Interview: The Men’s Health Equaliser

Technique Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine recently joined Dr Hugo Gemal on a training run for his upcoming Mens Health Survival of the fittest series. He is fundraising for Cancer Research UK by taking part in 6 races over 5 weekends. This includes doing a back-to-back 10km followed by a 5km race on the final day. I thought doctors were meant to be intelligent creatures, something tells me Hugo has a screw loose…. here is what he had to say.

Hi Hugo, so you’re a doctor, you’ve featured in Men’s Health Magazine before and now you’re the Men’s Health Equaliser, meaning you’re super fit as well. There must be a chink in the armour somewhere, how would I go about beating you in a foot race?

There are enough chinks in the armour – I think you’ve treated one or two of them Mike! With regards to beating me at a race it all depends on the distance and nature of the run really, whilst I’m relatively strong at these runs I might struggle to be as competitive in marathon or ultra-marathon running. In answer to your question… if you want to beat me at a foot race invite me to a marathon!

I recently trained with you, it seemed that you talked the whole way around Regents Park and I just panted and groaned the occasional one word answer at you. Tell me a bit about your training regime at present?

Well some of my friends do say I can talk for England! We were doing a ‘recovery’ run which is essentially a light run I do once a week to rest and avoid overuse injuries- like the shin splints you were treating me for earlier in the year. Speaking with your running partner is a good way of making sure you stay on ‘recovery’ pace rather than being tempted to run at full pace, which would make you too breathless to hold a conversation.

I’m doing three runs a week: a 10-12k, a faster interval training session and a recovery run. To complement the running and stay ‘obstacle-ready’ I am doing two gym-based circuit-training sessions, with a heavy focus on bodyweight exercises and core stability. If I have time I add in a bike HITT session for cross training but I’ve struggled to fit this in regularly due to job pressures.

Yikes, so it’s a real mix of training that you do, which I think is a good thing, too much of one discipline can cause problems for many of us. How do keep things fresh?

When I’m not training for a specific event- such as Nettle Warrior I did back in July or the six Survival races coming up- I tend to vary my training much more. My ‘staple’ is 5 training days, which comprises three days in the gym and two days of CV training. I re-design my own gym programme every 6-8 weeks and my CV varies between running 10ks, sprints, bike HITT sessions or sparring.

Okay so you just mentioned the Men’s Health survival of the fittest (SOTF) race season is nearly upon us, tell me a bit about these races and what makes them a challenge?

The Survival of the Fittest series are unlike a normal 10k in that there are 10 obstacle clusters spread throughout the course. These include crawling under nets through mud, climbing over series of walls, swimming fully clothed across water hazards or just good old-fashioned stair climbing. Nottingham also has a ‘secret’ and very unwelcome obstacle- an extra 25% of the race distance added at the end. The obstacles add a huge upper-body element, which you would not experience in a normal 10k, as well as the much higher potential for injury with thousands of people climbing over obstacles and each other to get ahead.

I wouldn’t say completing one of these races is a huge task, but finishing within the top 5% is no mean feat. The top three places tend to be dominated by competitive runners from running clubs and there have even been a couple of former GB olympians taking part in the past.

Being the Equaliser do you feel pressure to perform? How do stop yourself from over-training in fear of being beaten by a mere mortal like myself?

Men’s Health Magazine invited me to be the Tissot Equaliser after I ran the full Survival series in competitive times in 2011, whilst raising money for Prostate Cancer UK.

The Equaliser has the title of the official pace setter for the Survival series. Whichever nation out of England, Scotland and Wales has the most runners beating the Equaliser over the series wins the Tri-Nations competition. In practice this means everyone is out to overtake me, which is a slightly disconcerting thought. Thanks to my job as an A&E Doctor my risk of overtraining is lower because I don’t have the time. I stick to the golden rule of having a rest day in my routine, but my work commitments often mean I have two ‘rest’ days, if you can call A&E shifts a rest!

If I were to beat you at the London SOTF what would you suggest as a suitable forfeit to perform for our readers?

You’re not the first person to suggest this; I’ve got a few friends up and down the country running the series and like all the other competitors- they’re out to get me. The series will be finishing just as winter sets in so I guess a topless lap around Regents’ park on the first snow day of the winter would suffice. Hopefully this won’t be happening unless you’ve got something up your sleeve…

Okay, I’ll resort to some dirty tactics then. What are the fitness requirements to be part of the men’s health team for these events?

There are a variety of people in the team, some of whom will be gunning for those podium places but running and triathlon clubs also submit their own teams. The minimum entry requirements are a sub-40m 10k time and 10 full range of movement pull-ups, although your normal 10k time tends to go out of the window when you throw in a bunch of obstacles, mud, swimming and thousands of people.

Technique Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine will be keeping a watchful eye over Hugo and wishing him all the best for his upcoming events. You can also keep up to date with Hugo and the rest of the Men’s health team by following their twitter and Facebook pages.

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