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

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Year of Growth & Redemption, Part II: Growth Continued

My favorite photo from this whole quarter.

Continued from here


Daddy Yankee's Salgo Pa' la Calle

My absolute favorite photo of the month, taken by Carlos when we went to see the cherry blossoms in D.C.
It marked the beginning of me starting to find myself again.

I gave a general photo update about April here.

With the weather growing warmer and the days getting longer, I started making every possible effort to be outside as much as I could. The March show prep had been so intense and all-consuming that I felt like I had cocooned myself into this other person that wasn't me, whose life revolved around her appearances and posing. Now that that was over with, I was getting to come out and stretch my wings again as the person that I truly am. A big part of me honestly never wanted to see those stilettos and the obsession with the mirror that they represented ever again.

Running falls under "personal" this month because every step taken downtown at speed was another step closer to re-encountering myself. It made me so stupid happy that I can't even describe it. I ran with a giant involuntary grin plastered on my face, leaving a wake of smiles from passersby behind me: my joy radiated forth with such force that it was contagious. I ran and ran and ran, in the cold, in the drizzle, in the sun, in the mornings and in the afternoons. And I documented it with photos on IG because my little world was so achingly beautiful that I just couldn't keep it all to myself.

Gosh this afternoon was SO INSANELY GORGEOUS that this photo still makes my heart feel like bursting,
remembering it. I wanted to roll around in those sunbeams and just stay in the light forever. I had rushed out of work in Surgeryland for a run on this day and this had been the greatest reward.

A cold but sunny day where I went running outside anyway.
We drove down to D.C. on an ugly chilly day to see the cherry blossoms right after peak bloom. We lucked out that the Tidal Basin was empty of people thanks to the dreary weather, so we had it all to ourselves for the first time since moving here! I had the running bug so hard that I ran all the way around the Tidal Basin, doubling back periodically so I could accompany Carlos during my walk breaks. I meant to write about it and started a draft post, but never did get to finish it. Instead I gave you the headliners here. Here are some of my favorite pics from that day:

The cherry blossoms were my grandfather's favorite flower. I think of him every time we go and wish I could walk through these groves with him. They are so magically beautiful.

I took this one while up in the tree.
Through running, I admitted to myself how much I had not liked the person that I had been during that third prep and wondered what to truly do next with my fitness. I ultimately shrugged it off and decided that the decision would happen when the time was right. For now without any competitive event in sight, I simply enjoyed the moment stress-free.

I don't write about these dudes on here, but they are main characters in my life, especially my Tiger Boyfriend.
Zombie is very much Carlos's cat. He loves me too, but Aengus gets so jealous that I have to snuggle our undead tripod in hiding.
My joy reflected itself in other parts of my life, giving a serene flow to everything. The last few years have taught me to connect the dots when it comes to seeing how one life event leads to another, and this sensation permeated everything, including work. And so, despite saying I wouldn't write about work anymore, I felt motivated to take up my Tales From the Trenches series again with this post.

Sometimes just getting a patient to eat for the first time since they were admitted in the hospital is the best reward of all.

In April I started riding with more consistency. I was going to get that stirrup-less work in one way or another for my leg development, and I was entertaining the idea of doing it by riding Gracie bareback. I did not write about it here but I did post about it all over IG.

Carlos rode too. <3 Actually, it was him hopping on Gracie to do whatever that motivated me to get back in the saddle to begin with.
I also rode in the Alta, but the brunt of my riding on G-Mare was with the bareback pad.

I did some groundwork with Lily in the round pen...
...and towards the end of April, on a day where everything felt just right, I finally got on her for the first time since late last year.
Not shown: Lily's weight loss over the winter. She was SKINNY when I started working with her again despite having access to free-choice hay. We started going to the barn every day in order to start graining her consistently again. Between that and the return of grass in the pasture, she slowly started to put on weight. I did a round of Ulcergard just in case and it helped somewhat, but I would continue to worry about her weight as the grass grew in and she stayed leaner than I wanted her to be. I worried about how on earth I'd keep weight on her next winter...I contemplated having to keep her and Gracie in a separate paddock in order to be able to feed her as much as I wanted. I made a mental note and decided I would worry about that when the time came. 

I continued to work with Trainer. He kept his word about increasing legwork intensity. I was assigned homework in the form of body parts to work (called "bro splits" in gym lingo) but I was free to do whatever I wanted when it came to specific exercises. I was working with him 3x/week, lifting 5-6 days/week (including trainer sessions) and doing cardio of my choice for 30-60 minutes 5 days/week. I had one rest day a week.

