Back To Reality: my post-competition experience

It’s been four weeks since the competition. My sculpted trophy and framed pro card are settled on my living room bookshelf.  These weeks have been filled with accolades. I have responded to many many emails . My praises are sung daily by friends, family and clients.  You must still be on a high, they say. Quite the contrary. I actually found myself facing some unexpected lows.

I was motivated to write this post after reading a Figure911 entry written by a fellow IDFA competitor. Lisa recently blogged about body image and body dysmorphic disorder in relation to the general public and to the world of figure competition. My comments on the subject were met by similar sentiments. The post-competition mind f%ck is so real.  So why does nobody talk about it?

Fuelling up backstage (in my gorgeous "Crystal Suit")

To understand the roller coaster ride that ensues, one must first understand the  preparation process.  Let me explain. I spent ten months training for this show. The last three of which were spent in actual competition prep – intense training, dieting and supplementing. I had a personalized meal plan that I referred to religiously throughout each day. Every portion of chicken, oatmeal and almonds was carefully weighed, measured and counted. My weight, body fat and inches were also measured regularly to monitor my progress.

Every week, my body became leaner revealing the hard-earned muscle beneath. In the final weeks of prep, much time was spent  scrutinizing my bikini-clad  photos. This to assess my musculature, fat loss and posing. I even stared at my reflection determining whether or not to go for a third layer of competition tan.  So basically, I spent 12 weeks (or 40, really) obsessing over my body.

The process is extreme but necessary to peak on stage. Every figure athlete understands that the body we present on stage exists only for a short time. It is not sustainable.  As my old trainer would say, “you only look like that for five minutes on stage”.  But when you see yourself at less than 12% body fat for several weeks, that look can easily become your sense of normal, despite what you know. Insane.

Victory meal!

Victory meal!

The night of the show I celebrated with sport bar fare. I feasted on an apple smoked bacon cheeseburger, fries, chicken wings, a thirst-quenching beer and the airiest of vanilla cupcakes. The next morning I rose about of bed, stood in front of the mirror and raised my shirt over my midsection. Yep, abs are still there. Cooked up some steak and eggs for breakfast. Back to the mirror. Yep, still there.  Cream in my coffee. Yep, still there. And so it went on.

My plan for the 2-3 weeks post comp was to back out of my diet the same way I entered it. I would slowly reintroduce foods while enjoying two or three treats throughout the week, as my coach suggested. That was a safe, healthy approach – one which not lead to the joint swelling I experienced after my first show. About 7-10 days in, I was still having oatmeal, protein shakes and salads but no water, no vitamins and there were a few more treats than anticipated.

My plan for training was to take a week off then join some classes – just to have fun while staying lean and camera-ready through the end of the year. I had my first workout four days in. I think the next was three days later. The next was maybe one after that. Needless to say, it was sporadic. I didn’t have this experience the first time ’round. I remember being back in the gym on a regular basis very quickly.

I watched my body fill out. My legs looked large and smooth. My abs soft. My eyes set back from my once-again pinch-able cheeks. Sigh. If I looked like this now, how would I look for my photo shoot which was still a week away? I cancelled the shoot.

I was surprised to find myself struggling with my diet and workout routine. Trading a hyper-organized schedule for a complete lack of structure was not working for me. I decided to re-strategize.  I returned to my 12-week out diet plan and created a new five-day workout program. That lasted one day. After weeks of giving 120%, I had no compliance left in me.

I felt self-conscious as I snacked on protein bars at work. I was disappointed in myself when I succumbed to bread at night.  Soon half the meals I ate were riddled with emotion.  I was sometimes gassy, bloated and uncomfortable. I was unmotivated to workout.  I avoided the scale. In my mind, I had gained 20 pounds and no longer looked like a winning athlete nor fitness professional. How would  I jump start my modelling career like this? What kind of example was I for my clients? I heard myself as I spoke to a colleague about my mindset. OMG, I sounded like a crazy woman with an eating disorder!

