Sunday, 30 December 2018

Headline news: journalist Andy sheds the weight

At a shade over 21 stone, busy journalist Andy Done Johnson knew he had to do something about his weight. So how did he the manage to notch up an amazing 6.5 stone weight loss? In this article, he shares his story...

The "before" picture...
"It all started with a belt - a new belt I bought on a family road trip to Brighton in the Summer of 2017.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realised there was a problem. The belt didn’t fit. I could drag it around my stomach, but the prospect of getting the thing to fasten would have had a similar impact as an attack from a boa constrictor.

Instead I had to head into town to have an additional notch added. And even then, I had to deal with the indignity of the thing digging into my burgeoning gut as I sat at my desk at work.

In a nutshell, I was massive. A little over 21 stone with a waistline that I optimistically calculated as 48 inches. The only thing that wasn’t massive about me was my self-esteem.

So it dawned on me that I had to do something about it. I was in my late 40s, looked like a state, and thought the prospect of making 50 was optimistic, let alone 60.

There was no way I was going to be a runner - a broken ankle a few years back made that impossible. For me it was the gym. It had always been the gym. In my younger days the gym had been my thing - although my attendance had always been sporadic, at best. I’d be dedicated for a month, two months maybe, and then it would drop off again.

(Although, back then, I was skinny, and not bothering with the gym just meant that I became skinnier).

I got committed

So I got committed. I joined a gym - Pure Fitness, in Darley Abbey Mills, Derby (not to be mistaken with similar sounding chains).

It's an independent run by two brothers who are passionate about what they do. Getting fit isn’t just about turning up and doing the hours; it’s about how you think about it, how you commit to it, how you mix it up so it doesn’t become a drudge.

Initially, I started with a lot of cardio - bikes, treadmills, rowing machines - but as I slowly got hooked it really wasn’t enough. I didn’t just want to shed a load of weight.

I wanted to look good at the other end. I didn’t want to be one of these dieters you see with folds of baggy skin handing down, and a place on an NHS waiting list for the mother of all tummy tucks. I needed to get strong as well, so I moved into the brave new world of high-impact cardio - medicine ball slams, squats, skipping, boxing, kettle bell lifts.

All of these not only shed the pounds as effectively as half an hour on a bike, but also help the long-neglected muscles groan back to life. They all hurt. They all really hurt, and I’d get up most mornings after a workout not sure whether I could make it out of bed or not.

Paracetamol became a firm friend, and the fact that I’m lucky enough to be married to a trained masseuse also came up trumps at times. By December 2017 I was down to 18 stone - on my way but still nowhere near where I wanted to be.

So from January I upped the workouts - minimum of four a week, at least 90 minutes, with a mixture of cardio, high-impact cardio and weights. I also started attending a regular session at Pure Fitness called Fight Club (not that I can talk about it) which is an hour-long boxing-based beasting, from which I’d emerge having thought I was going to soil myself twice and die at least once. And the weight came off. Down to 16 stone by April of 2018.

It was time to think about the next stage, so I ditched the pure cardio and added to the weights - light toning weights at first, before switching it up to heavier weights, mixed in with some gruelling suspension training. Now it’s all about weights - I’m down to 14 stone eight and it’s a question of maintenance rather than loss.

It has to become a way of life

... and now.
Weights are equally good for weight loss as they are for weight gain. It depends how you use them. If you want to lose a pound then go and hammer a load of lighter reps. To add a pound or two then grab the heavier weights to build on a bit of extra muscle.

In a nutshell, it has to become a way of life. It has to become a commitment, a need. But it’s not all about the exercise. Diet plays a crucial part as well. I went carb-free for three months. In my mind, carbs are your enemy. Your body is lazy. It will burn whatever is easiest to burn. If you eat a cheese sandwich, your body will burn off the bread first and foremost, then store the cheese and the butter on your hips for a rainy day.

If you take away the bread, it has to burn the cheese. Simple. After three months, when I was down to the fourth notch on my new belt, I reintroduced some carb. Complex carb. No potatoes, no bread, no pasta. If you want bangers and mash, then use sweet potato. It takes three times the time for your body to burn as a regular spud.

It doesn’t allow your body to store the sausages. It processes it all at the same time. Cauliflower has also become a big part of my diet, as has cous cous and lots of fresh fruit and veg. Beer is gone, apart from as an occasional treat when I’m out.

Go for a gin and slimline instead if you want a drink. In terms of weight management, it’s way better for you. My waistline is now 32 inches and I’ve had to purchase a whole new wardrobe. I occasionally turn up at the gym in one of the T-shirts I wore when I first started training, and it looks like I’m wearing a dress.

