I will start this by saying that we’re all a whole lot stronger than we think. And when you put yourself out there in a competitive environment, mental toughness allows you go past the edge of what you considered physically possible.
It happens without you really even knowing you’re doing it. One second you have the hardest 10 minute sprint of you life ahead of you and the next, you’re screaming for your teammates as you push as hard and as fast as you can. And you just keep going even as every muscle seizes and screams back at you. You find a new limit to what your body can take.
Oh no… What have I done? Part 1: Recruitment
After class one day in April, my friend and F45 Trainer, Maz, came up to me and mentioned that the Active Vegans were putting on event: The Plant-Based Games, and she was pulling together a team for it. Did I want to compete with her? In truth, I think she asked me at the right time – I was weak and shaky after the F45 session and wasn’t really in a position to think things through properly. I was just honoured to have been asked to be on a team. So I said, ‘SURE! Absolutely! What a fantastic idea. Why the hell not.’
And then I went on vacation for 8 days and didn’t do a single workout whilst away.
When I got back, I resumed training. I think I thought that was all I really needed to do to be ready. After all, I consider F45 to be quite intense training, so surely THAT WOULD BE GOOD ENOUGH.
Of course, when you train with other really fit people, you learn that actually you do in fact have room for improvement after all, and perhaps you aren’t quite as fit as you thought you were. Just one session with some super fit babes from F45 Oxford Circus revealed this to me and that’s when it started to kick in that I would actually be going up against some insanely fit people in just a few weeks.
My God, I didn’t have enough time. Oh no… What have I done?
Oh no… What have I done? Part 2: The Workout
My team trained together twice. It was just enough practice to get a sense of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and thoroughly concern me for what lay ahead. Ali, Dan, Maz… let me say thank you right now for everything you did to get me ready for the Games. I couldn’t have done without you guys.
Training Session #1
Our first session together was based on a training workout suggested by the Plant Based Games. The workout consisted of four exercises with specified male and female weights.
As a team, for time, perform 4 rounds of:
1. 1200m Row
2. 40 chest-to-floor burpees (with lateral hop over barbell)
3. 40 deadlifts (80kg male/55kg female)
4. 40 devil presses (20kg male/12kg female)
By the time we got to the end of that, I couldn’t feel my legs and I couldn’t lift my arms. I was scared shitless that I simply wasn’t strong enough to compete at that level. With just under two weeks to go, I made it my mission to lift as heavy as possible at subsequent training sessions so that I wouldn’t come up short at the competition.
Training Session #2
The week before the big day, the final workout was released. To say that it made me die a little inside when I saw just how savage the games were actually going to be, is an understatement. I may have peed myself, but I still couldn’t feel my legs from the previous session, so we’ll never know for sure.
The whole point of releasing the workout ahead of time was to give the teams a chance to read it over together, practice their technique and strategise about how best to utilise the strengths of each team member to get through the stages of the games with the most points possible. Each stage was 10 minutes long and each team would get a 15 minute break between stages.
It sounded simple enough, so we started with Stage 1, the Engine Room.
Complete 50 synchronised burpees as a team to unlock the echo bike and rower.
We knew how to use an echo bike and rower and figured all that really needed to be worked out was the synchronised burpees. So we did 30 with our chests hitting the floor in unison and felt satisfied we could carry on for another 20 in the same fashion. We decided that it made the most sense to minimise switching between the machines as much as possible and thought the men would be best suited to the rower and the women better suited to the bike. Again, simple enough.
On to Stage 2, The Power House. Between team members, you must complete 1000m distance on the SkiErg and 100x barbell thrusters (40kg male/20kg female). Once completed, a 40Kg barbell must be held off the ground in a barbell hold while the team alternates Devil Presses (15kg male/10kg female). Your score is the number of Devil Presses completed as a team.
Ouch. We thought we’d play it smart with some simple math. Women had 50% less weight to lift on the barbell thrusters, so we thought it made the most sense to let the men tackle the SkiErg, whilst Maz and I smashed out sets of 10-15 on the barbell thrusters. With the remaining time, our system would include 3 people holding the barbell while one person performed Devil Presses. We’d rotate in as needed, alternating male and female. We practiced 100 thrusters to make sure Maz and I were up to challenge and then we all practiced Devil Presses using what we would later find out was the wrong form. Fantastic.
