This is part 6 of an 8-post series. Continued from here.
Depending on who you ask, peak week is something newbie competitors look forward to or dread, or both, because it is the hardest part of prep.
|This is about how much sense you make during peak week.|
And yes, this is pretty much all you can think about.
Well, first all the carbs go bye-bye for realsies.
|Remember though: I could still eat steak and cheese! :D|
And in my case, I did get to have one day of moderate carbs halfway through the week...which would end up being key.
|This was fun while trying to get an hour of cardio in.|
I had to step off the treadmill halfway through EVERY TIME to run and pee. Despite having peed beforehand!
|3 days of this.|
I laughed a lot about it because I have never peed so much in my life.
Thankfully the people around me knew about it, so they all laughed with me and at me. Because why not. ;)
Only sips of water allowed. I carried a half liter of water around and sipped from that, making sure I still had some left over at the end of the day. This is what most people drink on a given day, maybe less. Me? I normally average around 1-1.5 gallons/day. Under normal circumstances I don't drink juice nor soda because I'd rather eat my calories than drink them. I only drink water, coffee
Here is a good explanation of the why and how of the entire process. Of course, this is a general guideline that is tailored to the individual. The water restriction process is called "drying out" and its goal is to eliminate all subcutaneous water retention, which makes your skin literally stick to your muscles if you've managed to also eliminate most of the fat covering them. This is the unhealthy part of this sport. You literally turn yourself into a raisin.
I'll confess to one thing here: for my first three endurance rides with Lily, back when we still used hoof boots, I would deliberately dehydrate myself for the 24-48 hours prior to the ride. I simply wouldn't always drink when I was thirsty, or I would only take sips of water when I did drink. Why? Because I knew I was going to be getting off 8 gazillion times to fix hoof boots on trail. I didn't want to also have to get off another 2 million times to pee as well and cut into our ride time even more. Another reason for beginning to work out so hard back then was because by being a notch fitter I could prevent more of the post-ride exhaustion and soreness that was going to be a given from not drinking enough alone.
And then...then it was also spray tan prep time.
I had dreaded the spray tan. In fact, if it weren't for the spray tan, I would have considered training for and giving this a whirl a loooooong time ago. There's a reason for the tan: it brings out all the definition you've gained and also helps hide minor flaws. The darker your skin is, the less flaws will be visible. Most competitors embrace the spray tan just like endurance riders embrace the obnoxious neon biothane tack: it's a given with the sport. I don't know why I had such an enormous mental block with it. You have to prep your skin for it the week before by exfoliating and moisturizing every day so the tan goes on even and smooth. You can't just use any lotion either: it has to be something gentle that will help balance the pH of your skin because otherwise you'll end up green. (I just bought the cream sold by the company that was doing the spray tan. Easy. No research involved there.) And then once you have the spray tan on, you have to be careful with it smudging...because it will smudge if you're not careful. And then you're on stage with lights shining down on you, mostly nekkid with a smudged tan. No. I had stressed out the most about the smudging and about my face matching my body and about it looking completely unnatural afterwards. Because I had to go back to work 24 hours after the show and I kept hearing that you turn orange once the brunt of the tan washes off and I didn't want to have to explain that one to coworkers and clients! UGH >.<
I joked a lot about this in an effort to not stress about the tan, because it was the one thing about this whole project that I truly found overwhelming:
|We love this door. Shanna calls it the Fairy Door. It's for passersby to contribute to.|
|My favorite section of Carroll Creek.|
Like I said before, the fitter you look for this sport, the weaker you are.
While I was aware that my fuse was shorter than it normally would have been when just plain tired, I was also comically loopy by this point. Everything was funny or I suddenly didn't give a shit...which also made it funny. I had no filter. I would be talking to Carlos and I would trail off into silence and forget what I was talking about...then explode into giggles. I was easily distracted: trying to buy food for that last week and the makeup and other supplies I would need for the show was an epic mission because I kept getting sidetracked by things that caught my attention in the store or outright forgetting what it was that I was looking for in the first place. I became a brutally honest, goofy extrovert.
As Carlos said himself, I was basically him during peak week. Another thing that caused endless amounts of laughter. Note: being Carlos is pretty awesome. ;) It meant that I was going into the most trying phase of them all completely and absolutely relaxed about the whole process.