This was technically a light weight for me for back squats: only 115 lbs, compared to the super heavy weight I had been moving back in October of last year. Carlos took these photos for funsies on a day we went to the gym together and he had finished working out before I did. This was the day that I realized the extent of my problem with achieving true depth with my back squats: true depth was actually nonexistent. This gets revisited in Part III, though I did start slowly working on correcting this issue at the time.
I was happy to realize that I was hitting depth with Zercher squats at least!

The public gym where I had been working with Trainer since November did not have a sled. Sled sprints/drills had been an integral part of my first two preps, and I chose to re-introduce it into my life of my own accord when training on my own for Leg Days since my gym actually had one of these.
While I physically felt better with carb cycling now and I was not waking up at 2:00 am from ravenous hunger anymore, I was at below-maintenance macros (calories at ~ 1500-1600/day) and still hungry all the time. I was frustrated that, while my endurance returned, my strength did not. We did not revisit super heavy lifting like I had hoped we would: all leg work was either high intensity or super slow time-under-tension with lower weights, though this was probably for the better given my lack of strength.

One significant thing that I requested this month was measurements: personal trainers typically take measurements and calculate body fat % changes as well as tracking weight fluctuations when it comes to keeping tabs on a client's progress. This is even more important with bodybuilding, where you really want to be tracking body fat % since it's supposed to drop so low. For my second prep I went to Tony last September to get my body fat measured because Trainer didn't own the calipers and I really wanted to know where I was at. I had been at 11% at the time. Btw: I was leaner in weight and measurements then than I had been for this March show.

Why did I want to be measured? Because loss of inches and body fat % changes are far more reliable than changes on the scale when you're also trying to pack on muscle, especially when you're dealing with water retention issues from physical stress and a funky diet. The only numbers Trainer had asked for were related to my weight.

Trainer's response was that measuring body fat wasn't reliable, which completely confused me. Yes, it isn't perfect, but it is just another part of the collection of data that you use to keep tangible tabs on progress. I asked about getting measured with a Bod Pod or some similar device and he said that was something I could do if I really wanted to, but that it wasn't that important. I continued to be confused but chose to not press the matter further. This was my attempt at creating a measurable way of tracking progress other than the photos I took on my own or relying solely on the scale. I contemplated just buying the calipers and tape (they are not expensive and you can find them on Amazon) and learning to use them myself, but ultimately shrugged the whole thing off and decided to not worry about it. There wasn't a show on the horizon yet anyway.

I was having fun though. This was a post that I never got around to publishing but I'm sticking it here because it was another great day in the gym that left me grinning from ear to ear for the rest of the week:


Tuesday was an absolutely fantastic day on the gym front x2, and I want to write about it whether my audience cares or not. :)

The public gym in downtown where I work with Trainer three days a week has its own cast of very unique characters, which is not surprising given how eccentric and quirky some of downtown's residents are. It's honestly truly representative of the community and I could write an entire post about them...starting with Bicep Curls and Handsy. It's entertaining to make up stories about them, which I suspect are not anywhere near as interesting as what their real stories most likely are (because we're talking about Frederick here. I should write a post about this town sometime.) But the one I'm telling you about today is one whom I'll call the Powerlifter or PL for blog purposes.

PL is one of the few, if not the only, powerlifter that goes to this gym. He is kind of the stereotype of a powerlifter: shorter, muscular but paunchy, and loves food. He can also lift a crazy amount of weight, as is to be expected. Trainer is also kind of a stereotype: he's a Physique competitor so he's a more streamlined version of what people usually imagine a bodybuilder looks like. But thanks to his traps, shoulders and arms, you can still tell at a glance that his sport is bodybuilding.

Stereotypically also, bodybuilders and powerlifters like to argue that the other is not a true athlete: bodybuilders claim that powerlifters are fat and cheat in order to pull the heaviest weight possible, while powerlifters say that bodybuilders are all about the looks and are unable to lift truly heavy shit. The two sports are, actually, 100% complementary: powerlifters benefit from doing hypertrophy blocks in order to promote muscle development for performance, and bodybuilders benefit from focusing on lifting heavy in order to maximize gains. After all, the two sports developed simultaneously, as discussed in my powerlifting post.

