"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Experiment: Phase 1 - Gaining

This is Part 2 of an 8-post series. Continued from here.

The First Training Session

I won't deny I was both excited and quite nervous about the first session with Trainer after my sour experience with Coach.

It was 6:00 am, two days after my last session with Tony. I walked into the gym not knowing what to expect.

"What music do you like to listen to?" was Trainer's first question after initial hellos. He was setting up his phone for music. Him and Tony have an amazing Bluetooth speaker system set up in the gym that they connect their phone playlists to. Like I said before, this is a small private gym similar to a Crossfit box and it's usually one trainer and his client(s) (they also have group training sessions) working there. The gym is locked when there isn't a trainer present. So it was just Trainer and me. Hence getting to choose music.

"Anything. As long as there's music." I appreciated the question though. He chose an alternative rock station that was in line with the type of stuff that I used to listen to in college when I had my punk rock band, and we got to work.

I had been expecting a brutal high-energy lower-body focused workout, so I was surprised when he explained we were going to work my back.

"This type of competition is won from the back," he said. Not butt back (that's a focus in other divisions...), but your torso's back. He explained what parts of my back needed more work and why. This was an odd feeling: I'm used to looking at my horses in the field and thinking, "Hmmm...Gracie's hunter's bump is more prominent. We need to work more on collection," or "Lily's loins are looking weak. We need to ramp up the hill sprints," and then proceeding forth with these plans and having the satisfaction of watching their bodies change the way I'm expecting them to.

Lily a couple of months before she became mine in 2011. 4-year old, average-looking post-legged TB type bay mare on a hay-only diet that had not been worked consistently in nearly a year.
A completely blank slate.
Beefcake Lily in 2013, back when we dressaged a lot more than we trail rode.
I was aiming for Working Equitation with her.
Endurance Lily at the end of her first 50 in 2014. Photo by Dom. I was happy with her muscling but not with that much rib showing. We were still figuring things out conditioning- and nutrition-wise.

Beast Mode Lily in 2016 at our first 50 that year. Photo by Becky Pearman.
I had finally figured out the right combo of hills, distance, dressage and nutrition for her endurance conditioning.
She looks like 4 different horses in these photos, no? I was solely responsible for each of these transformations.
There is something undoubtedly amazing about taking the body of the most supreme athlete of them all, a horse, and being able to mold it to what you and they need to succeed at x sport.
My wish in 2016 was to be Lily's equal while we competed. Which I think should be every rider's goal: it is only fair that you be as fit as you expect your horse to be.
After years of me being the one doing the analysis with my two athletes, it was both weird and cool to be on the receiving end of this same type of analysis.

He had me go through different exercises that worked both the upper back and rear delts (back of shoulders). Most of them were familiar with some variations and some were completely new. An interesting one was basically a lat pulldown with a resistance band, modified into a row so that it also worked the rhomboids. (The muscles between your shoulder blades.) The band was tied to one of the overhead beams used for pull-ups; I was supposed to grab the end of the band with both hands and bring my arms backwards, bending elbows until my upper arms were parallel with my shoulders.

Trainer demonstrated and I watched what he was doing with his arms so I could get all the angles right when it was my turn. It seemed easy enough...

Except I couldn't get the movement right. He tried using different imagery in an attempt to get me to understand what he wanted me to do: "Keep your shoulders back." "Now release your shoulder blades." "Let your arms slide forward."
"Like that??" I wasn't getting it and was starting to become frustrated. He had me pause and took the resistance band himself so he could demonstrate.
"Watch my back," he said.

He pulled the band straight back towards his face so that his upper arms were parallel with his shoulders without letting his shoulders creep up towards his ears, tightening his rhomboids and then letting his shoulder blades slide forward across his ribcage as he released the movement. In doing so, his back opened up, appearing twice as wide as it did in his normal stance.

"OH!" I got it then.
He said it out loud just as the thought clicked into place in my brain: "And THAT'S how you open up your back for posing too. It's the same exact movement." And he demonstrated the pose.

Like so. This is called the lat spread.
No one stands like this normally and that's why it's the hardest pose in Figure. If you don't have the awareness of those muscles, it is impossible to do. It wasn't until I learned this particular movement that I was actually able to start practicing, because prior I had no idea how to make my back do these things!
Trainer passed me the band and I tried the movement again, thinking not of the muscles I needed to be engaging but instead of how my shoulder blades were moving. When I thought about my scapulae sliding up and around my ribcage, I became aware of the muscles themselves, which then allowed me to control them.

I nailed it.

He had me do supersets with that exercise + two variations of lat pulldowns. By the time I was going into the third superset he commented with a grin, "Your upper back has grown 4" just from these exercises." This is what is called a "pump": when you work a specific muscle or group of muscles, you increase blood flow to it, making it appear temporarily larger. It goes back to normal when you cool down, but is pretty cool to see in action when you understand what is happening. Horses do the same thing but in a slightly different way: they sweat over the muscles they are using.

I couldn't see what was going on with my back but I sure felt it!

The rest of the exercises involved weight. The weight he was having me lift/pull/push was more than I would have done on my own...but it was also less reps: only 10. However, the biggest change was the speed at which I was working. I normally didn't go fast, but I needed to go even slower.

"Slow down."
"And hold it at the end of the movement."

Those last two reps for each set and each movement were killer. By the end of the session I had the speed down so that it was automatic; he didn't have to continue reminding me.

My shoulders and upper back were exhausted and burning in a good way by the time the session was over.

This was the literal opposite of Coach's training style...and I liked it. Throughout the session I asked questions about nutrition, cardio, how the program evolves (it is not supposed to stay the same throughout), and got his opinion on the contradictory information I had found while researching. Trainer teaches college level personal training courses: he does his own research and enjoys explaining. It was pretty awesome to see his face light up as he went over the nitty gritty details of why he does things a particular way.

I was already hooked. I had one more trial session but I had already made up my mind that I wanted to proceed.

"Slow down" became a motto in every other aspect of my life after that.

Pacing by Tep No. 
I love this song, and its soothing music was perfect for the speed I was working out at.


Food! So Much Food!

The diet was discussed during the initial session. Some people do some really insane things with their nutrition for this type of competition (tilapia, sweet potatoes and rice cakes are long-standing staples in women's figure and bikini event preps), but the newer trends involve some sort of macros counting for what is known as carb cycling. Carb cycling is what we would be doing in my case. Trainer discussed his specific plan.

