Panic or Perform Part 2

When it was finally time to take off for Anaheim, I was not so much excited, but more focused on not letting myself panic, and making myself lift what I knew I could lift.  My routine when I arrive places for national meets is basically always the same- find a grocery store, stock up on food I’ll need for leading up to competition day (I always pack my comp day food), organize all my food into meals back at the hotel, check in, and find a check scale.  After a few precarious Uber rides, I had my food, had my badge, and was weighing in in the low 62s on the check scale.  My scale at home had been reading low 63s when I left, so it was nice to know that I had a large cushion and not have to worry about what I’d weigh in at. I say that, but it doesn’t mean I stop obsessing about weighing in too heavy.  I can literally be a full kilo under weight the day before I lift and somehow think the next morning I’ll not make weight.  I’m working on figuring out how to relax a little on that part.

I was placed in the 63B session, which lifted Saturday afternoon at 4:50 PM, which was 7:50 PM in the time zone I was used to.  It was the latest I had ever lifted, and I wasn’t sure how I’d do with so much time before my session.  I completed my last training session on Friday evening.  The final session is light percentages for me, in the 50-65% range, which typically feel like they’re painfully light and easy.  Unsurprisingly, they felt off and heavy on Friday.  Friday night was a rough night- I was putting SO much energy into telling myself it was okay that everything felt off and I’d still be fine, that I was mentally wiped out, and the thoughts of “but what if it’s not okay” started to creep in.

The night before I compete tends to be pretty restless for me, and Friday night was no different.  I finally gave up on sleep around 6 AM.  I got up, had my prepacked breakfast, and went down to use the test scale (not obsessing).  I weighed in at 61.9 after breakfast.  Oops.  I grabbed a coffee, and just hung out in the room for the remained of the morning.  I took a short nap, I ate three more times, and did some mobility before I headed down for weigh-in.  I was listed with the highest lot number on the sheet, which meant that I’d be called first to weigh-in, but also meant that if I was taking the same lift as anyone else on the same attempt, I’d have to take it first.  I officially weighed in at 61.78.  Yeah.  I was lighter after a large coffee and 3 meals. I put in my openers at 75 and 95, although we planned on opening heavier, with how I was feeling, I wanted there to be a cushion incase I felt the need to open lighter.  I came out from weigh in, told my coach what I weighed in at and he kindly told me everyone hated me and I was an asshole(neither thing was untrue).  

I went back to my room, ate, did some more mobility, listened to music, and started to get focused.  It’s hard to describe, but when I’m competing, my body tends to take over and my head gets quiet- even two hours before the meet.  There’s no panic, there’s no worry, there’s just a feeling of numbness.  Finally it was time to head into the warm up room.  My session was small, there were only 11 girls in it, so things were going to move quickly.  I needed to start warming up before intros happened.  I moved through my warm up lifts fine.  I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel awful either.  My body was just moving.  We were called for announcements and I came back in to finish my warm up lifts.  I hit 65, then went to take 68, which is about 78% of my max.  I shorted my drive and missed.  I thought, okay, it’s fine, you just shorted it, don’t worry about it.  I sat down and waited to take the warm up again.  On my second time, I overextended and missed again.  I’ve never missed two warm up lifts when I’m about to walk onto a platform.  I rarely have any misses in the back before a meet.  There was some panic starting to creep in thinking “this is 10kg under your opener and you can’t hit it.”

My coach made the decision to move up in my warm ups anyway and take 72.  He came over to me and told me that he needed me to show up, that he needed me to be an athlete and a competitor, that the lifts weren’t going to feel good today, or light, and it was fine, but I needed to figure it out, fight for them, and make them anyway.  I hit a shaky 72.  It wasn’t as smooth as I would’ve liked, but it was a huge make mentally.  75 was our planned last warm up lift before I opened at 78.  I made 75, which was more smooth that the 72.  Due to some misses on the platform, I had a longer time than we had planned, and my coach made the decision for me to take 75 again, which I hit again, and made me feel much more relaxed knowing I had just hit it twice.  

I don’t think you ever stop getting nervous when you walk onto the platform to take a lift.  You just figure out how to your control the nerves.  During Worlds, one of the commentators said that walking out of the warm up room and onto the platform is like entering into a different universe- that it didn’t matter how many times you had done it, it didn’t matter what had happened in warm up, how you felt on the platform was its own unique experience.  I’m always aware of my heart pounding as I walk up the stairs.  I’m aware of my hands shaking as I reach down to grab the bar.  And I’m always cognizant of how the bar moves so easily when I wrap my hands around it.  And then, that my brain goes black, and my body moves automatically.  