I’m down to the ninth and final notch on my belt, and I’m looking forward to heading back into town to get another one added."

Thursday, 27 December 2018

An interview: Yiannis Christodoulou, GB International Aquathlete & Team Captain (Age Group)

An interview with Yiannis Christodoulou

Yiannis Christodoulou is 35 and works full time for the NHS as a Performance Analyst. He’s an amateur who competes at Age Group level in Aquathlons and was very honoured to have been selected as the 2017 GB Aquathlon team captain for the World Championships age group team. Yiannis Christodoulou.

Yiannis Christodoulou

He writes: “I am married to an amazing and supporting wife who supports me at all my races and through tough times. I am very lucky with my job as I don’t work far from where I live and I can work flexible hours, where I get to work for 8 and finish at 4pm.

“This allows me to do my training after work and still get home towards 7pm to enjoy the rest of my evening with my wife. I am also a level two running in fitness coach for Canterbury Harriers and on the committee. I like to inspire others and although I am amateur and not a super human, I believe if you work hard at something, you will be rewarded. This is my motivation which has brought me age group success with a European Bronze medal, National Silver and Bronze medal and a top 6th finish at the World Championships in Aquathlons.”

Why did Yiannis get into what he does? I am a skinny lazy man who decides to run a 5k Charity run for Sport Relief in 2010 at the age of 25. With not much training I thought I would give it a go. The only exercise I did was playing 5 a side football once a week. No real background in sport since I left school. The day came and I was nervous, ran as fast as I could for around 400m and then I struggled and about a mile from the finish I started to walk. I was in too much pain and tired, I got close to the finish line and started to run again as I didn’t want to let people down. I was happy to finish it but I hated it and I was glad it was over.

The following year I took up swimming, well tried to swim. It was tough; the first time I went swimming I managed 6 lengths in a 33m pool in an hour. I remember I would do a length and wait about ten minutes to do the next length. This was so difficult for me but I kept at it and slowly went further and further. Two years later (2012) I decided to do the same again and raise money for charity in the 2012 Sport relief 5k run. This time I trained a few weeks beforehand with no real experience the race came and I was nervous again but this time paced myself and got round. I was happy and I didn’t have to walk.

This time I enjoyed it but that ended there. In the summer of 2012 I was watching the 2012 London Olympics on TV and this is what started my journey. I was inspired by watching the triathlon race and how good the Brownlee brothers where. So inspired I joined my local and current running club Canterbury Harriers in September that year. As a novice in running I kept getting injured and nearly gave up the first year, I had on going calf injuries.

However after setback after setback I decided I wanted to carry on running and was determined to get through this bad patch. I turned up to my local swimming pool that had a triathlon class on and I gave it ago. The first thing the instructor asked was why I was wearing goggles if I didn’t put my head in the water. I listened and learnt the stroke, she had told me to practice and my swimming was getting easier and better. I decided to train for a triathlon and my leg was healing.

However it did not take long for it to go again and this time I had to do a triathlon. I turned up to the race with a bit of a limp and was fine on the swim and bike but a mile into the run my calf felt like someone had stabbed it with a knife. I had to carry on as I was raising money for charity and after I limped back I was unable to run for nearly two months. Unfortunately healing was a problem; I would come back to running and get stuck in a cycle that every time I ran every 6 weeks it would go again.

The summer of 2014 saw me compete in a few triathlons and I was getting better however it wasn’t long until I got injured again and this time I was out for a full 3 months with an Achilles injury. I stayed positive and managed to bounce back after a long lay-off. This time I had a goal of staying injury free for longer and it worked. I ended up getting around 15 PB’s in races in 2015, which is due to the fact of keeping injury free. After going a while injury free for a bit, I was in the process of buying a house and planning for my wedding with my future wife. I didn’t have the time to go out and train for all disciplines so therefore didn’t have time to train on the bike.

Two days after we were back from our honeymoon, I entered a local aquathlon. I was very jet lagged and was advised by a friend who is a sports scientist not to do it but I still did. I ended up coming back in 5th place and was happy with that. I took many positives out of it and then decided to set my sites on qualifying for the Great Britain aquathlon squad. By the time September came I had already taken well over 2 minutes off my aquathlon race time and it was time to submit my time for the GB aquathlon team.

After being accepted in the GB team I was very nervous and excited at the same time. I turned up to the National Aquathlon Championships in Leeds and didn’t really have any goals but to just enjoy it. I came out the water in 45th place and as soon as I came out, I started pushing the run as it’s my strong point. The course was very hilly but I kept targeting people 1 by 1. So when I crossed the line, I had no idea I was in 3rd place in my age group.