Note and disclaimer: I'm discussing this in a fair amount of detail so my readers can understand the complexity and challenges of all of this. I want to emphasize that this diet was temporary. Macros tracking can be done on a permanent basis, but carb cycling is not meant to be done as a long-term thing and it is considered a bodybuilding-specific plan meant to help drop fat faster while complementing a pretty intense workout schedule where heavy lifting is a priority. Some people use carb cycling as a way of learning how their body reacts to certain nutrients and which ones their body prefers. This is used to the person's advantage during the last phase of prep and can also allow for better tweaking of future preps. Just like you can't cookie cutter a training method with horses because each one is different, every *body* is different. (I can't stress that enough!) Some people respond well to carb cycling, others do better on the keto diet (high fat, moderate protein, low carb), and others simply go with higher-carb clean eating throughout their prep. Age, metabolics, gender, hormones, baseline fitness, previous workout history, diet history and genetics can all affect how your body responds to certain foods. Your body is not going to respond to the same food in the same way as mine does. In fact, after this prep and watching how my body responded to specific moments in the cycle as it became stricter towards the end, it's already been discussed how the cycling will be tweaked for the next one. It was a huge, and valuable, learning experience.

Continuing on with my story: Signing up for IIFYM at the beginning of the year ended up being a great intro to this. Trainer's initial carb cycling version (there are MANY different variations of carb cycling) involved two very low-carb days; one moderate carb day (about the same as what I would eat when prepping for an endurance ride, hence why it was the easiest day for me); and one super high carb day that Trainer warned would most likely be the hardest for meeting macros. Protein macros were high and stayed about the same throughout all days in the cycle; the only other thing that changed was fat: as carbs increased, fats decreased and vice versa. Calorie counts stayed about the same if you were hitting all the macros; I was told to NOT watch calories because it didn't matter as long as I was hitting the macros.

Trainer was not kidding about the super-high carb day being difficult when I saw the numbers: I had to buy maltodextrin powder (a complex carb popular in human endurance supplements, such as those by Hammer Nutrition) to hit the carb macros on the high carb day because otherwise it was impossible to meet the requirement without also going over on fats and protein. What I chose to eat was flexible as long as I was hitting the macros in a healthy way. Unlike IIFYM, there was no eating cake or ice cream to reach carb goals! That just made it all that more interesting: having access to grocery stores with an enormous variety of healthy food like Wegmans and the smaller mom & pop organic/farmer's markets in our area made the project of finding food to keep the diet interesting even more fun. I like variety, color, and tons of flavor. Our pantry has the typical Latin seasonings you would expect, like adobo, mojo, cumin, bay leaves and jerk rub...as well as Indian flavors like curry, garam masala, and coriander; and the typical things in everyone's pantry like oregano, herbes de provence, rosemary, basil, paprika, etc. Meat, chicken and fish are usually marinated for at least 24 hours for additional flavor, and I was able to continue doing that during this phase of prep.

Homemade chicken, pepper and mushroom stir-fry over brown rice with a side of roasted asparagus with garlic and balsamic vinegar = dinner on a high carb day. Clean food does not have to taste like freaking cardboard!
Anyone else would have started off with the high carb day. But Overachiever Me literally just dived right into it on low carb day #1. The problem was I tried to do everything else normally: ride both horses and then strength train at the gym.

Photo taken that first low-carb day. Flat: everything was flat muscle-wise, which is typical for low-carb days. Apparently this is not supposed to happen right away the first time you drop carbs so much but, like I would continue to discover throughout this, my body begged to differ. It noticed right away what I was doing and reacted the way a more experienced body would have.
(Also? Carbs are amazing, guys. Our society has turned them into something evil...they are not.)
I had the WORST brain fog by 2:00 pm after we left the gym and just wanted to curl up into a ball from exhaustion. I was like, "WTF??" Super low-carb can cause that but Trainer's requirement was right at what your brain needs to function normally. So I tallied up what I had eaten so far and arrived at my answer: I had only eaten 10 grams of carbs from the time I woke up until mid afternoon! O_o We returned home and I had a serving of vanilla Icelandic yogurt (this is my fave!) with a half cup of strawberries and within the hour felt like a new person. It's pretty incredible the difference that even small amounts of a specific nutrient can make.

It took a while before I got the full swing of carb cycling. Planning ALL meals ahead was a huge help. Eating out was very much minimized (it's hard to track precise numbers when you don't know exactly how food has been cooked or the exact portion sizes) except on high carb days: on those days it was so hard to reach those carb macros that Carlos and I would occasionally eat out if we were both off of work: I could order pasta with marinara sauce or rice or stir fry; most of the restaurants in town like Cafe Nola and The Orchard have super healthy options that fit the bill just right.

Note: I don't care what anyone says, it is expensive to eat healthy unless you're able to grow everything in your backyard. It is also time-consuming to prep all of your meals for the workweek in advance when you're making breakfast, lunch and dinner for all days for two people. But meal prep is the only way to go about it if you want to make sure you are eating the right things at the right times. Jumping into both eating healthy AND doing this type of program would have been overwhelming if I had been starting both together for the first time, but having a solid knowledge of food nutrient content and already being used to 90% of the time choosing healthier foods made it so much easier. Our grocery expenses didn't really change throughout this.


On My Body Responding

Ok well, yeah, maybe...lol
Carb cycling is fascinating because as time goes on, you start to see how your body reacts to the different nutrients you're feeding it: what makes you retain water? What makes you more defined? What makes you feel more energized? What drags you down? All of these questions began to be answered. Sometimes changes from one day to the next were dramatic: my body would look completely different in the morning from what it had looked the night before.

And then came the steady changes: a network of veins appeared over my lower arms. I suddenly had the beginnings of bicep veins, which had been a lifelong wish. And a shoulder vein started to materialize. And later there was one across my left clavicle. And an ab vein that wanted to come to the surface.

I freaking love this.
As noted before, my abs have always been my pride. If you ride, you have them, and in my case I also spent years doing Pilates and all sorts of ab exercises in the gym and at home in an effort to combat the stubborn lower belly pooch I've had my entire life. The end result was that I still had the pooch but I've also always had obliques, even at my heaviest.

Even then, the transformation my abs went through alone on this program was...it was just wow.

In order, clockwise from left to right.
Oh and this was NOT working abs. Trainer initially said what for: you have them already. It's just a matter of melting what's over them. So I wasn't working them, but even when not training they are engaged all the time when I'm awake and even more so while exercising. If you're strength training correctly, you're engaging your abs no matter what other body part you're working.

9 months between these photos.
The one on the left was taken during my backslide after my injury last summer when I couldn't work out at my usual intensity for almost 3 months and refused to eat less to compensate (I knew I'd lose the weight as soon as I got back on my regular program). Progress is almost never linear. I don't even know how many inches I lost between these two pics; I hadn't measured before and after; this was never about obsessing over numbers.
I was down a full size in clothes though: noticing that was unavoidable!
Also: photo on the right was taken on a high-carb day where I had worked legs. I hadn't even worked arms!
The most dramatic change of all was my back.

