Exercise update: Alive and mostly intact

I survived! Worship me, I am a Colossus!

Obviously I’m not, but since I got over the line I’m going to at least pretend that I’m a physical god for the next 24 hours or so. Don’t worry, it’ll wear off.

I’ll be honest, it didn’t start well. Tall flatmate and broad flatmate were in charge of buying food for a big carb-loading dinner, and bought beef burritos instead, which was a ridiculous choice really and I’m going to call them out on it. They also decided to make a pasta salad, a la Nigella, to act as pre and post race fuel. I refused to touch it given that it was based on tuna and sweetcorn, two of the most inherently evil foods on the planet, but by all accounts it was almost inedible. We also had no proper means of transporting the 1kg of it we made, so broad flatmate had to lug it round the event site in a large mixing bowl, prompting odd looks and arm cramps. Poor form.

We met up with some workmates at the start line and it was heartening to find that they were bricking it as much as we were. Tall flatmate almost pulled out at the last minute due to a complete lack of training compounded by contracting what might actually be AIDS in the buildup to the race and spending all of Friday night vomiting. In his own words, “If my head goes below my heart it will fall off.”

As with the last event I did the warmup almost killed me, so 13 miles wasn’t entirely appealing in truth.

I think the course could be summed up in the following three words: Sadism, pain, distance. All three were to be found in abundance, but there was a good smattering of fun involved too.

Overall we ploughed through 15 zones. After a mile jog down to the opening one, our first instruction from the marshals was: “Pick a car. Now climb through it.” This rather set the tone for what was to come.

Didn't even steal it.

Didn’t even steal it.

In the next zone, we had to climb through a half inflated bouncy structure and then found a rugby team waiting the other side with pads to batter us. Light comic relief was provided by one rugby person who was too fat to chase us and had to politely ask for us to run at him. We then encountered a straight 10ft wall to navigate, which I effectively ran straight into and bounced off. One of the marshals had to give me a leg up. In my high heart rate delirium I told her I loved her, and meant it.

Tall flatmate was starting to struggle, understandably, by mile 3, and was being shepherded by broad flatmte. So I gallantly ditched them both and pushed on with a quicker group of friends. This really sums me up as a person.

The water zones were ridiculous. The first one was fine, through a reservoir about waist deep. The aptly named ‘Wipeout’ zone was a bit more of a slog. We had to wade through about half a mile of lake which was neck deep at the shallowest, through 2 or 3 feet of silt and other gunk, which was properly draining. Thankfully some of the big inflatables had blown over so we didn’t have to do them, otherwise I would have added my own hot tears to the lake’s plentiful water supply. Then we had to jump off a big platform about 15ft above the water – I executed this rather too well and almost didn’t surface. The final water zone about 11.5 miles in was a real struggle – by this point my body was no longer my friend so I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to grab me by the arse and chuck me over some of the higher obstacles to save me from flopping like a dying salmon.

By mile 10 broad flatmate had also gallantly ditched tall flatmate, caught us and overtaken us. He’s not human.

By mile 11 my legs were fucked. I’ve not run more than 10k ever, so it felt like running through treacle after so much punishment and I guess I was jogging at walking pace.

The last mile was dreamt up by somebody who should be in prison. They put the three toughest zones right next to each other at the finish. I stacked it on one of the sprint ramps (think that thing from Gladiators they have to do at the end) and received encouraging jeers from the watching crowd. Then there was the world records zone.

This included 110m of monkey bars – I managed 2 before slipping off, I blame wet hands as opposed to a chronic lack of strength. The forfeit was to climb over about 150 interlocked barriers shaped in a zig-zag, the kind they have at gigs and events where they close roads, each about 4ft high. After 12.5 miles that was a real killer. Then there was the world’s largest wall of hay bales, which was actually quite fun because I climbed it next to a man dressed as Thor, complete with hammer.

The last obstacle was monster – a big structure of half pipes and 6ft walls that you had to scale before hitting the finish line. A random Welsh bloke gave me a helping hand on those so I’m eternally grateful to him.

And that was that! Over the finish line, pouring with rain, legs no longer working.

13 miles, 150 obstacles, all done.

Overall time was officially 3:46 but we probably lost about half hour to bottlenecking and queuing for obstacles.

This morning, after 14 hours sleep and a steak, I feel moderately ok, but haven’t got out of bed yet. I tested one leg a few minutes ago and it wasn’t pretty. I do get the feeling ingesting so much lake water might not have been good for me.