Hearing myself out loud was the beginning of the end of a two-week roller coast ride of emotions. I rode out the high of winning and survived the baby blues-like aftermath. I withstood the hormonal fluctuations that took me up, down and threw me some curve balls.

Today, four weeks later, I am much more settled. I am training twice a week and eating moderately without restricting any food groups. My goal is to eat relatively cleanly and remain active  leading into my off-season training. I accept that my body will grow and lose some definition right now only to lean out again next spring. I have only one stipulation for myself – one my old trainer shared with me after my first competition. “I should always see veins” he said.

Five weeks later: Filled out and spreading holiday cheer with hubby.

Five weeks later: Filled out and spreading holiday cheer with hubby.

Looking back, I wish I had prepared for the days and weeks post-comp in the same way I had for the competition itself. I wish I knew how to handle the emotions, the mild-depression, and the lack of structure. I strongly believe this should be part of figure coaching.  With this awareness, I hope to have a smoother transition next time. And by sharing my experience, I hope I have helped fellow and future competitors.

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My Figure Competition Pro Card Win: A win for moms everywhere!

This moment on stage is exactly as I remember it from four years ago. Debbie Wins Pro Card I smile, blinded by the theatre lights, into the faceless crowd.  There’s an omnipresence to the announcers voice. I stand tall and poised as she reveals the final results. “…Seven. Four….” That’s all I need to hear. I am competitor number 726. Happiness floods my body. I’ve won!

I first competed in November 2008. After six months of training, I entered and won the IDFA Novice Figure category. With just one show and one win under my belt, I was hooked. I knew I’d be back. I just didn’t know it would be four years, one daughter and a new career later!

With my pregnancy came 40 excess pounds and separated abdominal muscles. It took two years of training to “get my body back” post-baby.

On January 1, 2012 I cemented my intentions into a goal, which I shared with only two people.

I will attain my IDFA Figure Pro Card on November 3, 2012.

Preparing for this show was a completely different experience than last. I no longer had my winning trainer. His east-end gym was now defunct. My competition coach/nutritionist relocated from Toronto, Canada to Sydney, Australia. She was no longer a 10-minute drive or convenient phone call away. My senior level marketing salary (and the discretionary income that came with it) was no longer. Oh, and I had a second full-time job as a mom!

In order to achieve my goal, I would need to adapt to the changes. I soon realized that my losses were out-numbered by my gains. I lost one trainer and gained an amazing team of trainers at Think Fitness Studios. I became more self-reliant researching and learning for myself rather than relying on the direction of others. I negotiated and economized on everything from training to tanning. But the most significant change by far, was adapting to a new very demanding schedule.

During those final three months of show prep, I juggled three full-time jobs: client relations manager, mom and athlete. I worked around the clock to stay on top of my day job, care for my daughter and dedicate myself to my goal. I made sacrifices to make it happen. I reluctantly became a morning person waking at 5:45 for cardio workouts. I ate salad instead of cake at my daughter’s third birthday party. I declined numerous social engagements alienating friends even more than motherhood already had. I traded cozy nights on the couch with hubby for yet, more training. By the final four weeks, my typical day looked like this:

5:45AM – wake-up, pack meals, take supplements
7:00AM – 45 minute cardio sesson
8:00AM – shower, eat meal # 1
8:30AM – 3:00PM – work, eat meals # 2-4, take supplements
3:00 PM – 60 minute weight training session
4:00PM – commute home while eating meal #5
5:00PM – pick up daughter from caregiver
5:30PM – prepare daughter’s dinner and meal #6
7:30PM – help ready daughter for bed
7:45PM – eat meal #6, prepare daughter’s lunch and clothes for the next day
8:00PM – posing practice at home or workout at community centre
9:30PM – grocery shop and cook meals for the next day, take supplements, take progress photos to email to coach, eat optional meal #7
11:00PM – bed

In the final week of preparation, I maintained this schedule while consuming less than 1000 calories/day and often no carbs or fats (not a sustainable diet but one necessary to peak on stage).