Only 6 weeks between these photos!! The first was taken right before starting to work with Coach; the second two weeks after starting with Trainer. Note the difference in waist size too...
Two weeks in and my regular clothes started feeling looser. I stepped on the scale...and realized I weighed the same. I told Trainer about the change in clothes fit. To my surprise, he looked at me in alarm.

"I weigh the same, though," I added.

"Okay, GOOD," he said in relief. "That's how it should be. We don't want you losing too much too soon."

It was such a refreshing difference from Coach and her fixation with weight.


On Lifting Heavy

In the very beginning, Trainer said I would be working mostly back and shoulders with him and I could do the rest on my own with his guidance. I had asked about working legs with him too. He had just looked at me questioningly. I continued: because legs and glutes are one of the most stubborn areas to change for me...and I think for all women. And I might have grabbed my own ass when I said that. He laughed. You see, given my old riding injuries, I've always approached lower body training with caution: too much too soon would aggravate those injuries and cause back pain. I wanted to ramp up the work with supervision.

"Okay, we can do legs too." So my second session was legs.

I was warmed up with barbell squats and then moved on into deadlifts. The first weight plates Trainer set on barbell I lifted with ease. "Okay, we need to make this harder," he said, moving to change the plates.

I watched Trainer swap out the weight plates on the barbell and made a note of not looking at the number on the plates. A quiet and very familiar thrill moved through me. "Will I be able to lift this?" This was new, this type of lifting...so why was the feeling familiar?

It was familiar because it was the same quiet thrill I would get during my jumping days when the trainer I trusted would go around and raise the height of all the jumps. I never counted the holes the top bars were being raised to; I chose to simply ignore the increasing height and face it as if it was just another course. "Will I be able to jump this?" And the unwavering certainty that was, "Yes, I will."

I stepped over to the barbell and looked down at it. "Yes, I will," was the answer now as I wrapped my hands around the bar, breathed in, and drove down through my heels, engaging every ounce of power in my lower body to explode upwards with the bar in a deadlift.

"HA!" I thought, grinning. That thing was heavy, guys.

"Good," Trainer said, arms crossed in front of his chest. "Now do it slower."

My eyes widened but I obeyed. I lowered the barbell and came back up, slower this time. My legs had the strength to lift the weight but it turns out that my hands did not. My hands and the little wimpy muscles in my forearms started to give the moment I slowed down the speed of the deadlifts.

What ensued was comical.

"Can I get my gloves?"
Trainer made a mock grimace. "If you must..." Gloves are frowned upon by real lifters.
I ran to my gym bag and snatched my weight lifting gloves.
They made no difference. I did two reps before ripping them off again with a snarl. Trainer burst out laughing, "I told you!"
I understood then why gloves are a no-no at the upper levels of weight lifting: they might help somewhat with preventing callus formation (I still had mad calluses on my palms even with gloves) but they do not help with strengthening grip.

My grip was better without the gloves but I was furious that I couldn't make my hands obey. I had read about this being a common problem with women, where we have the lower body strength to perform these moves with insane amounts of weight...but our grip gives out long before our legs and glutes do.

"How do you strengthen grip? Is there anything specific you can do?" I asked at the end of the set. We had just figured out my hands' (not my glutes'...) 5-rep max. -_-

"There aren't specific exercises for strengthening grip, no," he said. "Doing things like the Farmer's Walk helps."

Farmer's Walk, featured. Guess where the name comes from. ;)
He grinned, "And just continuing to do shitty hard things that involve using your grip like what you just did. Sans gloves."

And that's how all variations of deadlifts became a part of the regular Leg Day schedule around here. Sans gloves.

I later did the math on the plates. I used to be sore after performing deadlifts with two 20-lb dumbbells.  The bar at Tony's gym weighs 45 lbs alone...I had just finished a full set of deadlifts with 115 lbs. (That is nothing by weight lifting standards but it was pretty eye-opening for me!)

He was not kidding about working shoulders. I've never had my shoulders worked so hard, so intensely, so completely or so frequently. Which explains why they did a 180-degree transformation in only a couple of weeks and continued to rapidly change from there on out.

Shoulder presses became my nemesis and Trainer caught onto that fast. Which meant doing more of them, with heavier weights. For a while the only exercise that could make me hiss from effort on exhalation was shoulder presses (because you're clenching your jaw and breathing out through your teeth)...until we moved on into phase 2. But more on that later.

Shoulder Day became a Thing, and it was added x2 into the weekly workout rotation. Mind you, shoulders got worked any day I was focusing on chest (front of shoulders are involved) and upper back (rear shoulders come into play) as well. So basically my shoulders were some degree of sore all day erryday. But that's okay because holy shit:

Right before starting with Trainer

After 4 weeks of working with Trainer. O_o
(Photo is slightly distorted because it is a very cropped-down iPhone pic that had been taken at a funky angle...but still: you get the idea.)
It didn't take Trainer long to learn to read my body language. Initially he would ask, "How's the weight?" in reference to what he was having me lift. If I answered "It's fine," he'd bump it up. The first time he did that, I burst out laughing in surprise. He was right though: the new weight was more challenging for sure, but I could still maintain correct form. "That's better. You're doing that controlled breathing now," he had pointed out. I hadn't even realized my breathing had changed! After that, he never had to ask again: he could already tell by how I was moving. And he could tell when it was just challenging enough without overdoing it. As I would later mention out loud, "I learned real quick that if you showed me something and I thought, 'Huh, that'll be fine,' I was going to eat my words." He could also tell, without me saying anything, when I came in physically tired: the workout would be just as challenging as always, but he wouldn't increase the weight as much.


On Hunger

I was almost 4 weeks into the carb cycling when we returned from our May trip to the Outer Banks (that I have yet to write about!!) Up until the trip, I had not had an issue with being hungry all the time. I was eating on a regular schedule (about every 2-3 hours) that coincided right when low-grade hunger pangs started but this is pretty much my norm when I'm super active anyway so it wasn't new to me.

At OBX I had had a harder time keeping my macros in order, which was to be expected when eating out, but I still made them fit about 90% of the time. Over the course of that weekend we had been so active that I realized I was low-grade hungry all the time instead of just when it was time to eat again. At OBX, within an hour or two of eating, I'd be truly hungry again. As in starving. And I wasn't eating rice cakes and spinach here: I was eating oatmeal made with milk and real fruit for breakfast before strength training at the apartment, scrambled eggs for second breakfast before running out to the beach for HIIT, chicken or beef stir-fried at the apartment with a ton of veggies over brown rice for lunch, drinking thick protein shakes where I tossed in half an avocado into the blender with the milk and protein powder to give it the consistency of cake batter, and snacking on mozzarella cheese, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese or Icelandic yogurt (I like it better than Greek because it's denser), and then finishing the day with fish for dinner. Carlos said I had achieved true Hobbit status.

