Holy moly, did it feel good to get back on the platform after 18 whole months away.
It was a complete and utter shitshow. From top to bottom, the worst meet of my life.
Spoiler alert: Objectively, the meet seemed to have gone well. I earned my second elite lifting total, and then some, ending the day with a 760 pound (345kg) total for my first meet competing in the 132 pound (60kg) weight class- up one from all of my previous meets. I took home a silver medal. By all accounts, it SOUNDS like I had a great meet, but the total and the silver seem to have been in SPITE of my performance on meet day, as opposed to BECAUSE of it.
Honestly, who lit this dumpster on fire?
I had a really great meet prep, using the powerlifting program from Marisa Inda’s Fuerza book (program review is on it’s way!). My gym sessions overall felt pretty good, I had hit PRs on all three lifts in the weeks leading up to the meet, and I felt confident that I would hit even bigger ones on meet day after a proper peak. I was super close to my weight class and needed only to complete a very minor water cut leading up to weigh-ins to drop from 135.8 to 132. I felt confident in my attempt selections, and had my spreadsheet ready to go. As it was set up, I was on track to get my second elite total, this time in the 132 pound (60kg) weight class, by the time I finished up my second attempts. I came with two goals, both of which felt completely within reach:
- Squat 300 pounds, and
- get my elite total in the 132s.
So what went wrong? What led to the worst meet of my competitive life?
Let’s rewind to the start of peak week.
I do this same thing to myself time and time again: I decide to compete at the end of the school year. Last year, I got on stage for my pro debut literally the day after the last day of school… and I reflected on how terrible of a decision that was. I knew better this year. And yet, when my friends asked me to do this meet, during the second to last week of school, and the day following senior deadline, I still enthusiastically agreed. Being a good teacher and a good athlete simultaneously is a serious challenge, when you align the most stressful weeks of both to be the same week.
In addition to the stress of crying high school seniors in my classroom all periods of the day, all week, I had also agreed, as I do every year, to chaperone Grad Night. This year we were going to Six Flags Magic Mountain. The trip would take place on Thursday night of my peak week, and I would not arrive back home until 8am on Friday morning. Thursday lined up with the first day of my water cut where I wouldn’t be drinking astronomical (up to 2 gallons) amounts of water, but would actually be limited to less than a gallon, which was fortunate for the 4.5 hour bus ride on a bus with no bathroom, but unfortunate for the fairly thirsty and exhausted Stephanie that was still riding roller coasters at 3am, after having been awake for a solid 22 hours.
Y’all. I rode SO MANY ROLLER COASTERS. There were no lines! I rode from 9pm to 3am when I thought I would die if I rode another coaster. In retrospect, probably not a great idea, when I was supposed to be resting and keeping my body protected, but… it was super fun. Fave coaster: Tatsu. Without question.
At 5am, I loaded my sleepy graduates up on the bus, making note of the fact that I was a mere 12 hours out from weigh-ins. The bus wasn’t conducive to much restful sleep, and when I got home, I managed to get about 3 hours of sleep in my own bed before my ART and massage appointment with Chris before I had to get into my car and drive up to Long Beach for the aforementioned weigh-ins. I was concerned that the lack of sleep would cause me to retain water, but my water cut went extremely well- pretty much the exact opposite of how awfully my previous attempt had gone- and I woke up at 131 pounds, one pound lighter than I needed to be.
First problem: That is not enough sleep, so close to a meet.
So on 3 hours of sleep and no energy drinks (nothing to drink until I got off that scale at 5pm!), I made my way to LA accompanied by some angry leftist podcasts and literally every other driver in Southern California, in my estimation. I made weight without issue, at 51.9kg, but was frustrated to learn that the knee sleeves I had always previously competed with (Rehband) were now illegal in my federation. I attempted to procure a pair of SBD sleeves, after consulting my IG stories for advice, from a nearby gym, but was unsuccessful. I would be squatting sleeveless… on the day I intended to break 300 pounds. Undeterred, I headed to my friend’s house (the same friend who let me stay with her in Sacramento when I earned my pro card in 2016!) for the night to eat ice cream and relax.
I ate my ice cream, drank some Powerade and a little water, went over my attempts spreadsheet one last time, meditated for a few minutes, and got some solid sleep. I woke up with plenty of time to do my makeup (of course I did. You know who I am.) and get to the gym by 9 to warm up.
Second problem: I apparently can’t read. Or breathe.
I had read the athlete email as having said that the athlete meeting was at 9am. But every powerlifting meet ever in the history of USPA has started at 9, with the athlete briefing being at 8:30. And I know this. Because I am a lightweight lifter, I am almost always in the first flight of lifters, and this meet was no different. After a concerned text from one of my friends at 8:30, as I sat with my friend and enjoyed a terrible cup of instant coffee, I nearly lost my shit when I realized I was 25 minutes away. My anxiety kicked into high gear, and I was focusing on keeping myself from hyperventilating as I sped to the gym. Parking four blocks away, I ran, YES RAN, with all of my gear, in flip flops, and yelled at the guy standing at the door “I HAVE TO LIFT RIGHT NOW,” as I passed him.
The first flight of lifters- MY flight- had already started lifting. I started tearing up, and I could not control my breathing. A gorgeous woman with pastel rainbow hair took pity on my terror and gave me her platform to quick warm up, and helped me load up and take off plates.