Stage 3, Rack City was less complicated. One male and one female would perform Deadlifts and Squats for 4 minutes. If a rep was broken, 5 chest-to-floor burpees would need to be performed. After 4 minutes, the athletes would switch so the remaining two team members could perform 5 minutes of squats and deadlifts. Each exercise had to be performed by one male and one female. Your final score is combined total of reps x weight.
We had to practice this in advance to determine what weights we could all lift for that length of time. We decided Maz would take deadlifts (5 minutes, whilst I did 4 minutes of squats. Ali would be paired up with me for 4 minutes of deadlifts and Dan would take 5 minutes of squats with Maz. Needless to say, after each of us performed 5 minutes of either non-stop deadlifts or squats, we felt the DOMS for days.
The final stage – Stage Four, The Assault Course – was again, pretty straightforward. In a relay set up, each teammate had to perform the following (one at a time):
1) 20x Kettlebell swings (24kg male/16kg female)
2) 15x Plate Ground to Overhead Extension (25kg male/15kg female)
3) 10x Chest to floor burpee over vault box
After each athlete has completed this, the Echo bike is unlocked. With the remaining time, you must get as many calories as possible on the echo bike rotating in as needed.
Again, not much for us to practice. Just the need to work out order. We decided the guys should go first so they would have the most time to recover and the most power to use on the bike on, once it was unlocked.
That night I did 97 squats in 5 minutes with a 25kg barbell on my back. If I had had feeling in my legs and been in less of a daze, I might have had the presence of mind to voice my concern about just how taxing all of this would be on the day. Instead, I went home with my legs in bits and my mind preoccupied by the sheer savagery of what was to come. Oh no… What have I done?
Oh no… What have I done? Part 3: The Games
I was pretty annoyed with just how sore my entire body stayed after our second training session. That was the Wednesday night before the Saturday games. I trained Thursday thinking a light weights session might help ease some of the tension I was feeling in all of the major muscle groups in my body. I think I was right? I was definitely still sore on Friday – like still waddling from all of the squats kind of sore, but ya know, I guess 97 squats with a 25kg barbell on your back will do that.
By Saturday (the big day), I was no longer in so much pain that I was forced to waddle, which was definitely a blessing since I was facing another 90+ squats afternoon, plus the ENTIRE rest of the competition. I don’t think my head was in quite the right place though. I may have had a few glasses of wine (and champagne – shusshhhh) the night before and that *may* have had something to do with it, but I just wasn’t ready. I was nervous, I was doubting myself. I was wondering why in the hell I committed to something so far beyond me?
As is typical when I get nervous, I cook and eat or cook whilst eating. Either way, I knew I needed to get my fuel in, so I cooked up a huge veggie scramble to share with Rory and then confided in him to help take some of the unnecessary emotional weight off my shoulders – I didn’t need any of that hanging around unnecessarily.
By 11:30am I was feeling more relaxed, even a bit more hopeful. Wow, weird. That’s misplaced, surely. But I went with it right out the door and off to the games.
Team No Whey.
Once I was situated with my team (No Whey) at 12:30, things started to get a bit more real, a bit more intense. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was a bit uneasy…
There were 11 teams, each comprised of two men and two women. In each arena, two teams would compete at one time. After each 10 minute competition, teams would get a 15 minute rest break.
Our schedule for the day was set out:
1) The Engine Room – 2:15pm
2) The Assault Course – 2:40pm
3) Rack City – 3:05pm
4) The Power House – 3:30pm
We had 60 minutes to get our shit together. 60 minutes to calm the eff down. 60 minutes to take a nervous poo. 60 minutes to get our head in the game.
The Engine Room.
To be honest, getting hit with the Engine Room first was probably a blessing. It was easily the most exhausting room and getting it out of the way meant that we had the best chance at getting a top score before being worn out by all of the other arenas. BUT, it was hard as fuck and I think as a team we realised that we probably should have practiced our synchronised burpees just a little more thoroughly.
