Preparing for physique competitions is a long, hard journey. It’s never easy; it’s not supposed to be easy. Resisting your favorite foods for months at a time, pushing yourself beyond your physical limits, bringing your purse chicken into Cheesecake Factory while you watch your friends eat cheeseburgers……..all of these things are difficult. I never went into this thinking the road would be easy. The things I have learned about myself over these last few years are truly eye-opening and incredible. I’ve also met some absolutely inspiring, amazing people throughout my journey, and my life is forever changed for having met them. I began my competitive physique journey 3 years ago, but I have been lifting since high school. My knowledge of lifting and my athletic physique helped in the beginning, and I made gains pretty quickly. I coasted into my first show, winning my class, and then went onto take a top 5 slot at Jr. USAs a few months later. Not a bad breakout year for yours truly. But the last 14 months have been difficult for me, mentally. In order to be competitive, I needed to add a considerable amount of mass to my frame. In order to gain muscle, you have to be in a caloric SURPLUS. I knew when I started my “bulk” that I would have to gain weight, but it didn’t make the process any easier. I started with an athletic frame – 5’6’’, 135, size 4. I got up to 152 before I started my 10 week taper this year. That was a hard, HARD number to look at sometimes. Now, I know I wrote an article about not paying attention to the number on the scale; part of the reason I wrote that article was because I realized how much my weight affected my mental state this year. I felt fat, out of shape, and dumpy – NOT like a physique athlete, and certainly not like a personal trainer. I was worried what my clients and friends at Sync would think. Would they want to take classes if their instructor was fat? Would they take me seriously? I also had to buy bigger pants since I added some density to my quads and hams; again, not an easy thing to do, as any woman can attest. The mental struggle of going up a size still baffles me: I can manage a major clinical drug trial and 12 employees, but I can’t handle buying bigger pants? Why are we so hard on ourselves, ladies? We are our own worst critics, for sure. This weekend, I looked back at the first set of progress pictures I sent my trainer 10 weeks ago and I cringed. One downside of competing is that it changes your view on what you consider to be an aesthetically-pleasing physique. It’s taken me 3 years to come full circle, but I have come to love and accept my body, both on season and off. Sure, I was fuller this year, but I also packed on a massive amount of muscle. What I’m seeing in the mirror now is incredible: full, round shoulders, thick, wide back, and a butt that won’t quit!! The mental struggle was worth it. So, here I am, 10 weeks later, back in a size 2, smaller than I’ve EVER been at 1 week out (thanks to the addition of the previously-mentioned muscle!), and looking and feeling fabulous. It’s been a tough road this time around – slightly less carbs, slightly more cardio than my 1st show, but hey – no show prep is ever the same. Next year, I won’t have to bulk again, and I can stay at a lighter weight during the year. I can once again coast into a show the way I prefer: eating Sweet 16 doughnuts and not doing any cardio until (literally) 1 week out. The second part of the mental struggle is how competing affects your social life. I am a BIG advocate of not letting competing interfere with life. I can’t stand when I see competitors becoming recluses because they can’t “go out to eat with their friends.” Sure they can – they just don’t want to. Just 1 week ago I went over to my friends’ house and watched Bridesmaids with my 10 closest girlfriends. They ate pizza and red velvet cupcakes and drank pumpkin martinis (seriously, all of my favorite things assembled under 1 roof!), and I sat there and ate my chicken and potatoes. Could I smell the pizza? Did I want a cupcake? Sure. But, had I declined the invite, I would have missed out on my friends snorting during the funny parts of the movie, on the latest gossip, and on catching up with friends who will soon be moving out of the state. It’s not worth it to me to miss out on these memories just because I’m prepping. That’s silly. Why do we equate food with having a good time? To me, it’s part of the fun, but not all of the fun. My friends are the fun! There are a few people in my life who make competing possible. I’ve met most of these people through competing, which goes to show you how much this really can enrich your life if you approach it the right way. Kayde Puckett is first on the list. I met Kayde as she was prepping for the 2010 Arnold, and she helped me with my prep and posing for Jr. USAs in 2010. Kayde is incredibly inspiring, and she’s been through a lot within the last year. She has been my friend, my confidant, my court jester, my LSR guru, my lifting buddy, and my motivation. Next are Ryan Althoff and Katy Hull. These girls are a hilarious, and they are 2 of my best friends. They’ve been there for me through the good times and the bad, and they keep me grounded at all times. My trainer, Leigh Ann Yeager is also on this list. LA has been my trainer from day 1, and although I shopped around a bit this year, she has always “gotten” me. I trust her completely, and she has morphed from trainer into friend. I can tell LA anything and she will never judge me. She trains my brain more than she trains my body, and, consequently, I am so at peace during this contest prep. I’m not worried about my physique, I’m not worried about my diet, I’m not worried about anything other than making it through my workouts. Mental well-being is priceless during prep. Finally, I need to give a shout out to my #1 supporter: Jim Paddison. Jim and I have been dating for 5 years, and he is truly my best friend. He has come to every show, he hides peanut butter and toffee almonds from me during prep, he diets down for shows with me, he helps me lift, he hugs me when I’m hungry, he gets me blankets when I’m cold, he takes the dog out when I’m too tired to move……….he is my everything. He is so selfless that it sometimes brings me to tears. I am a lucky, lucky girl to be surrounded by these people. Dangit! Here come the tears………… In 9 days I will be back on stage after 14 months of waiting patiently in the wings. I am nervous, excited, anxious, hungry, and tired……….but I’m ready. I’m ready to show people what I’ve been working on this year. I’m ready to prove to myself that I can do anything. And I’m ready to bring down the damn house. Beth is an NPC and OCB figure competitor and has been competing for 3 years. When she’s not rocking the stage in her stiletto heels, she’s either at work as Project Manager at a Pharmaceutical company in Durham, NC or she’s in the gym training clients or teaching spin classes. In her very minimal free time, Beth likes to sleep, eat, play with her dog, and spend time with her boyfriend and friends (who also like to sleep and eat).