As I'm hoping you can imagine by now, on the infrequent occasions when their paths do cross in the gym, PL and Trainer like to argue about who is prettier vs who is stronger. The first time I witnessed one of these arguments, I actually forgot what I was doing workout-wise: I was fascinated. Like, "OMG this actually happens in real life and not just the internet!" I wanted to just sit with a bowl of popcorn and watch them hash it out...while trying really hard not to snort with laughter because they were both being absurd boys.

Trainer had to call me back to earth and remind me I was doing shoulder presses. Then I couldn't hold it in anymore: I really did snort with laughter and almost dropped one of the 30 lb dumbbells on my foot. Trainer barked at PL for distracting me and PL finally walked away. Which for whatever reason, just made me laugh even harder.

PL, despite teasing Trainer constantly, still showed interest in my show prep training and had asked Trainer lots of questions about it. He was at the gym at the end of my first session after the show, and as I was grabbing my stuff from the cubbies to leave, he came up to ask if I had won.

"I didn't place," I said. There might have been a hint of defensiveness there: I greatly appreciated the comments from friends and those closer to me saying that I should have won something but I was way, way, waaaaaay out of my league at that show. I had known I would be to a degree, but I had not expected it to be quite that much. I was more than fine with not having placed because that only would have happened if the classes had been smaller and I'd fallen in last place again for awards. In the end, I had done that show for the exposure and experience: winning, or even placing, have never been my true reason for doing anything competitive. At the same time I wasn't sure how much PL knew about the sport, and I was bristling about being told, "Well, that's not surprising. You needed to train for a few more years before hitting that particular stage." Which, honestly, was said by exactly no one. Just by the little voice in my head that likes to beat me up when I feel like I am not up to par with my own expectations of myself.

And that's not what PL said. His face fell. "You didn't? I was so sure you were going to win something! I had told your trainer as much. You worked so hard for it!"

I let my guard down then. And PL ended up giving me one of the nicest, sweetest pep talks that a stranger has ever given me. He didn't have to do that. I was just some girl that trains at that gym a few times a week. But again, it's the kind of experience that I've only been able to have because of this sport. My wanting to avoid people led me to horses and my job as a vet tech, but it is animals, both my patients and the horses because of the conditioning I had to put in for myself in the gym for endurance, that have led me back to my own species.

On Tuesday, PL was working on his bench press and I was in the middle of a Back Day session with Trainer. Trainer took me over to the lifter's section of the gym and placed a 45 lb barbell up against the corner next to the bench PL was using. We were going to be doing landmine rows.

Landmine row. I was using a handle around the bar, and Trainer encouraged me to use my lifting straps because my grip was already tired by the time we came to this. The straps go around your wrists and take the pressure off of your little forearm muscles, allowing you to focus more of your energy on the larger back muscles you're supposed to be using for this type of exercise. 
I made sure I wasn't in the way of PL's bar while he was lifting nor while he was resetting his plates, which he reassured me I wasn't. Quarters are tight in this particular gym (it's a small basement gym in one of the historic buildings of downtown) and not everyone is courteous nor do they have good spatial awareness. Both of those things go a really long way when it goes to being appreciated by fellow gym-goers that are also trying to get a serious workout in.

I got to work. After the initial 25 lb plate,Trainer kept adding 10 lb weight plates to the end of the bar with each set, while I kept doing 10 reps with rest inbetween (where I got to laugh at more of PL's and Trainer's interactions, except now I was being included in the banter, and PL and Trainer would both trash talk about the other to me as if the other guy wasn't right there. I just shook my head and tried not to melt on the floor laughing). He continued adding plates until it was a total of 140 lbs (remember I weigh ~135...)

I finished the 10 reps with 140 lbs and paused without letting go of the handles around the bar so I could glance at Trainer. Because he had been using 10 lb plates at a time, I had a feeling I knew what was coming. Yup: he had that mischievous grin of his.

Drop set time!

He removed one 10-lb plate and I did another 10 reps. Small pause so he could remove another plate. Another 10 reps. And so on and so forth.

As noted here previously, drop sets are the devil's invention and going into the third set, I was starting to bounce my upper body with each rep as my arms and shoulders were starting to fatigue. Trainer stood behind me with one finger placed lightly between my shoulder blades to remind me not to bounce, then stepped around to remove another plate from the bar so I could continue. I worked hard to not bounce without the physical reminder but felt my heart rate skyrocket as the burn swept up my arms. I rolled my eyes at Trainer, which always makes him laugh because it's my unspoken signal that says, "Dude. This shit just got really hard."

