Don’t Dream of Winning: Train for it

I made it! After almost 7 months of training, I’m ready for the powerlifting competition on Saturday 20 July. Last week I completed my final week of heavy lifting and this week is all about the de-load 🙂 . I’m looking forward to a lighter training schedule, good food and lots of sleep.

Powerlifting has been a very big part of my life for the last 7 months and it’ll leave a big pair of shoes to fill. I’m not sure whether I’ll continue to powerlift (it’s got to the point that it’s not helping with running, rather I’m carrying extra muscle weight that gets in the way a bit), but I’ll certainly keep lifting in some form or other. Of course, I’ve learned to say ‘Never say never’, so I’ll just let things take their natural course for now and see what appears on the horizon 🙂 .

In the last couple of weeks I’ve managed to set a personal record in each of the 3 lifts:

Deadlift: 110kg
Back squat: 75kg (in spite of backing off because of pelvic floor issues)
Bench press: 47kg

For me, that’s enough to be a good outcome for this adventure – regardless of what happens in the competition on Saturday.  The main thing for me at the weekend is to get three solid opening lifts (so I get a score) and, more than that, to be completely present to the aliveness of the whole experience (yeah – I think this event is going to be brilliant on the ‘feeling completely alive’ front 😉 ). I’m going to focus on enjoying the day, enjoying meeting (and supporting) other competitors and enjoying experiencing the unique atmosphere of a powerlifting competition. If I can keep that focus, and enjoy the rewards of my training (while respecting the safety limits my body is currently communicating to me), I’ve won.

When I entered the powerlifting competition back in January, I weighed 57.1kg (bringing me – just – into the W63 M2 category). My sprinting adventure drove my weight down into the low 55s to start with, but now I’m fluctuating between 56.5kg and 57.5kg. I have until Wednesday morning to confirm my final weight category (W57 or W63) – and that’s the only thing I need to take care of right now. My kit is ‘broken in’ and ready to go. The training is done (I didn’t miss a single session, although I did get an extra de-load week to support my 400m/800m adventure). My head is in the right place.  As we say in Ballymoney (all the time🤣 ): Thunderbirds are go.  And the bonus for me is that I’m the oldest lifter in the competition! I think that’s pretty cool 😎.

In today’s video-blog, I talk about the upcoming competition. If you think my eyes look weird, it’s because I’m just out of the pool!

Right. I’ve got lots of admin to do for work today so I’m going to listen to BBC Radio 4 while I do that. There’s a programme on called ‘Worth Her Weight‘ and I think it’ll be just the thing for me because the description says  ‘ […] offers a rare glimpse into the Strong Man world: a male-dominated place that’s starting to open its doors to women.’ After that, I’m just going outside and I may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Clouds and Silver Linings

[Photo credit: Stephen Lee]

The 29 June 2019 was marked as a big day on my adventure calendar: it was to be the day I competed at the NI Masters Track & Fields Championships in Belfast – my second sortie into the world of ‘fast’. It didn’t happen. The championships happened, right enough, but I didn’t make it – and I didn’t make it due to the thing runners fear the most: injury. (You can read about my first sortie into the world of track and field at the Midland Masters T&F Championships here.)

As an endurance athlete, with a running career spanning more than 30 years, I’ve been really lucky. I had a mountaineering accident that knocked me out of action for a couple of years in the mid 90s while I waited for knee surgery (the treated knee has ended up being stronger than my untreated knee 🤣). I also had an Achilles niggle during my ultra-running training about 10 years ago (nothing that a good sports massage and careful training didn’t handle: I still managed to race without an issue). Apart from that, it’s all been good.

My racing spikes 🙂

Two weeks ago I went along to the Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club for the normal Tuesday track session. It was a toughy: 6 x 400m at 5 seconds more than best race pace. It was only the third time I’d worn a set of spikes and really I should have changed into my flats and done the speed work in those instead. But I didn’t change into them and come the end of the session, both Achilles were sore and my feet were hurting. (I don’t have the ideal biomechanics for spikes anyway: flat feet that pronate and are used to stability shoes – and used to heel-striking – have a fair bit of work to do to adapt to spikes, which offer little in the way of support and motion control!)

