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Another week at the ATC is almost in the bag. We were wrapping up the Friday workout just before 7a, as most of Oakville was barely waking up.

It’s the end of what is perhaps the last wintry weekend of the 2015-16 season. Double digit temperatures are forecast for early next week. The new snow will have a mercifully brief lifespan. And there are just 28 days left in the ATC Winter Challenge.

Things are looking up.

The 81-day challenge started on January 11. The format was to create five teams of adult athletes from the crew at the Athlete Training Centre and challenge us to look at what we eat in a new way.

Yes, there is a challenging physical component – bonus points for working outs five times a week, bonuses for special challenges around pushups, pullups and distance spinning. But the real emphasis is on diet.

We are challenged to only eat meat and eggs four days a week. No dairy at all. No alcohol. 81 days. Eat more plants, that’s the idea.

At the outset in January we were the keenest bunch you ever saw, posting photos of our proud culinary veggie creations on the ATC private member page, encouraging one another, trash talking, etc.

After 53 days, we are still going but the enthusiasm has given way to simple determination to see it through, more than anything else. The no-alcohol rule was waived for the Super Bowl. And I took a 10-point penalty to have a couple beers with my sons at the end of study break in February. It was worth it, and I owned up.  Impressively, others have too, about using milk in their coffee, or having cheese, and yes – alcohol. Lessons in honesty and accountability are well learned here.

It’s not just about health, although there is a lot of compelling research on the benefits of a meat-free, dairy-free, plant-rich, alcohol-lite, generally joyless lifestyle.

It is also about educating ourselves on the environmental cost of beef, dairy and poultry production. And it is massive. I confess I was not fully aware of the scale of the impact of these things on the planet. And then there’s the whole issue of cruelty to animals.

I’m hardly a tree hugger and I enjoy a steak or ribs as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is one of my sons, who enjoy it more) but I have learned a lot more about some of the unethical treatment of animals in the Big Food chain.

It makes you think differently when you realize that  — obviously – these animals have emotions and feelings, they think, experience pain, fear, humiliation and love. It just makes you pause and think about what is on your plate, and that was the point.

I am not declaring myself a vegan.

But I do know at home we have discovered some vegetarian meals that we really enjoy and will remain part of our routine long after the challenge is over. I haven’t had cheese since Jan 10, and nibbling on cheddar was a pre-meal kitchen activity in our house since forever. I don’t miss that so much – Kalamata olives, pita bread and hummus, and whole-grain nacho chips and salsa (all in moderation) are great tasty substitutes.

I do miss cheese on salads but I’ve coped. And while beer has stopped being a regular part of my act for a year, I’d like to be able to just have one when I want one. But that’s the thing with absolutes like the challenge. You have to be all-in.

As for the physical challenges, well, a mixed bag of results for me. Early on in the challenge, I developed rather severe tendinitis in my left elbow. It makes pushups and pullups all but impossible without re-injuring it every time, not to mention day-long searing pain.

So my aspirations for becoming a king at pushups went out the window early and I can’t do those special bonus-point challenges. When the rest of the crew are ordered to hit the deck and push, I do situps or rows or something else. Life goes on.

I did complete the 50km spin with a respectable time (I thought) of an hour 17 minutes. The top times were around 1:06. I can live with my time. I’m older than almost everyone else there. I’ll come back in 16 years and check their times.

I still show up almost every day – I’m probably working out 10 days out of 11, something like that. My weight continues to drop, albeit incrementally, but I see other signs of fitness. I lift more, I run better, I’m more flexible, my body fat continues to shrink, and even new clothes are looser.

I’m really impressed with the effort put forward by so many of the people I train with every day. Coach Dave – himself a case study in physical transformation in the last 18 months — and I are co-captains of our team and there are a couple people who really surprised me with their commitment and competitive zeal.

So, all fun and educational and thankfully, just 28 days left.

Some people recently asked via email what a typical day for the adults looks like at ATC. Monday is front squat day, with a 30-minute circuit of some kind. That might mean running, pushing the prowler sleds, ropes, or a body-weight session focused on the abs. Tuesday and Thursday is a circuit like that with a 30-minute spin. Wednesday is dead lift (plus circuit) and Friday is bench press (plus circuit.) Saturday is a shorter circuit and a longer spin. Sunday the gym is closed.

Today’s circuit after the press was five laps of the turf, hammer curls, shoulder press/workout, plank rows, and then front lunges the length of the turf (and back) with a 25-pound plate over your head. Then, repeat.

We finished as most of Oakville was barely waking up. You should thinking about joining us.

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