Every mile post passed is a landmark on this exhausting journey to the finishing line, and the end of week 3 marks the quarter distance in our Train Fitness Challenge. Whisper it to our aching bodies but we are only 25% of the way towards completing our mission and with each passing day our respect grows for the competitive athletes that dedicate their active lives to such a dedicated regime. For us, it is a 12-week undertaking… for them it’s a 24/7 – 12-months a year way of life. They certainly earn their medals and headlines.
The training is tough and demanding, particularly as the calorie count is gradually dropping but we both anticipated the sacrifices made in the gym and at the dinner table. As we head towards week 4, it is the changes to our lifestyle that are the most noticeable and difficult to manage. I have always known that elite athletes at the top of their game have to accept that missing out on social events and family gatherings is an occupational hazard but it is something that I personally am still coming to terms with during this assignment.
My ‘pre-Challenge’ social life was not one of binge drinking or nightclub hopping, but I am someone who enjoys Sunday brunch with a gin and tonic to cleanse the pallet before retiring to a pub garden with my favourite people. This is especially true while the sun is still occasionally sharing its warm glow with August in Britain. James and I don’t agree on everything but we are both suffering from definite withdrawal symptoms with regards certain luxuries we can no longer enjoy. We kind of wish it would rain on the rest of you!
The commitment required to compete at a high level in any sport simply does not cut corners. A strict diet pattern is not an option, it is essential. You cannot kid your body. The same applies to the exercise programmes. However busy you are with work timetables and the like, the training sessions necessary to sculpt and tone your body must somehow fit into day to day life, even when these sessions become ‘double dayers!’
The training programme is actually something that helps us cope as individuals. It forms a series of set pieces in our days. The routine of knowing exactly what you’re required to do on each given day and the reassurance that our Tupperware menu will fuel us correctly for our exercise takes a lot of the stress and pressure out of the challenge. We just follow instructions! And because we have so far found the energy and the vigour to obey every command and stick to the script written out for us, motivation has not been an issue. Maybe we have become a little obsessive but we help each other stay on course and on schedule so there is a team element to passing each test and completing each stage. This leads me onto the main topic of Week 3 discussion.
Every day, our four prescribed meals are delivered along with our dumb bell dosage for that day. This will seem strange to most people but this is now our norm. This is what we are used to and when and if that drill is disrupted it can actually seem both frustrating and irritating. During this last week both of us have to abandon the safety of our little fitness bubbles to honour work and social commitments. Not only did these departures cause disruptions to our day but also to our entire thought processes. It is widely accepted that the regimented nature of slavishly following a pattern of behaviour can be consuming and addictive and even detrimental to your mind-set.
That mind-set is now spookily shared. Our bodies are hungry at the same time every day as they expect to be fed in the same way they are and have been for the last two weeks. We are like cattle that turn up at the feeding trough at the same time each day. We have been schooled into believing that what waits for us in those Tupperware containers is precisely what our body requires. No more, no less. The controlled environment is oddly comforting. We know no other way. It is like we have handed the remote control to someone else and they are deciding what is best for us. To some extent our will power has never been stronger, and yet actually we have entrusted our will to choose what to eat and how to exercise to an outside force.
I am not quite sure whether our continuing motivation comes from a fear of slipping off the narrow track that has been mapped out for us or a genuine desire to succeed in bettering our bodies. If we stop now, what will happen? We daren’t think about it. Hopefully, the fear and the desire are one and the same thing but is it right that a desire to be your best is fuelled by fear? We’re not sure yet! We still close to the beginning of our journey and while the disruptions are distractions, we have been able to manage them so far. We are still residents of Planet Earth and we have got to continue with our challenge while sharing the same space as the rest of you.
The fanatical and slightly haunting commitment to our programme is getting us through each day but whether it will ultimately have a positive effect on us as healthy individuals is another question. When you set yourself a goal, you deliver yourself an ultimatum. It is only human nature that we become competitive not just with those around us but with ourselves and our drive and resolve. With James and I, our diet and routine are not the only things that are strict. So are our expectations of ourselves. But if we think of ‘going off track’ as simply eating a healthy meal out with friends or family, rather than dutifully consuming our Tupperware rations how sure can we be that we are losing sight of those overriding goals? The truth is that a meal enjoyed in a good restaurant is probably far healthier than the one we have been ‘told’ to eat because it involves not only nourishment but social interaction and pleasure too. Challenging yourself can become an extremely selfish thing to do if it also challenges everything else that is regular about your life.
In accepting that there are negative elements to what we have taken on, we must also remember that this is a temporary departure from our established way of living. However preoccupied we have become with following our programme to the letter for another nine weeks, we are both agreed that it ends there. This is a boot camp of sorts and it requires a different level of dedication to take us to a different competitive level of body fitness. We knew there was a risk of becoming slightly self-absorbed and I think it is important that we never forget that risk. One of the many elements of this experiment was to monitor the effects it has on the mind as well as the body. Commitment comes with many obligations and some forfeits but there would be no such word as ‘commitment’ if it didn’t. No pain, no gain.
We are truly enjoying the challenges that rise up in front of us, no matter what form they come in or whether they are expected or totally unforeseen. They are part of the journey and part of the reason we took on the project. We are progressing with training and beginning to see changes we could never have expected so early on. We knew to expect these changes at some stage but learning what it takes to achieve them and how to deal with them and benefit from them are the very reasons why we are here. Our commitment and fixed mind-set are being rewarded already and we can now see a clear path towards achieving the end goal to see change in our bodies’ shape and strength. Material change requires a change of approach. Bear with us for the last three-quarters of this!