On the Wednesday morning I couldn’t walk. I self-massaged and dipped my feet and ankles in both hot and iced water. In the weeks since the injury I’ve kept active too, maintaining my hard-earned speed with spin classes (I love spin classes – basically, high intensity interval training on wheels – and the classes at Causeway Route-2-Fitness are super), CrossFit (taking out all jumping and running) and weight-training.  Last Friday I went to see Jonny Whiteman, a brilliant sports massage therapist who had helped me with my back a few months ago. He established that there was no rupture or bursa issue (on the upside), but that the championships were out (on the downside). 60 minutes of dry needling (which is as painful as it sounds and I was doing quite a bit of yelping, I can tell ya 🤪) and armed with a series of exercises to rehab my right tendon (the left had looked after itself), I found myself in new territory: 6 months training for this adventure under my belt but a full 400m/800m adventure ban in place.

My reaction to this situation has been of interest to me. 10 or 20 years ago, I might have seen this as a disaster. However, even though I am getting older by the day (and menopause and this so-called oldness means my tendons are less elastic and may not recover so quickly), my thoughts went straight to a new question: ‘Well, what can I do instead?’

While I’m rehabbing (could be weeks, could be months, but I can start back with short bursts of gentle running in the near future if things continue the way they are), I’m going to keep up the spin classes. They’re social, they’re tough and they’re good for my running fitness. My twice-weekly recovery swims can turn into actual training sessions, and CrossFit and weight-training are all doable (even if I have to scale the programming). Thinking about my running, all being well, I’ll get to try cross-country in the autumn, and that will be an adventure. There’s also an indoor track season as an option too – but I’ll need a plan for transitioning to spikes in a healthy way, I think.

I think that taking a winter season to allow my body to fully adapt to the demands of a track season is probably the best way to go, so I’m going to commit to that. I’m also going to get myself into good 5k and 10k shape. That’ll help with the cross-country season and I’ll also get the chance to road-race with my dad again (which I haven’t done for years). The last time I raced at 10k distance was in Coventry in the late 90s – my very first race!

So, I’ve adjusted my adventure map a little and I have to say the new territory is looking rather good 😎, although there is another cloud on the horizon. The rookie powerlifting competition is on 20 July and my legs and backside are bulking up rightly 🤣. I’ve been following the training programme to the letter and have been amazed at what my old-dog body has been able to do, but I think I’m beginning to reach my limits.

Progress on the bench press has slowed down (with my as-long-as-legs arms, this lift was always going to be a bit of a challenge!), but my deadlift and bench press have been solid in their upward trend. However (and it’s a really big however that I’m not going to ignore), my pelvic floor seems to have reached its threshold. The menopause (along with a host of other life events – like having children) can lead to a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. I’d say that mine are (or rather were) in good shape (although when skipping comes up on the CrossFit programme, I always hope for less than 100 skips … after that, well, you know 🤣). I do my pelvic floor exercises regularly, I’m not overweight and I’m physically active – but powerlifting is a whole different order of stress and my body is making it quite clear that going much further will only end in tears. Well, tears are obviously a very polite metaphor 😎.

Taking the positives from my powerlifting adventure: I’m much stronger than I was and I’d put money on my bones being super dense. It’s taught me to challenge what I believe is possible for my ectomorphic body (which, actually, doesn’t really look that ectomorphic any more!) and supported a new level of body confidence. I’ll still be competing on 20 July, but I may not be lifting to my full potential – or even the weights that I’ve been lifting recently. For back squats and deadlifts, I’ve gone back 3 weeks in the schedule to the point at which I didn’t have a problem. I hope this helps me to rebuild a bit of confidence in my pelvic flooor, gives my pelvic floor a bit of time to recover and helps me to feel competition-ready. And there’s always the demon bench press to hurl myself at – even if I just make it to 47kg, that will be something to celebrate!

So, this old dog maybe has to come to terms with the parts of her that are actually old! But there are workarounds. There are plenty of other adventures to be had. And both the 400m/800m and powerlifting adventures have opened new doors. Come the winter, I’ll be looking to integrate a track-specific weight-training programme into my run training, and I’ve absolutely no doubt that my powerlifting adventure will have built a more-than-solid F1 chassis for any future speed adventures!

Right, then. My tail’s still wagging. I may be an old dog, by I’m still a puppy at heart! I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

White Lights

One of the biggest challenges of my #OldDogNewTricks year of adventure is project management! For the first three adventures, I’ve had to prepare for each simultaneously: I started preparing for my musical theatre adventure, my track adventure (400m/800m) and powerlifting adventure in January.