Never thought I’d say this but it was brilliant fun. I encourage everyone to get involved in this kind of thing because it’s just such a unique experience.

I’ll try and get some photos up in due course so you can laugh at me falling over things.

Going for another nap now…

P.S. I hope literally everybody else in the world had fun at the Rugby Sevens yesterday, you luck, luck bastards.

 

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Exercise Update: Pray for me

Right then. Crunch time.

It has dawned on me that the Rat Race, aka the point of my life where I die, is nearly upon us. And by nearly upon us I mean it’s on Saturday. And there’s now a complete synopsis of all the stuff we have to do here.

You might think that I’ve been using the previous couple of weeks to hone my now finely-crafted physique, lifting things, running around, punching the air, doing sweating, and generally making sure I’m ready to face Soviet killing machine Ivan Drago, much as in this inspirational Rocky montage. I like the bit where he goes mental on the skipping rope.

Sadly, however, I haven’t. What I have been doing is eating cheese and drinking heavily.

In fairness, it wasn’t my fault. I had to go to Spain.

Now I love Spain; it’s an excellent country. 360 days of sunshine, a casual approach to public nudity, a strong focus on daytime drinking and a 3 hour lunchbreak wrapped in 4 hours of work are all huge plus points, and some of the foundations of the nation’s prospering economy.

I went with the best intentions, I really did. I even packed my running gear. The only problem is I never unpacked my running gear. What I did unpack was a hearty appetite which was well-served by Andalucia’s love of fat-free, healthy foods.

A modest range of training cheeses.

A modest range of training cheeses.

Oh wait no. It was all fat. And pork. And cheese. And variations on them. One of the most popular snacks, I shit you not, is chorizo fried until the fat runs out with mozzarella added to the pan until just melting. You then serve it with fresh basil and bung it into a french loaf, occasionally basting the mozzarella with the chorizo fat. In truth, it’s god’s own snack. Few tastier things have been in my mouth.

It’s also a heart attack on a plate and among the healthier of the options available in all good tapas bars. Then you just have to wash it down with beer, because it’s cheaper than water and we’re in a recession. Some of the beer bellies you see should have their own postcodes. But by god are those people happy.

That’s before you even hit dessert – one day we sauntered down to the village to watch a lady carry a porcelain saint with no arms (apparently perfectly normal) and then a middle-aged lady tried to force feed us all churros and chocolate.

There’s no escape!

Obviously it was a quality week.

Unfortunately I am now fully unprepared for Saturday, but I am now confident that my heart will give out before I have to run 13 miles. If I were a betting man I’d wager it’ll be somewhere in the first mile. I’d also wager that in the autopsy the doctors will find that my heart is deep-fried.

I have one small comfort: tall flatmate will be dying with me, as he has completely misunderstood what’s in store. An actual conversation from today:

Harry: “I figure it’s just run a mile, do an obstacle. By 10 obstacles it’ll be nearly over.”

Me: “No Harry, it’s not 10 obstacles, it’s 150.”

Harry: “Haha, funny. I went for a 2 mile run the other day so I’ll be fine.”

Me: “I’m serious.”

Harry: “<Confused look/whimpering sound>”.

Oh and broad flatmate still can’t swim. At all. And there’s a swimming part. A long one.

I’d like to say it’s been enjoyable writing for you all over the last couple of years, and I would urge you not to throw away your lives by blind stupidity as I am about to do.

We would all like fancy funerals please – I would like mine to be curated by vowel-hating producer SBTRKT to ensure I go into the flames to a cool, thumping beat.

Adios.

Exercise Update: Strong like ox

Not me, obviously. I’m nowhere near as strong as an ox. But I’m sure there are people who are nearly as strong as a pretty weak ox.

I’d have myself down as almost as strong as an overly aggressive stoat. Three months ago I was probably at about the same level as a sickly vole, so this is actually a fair mark of progress.

To give you a run down of what I’ve been up to:

– Two to three gym sessions a week with Deepak, where I lift things, pull things, punch the space around Deepak’s face, lift other things and make manly noises. The manly noises are by far the most improved aspect of my physique; I have moved from pre-pubescent squeak to meek roar.

– Climbing. I try and get in a couple of bouldering sessions a week, although this is almost certainly placebo exercise. Whilst I can now climb some moderately hard things, I  spend a far greater proportion of my climbing time panting, having a lie down, feigning injury, making up climbing terms, abusing others, buying KitKats and asking what the music is.