Once a nerd, always a nerd. ;)
Seriously: 6-7 meals a day. Trainer's orders.
The 7-hour drive back to Maryland was torture in the hunger department. I had packed snacks so that I could still eat at 2-3 hour intervals. It was the second low-carb day, which should not have been an issue because I'm allowed to eat higher fat on those days, but all I could think about for the 7 hours back north was how hungry I was. I would eat, feel sated for maybe 15 minutes, and then the hunger would start up again. The last 3 hours of the trip I went quiet and tried to entertain myself reading because I was just outright hangry. Anything I said would come out cranky and it wasn't Carlos's fault.

I had a session with Trainer the next morning, and I told him about how insanely hungry I had been the day before despite eating well and on schedule. "Is this the norm from now on?" I asked him.

He gave me a knowing smile. "It is. Initially your body is sort of in shock as it adjusts to the constantly changing cycle, but then it all starts catching up. You eat and it's like you didn't eat anything at all. I'd love to say it gets better...but it doesn't."

I nodded, thinking of the cheese-smothered steak I'd had for dinner the night before, after arriving home (keto diet examples were my go-to for the low carb days of the cycle) and how I could have eaten the plate as well. I'm not a red meat person. I'm most definitely not a steak person. I ordered that steak because my body was outright screaming for it and I said, "OKAY FINE!" If you had told skinny waif 16 year-old me that one day in my late 30s I'd be wolfing down 2500 calories in a day and still wanting to eat everything in sight while fat continued to melt off of my frame like butter, 16 year old me would have smacked you.

"Did you try increasing your fats?" he asked, as he went about setting up the equipment that I would be using.

"I did!" I had been nailing the protein and carb macros on the low carb days but up until then had still been WAY low on the fats despite being allowed more: the jury is still out on whether high fat on low carb days makes a difference or not in the metabolism-accelerating department, so I'd been trending on the lower end of the fat range for these days. Not out of fear of fat in my diet, but because most of the food I have at home is just naturally lower in fat; I would have to consciously add fat to make the macros. "I actually went over," I continued. (By like 30 grams...the high range for fats on the low carb days was a whopping 80 grams, so I went over even that. My average is historically around 45-60 grams of fat/day.) "And then I was mad because of that, on top of being hangry." Trainer burst out laughing and I started the first round of supersets.

People legit think you have to starve yourself in order to achieve this type of body condition. It is the opposite. When you have managed to swing the body composition pendulum in the direction of "more muscle" vs "more fat," you start to understand the whole concept of "muscle burns more calories even when you're just sitting around." It's like there isn't enough food in the world. At least, not if you're eating the right kind of food. It's like you're feeding your body high octane fuel, which in turn makes your metabolism hum ever faster.

My workout clothes were fitting looser that week after the beach so I stepped on the scale out of curiosity...and I had literally shed 3 lbs over the course of the weekend.

The persistent low-grade hunger continued after that, becoming a state of being. I was usually busy enough that I'd be distracted from it...until my body would tap my shoulder and go, "Hey. Feed me NAO or I'll make you feel like ass by tanking your blood sugar!" And then I would have to eat because otherwise I really would feel ill. Small meals were better. I thought I would have a hard time with that but it was the opposite: given how much I had to eat, it was so much easier to just spread it out over the course of the day than try to get it all in at once in 3 enormous meals. Especially on work days when I can't ever sit down to have lunch: it was easier to keep my food in the small break room off of the ICU and swing in for a few bites of food at a time to keep the hypoglycemia at bay.

Trainer wasn't kidding: ravenous days like our return trip to Maryland from OBX would become more frequent.

It was so weird because while all of this would be hard work for most people, for the first two months I was basically putting together most of what I had already been doing in a different way, so the fact that it wasn't alien to me made it all fairly effortless...in the first phase. I was doing two things that I love: eating and working out...and losing weight + gaining muscle without having to kill myself in the process...or even think about it, really. I just did what I was told. I didn't have time to obsess over the mirror and I didn't want to. I'd just look up while washing my hands in a different restroom with different lighting and do a double-take, "OMG, when did that happen?!" I kept trying to document the changes via photos but there was no way to keep up.

The bottom photo really did become my life.
Waking up in the morning to eat real food before working out was amazing.
And I love The Rock, so there's that. ;)

And so went the gaining phase. My job was to put on muscle; leaning out would happen initially mostly thanks to the diet and as a side effect of gaining said muscle as my metabolism went into hyperdrive.


Continued here

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Experiment: Introduction

Not sure how many of you will be interested in this, but it's been my adventure this year that I've been holding out on y'all. I have been writing blog drafts all this time, but I didn't want to start publishing the posts until I knew myself how the story ends. Now that I know the ending, I can tell you about it.

It is a story about being a woman, about self-image and courage and strength and learning to love yourself and push harder when you were ready to just stop. Some of it has been documented on IG and even with just that, I've had so many friends reach out privately to me about it that I did want to write it down, even if only for my own future enjoyment. And in case someone else on the Interwebz is interested in trying this and wants to read about how one very normal girl did it. It is unlike anything I have ever tried before. I found numerous blogs on the subject, but none of them documented it quite the way I'm going to, nor did they approach competing from the angle I'm did.

Network of veins on a Thoroughbred racehorse.
I've always thought this is beautiful: the hallmark of ultimate fitness in a horse...and also in people.
The day I first noticed this on Gracie, I knew I was doing a good job in my role of turning her into an athlete.
Photo by  Lee Smith, taken from here.
It all started with Tony.

Back in January, Carlos and I had just finished a grueling session with him. We had just been dismissed and were walking out the gym door when I suddenly asked Carlos to wait for me a sec and turned around and went back to the trainer.

I poked my head in his office, "Hey...I have a question."
He looked up with an expectant smile.
"Have you trained women for competition?"
He knew exactly what I meant. I meant like on stage. "Are you interested in competing?" he asked. I noted that his tone of voice was enthused, not one of, "Are you crazy?"
"Yes," I said.
He sat back in his office chair. "You have the discipline to be able to do it." He didn't even stop to think when he said that. He regularly saw me in the morning and sometimes in the evenings as well, hitting the weight machines or sprinting away on the treadmill, completely lost in the music playing through my headphones. So many times he would have to tap me on the shoulder to say hi and I would startle!
"I have trained a couple...but at the new gym I am going to be partnering with a girl that has competed herself that should be able to train you even better than I could. Let me talk to her and I will put you guys in touch."

Now, I must backtrack.

