It was lucky chance and coincidence that led me to my new, fitter self. My job as a busy sports massage and remedial therapist meant that I was used to performing physical activities all day, especially at certain endurance sports events where it was not uncommon for me to be treating one athlete after another through the night with very little rest in between. While I had no illusions of super-fitness, I was relatively happy with what my body was able to do. However, my case certainly proves that being active all day certainly makes you physically capable within the parameters of that very specific activity, but does little beyond that.
In a fortunate twist of fate, I met Olly when he actually came to see ME, seeking some soft tissue treatment for his back. While I was taking the usual client history he mentioned that he worked as a personal trainer, so towards the end of the session I mentioned – in passing more than out of any serious urge to get fitter – that I would obviously refer any of my clients looking for physical training to him, but that I might also be interested in trying out his services myself. We met up again later that week and proceeded to warm up by doing a light jog around a grassy playing field near my house. Not having done any running for well over a decade, it should have been no surprise that I was huffing, puffing and thoroughly exhausted after just one lap, but it still shocked me to find out just how unfit I had actually become.
Following this initial trial-by-fire, I was kicked into action and continued to train twice a week. Exercising outside in all weathers eventually started to feel really energizing, and I was very impressed how Olly’s approach always managed to keep sessions varied and interesting, from easy slow running to high intensity sprint to balance work and crawling, naming but a few. I particularly enjoyed learning different ways to jump over a fence or small wall, a task requiring not just requiring physical strength but also technique and mental fortitude. Little did I realise just how much this empahsis on movement and overcome obstacles was to become in the following months. All in all, this was far removed from the repetitive and uninspiring exercises offered in most gyms.
Gradually I noticed my fitness start to improve. Running was becoming a real pleasure and it felt amazing being able to run several laps around a local park, in contrast to having to give up after one lap of a modestly sized playing field only a few months earlier. I also added in more activities outside of the actual training session, including track cycling and mountain biking. However, while I was increasing my physical capabilities, exercising seemed to have only limited effect on weight loss, which surprised me somewhat. At 6 feet 4 inches I am slightly taller than average, but despite training I was still weighing around 110kg . Even for my height, I knew that was far too much – and that weight was just not shifting. The idea of weight loss had never featured very highly in mind before, and even now I was not seeking a slimmer figure out of mere vanity; I just noticed that the added weight was holding me back, whether on foot or on the bike, and that was something that had to change.
Chatting with Olly I had heard a lot about his nutritional advice and the adapted paleo-diet he had developed in his book Instinctive Fitness, which at the time had only just been published. Logically, what Olly had to say about the ills of the modern Western diet made a lot of sense and what he was suggesting as remedy was certainly very different from the usual ‘fad’ diets I had occasionally read about. This definitely wasn’t a short term weight loss programme that asked you to count calories and keep away from fatty foods, but a gradual transformation of nutritional lifestyle and a new relationship with real, non-processed foods. I started trying out the 30-day-challenge that Olly and his writing partner Charlie Packer had made available alongside the first edition of Instinctive Fitness. I enjoyed it, but it took me while to make a full commitment, so I kept on repeating the ‘Week One’ section of the challenge but not really moving beyond this first stage. Old habits really do die hard, but luckily a new incentive was just around the corner.
Again more by chance than design, around November 2012 I received a message from Olly. Did I have any interest in joining him at a big obstacle race to be held in May the following year? Tough Mudder is referred to by the organisers as ‘probably the toughest event on the planet’, challenging teams of participants to run an 12 mile off-road course that include 22 obstacles, reputedly designed by ‘British Special Forces’. I am sure that Olly didn’t particularly have me in mind when he sent that email to everyone in his list of contacts, so it probably came as a bit of a surprise to him when I responded that would want to give this a go. In fact he very probably wondered whether I had bitten off more than I could chew (to use a clichéd, yet in this case somehow appropriate food-based idiom)!
Signing up for Tough Mudder at that stage could be seen as a little overconfident on my behalf, but in the end it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made. It provided me with a goal to aim for and now I certainly had to increase both my training and also change the way I was eating: time to try the Instinctive Fitness 30-day-challenge one more time.
While exercise by itself had not really caused me to lose any weight, the combination of the training and the change in diet made an immediate difference. I started shedding weight almost instantly, and even though the physical training was undoubtedly increasing my muscle mass, I lost well over 10kg between January and May 2013.
Rather than just simple weight loss, however, changes to my eating habits also brought me more energy and I was able to engage in long runs or prolonged exercise without experiencing a decline in performance or feeling the need to refuel by body straight after working out. The good news is that the dietary changes are so gradual that the body gets enough time to adjust to them. The title ‘Instinctive Fitness’ is actually very fitting as well, as choosing the right foods and exercise soon becomes very instinctive indeed. Once rid of sugar, fake sweeteners and artificial flavours, fruit actually starts tasting really sweet, while by comparison many processed food often taste a bit unpleasant. After a couple of months of going paleo, it becomes so much easier to listen and respond to what the body actually needs and to trust those cravings.
Thanks to Instinctive Fitness, I have become a much fitter and leaner person and was able to successfully complete the London Tough Mudder Challenge just a few months ago with Olly and the rest of the ‘Mad4Mud’ team.
This isn’t where the story ends though. The weight loss has continued and at the time of writing I weigh around 95kg. The photos of me here attest to the radical changes my body went through over this period. Training for Tough Mudder really made me enjoy taking part in running challenges and this year I also competed in the Brutal 10 at Bordon Heath (a 10km off-road run featuring natural obstacles) and the Runner’s World Trailblazer in the Forest of Dean (a trail run that is part of the UK’s 10k trail series). My very latest event was the Brutal Enduro, a 12-hour night time trail race on difficult technical terrain where I managed to run for 50km, a new personal record. I can honestly say that I feel a long way removed from the person who once had problems running a whole lap of a football field!