Looking back, I couldn’t tell you how I did it. I just did. I think motherhood was great preparation in that way. As parents, we commit to our children and we often just do what we have to do. In fact, I saw many parallels with parenthood during this process. I do know that the support I received was imperative. My husband helped with everything from morning drop-offs to late-night  grocery runs and cooking. My sister drove me to Orangeville for weekend fittings. I even had a colleague routinely pick me up in the mornings to get me to 7AM class! If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a family to raise a champ!

What started as a selfish, individual pursuit soon became something much grander. I opened up and shared my journey with colleagues and clients and was overwhelmed by the support I received. Throughout the weekend of the competition, my inbox and Facebook page were flooded with well wishes and congratulatory messages. The common message was one of inspiration – wow!

I really enjoyed having something that was all my own. I liked that selfish time to myself in the gym and encourage all moms to find their “me activity”. But at the same time, I am absolutely thrilled to have inspired so many people with my pursuit, especially women and moms. The most important takeaway I wish to share is that motherhood can be your motivation rather than an excuse. As I raise my daughter, I will have shown her in actions, not just words, that she can achieve anything she wants with hard work, dedication and the right support.

So what’s next? I look forward to returning to normalcy – variety in my meals, rest for my body, downtime in my days and showering my family with affection. We’ll enjoy some much-needed time together before I start training for my 2013 Pro debut!

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Do Moms Do It Best?

In spring 2011, I expected to complete the GoodLife Toronto 5K race. I did not expect to meet Running Room Founder, John Stanton. Our conversation was brief but memorable. I told him it was my first race since having my daughter. He told me that statistically, many women achieve personal best times after having children. Could it be true? When it comes to fitness performance, do moms do it best?

My unofficial research revealled a modest list of high level female athletes with young children. Among them was Canadian Heptathlete, Jessica Zelinka. Jessica had a personal best performance in the javelin throw and achieved her second highest heptathlon ranking at the Commonwealth Games the year after having her daughter. But why?

Physical

Certianly hCG levels and stretch marks do not relate to performance. Are women otherwise physically stronger after bearing children? My only thought – and I’m reaching here – is that maybe senses and reaction times improve with the state of constant alertness necessitated by motherhood. But then wouldn’t that apply to male caregivers too? So maybe something else is at play?

Chronological

Maybe it’s a matter of timing. A 25-35 year old athlete might easily have 15-30 years in their sport. Childbearing age may simply coincide with a performance peak after year of training and experience.

Mental

If not physical or chronological, maybe the reason in mental. I have learned that motherhood requires incredible mental and emotional strength. I think the demands of parenting allow some women to tap into strength they didn’t know they had. Naturally, this strength translates into other areas of life – like sport and fitness.

Purpose

Motherhood also provides a new sense of purpose for women eager to return to their active lifestyles and svelte bodies.  So maybe we’re simply working harder and smarter.  As an amateur bodybuilder, I know my training has changed drastically since having Naomi. My time, energy and financial resources are all less abundant than before. Gone are the days when I could afford three hour workouts five days a week. The shift in priorties has forced me to train more efficiently. I can now accomplish in one hour what I used to do in three. I value my limited time and for that one hour, I am focussed on nothing on becoming a better competitor.

Many women, be them athletes or average Janes, might feel the same. I am as impressed with the Fitmoms and clients I see each week, as I am with the moms competing in this year’s Summer Olympics.  Many of our Fitmoms train 3-5 days per week. They carefully time feedings and naps, pack cumbersome baby gear and arrive at class to perform challenging sets of lunges, presses and curls – often on less than six hours sleep!

Inspiration

This summer I’ll have my eye on Canadian hurdler, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep who trained through her pregnancy and gave birth just eight months ago. I’ll also be tracking Jessica who trains and competes while raising her toddler.

Will we all prove John Stanton right? Will we take on new challenges, train smarter than before, reach personal bests and prove that moms do it best?!

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Team Support

 

It’s that time of year again. That time when colleagues  guised as “secret santas” exchange holiday gifts.

My mystery Santa delivered a fashionably packaged Lululemon gift card. Sweet.

