Friday, 2 October 2009

Four Months To Go

One thing that's become clear over the last couple of weeks - yes, aside from the need to blog more regularly - is that I'm getting fitter.

Yeah, I know that's kind of the point, but it's still quite a surprise when you realise what's happening. Giles is particularly good at pointing out the smaller achievements as they happen. This week it was the completion of 7.5km on the bike in 15 minutes. That was pretty satisfying - and even more satisfying to beat it by 700m in the next session - but the important thing was what happened after getting off the bike and before lying down for the century plus of stomach exercises. A conversation.

It doesn't sound like much, but in those first sessions I'd come up with a decent (if slightly sarcastic) tag line for Giles. "Webster's House of Pain: where you lose weight AND the ability to talk." Just a couple of months later though and I'm rattling through longer sessions of CV stuff and still able to converse. There's still some way to go, of course, but it's good to have someone point out the milestones as they occur.

Next week I think it's time for the piccies and the full tale of the tape. I know I've promised / threatened before but it's long overdue. Those of a sensitive disposition may wish to block the site now...

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

One Month Down, Five To Go...

Following the last posting, Giles let slip some of his longer term plans. By the time the Tough Guy comes around, it looks like you'll be able to witness some of the preparation. If watching a sweaty chunky bloke fall off monkey bars is your particular "thing", that is.

Apparently, up at Primrose Hill, a place positioned annoyingly conveniently between home and Webster's House of, well, you know, there's a small assault course-y adventure playground. Come January, just as it gets really cold, I'll be warming up as per usual in Harley Street, and then jogging through Regents Park to the aforementioned and having a good old clamber about. And then jogging home.

Here's the thing though. After a month (and the extra bit) of regular work outs, while it sounds horrible, I think that's my couch potato / film critic / historic-self speaking. The key thing is I believe that, by December / January, I'll actually be able to cope with it. The difference in strength and basic fitness in a month has been remarkable: it seems very feasible that a further five months could get me running from the West End to Finchley and throw small children off their playground en route.

The last week has been an interesting one. With Giles away, my mission was to walk briskly as regularly as possible. Typically, that was hampered by the old ankle injury flaring up a little - walking boots, uneven earth on the allotment and a stupid lack of concentrtaion on my part - and some nasty bug that appeared over the weekend. Instead, I had to focus on watching what I ate. Yes, I know, that seems to contradict the original non-adjustment-of-lifestyle plan but, frankly, I really can't eat what I used to. Not that I actually ate that much. I know I look like the sort of bloke who has 14 bacon sandwiches for breakfast, 93 packets of Hob Nobs and a pantry that would make Gillian McKeith have a heart-attack (oh please...) but I didn't. Part of my frustration was going out with much slimmer friends, watching them polish off eight pints, their own dinner and assorted leftovers, and never putting on a pound. I'd eat lots of vegetables, walk a good couple of miles a day, keep a check on alcohol consumption... and the middle aged spread just kept coming.

That though seems to have been arrested. I'm not breathing in when I do up my jeans. I'm getting into shirts I've not worn for a year and the target outfit - a very slimfit, funky shirt Angela brought me back from Florida this year and some really nice Timberland trousers I could never do up - looks like an achievable target. And looking on the bright side, the nasty bug of the last couple of days has, er, been quite good for weight loss...

Anyway, it's back to the gym this morning and I'm raring to go. And I never thought I'd be saying that a couple of months back.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Catching Up. Again.

Eek. Another fortnight goes by at a pace considerably greater, I imagine, than I'll manage next January. No doubt some of you are thinking the radio silence means I've dropped the training and picked up the spoon. Well - small fanfare please - I haven't. After the self-control of Vegas, it's been back to "Webster's House of Pain". Although I must stop calling it that. "Couldn't you call it Webster's House of Gain?" suggested Giles the other morning, not entirely seriously. My own reasons for finding a new name are Twitter-based: it's genuinely scary how many new followers you can get just for mentioning "pain". Eek.

So, what to report? Well, things have been quite painful but that's mainly self-inflicted. As I've mentioned before, the plan is to do this training, complete the race and drop the pounds without dramatically adjusting the lifestyle / career. The reality though, as I've also mentioned, is that after doing the work, you just don't feel like consuming empty calories. For the most part, the drinking has been greatly reduced - and matched, as per instructions, with glasses of water - and the dining has tended to be of the healthier / smaller portioned variety. There have been a couple of notable exceptions, with last weekend's chocolate mousse (thanks again Charlotte) and a Tuesday afternoon spent running through, er, 18 of the ice creams available at the excellent Freggo in Swallow Street. Argentinean ice cream might not be as famous as Italian but this stuff rated amongst the best I've eaten in London.

