Uh-oh - that's torn it
It was all ticking along so well. Six weeks into the one-hour decathlon challenge, I'd survived Daley, done two training sessions in each of the 10 disciplines and started to feel a deep affection for the whole event.
To say I was looking forward to this week's workout with Dean Macey is an understatement. I couldn't wait. If there's one athlete you'd want to hang about with for a day, it's the Macinator. Laughs guaranteed, proper training rumble a certainty.
I had no idea how wrong things were about to go. I wish I'd known.
During the first hour there is little indication of what might follow, just the usual heady Macey mix of wisecracking and wallop.
It's hard to choose my favourite anecdote - it's a dead heat between the time he pushed so hard in training the grass on the infield looked white ("I scared meself that day") and when he made his Dutch training partner collapse with asthma ("I cut the rest periods in half cos he wouldn't run the 200m at the speed I wanted") - but it's nowhere near as hard as the medicine-ball drills that follow.
We are standing in a battered squash court, big chunks of plaster missing from the walls and ceiling tiles displaced and dented everywhere you look.
"If you want to get better, you've got to take your medicine!" yells Dean happily, flinging the 5kg ball at the wall. There is a noise like grapeshot and an explosion of paint dust.
By his own admission, this is one of Macey's all-time favourite sessions. The premise is simple - hurl the ball at different walls from different directions, as hard as you can, again and again.
"What's the key to the technique?" I ask. "Smash it!" Dean bellows, and dashes the ball into the floorboards with a primeval roar. He looks over and winks. "When in doubt, always smash."
We stand on the T of the court, facing the back wall, and hurl the ball backwards over our heads. The aim is to get the ball over the top red line. My throws hit halfway up. Dean's demolish more ceiling.
Ten throws in, we turn 180 degrees and go again - powering upwards with the legs, leaping forward, firing the core muscles. Forget about taking a breather. When that's done, it's 10 more, this time flinging the ball from the chest like an angry Charles Barkley, straight into 10 hurls to the floor, 10 whipped across the body to the right, 10 to the left.
Dean jogs over to a mat placed on the floor and gets me to sit down, legs bent up. "Smash!" he shouts, an enormous smile on his face, and throws the medicine ball at the spot above my head.
I catch it and tumble backwards with the momentum. "Stay up!" he yells, as I throw it back. The next throw comes in. It's like trying to decelerate a cannonball. My stomach muscles, still bruised after the thrashing from Daley, sigh resignedly.
Ten of those, ten more into the chest, then up into a kneeling position. The ball is lobbed at my ankles. I have to twist to the side, pick it up, throw it Delap-style across the court to Dean and then do it again. Oh - with a press-up between each one.
I think that lasts about half an hour. I can't be sure. We do all the above at least three times. All I know is that my stomach, hamstrings and glutes are moaning like the Daily Mail letters page by the time we stagger out onto the desolate running track outside.
Dean pauses for a moment to reminisce. "I love this place," he says, looking around the windswept curves. "See that bend over there? I call that Mushroom Corner, cos that's where I used to chuck up what looked like mushrooms after a session." He rubs his shaved head. "Thing is, I don't even eat mushrooms."
We walk past a battered hammer cage. The metal bars holding the netting up are bent and twisted. "Used to do my pull-ups there," says Dean, misty-eyed. I follow his gaze. The bars are at least 15 feet off the ground. "You weren't worried you might fall off?" He looks at me. "Nah. You ain't gonna fall off if the drop's that big, are you?"
He lays out a series of cones on the home straight and explains the sprint set to follow - 100 metres hard, 30 seconds rest, 90m, 20 seconds rest, 80m, 10 seconds rest, 70m. Two minutes rest and the same again, and again, and again. I can feel a dry retch coming on at the mere prospect.
The first set goes well. My right hamstring feels tight, but so does my left one. It's nothing I haven't run through before, certainly not in the same league as the patella tendonitis that has dogged me since the leaping and jumping part of the decathlon training began.
I stretch during the two minutes breather, wait for Dean's count down and crouch low to begin the next sprint. "Go!" he shouts, and I push off hard, shoulders low, driving with the legs.
It's like someone has suddenly grabbed the back of my leg and started to squeeze it. In the second it takes me to realise what is happening, the grip tightens up up up, and suddenly I am hopping down the track, clutching my leg, wincing and coming to a dead halt, one word clanging like a siren in my head.
I look at Dean. He looks at me. Hamstring.
I try to bend my leg. The pain is immediate and unmistakeable. I look at Dean again. "Oh mate," he says, and puts a massive arm around my shoulder.
Panicked thoughts flood my brain. If I've torn my hamstring, that could be six weeks on the sidelines. I've only got 11 to the big day. Six weeks! What about the hurdles - I've only just started - the long jump, the high jump, the shot, the 100m, the 4....
I haven't even finished the session. I haven't even dry-retched. I've let Dean down.
I grimace and try to make a joke out of it. "I've been Maceyed," I say, and immediately regret it.
Dean looks mortified - "Mate - don't say that!" - and I realise too late what I've done. It is an incredibly selfish, self-obsessed comment to make. Macey has missed Olympic Games and world championships to injury, trained like a demon his entire life and had to cope with having all that work go to waste. I'm doing this for fun. I've been doing it for less than two months. What right do I have to complain?
"I'm sorry," I say, truthfully. "I'm just disappointed."
Dean smiles ruefully. "I know how you feel. The higher the tree, the bigger the fall." I nod. "Still," he says, brightening. "At least you're a real decathlete now, eh?"
Ice, ice and more ice. The drive back from Canvey is a slow one, the hop from car to front door even slower.
Now, the wait for news from the physio. All training is on hold - no running, no jumping, no explosive throws; no more sessions with Daley or Dean. All I can do is aqua-jog in the local council pool, which is not only the most soul-destroying form of exercise ever invented but also irritates the large ladies who are drifting by on the currents, trying to keep their hair dry despite having chosen to immerse themselves up to the neck in a large body of water.
Don't get me started.