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All aboard the Daley Express

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Tom Fordyce | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Scientists say the human brain is incapable of accurately remembering the sensation of intense pain. It's something to do with protecting ourselves, with allowing us to move on from traumatic situations.

I have great respect for scientists. Yet none of them, clearly, has ever done a three-hour training session with Daley Thompson.

There is no forgetting. There never will be. I am more likely to forget my own name than I am to lose the memory of what went on at the Millennium Stadium in Battersea Park last Saturday.

In retrospect, the clues were obvious - the glint in Daley's eye, the twitching of the trademark 'tache, the fact that, even aged 51, he looks like he could smash straight through a building's walls if he ever got fed up of using doors.

You can win at Bingo without training. You can fluke a victory in a pub quiz. But two Olympic golds, the world title, the European Championships, three Commonwealth golds and four world records, in the hardest sport of all?

There are no shortcuts. There is no luck. There is only brute effort, suffering and sweat.


In the world of Daley even the warm-ups hurt. My usual loosener is a five-minute jog, perhaps with a little light stretching thrown in at the end. It doesn't normally involve death by rowing-machine - four lots of 1000 metres, resistance cranked up to maximum, the stroke-rate increasing from uncomfortable to flat-out frantic with dreadful rapidity.

"Thanks for coming, Tom," says one of the training group ominously as I look down at my wobbling legs. "He's going to beast us all now."

At first, the weights session seems relatively low-key. We start with 20 one-armed bench presses, lying flat on our backs, moving straight onto an incline bench to do the same, standing for 20 more one-armed shoulder presses and finishing with 20 press-ups. Except we're not finishing. We're barely starting. No matter that the dumbbells are only 8kg each.

On the next round we do 26 of everything. The one after that it's 30.
It might not sound like much. How hard can 8kg per hand be? Try it. With every push, the burning in your chest, shoulders and arms grows more intense. Rest? You can't rest, not when the greatest all-round sportsman Britain has ever produced is chasing you round the circuit with a happy grin on his face.

"Come on Tom! Stop cheating!" he shouts, as I remain on my back for a fraction of a second between sets.

A woman who is four months pregnant is also training with us. "How many reps are you going to do - 26?" asks Daley hopefully.

She fights for breath and touches her bump gingerly. "I think I'll stick with 20, thanks," she says.

Daley thinks for a second. "Why not do a couple for your kid?" he suggests.

There are no excuses, no bottling out. Daley's eyes are everywhere, even when he's casually bashing out reps of 30 when everyone else is still on 20. A touch of grey might be visible at the Thompson temples, but the legendary competitive fire still burns strong.

"Steve!" he barks at one of the lads who has momentarily let his knees brush the ground during a press-up. "Come on - you're more of a man than that!"

It's the same on the pull-up bar. Like an idiot I make the error of going for a showy wide-arm grip and banging out the first few a little too quickly. "Too easy!" yells Daley delightedly. "Forget about doing eight - you can do 10 now!"

Ten pull-ups, 10 dips, 10 press-ups, again and again on a seemingly endless loop. Muscles are screaming, seizing up, fatiguing to the point of failure. The last few in each set become monstrously difficult. Daley doesn't care. No excuses, no shortcuts.

I flop down by the water-cooler. It takes a supreme effort to hold the cup steady under the tap. Oh, for the sweet kiss of the glucose-based elixir Daley advertised in the 1980s...

One of the brave coterie of Daleyites is lying on his back next to me. "At least that's the arms done," I gasp. He shakes his head. "Oh no," he says. "We've still got the other circuits to come."

One of my favourite comments on last week's blog was a stern Daley mail from kjh777. "Listen, learn, show him respect, and the minor matter of 100% commitment. He won't accept anything less and maybe you'll come out of the session a few percent better. Fearless or stupid, either way it's going to hurt."

Oh, it will. And it is. Bounding through a sandpit sounds like something a five-year-old might do for fun. It shouldn't hurt like it does - it's only repeated double-footed leaps down the long jump pit, through shin-deep clogging sand with the consistency of wet concrete, one length after another, again and again, until your ankles are manacled with exhaustion and your thighs burning with lactic acid.