I made 78, even though it was a little shaky and a little forward. When I put the bar down after making 78, I was immediately flooded with relief and a true belief for the first time in WEEKS that this meet was going to be okay.  I had a big amount of time between 78 and my second attempt of 81.  I took a few pulls in the back to stay warm.  My best lift in competition was 80 at Nationals in May, which had been a fight to save.  I hit 81 at this time without much trouble.  It felt slow, still off, but it was a better lift than my first attempt had been.  We decided to take 83 as my last attempt, which is a lift I”m more than capable of making, and is still below my max.  Even though my body takes over when I lift in competitions, I can feel the second something is off.  As soon as I broke the bar off the ground, everything felt off, my hips felt up way too high, I was behind the bar too soon.  I tried to compensate, but I was out of position and missed out front.  I had ended my snatches 2/3 with a 1 kg comp PR.

Usually I have a decent size break between my snatches and clean and jerks.  There’s a given 10 minute break between the sessions, but I also tend to snatch lighter and clean and jerk heavier than the majority in my sessions, so I’m usually done early with snatches and go later on clean and jerks. My routine between lifts is to sit, unwrap and rewrap my knee wraps, eat, drink a protein shake, redo my tape, etc, etc.  One of the girls ended up pulling out after the snatch session, which dropped our session down to 10 girls.  I had literally put my first dried mango into my mouth and bent over to undo my knee wraps when my coach came over to me, said I’d have to eat between warm up attempts, because it was going to move quickly with only 10 girls in the session.  

My warm ups for clean and jerks felt solid.  My jerk had been feeling really on in the last two week and very snappy, for a change, I felt confident about it.  Besides being out of breath having to take attempts with not a lot of time in between, I was feeling good.  I took an attempt that was my first warm up that felt heavy.  Panic started to creep in- I had no concept of how many warm ups I had taken, and since there were partial plates on the bar, I couldn’t quickly look at the bar to see what weight was on it.  On clean and jerks, there’s certain weights and thresholds where things start to feel heavy- not impossible, you just hit a point where you start to actually feel the load on the bar.  For me this point is typically above 90, somewhere between 92-95.  I asked my coach what was on the bar I had just taken, and he told me 88, which meant I had 2 more warm up attempts to go, and was worrisome because 88 does not typically feel that heavy.  There was a girl sitting next to me loading for someone else, who I saw look at the bar and then look at me and then look up at my coach like she wanted to say something.  I caught the look, as did my coach.  He looked back down at the bar, looked at me and said “Oh.  No that was 92.  Not 88.”  Ohhhkay.  I immediately relaxed, because the lift had felt exactly as it should.  I took my last warm up at 95, which was a solid make, and was actually excited to walk onto the platform to take my opener at 98.  

My clean was a little off- my left foot slid out at an unexpected part of my clean which caused me to have to readjust in the bottom of my lift to stand up.  I felt myself short my drive on my jerk, and as I landed, felt my both arms lock out after receiving with bent arms.  I’ve gotten better at not looking quite so panicked on press outs, and tried to walk off the stage like nothing had gone wrong, but was not at all surprised with two red lights on my lift.  Typically when I miss a lift, I repeat it.  On this occasion, we made the decision to bump up one kilo to give me rest time, and especially since the weight itself had not been an issue, but a technical error in my jerk.  99 was a more solid clean, and the jerk was smooth, I got 3 white lights.  When I came off the platform and my coach asked me if I wanted to take 101 or 102.  I had attempted 102 once on the platform last May and had been crushed by it(literally), and then three times after in training, and all three times, I’d make the clean and missed the jerk.  I told him I wanted to take 102 because I was tired of missing it.

For me, the clean portion tends to be the easy part, and the jerk is the part that I’m never sure of.  Since my jerks had been feeling so on the past few weeks, I felt confident that I could make the lift.  I was SLOW under on the clean and got pinned at the bottom.  When that happens, I’m typically not able to stand up, but in the past few months at training had gotten better at readjusting and fighting through the bottom sticking point.  Occasionally, being an incredibly stubborn person pays off, and I triple bounced to somehow stand up.  I thought “well that was ugly, I didn’t fight that hard to miss the jerk.”  I hit my best jerk of the day on that lift, with the small exception of my back toe sliding out, which is an annoying thing that randomly happens on heavy jerks that I’m working on fixing. I walked off the platform ecstatic.  It didn’t matter that there were girls who literally hadn’t opened yet on their cleans, or that it wasn’t a perfect or beautiful lift.  I had done absolutely everything I could that day to make the lifts I needed to make, and had managed to walk away with PRs on top of it.

This meet may be my favorite so far.  It’s really easy to perform well when you feel great, and training has been wonderful, and your head is in the right place.  It’s really easy to perform badly when you feel like crap, training has felt bad for weeks, and you’re fighting injuries.  It’s not at all really easy to perform well when you feel like crap.  There’s days you don’t want to show up at all to the gym (or your job) because you feel crappy and you expect your performance to suffer because of it.  What I’m learning more and more is that those are the MOST important days to push through and perform the absolute best you can.  You’re not training to be the best on the days you feel great, you’re training to be the best on the days you feel terrible, so that your body knows what it is capable of no matter what situation you’re put into.

Joelle Emery