Saturday, May 18, 2019

My Journey to a NPC Bikini Competition: Part Three (The Show)

This might wind up being an emotional post.  I'm just going to be open and raw with my feelings because that's what I always do and it seems to be what resonates with people the most.  Please remember how hard it is to be vulnerable and why I never even wanted to share this journey in the first place.  

So Tracey and I left Friday afternoon for Columbus, OH where my competition was being held  The plan was to check into the hotel, freshen up and then head to check in at the competition.  After check-in, I'd get my spray tan.  

When we got to the competition to check in, there really weren't a lot of people there.  There weren't too many people to "size up" if you will.  However, when we got back to the hotel for the spray tan, I saw LOTS of competitors IN THE FLESH (literally).  Yep you're all naked in one room. I felt violated.  Ha! But it is what it is and I survived.  

Shortly after the spray tan, we went back to the room where I ate COLD cod and sweet potatoes because I was too lazy to go find a microwave.  My mantra was "food is fuel."  Tracey and I talked until almost 11 pm and then I fell right to sleep and slept the whole night.  

When we got up, I got right to business prettying myself. Once all the hair and makeup was done I put on the suit and walked out to show Tracey.  She captured the moment.  

I do have to say when I put the suit on with the tan I felt amazing.  I looked at myself in the mirror and I almost couldn't believe it was me.  I felt super proud of my body and to be honest, I felt pretty.  When we got to the venue for the show I started eyeing up all the other ladies.  I mean it's only natural.  I thought seeing the other women would make me feel uneasy or underprepared but the more I was there and the more competitors I saw, my confidence never waned.  

Let me tell you a little something about Tracey.  With Tracey you get what you see.  She's a no bullshit kind of gal. You'll always know exactly where you stand with her because she's not afraid to speak the truth. TO YOUR FACE!  It's one of the things that make her a great coach (and an awesome friend).  So when Tracey told me I was IN it... I could hold my own amongst these ladies, I knew I wasn't delusional and I actually fit in.  Tracey built me up so much throughout my journey and obviously on show day.  She was a constant support system to me through the entire process.  She was the perfect person to have with me on show day.  

The morning went really fast and before I knew it everyone had out their bands and were getting their "pump" on.  I dare you all to try to do banded pull throughs in a thong (not pictured). It's not easy. 

Next thing I knew they were calling out all the True Novice (those who have NEVER done an NPC show) competitors into the hallway. It was real. We were getting ready to go on stage.  

I competed in 4 different divisions.  True Novice,  Masters (35 plus), Novice (never won a show) and open Bikini (all competitors).  The hope of entering different divisions is increasing your chances of placing.  I originally only entered in True Novice and Masters but the day before decided to add Novice and Open just to see where I stacked up among ALL the ladies. 

I have to tell you, when I envisioned this day the 14,782 times I envisioned it,  I envisioned myself being paralyzed by fear.  I pictured myself sick with nerves, shaking and scared.  When it came down to it, I wasn't any of those things.  I was calm, I was happy and I was extremely confident.  I felt amazing and I just wanted to go out on that stage and show just how amazing I felt.  

True Novice competitors

When you walk out with your division you walk out with 5 to 6 ladies competing.  You all do your "front pose," turn to the back and then back to front.  Then you go to the side and the next 5 to 6 come out and do the same thing.  Then they call you all one-by-one to do your posing routine yourself.  Again, front pose, side, back, and back to front.  I wasn't overly confident about my posing.  I didn't take any posing classes.  I went out there and did the best I could but I really messed up when I turned from back to front.  I fidgeted and then just popped a hip and did my front pose. Ugh.  But I didn't much care.  It wasn't a total embarrassment.  It was just not how I had practiced it.  

After each individual does their posing routine the judges call out 5 people (the front runners) that they'd like to see side by side.  Basically if you don't make it to call outs you're probably not going to place.  I didn't get called for call outs and I did feel a little disappointed.  