This is where I need to stop and commend the two people that stuck with me throughout this crazy adventure, through both thick and thin: Carlos himself and Shanna. Not only did they listen to me go on and on about trainer sessions I was excited about or complain about how tired I was on some days or watch me be excited about the most ridiculous food choices like an enormous pile of unsalted scrambled eggs with a side of bacon at Nola's for dinner, they were physically there with me too for moral support: Shanna would come with me to the gym on Monday nights for 9:30 pm cardio sessions when I got home from work. She could have gone earlier in the day, but she waited until that ungodly hour so she could do her workout with me. Having a friend to
|I bow down to you, Goblin King.|
|Photo from one of these outdoor cardio sessions|
I had to work chest and triceps, Trainer-style (aka moderate weight and super slow tempo). Shanna went ahead and did the full workout with me, being a total trooper even when I forgot to decrease the weight for her (because peak week flakiness.) I'm pretty sure she was sore for the next two or three days, but she didn't say a peep about it during the session. I could. not. stop. giggling. about everything. EVERYTHING. Everything had me in stitches. Which invariably made Shanna giggle too. We laughed throughout the entire strength workout and cardio afterwards. I'm pretty sure the handful of people at the gym at that hour thought we were drunk.
I think it's the most fun I've had at the gym ever.
I had my first peak week Trainer session the next day. And I was STILL obnoxiously giggly and ridiculous, especially because I shouted "Good morning!" to him while sprinting past him to the restroom to pee AGAIN. I had just peed at home 15 minutes prior! He just laughed. This is the part where his sense of humor was the most valuable: he also got a good laugh over my awkward stories about the week so far. We also talked about post-show food: after spending so much time focusing on eating a certain way, a lot of people struggle with their diet after the show. Your body has basically been primed for weight gain with the restrictiveness of the last phases of prep, and it is common for both new and experienced competitors to just dive-bomb back into eating everything they weren't allowed to eat during those last stages...and gain a monumental amount of weight in a very short period of time post-show because of it. (This is why restrictive diets are bad for you!) I wanted to avoid that. I already had in my favor that I normally eat healthy to begin with, but I wanted to have some sort of plan going forward, which was discussed.
"I've been having weird cravings as if I was competing again, and I don't know why," Trainer admitted. I grinned, thinking, "Awww he's having sympathy cravings!" :) Most competitors do have crazy cravings, especially towards the end of prep...but I honestly had not had any significant cravings, other than really, really, really wanting beer despite not having had beer in close to a year. But I have a strong association with summer and beer, so there's that. Every time I wanted beer, I'd say to Carlos, "Let's go to the bar! You can order what I would get and I'll just watch you drink it while I have my glass of water." *insert laughing emoji here* I shared that one with Trainer too.
|Carlos with beer and me with my non-alcoholic water on the rocks.|
This photo is so us. By Shanna.
"Hmf. I don't think so," I said. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be.
"Well, your alcohol tolerance goes down when you don't drink, and you also have no body fat to buffer it with," he said. Which was true. He spoke from experience.
I just grinned. I know my body and I just had a feeling.
We talked about other food-related things while I worked out. Cupcakes, coworkers bringing all sorts of goodies that made things even more challenging (there had been an endless stream of junk food at work the previous weekend), the Rita's commercial on the radio that made me turn it off every time it came on, and how your body's reaction to and tolerance for certain foods changes post-show once you start re-introducing them, like salt and sugar. I'm mentioning the conversation because it was here that I finally decided what I really wanted after the show: I wanted two cream-stuffed oatmeal raisin cookies from Wegman's bakery; a chicken enchilada from Cacique; a frozen custard from Rita's; a smoothie (half cider, half Guinness) from our favorite Irish pub + their eggs benedict for brunch; and a hefeweizen from Brewer's Alley. That was it. I also mapped out the timing for all of those things in my head: I had every intention of having ALL of them in one day.
I was wrong.
|This was only half of the stuff I needed to take.|
Carlos said he felt like he lived in a sorority house with the amount of makeup I was amassing.
The entire show still cost less than an endurance ride with two horses.
I woke up extra early that Friday morning so I could shave every last bit of hair from my body. Arms, legs, errythang: per competition tanning company directions, shaving is preferred to waxing as prep for the tan and it should be done 8 hours prior to the appointment at the very least. Waxing is more likely to cause adverse reactions and irritation. All hair needs to be removed because otherwise it will trap the...the...paint, is what it really is, and make it look uneven. Next up that morning was my last pre-show session with Trainer. I think we worked arms...I honestly don't remember because by then my brain was a constant buzz-buzz-buzz of "I need to do this and this and then this and then that. Oh, and I can't forget that! Nor that. OMG..." We discussed a game plan for the next day, which would be discussed in further detail at the show. I informed him that I was NOT doing two hours of cardio on this last day, and he said that was fine...and then he crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked at me with a raised eyebrow, "You're not going horseback riding instead, are you?"