Eight lengths, a brief pause to dry-retch into a dustbin, eight lengths and another heave-ho. No resting, no bottling out. Another eight lengths. Then 10. Then 12.

That 100% commitment sounded simple when first I read it. To give anything less seemed outrageous. To complete a one-hour decathlon, you know you'll have to work hard. The thought of doing anything less when Daley was watching had seemed laughable.

As the rain diagonals into my eyes and my guts swirl horribly, it is all so different. The desire to give it up is dreadfully tempting. My limbs feel so weak I doubt if I could even play Daley Thompson Decathlon on the Spectrum, let alone in the flesh. To hammer that space-bar quickly enough to get Avatar Daley to run would require strength that has already been spent.

A shout of greeting from Daley echoes across the track. It signals the arrival of Snowy Brooks, a decathlon legend who represented Barbados at the 1972 Olympics and someone who, even at the age of 65, still has a six-pack like Bruce Lee's.

Snowy looks like a Greek statue carved from polished walnut. I have never seen a man his age look so fit. If Jurgen Hingsen and Siggi Wentz were to turn up now, Snowy and Daley could spank them back to Germany without breaking sweat.

The pair park themselves under brollies and get busy with stopwatches and whistles. We do 20 lots of 100 metres, run hard, with the recovery times between each one descending from 30 seconds to 10.

Everything hurts. Everything is weak. Nothing seems to end.


In the final half-hour of circuits, humiliation is total. Snowy destroys me on a monstrous six-minute non-stop sit-up drill. So does Pete, another sexugenarian with all the body fat of a champion thoroughbred.

"Tell the truth in your blog!" yells Daley happily. "You're being beaten by a man twice your age! Go on Pete!"

I must have done something right. When the group calls it quits, an invite is extended to join them for lunch in a greasy spoon up the road. As steam clogs up the windows, the talk is of decathlons past and training sessions future. With a nod towards the cuisine of Daley's competition heyday, I order poached eggs and a glass of cold milk. Snowy has grilled tomatoes on toast (no butter).

Later that day, after a lost two hours in a coma on my sofa, I dig out some old internet clips of Daley in action at the 1984 Olympics. Ron Pickering's commentary from the discus rings out around my kitchen. "It's a better one, it's a better one, it's a better one, it's a better one! And the man is dancing in the circle!"

There is a bit of dancing going on in my own head. Just before we left the track, Daley had called me over. "You can come down next week if you fancy it," he'd said.

Of course I fancy it. I've got to go back. I've got to soak it up.

That Daley Special in full


4x1000m on rowing machine: 1st 1000m with split of 1'50. 2nd 1000m: 500m at 1'55, 500m at 1'45. 3rd 1000m: 500m at 2'02, 500m at 1'38. 4th 1000m: 500m at 2'07, 500m at 1'33


20 x: single arm bench press, incline single arm chest press, standing single arm shoulder press, press-ups. I use 8kg dumbbells, Daley recommends more.

Minute rest, then 26 x all the above.
Minute rest, then 30 x all the above

10 x wide-arm pull-ups, 10 x dips, 10 x press-ups
Minute rest, then whole thing a total of four times.


Double-feet jumps down the length of pit. Do it eight times, rest and repeat twice more. Two minutes walking, then jump 10 lengths. Two minutes walking, then jump 12 lengths.


5 x 100m with 30 seconds rest.

Two minutes rest, then 6 x 100m with 30 seconds rest

Two minutes rest, then 9 x 100m with 30 secs rest between each, then 20 secs, then 10 secs.


30 x chinners sit-ups, 30 x mountain climbers (like single leg squat-thrusts)
Repeat three times.

30 x press-ups, 30 x good mornings
Repeat three times

Six minutes non-stop alternating 30 secs Plank, 30 seconds good mornings


  • Comment number 1.

    Sounds like the Daley session was harder than the 1 hour decathlon is going to be!

  • Comment number 2.

    Just signed up with the local gym at the weekend - tonight is my first real session..............I think it's going to be easier than a Daley session!!
    I'm exhausted just reading it Tom - hats off to you ;-)

  • Comment number 3.