Whilst my musical theatre adventure was done and dusted in April, my first track adventure takes place this weekend (9 June). All well and good, you might think 😉 .However, the small spanner in the works is that I’m less than 7 weeks out from the rookie powerlifting competition. This has meant that getting ready for my upcoming track races (including the NI Masters Champs at the end of June) is clashing head on with an increasingly heavy (literally 😂) powerlifting training load.

Result? I’m whacked. To be more precise, I’m REALLY whacked during the first week of every new powerlifting mesocycle. (Each mesocycle is a 4-week schedule with a very heavy first week, a moderate second week, a heavy third week , and a light fourth or de-load week). I’ve just come to the end of the first week of a new cycle, so I’m definitely feeling it a bit. With my first track races this weekend, I’m getting in as much recovery as I can. Basically, this means as much sleep as I can take (which is about 10 hours at the moment: 9 hours at night and 30-60 minutes kip late afternoon if I’m working from home). It also means as much food as I can take (which is 4000 – 5000 calories a day at the moment); and it means a strategic lightening of the training load (which means that I’ve front-loaded my moderate powerlifting week so all my lifts will be done by tomorrow lunchtime. It also means a slightly lighter run load).

On top of the physical training load is the psychological training load. Last week I learned how to get out of the blocks and got some track experience in my spikes to build a little racing confidence. This took a huge psychological weight off my mind. On Sunday, I’ll be focusing on enjoying the experience and getting a feel for what an athletics meet is really like: all useful for ‘peaking’ at the NI Masters Championships at the end of June 😎. (Listen, if you’re reading this and you’re competing at the Masters T&F Championships in Belfast at the end of June, don’t worry. My peak will be nothing like your peak: I just want to get off that track alive 🤣 ! And without getting disqualified 😱)

Psychological preparations have also started for the rookie powerlifting competition. Paul Cullen, my powerlifting coach (who holds two current weightlifting world records: behind- the- head military press and push press from the rack), ran an evening seminar for CrossFit Causeway lifters competing in the July competition. During this session, the five of us who are going to compete learned all about platform etiquette, how to work out what to go for for the three attempts at each lift, what the commands are for each lift, warm-up etiquette, weigh-in protocols and how you know whether you ‘got’ the lift. There’ll be three judges on the platform and what competitors will be hoping for is three white lights (and a minimum of two).

Knowing how things will work on the day helps me to stop worrying about all the things I don’t know (because I have a better sense of those things now) and put all that energy into training. Being prepared suits me 🙂 . Being inspired also helps me with my preparations. And last Friday Gail (my powerlifting training buddy) and I got a surprise mega-dose of inspiration after our CrossFit workout.

Ricky (L) and Eugene (R)

Gail and I take our training very seriously 😉

Northern Irish powerlifting legends Ricky Mullan and Eugene Currie popped into the box to train. Gail and I were thrilled when they took a bit of time out and had a chat with us. Gail got some top tips about tightening her belt and her wrist wraps (and, let me tell you, those things aren’t comfortable! My belt bruises my ribs every time I wear it 😱). When Ricky said I was probably a good deadlifter, it was really lovely to feel a sense of ‘belonging’ to the powerlifting community. To look at me, you might not take me for a powerlifter at all – and yet here was a great powerlifter ‘seeing’ the powerlifter in me. His words really helped to make me start to take myself more seriously as a lifter – and to feel more possibility too.  (I have pretty long everything, which isn’t that great for bench-pressing or back-squatting. Here’s an interesting wee factoid: my arms are actually as long as Gail’s legs! My old-lady back squats are improving, thanks to my knee sleeves which really help my old-lady knees 😉 But my super-long arms and super-long back are just perfect for deadlifting. )

So, here I am with 5 months of training under my belt. I’m running faster. I’m lifting heavier, and – most importantly of all – I’m feeling more connected to the world, and more alive, than ever before. If the world were watching me, I reckon I’d be getting 3 white lights right now!

Right. I think I need a little lie down, so I’m just going outside and may be some time 😉 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Chatty Woman Goes to Cookstown

You’ve probably worked out by now that ‘organisation’ is my middle name! I don’t think I’d be able to adventure so, well … er, adventurously 😉  (and fulfil the rest of my daily commitments) without lots of up-front planning.