– Football. After a 5-year mini-break from the beautiful game I’ve finally got back on the pitch (twice), and have lasted 5 and 10 minutes respectively before being completely, utterly broken down to a cellular level. I haven’t been asked to play for a couple of weeks. This might be for the best.

– Bricking it. They keep putting up more zones for the Rat Race and each looks more sadistic than the last. Search rat race dirty weekend on Youtube to get an idea. Pray for me.

Basically, it’s been like a Rocky montage, with the exercise bits replaced by whingeing and without any real improvement over time.

So yesterday I decided to test my progress by taking on the Major Series Midlands 10k, with a few mates from work. In short, this is a 10k over all kinds of funky terrain, mostly based around mud, with various army-looking types shouting at you while you inhale large volumes of effluent.

Pre mud

Pre mud

Needless to say, I was somewhat apprehensive. At least it was gloriously sunny and a great venue – I can think of worse places to die.

My first taste of things to come was in the warmup. My warmup for training usualy involves cracking a few jokes and maybe eating a Twirl; this warmup contained more exercise than I generally do in a week. I was shattered by the end and nearly vomited on the start line, which was not a promising sign.

We got round to the first obstacle, a small jump over a log into water, in good time, and I felt confident until I found myself ankle deep in water which smelt strongly of the country, sludging through mud and large quantities of sheep shit. This was only the beginning.

In the next vat of crap, now waist deep, I had a slight coming together with an underwater root. Retarding my purposeful forward stride, the root coaxed all the momentum from me until the only place left to go was back. Into the waist deep shit-water. Slowly.

I emerged from the pool and rejoined my kilt-wearing accomplice looking and smelling like a turd, which would explain why he was so keen to bolt ahead.

There’s a lot to be said for running with a Scotsman in a kilt. First, it deflected attention away from my turd-like qualities. Second, you here a lot of good ‘true Scotsman’ jokes from the crowd (he wasn’t, thank fuck.), which makes you think less about the pain and humiliation. Third, after soaking with mud and shite a kilt is indistinguishable from a skirt, which caused much confusion and hilarity.

The rest of the course progressed in much the same fashion – drown in shit, have a laugh, weep inside, repeat. There were also some exciting obstacles involving haystacks and really quite dangerous slip’n’slides, and some with barbed wire, which was mean.

At one point I lost a shoe and had to dig in the mud to find it.

Having said all this, once I hit the finish line I felt incredible. And unclean. But mostly incredible. I would urge anyone to give something like this a go.

There is also the added bonus of having to go back to London and get on a tube smelling like you’ve fallen into a slurry tank. I had my own carriage on the District line and got over 8 funny looks- I might try this more often.

Post mud

Post mud

So the key takeout points if you’ve just skipped straight to the end:

1) Exercise

2) I have done running

3) I am alive

4) I will definitely still die in May

Fin.

I have since learned that I ran that race in 1:19 and averaged a whopping 7.54kph, making me the 150th fastest man and 25th fastest woman of the 750 runners. I AM A MACHINE.

Help me.

“I’ve lassoed the kettlebell weight. Do I win something?”

It’s been over a week and I’m still doing exercise. I think this may be a sign of deep-seated mental illness. Every time I train I effectively forfeit my right to walk properly for the next couple of days. This is not a good trade in my view. In fact, two of three gym sessions have resulted in me not being able to slump on the sofa properly. Like now. That’s just plain unacceptable.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I could make a solid living from charging entry to watch my sessions. Even the man who runs the gym, who must be used to seeing comedy workouts by now, can’t help but chuckle along as I wheeze and make random, sporadic movements. He thinks I can’t see him laughing but I can; there are mirrors everywhere.

There is no suitable picture today, so here is a confused owl.

There is no suitable picture today, so here is a confused owl.

I’ve also realised that when I work out I look very, very silly. My face contorts into a mixture of pain and confusion as my body is ravaged by unexpected movement. I begin to throw juddering, erratic and slightly disturbing shapes which are in no way in time with the background music. In truth, it looks exactly like when I try to do dancing – and I’ve realised that this is another one of the reasons I don’t have a girlfriend. In future I shall refrain from dancing.

Two incidents really stuck out today as blindingly, hilariously incompetent.

First, after a few sets on the arms where my motions made me look a bit like a constipated cod, Deepak tried me on skipping.

For the record, I am not a skipper.