After the True Novice division, Tracey came backstage and told me I did great.  She reminded me again that I was "in this" and doing great.  She seemed so happy and pumped for me.  She gave me one pointer about my back pose and then rushed back to see me go on with the 35+ (Masters) division.  


I honestly don't remember my posing for Masters.  It's almost like I question if I even did it but I'm fairly certain I did.  The reason it's even a question is because after masters I never had to do my posing routine again.  Once they've seen it once they don't require you to do it again.  But I swear I did it for True Novice and Masters.  I don't know for sure. Regardless, call outs came for masters.  I felt like I had a better chance in the masters division since I wasn't going up against a bunch of young chicks.  Still I think theres a BIG difference between 35 and 44.  Just sayin'!   Alas I didn't make it to call outs for masters either.  Again, I was disappointed but I wasn't defeated.  I was still felt so, so happy. I was just beaming and I think it shows on my face.  

The next two divisions, I definitely did not do my routine.  I just stood and posed on side and froze my ass off while the other girls competing did their routines.  Of course I was there for the comparisons and I stood sandwiched between two winners. 

There's really no need to say, but I did not make it to call outs for the Open or Novice divisions.  Holy moly these girls were amazing.  Looking at the pictures, however, I don't think I stick out like a sore thumb or as "one of these things is not like the other."  I just wasn't as good as the other girls. Not good enough to make top 5 for sure.  

The four divisions took about an hour to transpire.  It was over by 11:30 am or so.  Finals started at 6 pm.  It kind of sucked to have to wait around for 6 hours all while knowing I wouldn't place.  They only award the top 5 people and because I didn't make it to call outs I knew I wouldn't be one of them.  Nevertheless, I came back and posed again and learned my fate.  I didn't place.  Shocker.  By that point I definitely wasn't disappointed anymore.  I was on a high from the day.  I had been so happy, proud and confident.  I keep using those words because that's just how I felt.  I could add amazing. 

Here are the professional photos taken of my posing. 


When finals were over and it was official I had not placed, all I cared about was eating food.  Not gonna lie.  It was my primary focus.  I grabbed a cookie and ate it.  It didn't even taste good.  I immediately had regret, but quickly forgave myself for not throwing it away after the first bad bite.

After that, Tracey and I headed to eat and I got this burger.  I ate the whole thing.  Every bite and all the fries too. It was really good and totally worth it! 

Tracey and I spent the whioe ride home talking about everything.  Tracey was convinced the judging come down to "splitting hairs."  I honestly didn't know but I did know after spending the day with ALL these women that there were some women I definitely was more competitive than.

Tracey is one of the most competitive people I know.  Her motto in life is "podium of bust" but she was ok with me not making the podium.  We knew that the results would eventually be posted and she said I should hope for top 50%.  When I got home, Ella told me it was ok that I didn't come in top 5 because for all I know I could have come in 6th place.  Maybe I thought.  Maybe I did.

So I spent the next day refreshing the screen waiting for the results.  I'm not even sure I was looking in the right spot but finally on Monday at 8:50 am I hit the refresh button and I found the results.  I was so excited to see.

True Novice:  Last Place (12th)
Masters: Last Place (10th)
Novice: Second to last place (11th)
Open: Second to last place (14th)

When I saw it, I was honestly shocked.  I didn't think nor FEEL like I came in last place.  It was the worst feeling ever.  Like my heart sank into my stomach.  I think I texted and called Tracey and she didn't answer and then I called George. I cried.  Tracey called me back shortly thereafter and she was shocked too.  Like I said, we spent ALL day with these women.  We felt like I was more competitive than several of them.  So last place stung and it stung a LOT.

I'm eager to hear the judges feedback (which takes several weeks).  Was it my posing?  Was it my back pose?  Was it my ass (not my strong suit)? I'm not sure I'll ever know exactly as I'm not sure how specific they'll be with their feedback, but I do need to know.  NEED!