Getting in shape for my upcoming burlesque workshop! (I did weighted pull-ups last week 🙂 )

Next weekend (19 May) sees the arrival of my much anticipated burlesque adventure. I’ve spent the last week digging around in my ‘dressing up box’ to make sure I’m suitably equipped to get the most out of the experience. I’m going all out for this adventure, I reckon: the feather boa’s coming along (as are the all-the-way-up-the-arm gloves, the ridiculously high heels and other ‘unspeakable accessories’ 😉 ).

The burlesque outfit is very much in contrast to the powerlifting accoutrements I purchased in Cookstown yesterday. Even though the powerlifting competition isn’t until July, I need to get used to lifting in knee sleeves, wrist wraps and a belt – and I definitely need to break the belt in! (Scroll down for a wee ‘show and tell’ video blog 😉 )

Whilst I could have ordered the powerlifting kit online, I wasn’t sure about my size so I drove over to Performance Nutrition Plus in Cookstown who stock NIPF-approved gear.

Here’s Dana doing her thing!

I’m so glad I decided to get myself over to Cookstown. The folk at Performance Nutrition Plus are super friendly and totally in-the-know. I was looked after by Dana Suitor, who just happens to hold the current NI bench press record  (under-23; 72 kg class): an impressive 80kg! Dana is also representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in Canada this September. (Athletes don’t receive any financial support to attend the championships, by the way. If you’d like to support Dana, do visit her GoFundMe page here. #LetsGetDanaToCanada 🙂 )

You’ll know from previous posts that I’m quite the chatter. Dana is also a chatter! It was so inspiring to hear about her powerlifting journey and I loved the way she treated me as a fellow strength athlete (even though I’m only a rookie!). She asked about my own training and gave me lots of encouragement. Like a good tailor, she was able to estimate both my weight and kit-size by eye alone; and she spent lots of time showing me how to put the kit on and making sure the fit was spot on. I’d say Dana is a fabulous ambassador for the sport.

Dana is 30 years younger than me and it was brilliant having one of those across-the-generations moments with her. She’s got incredible focus, energy and something that I’ve noticed in other adventurers I’ve met along the way: a special kind of ‘denseness’or solidity.  Of course, Dana is physically dense and solid (she’s obviously very strong and muscular), but I’m not really talking about that kind of ‘denseness’ or solidity. I’m talking about the kind of denseness and solidity that comes with being totally present, totally in-the-game and all-in. I’m taking about the kind of denseness and solidity that comes with enthusiasm, passion and dedication. I’m talking about the kind of denseness and solidity that is present when who someone is (their identity) is in complete alignment with what they do.

In my experience, this kind of ‘denseness’ is quite rare, but I’ve found plenty of pockets of it since starting my #OldDogNewTricks project. I see it at the CrossFit box. I see it in the young people waiting for their music lessons (when I’m waiting for my lesson). I saw it at the 5K race I recently competed in.

When the ‘denseness’ isn’t there, I experience people like ghosts – only partially present and sometimes not present at all!

Anyway, on that philosophical note I’ll leave you to watch my video blog. And while you’re watching that, I’ll start wearing that belt in!

I’m just going outside and may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

 

A Wee Purple Patch!

This is what 100kg looks like

It’s just been one of those weeks, the kind where the stars are all in the right place 🙂 .

Last night I went to CrossFit in a buoyant mood, the buzz of the recent 5K race still in my body. I was looking forward to the session because it included deadlifts.  This lift is one of the three that’ll be included in my powerlifting adventure in July and my training schedule has just upped a notch. (To be honest, when I looked at the new schedule I was nearly sick! Fortunately, the algorithm on the training spreadsheet hadn’t been tweaked to my personal settings. Once I had tweaked it, I didn’t feel soooooo sick, but the numbers still looked challenging!)

During last night’s session I had to lift 100kg (15 3/4 stone) – that’s just shy of twice my own body weight! I’ve never lifted 100kg before, but last night I did it and established a new 1RM (one rep max). Unfortunately, I don’t have a video or picture of me doing it, but I can tell you that as soon as that rep was done I was shouting ‘one hundred!’ and leaping around (and ringing the bell, which is what happens when you establish a new personal record).

If you don’t know what a deadlift is, here’s how it’s done:

This morning I was back in ‘the box’ practising split jerks. The focus was on working out which our lead leg was by experimenting with both legs (mine turned out to be my left). We also worked on dropping lower below the bar and on speed. You can see from the video below that I could probably drop a bit lower! Videoing practice sessions can help see where tweaks can be made:

Right, I think I’ve earned a wee rest. I am just going outside and may be some time. ( (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