PL had stopped what he was doing to watch, and this was the moment when both of them started shouting encouragement.

Trainer: "...five..four...three...two...one!" *removes plate* "Keep going, you've got this!"
PL: "You're making this look easy! You can do it!"
Trainer: "Keep going, keep going!"
PL: "Nice work!"

I don't even know at what set I was by then or how many plates were left on the bar because my whole upper body was on fire and I had my eyes closed so I could push through it. But I realized I was grinning from ear to ear involuntarily.

Why? Because this sport is so damn cool, you guys. Not just bodybuilding; I'm talking about weight lifting in general. Right at that moment, it didn't matter that I was the only female in the weights section of the gym, or that I was the only Latina in the entire building, or that one of the super strong guys cheering me on was fair-skinned and covered in tattoos while the other had a pirate's beard and skin the color of dark chocolate. The sport transcends gender and race: in the right environment, the only thing that matters is that you are as strong as you can be. Not compared to anyone else, just to yourself.

It continues to be crazy empowering.

My relationship with food changed for the worse during this time though and I found myself going on full-blown binges once a week for the first time since my early twenties. These tended to happen on days when I knew I wouldn't be working out with Trainer for a couple of days, which gave me time to repair the water weight damage by tweaking the carb cycle before I had to see him again. I was tired of the restrictions and limitations, bored with what I was allowed to eat and missed being able to eat however many veggies and fruit I wanted. These "off" days would start with me having a bite of something that was "forbidden" and then going, "Fuck it" and eating everything I was not supposed to eat within the span of a few hours. Rita's, Coldstone, cheesecake, chocolate, beer: all things that I had not had for the past year. While my body composition continued to slowly improve, the diet situation would get worse before it got better. I was Not Happy: I knew exactly what was triggering this behavior but given the limitations I was on, I was not in a place where I could do what I needed to do in order to fix it: to fix it all I had to do was stop assigning restrictions on certain foods. Once I allowed myself to have whatever I wanted, I would stop craving those things that I couldn't have. However, I was afraid that me starting to fit in "forbidden things" in reasonable amounts would adversely affect my physique and Trainer would notice.

(Fun fact: 9 months later, I have dessert every. single. freaking night, eat out with Carlos once a week, enjoy a glass of wine with dinner several evenings a week, and I look better than I ever did while doing show prep. But I'll get to that in Part III...)

Back in April, it was an ugly place to be at given how happy I was with everything else.

Throughout all of this, Carlos had been going to CrossFit since September of last year despite me dropping out at the beginning of November for the no-cardio-allowed powerlifting block. The box would post their WODs and Strength classes online the night before, and I would periodically check it out and be like, "This one is going to be fun, Carlos!" He did tend to like the workouts that I highlighted.

I don't remember what made do it...but there was one time that the Strength workout was going to be all about the barbell bench press. I had not touched bench press since the powerlifting block and I was suddenly really motivated to try it again under a different set of eyes.

And so at the end of April, I dropped into the box for the first time since last November. I was welcomed back by Coach A and Coach D with open arms, which was a really awesome feeling. I never did write about my introduction to CrossFit here and it was pretty amazing. The first time I walked into the box last year for my trial week, Coach A had looked me up and down and said with a smile, "You look like someone who likes to be sore after working out. Let's have you do this." I had laughed at the time, but I might have loved her at first sight for that. :)

Returning now, I felt like I had come home to a place that I didn't realize was home when I first visited it. I had not realized how much I had missed the happy vibe of the box. You see, unless you're part of a team, bodybuilding is a really lonely sport. Trainer's small group classes had helped dissipate that loneliness but he had discontinued them when he moved to the public gym in November of 2017. I had initially tried out CrossFit because I was looking for that group environment combined with real barbell work...plus working out with Carlos. It was so good now to be lifting among other people again.

That bench press class helped me hone in on some of my form errors and while the weight I moved was pathetic (I think my max was 55 lbs for reps at the time...) I came away feeling really, really good: I was armed with something that I could work with to make my barbell bench press better.

A few days later, the Strength class would focus on snatch technique. Again, I'm not sure why that made me so excited at the time, but it did. Maybe because it was something different? I had never done any of the Olympic lifts! And so I dropped in again.