I've spent this whole week feeling ALL the emotions.  Ashamed, embarrassed, stupid, let down.  Mostly I feel so disappointed because the day of the event I felt happy, proud, confident... even amazing.  Remember that?  And that was a GREAT feeling.  It was a feeling that I worked so hard for and earned.  And in the blink of an eye it was all gone.  All the positive emotions I felt were simply erased.

Despite KNOWING I should still be proud, that's just NOT how I feel. I'm still processing all my emotions and I'm not really sure where I'll end up.  I go back to the question Alex asked me... "How do you define success?"  I guess I defined it by NOT coming in last place.  The whole experience feels like a failure.  Everything I went through suddenly doesn't seem worth it.

In the words of my mother "time heals all wounds."  I'm just hoping time doesn't tell me I need to redeem myself.  NPC 2020?!?!

Friday, May 17, 2019

My Journey to a NPC Bikini Competition: Part Two (The Emotional Journey)

When I decided I wanted to do a bikini competition, I really didn't know what was in store for me emotionally.  I knew it would be tough, but I didn't know how tough.  I have no idea what people think of me but I'm not an overly confident person when it comes to my body and my athleticism.  And when I say I'm not overly confident, I pretty much mean I lack confidence at all.  I'm a slow runner.  I'm an average (at best) CrossFitter.   So when I decided to do the show, I really wanted to keep it to myself.  I didn't share with anyone but a handful of friends/family and my coaches what I was doing.  Why?  Why did I want to keep it a secret?  Well because!  Putting myself out there made me feel so vulnerable.  I wasn't sure I could do it.  I wasn't confident my body would respond.  I was afraid people would think I was vain. There were a million or so reasons.  What it boils down to is I wasn't self-assured.  I didn't want to expose myself to criticism and potential hurt.

In March, I decided to share my journey with everyone as whispers started happening around the gym.  I decided to announce on social media that I was doing the show.  I'm so glad I did.  The outpouring of support was truly remarkable.  So many people made me feel so loved and supported and, if I'm being honest, I needed it.

The thing about doing something like this is that it makes you VERY in tune with your body.  You (or at least I) evaluate every single part of your body every single day.  Every time I walked by I mirror, I  would check things out.  It wasn't even a conscious decision, but it happened.  I was constantly taking pictures to track my progress. I needed to see more than just the scale, I needed to know my body was changing.  That type of scrutinization is exhausting.  I am glad, however, that I tracked my progress with pictures because it allowed me to SEE progress when the scale was inching it's way slowly down.

There are 6 pounds difference in these pictures 
My progress in the first 13 weeks was pretty consistent.  I was right on track losing just under my goal of 1.3 pounds per week.  However, from April 5th to April 23rd I lost a whopping .7 pounds.  It was so hard to be putting in the work every single day in both the gym and the kitchen and not seeing any results.  My body was being so stubborn.  I KNOW I was doing the work so I couldn't understand why my body wasn't responding.  It was a mind game every single day.  Jess was so calm about it.  Every day we'd talk at the gym and every day she'd shrug and tell me she wasn't worried.  If she was ever worried, she didn't let on to me and thank God because if she had faltered then I would have too.  

There were days were I felt like crying (literally) and there were days were I felt like I was on a high.  I didn't know which Susan I would wake up to every single day.  Would it be strong and confident Susan or the Susan who doubted every single thing that was going on and doubted that her body would get to where it needed to be?  I'm sure dealing with me on a daily basis was a chore.  Alex and Jess constantly reassured me.  Like I said, neither of them ever wavered in their faith in me.  The believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. 

At one point Alex asked me to ask myself a tough question.  How do you define success?  I thought about this question a LOT.  Would hitting 115 pounds and 12% body fat be success?  Would just surviving prep be success?  Would getting up on stage be enough for me to feel successful?  I honestly didn't know and still, as I'm typing this, am uncertain of what defined my success.  More on this in Part 3 (the show).  I remember talking to Jess about the question too.  We talked about so many what ifs.  What if I didn't look like I belonged when I got there?  What if I came in last place?  What if... the possibilities of failure (in my mind) were endless. 