50 Synchronised burpees turned into 65 or 70. We had *THAT MANY* unbroken reps (side note: unlike what we had practiced, EVERYTHING about the burpees had to be synchro). It wasn’t the fault of one single person either, but the frustration was palpable. It was exhausting. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but my body felt like it was a flopping, wiggling piece of spaghetti. I know I personally failed to jump at the same time as everyone else on at least a few occasions. I looked at my legs asking them silently what the fuck they were doing, but they rolled their eyes and flopped again whilst the ref yelled for the 100th time, ‘No Rep!’ Yeesh. Even he’s fucking annoyed.
I believe that it took all of our collective strength to get the final few reps. The word ‘Fifty’ has never sounded so sweet. On to the assault bike, boys on the rower. I’m sorry, WHAT?! He did not. Did he just? WHAT IN THE FUCK? 6.5 minutes left? Are they fucking mental? How in the living hell are we going to pedal this fucking bike another 6.5 fucking minutes?
The screaming in my head was matched and then raised by the screaming in my legs. Every 30 seconds I was falling off the bike to let Maz jump on, each shift more excruciating than the previous. I think I blacked out a little. I have no idea how the guys did on the rower. I have even less of an idea how the other team performed. I didn’t have the brain cells or eyeball energy to spare. I was fixated on the bike, pumping my arms and legs as fast I physically could as the ref counted down.
By the time the 10 minutes were up, I had cramping up my legs so intense I could hardly hobble out of the arena. I could taste iron or metal – you know that blood flavour – and my oesophagus was on actual fire. It burned so hard and so consistently for 10 minutes that I thought no amount of water was going to help. Rory sat there helplessly as I whined and rolled around. Fuck me. That was hard as fuck.
The Assault Course
A couple of minutes before this stage got under way, the ‘I’m going to vomit all over you’ sensation subsided and the burning slowly dissipated. I tried to eat a tiny protein ball bite and nearly spit up. Nope. A few sips of water it is.
The synchro burpees (or our repeated failure to nail the synchronicity in this case) made it abundantly clear that the refs were watching for form and that they would nail you if you fucked it. Every rep needs to count. Slow it down if you have to, but make sure it fucking counts. No energy to be wasted. We went over the course together, reviewed our order and lit it up. Ali first, Dan second, me, then Maz.
The Kettlebell swings were fine – 16kg is more than doable. I think I got one or two no reps because I couldn’t understand the ref and went above shoulder height thinking she wanted me to go higher, not lower. Speak up damn it.
Plate ground to overhead extensions were more tiring than I anticipated and it was wayyyyy too easy to get a missed rep by failing to squat low enough to hit the plate on the floor. I definitely missed one… maybe two.
The final exercise – chest to floor burpees over the vault box – was far more exhausting than I had anticipated. Following the plate extension, I was breathing hard and not ready to launch myself up off the ground over a vault that was nearly my height. 10 TIMES. By rep number 4 I was flagging. Do you hear them?! They are all fucking cheering for you. Don’t stop now god damnit, just six more to go. You’ve fucking got this. Fuck Fuck Fuck Fucking Fuck! No missed reps and I finished ahead of the girl on the opposite team. ATTA BABE!
After Maz finished the course, Ali hopped on the bike and took off. I have no real awareness of how long each of us were on it, but as Dan and I traded over, I heard the ref yell that we had either 30 or 45 seconds left. I just went as hard and as fast as I could. Something in me felt much better this time around so I tried to let it ride. And I think I did.
I was proud of the way we finished that round.
The easiest of the rounds. And I needed a break, so it came in the right order. Ali and I started with four minutes on the clock – he was on the deadlifts and I was on the squats. It was all a bit frantic since we were late getting over to the arena. I went for a slightly lighter weight of 20Kg since I was feeling the pain and new it would be important to keep the reps up as much as possible. The four minutes went by surprisingly quickly and although my legs were burning, I managed 90 unbroken reps (no chest to floor burpees for me, I have done enough of those thank you). Should I have gone faster? Heavier? Maybe… probably. Yes. But in those four minutes, I can’t tell you that I had any gas left in the tank.