"When I found out I was third I was very proud and shocked."

When I found out I was third I was very proud and shocked. The European came round quickly and I knew I was in a lot better shape because training had gone well. Although I had a nasty cold a few days before the Europeans I was relaxed and just didn’t want to come last. The time came to start the race and we were told prior no wetsuits allowed as the lake was 26 degrees.

The swim was 1000 metres so a bit further than my normal races. We started with a large crowd watching and at the 500m point we had to get out and run back in; I noticed I had a large group in front of me so I pushed hard to get close to them. Once I came out of transition I then started my run and just went for it. I was picking people off throughout the run and I then saw two guys in my Age Group in front of me at the last 400 metres. I somehow found something extra and sprinted passed them to take 3rd on the line. Another Bronze medal and another achievement I never thought would happen. I was over the moon and something to tell my children in the future; my wife shed some tears and she was very proud of me.

She comes to every race with me and has been there from the start since I took up Aquathlons and has been very supportive. Words can’t describe how happy I was and it was an amazing day for me. As a result of my European and National age group Bronze medals I was able to compete at the World Championships in Cozumel in tough heat. I struggled and came 28th in my age group. I was very disappointed. After this I wanted to make sure I could improve and come back stronger for the summer. So the winter of 2016 came I was determined to improve. I had high hopes as training went very well. However 6 weeks before the European Championships this year I strained my calf and I had around 10 days off from running. I was struggling with motivation as I knew I lost all my improvement.

I turned up to the European Aquathlon in Bratislava race fit but not fully fit. I had a great run and was 9th overall in the end. It was my swim that let me down. 10 days later it was the national Aquathlon Championships 3 days prior my Achilles flared up and I was struggling to walk. I kept positive and turn up on race day with a sore foot where I came home in 2nd place in my age group. I didn’t expect that. August 2017 and the time came for the World Championships in Penticton and I was fully fit and in the best shape I have ever been and selected as the team captain. The race started and I struggled in the swim at the start but managed to improve towards the end. I struggled in the first part of the run but then got faster towards the end;

I knew I had a bad swim when I came into transition behind a lot of guys I was normally in front of. I kept pushing on the run and came 6th in the World in my age group something I was over the moon about. From my experience the GB races where never ever in my mind. If you train smart and hard you never know what path you will go down. Never give up and always enjoy your training and races.

What do you get from it?
I just enjoy it, if you don’t enjoy it then there is no point racing or training. I like meeting other people with similar interests and sharing stories. Of course I like to be competitive and to just push myself as hard as I can and better myself. Can anyone do it? Of course any one can do it, At Age group level for British Triathlon GB teams you have to qualify. Anyone can apply; they are always changing the criteria for qualifying races. A few years ago you needed to race the Nationals and place high to get into the World championships. This year you just need to be within 115% of the winner’s time in aquathlon races. You then need to submit your times to British Triathlon and then they will look at it and decided if you have met the criteria. If you do well at the European and Worlds then you can pre-qualify for the following year.

What's your advice to others wanting to get fitter and healthier?
My advice would be to keep training, don’t over train or rush and make sure you get your rest days in each week.

"Always believe in yourself and put the work in training and you will be rewarded."

Always believe in yourself and put the work in training and you will be rewarded and can achieve great things and most importantly enjoy it.

What's been his proudest moment?
3rd in the European Championships (Age Group) has to be my best accomplishment. I never expected it and I had to run very hard. I had to sprint the last 400m to go past two people. I found something that day I never had before. It was an amazing experience and I will never forget it. I would tell people to keep pushing until they finish.

And, conversely, what was his biggest failure (if indeed there has been one, and what did he learn from it)?
My biggest failure is getting injured and not learning in the early days. I wanted to just give up as I thought running was not for me as I kept getting injured when I first took up running in 2012. It was hard has every time I came back I kept going backwards to a point I didn’t know what to do. I stayed positive and was always determined to overcome this, and I did as I went a long period injury free which brought me medals and PB’s. I now train smart and listen to my body.

If there was one thing Yiannis could advise people so they get up off the sofa, what would it be?
The key here is regular and consistent training. Even when you don’t feel like going out for a run, go out and do it. Its days like that, which count the most. I struggle with motivation in the winter and I hate running in the dark around the city of Canterbury where if it was light I would run along beautiful countryside. So I set small targets in sessions and aim to achieve them. Signing up to a race is get motivation and a target to achieve your goal. Another aspect is don’t do the same training daily, weekly, monthly etc. Mix it up to make it more enjoyable.