I have taken great pride in being strong from the time I was...from the time I was born, I guess.

I think I was around 3-4 years old, and yes I was flexing biceps.
My family was stationed in Louisiana:  sometimes a wheelbarrow full of water was the best way to cool down on a hot summer day in the South!
When I first decided to lose weight in my teens, I originally wanted definition and muscles, but went at it in a completely wrong way, turning it into a (thankfully) temporary (4 year...) obsession with the scale and how little I could eat in a day.

This was my starting point.
I was 13, pictured here with Lucero, my first horse.
He was a wee baby: just a weanling! I've talked about him on the blog before.
I was a women's size 14 pants size at 13 years of age. I ate more than anyone else in the house at the time and absolutely hated the reflection in the mirror growing up. I lived in self-loathing: I became an emotional eater after my parents' divorce. It's one thing to have body image issues later in life as an adult having been a normal weight growing up. When you are obese as a child and you grow up hating yourself, it becomes your norm, your default. It took over a decade after college to develop a healthy relationship with both food and my own body. My relationship with fitness as a kid was nonexistent: I had a congenital heart murmur that meant I had to be very careful with cardio exercise. I had to present a doctor's slip excusing me from most PE tournaments and events, which didn't exactly help the "fat kid" stigma. The murmur would improve as I got older (and ironically, as I got fitter), so I would eventually be fully cleared for cardio exercise, but it is still there to a much lesser degree. It's audible when I'm dehydrated. Another thing I have in common with Lily.
While starving myself, I read about nutrition and exercise like it was going out of style. When I returned to riding (as mentioned before, horses saved my life) started to apply all of that knowledge in order to be the fittest partner I could be to the horses I was taking over fences.

In this photo I was 16, still had long hair, and weighed 115 lbs. Those jeans were size 2s. I would go on to drop another 15 lbs after this and wear a children's size 16 bikini. I literally became a rack of bones. The most insane thing of all is that my dramatic weight loss set off a trend in school: everyone wanted to be as thin as I was. All I could think at the time was, "Why???. I don't know how to escape this, how to stop! Why would you want to starve yourself?" My greatest fear was seeing the numbers go up on the scale...I would compulsively weigh myself twice a day every day. This was not healthy. This was not fit. I could cycle for two hours a day (which I did religiously in order to burn off the 500 calories I was eating) but I literally had no strength for anything else. I was an anorexic and an exercise bulimic.

Nowadays I weigh myself on days when I feel good about my body or if I my clothes are fitting different and I want to check where I'm at. This is maybe once to twice a month. That's it. And I don't obsess about the numbers: if they go up and they correspond to feeling fluffier, I cut back on "fun" food for a while or adjust workout intensity for a week or two until my clothes fit the way I want them to again.
My "normal" weight where I feel healthy and sexy nowadays ranges from 130-135 lbs, with jeans size running from size 8-10. It's my "gotta work a bit for it" maintenance weight.
Lean me with muscle runs between 125-130 lbs. That's my "gotta work harder for it" weight.
I currently weigh 127 lbs and wear size 6-8 jeans. Just so you guys can have an idea of exactly where I've been and why continuing to maintain a positive view of my body, what I eat and how I exercise are so important.
I stumbled upon Oxygen magazine sometime in my early 20s, and both that and an encouraging sprinter college mate were what got me both in the weights room and signing up for a 10k for the first time ever a year in advance. Me, the girl that had never run a mile before...that felt like collapsing after half a lap around the track at school, signed up for her first road race and made it 6 miles instead of 3. (I thought I started that trend of "Let's start with the harder thing!" with endurance but apparently not...)

Tiana Madison, representing the US in the 4x100m relay at the 2012 Olympics.
Not my classmate, obviously, but having someone with this body type sitting next to me in class was hugely motivating. 
The university weights room was free for students. The problem was that it was basic, tiny, and usually full of guys that were full-blown athletes from the school teams. Stepping into that tiny room full of testosterone as the pudgy one-and-only noob girl (I gained 30 lbs during my first semester in college, going from 120 to 150 lbs in a 6-month period) with horrendous social anxiety to boot, was nothing short of daunting.

Me my freshman year in college, on a now grown-up Lucero.
I again battled the reflection in the mirror: I disliked what I saw so much.
The guys were always kind, but were always full of suggestions and despite the good intentions, it was overwhelming at the time. I collected my own dumbbell sets at home so I wouldn't have to go to the strength training room at school and eventually joined a large-scale gym that was en route to the university which made it easy to swing by either before or after class, and later work. It was a Powerhouse Gym, and it's still at its original location. I had such a hard time walking into that gym for the first time. I felt like an outsider, like an intruder. I hated going in when it was crowded because I was SO self-conscious. I felt like everyone was staring at me. I was afraid of using the weight machines because I wasn't sure how to adjust them. I was afraid of doing things wrong, of standing out, of looking like a noob. So I did the next best thing...I stepped into a Spinning class, where I could sit at the back and follow instructions. This is what led to my intense love affair with Spinning. I took advantage of the free monthly fitness assessments that the gym offered, and that's how I also accidentally stumbled upon a trainer that was willing to show me how to adjust the machines for my height so they would work the target muscles correctly, who gave me a regime that would give me results, and who later encouraged me to try a second 10k using a program he designed for me so I wouldn't re-injure myself (I partially tore my left Achilles tendon the first time.) "You can do this. Trust me," he said. And so I ran the second 10k and shaved a full 15 minutes off of my original race time. Thanks to believing the words of a guy that believed in me.

At that second 10k, before the event start. This was in 2004; I was 23 years old. I was still pudgy but I was so amazed by what my body could do for me when I decided to put it to work... My eating was still kind of all over the place as I figured out that after 4 years of starvation, my body had developed zero tolerance for anything considered a "diet." I then tried to find what foods worked best for me, but that was always hard while living with my mom, who loves cooking and makes the most amazing food on the face of the earth. Like in most Hispanic households, all celebrations revolved around eating. I wouldn't really get to smooth out the wrinkles of my relationship with food until moving to the mainland, where I had full control of what we bought at the grocery store.

