Saturday was my first powerlifting meet. It was just a little bitty one at my gym. It was judged on Wilks score (a calculated relationship between bodyweight and total), which favors lighter lifters (heavier lifters have higher totals, lighter lifters have higher Wilks scores, that's just how that goes), so I knew I wasn't going to win or anything, but I wanted to do it anyway. Until last Monday, I'd never even tested heavy singles, let alone tried to set serious one-rep-max personal records, let alone tried to set serious 1RM PRs in front of a whole bunch of people. In a singlet.
Because powerlifting meets mean singlets and weigh-ins. I think I was more anxious about that than about the actual lifting of weights. I took the bus to my gym at 8:15 in the morning with my singlet in my bag repeating in my head, "Holley Mangold can do it. Sarah Robles can do it. Holley Mangold can do it. Sarah Robles can do it." And then, when I whipped my dress over my head and stood on a scale in bra & underwear in front of one of my coaches (the one who is a woman, don't worry), I learned that I can do it too. And I can stand around in a singlet for hours in front of tons of people, many of whom are wielding cameras. The little gym was packed, with lifters and volunteers (loaders, spotters, refs) and loved ones of lifters and a couple of people wielding high-level recording equipment.
As soon as I got acclimated to that, I got anxious about the actual lifting of weights. I felt pretty confident about my openers, but everything after that was unknown territory. The deadlifts in particular were freaking me out; my deadlift has been giving me trouble in sets of five for the past two months. There was a lot of waiting around. It was hard to time the warm-up right, and I didn't know how high to take it. I ended up going up to singles just under my openers, risking spending strength for the gain in confidence.
My first squat, at 230, got one red light for depth. But two white lights (there are three refs total) means good lift.
I am pretty sure the adrenaline rush hit me right about here, because I don't remember whether I got red-lighted on either of the next two squats. which were both good. My second squat was at 240. My final squat was at 250. It came up pretty easy, and I think it was all white lights. The head ref was the coach who'd weighed me in; she said it was my best of the bunch.
After squatting, I sat with my boyfriend, ate a bagel (in a singlet! in front of a lot of people!) and watched the big guys squat. A dear friend texted to ask if I wanted to hang out in the park, I responded that I could not because I had weights to lift, and she asked if she could come watch. I told her she could; she arrived just after my first bench press attempt.
In that first bench press attempt, at 140, I jumped the command. You have to demonstrate control of the barbell before you start the descent of the lift, so the head ref will say "start." I didn't wait for that—realized it immediately after I'd started the descent, pressed out again, realized it was too late, then completed a hackneyed, cockeyed bench press. Three red lights, obviously. No lift. I took the opener again on my second lift and got it pretty handily. I went up to 145 for the third attempt and failed it. In addition to the command to start the bench press, you rest the bar on your chest until you get the command, "press." This is really different than the way one trains a bench press, where you just touch the bar to your chest and send it right back up again ("touch and go")—it gives the weight the chance to go dead on your chest, and the difference between a touch-and-go press and a paused press is HUGE. There was not a goddamn chance I was getting 145 up. Which made the first failure less galling, because if I wasn't going up anyway, it didn't represent a wasted opportunity.
While I paced and hopped between bench press attempts, I saw my boyfriend & my friend chatting happily & watching the lifting, and I felt just on beyond warm and fuzzy. I thought how handsome he looked, and how lucky I am to have a partner who will show up to watch me do things that matter to me even if they don't much matter to him, and a friend who is psyched to brag about how strong I am. I love that they get along so well now, and I love that they care enough to want to show up and watch me lift weights. I'm a lucky kid.
So, deadlifts. I was probably most nervous about deadlifts, because my training deadlift sets have sucked. I've been cycling between getting 245x5 and failing the fourth or fifth rep for weeks. I rush my setup. I psych myself out. So starting much above that kind of freaked me out. I was opening at 250, and I'd done a single on Monday at 255, so I knew it wasn't crazy, but I also knew my deadlifts are erratic, and I was planning a second attempt at 260, an untested weight. And then beyond that—?
I chalked, took the platform, took my time to set it up—stay over it, pull the slack out of the bar, keep it close—and pulled 250 no problem. The rounds of deadlifting go really fast because there's no rack to adjust, so I felt like I was back on the platform with 260 before I knew it. Went up easy. I'd talked with my coach about "going for broke" with a bigger jump for my last deadlift, so I asked for 275 for the final attempt. The beginning of my flight was a lot of successful final attempts, so I was nervous that I was going to be the first failure. But I did not actually need to worry—it came up without a grind. It felt light. It must have looked light, too, because my coach on the mic reported the three white lights and then made some comment about it being too easy that I can't recall verbatim because I was busy being hit by a freight train of an endorphin rush.
At the end of a weightlifting meet, everyone is hopped up on adrenaline and grinning like lunatics. The guy who pulled a five-plate deadlift (495#) and had skipped his own graduation to be there to do it hopped off the platform and ran to hug his dad when he got it. The woman next to me slung her arm around my shoulders when we were waiting to hear the results. I felt clear-headed, unselfconscious, expansive, joyful.
As predicted, I didn't win, except in the sense of a deep and hard-fought and satisfying victory over my own fear and my own previous bests. Which is sort of the thing about a weightlifting meet, it turns out. Everyone in the room knows what it's like to fight for a lift, and everyone there can see when you're doing it—when the littlest lady in the place grimaced and shook coming out of the hole with 115 on her back, the room got so loud for her. Every lifter in the place may squat more than she does, but everyone in the place also knows exactly what she's doing right there, sticking with it, refusing to quit, driving her heels and her knees and holding her tension and pushing hard for a weight she's never gotten before. And she got it, and people clapped and shrieked in celebration.
So I totaled 665 (squat 250 + bench 140 + deadlift 275). And now I have a benchmark, and am formulating new goals. And I want to do more meets, like, immediately.
We barbecued after, and someone warned me that I wouldn't be able to sleep, because I'd still be too hyped up, which was true, I couldn't. I can still feel it a little two days later. Someone put a picture of my 275# deadlift on the gym's Facebook group, and I do not look cute in it, let's just say—the bar yanked up under my gut, my arms locked out against my sides for full fat-smooshing effect, my chin tucked under and my lips sucked in and my hair pulled straight back—but dude, that is a picture of me pulling 275#. The photographer captioned it "no sweat, no strain, no problem." I look pretty cute, actually, in the picture where the women are all standing around waiting for results—"strongest women in Brooklyn," that one's captioned—but that's not the picture I sent to my parents. Because that's not the one I'm proud of. That's not the one that counts.