The only photo evidence of Snatch Class Day, and it was a gym bathroom selfie. Oh well.
I continued dropping into the box and after the fourth or fifth time, Coach A said, "You know, it's more affordable if you buy a set number of drop-in sessions in advance." I looked at the prices and...you know what was even more affordable? Me just signing up again as Carlos's family member.

And that, my friends, is how I secretly returned to CrossFit without telling Trainer. If you remember from past fitness posts, he did not like CrossFit even though his small group classes had followed a CrossFit format.

As it would turn out, it was one of the best decisions I could have made at the time.


Jason Derulo's Try Me, featuring J. Lo & Matoma

Aengus loved rainy days in May because it meant I would hang out at the apartment with him. <3
May found me riding more than I had in a long time...on Gracie.

Gaiting in the bareback pad, because the bareback pad was life. :)
Chilling in the sun on the first really hot day of May.
I was having an increasingly difficult time finding the desire to ride Lily, even with the nice facilities at this barn.

I self-taught myself to pony Lily in order to work her in some way and both mares humored me with surprising grace. :)
I wrote about that here.
Carlos said that he would ride Lily so I could ride Gracie with the intention of eventually making it back out onto the trails together. I was worried about this proposition: if Lily injured Carlos enough to put him out of commission with one of her freak accidents, it could really put us in a financial bind. (I always feel like a nutjob for being the only person in Blogland that seems to worry about this type of thing. Maybe y'all have fabulous health insurance but nurses and techs get shitty health insurance through their jobs. And when you have the student loan payments that we do, short term disability pay is not enough to cover them. Having able bodies in order to be able to work is always at the forefront of our minds.)

So we started with some lessons for Carlos on Lily (I was the instructor) and they were doing fabulously. We spent a couple of weeks with him riding her several times a week as he got the swing of riding her again. His CrossFit skills translated well to working her under saddle without issue.

We finally decided to try to find the trails from the barn one day, him on Lily and me on Gracie.

I never did get to write about that. We found what we thought was the trailhead but both mares were getting amped and we were riding around private properties: we decided to turn around before we potentially got in trouble so we could talk to BO again and find out exactly where the trails are. As it would turn out, we had been on the right track. We made plans to try again at a later date. I started making plans to haul the girls out: I missed the trails at Little Bennett and the C&O.

Those plans never happened. We went to the barn to ride one afternoon with the intention of just working in the arena. And that's when the Carlos incident happened, which I am still not going to talk about in detail because I don't want to be That Blog anymore.

I worked her ass in the round pen that day after the incident. All you need to know is that I was upset to an extent that is difficult to describe: here I was continuing to try everything and anything in order to keep her, and this left me feeling like she had flipped me the bird. It was really hard to not take it personally, though she was just an animal after all in the sense that she had no way of comprehending what I had been trying to do nor what her actions now would lead to. But it was precisely because of this type of random unpredictability that, while very rare, was making it so hard for me to ride her again. My sense of self-preservation had reached far greater heights than my desire to ride this mare, especially when I already had another that I could ride on whom I felt perfectly safe.

Lily went on sale that same week. And I did get a buyer interested in her. But I backed out of it at the last second because I had a horrible, horrible feeling about it. I decided to let the dust settle. We had a whole bunch of other things lined up for the summer and I chose to wait until all of that was said and done before making my final decision on Lily.

So Lily hung out in the field and I continued riding Gracie.

Last ride before the rain started.
May brought about historic rainfall for the region.

One Wednesday morning I woke up early to go to Surgeryland and discovered a text from BO from 3:00 am: the river that runs through the property had overflowed from the sudden nonstop rain and had flooded both front fields, taking down the mare field fence that separates it from the highway. Fortunately BO and her husband had noticed what happened and they had been able to wade out into the waist-high waters of the field in the middle of the night to get all of the horses out before they could wander onto the road. The text was her giving me the headliners, letting me know that the mares were fine, and what field she had moved them to in the meantime.

BO gets 10 million gold stars for rescuing I don't even know how many horses in the dark. I thanked her profusely and stopped by the barn after work to see what had happened. By then the water level of the river had gone down to safer levels but the two front fields were indeed underwater, as were the indoor, part of the outdoor, and also the round pen.  

River flowing through the fields on higher ground. BO said even the fenceline here had been submerged the night prior.
This is normally only about 6" deep. It was a good 3' deep on this day.
The horses were all doing well in their new temporary herds, but the fields would be out of service until the ground dried enough to allow to replace the knocked-over fence posts. This would take a couple of weeks.