    Holy hell mate.... you are in decent shape if you can do all that all ready. I am still trying to get my head around a triathlon. You are very very lucky to have a coach like Daley. I wonder how much his victims pay to be there?

    Just remember when it's hurting......... say ouch and get on with it. There is a finish line to cross.

  • Comment number 4.

    I knew Mr Thompson was hard, but bloody hell... Do people PAY to be tortured like that, or does he do it out of a twisted, sadistic love of inflicting pain?

    How do you rate your progress so far Tom? Not long to go now.

  • Comment number 5.

    Do you know, I'm knackered just reading this. By the sounds of it, you've no problem finishing the Decathlon if you can do this. I think my limbs would have turned to jelly very quickly (actually, I know they would have), leaving me incapable of moving - even with Daley and his eye glinting and moustache twitching.

  • Comment number 6.

    Your only problem is the next challenge you do will be easy, unless you are heading into the Ultra Sports domain like a 100 mile run

  • Comment number 7.

    Well the man is a Decathlon legend and for good reason. He obviously worked his socks off with total commitment.

    Just love that cheeky grin on his face in that pic where is watching over Tom killing himself with the press ups. :)

  • Comment number 8.

    Holy moly, that is BRUTAL. Simply brutal, still you get to hang out with one of our all time greats and sporting legends so it's not all bad....

  • Comment number 9.

    That sounds like the most horrific workout ever to be tried. But imagine the satisfaction you're going to get as it becomes less and less like a run through hell. As others have said I guess the point of training that hard is so when you come to do the actual events they'll seem easy in comparison. And you got to be trained by the master of multi-eventing, once the lactic acids drained from your muscles in about a week you'll have that to look back on.

    Keep up the work Tom I'm rooting for you fella.

  • Comment number 10.

    What we need for your next session is a video diary - could it be arranged?

  • Comment number 11.

    This is a great series Tom, you're making me yearn for my many happy years of athletics. Good luck.

    Oh, and dear BBC, please can more of the licence fee be diverted to fantastic things like this? Tom is a shining example (Ben Dirs is the other) of a BBC sports journalist who writes compelling and carefully thought out prose. Give them more.

  • Comment number 12.

    Great blog. That "warm up" alone is beyond the majority of regular gym-goers, I reckon, let alone the average guy on the street. You must be in great shape already.

  • Comment number 13.

    Nice. Would have loved to get a taste of the atmosphere via a bit of video if that's possible in the future.

  • Comment number 14.

    A big RESPECT! So Tom, based on your recent experiences and past blogs, what is worse, several Maceys or a total Daley (i.e. utter utter exhaustion)? Sounds as if Daley was being a little soft on you though if he had a bin ready for your retching.

    Anyway, that is top marks for guts in doing that monster session. What else are you doing across the week. Your fitness levels sound great: how is the technical stuff coming along?

  • Comment number 15.


    fearless or stupid...still in debate, thanks for the acknowledgement,

    Sounds like session was a blast,

    returning to mix it up with the civilians and Daley, what an honour, hey who would have thought , yep a whole different skillset needed, then running in a straight line .., sounds like the strength, conditioning will do what you hoped,

    The 'piece' showed the respect, i guess thats an invite only group..what an invite...

    ..and i guess you feel just a bit its tuesday and your legs and arms have rejoined your body.

    Onwrds to next week...guess pensioners, and pregnant women, need to be viewed in a whole different light!!..


  • Comment number 16.

    Honestly - three days later and I'm still moving like Clive Dunn in Dad's Army. I sneezed on Sunday - felt like I'd been sat on by a whale.

    Collie21 - lovely quote. "When it is hurting, just say 'ouch' and get on with it." Anyone for a tattoo?

    articulate, paulhillar - I'm really sorry about the lack of video. We were all lined up this week but derailed last minute by a nightmarish permit shenanighans. I hereby pledge that the forthcoming Dean Macey sesh will appear here in full movable glory.

    top-timbertopper - technical stuff is coming along, but slowly. Struggling badly with the jav this week - can't get my elbow into the right place. And there's so many disciplines that you always feel like you're neglecting one. I've only done one and a bit hurdles sessions in five weeks - the late-night practising over kitchen chairs just won't cut it.

