Red Magazine Article:
“When an email popped into my inbox, exhorting me to sign up for my gym’s Tough Mudder team, a competition which bills itself as ‘the toughest event on the planet’, I casually thought, ‘why not?’ It was only after I’d paid my £140 quid, as a late sign-up, that I read the website and realised what I’d done. I’d committed to 12 miles of running (through mud) and a series of obstacles including ice-baths, plunging off platforms, swinging from ropes and possible electrocution. It’s <so> not me, but there’s nothing like fear for focusing the mind.
On the day of the competition – it’s not a race, if you manage to finish you are officially tough – after five weeks training, five times a week and virtually no booze, I turned up at to find myself surrounded by the biggest, most muscle-bound blokes I’ve ever seen. At the start, my stomach was churning, but I did it. Damn right I did, ice-baths, the lot.
The Tough Mudder motto is an old African proverb, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ So big thanks to my team mates and all those strangers who shoved me over walls and gave me a leg-up. Doing Tough Mudder showed me I could push myself harder than I ever thought possible, it changed the way I think of myself, both in and out of the gym and I don’t mind admitting I’m pretty proud of myself.
Six months ago, I would never have begun to imagine myself doing anything like this, especially not competing against huge blokes. All my adult life, I’ve wanted to be model slim, perhaps because I was a fat child. Most of the time – except for a miserable year at university when I ate only apples – I considered myself ten pounds over my mythical ‘ideal’. You could chart my life in a never-ending cycle of summer bikini plans, wedding dress workouts and regimes to lose the baby weight. Even this most recent foray into fitness was initially spurred by a mixture of weight creep and heartbreak.
A month of running then a a week at a bootcamp, the Body Retreat, a women-only fitness holiday which promises nine pound loss in a week got me back to size 10. But away from the group camaraderie and structured programme, I stalled. I was about to give up running; my knees were hurting and I didn’t feel overweight any more, so what was the point?
At precisely that moment, a friend recommended a gym in west London, W10 Performance. He’d been travelling there all the way from Dalston in east London, so I figured it must be good. To my amazement, the founder, Jean-Claude Vacassin , told me to stop running. ‘Lots of steady state cardio isn’t the most efficient way to change shape. Your body typically adapts after six to twelve weeks anyway (hence my lack of progress),’ he told me. It was time to mix it up. Next thing I knew he had me booked into three group sessions a week, two of weights, one aerobic.
I’ve been to gyms before, without much success. I was always bored, listlessly plodding along on the exercise bike. This time it was different. I was under close scrutiny. I had a programme and was ribbed mercilessly when I didn’t show up. For the first time ever my fitness was top priority, on a par with work or, dare I say it, going out for a drink, because it was social. Working out other people, in a place with some community spirit, is fun, even if it meant putting up with endless teasing about my goldfish memory and outrageous taste in leggings.
For someone who’d do anything to get out of sports at school, the big surprise was the emergence of a steely competitive streak. At W10 you’re given a target time in which to complete a 500 metre row, for example, or you race the other class members to do a series of Kettlebell swings, rope climbs, squats, burpees, then chalk your results on a whiteboard. I’ll be damned if I don’t beat my last time – and I don’t mind admitting I get a bit of a kick out of beating some of the big blokes.
W10 gym is not a place for posers. There are no mirrors, for a start. ‘Sure, looking a certain way is important to people, but our goal is to shift people’s mindset about fitness,’ says Jean-Claude. ‘We try to attach people to performance rather than physique goals. And guess what, when you get fitter, stronger and exercise consistently (because you enjoy it), you’ll get the body you want as a by product – you just enjoy the journey more.’ Working with trainers who don’t give a hoot about a number on a scale was a biggie for me. For the first time in my life, instead of trying to whittle myself away, I began to build myself up. My back stopped aching and I started losing my computer stoop. And when my body composition test came back showing I’d gained a kilo and a half of pure muscle and lost two of fat – 10 packs of butter! – in a month, I was pretty damn chuffed. ‘You’re a machine,’ Rob, my trainer, told me.
At W10 this is possibly their highest accolade they can bestow. ‘Yeah!’ I thought, ‘That’s me. Watch out!’