At the CrossFit box with Lee
I MAY CRY, I MAY PUKE, BUT I WILL NEVER QUIT! The message scrawled in chalk on the wall at the CrossFit West Yorkshire box tells me everything I need to know about what is ahead.
Stuart Trees, one of inov-8’s newest sponsored athletes, shakes my hand and smiles. He knows as well as I do that I am in trouble!
Not that I’m a quitter. Far from it. I have competed in my favoured sport for over 20 years and failed to cross the finish line only once (due to an ankle the size of a balloon). My sport, however, is long distance running, preferably high in the mountains, and as such I am built like like an athlete (my friends prefer to use the word skinny!) I am definitely not built for CrossFit.
Stuart, on the other hand, has muscles that look hell-bent on ripping a way out of his skin. Our two physiques couldn’t be more different.
There is, however, no time to ponder my muscular inadequacies. I am in Leeds on a mission, not only to break my CrossFit duck but to interview Stuart.
A former international standard swimmer, Stuart first set foot in a CrossFit box two-and-a-half years ago.
He says: “From the age of four, when I fell in the canal and my granddad fished me out, until I was 21 years old I swam. It’s what I did, and I loved it.
“I was committed to the sport and won a place at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester. Representing England in front of a home crowd, I came 10th in the 400m freestyle (in an event won by Australian swimming legend Ian ‘Thorpedo’ Thorpe) and 8th in the 1500m freestyle.
“Funding was, however, limited and having relied on the support of my parents for so long I made the decision to leave swimming behind and get a job.”
Stuart joined the fire and rescue service soon afterwards. Now crew manager at the Leeds station, the 32-year-old splits his time between his work and the box, where he is owner and coach, as well as athlete.
The session starts with a 500m row, before Stuart hunts out the kettlebells. Plonking a 16kg one at my feet, I sneak a look over to see what he is going to lift. The kettlebell reads 24kg – a full 8kg more than mine!
Stuart then explains that the workout he has planned will last just three minutes. Easy, or so I thought. Seven kettlebell swings and seven burpees later I realise this is going to be anything but easy, especially as I face having to repeat the two sets of seven over and over until three minutes passes or my body gives up, whichever comes first.
As the clock on the wall reaches three minutes I crumple to the floor exhausted. I’ve managed almost four sets (a total of 28 kettlebell swings and 25 burpees). Stuart has, predictably, annihilated me, with 44 kettlebell swings and 42 burpees.
Next Stuart brings out the skipping ropes. He demonstrates a double-under (fizzing the rope up and over his body twice per jump). I try to replicate, but manage only to whip my bare legs with the rope on an attempted second loop.
My session ends soon after due to a long-standing back complaint, while inov-8 work colleague Natalie, showing no signs of fatigue, completes a final gruelling 16-minute workout which includes sprints, overhead squats and pull-ups.
On the other side of the box a member completes the 13.5 CrossFit Games WOD (workout of the day). His number of repetitions achieved is good but not close to the total Stuart had recorded earlier in the day.
Stuart’s performance in the 13.5 WOD, as well as those at 13.1, 13.2, 13.3 and 13.4, place him 11th in the European standings. As a result he will compete at the European CrossFit Games in Denmark next month.
He says: “I came 63rd in last year’s Opens, so to place 11th this year is a big improvement.
“The last six months have been all about qualifying for the regionals (in Denmark) and I have given it my all, and more, to make that happen.
“I’ve been following a programme set for me by Darren Freeman (the head coach at Train Manchester) and it has worked well.
“The focus now is on improving my weaknesses and building my strengths ahead of the regionals.
“It will be interesting to see what is in the WOD’s for regionals. I absolutely hate rowing but that along with longer body workouts are my strengths, probably aided by my background in swimming.
“I was first in the rowing WOD at London Throwdown earlier this year. It’s a WOD where you have to give it absolutely everything you have got, there is no hiding place on the rower.”
As regards footwear, Stuart’s favourite is the inov-8 f-lite 195.
“It’s ultra lightweight, precision fitting and has a 3mm drop so your foot feels close to the ground. The grip is amazing.”