You'd think he knew me. I burst out laughing because I had not been expecting that one...mainly because for once the thought hadn't even crossed my mind! (I had been tempted in the past to sub riding for cardio, but I was always good: I'd either do both or just cardio. He knew about the horses but I had never confessed to wanting to sub riding for cardio. I hadn't had the energy or time to ride for the last month even if I'd wanted to.) In this case I just had too much last-minute shit to get done, which I explained. I also ended up telling him about the Birthday Curse: for the last 3 years, there have been serious horse-related accidents around my birthday. In 2014, Carlos bashed his knee on a tree at full gallop and he had to take 3 months off work while it healed. We thought he was going to be permanently crippled. In 2015, Lily ran away with the hitching post, gouged her left hind with a screw in the process, and needed emergency surgery + a week-long hospital stay on IV antibiotics at New Bolton in PA. In 2016, we had the encounter with quicksand where I got dumped on ground so hard it also took me 3 months to make a full recovery. So this year I had decided to not do anything with the girls in July at all. In fact, on this particular week I hadn't even taken them out of the field for grooming/feeding. I'd simply gone out to the pasture to pat them on the neck, make sure all 4 legs were attached, and told them I loved them and we would regroup in August. The fact that the show fell on my birthday had basically guaranteed that I would be too busy to even want to think of riding around this date.
"Maybe this will be a new tradition then," Trainer said. Maybe. :)
I said good-bye, then headed to the gym to do my last one hour of cardio pre-show, and then rushed home to shower so I could get my hair cut. I then sped back the apartment to finish leaving stuff packed for the next day: my spray tan that afternoon was at 4:45 pm and the entire thing would take close to an hour. At 6:00 pm I had to check in for the show, and then at 8:00 pm was the competitor meeting (like an endurance ride briefing, if you will.) All of this was in Baltimore, at the hotel next to where the show would take place the next day, which meant close to an hour's drive each way: we would be returning home late that night and I wanted to leave everything as ready as I could so I could just go to sleep when we returned home.
Thanks to my dehydration-and-zero-carb-induced "Fuck it" mentality, my anxiety about the spray tan had completely disappeared. I was scheduled to start carb loading either just before or right after the tan, and had packed food in order to be able to do so.
And that is when I stepped for real for the first time into the world of bodybuilding.
I was wearing a tank top and shorts that showed off the work I'd put in the last few months, and carrying a bag with a change of loose clothes for later. I walked into a room where a guy that was very obviously competing the next day was checking people in for their tans. He was completely intimidating in appearance but I grinned when I saw he was eating plain chicken and diced potatoes: yup, someone else was carb loading. He was actually really nice: I was recognized as a competitor without hesitation and he found my name on the client sheet. My wrist got stamped and I was directed where to go next.
I got in line in a room where there were various small pods and so began one of the most bizarre experiences I have ever had in my life. I was really glad I had researched the crap out of all of this, because I actually knew what to expect. Even then, it was quite strange to experience as a first-timer.
I was directed to a pod (called a "dry pod") where I was to strip down to nothing. Yup: nothing. Completely naked. I could leave my things in this pod because I would not be tanned here. A very kind woman that also looked like a competitor came over once I was in my birthday suit and carefully applied lotion to my knees and toenails, and gave me lotion for my palms, nails and elbows: this is to prevent tan uptake. I then stood completely naked except for a shower cap on my hair in my dry pod until I was called over to the pod where I would be sprayed.
Oh yeah: there were at least 8 dry pods in a semi-circle, all facing one another. So you got to stand naked in front of other female competitors who were getting ready for their spray tans or drying after being sprayed: there was a constant influx and outflux of
very fit women. I had been expecting this. But as I joked later: in one go, I probably tripled the number of people that have seen me naked.
It was finally my turn. The two pods where we were sprayed faced wall-to-wall windows that overlooked the Baltimore Bay below. It was a spectacular view...and I was completely naked in front of it, staring down at the water and the city below from the 6th floor where we were located. (It was one-way glass, but still!)
