Balance The Battle 

By Autumn Cleveland



All I’ve wanted for the past 2 months is the chance to catch up with myself. This year has been a whirlwind of events, and I feel like I’ve been tossed all over the place. It has left me feeling worn and battered. This year, I dedicated 6 months to an event that is my passion….a National level figure competition that I had waited a year for since my last. I went through the actions. I showed up. I competed….and I got 4th place. And then, it was over.

I didn’t feel satisfied nor finished, so I competed again two weeks later. Again, I made it there, competed and took 7th place. Within 24 hours of that competition, I left Chicago for a family vacation in Florida for another week, and by the time we had reached our home in Louisville, my building dissatisfaction dictated that I should give it one more try before my season was up.  I still had a chance to redeem myself, with myself. After receiving feedback from all of the judges, I gathered that my lower body wasn’t conditioned enough, and needed to be leaner. With 12 more weeks of dieting, there was no excuse for why I couldn’t attain that goal.  I would add to my already 20 week prep with another 12 weeks of dieting to come in shredded….because I’m tough and I could do it.

I limited myself on my vacation. I came back home and prepped my meals, as usual.  I got back in the gym for cardio and my lifts. I had written and re-written my new ideas for my prep. I didn’t know where the money to pay for a 3rd competition this year would come from, but I knew I was willing to suffer in other areas of my life just to make it work. I had a plan, and I had determination. “I can do this” I had told myself. “I’m Autumn Cleveland, and I will pull my shit together.”
I experimented with a few different diet and training approaches, and they were working very well. I started to get excited and re-motivated. And one random Thursday, at 7 weeks out, I broke down.

I was exhausted, in every sense that a human could be.

I wasn’t tired.  That would be an incorrect choice of words.  I was worn. I was depleted.  I was running on fumes.  For the first time in my competitive life, I had given 200% of my energy and efforts over to discipline and misery. I didn’t fuck up ONCE during my entire prep of 17 weeks.  That means not a single damn bite of ANYTHING that I wasn’t supposed to (a first for me, I’ll admit.) I lifted MORE than I thought I could. I pushed beyond myself in my cardio to the point where I felt manic. I practiced my posing to death. Then I showed up on stage with a positive mentality, and left the stage feeling unprepared. All of my actions were directed at taking the Overall, and I placed 4thin my height class. Closer, yes, but not close enough. While I felt proud of my body and my efforts and I had recognized that I had improved from my placing of 6th a year before, I felt a blanket of defeat and frustration close around me as I exited the stage.

What the fuck happened?

What went wrong? I had done everything that I was supposed to do, and I did it well.
It has been instilled in me that when you get knocked down, you are to suck it up, get back up, and try harder. So I did, and placed even lower. And I was about to get up one more time. But then I realized, that I have nothing left. No matter how badly I wanted there to be fuel left in my fire, it was suffocating, and I knew it. By giving myself fully to the first competition, there was no more of me to give.

I was leaving the gym from an awesome Leg workout and drinking my post-workout shake, as I realized this, and the whole way home, I cried my heart out. I pulled over, laid my forehead on the steering wheel, and balled my eyes out to the point that I had a headache and I felt like someone had repeatedly punched me in the stomach. And I did the same thing the next day, and the next day. I cried every day for probably a week before I came to terms that there would be no other chance this year, and that I have to accept what happened. It was time to hang up my season, and I had no closure. The whole thing just flew by, and before I knew it, everything was done. I felt like I was running late into stage saying “WAIT! Give me one more chance!” only to realize that the show was over. I had missed my mark. I had exposed myself to the world, inviting everyone to watch as my audience as I crashed.

 I’ve never felt so frustrated in my entire life.

My head, my heart, and my body were all in different places. It just didn’t feel right.

There comes a point with competing where you must decide what is wise, and what is worth it. I had to come to my senses and realize that to put my body through 3 more months of dieting for an ounce of improvement would have put me at more risk of damage than success. Yea, I could have done it. But at what cost? Losing muscle and burning out, and possibly some metabolic issues that would cause more problems later. It would put me out at least a grand of money to pay for the chance of realistically, MAYBE another top 5 placing, but still not 1st. I doubted that even at my most conditioned, that I could compete to win against the mass factor. And most importantly, it was hard on the very people who have been supportive and helping me this entire time. The possibility of loss was greater than that of gain….and to me, that just isn’t worth it.  If any of my competitors had come to me as their coach and said the exact same words, I would encourage them to take a break.

It has taken me 2 months since my competitions to become okay with this.  At first, my decision to pull out from a show left me feeling weak-minded, and like I had let myself down. My pride was hurt, as if I had just said the words “I give up.”
But now that I have accepted my decision, I am able to see the positive truth:  I have matured, as a competitor.  One of the biggest mistakes I have repeatedly made in my competitive career, was to compete too often and too soon before my body and my life was ready. So for the first time in my life, I made the decision to quit while I was ahead….to preserve whatever energy I could muster up, and rebuild myself.

Without knowing exactly what I was going to do, I carried on with my meal prep and training.  I have set a few off season goals for myself in the meantime.  I will be focusing on building mass, in my shoulders especially. I will not allow myself to be in any less condition than 12 weeks out at any given point in time.  I will relax, and skip a workout once in a while if I want to. I will sleep in if I want to. I will also enjoy a few bites of things or a beer every now and then if I want to.  And I will get back to having fun and experimenting with my workouts…something that I haven’t done in a long time. I need to work with my body, and not against it. I will sit back on the side lines, and cheer my fellow competitor friends on. I have had 6 of my friends earn their Pro cards this year, and I enjoy watching them turn pro as much as I would for myself. When will my next competition be? I do not know. But I do know that it will only be when it feels right, and I will let my body guide me on that decision, rather than my mind.

No competition will ever be more important than being in balance with myself. When you are off balance, it’s too easy to falter. I need to recollect myself and settle to become grounded. Did I learn from this experience? Yes, and I will use those tools to prep smarter in the future, and do my best not to make the same mistakes again. Do I have any regrets? Only that I didn’t spend enough focus “in my moment” during the actual competitions. Did I have fun this year? Absolutely. I have never given myself wholeheartedly to something, and that is the real point, isn’t it?

One thing that I’ve learned about enjoying my passion for longevity, is that you have to balance the battle.