Get Back in shape

If in the past 10 years you were walking through an airport and saw a tired, overweight, bloated, red-faced bloke in a suit with a cup of coffee in one hand and a Blackberry in the other – there was a good chance it was me! Twenty years working in a corporate environment, where international travel was part of the job specification, played havoc on my physical well-being!

Do not misunderstand me I loved my job, enjoying both the challenges and the international travel. Staying in shape was just not my primary focus!

A change of job and a move to another country, where life was more predictable, led to a gradual rethink! My son started playing junior rugby for the local rugby club in Luxembourg and I started to get involved in coaching. Having played Rugby Union for 25-years it was fun to get involved again and I do know the game. However, at 104 KG (230 LBS) I was hardly a good example for these little guys playing their hearts out on the rugby pitch! I struggled to keep up with them!

My eight year old son, knowing that I had played Rugby in the past, was desperate to see me play again. I explained that at 47 years of age, fat and unfit that was never going to happen – or so I thought! It was a day in early April 2012 when one of the Junior Rugby Union coaches, who also happened to be Head of Luxembourg Touch Rugby, and the inspiration behind the development of Touch in the country, suggested I come and join their Wednesday training sessions. After jokingly asking if they would have an air ambulance on standby (I was half-serious), I went along!
The first month to six weeks was hell and I could not stay anywhere near the pace. Touch Rugby is an incredibly aerobic sport putting a lot of pressure on knees and ankles and requiring a lot of stamina. It is though a brilliantly engaging sport, requiring speed of thought, discipline and team cohesiveness. It has everything I love about team sports and I started to get serious. I joke now that the team had bets out on how long I would last but the support and encouragement they gave to me was outstanding. I started training with the group Friday and Sundays as well as Wednesdays and the weight slowly started to drop.

It quickly became apparent that having been physically inactive for so long I was not exactly “Mr Flexible.” Touch Rugby was putting pressure on my lower back with constant bending to pick up the ball at pace from various moves. I needed to also build back muscle. To do so I hired a personal trainer for one day a week to work with me in the Gym. As a semi-professional hand ball player I liked the programs she developed and the understanding of what my body could cope with, what I needed, and what I personally wanted to achieve – She was (and is) great!

Luxembourg had entered an over 40s team (M40) into the European Touch Championships taking place in Treviso, Italy between 12 and 15 September. By June I started to think I may have a chance of making the team. I was still carrying too much extra ballast but it was gradually falling away! With the prospect of facing Wales, England, Ireland, Italy, Spain and France I was not without incentive.
I realised that to get in shape in time I also needed to change my diet. Cutting out unhealthy snacks, bread, pasta, pizza, fries and limiting alcohol was important. Combining protein with vegetables (excluding potatoes) and / or salad took another gear change in will power! I was not rigid about it and would still on occasions meet friends for a night out. However, I would make sure I did not miss training the next day even if with a hangover!

By the end of August I had lost 16 KGS (35 LBS), got back some pace and made the team for the European Touch Championships. The result of our efforts in Treviso meant that Luxembourg was lifted off the bottom of the European Touch table and became respected by all the bigger senior teams. There were many highlights I took from the tournament. One of my favourites was when playing one game against Wales for the Luxembourg Senior Mixed Team. They were struggling with injuries and required a few of us over 40s to double up and play a game or two for them.
Hearing one of the Welsh players look at me and shout “watch the old bloke with grey hair” meant I must have made an impression!

More importantly, my wife, daughter and son came to watch the tournament and I don’t think my son has ever enjoyed himself so much watching his Dad play Rugby again (albeit Touch). I know it is something he will never forget and I don’t think he has ever been more motivated to get back to training for his team.
The fact that I played eight games in 3 ½ days, had no problem keeping up with the game, or making an impact, gave me a great deal of satisfaction!
I won’t pretend it was easy but I do know that losing the weight was the hardest part of the journey, maintaining a healthy weight is easier – it just needs a little commitment. For me being older means that I understand my body better – what it needs and what should be avoided. I realised that if I could get involved with a team, playing a sport I loved, I could keep fit and enjoy doing so!
Motivation to not let your team mates down and to show that you can still perform is a very powerful incentive!

I know people that can, by creatively managing agendas and adopting a lot of will power, do stressful International jobs and remain in good physical shape! I would previously have contested that they are in the minority! Now I am not so sure! I will soon be back travelling internationally but this time I do believe it is possible to keep in shape – I have learned a lot in the past few months and that will all be put to good use in the future!
What I learned about getting back in shape:
  1. Set yourself an end goal (for me it was the Euro Championships). Make the commitment!
  2. Find a team / club playing a sport you enjoy or want to learn (peer pressure is powerful)
  3. Take advice on proper warm-ups and cool downs after exercise
  4. If you use the Gym have someone develop a program that matches your capabilities and aspirations. Building muscle helps to burn fat!
  5. Listen to your body – be patient if you feel sore – don’t push it!
  6. Change your diet and don’t overload on carbohydrates
  7. Cut out alcohol for a few days a week (I would drink alcohol a maximum 2 days a week)
  8. Find a good physio (particularly if you are training hard).

Get Back in shape