Sadly, despite my nigh-faultless logic - chocolate is made from a bean and is therefore a vegetable, cream comes from cows so is effectively made from grass and is therefore a vegetable - by the time I arrived for Monday's and Wednesday's sessions, I was feeling slightly guilty. Giles provided his usual encouragement but probably didn't need to. That guilt drove me to extra efforts and, annoyingly, those extra efforts paid dividends. From this point on, I'll try and keep a record of the weight-based achievements, but by the Wednesday I managed to beat at least one of my "records" on the nightmarish shoulder press device, did 23 leg extensions in 20 seconds and got into three figures on the sit-ups / crunches. "Oh good," said Giles. "Now you're fitter I can start getting really nasty."

Oh joy.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Catching Up...

No, I haven't died in a bizarre treadmill accident or worked out so much I've lost the use of my typing fingers. I've just been snowed with a need to find paid work.

With the recession / credit crunch / complete global meltdown sponsored by RBS in full effect, those tough times are starting to bite a little. You'd be forgiven for thinking I've not been affected by it given the recent travels, but it's clear budgets are down in terms of freelance work. Still, while the lure of salary is looking more appealing by the week, I am pleased to report that the exercise has continued. Indeed, even in the face of footlong hot dogs, sundaes the size of Smart Cars and entire halves of cow that had been grilled and sliced and served for my dining pleasure in Las Vegas, the exercise continued.

While I'm 90% convinced I'd have done it anyway - I'm an endorphin addict now, me - I owe a little acknowledgement to jet lag. A 10 hour journey, eight hour time difference - actually nine, given I'd gone there virtually direct from Denmark - and a strange bed contributed to a very disrupted first night's kip so, after tossing and turning and sleeping in 60 minute bursts from 2am (or anywhere between 2am and 11am according to my body clock), I decided to call it a night / morning and hit the gym. It's not often I've found myself on a treadmill at just past 5am, but that's how I greeted my first full day in Vegas. A good brisk inclined walk and a thorough use of the resistance equipment later, I finished with an ankle-saving burst on the cross-trainer and ventured back up to my room around two hours later, feeling good and loose and sweaty and smug.

The following morning I dozed in a little longer and couldn't face the gym again so soon. Before you start crowing though, I did go for a walk which, according to a Vegas resident on the trip, was probably around seven or eight miles. "Things in Vegas are further apart than you think," she added sagely and was she ever right. I'd been heading towards a building I could see in the distance. After two hours of walking down the strip, I didn't seem to be any closer so I yomped back for a shower. And yes, more smugness.

And you know what? That pattern was repeated for the rest of the trip. More gym sessions, some swimming... As a result, even in the face of such excellent food in such outsized portions, I came home some two, three pounds lighter. Mind you, it probably helped that I was working out when I'd normally have been wolfing my bodyweight in hotel breakfast. Also, as I've mentioned before, when you've done the tough sweaty work, you feel way less inclined to consume the calories. I ate a lot of vegetables, drank a good three litres or more of water daily and not once did we order a bottle of wine. Bottles are way too easy to polish off. Ordering by the glass probably helped reduce my alcohol consumption greatly: a policy I hope to carry on with to some extent. Yes, I know I said my intention was to do this training without having to adjust my lifestyle but the interesting thing is I don't feel I have to adjust it. The difference is I'm just doing it because it feels better.

Oh dear god. Am I turning into one of "those" people?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Day 5

And so the challenge really begins. After two weeks / five sessions with Giles, work-related travel means I'm on my own for the next 10 days. It is then a test of willpower, resolve and my own smiling abilities to make myself hurt quite a lot.

As if to leave me a reminder of what I'm missing - and probably to show me the levels required to actually fulfill this (ridiculous!) project within the "official" six months - Giles broke out some new exercises yesterday: a slightly different abdominal crunch; and the first of, I suspect, several involving dumbbells.

