x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

World's fittest man title firmly in Marcus's sights

Dubai's Marcus Smith will head to Korea to participate in the Asian CrossFit Games with hopes of advancing to the finals in the US and becoming the world's fittest man.

Marcus Smith is competing for the title as the fittest man in Asia. After Asia? The world.
Marcus Smith is competing for the title as the fittest man in Asia. After Asia? The world.

DUBAI // The best footballer in the world is judged chiefly by his scoring record, and the best runner by the number of races won. But the CrossFit World's Fittest Man will be tested with a range of exercises bordering on torture for most people.

So how does Marcus Smith of Dubai prepare himself for the test?

"He doesn't have a life," says Dan Harrison, his coach at Evolve gym.

The payoff, though, is that in two weeks, Smith will be in South Korea competing for the title of the fittest man in Asia, and if successful, he will proceed to the US to challenge for the world title.

In qualifying for South Korea, Smith managed, among other things, to do 109 burpees - also known as squat thrusts - in seven minutes to reach the final 60 of the Asian CrossFit Games.

The 33-year-old Briton finished ninth out of 500 contestants to advance to the Asian games. "Without making excuses," Smith says, "I wasn't really fit because I [only] had to come in top-60 and all my training was based on winning in Korea. I got fitter and stronger as it went on." He came second in the final event, a combination of a thruster and a pull-up exercise.

"CrossFit is about high intensity," he says. "Some of the workouts can last 24 minutes and you have to keep that high intensity for as long as you can."

And you have to prepare for the unexpected: one of Smith's new skills is walking 30 metres on his hands.

"It takes 100 per cent dedication to everything he does, from how he trains, his programme and everything that passes his lips - including all the supplements - to the amount of sleep he gets," Harrison says. "I've seen most routines in gyms or fitness circles and, seeing what he does - such as three sessions a day and the weights he lifts, and the speed he does it at - his body crosses a barrier that, normally, the mind doesn't allow it to do."

The preliminary competition lasted five weeks. An exercise was released online and participants had four days to complete it. An official CrossFit trainer had to verify and log the effort. "It could be anything," Smith said. "The first was [to do] as many burpees as you can in seven minutes."

The competition in South Korea will feature a variety of exercises that might include anything from a steeplechase run to weightlifting.

Smith, who stands 189 centimetres and weighs 87 kilograms, follows a strict diet and spends 50 per cent of his time practising the exercises. "I count in my mind the splits and I know what I need to do, which is 16 [burpees] a minute and then when it gets hard, I break it down more in my head.

"If I go from one to 112 it is like standing at the bottom of a mountain. That is the biggest mistake a lot of people make when they go into this", how to break it down, he says.

In addition to learning how to walk on his hands, Smith works on his weightlifting, double-under skips and takes to the gymnastic rings.

He has two coaches - Rob Downton in Australia prepares his workout programme, and Harrison ensures he completes each exercise perfectly.

Next week is his last week of tough training before he starts to taper off.

"Last Friday I got to a stage, and I sent an email to my coach in Australia and said this is so hard," he says. The coach told him he was trying to break him to give Smith a taste of what to expect during competition.

"On Friday and Saturday afternoon, when I've trained twice already, I go back to the gym at 6pm on my own to do another session which is the hardest session and I have to get faster and faster at it," says Smith. "It is tough but that is what I do. I enjoy it. I couldn't think of anything else."

Smith relies on mental strength to get through his programmes. "I deal with in bite-sized chunks. I don't see it as 30 reps, I see it as six sets of five. It is so difficult to coach people how to use their brain. Once they get it, they get it. I get faster on the rowing machine because I can mentally cope with the pain a lot better. It is about the mental capacity to deal with the pain and suffering you are in, and push yourself further," he said.

Smith is not the only one to sacrifice. His training, which involves lights out at 7.30pm and a wake-up call at 4.30am, affects his wife, Holly.

"My wife's capacity to deal with it is phenomenal. The weekends are gone. She loves to cook and some of the good food she cooks, I can't have anymore."

eharnan@thenational.ae