Warm up is an exaggeration of what happened. There was no time to get out my hip circle and do any of my activation drills, no time to stretch my hips to make sure I could hit depth, none of it. I had time for about 5 reps at 135, three reps at 185, a double at 225, and a single at 245, all without any rest in between. SOMEONE TELL ME WHY there were like three girls in my fight alone named Stephanie, and every time they said it I panicked more. I couldn’t breathe into my belt to hold my brace because I simply couldn’t take in a breath.
They called my name for my opening squat, and less than ten minutes after sprinting through the gym door, I walked onto the platform, with tears still in my eyes, unable to breathe, and got under a bar with 270 pounds on it.
By the grace of the powerlifting goddess, I managed to hit both my first and second attempts. Knowing full well that it probably wasn’t going to happen because I still couldn’t catch my breath, I called for my third attempt at 137.5kg- 303 pounds. I wanted it so, so badly. But it just wasn’t happening on this day. Had I had a different start to my day, been in the right headspace, warmed up, calm, I have no doubt that I would have nailed that squat. I ended with a successful 130kg (286.6 pound) squat, for an 11 pound platform PR, even though it was 9 pounds below my previous week’s gym PR.
One day. One day. It’s there.
Third problem: My body was freaking out.
I realized about this time that the splitting headache that I had woken up with was not going away in the least, and it likely was due to improperly rehydrating after the previous night’s weigh-ins. Having lost about 4.5 pounds purely due to water, I should have been much more serious about replenishing fluids and electrolytes than I was. But it had been so stinking easy, so painless, that I ignored the fact that it was still extremely important to recover from properly. I pulled out my coconut water and BCAA mixture and chugged it, at this point pretty much desperate to do anything to improve my performance. For future reference: this is NOT the proper way to rehydrate following a water cut.
I tried so hard to relax a bit before bench. I put on my headphones and listened to some Alison Wonderland, ate a bit, took some time to try to breathe, and I asked my friend’s coach if he would hand off to me. My warm-ups went amazing, but I still felt off.
Y’all. I have never been so embarrassed by a barbell as I was when I got on that platform to bench. My opener was very conservative, at 62.5kg (137.8 pounds), and it was smooth and fast. Based on this, I was ready for a 5kg jump on my second attempt- 148.8 pounds. In the gym, just the week prior, I had benched 150. Prior to that, I surprised myself with a triple at 145. I felt confident.
But when it came time to do the thing… I just sort of let the barbell lay on my chest. I mean I was pushing. HARD. I pushed so hard I got a cramp in my lat and in my pec! But that barbell refused to budge. And then I did it a second time with the same result. Oof.
This resulted in my platform bench press actually being LESS than in my last meet- though only about 5 pounds. Still, ouch.
I started to give up, at this point. Texting my husband, who is currently deployed on the other side of the globe, he tried to calm me down. It had been hours since I had taken an actual breath. He convinced me to go find somewhere quiet and do a 3 minute meditation with Headspace. Honestly, it changed the entire trajectory of the rest of my day. I had only just a few days prior started using an app called Headspace to help me relax, and it had been going really well. So I did just that. I found a quiet corner outside of the gym, put on my headphones, and reunited my breath and my brain with my body. If you’ve been around this blog for any amount of time, you know I’m not about “woo,” and if you’re skeptical of this, I highly recommend you try it out before passing judgement. No woo here, just mindfulness. I have to give a special thanks to Beka of bekaneggs.com for reminding me of this app’s existence and encouraging me to try it despite my eye-rolling.
I walked back into the gym ready to get wild on some deadlifts. And by that, I mean very calmly approach the bar and patiently pull it off the floor. Warming up for my deads, my head was still pounding, and the sound of each and every warm up rep around me almost had me in tears, but my lifts felt strong, and I finally felt attached to my body. I did the math walking up to the platform as my flight started: I only needed to pull 325 pounds to get to my elite total. That made for an easy second attempt, tying my previous meet PR. I went for a super conservative third attempt as well, simply because after the day I had had, I needed a 3/3 on deadlifts to finish out strong.
My friends are unreal levels of strong. We all walked away from the meet with at least one medal in silver or gold around our necks. Brenna now holds a State and American record for deadlift. Megan also holds an American deadlift record, and did her first meet in knee wraps. Kathy ended with a 1003 pound total- which is absolutely fucking wild.
And then five people demolished five pizzas and two orders of pretzel bites before driving back to San Diego. Because what else would you do with your strong friends?
So it wasn’t my best performance. It wasn’t the triumphant return to the platform that I had hoped. I made a few wrong turns riiiiiight at the end that cost me probably 30 or more pounds off my total. But I did spend the day with my friends, I moved some weight, I learned a lot. I also found the new strawberry Sour Patch Kids and they were ok.
My biggest takeaway from this meet is something I should have taken away a long, long time ago: It pays to hang out with strong and supportive people, and to ask for help. It felt so damn good to be back in the electric environment of a meet, and to be there with my amazingly capable friends and super smart coaches, to hear feedback and get tips and to share successes. What I walked away from this meet with was the desire to be a part of that for more than just a day, to learn more than I have been able to teach myself in the last 5 or so years. As I drove home, I made up my mind to get a coach, and join a team. THAT team.