We switched over, quickly scrambling to adjust the weight and get Maz and Dan ready to go. Dan and I definitely got the weight wrong on his barbell, so he was squatting heavier than he had planned. Meanwhile, Maz cranked out an unbelievable 130+ deadlifts.
By the end, we were relieved to have just 1 stage left. Adrenaline was pumping. Bodies were throbbing. You’ve got this. Just get it done. Home stretch now. Yes YOU CAN.
I do think this was a hard stage to end on. Thrusters are a whole body movement, as are Devil Presses, which meant that we really needed to dig deep, keep those reps strong and get it all done as quickly as possible.
Maz and I hit the barbell thrusters. Fuck me this is 20kg?! Legit just 10 reps in and I was wondering how in hell I was going to eek out another 40+. Maz was getting her reps done quickly, flying through her sets of 10 while I heaved in background. The ref was kindly warning that if I didn’t get my butt down lower he was going to start calling me out on it. Ain’t no fucking way I’m getting no reps on this shit. My shoulders are about to fall out of my arm sockets so let’s make these god damn reps count shall we? 30 reps. Okay 20 more. Again, I had no concept of how the guys were doing on the SkiErg.
All I know is that we somehow finished the thrusters, arms still intact and then lined up to hold the 40kg barbell whilst Ali got to work on the first set of Devil Presses. Dan and Ali were hitting 10 reps, Maz and I were getting 5. This is where I really felt myself slow down. I was squeezing my glutes, I was trying to use my momentum, I was pulling with all of my might and I still wasn’t getting the weights up off the ground and above my head as quickly as I wanted. People were screaming at us, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. The other team was ahead – by how much I wasn’t sure.
The 10 minutes ended and we finished with some unknown total of Devil Press reps – luckily there was a ref to count that shit. The relief was palpable and we had the cutest, most organically formed team huddle I have ever witnessed or been privileged to be part of.
The high-fives went flying; teams were cheering each other on. The spectators were sharing hugs and congratulations. It felt good. Holy fuck. I did that. I just did that! Rory was there holding me, telling me how proud he was of me – that I had done something like that. I was proud of myself too.
You know what the best part was though? Competing on a team. Putting your heart and soul into something because everyone else is counting on you to join them in leaving it all on the line.
No Regrets: 4th Place Victorious
You heard that right. We took home 4th place. And no, we didn’t get a medal or a podium, but we got the honour of going head to head with damn inspiring and fierce as fuck humans. I’ll take it. I’ll fucking celebrate it.
I had some serious misgivings about my ability to contribute positively and deliver for my team. I was petrified of letting them down, of not being good enough, of failing in front of everyone. Those fears were real. They were scary and I could have let them hold me back from trying at all.
I used to train alone in a corner of a gym where no one could see me sweating, sputtering, breathless. Last weekend, I competed on a team in front of crowds of people where literally EVERYONE could see me sweating, sputtering, breathless. But you know what? I have legitimately never been more proud, never felt more like I belonged, never felt more grateful for what my body can do. Hard things don’t break us, they reveal new limits to what we can take.
So whether it was 4th place or 11th place, frankly it wouldn’t have changed how much the experience meant to me at all. I will never forget how impossibly hard moments of the day felt and how unbelievably overwhelming it was to push through that and come out the other side knowing I gave my best. Knowing that my team gave our damn best.
If you’ve held yourself back from trying something new out of fear that you might fail, I would encourage you to walk to through that fear, to trust that the experience, no matter how ‘successful’, will serve you in ways deeper and more lasting than what you could have imagined for yourself. I would also say that there is something so incredibly confidence-boosting about acknowledging your fear and insecurities around something and doing it anyway. To me, there are few things more empowering than that.
A special thank you to my teammates, Maz, Ali and Dan. You guys are incredible to watch work and I feel so blessed to call you my friends. Thank you, as well, to the team at F45 Stratford including Dan and Sam and all of the trainers. You guys have given me the gift of a community and the tools to live a healthier life. I feel so fortunate to have found a home at the F45 Stratford studio. Finally, thank you so much to the Active Vegans – Sammi, Will and Connor – for putting this event together, for facilitating healthy competition and for using your platform and beliefs to unite people with a shared passion and common purpose.