To his credit, Giles did admit that the latter - lie back, hold 2 x 20kg dumbbells together over my head, move apart, rotate wrists, take dumbbells down wide to the side, repeat - might leave me "a little bit stiff tomorrow morning". So far, so good, although I did notice the effort when I attempted to pick up a bag yesterday. And, on second thoughts, carrying anything heavier than a gerbil above shoulder height might be a little tricky today. What's that word I'm thinking of? No, not that one, I would never call Giles that (well, only under my breath when he makes me do this exercise again). No, I meant that other word. What is it again? Oh yes, that's right. It's "ow".

Will I keep it up? I have to. There is some incentive here - the last couple of weeks have toned things quite dramatically and, if I remember our first, secret, "tale of the tape" correctly, I've also shaved four or five pounds off the frame. The muscle is still generally protected by a layer of cake, but the results are noticeable. I've also got no excuse not to keep the fitness heading north and the scales heading south as at least two of the three hotels I'll be in between now and Monday 27th, have fitness suites, and the second of the press trips is to promote healthy eating. In, er, Las Vegas. It will, frankly, be a test of my resolve. It's all very well going to restaurants to see how you can eat at sensible calorie levels and have salads demonstrated. It's a very different thing actually sticking to the programme and not saying "cool, noted, but that 32oz T-bone over there. I believe it has my name on it..."

Actually, with regard to the layer of cake, I would just like to point out the one thing guaranteed to wind me up: the dismissing of this excess weight as a "beer belly". How insulting. There's a lot more time and effort and money been spent on this flab than just beer, I can tell you. I don't mind the odd joke about my size. Hell, I can hardly deny the bulk, can I? You've got eyes. I'm also generally happy - possibly too happy, according to the Mrs - to be self-deprecating about it. Current faves on that score include "What do you mean get in shape? Round IS a shape" and "My body is a temple. Right now, it's St Paul's Cathedral." But call it a "beer belly" and prepare to feel my wrath. I'd rather you dismiss it as "foie gras flab" or "wine wobbles". At least that shows some thought, originality and, frankly, more historical accuracy...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Day Four

A slightly shorter than normal sesh today, due to a poorly Giles. He looked like crap when I got there which is appropriate really as he'd apparently been up all night following a dodgy cake at his daughter's school fete.

After discussing the relative merits of bug-induced weight loss we decided that, for the time being, the exercise regime would probably be better, not least as the former would have involved kissing Giles or something. I mean he's a nice bloke and all, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Today started with (almost) three miles of cycling which would have been easy but for the posture. Giles, you see, is a stickler - and rightly so - for the benefits of keeping your body in the proper position. Given the choice, the body will attempt to find a position where it's easier to turn the pedals / pull down the weight / lift a dumbell but by focusing on blocking that short cut, you force the muscles you're exercising to work that little bit harder. Bloody hurts though but, you know, it's a good hurt...

So, after the bike came the usual crunch sesh, followed by the evil combination device that exercises arms, the chest and the legs, albeit at different times. With Giles twiddling the controls in between disappearing to the smallest room, the machine's hydraulics combine to add resistance on the various exercises. And, as above, it bloody hurts. MInd you, the results have been remarkably quick - and the ensuing endorphin rush has proved quite addictive. The best bit, as well as people noticing the slight reduction in bulk, has been the way it carries over into "real life". After working so hard, you're loathe to snack on the crap stuff. Fruit, frankly, has never looked so attractive.

The big test will come after Wednesday when I hit Copenhagen for a few days of foodie luxury, followed by five nights in Las Vegas. The purpose of that trip is spas, swimming pools and healthy eating. Mind you, seems churlish to get out there and not at get a steak or two, doesn't it? Of course, there is some incentive. Once I return, it's tale of the tape time. And tale of the photograph. And tale of the video footage. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Day 3

Another day, another morning at Webster's House of Pain. I know that makes it sound like a hose of ill repute but, actually, some of the equipment could probably double as torture devices for well-heeled gentlemen of public school origins. That would though make Giles a Cynthia Payne-esque character and, while he's got some entertaining stories in his past, madame is not, as far as I'm aware, one of them. Nor can I comment on how he'd look in a dress.

But I digress. Friday though HURT. Not in a bad "whoops I've gone too far manner" - because the ever vigilant Giles wouldn't let that happen - but in a serious, targeted, let's isolate that individual muscle manner. After a day feeling energised but aware I'd had a proper workout, Saturday started in the sort of slight agony that you can only hobble and laugh your way through. Happily though, after much cursing of Giles - "he's a smiling assassin" I snarled at the missus, prompting many giggles and rapid e mailing to the man himself - the stiffness passed and the day improved rapidly with the realisation that not only was I able to bend over once again, I no longer needed to breath in while zipping up my jeans.

