I’m not your typical Bad Angel.
I began running with Maggie in 2009, when we trained for the Flying Pig 10K with maniacal focus. Before I knew it, I was running my first half marathon and then signing up for the 2010 Chicago Marathon.
Two weeks after Chicago, I ran the Cincy Half … and then didn’t run one more step for 10 months. In the past four years, I’ve added a few more halves and a handful of 10Ks, but my focus has shifted to something that requires equally maniacal focus: competitive kettlebell lifting.
Nope, this is not an Onion article. Competitive kettlebell lifting is an actual thing. I’ve gone to three meets in the past three years to compete in the discipline of long cycle: a 10-minute suckfest of clean-and-jerk repetition that requires an unholy mix of strength, balance, endurance, power and stubbornness.
So, basically, it’s a lot like distance running.
First of all, it’s a uniquely solitary endeavor. Even though I train with a coach in a gym full of people, the bottom line is whether I’ll have the physical and mental ability to put the bell through its paces and set aside the pain of the occasional bleeding hand.
The way certain races have qualifying standards, kettlebell lifting has ranks, and I’ve spent 2014 training in pursuit of the Master of Sport designation: 104 reps with a 24 kg bell in 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes go by so quickly; simultaneously, they take forever.
Every time I do a practice set, I talk to myself beforehand: Take it 10 reps at a time. Don’t freak out. Be patient and don’t panic.
It’s a variation on some advice Bad Angel Amie gave me before I ran my first half marathon, Key West in 2010: “Be patient. The miles will come.”
And so the reps do come; you put your head down and go, even when you think you can’t possibly get to some giant, unreachable number. The truth is, some nights in the gym, you fall short — and then you analyze. Oh, how you analyze!
Did I not eat enough today? Did I eat too much? I had a stressful day at work; is that the problem? Maybe I just suck at this.
For a solid four months this year, I felt like I didn’t have a single good workout. My hands kept developing calluses and blisters that would tear open, causing me to have to alter my next workout. I found myself first questioning whether I should drop to a lighter bell and then wondering whether I should scrap the competition altogether.
Somehow, as summer made way for fall, I turned a corner. I have no idea why, but I sure won’t argue with it. All of a sudden, my numbers rose—and so did my confidence. I registered for the event in North Carolina with the 24 kg bell as planned, and after my final workout, I felt strong and ready. I knew it would take my all-time best performance to reach Master of Sport, but I also knew it was genuinely possible.
When competition day came, I was nervous. Very nervous. My breakfast wasn’t sitting well in my stomach, and I was in the final of 10 flights, so I had several hours to wait before I took the platform. And then there was this: The only other woman working with the 24kg bell was a Russian gal who competes on Team USA — the actual national team. She had an actual national team warmup suit and an actual national team coach. I was living my own Rocky friggin’ IV.
As my set began, I had to adjust to the judge’s pace. (Judges count your reps when your shoulder has been “fixated” the appropriate amount of time.) That little tweak was just enough to throw me out of my rhythm, and before I knew it, I wasn’t focusing on my breathing or using my legs effectively. My cardio was taxing fast, and I couldn’t save the set.
I managed 85 reps. It’s not what I wanted, but it earned me a lot of compliments from a crowd of people who watched me hang with a national-level star for about 4-5 minutes. I also learned a lot — I need to compete more; I need to train a little differently; I need to get my nerves under control — and I came away feeling like I had represented myself pretty well.
Now, I’m trying to recalibrate my goals and figure out my next steps. If I continue training, I know Master of Sport is attainable, but it’s likely to take longer than I’d believed initially. Do I want to commit to the time, the effort and the expense to make it happen? Do I want to devote the mental and emotional energy? Or should I go back to cross-training—and running—for fun and fitness and maybe a race from time to time?
I started working out with kettlebells four years ago to shock my metabolism after my marathon training left me a bit chubbier than I preferred. About a year into it, I realized I was actually good at it, and when my trainer told me there was a competitive element, I was intrigued. When I saw there was such a rank as Master of Sport, I knew I wanted that title.