I got online for some pre-shopping shopping. Tops, bottoms, underwear, aha!  sport bras. Santa knew exactly what was on my list!

I automatically scrolled alllll the way down to view the small selection of full support compression bandages always found at the bottom of the page. Save the worst for last. Not quite satisfied with the full support selection, I began looking at other styles.

I was sighfully browsing the vast middle class of bras when it hit me. My girls are not the same size nor shape they once were. The ample bosom I grew and loved is no more. Now instead of mourning the loss, I found a way to celebrate the gain. It’s a whole new bra shopping ball game!  There’s a world of attractive  medium support racerbacks out there for me to discover!

Another lesson in getting comfortable wide strap, flat seamed, Power Luxtreme comfortable with my post nursing mommy body.

Thank you Secret Santa

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BRBM: Be Right Back…Maybe

This post is not about child abandonment. Though I’m not afraid to admit of occasional vacation-for-one fantasies.  This post is about abandoning misguiding notions of returning to the way we were.

So often, I hear mothers talk about “getting back”.  They speak matter-of-factly about getting back to work or back to athletics, as if there were no reason to think otherwise. They agonize about getting back to their old bodies and back into pre-pregnancy jeans, as if it were the consummate yummy mummy achievement.  I am guilty of both. Just read any of my 2009-2010 entries!

Yes, there are mothers who quickly get back into demanding careers, triathlon training and hip-hugging skinny jeans – seemingly without missing a step. Perhaps to the credit of their type-A personalities, full-time nannies and striking genetics. Then there’s the rest of us.

We struggle to find the time, energy and resources to look, feel and do the things we did before the birth of our children. With time, I have learned to focus less on getting back to the way things were.  The real challenge is in adapting to the way things are.

When I first starting running in 2008, it was with the Running Room. The long runs quickly became a part of my routine. I was there religiously each Sunday to meet the group for a 6-18K slow run. I could not have run the half-marathon without the preparation these runs provided.

After my daughter was born, I couldn’t fathom being up, out and ready to run at 8:30am.  With the logistics and sleep deprivation involved, it just didn’t work. Giving up my runs was dispiriting. I saw all my running progress melting away and lingering pregnancy pounds that wouldn’t!

Thankfully things have changed. It took almost 16 months to happen. I have finally adapted to my new reality and running is becoming routine again.

I started running regularly just three months ago. Instead of running with The Running Room, I have one scheduled session each week with my super awesome run coach, Charles Bedley.  Tw0-time marathon champ. Look him up!  That’s a far cry from the 3x/week schedule I used to maintain (in addition to my three strength training days no less). From a training perspective, this one session of intervals, hills and run-specific strength work is more effective than most of the group runs I had done before. Bonus.

I have also managed to get out on my own for a few Sunday morning runs. They are short and close to home to help coincide with hubby and baby’s schedules. Now here’s the Hallmark moment that inspired this post.

Instead of staying home today, hubby and baby ventured out along with me. We strolled down to my starting point together. I headed off on my 4K route and they hung out at the park conveniently located at the end of my loop. I had a great run and as I rounded the corner in those final metres, I could see them playing joyfully together in the distance. If that isn’t motivation to sprint to the finish, I don’t know what is!

My tot was content to stay on the baby swings as I completed my workout. Box jumps and push up supersets, in case you are wondering. After a quick stretch, we headed home. I couldn’t help but smile out loud as we walked. It was the perfect way to fit a run into my new family life. It was a wonderful Sunday morning!

This may or may not become a regular thing. I have no expectations. For now, I am genuinely happy to have stopped grieving my old routine. I can’t go back. I can’t do things that way I used to. I don’t know why I, or we, assumed we could. Maybe you’ll bounce back into your old job, your old wardrobe, your  old routine. Maybe you won’t.

Mamas, I hereby grant you permission to toss your hip huggers, your comittment to run a marathon this year, and all those other notions about “getting back”. If you allow things to be different, perhaps you’ll find harmony between an old passion and your new love.

