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A Matter of Faith

I’ve heard it said that people today have lost faith, that we’re no longer spiritual. Our need for concrete evidence and guarantees in virtually everything says something about our national character, I suppose. Sometimes, though, you really do just have to have faith in something. Me, I believe in UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and that pro wrestling is real. Randy is more of a doubting Thomas.

At three weeks before the contest, Randy had been at the sticking point that’s inevitable in any diet. I’d assured him that his panic was unnecessary and that the fat would start coming off again. He just had to trust me. And so it did. Two weeks later he was looking even leaner than he had been for his first competition the year before, but he was easily 10 pounds fuller in all the right places, with the density and muscle maturity only another year of hard training could have imparted.

Even so, it wasn’t going to be all smooth sailing during the final week before the show. What fun would that be, anyway? Suffering builds character. That’s what I tell my wife when she complains about how hard it is being married to me.

In the last week most bodybuilders go through a process of carbohydrate, sodium and water manipulation designed to trick the body into looking both fuller and far more defined than would normally be possible. The body magic is meant to coincide with the moments he or she will be onstage competing.

If you think the CIA has the market cornered on psychological torture, think again. The first half of trick week is pure hell for most bodybuilders. Though I don’t have horns or a pitchfork—okay, maybe a plastic pitchfork from my daughter’s Halloween costume a few years ago that I like to poke my dog with—by the time Randy got near the end of that rough patch, he was looking at me as if I were the devil in the flesh. He even told me later he was trying to sneak peaks at my scalp through my short-cropped hair for the telltale 666 birthmark.

Wednesday, 4 p.m.: T-minus 3 Days

I’d instructed Randy to start lowering his carbs on Sunday morning to 75, down from an already low 100 to 200 grams a day—the higher count on weight-training days. At the same time he was to increase his water and salt intake. I didn’t want him using prescription diuretics, which are powerful and dangerous drugs with the potential to kill someone if misused. Who would have ever dreamed that something that could shrivel your body up like a raisin and cause acute kidney failure might be trouble?

So instead, I was having Randy sodium load. He’d been sprinkling salt on his food for the past few weeks; now I had him really pouring it on so his chicken breasts looked as if they’d been lightly dusted with snow—or dandruff. Since he’d also doubled his water intake, the poor guy was now a nice, puffy, bloated specimen, holding so much water beneath his skin that he seemed to have given up on dieting long ago and binged on pizza and ice cream.

But wait, it gets better! On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, he had to go through full-body circuits with fairly light weights and machines, doing high reps and resting very little between sets, the purpose of which was to drain his muscles of every last molecule of glycogen. In other words, we were emptying his tank completely in order to be able to fill it back up again and top it off. The total effect, by the third day, was that Randy was not only watery and smooth looking, but also flatter than Kate Moss’ butt.

That was Randy’s condition when we met at the gym so I could take a look at him before we started carbing him up and flushing the water out. Guys about to be executed by lethal injection would have looked more upbeat.

“There’s nothing there,” he moaned, standing relaxed in a pair of shorts in the aerobics room. I watched, arms folded, as he tried in vain to tense muscles that did not respond. Randy hit a front double-biceps shot; the difference between flexed and not flexed was minimal. He was losing it. “What the hell happened?” he said.

“You’re right on schedule, just perfect,” I replied.

“On schedule for what, last place?” His voice was rising to a high-pitched whine.

“No, no, relax. I’ve done this many times before. If you don’t look like crap at this point, you didn’t do it right.”

“Well, I guess I did it right, because I look like I’ve never touched a damn weight in my life!”

“That’s not true,” I chuckled. “You just look like you’ve never touched a heavy weight. How do you feel?”

He glared at me behind sunken eye sockets, not amused in the least. “Exhausted. All I want to do is sleep. I actually started falling asleep this morning training Claire.”

“I’ve got good news, Junior. The worst is all over now. No more training until the show is over. Tomorrow morning you start eating more carbs, cut the salt, and then the next day we begin tapering your water off. You’re going to be looking better by the hour, I promise.”

He perked up a bit. “Pinkie promise?” he asked, offering the little finger of his right hand the way my seven-year-old son does—his version of having something notarized. I sighed and linked pinkies with him.

“Pinkie promise.”

Friday, 7 p.m.: T-minus 17 Hours

Only those of us who have been through the crazy sport of competitive bodybuilding could possibly comprehend what a difference three days can make in a physique. Randy looked and felt like a totally different person on the eve of the contest. One last time I appraised him at the gym.

He was fully carbed up, and the excess water had been flushed away. Not only that, but he’d put two coats of Pro Tan on the night before. He looked like a bronze god. As he hit a few poses, the carbs did their magic, and his muscles pumped up before my eyes. The kid looked like a winner, and his broad smile communicated that he felt like one.

“Wow,” he said and flexed a quad, stunned at the striations and veins popping out in bold relief. He crunched into a crab most-muscular. His pecs were splintered across with detail and riddled with veins. Even his upper chest, long a weak point, had thickened up.

I couldn’t resist gloating. “I told you everything would be okay, didn’t I? O ye of little faith.”

“Yeah,” Randy said, “but it was hard to believe when I looked like something my cat left in the litter box.” He pulled over his gym bag and took out a plastic grocery bag. Looking truly joyous, he presented various articles of candy—Raisinets, Skittles and assorted candy bars. Then he produced a bottle of red wine—and the $2.99 price tag told me it wasn’t a very good year.

“For after the show, I presume?”

“No, Ron, for before I go on tomorrow so I can be all crazy full and vascular!”

“Let me see that.” I confiscated the whole mess. “Bad idea! You start eating things your body isn’t used to, and you can start spilling over with water, not to mention get the worst bellyache of your life. You might not even make it to the stage because you could be glued to a toilet seat trying to give birth. No, stick with yams and rice. Those are good, slow-burning complex carbs that won’t give you any problems.”

“At least let me have the wine! It brings out the veins.”

“No contest was ever won or lost because of veins popping out or not, silly rabbit. Vascularity looks really impressive in your bathroom mirror, but from where the judges are sitting it’s hardly noticeable unless all your veins are the size of garden hoses.”

He frowned, but not for long. Randy was in a good place. “How do you think I’ll do tomorrow?”

“It all depends on who else shows up and stands next to you onstage. But you will be ready, that’s for sure.”

Each hour from now until he got onstage was going to seem like an eternity. That’s how time gets distorted near the end. Very soon, though, more than a year of hard training and good eating would come to its fruition in just a few minutes under the bright lights. Randy looked even better than I’d hoped he would. A couple more coats of Pro Tan and the last bits of subcutaneous water wrung out were going to take it up another notch. This was going to be good.

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding: Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, which is available at IM

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