x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

One month with a personal trainer

Rupert Wright hires a professional to help him look fit on the beach.

Lauren Lancaster / The National
Lauren Lancaster / The National

I was expecting a fit person telling me to stop eating, stop drinking and start exercising. At some point he would bark "give me 20 press-ups" and I would be on the ground, sweating heavily. I met Hari Khatiwada, a former UAE boxing champion (flyweight I think, as he comes up to my waist). He is a very nice fellow. Then he told me to stop eating, stop drinking and start exercising. At some point he barked "give me 20 press-ups" and I was on my hands and toes, sweating heavily. He said that if I am to fulfil my goal of fitting into my Speedos in a month's time, I would have to stop drinking. He actually said I should eat more - or perhaps it was more often. Apparently eating a lot in one go is bad for you. And drink lots of water. Then he weighed me, and made me sign a form absolving the hotel of responsibility in case I croaked on the treadmill. We went to the gym, where he set me a weekly programme that includes a lot of cycling, rowing, running and working out on the machines. First he showed me how to use them; then I was to work in sets of 15 until I was thoroughly worn out. After three days of exercise and two nights drinking only green tea and some stuff called water, I feel great.

It began with skipping. I always thought skipping was for girls, until I tried it. Two minutes of it and my heart was beating faster than Lance Armstrong's going up Mont Ventoux. Then it was straight into a series of press-ups. Can one imagine how blissful a life would be without mosquitoes or press-ups? Then it was back to skipping. Then more press-ups. Then star jumps. Press-ups. Star jumps. I felt like hitting somebody. I put on a pair boxing gloves and Hari put pads on his hands and told me to hit them. First it was in singles, then combinations, then sets of 10 or 20. To make it interesting, he said I should pretend I was in the office. Pow! Take that picture editor. Bash! To you, sub-editor, who always takes out my jokes. But really, these are all dear colleagues, so I didn't hit them very hard. What you do realise is two things: one, hitting things is fun. Two, boxing is incredibly hard work. I don't quite look like Muhammad Ali did in When We Were Kings, but it's only a matter of time. All I need now is a decent nickname - maybe the "Sussex Slugger".

I was invited to Beirut for a few days' holiday. My friend who picked us up from the airport said: "You can diet before you come to the Lebanon, or when you leave, but not when you are here". At the first breakfast, her mother insisted on cooking us a Lebanese speciality: knefeh, which is a high-calorie combination of cheese, semolina and syrup all pushed into a sesame bap. Each one contains 5,000 calories. I could run up and down Mount Lebanon twice and still have calories to spare. However, the cunning ruse of missing dinner, going easy on the wine and feeding my son knefeh paid off. I also went for runs in the morning, did a spell on the skipping rope and went for long swims in a swell off Bonita Bay near Batroun. The hard work paid off; when I weighed myself on the gym scales, I discovered that I had lost half a kilo. So far, two and a half kilos down; another few to go.

Into the final furlong, when disaster strikes. "Shall we go for a quick drink?" one of my thirstiest friends suggests. "Surely this exercising lark has gone on long enough." For some reason I said "yes". Next day, I felt terrible and dehydrated. Training was not a possibility; working was a challenge. The following day I was back in the gym and Hari had to drive me on. The scales weren't encouraging. One of those lost kilos seemed to have crept back on. Weights and running and 20 minutes in the sauna were needed.

There was time for one final workout. It was the boxing training, definitely the most enjoyable of all I have tried this month. It was good to be outside in the fresh air too. We did intervals of 90 seconds of skipping, star jumps and strange boxing exercises, then it was time to put the gloves on. We sparred on the beach until I was too tired to lift my arms. Oh, and of course, there were press-ups.

That afternoon, I went to the mall. There seem to be no Speedos in Abu Dhabi to be had for love nor money, but I managed to buy some Zoggs, which look a bit like cycling shorts. So if you are on a beach somewhere this summer, don't be surprised if a figure remarkably similar to James Bond comes out of the waves, perhaps more like Sean Connery than Daniel Craig, but still strangely impressive. Best hold on to your wives. Talking of which, where is my wife? And children? Come back here now!

An annual membership at the Shangri-La gym costs Dh15,000; a boxing workout with Hari for an hour costs Dh220 for a non-member and Dh180 for members.