After taking a two-week course of a banned performance-enhancing drug, Herald reporter Steve Deane steps on to the soccer field. If this were a professional sport he'd officially be a drugs cheat. Then it's time to weigh in and check the final results.
Match day. We're playing just up the road so I inject at home about an hour before the 2.45pm kickoff.
I'm feeling okay but nowhere near as good as I should. I'm paying the price for going too hard at the gym the previous three days and I'm too busy with the kids to eat a proper lunch. Instead of the planned bowl of pasta, I manage a quick cheese sandwich about 1pm.
A warm-up jog around the pitch is enough to tell me I'm nowhere near my peak. My legs are dead. As the game kicks off I ponder briefly about being a drugs cheat, but I'm more concerned with the leaden state of my legs.
I manage to get going and play okay - nowhere near as well as I'd expected, but better than my opponents (many of whom I've played alongside before) and my teammates were expecting. I set up a goal with a decent run and cross and botch a couple of good scoring opportunities.
Just before halftime an innocuous change of direction sparks a pain in my lower back, which quickly shifts to shooting pains down my left leg. The dodgy disc in my back is swelling and putting pressure on my spinal nerves. Somehow I get through 80 minutes.
Previously I'd been good for 10 minutes before heading to the bench in search of an oxygen tank. After the game I opt out of the celebratory beer (we won 3-1) and scull a litre of water.
For the project, I'm assuming the drug cheat's worst possible scenario - that the testers have come for me on a day when I have injected pre-match. I fill two small urine sample jars. I inject before bed, hoping the GHRP-6 I've been taking will perform miracles.
Sore. Very sore. The sciatica in my legs has gone and my back has scrubbed up okay. But my legs are aching all over.
Playing is a completely different beast to a carefully controlled training environment. I inject immediately in the morning. What the hell, it might help. In the afternoon I get to the gym for a bike/run/swim recovery session, which helps a little. But I'm still wrecked. I've also blown out on the scales after drinking three full-strength beers and eating rice - a banned carbohydrate - with my dinner. Bummer.
Monday. Three days to go in the trial so it's back to the gym to lift some weights and work off the post-match beer and rice. But first I have a Herald video operator and photographer come to my house to capture my injecting.
It's one thing administering a quick jab in a private bathroom, quite another doing it for public consumption. The gym session is one of the hardest I've endured, but I push through. I feel like a viper in the nest. I inject in the toilets before heading back to the office.
Last chance Tuesday. A few weights, mainly for a photo shoot, followed by a hard cardio session. A little leg weariness aside, I've pretty much recovered. On the way home from work I bump into a friend who happened to mark me in Saturday's game. He admits he was shocked by my fitness level. It had been a topic of discussion among my former teammates after the match. They weren't happy, mainly that I never produced anything like that level of performance when I was playing with them. They'd expected me to blow out and were surprised and annoyed that I hadn't. I'm tempted to confess my sins, but don't. After all, it wasn't just the drugs.
I had busted my arse for a month to get in shape. Tomorrow's my final testing day. I know it's going to go well. I've gone in two notches on my belt, and most of my clothes no longer fit me. I feel great, but I'm also looking forward to not having to stick a needle in my belly two or three times a day.
Testing day, and the last day of my two-week peptide cycle. "I won't miss this," I think as I slide the needle into my abdomen before a morning ride. Or will I? I've still got a 5mg vial of GHRP-6 in my fridge. Increasingly, my thoughts have turned to whether I will use it. I've also pondered trying a substance called CJC-1295, a popular hormone.
I've crossed a moral line. Finding my way back won't necessarily be easy.
I discover I've lost 0.6kg over the week, so my weight loss has slowed. But my skinfolds have taken a dive, particularly around my belly. So I've shed 1.15kg of fat while adding just over half a kilogram of muscle for the week. It's my biggest percentage of fat loss since the first week of the trial - a result that bucks the expected trend of fat loss slowing as the amount available to lose declines.
