Knowledge is power: Tuff Grappling Challenge (Part 2)

Yesterday I promised you a breakdown of how my day went at my first grappling competition. Having been taught from a very young age by my dad that promises must always be kept, here it is!

Please do remember that this was just my first competition. I am no expert and am not pretending to be. However, truth comes from the mouths of babes, or so they say – so maybe there is something to my naïve and innocent (or, to be a bit more blunt, fairly blind) outlook, having little more than my body and instinct to trust. And if not, well, there will be someone out there who has no clue what to do on the day of their first competition, and if nothing else it may be comforting to read someone else’s fumbling experience.

Let’s start from a few days before. Luckily, I only made the decision to register on the Thursday before my Sunday competition, as I instantly began feeling vaguely nauseous at the prospect and have no doubt that had I signed up weeks before, I’d have been battling the butterflies in my stomach for that much longer. I messaged my friends asking if they were free to do something on the Saturday to take my mind off things.

On the Friday, it soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on very much at all, so I decided to make the most of self-employment and give myself a day off. I still did a bit of writing here and there and replied to emails, but mainly I caught up on blogs, watched videos of Brazilian jiu jitsu competitions, played online games, and did things I enjoyed to keep myself as relaxed as possible. I trained lightly in the evening, going to the BJJ class but not taking part in the sparring. I tried to get an early night as the next two days would be early wake-up calls, but wasn’t surprised to find that all I could think about was the competition – instead of fighting it, I accepted this and focussed my mind on visualising the techniques I had been working on and would want to use.

On Saturday – the day before – I got up early to train a client. Normally I would have trained after that, but this had to be a rest day, so I quite enjoyed knowing that I could train her and then relax for the rest of the day. After that I enjoyed a leisurely 25-30min walk to go meet my friend, and we sat at the terrace of the Angela Malik cook school with a couple of delicious coffees with soy milk, served in beautiful blue hand-painted cups. My phone was off and I had told Ben where we would be in case he finished early and came to meet me – so I had nothing to worry about other than the present moment. After that, Ben and I went for lunch in Le Pain Quotidien, picked up a bit of shopping, and headed back to the house in time for the weather to get nasty. By this time I was pretty tired and had the beginnings of a stomach ache, and I took the grey miserable weather as a sign that I should get into my comfiest lounging clothes and sprawl out with a movie. I watched Erin Brockovich which had me totally enthralled, pausing only to get a light snack of soy yoghurt with banana, cacao nibs, cinnamon and blackstrap molasses. I then had just enough time to catch up on a few blogs and pack my bag (and snacks!) for the following day before dinner was ready – Ben had made us a lovely tofu and sweet potato curry with coconut milk and peanut butter, served with chapatis and Mrs Ball’s mango chutney. We watched an episode of Breaking Bad, then I had a stretch, rolling my glutes and hips out on a tennis ball, read for a little bit, then turned the light out nice and early. Again I struggled to relax so accepted it and tried to focus my mind – but luckily I was fairly tired at this point so fell asleep pretty swiftly!

Sunday, the day of the competition, went something like this:

  • 7:00 – alarm goes off, jump out of bed, down a glass of water with a multivitamin, wash my face, get dressed, put some light makeup on, grab bags, say goodbye to Ben, leave house.
  • 7:45 – arrive at the gym, our meeting point, get picked up, exchange nerve level self-analyses, and set off.
  • 8:30 – eat a small handful of almonds and a banana, doze off for a bit.
  • 9:15 – wake up near the venue, arrive shortly after, sign in, get changed, spend some time people-watching and trying to stay relaxed.
  • 9:45 – eat a mixed berry Trek bar, buy a bottle of water and add a tablet of strawberry lemonade Nuun to it, eat a couple mini-squares of RitterSport Halbbitter chocolate.
  • 10:45 – get called to weigh in, weigh in at 54.9kg in a gi which was lighter than I was expecting, and just in the middle of the two other female competitors.
  • 11:00 – join in the warm-up that my teammate Marvin is taking other teammate Wayne through: 10sec sprint on the spot, 10 pushups, 10 crunches, 10 dips, 10 tuck-jumps, 10 squat-thrusts, then a short break, followed by 20 of everything – a couple of minutes off, and repeat the whole thing again.
  • 11:15 – get my breath back under control, now having broken into a light sweat, continue stretching, have some water, get unexpectedly called up to fight – fumble around for my gumshield, realise I need a tissue, ask around for one before realising I have one stuffed in the depths of my handbag (the one I used to soak up the blood from a leech bite in Australia which is covered in old blood – I pray nobody is looking).
  • 11:20 – I stand around awkwardly on the mat waiting to start, nodding every so often at my coach and teammates who are stage-whispering last minute instructions and encouragements – referee says, “Fight”, and you know how it goes from here.
  • Am assured there will be a couple more fights before my next one – sit down briefly to refocus my thoughts after a lot of high-fiving and hugging – wonder why my right quad and lower back are aching so much after a very short round in which I was in control the whole time – take myself to a corner to stretch a little longer.
  • 11:40 – after standing around the edge of the mat eyeing up my next opponent, the final is underway. You also know how that one went.
  • Ask my first opponent how her arm is, as I see her icing it. We have a brief and friendly chat now that the fights are over. Sit around to regain my composure, chat to teammates and coach, enjoy the feeling of having finally had my first competitive fights.
  • 12:00 – get called up for the medal ceremony, wish I had thought more about podium poses, wish I could control my smile which is not only taking over my red face but also starting to hurt my cheeks, stand around to chat to the girls, finally sit back down on my own to have a protein shake (Sativa Shakes Viva High Pro Chocolate & Caramel) and an apple.

And I guess that’s it! The key things for me were to nap when I could (in the car), to have plenty of time on my own to focus and to visualise, to take responsibility for where I had to be when rather than waiting for other people to tell me, to graze regularly on high-sugar high-energy whole food sources – as I didn’t know exactly when I would be competing, I couldn’t take a chance on having anything too heavy or too high in fat or protein – to keep moving and to be taken through a strenuous warm-up in time to get my breath back but to get a good sweat going – I stress the need to be taken through it by someone else, as I wouldn’t have worked that hard on my own.

Although it was tempting to go through all sort of crazy wellbeing rituals – eat super “clean” the day before, have a hot bath the evening before, get up early to have a proper breakfast, whatever you might think would help – I knew it was important to stick to things I would do on a normal day or before a normal training session, with the exception of making sure I was super chilled out!

I then came home to this delicious beast of a cake:Post competition chocolate cake

Ben made this incredible double-layer chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream icing. Vegan, obviously. It was (and is, as we still have half of it left!) every bit as good as it looks – I have paid for worse chocolate cake before! After relaxing for a bit, going through the congratulatory messages I had already received on Facebook, actually letting my parents know I had competed, unpacking my bags, and having some much-needed tea, we went out for Karma Free Pizzas. It was a wonderful and happy evening.

On a more serious note, I can’t write this without extending my thoughts and concern to Gabriel Diniz, the 15-year-old boy who was injured in a competition in Brazil. I hope he regains use of his limbs someday.

Anyway, I do hope you found this post of interest! If you have any pre competition routines, rituals or tips, please do share them – and if you are looking at your first competition, please let us know and feel free to ask any questions!