My missing the island reached an all-time high this month as I kept searching for photos showing what I wanted to see: that it was, indeed recovering. I didn't want to see the beaches or Old San Juan though: I wanted to see my hometown, my university, the roads that I used to drive on every day. I wanted to see Santurce, Rio Piedras and Hato Rey. I wanted to see Arroyo and Guayama and Patillas. I wanted to see Rincon. I wanted to see that which was familiar, that which I knew, but there were no pictures to be found in the news or on social media.

My aunt Mari sent me a photo of my favorite side of La Cordillera when they went to Arroyo in the spring.
And Mom sent me these of my beach.
I wrote about that here. I talked to Mom and Carlos and we bought plane tickets for the end of July to go to PR for the first time in 10 years.

My goal with the trip was to take photos of EVERY SINGLE THING, from the most beautiful to the most mundane, and plaster ALL of social media with my pictures of the island. I wanted to let my Puerto Rican freak flag fly high and mighty and shout it from the rooftops, "I AM BORICUA AND THIS IS MY LAND! DO YOU SEE HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS??? I GREW UP HERE AND NEITHER YOU NOR THE STORM CAN TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME! AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU WANT TO JUDGE ME BECAUSE I SPEAK SPANISH BECAUSE THIS. IS. MINETHIS IS WHAT I CARRY IN MY BLOOD." I don't know why, but I had this...this raging thirst where I needed to go back to the place where I come from in order to find a part of me that I had lost somewhere along the way, mixed in with mainland politics, anti-Latino prejudice, the occasional snide remarks and rejection due to the fact that I am a brown Spanish speaker and therefore less.."cool" (I don't even know), island economics and politics allowing its beauty and history to decay, the constant assumption that we are Mexican with Mexican traditions (nothing against Mexicans. But I'm sure you'd be irritated too if you lived in a foreign country and everyone assumed you were British just because you speak English and kept asking you for good recipes for bangers and mash. It's just as absurd, guys!), a president that treated us like scum after the hurricane, a hurricane that demolished so much of what I used to know, a hurricane that forever changed my island's history.

I needed to stop looking for photos of PR and just go see it with my own eyes...and with my phone and my own two hands, take the photos that I wanted to see. I made that promise here.

We saw this van during a grocery run in town. It seemed like the most awesome sign.
There was also a huge allure in being able to get off of a plane and walk among people that spoke my language with my accent and my slang. To be in an entire country surrounded by my people. I ached for that.

In the meantime though, we had another trip coming up in June with the in-laws, which I planned to make my practice run in the photography department. :)


I was still running in May, though the rain would limit the frequency with which I could run outside.

This lamp had a tiny, real flame inside. I'm guessing it was a gas lamp. It was so steampunk I had to stop and snag a photo.

The beauty of Carroll Creek.
Not many of these made it onto IG.

The not-so-new boardwalk. I tend to reserve this route for the summer months.
Long shadows in the early morning in downtown.
A little female Mallard preening in Carroll Creek.
My Narnia. <3
The rain also temporarily flooded parts of downtown, including the public gym where I was working with Trainer!

Top photo: rain pouring from the rooftops at home.
Bottom: the clock tower at Baker Park doesn't normally have a moat surrounding it!
Fitness-wise, I was doing A LOT in addition to running and riding: working with Trainer 3x/week, bodybuilding splits on my own as assigned by him, the Strength classes at the box when they complemented my bodybuilding stuff...and I started showing up for a WOD here and there for cardio when the rain wouldn't let me get outside to run. (Given that I was working close to 50 hours a week as well, I'm not sure how the hell I was fitting in so much exercise!) Trainer had backed down on my workouts into maintenance territory, which I didn't understand since we were supposed to have stayed at prep-level intensity until further notice to see how my body would continue to change. I didn't ask questions though and just shrugged it off because I was now getting the workout intensity that I wanted through CrossFit.

Dem veins!
One morning halfway through May I caught Trainer studying me seriously. I looked back at him questioningly.

"What else have you been doing?" he asked.

"Huh??" I gave him a deer-in-headlights look that made him laugh. "I meant that as a compliment!" he said, "Whatever you're doing, it's working!" I don't know why I was always expecting negative comments/criticism from him. For someone who described himself as a person that didn't give out compliments, he had only ever had positive things to say about my appearance, performance and discipline.