This photo was taken my third year in college, when I had switched to my art major and decided that I would never have the body I really wanted, and that was okay.  I was the fittest I had ever been by then, but  my biggest struggle was learning that it is absolutely fine to love food: despite significantly reducing the amount of stress I was in by changing to a major I enjoyed, I still struggled with cycles of binging and deprivation. (Not "dieting", just more like, "This food is bad: you can't eat it." Which would make me crave it all that more.)
Enjoying food is not a capital sin. In fact, eating yummy things is one of life's pleasures.
There's nothing wrong or shameful about loving food: you need to eat in order to fuel your body, plain and simple. Food, air and water are essential to life.  But you can love food without gorging yourself on it every single time, without eating only fast food. You can learn to love healthy food as much as junk food if you take a few extra minutes to make it taste as good as the junk. If there is a culture on this planet that is known for eating high-fat starchy carby things, it's Hispanics. Especially Puerto Ricans, with our sweet plantains and fried yucca and mofongo and pionono and alcapurrias and tostones and pork everything and and...
If I can do it, anyone can.
I wanted to both BE an athlete and look the part...I didn't want to just be fit. I just felt like I could never figure out the correct combo of nutrition + cardio + weights in order to achieve what I wanted. Like most people, I would try for a while and when I didn't get the results I expected in the amount of time I expected, I would loosen up and stop trying as hard. I never quit, but I figured maybe I just wasn't meant to be a true athlete and so I learned to stop constantly nitpicking at my reflection in the mirror, "If only this would go away," "If only I didn't have this." I think every woman does this. But instead of tearing myself apart mentally, I started to decide to let my eyes wander over to the parts I did like, "Riding has given me amazing quads," "Damn my shoulders look nice with all the stall mucking I've been doing," "Abs are on point this week." Positive thinking towards your body is the first step towards learning to love yourself the way you are.

If you're wondering what I wanted to look like, it's like this. This is what I wanted for myself:

I've always had a girl crush on Jamie Eason. She won her pro card in Figure at her first show ever.
Running became my side gig when I didn't have time/money to ride. I ran a lot while living in Tampa, FL, during my first two years with Carlos. Carlos and I also dabbled with cycling on local trails during that time. I slowly collected my own set of dumbbells again so I could work out at home at leisure. Cycling, running, riding and working at the tack shop kept me active during that time. Enough that I still had abs...one of my favorite stories is the one time we went to Miami for a weekend of electronic music festivals. We were waiting in line to get into a beach club where the bouncer was being selective about who he let in. I was wearing low-rise bootcut jeans, red flip-flops and a bikini top, nothing else, but very different from the bootie shorts and tiny dresses all around us. I had short brown hair, no boobs (especially when compared to the giant fake South Florida boobies around us), brown arms and a lily-white belly from spending my free time riding in tank tops...but I also had more defined abs than anyone else in that crowd, also thanks to horses. I have no idea wtf possessed me because my social anxiety has diminished since living with the social butterfly that is Carlos but it never fully disappeared...and if you know me, you KNOW I'm not this type...but I stepped out of the line, made my way to the front of all the fake bodies, tiny dresses and blonde hair, and stood in front of the bouncer in my jeans and bikini top thinking, "I am a goddess." The bouncer saw me alright. He looked me up and down, pointed at me, and stepped aside to let me into the club.

I looked behind myself. The bouncer shook his head and pointed at me again. Trying to hide the absolute surprise on my face (because I really hadn't expect it to work!) I snatched Carlos, who grabbed both of his friends that were with us, and I dragged all of us into the club! And that is the story of how my abs got us into a Miami club FOR FREE.

Later during tech school in South FL, I kept trying to maintain some sort of consistent workout routine since I was not riding, but it was nearly impossible with both full-time school and full-time work in addition to my 16 hr/week clinical rotations.

My bestie Mio and I studying for finals in vet tech school. Hard to believe it's already been close to 10 years!
The first thing I did after graduation was sign up at the gym next door. It was my first time formally belonging to a gym since the one in Puerto Rico. They had a special on trainer sessions so I said, "Sure, sign me up." The associate was going to sign me up with one trainer, looked at me again and then changed his mind, "Nah, we're going to sign you up with Julio."

I'm not sure what the associate saw in me that day that made him change his mind, but Julio turned out to be a professional bodybuilder married to a woman that competed in Physique (I'll explain what that means shortly). He was certified in both sports medicine and personal training and was nothing short of amazing. He was my first experience working with a trainer consistently over a fairly long period of time. It is thanks to him that I learned my way around a gym and that sometimes my body's limits are only in my head. He also introduced me to the type of training you would need if you wanted to compete on a stage: going into my third month training with him, I brought him a photo of Jamie Eason and said, "How hard do I have to train if I want to have this type of body composition?" And that's how I learned the art of heavy lifting in the weight room.

The body that heavy lifting started to give me.
I was 29.
Until Cloud appeared in my life and I couldn't afford both training and horses anymore...

Barn Fit edition me two years later.
I was the same weight and body composition as in the previous photo, but had not stepped inside a gym in close to two years. My job as an ICU vet tech + 20-30 hours/week spent at the barn riding my horse + other people's horses + working off board were enough to keep me in fighting form. Also, being that active meant I often either didn't have time to eat or just forgot to.
The idea of actually maybe, possibly, perhaps stepping on stage started in October of 2016, when I bought my monthly edition of Muscle & Fitness Hers. My body did one hell of a transformation last year while I trained to keep myself in peak shape for endurance riding and I thought it would be fun to see how much farther I could take it. When you start looking up the "before" and "after" photos of competitors, my baseline was already the halfway point of the average lower-level first-time competitor.

In October of 2016, when I declared myself fully recovered from my riding injuries last summer and had finally returned full force to the gym. I didn't gain a lot of weight on the scale pounds-wise, but my body composition had changed from what it had been 4 months earlier: I had lost a significant amount of muscle while recovering, but since I could go back to working out normally, I knew it wouldn't be hard to gain it all back.
I was flipping through the magazine at home thinking, "I wonder how hard it would be train to compete," when the magazine almost fell out of my hands and opened up onto an article titled "Your First Bikini Competition." I had seen the headliner on the cover "Bikini Body Blueprint: Sculpt a Sexy Figure in 12 Weeks," and had assumed it was yet another article about getting beach-body ready...even though the timing seemed odd...you usually see that type of article in spring. Nope: It was an article on prepping for bodybuilding-type bikini competition. I started laughing and laughing.

"Okay," I thought. "Apparently I'm doing this, because this could not be a clearer sign!"

I don't make decisions on a whim. But when I've been flirting intensely with an idea and it gets confirmed by Fate or the Universe or whatever you want to call it, in such a big way, I sit up and listen. The diet and workouts seemed perfectly doable.

My goal for beginning serious training was March. We had a couple of bills we needed to pay off before that and then I could aim for this project. Between October and March, I spent a lot of time researching both figure and bikini divisions. Bikini is supposed to be the easiest, most "natural" body type, with figure being more muscular and defined than bikini. Aka it would be tougher to train for. Of course I wanted the tougher division!