 The roller coaster of emotions that I felt EVERY SINGLE day is too much to really even put into words.  Those closest to me know how much it drained me.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to say that every waking moment my mind was occupied by prep.  Whether it was eating food, making food, thinking about food, working out or dreaming about the show... it was all consuming.  ALL THE TIME.  I remember thinking I couldn't wait til it was over so I could just stop thinking about it all the time.  Did I mention it was ALL THE TIME AND ALL CONSUMING?  I annoyed myself.  

I have so many people to thank for putting up with me.  First and foremost I have to thank George.  He is my constant and my everything.  He listened to every single hope and fear and looked at every new muscle.  He put up with me when I was hungry, scared, happy or sad.  His support was continuous throughout.  (I can't even imagine if that weren't the case.)  Except that one time during the last week of prep when he brought home pizza, wings and a calzone while I was eating egg whites.  I cried.  Literally.  Well I don't think I let the tears spill but they came to my eyes for sure.  That was mean George.  Other than that, he was my rock and just knowing he is always on my side is all I ever need. 

To my children.  They're the ones that put up with me everyday.  While I think the boys couldn't care less about what I was doing at least they didn't give me a hard time about it even when I was posting half naked pictures on the internet.  They didn't complain when I wouldn't eat out with them or when I was irritable for being just downright hungry.  They just let me live my life and never said they wished I hadn't done it.  Ella. Oh Ella!  That child.  She made me feel so amazing day in and day out.  Every day she supported and encouraged me and it meant so much to me to know she valued what I was doing and saw the hard work it took.  These children are my world and I'm so thankful they didn't give up on their mom when she was a little bit crazy!  

Of course I have to thank my coaches.  This includes Jess, Alex AND Tracey.  You hire people for a reason.  People that know what they're doing and know how to get you where you're going  Without their expertise I would not be where I am today.  Jess and Alex, I thank you both for always believing in me. Neither of you ever made me think for one minute that I couldn't do this.  Again, you both believed in me when I found it hard to believe in myself.  So thank you for your expertise and getting me there.  

Although Tracey wasn't my coach for this portion of the prep process she still played a huge role in getting me to where I am today.  I owe my healthy lifestyle to her.  I wouldn't have even dreamed any of this was possible if it weren't for her getting me to a starting place.  Not only that but she was by my side on show day and for the I'm eternally grateful.  This woman is a pillar of strength and support.  (More on Tracey in Part 3). 

There are two ladies that I have to thank for being my biggest cheerleaders and those ladies are Heidi and Tracey.  These two listened to me complain every single day.  The listened to my hopes and fears.  They were both a constant support in my life.  EVERY DAY!  I feel so lucky to have women in my life that lift me up and support me!  I've surrounded myself with some pretty amazing women and for both of them I'm incredibly thankful.  I don't know how I would have survived this without each of their friendships!  

Thank you Tracey!  

Thank you Heidi!  

Thank you Amy, Biggie, Gina, Jami, Jamie, January Jennifer B, Jen S., Kate, Kelli, Kortni, Melissa, Tammy, Toni, and Tricia.   Each of you took time out of your day at some point (or several) points and lifted my spirits when I needed it most.  When you supported me, I felt it and I often times REALLY NEEDED it.  I can't thank you enough.  It's not easy for some women to lift other women up but I definitely felt you ladies putting the wind in my sails.  For that, I thank each and every one of you!

I'm so thankful the emotional journey has ended (kind of) and can't wait to tell you Part 3. Show day!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

My Journey to a NPC Bikini Competition: Part One (The Facts and Figures)

I want to blog about my journey through my bikini competition but the task has seemed so daunting.  How do I appropriately describe what has transpired in my life over the past 4 and a half months?  How do I put into words so many thoughts and emotions? Where do I even begin?  This part will basically talk about the facts and figures.  All the numbers-- the calories, the workouts and my weight.