Can it be that just three sessions and a week of (sort of) moderate eating has made that much of a difference? Apparently so. I am, it must be said, keeping an eye on the dining and the alcohol consumption particularly the latter. Drink, as Giles points out, is not evil (well he would say that, he owns a pub) but it's all things in moderation and never drink to satisfy thirst. Drink, enjoy the flavours - and intersperse alcoholic beverages with glasses of water is pretty much what he's suggested and so far, so good. It's an easy rule, it's not stopping the wine consumption and, actually, you feel a hell of a lot better in the mornings. Unless you're up to the small hours consuming 1973 Calvados and decent cigars. Whoops.

The other thing I've found is that, because you've done all this targeted work, you don't feel like filling up on rubbish. Salads and fruit and healthy options suddenly seem more appealing than ever, and there's a certain satisfaction filling up on good "fuel" after you've burned off a little more of the old bad fuel.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have homework to do: a little TV and some stretches in the commercial breaks. Something tells me though, tomorrow morning won't be quite as gentle.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Day 2. Well, Sort Of...

And so, with one small Twitter, the "secret" is out. I'm now into my second day of exercising "officially" and so far it's going well.

While joy is not really a word you'd associate with the Tough Guy - joy is generally not defined as "dunking yourself in icy water in the depths of January and running eight miles through wintery mud and, probably, donkey crap" - there is a pleasing roundness to this project. And no, I don't mean somewhere between my hips and my chest. Let me explain...

While I will argue til the cows come home about the relative speed of my metabolism - and more on that in a sec - the simple truth is I clearly eat too much for my level of activity. The frustration is when I look back on my 20-something self when I ate considerably more than I do now, drank my bodyweight weekly in corporate entertaining pints and Australian Chardonnays (oh, the City in the 80s...) and, aside from the odd guilt-ridden gym visit on a Saturday, took no exercise of note. I now eat quite carefully, I walk miles a week, my alcohol consumption is a fraction of what it was... and yet, somehow, at some point I gained about five stone and added six inches to my waistline. Scary huh?

Of course, some will argue - probably quite successfully - that my lifestyle is to blame. Those 80's and 90's excesses have caught up with me, compounded by a profession that involves sitting on my arse and either typing or playing video games or watching films or consuming edibles and drinkables several times a week. Accordingly, the blame lies somewhere in my genes but, at least partly, at the landlord's / restaurateur's door.

What better solution could there be than having a landlord / restaurateur to assist with the pound-sheddage and the fitness campaign? Step forward Mr Giles Webster who, if he bought a lycra suit and a cape, could qualify as my favourite superhero. By night, he's LandlordMan, co-owner of The Coach & Horses and purveyor of Timothy Taylor's and good burgers. By day though, he's a Harley Street exercise physiologist. He's the man with the knowledge and the equipment to reduce this excess poundage without - so the plan goes - reducing the lifestyle dramatically. Well, it's in his best interests, frankly: those Scotch Eggs aren't going to eat themselves.

So, as the Landlord giveth, the landlord taketh away. And Giles will no doubt be chipping in with some myth-busting and general tips through the course of this "diary". The "official" regime kicks in from the end of July which gives Giles a formal six months to turn this Fat Bloke into the sort of nutter who can complete an eight mile yomp and assault course in the depths of a Midlands winter. In the meantime, the regime has begun at a more gentle pace. Come the end of the month though, we'll bring you the - eek - tale of the tape and - double eek - photos of the subject. Probably topless and inordinately hairy. You have been warned.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Day 1. Sort of.

And now, the end is near... Is that a bit melodramatic? Yeah, probably. It's just that I'm sitting here about to grab my shorts and trainers, jump on a (no doubt) sweltering tube and head to Harley Street for what should be the first of many such visits.

Relax, it's nothing terminal. Just the chance to do some exercise under expert supervision with a view to something really - and I mean REALLY - stupid. Every year, in a donkey farm near Wolverhampton, a cross country race takes place. In the depths of winter. With an assault course.

Some people set themselves the target of completing a marathon. I've been challenged to do the Tough Guy.

For most people, this would be a challenge. For a man who makes a living from eating, drinking, watching films and playing video games, it's possibly suicide. Still, only one way to find out, right?