"OH!" I exclaimed now in relief. I then had a *record scratch* moment: the one big thing that had changed this month was CrossFit but I couldn't tell him that because he hated the sport so much. "I'm doing exactly what you tell me to do. And running. And riding." Which was all true.

And since some people find this interesting, I was also going on month two of coming off of the birth control pill: it is a well-studied fact that hormonal birth control can interfere with muscle building and strength, and I wanted to see if this would be true for me. So far in May it was most certainly proving to be true in the appearances department, though my strength was cyclically affected depending on where I was during the month. While the dips in strength were frustrating because they were incredibly obvious, the spikes were amazing and unlike anything I had felt since last October. I was overall very happy with this experiment and in Part II I would get to learn so much more about this.

The diet was better: I had been bumped up to close ~1700 calories/day. I was still carb cycling but Trainer had eliminated the moderate carb day, so I was only doing one high carb day and two low carb days before starting the cycle again. I made do with my food choices and was happy to add summer fruit like mangoes to my high carb rotation, but I had adjusted so thoroughly to cycling that I was bulldozing through all of these workouts regardless of the macros ratios I was eating on any given day. Looking back now, I have no idea how I did it all. Bingeing was not as big of an issue now that I had more leeway and wasn't quite as hungry all the time, but I had developed an unhealthy fear of carbs.

In May I discovered front squats. I worked through the pain they caused my wrists and figured out the proper way to hold the bar across my shoulders because I realized that they were a huge help in me achieving correct depth.

I used them as therapy to rehab my depth.
Shown here with 95 lbs, which was a struggle at the time. I was still crossing my arms in front of my chest in order to support the bar. It is insane to me to think that not only can I now hold the bar the proper way with elbows pointing straight ahead, but nowadays my front squat is 146 lbs for reps!
Looking back at my notes from training sessions, I'm not sure when it was that I noticed it because I didn't write about it at the time. But sometime in May I got the feeling that Trainer was getting ready to move on; it was what prompted me to start getting more involved in CrossFit. It was a well-known fact that he was looking for a steady job and he had had a few short term part-time jobs since November while trying to find something full time. I started wondering what I would do if I wasn't working with him anymore.

My overrated superpower.
Would I continue with bodybuilding? At this point, I really didn't think so. I was afraid of trying it with a different coach and being put through an even worse prep than my March show one had been. That prep had completely shot my faith in the process and I didn't want to deal with that ever again.

Would I switch to powerlifting after all? I had lost so much strength through that most recent prep that I wasn't sure I'd be any good at powerlifting now. I had convinced myself that all of that had been a fluke last year, beginner's luck. Yet...there was a well-known powerlifting gym in my region, only a 30 minute drive away. The problem was that it was out of our budget. While there were plenty of online coaching options to choose from, I wanted to have one-on-one guidance, at least in the beginning so I could fix and perfect all of my form flaws before I could think about lifting heavy weights again. (Remember this for later!)

What about CrossFit? The gymnastics parts scared me and as much fun as I was having, I doubted I could be competitive at it. That said, it combined so many of the things that I currently loved: barbell work, dumbbells, kettlebells, running! There was always some new skill to learn and/or perfect. I had fallen for it hard.

I pondered all of this, shelved it, and continued on. I could not shake the feeling that Trainer was about to step out of my life though.

At the end of March, I did The Murph Challenge with Carlos at our box. It was amazing and I wrote about it here.

I had so much freaking fun on this day.
And also: check out my legs! Genetics shmenetics my ass.
Carlos did great too. 
There was a potluck afterwards. I was in the middle of eating 5 different types of salad that I had piled onto my plate (it was a high carb day) when my phone buzzed: Trainer had just texted.

I kind of almost jumped out of my skin because of the timing, "SHIT he knows I'm doing CrossFit!" Carlos, who was sitting next to me, started laughing. He found it all hilarious: I'm the only person he knows that was hiding from her trainer that she was doing more exercise than she was supposed to be doing!

As it would turn out, the text was unrelated to CrossFit: Trainer was giving me notice because he had accepted a full time job over an hour away and they wanted him to start immediately at the end of that coming week. I still had 3 prepaid sessions with him.

We were able to get one more session in before he started the job. He offered to refer me to other bodybuilding trainer friends of his but the truth was that, like I already said, I didn't want to train with anyone else. Not for that sport at least. I told him I didn't mind backing down to just one session a week with him if necessary.