MY journey to my bikini competition started long before January.  It started in February 2018 when I finally took control of my life and my eating.  I worked side by side with my nutrition coach, Tracey from Clean Eats Coaching.  (You can read all about that journey here.)  Tracey undoubtedly changed my life.  I learned how to fuel my body properly.  I learned what foods to eat when and I truly lead a clean eating lifestyle for almost a full year before I started my body building experience.  Had I not done this with Tracey first, I can honestly say I don't think I would have been as successful in my journey.  It was because of Tracey that I had the tools and know-how to even start the body building journey.  I owe a lot of my success to her.

February 2018 to September 2018 working with Tracey 
When I got the bright idea to enter a bikini competition, I did ask Tracey if she wanted to be my coach.  Tracey thought it was important that the person who coached me through my nutrition also coach me through my workouts.  She encouraged me to ask my CrossFit coach, Alex to be my coach.  When I did, Alex called on fellow CrossFit coach, Jess to be my nutrition coach.  Alex would write my programming (workouts) and Jess would set my macros (calories:  proteins, carbs and fat) and follow my nutrition.  And so we started MY journey.

Jess, Me and Alex 
When I first started I weighed in at 136.2 lbs.  Fresh off the holiday, I had definitely added a few pounds.  I was also sitting at about 22% body fat.  Jess and I discussed what show day should possibly look like and we were shooting to be around 12% body fat which would be about 115 pounds.  The thought of losing 20 poundds over 4 months seemed overwhelming from the get go.  I felt so much pressure to hit that 115 pound mark.

Jess set my beginning macros at just over 1600 calories (148 protein, 127 carbs, 57 fat). I was starving all the time.  It was definitely an adjustment period.  First, because I never tracked my macros before, but second because I clearly had been eating a LOT more than 1600 calories per day and WAAAAY more fat.   I had to make some adjustments to the amounts of food I was eating and obviously had to pay attention to macronutrients.  I never realized how much I liked fatty foods like nuts, olives and ALL THE FATTY MEATS.  The one thing I told myself through MY journey is that I would not compromise my clean eating lifestyle.  I wanted to body-build but do it by eating clean foods AND foods that I enjoyed.  I didn't want to take the "if it fits my macros" approach.  Meaning I didn't want to fuel my body with pizza and cupcakes just because it would "fit" my macros.  I kept wheat, dairy and sugar out of my life like I had the whole prior year. On the other had, I also didn't want my diet to consist of only white fish and asparagus.  I wanted to eat clean foods that fueled me properly but also kept me satisfied.  If I'm proud of anything throughout this journey, I'm proud of my ability to keep my clean eating lifestyle and not compromising my beliefs.  I still cooked.  I still made recipes.  I still ate salmon, red meat and the occasional taco.  This isn't to say that I didn't have to change anything.  I definitely did.  I had to eat less intuitively and more according to "hitting my macros."  I had to eat egg whites when I felt like eating rice cakes with nut butter.  I had to eat less veggies (hello carbs) and cut a lot of fun (fats) out of my life.

Pretty soon, hitting my macros became easy.  I knew what to eat when.  I knew the macronutrient content of my favorite foods.  I knew what combinations to eat to hit my daily goals.  However, week by week, my macros decreased.   You know what this means right?  Feelings of being hungry would happen with each adjustment.  I started to accept that being hungry was part of the process.  I mean how can it not be?  There were some days I felt like I didn't have enough and I was always starving.  But other days I would space my eating so I could eat every few hours and it kept me more happy.  Regardless there were many nights I went to bed early just because I was hungry and there were no more macros to eat.  Many days sucked.  I'm not going to lie.

