When I started this 2015 MH Staff Fitness Challenge, my cardio needed work. A lot of work. The kind of work you can only do on the road, on hills, between lamp posts, around cars and people and pavements and bins. All that running, the sprinting, the distance, helped get my resting heart rate up to somewhere near normal. Somewhere close to medium, where I could function enough to not fall over in the ring.

All that running, all those dark early mornings and all that tar, killed my ankle. Turns out that if you do something you’re not used to, like pound your feet into a hard road, for long enough, your body bites back. My left ankle swelled up to about the size of a baseball. My foot, heel, Achilles, whatever you want to call this big bruised swollen ball, was in an ice bucket every night for two weeks. I fell asleep all those nights with ice bricks stuffed into my sock.

It was sore enough to keep me off the road, away from skipping and jumping. But not out of The Armoury. The trainers here, famous for their lack of chill, just smiled. And moved on. To my upper body, to the weights, to the mat. To the bike.

I thought I was in enough pain to get a rest day, or two. Maybe a weekend off, even a week. Instead, I’ve done more than ever.

We’re about halfway through this Staff Fitness Challenge, and pain is all around me. It’s inside my bones, in my fingers and feet. At work, stiff and limping. In my mind, in the prospect of another early morning with Sanchia, saying, 10 more. Sparring with Clever, hearing, again, let’s go. In the thought of another hour on this bike, another weight, another anything. Another day in pain.

Cycling is one thing. Climb on, don’t get off. Get the legs moving, two minutes, then sprint, one minute. Move again, then climb. Repeat. Get the pulse up, the sweat pouring. An hour in this seat feels like a lot, feels like a full workout on its own, but it isn’t. This is just cardio. This is one thing. Halfway through three months, this is what you do when you’re in pain, too much pain to run or skip or jump.

Boxing is everything. All this cycling, all these weights, all this sparring, all at once. All the time. There’s no finish line, no final lamp post, no final count of 10. There’s no doing this just to do it. There’s no getting through it just to get it done. Foot too sore to hit the road? Fine, on your back, on the mat, 10, then 10 more. Get the weights, let’s go. Grab your gloves, one two one two, again. No short-cuts. No sitting out.

The thing with boxing is, the standard is always there. Way up there, not moving. You go to it. It doesn’t come to you.

I don’t stretch enough, between workouts. I don’t drink enough water, while I’m at work. Clever knows this. He can see this, on my face, written in smears of sweat on this floor. Clever doesn’t care. The standard doesn’t move, just because I’m battling to get to it. He doesn’t stop counting, doesn’t stop shouting, just because I don’t get it yet, don’t fully understand it all yet.

Midway through a sparring session with Clever, I reach for my water bottle. I’m struggling through this hour, sweating up a storm. Clever is a patient man. Cool, insistent. Not disappointed, in any way I’d expect him to be by now, in a what-is-this-guy-doing kind of way. Sanchia, too, never gets frustrated, by my weakness and my limits and my groaning. They’re just there, waiting for me, hoping that I’ll click over in my mind to what I need to know: that the standard is there. Way up there. It’s not coming down to me. And I need to go to it.

Pain is everywhere, like a voice in my head. Like a beat in my chest.

Boxing training, more than anything, is an education. It stretches the mind, into unfamiliar shapes and unheard-of places. I’m learning a lot, about myself, my body. About life. About pain. When I’m straining my way through however many sit-ups, this kettle-bell like a cannonball in my arms, an anchor in my soul, Sanchia likes to say, push through the pain. When I’m punching this bag, swinging and sweating, arms failing, Clever says, don’t listen to your body. Both of them understand that there’s only one way to reach for something that seems impossible. That there’s only one thing that can help take away the pain. More pain.

There are things you need to do, in order to box effectively. Things you need to learn, in order to understand what boxing is. What it means. It’s a journey. Along the way there is joy, fulfilment, tears and fear. And there is pain.

Pain, more than anything, is a barrier. A heavy door, between me and where I need to go. Between me and what I need to learn. What I must come to expect of myself. Sanchia isn’t disappointed when I admit I’m hurting. Clever doesn’t judge me when I’m face-down on this floor, halfway dead. They’re not exasperated, or irritated, or sick of my moaning. They just know. They know the only way up from here is through. Through the gasping, the sweating, the groaning. Through the pain.

Cycling on this bike, this is one thing. Part of everything. It hurts. It helps. Stretching hurts too, if you’re doing it right. Stretching helps cycling, cycling helps sparring. Everything helps everything. It all helps boxing. It all helps me. Boxing is everything, all in one.

Now, when Sanchia says, looks like you could use a rest day, I nod. Smile. Not in relief. Not while quietly thanking my stars, but in the bloody-minded knowledge that I’ll spend that rest day on the bike, sprinting, climbing. Because it helps. Because the standard’s not coming to me. Because the only way to get up there is to get on this bike. Because this is what rest means: this pain. This is boxing.

Photo by iMorpheus via Flickr