the environment described above. Open water divers are not certified to enter any overhead environments. This can be a wreck, cavern, or cave. The line between cave and cavern is drawn where sunlight ends. If you can no longer see sunlight, you’ve entered the cave. The cave and its overhead present unique challenges. In an emergency, where an open water diver can choose a direct ascent, even risking decompression sickness and a trip to the decompression chamber in an extreme emergency, this is not an option for a cave diver. In the event of a medical emergency or catastrophic gear failure, the only way out is the way in, the long trek back the way you came. That way back out can be fraught with narrow passageways and silty floors. When I say that this sport risks death, I mean that very literally. I know five folks who have died while cave diving, including one of the men from our Mexican expedition.

These challenges bring us to the second difference: training. The unique environment requires divers to learn specialized skills like how to find the guide line in near-zero visibility, crucial to a safe exit. They also must learn new kicking skills and practice precise buoyance control to keep from disturbing a silty floor, thus creating low visibility conditions. They also must learn different gas management techniques. In open water, when you hit your decompression limits, you start an ascent. In cave diving, one carefully manages their gas to turn “on thirds” or when you’ve used one third of your gas. This ensures you have twice the necessary gas to get back out in case of an emergency such as you or your dive buddy suffering a gear failure that requires you to share air.

Finally, the third difference between open water and cave diving: gear. Cave divers carry everything an open water diver carries, minus the snorkel, which could create a safety hazard by becoming entangled in lines or rocky outcroppings. Their wetsuits are thicker for the colder water, fins are stiffer for fighting currents, and they will usually carry two tanks. In addition to the standard open water gear, they will also carry three lights and a spare reel of line. Cave divers also tend to carry multiple tanks to ensure a longer dive time and have backups in case of a catastrophic gear failure. Finally, they rig up their gear to keep from having “the dangles,” free-floating gear that can get snagged or entangled.

Who actually does this crazy stuff?

Well, I did. Members of my family have as well as friends. Most cave diving instructors will not begin training you until you’ve met a threshold of open water dives, anywhere from twenty to fifty dives. You also need specialized gear, as noted above. The required prerequisite training, dives, and gear are expensive to obtain, which means cave diving is also for rich people. How did I, a broke college kid with only four open water dives, no income, and no gear of my own manage to enter the murky world of cave diving?

My father. Yup, that guy. He, in his supposed infinite wisdom, decided that an 18-year old with only four open water dives and no other experience was ready to start cave diving. And, because he owned enough gear to outfit a small army and was a fully certified instructor, he had the means to do it. Money? No. But he had the equipment and training required. And I, who had been more or less abandoned since age 12, was only too happy to try and build some kind of relationship and too naïve to realize how monumentally stupid it was to do what we did.

In just one short week, I was a qualified cavern diver. One week after that, I was a fully certified cave and Nitrox diver. To put my youth in context, my certification photo is of me holding my father’s cat because I was more enamored with the cat than the diving.

The dives were more than a little bit terrifying. The conditions were scary. It took a lot of physical effort to kick into a cave against the flow of the current. It took a lot of mental stamina to stay in a cold, dark, environment, where one wrong turn could lead you to death by suffocation and drowning. My father opined on this constantly. He went on long winded diatribes about how mentally and physically superior cave divers were to “the average fat tourist in the Bahamas.” Secretly, I would have taken the warm Bahamian waters over frigid caves, but since Dad wasn’t going to the Bahamas, I stayed in the caves.

For a time, cave diving granted me access to my father in a way I never had before. I thought maybe if I could build enough time underwater, get an instructor certification of my own, he’d be proud of me. He certainly harped on me to finish enough dives to get the certification. But I had other dreams. I had dreams of silver wings pinned to a blue services dress uniform. I can’t say “eventually I had to choose” because the choice was made before I ever certified. I chased the dream I’d had from childhood. I got a commission in the United States Air Force and went to navigator school. I earned those silver wings.

And I never dove in a cave again.

Ok, that’s not true. Some time in 2015, a decade after I’d last been in a cave and on one of the few occasions my father was still in communication with me, he invited me along for another photoshoot. Being a model for cave diving equipment doesn’t require beauty, which is in plentiful supply. Modeling cave dive equipment requires a diver who can hold still, hold their breath (no one wants bubbles in the photo), and move just right so their hair fans out in a wave behind them. I’m no stunner, but I fit all the other requirements, so I was brought along for the shoot. Unfortunately for him, I was training for my first attempt at the Mississippi 50k and had fallen on my face, scraping the hell out of my chin just before showing up. I was politely excused from top side photos but pulled in for all the underwater shots. This was the last time I would see my father in person and the last time I would ever cave dive.

What Was It Worth It?

I did have fun. The Mexican expedition was cool to a 19-year-old kid. I met and hung out with divers twice my age who respected my skill as a diver without simply dismissing me as “the kid,” a type of respect I hadn’t had before. I’ve got interesting stories, some of which are the seeds that would grow into scenes in my books. It afforded me an opportunity to chase a man whose respect and love I craved, even if I never really got it. While my father was a pompous windbag and most of his tirades were racist and bigoted, I did absorb his respect for fitness and mental toughness. A true irony because when pushed, I rise and he withered.

But was it worth it? The friends I’ve lost to caves would say no. The terror I felt the few times I thought I would die in a cave says no. The prohibitive cost that makes it a very narrow, very niche, and not welcoming sport says no.

It was fun for a moment, but it wasn’t worth it. Except for the stories…


Excerpt from Pantheon 2: Ares & Athena by KR Paul (2021, Force Poseidon Publishing)

Relieved that Wilson hadn’t seemed to catch his underlying interest, Ares steered her back to the thread of conversation Powell had started. “Mexico seems pretty remote for a dive.”

“Yeah, you aren’t kidding! You fly into Cancun, then you have drive to Tulum in whatever rickety rental you can get. Don’t even get me started on the ‘roads.’ Oh, and keep a few hundred pesos around because if the Federales see you driving they’ll find a reason to pull you over for a shakedown.”

“And the dives?”

She gave an indelicate snort. “Cake walk. Compared to north central Florida, it’s benign. The caves are shallow, so you don’t worry about a ton of decompression, and they go on forever. And there are always dive groups to join for company.”

Ares glanced at Powell who nodded again. “What’s the deepest you’ve been back in those caves?”

“Oh, we got a good way back on scooters one year. I mean, you can only really reach that spot on a scooter or by rappelling in. But if you fast-roped in, you’d have a hell of a time hauling out yourself and maybe sixty pounds of gear.”

“Can you show me?” Ares asked.

“Show you?” She looked confused for a moment. “Oh—yes, of course. Athena told me about the image transfer thing. Yeah, it’s beautiful.” She rose again and held out a hand. With a wicked grin, she grasped Ares’ hand.

Ares caught the image of the cave, with dark stalactites clinging to the ceiling, the room illuminated by a single beam of sunlight from a shaft many feet overhead. He caught an image of her wrist computer showing she was only thirty-some feet underwater, but there was the slightest hint of anxiety. This was the farthest in she’d ever been, and she was nervous that if her scooter died on the way back, she wouldn’t have enough air to make it out without being towed by another diver in the party. Even then, survival wasn’t assured.


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