Bikini competitor.
Bikini is the most popular division because a lot of women gifted with perfect bodies are able to just walk on stage with a spray tan without having ever lifted a dumbbell in their lives. (This girl is not one of those people, obviously.)
Figure competitor.
Note the level of definition between this competitor and the first. (Please also note that there is nothing freakish about this.) There is also a difference in the poses and what the judges are looking at in said poses. (The poses for Figure are completely different from what people generally associate with this sport. No double biceps or anything like that.)
In the meantime, I ramped up the amount of weight and intensity of what I was lifting in such a way that I was getting my heart rate well into what is working parameters for me. I also became more conscious about getting in at least 3 cardio sessions a week, with at least 75% of that including intervals. I had been on a moderately low carb diet (~100 grams/day) and had sort of plateaued, so I finally bit the bullet and joined IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) and with much eye-rolling over signing up for a "diet plan", paid the $45 to have them calculate my macros for me. "Macros" = macronutrients, specifically carbs, protein and fat. IIFYM has you fill out a very detailed questionnaire, including questions about your activity levels both at work and exercise-wise, and takes into account your age and gender. They send you the equivalent of a pamphlet with your macros, an example of a meal plan, and how to tweak your macros depending on your goals (example: if you don't notice changes after the first two weeks on the plan, they recommend cutting carbs by x amount of grams.) It was interesting, mainly because macros counting literally allows you to eat whatever you want as long as you can "make it fit." Including alcohol, cake, ice cream and chocolate.

I'm not a fan of the presentation of the main website because it looks so "hypey", but the time I decided to join I had already seen the transformations...the transformations most people on this program go through are pretty insane, especially when you consider that so many of these people are eating well-rounded diets that included normal everyday things like pizza and donuts. If you're curious, check out their Facebook page. It's a pretty cool group; there are people from all walks of life, shapes and sizes on there and the group is so incredibly supportive. I'm a constant lurker on there.

March finally arrived and it was time to meet the trainer...but there were mad scheduling conflicts between all parties involved: Coach, as I'm going to call her, ended up deciding to continue with her own business, which made the meet-up a bit more complicated. Tony was able to arrange it so we could use his gym anyway, but I should have seen the scheduling complications as a sign.

I was giddy with excitement about meeting her...and then all the "what ifs" hit me.

"What if she didn't have a sense of humor?" I can be super self-conscious in the gym, just like most mortals. I have to be able to laugh at myself when I bumble.
"What if she pushed for steroids?" A lot of people take them for these shows, especially women. Everybody knows that. I had no intention of doing so. I had a theory that my body already has an above-average ease for developing muscle without having to do anything to fuck my entire system up. People do this without them. It takes longer and you have to work harder but it can be done. This was a hard limit. Plus I wanted to see if my theory was true.

There were other "what-ifs" but these two were the most important.

At the initial consult, she asked what division I wanted to compete in; I told her Figure. She said I definitely had the back width for it. She asked about the timeline and I told her: 4 months. This was my main reason for consulting with someone before I made the goal official: I wanted someone in the sport to tell me if that was reasonable. Otherwise I was perfectly fine postponing the show date for later in the year. Coach looked a little dubious but said it could be done if we worked hard. That was fine by me.

I initially really liked Coach. She didn't have a huge sense of humor but she pushed me in training sessions and overall I enjoyed them immensely. I do like to ask questions though, and it's something I've done with all trainers and instructors regardless of sport: I enjoy listening to their thought processes and why they choose to do things a certain way. This bothered Coach. So I tried to not ask questions, which bothered me.

Coach re-vamped my diet: I had not been eating enough (I was in the 1400-1700 calorie range and not enough carbs; I got bumped up in carbs department and into the 1700-2000 calorie range) nor in the right time intervals (I needed to be eating something every 2-3 hours) and she also gave me a workout schedule for the days I wasn't training with her (training sessions were twice a week. Nothing crazy.) My energy levels soared...I wouldn't have said I was lethargic before, but by comparison to now I had been.

My body immediately responded to the diet changes and training. Coach was noticing and praising the changes...while at the same time becoming more negative about there not being enough time to prep for the show. Her plan was weight-loss based, which I wasn't too comfortable with: some trainers function this way for fitness/bodybuilding competition prep and that's fine, but it was not the type of focus I wanted for my prep. Pounds on the scale are not representative of how much fat vs muscle you are losing and I did not want to be concentrating on pounds. She wanted me to lose 1.5 lbs/week, which seemed really excessive: I was starting out at 136 lbs. This was not overweight for me. If I had continued training with her, Coach would have whittled me down to 114 lbs by the show date, which is not healthy for my body by any stretch of the imagination!

Cardio is an important part of competition prep, but as previously explained, so is heavy lifting. I was encouraged to do mostly body weight-type strength exercises. Between this and all the cardio, I started to lose some of the definition I had gained on my own and asked about continuing to lift heavy. I was told that I shouldn't because I would just get bigger.


"Lifting heavy = bulky" is BULLSHIT.
This was the second red flag.

The third red flag was when I was encouraged to try the easier Bikini division, then was told to go for Figure after all, which was then followed by telling me that the amount of work necessary to get me ready for Figure was impossible for my timeline. When I pushed the show date back, she then wanted me to try another show that was even earlier than the original date. My head was spinning in confusion by this point.

The fourth red flag was when she wanted me to try a specific product that she had used during her own competition preps that had testosterone in it. I was Not Happy.

Basically Coach was turning out to be exactly what I had not wanted in a trainer for myself for this, and I was getting ready to slam the brakes hard on the entire competition thing if it meant having to go through all of this in order to compete. The brakes would get slammed on for me.

The 5k that I wrote about here was the last straw. I was originally going to do it at a light jog/mostly walk as a warm-up for a session with Coach; the idea was to just have fun with Jess at an event that was for a good cause. We were a month into training and Coach had been on a rampage that I still wasn't doing enough cardio (I was doing exactly what she told me to do at exactly the effort she wanted me to work) so I figured a 3 mile warm-up would make her happy. This was absolutely not unreasonable for my body and fitness level. When she heard about my plan, she called me and completely flew off the handle for not consulting with her first before signing up for the 5k, said I would be too tired to work out with her later (which I wouldn't be, but it proved that she did not trust me whatsoever), and basically told me that I was not cut out for bodybuilding because I asked too many questions and wouldn't blindly trust her as my coach. I was told maybe I should not train with her anymore.

By then I was done: while I will happily go well beyond my limits if I trust you, I don't respond well to break-you-down training methods, be it in the saddle or on my own two feet. Been there done that got the T-shirt. Enough was enough.

My response was, "Fine."

And so it was over.

That said, to say I was floored was an understatement. It wasn't just her words, it was also the tone of voice in which the barrage was delivered: it was the epitome of unprofessionalism.

