USSF Fall Classic and USSF Nationals meets were a study in contrasts for me. Outwardly the challenge was the same: three attempts at each of three lifts: squat, overhead press, deadlift. The internal reality I created for myself around each of these situations, however, was radically different. And just as the opening lines of Dickens famous novel point out, the determination that “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times …” depends largely on context.
Leading up to the Fall Classic, I was on a roll with my favorite lift, the deadlift, hitting PRs (Personal Record) every week in training. As the weight on the bar continued to increase, my coaches and I started speculating about how much I might pull at the meet. In weightlifting, as with most endeavors, there are milestones, and a 300# Deadlift, a lift of more than 2.5 times my bodyweight, started to seem like an entirely reasonable goal for me for Fall Classic. As the weight on the bar continued to increase in training, that goal started to become “a thing” in my head. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, getting nervous and jittery before deadlift training sessions. Those pre-training nerves rapidly turned into a frequent and overbearing companion, something obsessive really. At a certain point, my body rebelled; it stopped deadlifting. One week I pulled 3×280# with back off sets, and the next week I couldn’t get 270# off the ground. That tripped my mental shenanigans into full-blown mind fuckery. Any thoughts of deadlifting, which were nearly constant, caused my heart rate to rise and my stomach to feel queasy. Predictably this affected the quality of my sleep and my ability to eat like a normal person, which translated into lighter and lighter deadlifts. I’m pretty sure I must have been unbearable to my friends; I certainly was unbearable to myself. My training mutated from something fun and challenging into something unhealthy and bitter. I had given up family time to train, and I felt like I had to do well to justify that time. I felt like my dedication entitled me to a 300# deadlift and I was annoyed that my body and mind were “betraying” me. It was messed up, and I knew it.
I started asking friends how they managed meet jitters and anxiety. In my experience, I’ve learned there’s a sizeable mental component to a successful lift, but up to that point, I hadn’t actively done anything to train that aspect of the work. I got some great tips and reading recommendations, including Lanny Bassham’s “With Winning in Mind”. In the last few days before the Fall Classic, I completely reworked my thought process around the meet. I redefined success for me in the meet from an outcome to the process: from a 300# deadlift to finding fun in the moment, staying calm and self-assured, and focusing on using the best form I could for each of the lifts. I developed a mantra to accompany my set-up, so I could keep my thoughts in check as I approached the bar and executed my lifts. Since the meet was just days away and I was supposed to be resting, I practiced my set-up with the mantra mentally, rather than physically. And slowly, I felt my body and mind shift. My heart stopped racing and my stomach stopped lurching when I thought about the meet. My jitters dissipated. I became more bearable … to myself anyway.
The morning of the meet, I felt surprisingly calm. A friend texted to send good wishes and my honest reply was that I had already won because I’d beaten my anxiety. And truthfully, the whole day, I was calm and positive and had fun. My squat form was better than it had been previously in training; my press was solid, and my good deadlift form reappeared. In my coach’s words, my deadlift was not bad considering I had “essentially stopped deadlifting for the last month”.
After the meet, rather than hide in the comfort of the squat rack at Fivex3, I wanted to take an immersion therapy approach to my anxiety; to give myself more opportunities to face and manage what freaked me out until it no longer scared me. My friend Craig had signed up for the USSF Nationals meet in California, and encouraged me to do so also. I had a million reasons why that wouldn’t work: too expensive, too far away, a whole weekend away from my family, too selfish, can’t sleep in strange places. I listed all these reasons to my husband, and then finished with a quiet “but I still really want to do it.” Incredibly, his response was “I know. Let’s figure out how we can make it happen.” Those two sentences changed everything. Instead of feeling like I was stealing family time for a selfish endeavor, instead of feeling like I needed to “have something to show for myself” after taking time from them, I realized my family was giving me a gift: the opportunity and the support to chase after something meaningful to me. The only proper response in that situation is gratitude, and grounding oneself in gratitude alters everything. My training became joyful and positive again. I continued with what was working for me: focusing on the process and what I could control and letting the outcome take care of itself, including an affirmative mantra in my set-up, talking about the positives in my training and not wasting words or energy on the rest, encouraging other people, and keeping a balanced perspective.
We cobbled together frequent flyer miles and points and favors to plan a family trip to Lake Tahoe, where my husband and kids could ski with my cousins while I competed in the meet. Nothing about the circumstances allowed me to forget how fortunate, how blessed, I was to have that opportunity. Gratitude wholly and completely overwhelmed my emotional landscape in the days leading up to the meet; there was no room for anxiety or nerves. On the day of the meet, I had a blast. I met some incredible people; I mastered my anxiety; I had tons of fun, and I lifetime PRd on all three lifts. I even came home with two medals. And the icing on the cake, although it didn’t meet competition standards (my grip slipped on the reset), was that my third attempt deadlift was 137 kilograms (302#)!