Mission Impossible 3
In the first of a series of blogs, Ben Dirs outlined how and why he set upon the path to fitness. In the second, he described his early struggles with his new regime. In the third, he says all the work has started to pay off.
I am not a vain man. I once arrived at work, having travelled from Essex to west London, only to discover in the lift I had dried snot streaked all the way across my face. The moral of the story? Always look in the mirror after getting out of the shower.
I don't use fake tan, I don't wax, I don't wear hats. But last week, I must confess, I kissed the guns: me and my two biceps in the most bizarre of love triangles. I would like to think it was an ironic gesture, but I am not sure it is possible to be ironic with oneself.
We live in an instantaneous world and we no longer savour anticipation: that feeling of picking up a roll of film from the chemist, of waiting for that first phone call from a new girlfriend before the days of mobile phones. And it is the same with getting in shape: it takes time and it can be tremendously frustrating.
Three weeks in and I am on the verge of quitting. But then, but then... I notice, on one of my frequent visits to the bathroom mirror, that my jowls have gone. Melted into nothing. My ribs, for so long encased in blubber, are jutting proudly through. My biceps, formerly the consistency of brie, have solidified into something approaching comté. In short, I suddenly discover I look better than I used to standing around in my pants.
Dirs demonstrating just how much fun getting into shape can be
Matt Lovell, RFU and Tottenham Hotspur nutritionist and the man who set me on my path to fitness, notes that my skin looks clearer and that I have more of a colour in my face: battleship grey no longer. All that spinach, all that exercise, all those supplements.
"There's not a lot fish oil won't do," says Lovell. "I've only ever tested two people with the correct levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their body, most people are deficient. Fish oil enables the body to burn fat, it keeps the blood thin and it helps prevent cardio-vascular disease.
"Then you've got green tea extract, which is geared towards anti-ageing. They think a reason the Japanese have low instances of certain types of cancer, despite the fact they smoke more than most, is because of their intake of green tea. I'd advise you to drink six cups a day." I think I'll pass: my urine, for whatever reason, already resembles Chartreuse.
I seek out some scales and discover I have dropped a stone. I buy some new jeans and discover I have dropped two inches from my waist. So many happy discoveries - and some strange ones. For example, I am unable to use an iPod while exercising because the earphones keep falling out, the only possible conclusion being I have odd-shaped ears.
But overall, the knowledge that all the hard work is paying off serves to reinvigorate me. And anyway, I can't back out now, not now I've gone public. Imagine the shame.
I suddenly feel affinity with the fitness community. Fellow bikers tip their helmets to me as I cycle by. I talk back stretches and injuries with bloke down the gym. "Pain is weakness leaving the body," he tells me, which puts a whole new slant on childbirth.
The niggles are many, so that I am constantly having to rejig my regime: went too hard on the rowing machine, back gone, next time it's the bike; too hard on the weights, back gone, has to be cardio for the next two days; went running on the road, hip gone, back to the rowing.
Four meals a day, every day, but still people wonder about my energy. Truth is, even without the carbs, I don't honestly remember having more of it. The second burst of exercise, late in the evening, and the endorphins released mean I am having trouble sleeping some nights.
Food-wise, I am now a well-oiled machine. No chocolate, no crisps, no fizzy drinks, not for four weeks. However, there are some surreal moments. On a visit to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield - home of British champions - I am forced to seek out a greasy spoon for an omelette because the canteen is only serving pasta. On another occasion, I find myself daydreaming about my first bad meal, like a man on death row, but sort of in reverse.
I am not going to lie to you, I have been going out. All work and no play would make me a very dull boy. But I had not factored in a wedding in Ibiza - and the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry when Beefa comes a-calling. "At least you'll get some sun," says Lovell. It rained for the first two days.
I will not go into detail, other than to say Beefa was as Beefa is. Too much booze, far too many fags. Even the odd potato. And no, that is not a euphemism. For three days I was an out of control train screeching down the tracks, sparks flying everywhere.
The first morning back in Blighty and the self-loathing is quite crushing. Cold sweats, maybe even a tear or two. But I manage to do it: I make it to the gym. And you know what? Shock of shocks, the break has done me good.
"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." Sorry, bloke down the gym again. He's got a point, though: if Beefa could not weary me, then surely nothing could.