Skipping was something the girls did while us boys went and fought with sticks. When I was 7. It is not, I maintain, a healthy activity for an adult. As a result, I could not get the hang of skipping. Every time I managed to get the rope over my head I celebrated, forgetting that I had to move my feet. Split seconds later, my cheering mind would suddenly shout “Warning! Something’s coming towards your feet”, and then the rope would hit my feet.

Often I couldn’t actually get the rope around me in a suitable arc. Once I managed to somehow snare a nearby kettlebell weight, making me feel tough like a cowboy. It was the best thing I did with the skipping rope. I did not manage a single actual skip. We did resting instead.

Perhaps the coup de grace of today’s session was when Deepak cracked out the medicine ball. He lay on the mat, feet facing me, in a sit up position. I threw the ball to him, he reclined, touched the ball on the mat behind his head, threw it back to me. A simple idea.

One of the things they don’t tell you about medicine balls is that they’re particularly smooth. This one sailed through my attempted catch,  accelerated towards my body, and struck me square in the plums. I went down like a sack of potatoes and that was when we decided that the session had reached a natural end.

In other news, I found this flythrough of one of the zones I’ll be up against in May. It’s one zone out of 15.

Help! I’m going to be killed!

Help! I’ve taken exercise!

Dear Doctor,

I took a heavy dose of exercise yesterday and am presenting symptoms of extreme pain, reduced movement and a mild sense of pride and self-fulfilment. I admit to dabbling with exercise in my teens, and I have to say that it was widely available at school, but my past experiences indicate that I might well be dangerously allergic to it.

Am I going to die?

Best regards,

Mark

That may sound melodramatic, largely because it is, but allow me to elaborate slightly. Shortly before Christmas an email went round at work asking people to sign up for an ‘adventure race’ in May. Not really bothering to read the details I immediately put my name down. Great outdoors, bunch of mates, camping, bit of larking about, how hard could it be?

Some weeks later I read some of the informational blurb about the event. If you want a really good, soul-cleansing laugh at my expense then have a look here. Maybe watch the little video at the start. They use encouraging phrases like ‘world’s biggest assault course’ and ‘totally apocalyptic’ and ‘certainly more than a marathon’. For the more concise version, this sheep sums up the event quite nicely.

In short, I’m fucked. Those of you who know me personally will understand how much I am not built for strength or endurance events. Those that don’t should understand that I am NOT BUILT FOR STRENGTH OR ENDURANCE EVENTS.

My diet consists largely of cheese and mini kievs, interspersed with crisps. My daily routine involves sitting on a tube, sitting at a desk, sitting on another tube, lounging on the sofa and then having a well-deserved lay down. I’m a horizontal person. The vertical is foreign to me.

This is pretty much as active as I get.

This is pretty much as active as I get.

I’m also skinny. My arms are like thin wisps of cloud. I’ve seen dead cats with bigger biceps than me. If I try to run I become light-headed shortly after I start thinking about running and have to sit down with a large camembert to bring myself around. The only bulky area of my entire torso is currently my stomach, as a direct result of every single one of my lifestyle choices. I’m a skinny fat person. Everybody knows one.

So, in an effort to avoid certain death in May, I have enlisted my friend and colleague Deepak as my personal trainer. We had our first session yesterday. Deepak’s a great guy, but one of the things I have recently learnt about him is that he is criminally insane and possibly fundamentally evil. As I lay in a crumpled, weeping heap on the gym floor trying to work out if all my limbs were still attached he appraised me with a cool gaze and remarked that I’d done well because I’d pushed myself to failure.

I pushed myself to nothing. He pushed me to failure. I would have been happy doing one chest press. Not 10. Certainly not 3 sets of 10. Definitely not 3 sets of 10 interspersed with arm rows. Absolutely not the aforementioned plus about 4 other weird and wonderful torture methods. And some boxing.

Deepak has put me through one 45 minute session. Today I can barely fucking move. I’m typing this with my teeth. I’m going to bed and it’s 9pm. My muscles have gone on strike and been replaced by fire. I’m still wearing a t-shirt because my arms won’t go above my head.

He’s trying to kill me. I thank him for it.

Oddly, I’ve agreed that this can occur twice a week for at least 5 months, plus some running and cycling and swimming and badminton and dodgeball and climbing. I will keep you all updated with doubtless hilarious tales of my own ineptitude and physical agony. All I ask is that you eat a large tub of ice cream every time you read these posts, so that at least one of us is enjoying ourselves.

I’m scared.