A woman in protective gear then methodically sprayed just about every square inch of my body (and I mean *every square inch*) with an air brush. Her and her helper asked me if I was new to competing and I said yes. They started joking around about the awkwardness of meeting all these people for the first time without a lick of clothing on, and I burst out laughing: both of them were very sweet and hysterically funny and they made me feel at ease.
Two coats of tan later, I was standing in my dry pod with a small fan pointed at me, holding very still except for occasionally turning to allow the fan to dry the tan. It really felt like paint on my skin: it was sticky and you had to hold your arms out to the sides like a cormorant drying its wings after a dive so you wouldn't smudge the tan before it dried.
|Like so. I was also maybe only two shades lighter than this bird as well.|
The same kind lady that had applied the lotion to my nails stopped by to see if my tan was dry, placing a gloved hand against my back. It was still sticky but it was declared dry. She then used a legit feather duster to lightly dust me all over with this magical powder that I'm guessing was supposed to help set the tan. The feather duster felt amazing.
I then slipped into my loose clothes sans underwear (because underwear will also smudge the tan) and walked back to the elevators to ride down to the hotel lobby. A hotel lobby full mostly of normal people coming and going that gave me funny looks as I walked by. I beamed brilliantly at them: I was honest-to-God loving my "I really don't care" mood.
When Carlos saw me he did a double-take. "Well, now you REALLY look Puerto Rican!" he said.
I couldn't stop giggling. Between my awesome chilled-out mental state and how dark my skin was, I felt like I was in a borrowed body and was loving every second of it far more than I ever imagined. I had actually thought I would hate the end of the process, but it felt more like getting ready to burst out of a cocoon turned into a butterfly.
Carlos rode back up in the elevator with me for the check-in. I filled out the paper for my NPC card and then walked into a room full of uber-fit, super dark people, where I picked up the next day's schedule, my competitor pass (!!), and my competitor number. My height was then measured to make sure I had chosen the correct height divisions (I had.) And then I was done.
We then sat down in the lobby to wait for the competitor meeting. We had about an hour and a half to go. I did not have an appetite at all at this point, but I ate the salmon and white rice I had brought with me. The case of sillies that I had over how I looked was not going to go away for the entire weekend.
|It looked kind of natural in photos...until you take a second look and realize how LIGHT my teeth and my highlights look against my skin!|
I then looked down in the light and realized that the spray tan sparkled. It SPARKLED!!
|"I'M LIKE A TWILIGHT VAMPIRE!" I squealed. "A REALLY REALLY DARK ONE!"|
I then just about melted in laughter. I was having way, way too much fun with this. A lot more fun than I had ever expected.
The hotel was attached to a mall, which Carlos went out to explore. I was comfortable hanging out in the lobby with people of what was now my same species walking by every once in awhile, but I was not comfortable wandering out into the mall where I would be out of context. So I sat in the lobby reading until Carlos returned.
And then it was time for the competitor's meeting. Unlike endurance ride meetings, this was the most humongous waste of time ever. They told us how the different classes would be spread out on stage the next day (they rushed through it through it so fast, it took them all of 3 minutes and I was like, "But what about those of us that are clueless...??" Oh well. I was not the only one with a confused look on her face, but everyone seemed afraid to ask questions), explained how to get our pro photos after the show, and then spent the next 15 minutes advertising future shows. And then we were dismissed. I was annoyed that we had waited so long for something so useless but whatever.
When you go to get spray tanned at a salon, you're supposed to remove the developer by showering shortly afterwards. Not here: water was not supposed to touch me until after the show to deliberately leave that developer on. Hence why the tan was even darker by the time we got home.
|I walked into the bathroom and went, "OH MY GOD!" It was so very, very dark.|
More laughter ensued. I seriously did not recognize this body. But hey: check out my 6-pack in my newfound darkness! It was visible without having to flex! ;D
I left all my food and supplies for the next day ready to go, organized my makeup in a way that made sense, and finished carb loading...I was still not hungry and realized I had planned my afternoon-to-evening carb loading poorly: I had to get 100 grams of carbs in before going to bed along with the remaining allotted protein required, which was ultimately a ton of food. Like literally 1/3 of my daily calorie requirement. I groaned over my brain fart, ate my food, and crawled into bed at midnight. We had to wake up at 6:00 am to haul ass back to Baltimore: my last coat of spray tan would be applied between 8:00 and 8:45 am.
Up next: Show time!!!!!