Wednesday, 14 May 2008



Over the weekend I received my training programme for the next seven months and I love it. It is raw, hard training and as soon as it hit my email I couldn’t wait to get stuck in…


To explain the origins of my excitement I want to bring you back to the eighties – twenty two years ago Rocky IV was in the cinemas…I know this because I watched it in the cinema with a hoard of other ten year olds at my 10th birthday party. I have not seen it since but when I got my training programme for the next seven months my mind immediately jumped back to Rocky’s story.


The Rocky story contrasts the raw training regime of Rocky Balboa from the USA with the scientific approach of his opponent Ivan Drago from The Soviet Union. Whilst Drago is attached to electrodes and constantly monitored by computers during training, Rocky uses whatever he can get his hands on to train hard. He climbs ropes, does chin ups from the rafters in an old barn, runs through deep snow, chops wood and pulls stone filled sledges up mountains. No prizes for guessing who wins!


I am not commenting on the artistic merit of the Rocky franchise but the story does resonate with me. For example, when I could see and was rowing competitively I was tested in sports science labs. My test results were translated into training programmes often controlled by strict heart rate targets. Similarly many of the training programmes that I have attempted to follow since my blindness are based on either controlled heart rates or progressive speed targets.


But I cannot read any heart rate monitor and I cannot find one that speaks to me. I cannot read the electronic feedback on any gym equipment and therefore have no idea if I’m making progress. And as a result I have struggled to benefit from a conventional sports science based training programme.


Regardless of my ability to train in lab conditions or not, the upcoming race to the South Pole will be as much about toughening my head as much as my body. Yesterday, I experienced that mix of physical and mental challenge as I did my first ‘pulling session’. No heart rate monitors, just maximum effort.


I joined my training partner Simon O’Donnell (who has also designed my training programme) at 2pm in his rugby club. The sun was beating down and we prepared for the session with a 10 min warm up run. After the warm up the harnesses and two large punch bags came out along with two really heavy dumbbells.


The idea was to do a circuit. First, pulling the tackle bag for a minute at maximum speed, then carry the dumbbells with straight arms as far as possible in 30 secs followed by a run around the perimeter of two rugby pitches.


Simon linked me up to my punch bag and he got hooked up to his. We were side by side and in the first one I pushed on as hard as I could. Sounds short in time but my legs were screaming with pain and we had only just started the session – facing into a world of pain…ouch! We completed the first circuit with the 30 secs dumbbell carry and the perimeter run by which time I was feeling brutal. We had six more to do.


As we finished the last run I wretched three times. With the ferocity of the reaction I should have been sick everywhere but nothing happened. I always think if you get to the wretching stage then it is well worth being fully sick. Now, I am dreading the next ‘pulling session’ but strangely excited to see how I am progressing.


So, the new training programme…I’m not saying that there is any Rocky style wood chopping in my training schedule… yet! But there is sledge pulling, there are chin ups (at the moment being done on a bar across the open hatch of the attic in my house), there are endurance sessions building up to 10 hours with a pack on and I will be training in the snow this weekend in Norway.


Feeling great right now and looking forward to it all…