All up I've lost 6.9kg over a four-week period. My strength and aerobic fitness levels have increased dramatically.
Having started out barely able to do 12 squats with just the 10kg bar, I can now squat 80kg. Pretty soon I'll be able to squat my own weight. For my final beep test I post 9/7 - a huge step up from the 7/10 I recorded after my first week's training - and pretty darn good for a 39-year-old office slug.
The before and after shots of my torso reveal dramatic changes. I'm appalled by the before shot.
I was painfully aware of my ever-growing belly, but seeing the amount of fat I carried on my back was truly shocking.
The after shot shows that most of it has gone. My face is much leaner, and there's a distinct muscularity developing in my chest and arms.
Could I have achieved these results without the peptide? Absolutely. Could I have done so in just four weeks? No way.
The experiment has been far from scientific, but my experience suggests GHRP-6 would provide significant advantages for elite athletes. Chief among these is the recovery benefit. I've exercised to the point of exhaustion over and over again and mashed my muscles with ever-increasing reps of ever-increasing weights, and I've bounced back every time.
Athletes put a huge emphasis on recovery. There are all manner of legal powders and potions on the market, but they're expensive and, I suspect, vastly less effective than peptides.
Top athletes and serious fitness buffs can spend hundreds a month on nutritional supplements. A two-injection-a-day, 25-day cycle of a peptide costs around $40. Cheating is cheap.
The substance I took is said to help with tissue repair, muscle gain, weight loss, provide anti-ageing effects and deeper sleep. I haven't got any younger, and I wouldn't vouch for the weight loss aspect, but the rest seems to stack up.
So what are the drawbacks?
Well, a how-to guide on a website suggests peptides can be taken daily for the rest of your life. What it doesn't say is how long that life will be.
A couple of weeks after I finish my trial, an Australian newspaper publishes a story suggesting there may be links between peptide use and former Sharks player Jon Mannah's death from cancer. The story is speculative, but it's not comfortable reading.
Peptides haven't been around long enough for us to know what the long-term effects might be. They've not passed clinical trials, so aren't considered safe for human use. The elite athletes, elderly folks and odd journalist who take them are guinea pigs.
But for an elite athlete struggling to reach the very top, or a sub-elite athlete on the verge of breaking through into the professional ranks, the temptation is there.
The chances of being caught are minuscule.
I'm about a third of the way to achieving my fitness and health goals. I could still do with dropping another 12-15kg. I'm still at the gym, but off the needles. The test for me will come if my body struggles to cope with my new fitness regime. If I break down without it, the temptation to take another peptide cycle will be powerful.
But this exercise has never been about me. It's about real athletes, the heroes we all celebrate, and how easy it is for them to cheat. Kiwis like to believe our athletes are clean. They wouldn't cheat because, hey, we're just not like that.
There are six urine samples in the back corner of my fridge. Two each from before, during and just after my peptide cycle.
I'd like to get them screened, but World Anti-Doping Agency labs won't test private individuals. Not that it matters. There's not a lab in the Southern Hemisphere capable of testing for the substance I've taken.
Had I been an elite athlete who was randomly tested while taking my peptide, I wouldn't have had a thing to worry about.
Cheating is easy. The cheats are out there. And there's nothing stopping them.
The peptide project
This project was my idea and undertaken by me voluntarily. I researched and believe I fully understood the risks before beginning the project and took on any such risks willingly. I believe I took all reasonable steps necessary to safeguard my health and wellbeing. For example, the substance I took, GHRP-6, was examined by a chemist at the University of Auckland, who confirmed its chemical makeup and purity. The needles and injecting water I used were obtained with a prescription from my GP. I consulted a nurse about correct injecting technique. APN New Zealand and the editors of the Herald insisted I did not do anything that would break any laws during this investigation. I checked with the Ministry of Health and Medsafe and consulted a lawyer before importing GHRP-6 from the United States, buying it online. To the best of my knowledge and belief, all steps undertaken in this investigation were legally permissible.