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

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 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


  1. "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"
    ^This has been my approach recently (and it's WORKING). I have tried and failed on so many diet and fitness plans, but counting calories (and just starting to work on macros) is working so well for me without feeling hungry or craving anything or giving up if I "cheat" here or there.

    I am so glad you ended up back under Tony's instruction. The whole story with the other Coach made me SO MAD on your behalf. I get that that's probably how it works in the competition world (much like with horse showing!) but it still made my blood boil. Glad you have a supportive trainer who is willing to respect your boundaries while helping you reach your goals. Excited to read the rest!

    1. Moderation is a fantastic approach. When I first moved in with Carlos, it was a joy to be able to just enjoy ALL food. When I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, I realized that I stopped craving "bad" foods all the time. I just naturally reached for what made me feel good, which was usually the healthier things anyway. But if I really wanted cake or chocolate or ice cream or a beer, I had them. We didn't keep them in the house though: if we wanted them badly enough to leave the house to go get them, then we would get them. And it was fine; it is a strategy that we've kept to this day. I dropped around 10 lbs during that time because I finally stopped the mentality of "This is the last time I can ever allow myself to eat this."

      Macros are fascinating. I go into quite a bit of detail about them in my upcoming posts because they got played with LOTS during this process. MyFitnessPal is AWESOME for tracking both calories and macros; even in the free version of the app you can set your target macros so it's easier to track them. I wouldn't have been able to do it without that app. It has an enormous database; even some of the recipes I make are already on there.

      Coach was something else. My original post about her was not very kind, but she really was an essential part of the journey. Regarding Tony: I only worked out with him twice before moving on to working with Trainer at Tony's recommendation. It was the best recommendation ever though, and Tony gets all the credit for that. Trainer has been to my fitness what Ron back in the day was to my showjumping. :D

    2. MyFitnessPal is what I've been using, so I'm glad to hear you've had success with it :)

    3. Very much so! I've been using it for the last two years to track everything. It stores all of the information you enter, so it's been really useful for being able to look back at specific moments (like when prepping for an endurance ride) to see what worked and what didn't. :)

  2. Just found your blog! I was never strong and had twiggy, pencil arms all my life until I found CF. I did that for 2 years, and now work with a coach doing CF-style stuff, but it's soooo much fun. The nutrition stuff, while not nearly as fun as, say, Olympic lifting, is fascinating, too. My body is completely unrecognizable from even 5 years ago. Good luck with the training!

    1. Welcome to the blog KC! :D CF is amazing. It frightens me too much to want to try it, but anyone that does CF or anything similar to it has my full respect! Exercise and sports nutrition are an amazing thing when done together correctly. I think they're the only two subjects I read more about than horses even! :)