    Anyone fancy having a pop at the Daley Special at home in the next week and posting on how they get on?

  • Comment number 17.

    Good work Tom, glad you enjoyed the session... bounding really is the devil's exercise...
    it only gets harder.. but at least the eggs on toast gets tastier.
    seeya next time.
    PS - you missed out a set of 5x100m... 25x100m was the total...

  • Comment number 18.

    Sounds BRUTAL! I thought Milfit was tough, but this is a whole different ball game!

    Can you pls explain 'Two minutes rest, then 9 x 100m with 30 secs rest between each, then 20 secs, then 10 secs.'?

    Do you do 3 sets of 9x100m decreasing the rest time for each set? If so do you rest for 2 mins between each set of 9?

  • Comment number 19.

    are you seriously saying that you completed this circuit, all reps included? how long did it take for you to get fit enough to do this!?

  • Comment number 20.

    Jake - we did 25 x 100? My giddy aunts...

    U14026111 - we did the first 16 x 100m with rests of 30 seconds between each 100m, plus rests of two mins after five, 10 and 16. The rests between the last nine x 100m decreased from 30 secs to 20 to 10, then 30, 20, 10 again etc. Make sense?

    horgan88 - completed it was. Only just, but definitely completed...

  • Comment number 21.

    You want ME to have a go at the Daley Special? To be fair Tom, you're doing all this work so I don't have to.

  • Comment number 22.

    Tom, having discussed your blog and the session with some guys in the office yesterday, I foolishly said I'd give some of it a go down the gym today. Having made the attempt, I'm now back at my desk and struggling to type.

    How much rest did you have between each 1000m in the rowing warm up? I tried to follow the first 4x500m splits without any rest in between each 1000. Managed the first 3 but slipped off the pace for the 4th - with final 2000m split of 7.30 (about 10 secs off your session) - then fell off the erg! Can't imagine even attempting the last 2000m.

    Next, did one set of the weights (8kg x 26) followed by one set of the pull ups, dips, press ups. Arms and shoulders still burning!

    Next 2 mins non-stop alternating 30 secs Plank, 30 seconds good mornings.

    All that in about 20 mins.

    Feel sick!

    Will NOT be trying the full session - I want to see my kids grow up!

    Hats off to you though and very best of luck for the 1hrDec.

  • Comment number 23.

    robthomas1710 - hats off, sir, for being the first to have a crack. The rest between each 1000m in the rowing should have been about three minutes, which would have helped - but then there's all the extra stuff on top. If you have the chance, get yourself down to a long jump pit and have a pop at that bounding. Ghastly, ghastly business...

  • Comment number 24.

    Well said #11. I stumbled across this series last week and have since gone back to read the previous instalments. A great undertaking which deserves more exposure IMO.

    I'll sadly have to pass on recreating the Daley workout. These cups of tea don't make themselves you know...

  • Comment number 25.

    Any fool can devise masses of exercises for the the naive to undergo in the dumb belief that it will instantly do them good. It will in the long term and as a gradual process of progression but this stupid, "ooh, look I'm training with "legend" Daley Thompson and he's making it really tough" is going to leave every single one with a massive stiffness problem of even being able to move or walk over the next 7-10 days. (Tell me I'm wrong)
    Any physiologist will tell you what happens to muscles not used to this kind of work and what they will feel like over the days following- very sore!
    Any programme has to be appropriately progressive according to age, gender and fitness. Even a super fit athlete or footballer or tennis player would have problems after spending an hour going through exhaustive exercises their body is unfamiliar with. As with anything, Ssart with a little and progressively increase over the weeks as your body adapts
    So for all those who took part enjoy being able to do nothing for the next 7-10 days!

  • Comment number 26.

    Are you sure that was you Tom? Looks to me as if you sent Gordon Ramsay to do your dirty work.

  • Comment number 27.

    That sounds like a killer! Daley is one hell of a chap and 1 of the people i'd most like to meet, although he never released a board game like Bruce Jenner did, most disappointing.
    The 1 hour decathlon is on my list of things to do, first is a double decathlon in Holland in September...20 events, 2 days, you know you want to...

  • Comment number 28.