I didn't argue and I didn't fight back because there was no point. But by agreeing to end this relationship, I stood up for myself. One of the most important lessons in life you will learn is that the only one that will stand up for yourself is you. YOU. Only you. And in the process you will learn that one of two things will happen: the other person will respect you more for it, or they will turn around and leave. If they leave, it's because they had no respect for you to begin with.

Life goals.
That 5k was probably the best decision ever. And I ran my heart out to celebrate. Hence the write-up.

All of this said, while her training style did not mesh well with my personality nor my specific goals, working with Coach was an essential part of this experience: I needed the tweaking of my diet, I realized that I could do the Stairmaster for a full hour if I wanted to (it was her cardio of choice; I used to only be able to do 15 minutes on it); she laid out an increased cardio baseline that I would need later on; and by being what I didn't want, she made me wish for what I did want, something that is turning out to be a valuable repeat lesson this year.

Everything happens for a reason.

The following week was hard though. Dropping the show goal made going to the gym without a purpose feel almost pointless. I wasn't really planning on competing in endurance this year, so I couldn't turn that into the end goal of my fitness journey either. I struggled. I ate healthy as always but loosened up a bit in how strict I was being: I had wine with dinner, ate frozen custard with Carlos, had dinner out over the weekend. I wanted to reach out to Tony to go back to training with him, but since he had recommended Coach I had figured he would take her side. That made me sad because it felt like I had lost him too.

I figured that if the whole show deal was meant to be, the right trainer would show up at the right time later on. Just like everything else in life. I just figured that would happen months, if not years, later.

One evening the following week, I went out with Shanna for Mexican at one of downtown's Latin restaurants, Cacique. We had an amazing dinner and dessert (OMG flan!!) and left the restaurant to go walk around town.

Shanna and me at Cacique. We had a good laugh over the fact that we were dressed SUPER matchy-matchy without meaning to...right down to the black & white sneakers and black shirts under our red flannel long sleeves!
We walked past the club where Tony works as a bouncer on Friday and Saturday nights. I remembered it was his worknight when I heard his voice boom from across the street: "Saiph!!"

I turned, saw him and laughingly dragged Shanna over to meet him.

Tony was super excited to see me. "How is the training going?" he asked. He follows me on IG so he had seen some of my posts on the training progress. I knew then that Coach hadn't said anything to him.

"Well..." I said. "So this happened..."
I gave him the headliners. Telling the story felt surreal. I seriously couldn't have made up the way shit went down.

Tony was horrified.
"Why didn't you tell me?? I am so sorry," he said. I shrugged. He continued, "But if you still want to compete, I can set you up with my gym co-owner. He has experience training people for shows." His voice was kind.
I thought about it for a second. "You are not cut out for bodybuilding" still rang too vividly in my head. I was so disheartened by the whole experience that I...I just couldn't.

I shook my head.

"Can I just train with you?" I asked him, "I'd like to just train with you."
"Of course," he said.

We set up a session for the following day, the one which I wrote about here. I can't say if he did all of that on purpose, but that session was mind-blowing for me because he showed me exactly what I'm capable of. I didn't mention it in the blog post, but Tony told me a little more about his work partner and explained that he had assumed I would prefer a female trainer. I could understand that; I didn't blame him at all, but I said that I did prefer male trainers.

I set up a joint session with Carlos for two days later with Tony, in the late afternoon.

We were at the barn the morning of our session when Tony texted, "Do you mind meeting my co-owner today when you come to train? He is the one that competes and would be the one to get you ready for your show."

I said yes to meeting him, but was still insisting on wanting to wait until later in the year to maybe aim for another show. I needed to get my head back in the game and it was not there right now. I texted all of this and in typical guy fashion, Tony didn't answer. I just smiled to myself. I had a feeling where this was going, but I also knew that I was being pushed in this direction because he genuinely believed I could do it.

We showed up at the gym for our joint session. Tony is a giant, even taller than Carlos. Next to him was another guy of more normal stature that looked the part of an athlete, with a very calm almost Zen-like vibe about him.

I instantly liked the vibe. It was the complete opposite from Coach's electric energy.

We were all introduced and he asked what had happened with Coach and I had to repeat the story. Like I said, it is hard to make up the way things went down and it was impossible to downplay to make it seem any less than it was. I explained my own fitness background and knowledge base, including the endurance side of it, what Coach and I had been working on, and expressed some of the concerns I had had with the previous training program based on how my body had been responding to it. Trainer listened, then explained his method, which rang true with me. To summarize, the way he prepped clients for this type of event was much more in tune with what I had researched and the track that I had been on originally (with accompanying results) prior to Coach stepping into my life. Like with horse training, vet med, and just about anything you can imagine, there are many ways of achieving an end goal with none of them necessarily being incorrect. Some are "old school", some are more modern, with some being more effective than others no matter what, but what works in the end ultimately depends on the individual.

"What division were you looking at?" he asked.
"Figure," I said.  There was a nod of approval.
"When were you thinking of competing?"
I told him the date and pulled up the show link so he could see the info. The date is an inside joke that I had only shared with two people; it's a weird coincidence that this particular show, which was perfect for a noob and is why I chose it, fell on that particular date.

Trainer liked everything I showed him and seemed enthused.
"But it's too soon!" I wailed.
He seemed surprised that I continued to insist on that.

"Well, just looking at you standing in front of me right now as you are, I think this timeline is completely reasonable." There was no hesitation when he said it, no strained expression of "Well yes but..." like there had been with Coach. "If you had told me Physique, well, that's a different story." He grinned. "But Figure? Not a problem."

This photo was taken 3 days before the meeting Tony set up with Trainer. 

I stopped.

That might have been the ego boost of the century. I later told Carlos I wanted to take those words and put them in a frame...Carlos said he wished he could send the words to Coach. This trainer prepped men and women for competition and had participated in shows himself and placed in the top 3. This was a HUGE compliment. I would have loved to have been able to go in the past and tell pudgy 13-year-old me: "Check out what's in store for you!"

But I spun on, "I'm not doing it if I have to take steroids. That is a no." Of course the event I was going for was not one of the ones where people usually compete naturally. You know, like starting your non-Arab TB mare on mountainous 50-mile endurance rides in the summer straight off the bat. Apparently I like to try hard things for the first time with the disadvantages lined up against me.

"I compete and I don't use them," he said quietly. "It can be done without them."

I had nothing else to add then. Carlos was beaming as he watched my expression change. Actually, all three men looked at me expectantly: my husband, Tony, and the guy that would become my trainer, waiting as the wheels spun in my head. Really? Could I do this after all?

"We can do a couple of sessions so you see what the training is like and take it from there," Trainer said. It was the final nudge.

I gave up. "Okay, I'll try it," I said. We exchanged phone numbers and set up a potential start date.

And with that, Trainer left and Carlos and I started our session with Tony. 


Continued here