What do you miss most from your pre-pregnancy life? How has it found its way into your new life with baby?

 

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Runners, On Your Mark, Get Set…Wean!

In life, and more so in parenting, I never know what each day will bring. Will it be peas or peanut butter? Googling toddler coughs or constipation? The events and challenges of the day are not always predictable. And here are two events I never saw coming. I weaned the babe and ran at the Toronto Marathon!

To be clear,  I actually ran the 5K race at the Toronto Marathon. Unlike weaning, which has been on my agenda since day one, racing really wasn’t on my radar. But after just a few weeks of training with my run coach, I caught the race bug. We made a friendly bet, I entered the race and on May 15th, there I was!

This 5K was kind of a big deal to me, being my first post-baby event.  I trained by day and tweeted by night, sharing details of my preparation. You do follow @SupaFitMama, right? Then just days before the race, with my focus firmly fixed on the run, another big event occurred. I got my 19-month-old to bed and through the night without nursing!

I’d been waiting for this day for months! I should have been over the moon. Instead, after two days without breastfeeding, I was painfully engorged, near tears and fearing my run because of it. Lesson learned. Do not attempt weaning days before race. That rule is right up there with not eating eggs before a race – another lesson I learned the hard way.

If you know me, you know nothing would prevent me from running. Two pumps, two Advils, two bras and I was good to go! I clocked in at 32.07.2 – my second best time ever. I’m not a very fast runner but I’m working on it. And even more exciting,  the babe hasn’t been on the boob since.

As I said, I couldn’t have predicted any of this. My daughter gave up breastfeeding as ubruptly as I started running again. And as for what’s next, I have no idea.  I can say I feel that I’ve gotten a huge part of myself back. It felt absolutely wonderful to get out there, challenge myself and be part of the running community.  It’s also liberating knowing the girls won’t be working the Dairy Queen this summer! I sense that as one major chapter has ended another is slowly unfolding. I’m ready.

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Spiritual Awakening & Out of Body Experience

It was an “enlightening” weekend to say the least.

Sunday: I attended my godson’s christening at Revival Time Tabernacle (read: Black Church). It was the first time in months that I found myself at a Caribbean affair – you know with West Indians it’s always an affair. I was surrounded by love, music, scripture …and a lot of overweight women.

I would easily estimate that 80% of the congregation were overweight.  On one hand, this was upsetting; so many black girls and women neglecting their fitness and health. But given more thought, it was also eye-opening. I don’t doubt that most of those women considered me,  at 149lbs and 16% body fat,  too skinny. The lean muscle mass and body fat percentage that I strive for are not norms in my Caribbean community. Being surrounded daily by fitness experts and enthusiasts has perhaps skewed my perception. Perhaps.

Later Sunday: I barely made it through the Calypso-inspired worship before succumbing to the chills and nausea of stomach flu. Within 24 hours my body violently released all food, water and will to survive. During the 36 hours that followed, I was deathly afraid to consume anything but toast and ginger ale.

Monday: By the end of the 2-day episode, I was weak, tired…and very lean! I essentially experienced the results of “a cleanse”. Though I wouldn’t be bottling this one up to sell it. Without all the usual carbs and sugars bloating my body, I was looking very lean and fit – even in the troublesome mid-section. I was genuinely pleased with my 18-month post pregnancy body! Hallelujah!

So the big revelation or reawakening – whatever you want to call it – is this. I have achieved my post-pregnancy goal. I have a healthy, strong,  muscular, thick black body. Let me say that again people. I have a healthy, strong,  muscular, thick black body. I have yet to get back down to 140lbs, but my body looks and feels great exactly where it is. With nutritional changes, I can eliminate the chronic bloating and enjoy the lean look I acheived this weekend without the obvious pains. So you can hereby forget all those weight and measurement goals I set way back when. My next goals are all fitness and event-focussed. My first challenge: run 5K in 31 minutes or less. Oh, and I’m sure to be dabbling in some  non-viral detox or cleansing experiments. Stay tuned. Recommendations welcome.

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