    To James Montgomery,

    While your general advice about tailoring exercise is true, the fact you placed the word "legend" in inverted commas when preceding Daley Thompson is just plain rude. It suggests you are sceptical of his legendary status, as if it could possibly be open to question. It isn't. He is.

    There's a great story about Thompson asking his coach Frank Dick to name the greatest athlete he ever saw. After thinking about it Dick named someone, only for Thompson to say "forget it buddy, you're looking at him". That ego and self belief is what makes a champion.

  • Comment number 29.

    Excellent blog, and a legendary athlete. Daley Thompson was brilliant and mad, because you must be mad to do the decathlon. His rivalry with Jurgen Hingson was one of the big things that I remember from athetics when I was a nipper and first got me interested in the sport.

    I wouldn't fancy trying out that training regime though - you're a braver man than me!

  • Comment number 30.

    BennyBlanco, It isn't rude at all. I was using it as a quote from the original. But in fact referring to anyone as a 'legend' is incorrect. DT is certainly a sporting celebrity a past superstar but not a legend which is described by the Oxford Dictionary as "a traditional story popularly regarded as historical myth, and legendary is "Of, or connected with legends"

    As far as I am aware, Daley Thompson did not reside with the Gods on Mount Olympus or appear in any of their supposed activities!

    However, I'm glad you agree the main point of my post.

  • Comment number 31.

    James m, i feel you're taking it all too seriously both the Blog and the training, poor old bennyblanco getting aced by you, poor form i say, you've clearly forget that benny blanco from the bronx comes back for carlito "hey remember me jimmy m' before coldly dispatching Al Pacino(acting legend), in Carlito's way,


    The people who train with daley...legend, champion, past superstar, any other epithet that's been applied to him..., are doing it because they want to, tom is a 2 hr tri boy he can handle himself, should he put a govt health warnin out, please do not attempt..unless supervised..yeah it hurts yep its an intense burst of 'conditioning', and tom himself says he was like clive dunn, 2 days later...and that he was beaten by a 60 year old guy at the end of the circuits...he's taking it in the spirit of any group training session ,

    bennyblanco or mr twilight perhaps did'nt have the time to swallow a you have..but last time i saw any news coverage legend is often used in this 'context' Ali et al dt, etc..perhaps we're being dumbed down..,maybe heaven forbid its slang...its a blog, get with the programme, TF, thru it out to let us 'civilians' get a feel what 1000m reps'on a rower ,(not a sedentary punt down the Isis) with little recovery feels like, how 25 back to back 100m hurt so much so he lost count, that the gen pop have no idea, get behind bennyblanco, tom f, and daley..

    and feel the pain..hey the're were pregnant women doing part of that session, and two 60 year old men at least..perhaps its a lesson to us all norman tebbit style to get on our bikes,..or our spikes

    I for one, as an obese office worker, will be heading to a track near me, to feel the pain, and of course have a crash unit, and a sports masseuse at hand.

    good on dt for still doing it..good on the 60 year old's still doing it, and total respect to anyone regardless of 'skillset' who get out there and 'do a bit' , good on em..,

    fearless or stupid, got to admire tf's attempt, on two levels, a)it clearly hurts B)he's making it fun,


    p.s Daley the Legend last seen cleaning the Augean stables, with a Porsche 959 outside, being showered by two rivers he diverted to clean his wheels!

    post post script. Respect to rob thomas on concept 2 hell..good on him for trying

    post post script.."hey remember me, Benny Blanco from the Bronx..."

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm sure it was Daley Thomson who was asked how he had managed to beat Jurgen Hingsen. Daley replied it was because Hingsen had only trained three times on Christmas day and Daley had trained four times.
    That's hardcore.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hello Tom. I've been meaning to try this circuit for months, and just got round to it yesterday. I couldn't lift my arms up to wash my face this morning. I have a question about the WEIGHTS section:-

    When you say '10 x wide-arm pull-ups, 10 x dips, 10 x press-ups
    Minute rest, then whole thing a total of four times'. Do you mean that you do the 10 x wide-arm pull-ups, 10 x dips, 10 x press-ups 4 times over, or the WHOLE OF THE WEIGHTS SECTION 4 times over including bench press, chest press etc. I'm hoping it's the former.


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