XCC - A tough weekend challenge?

February 14, 2022

The unsure applying to do the unknown

I try not to be a cliche of a middle-aged man, but it is tempting to chase lost elements of our youth. In a moment of weakness, I may have signed up to something - that only a man of a certain age might do. It is called the XCC challenge and I'm not 100% sure what it is. This makes it even more exciting. All I know for sure is that it is a faith based charity who do outward bound activities for men. A journalist from the Daily Telegraph recently joined one of their 'weekend retreats' and his article sparked me into reflexive action.

I don't want to mis-characterise the event before doing it. To me, it sounds like a perfect prescription for what ails me. The best way to describe it is like a civilianised, 3-day infantry selection course for men of a certain age, around the Scottish Highlands. It will demand much physical and mental exertion. At the moments that we will stop, and I doubt there will be many. we will reflect upon the spiritual and moral dimension of being men in a contemporary society.  I know from experience, that we can quickly peel the layers back through physical exhaustion - at this point our wounds and weaknesses are accessible. A little metaphorical light and air can often work wonders.

Ok, this type of thing isn't entirely new to me but it has been 15 years since I have done anything quite so robust and I want to make sure I don't fall at the first hurdle. I'm not as hard as I once was. A comfortable office job, abundant food options and a suburban lifestyle have made me soft.  

Stripping back the layers

At this point - I'm not concerned about the moral or spiritual dimension. This will take care of itself.  I want to see what lies deep within as the physical effort strips away all my defences accreted over the last 20 years. Am I like an onion only with layers of experience and pain or is there eventually a distinct core of me? Something central that can be tapped into and brought forth. If there is, will I like what I see? Is there lurking inside a weak and idle man or something more noble trying to find its way out?

I expect this to be a tough physical course but if only my muscles get exercised and my feet blistered, I will be disappointed. I want it to be hard and soul searching, but most importantly, I'm looking forward to the uncertainty and the connection with the other guys.

I want it to be hard and soul searching, but most importantly, I'm looking forward to the uncertainty and the connection with the other guys.

Carrying our burdens

The packing list is online and there is an admonition that if we add anything extra, we need to carry it on our back for the 3 days. I don't think this is an accident. Is this somehow representative of the burdens we carry daily? Will we need to help each other with our loads physically and metaphorically? An image i have already in my head is from the Book Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, When 'Christian' finally reaches the cross - his burden fell off and tumbled down the hill. Will there be a clarity; a lightening of loads by the third day of this adventure?

Prior preparation prevents p*** poor performance

On to practical matters. I don't want to be the bloke slowing everyone down - I need to sort myself out physically. I want to cross the 'Line of Departure' in the best order possible.

This will require some preliminary practical homework.

1. Rehab ankle

I've jiggered my left ankle. I'm seeing a physio - He thinks he knows what is wrong and has given me exercises which require gym attendance 3 times a week and daily stretching. I have lived with this for a year, always just on the edge of flaring up. If I don't get this cracked, I'm in trouble. I often wonder if there is a single source of misalignment as I end up with the physio more than I would like. I can get on top of the issues, but it takes a lot of work.

2. Some weekend and evening training

I could pick up a heavy bergen (rucksack) and go for a day with little difficulty. The difficulty is day 2, if your body is not used to it. Carrying weight puts unusual stress on the body. This is why most old infanteers have knackered knees and backs.

The aim for me over the next couple of months is not to worry too much about carrying heavy loads over long distance but about getting the body used to increasing loads again over good ground. Personally, with load, my feet suffer first. I was not blessed with biomechanical perfection in this area. Zinc oxide tape and compeed on speed dial. I'll be topping this off with circuit training and plenty of mobility work.

3. Intermittent fasting

This is "a red herring" but something I'm going to do again for discipline. I have a voracious appetite. It is a miracle that I'm not 40lb heavier. I have just started working on an eating window of 6 hours a day. From 1230hrs to 1830hrs. This is hard, but I have found that a morning coffee with a dash of double cream will get me to lunch with no impact on blood sugar and I graze until after dinner. Then stay busy until bed. When I eat, It will be relatively low carbohydrate - less than 100g a day. I need eating structure. I'm not sure if this will remotely help with the XCC but it feels difficult, so perhaps, I'm putting in some mental reps.

4. Cold baths and showers

Talk of cold exposure is ubiquitous. Wim hof and river or open sea swimming are embedding themselves in the popular culture, but let us not throw out the baby with the cold bath water. There is merit in this for an outdoor adventure and I have been experimenting since 2015. We can train the body to tolerate colder temperatures with no extra clothing. Most of us live in air-conditioned or heated bliss sitting at around 21 degrees all day long. I've tried turning down the central heating at home but this has been met with a loud protest by the family. I expect Scotland to still be cold and wet in April. "If it ain't raining it ain't training", as they say, but if I can get a mental edge, so much the better.

Parting shot

I'm probably over thinking this, I'm an enthusiast by nature. I'm certain that this is going to be rewarding with a good bunch of guys. As a charity, I think the XCC guys are on to something. There is an unspoken void and a misunderstanding of what it means to live out your full potentiality as a man. While we will be forced to look within the answer may lie without. I'll keep you posted

Footnote: I've had to cancel until October. The training continues