During that last session with him, I confessed to having done The Murph. He didn't know what it was. So I explained. And told him about Carlos and CrossFit and how I had been dropping in at the box every once in a while recently. As it would turn out, he knew Coach A & D who run our box, and actually genuinely liked them. So it felt like I suddenly had his blessing for CrossFit. We had finished the training session on a good note.

We later tried to schedule my remaining two prepaid sessions via text around his new work hours but the public gym closed early in the evenings: sessions would have only been half an hour in length. The only other days he could do were weekends and I worked on those days.

He ultimately offered me a refund on the remaining sessions and I accepted. That last text conversation had a tone of argument because we were both frustrated. There was nothing more I could do though: I was even willing to do 5:30 am sessions but he couldn't/wouldn't do that, and there was nowhere else with better hours for him to train out of for free like he was able to do at the public gym.

My last text to him was thanking him for all of his time, patience, and dedication and for turning me into a better version of myself. I told him that if circumstances changed in the future, I'd be interested in training with him again. I wished him the best of luck at this new job.

In typical Trainer fashion, he never answered. Which at the time was upsetting because:

a) I felt betrayed because he had always said that he would continue training serious clients regardless of his main job situation and there was no one else as serious about training as I was.

b) Just like every other time he had remained silent, it left me second-guessing everything. He had been an important constant in my life for the past 13 months around which all plans had revolved, including work decisions. If you think that's odd, well it's the nature of bodybuilding: as explained previously, it is so involved and life-consuming that you develop really close ties with your trainer and your teammates (if you have them.) I felt like I had been dropped like a hot coal, though I couldn't figure out what, if anything, I could have possibly done to deserve that. I had been an excellent client: for an entire year working together I had always showed up on time with a grin, I never cancelled or rescheduled sessions, I paid on time, I never complained about the workouts...in fact, I made it obvious that I enjoyed the work and got a kick out of making him laugh whenever I could, I did the assigned homework and the diet he wanted me to do. I went out of my way to be the client that I myself would have wanted to train. I was faultless.

It now felt like all of that had suddenly been erased into oblivion without so much as a basic good-bye.

Despite the communication problems, I had had this enormous fierce feeling of appreciation and admiration for this man that had been able to both see potential and dig it out. I had often referred to him as the sculptor...I was not joking. That his last response to me now was simply silence was infuriating to say the least.

My big fears in losing him lay in three areas:
a) Losing accountability when it came to diet. In May, I really liked the transformation I was going through and had overall felt good during the massive amount of work I was doing. I was afraid of going back to eating "normally" and losing all the progress I had made over the last year. While I decided I didn't want to compete in bodybuilding again, at the time I did want to continue looking as if I did. I knew that I needed to eat more if I wanted to start gaining strength again, but I didn't know how much nor in what ratios that needed to happen.
b) Losing direction when it came to workouts/workout intensity/scheduling. I was afraid that working by myself all the time again I wouldn't be able to push myself as hard as when I was working out with Trainer. He would periodically change workout format to create specific changes and I had no clue when nor how to change things up on my own based on what I was seeing in the mirror because he had never explained programming changes...and given his attitude about questions, I had never asked.
c) The most important thing though, was that, because of my crazy high tolerance for pain and my overachieving nature, I was terrified I would misgauge my strength while working out on my own and hurt myself. I had trusted Trainer to keep me safe in that regard more than I trusted myself because, like I said before, he could often read me better than I myself could.

Unable to really do anything about any of this now since the choice to continue working with him was out of my hands, I turned around and attacked CrossFit with a vengeance. I wrote about that here.

Being a badass at snatches now.
And that is the story of how Trainer exited stage left and the curtain closed on his scene. He taught me an important lesson in failure by both allowing me to experience failed lifts and a failed show. As a perfectionist that wants to be able to do everything correctly, who is willing to put in the hard work necessary for success, I needed to learn that sometimes you can do everything right and things might still not work out for you.

Failure is not the end of the road. It just marks a crossroads that will lead you in a new direction where you will continue to grow.

No more training at the castle that was the public gym.
I feel like I should be able to turn that into a metaphor for something but I'm not sure what it is.
The curtain would slide open again to reveal the next scene...and what would be the best part of the year for me.

Along with so many messages from the Universe, like this one written in chalk on my running route one afternoon.

To be continued in Part III. :)