My goal from the beginning was to lose 1.3 pounds a week over the course of the prep with a 2 week buffer built in.  This would hopefully have me at my goal of 115 pounds on show day.  Things went along pretty well.  Like clockwork actually for quite some time.  It was a slow process for me and I stalled out a few times.  Things don't just happen overnight people.

My workouts. My favorite part!  Throughout the month of January I stuck to typical CrossFit workouts.  I did whatever was programmed at the gym plus normal accessory work.  I worked out 5 days a week.  4 of those were spent at CrossFit and one day was dedicated to running.

Come February, I stopped my beloved CrossFit and focused only on bodybuilding.  On a typical day I spent anywhere between 1.5 to 2 hours at the gym.  I'd do mostly weightlifting and followed it up with 15 to 20 minutes of cardio.

As time went on I really started to focus on adding extra cardio.  After my sessions in the gym I'd do at least 30 to 40 minutes of other cardio a day.  That could have been a ruck walk (walking with a 25 pound pack), rowing, my bike trainer or just walking my dog.

I also focused on NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis).  That's just a fancy way of saying all the activity you do that is not working out.  I really focused on MOVING MORE and not allowing myself to be complacent.  10,000 steps a day or bust.  Every far away parking spot was mine.  I stood when I wanted to sit, etc. etc.

The workouts were honestly the easy part.  I enjoyed it.  I looked forward to it everyday.  I never thought I'd be happy NOT CrossFitting, but I was.  I was content in my own corner of the gym doing my own thing.  I felt like I was getting stronger every day and I liked it.

Toward the end of my journey (beginning of April) my weight loss had stalled.  My calories were around 1368 calories with HIGH protein and low fat and carbs.  Panic began to set in and I decided to up my game in the gym and started personal training with Alex.

Alex and I trained together  two days of the four I was at CrossFit for the last 6 weeks of my prep and I really think it made a HUGE difference. I started seeing real changes in my physique.

I have to say, I didn't know one single thing about how to get where I was going with the whole body building thing.  I trusted Alex's expertise and I trusted the process and the workouts he wrote for me.  I saw BIG changes in my body.  I have no doubt my workouts were exactly what they needed to be.

Through my diet and my workouts, I was able to lose a significant amount of weight without losing a ton of muscle.  Often times when you're in a deficit, it's hard to hold on to your muscle.  I'm so proud of the work I put in (inside the gym and in the kitchen) to hold on to my muscle.

In the end, I didn't quite make it to my original goal of 115 pounds and 12% body fat.  I made it to 118.7 (a weight I haven't seen since I was 20 years old) and 14.5% body fat.  While I didn't make my original goal, I'm still tremendously proud of where I ended up. I honestly don't think there is anything I could have done better in the gym or in the kitchen.  I did everything Alex and Jess asked me to do and this is all my body had to give in the 4 and a half months of prep.

I lost 17.5 pounds, 7.6% body fat and only 2.7 pounds of muscle. I held on to my muscle and that makes me so happy!  I didn't just waste away.

I want to say thank you to Alex and Jess for the time and energy they put into my workouts and nutrition. I tried to be an excellent student of their tutelage.  I can tell you, I hit my macros 95% of days and even if I didn't hit my macronutrient goals I always hit my calorie goals.  I can think of ONE time I actually "cheated" on my diet and that was super bowl Sunday when I ate a piece of pizza.  I also had 2 glasses of wine (one on each of the vacations I took) as well as some Tito's and soda one night while visiting a friend.  Other than that I was on and on all the time.  I can honestly say, my nutrition was spot on.  I did pretty much EXACTLY what Jess told me to do.  As far as my workouts... I missed one workout and one long run due to illness.  Other than that, I worked out 5 days a week every week (plus additional cardio).

There's not much more I could have done based on what my coaches asked me to do.  I hope, if nothing else, I've made them proud.

So there you have it.  There are the facts and figures of my bikini prep.  Stop back next time where I'll talk about about the EMOTIONAL journey!