My legs feel like overcooked noodles as I wobble my way down the stairs of a North Shore gym following my first workout. I've survived the session, but not much more. Still, given I was laid up all of yesterday with back spasms courtesy of a bulging disc in my lumbar spine, survival is pretty much all I was hoping for. The request for my personal trainer (we'll call him PT) to design a programme to get me in shape for the start of the soccer season may have been a mistake. We start with squats and lunges, which I've always hated. PT seems to know this. He makes me do a couple of sets of pelvic lifts that add to the torture. Somehow I get through the weights without my dodgy disc exploding or my gammy shoulder giving way. I don't let on, but by the time we get to cardio I'm already dizzy. I'm really unfit, that much is obvious.
When we get to the weigh-in and fat-measuring I can tell PT is pretty happy. I'm a decent-sized porker - 105.6kg and tubby with it. That means the potential for noticeable results is high. My skinfolds reveal my body to be over 26 per cent fat. Athletes tend to be between six and 13 per cent, so I've got some work to do.
As well as my exercise programme, PT insists on rigid nutrition if I'm to get any meaningful results from my programme.
The performance-enhancing substance I plan to take is so new no one really knows what, if any, the long-term effects might be. Based on my research, it seems there isn't anything to be concerned about. Yes, it might be bad for me, but I've put plenty of stuff into my body I was certain was bad for me before.
That rationalisation has worked well internally. Out loud, it sounds a little silly. But I'm committed. I want to show how easy it is to cheat. If I'm honest, I'm also sold on the idea of taking something that might help break through a fitness barrier that has stubbornly blocked my path since my late teens.
I get the number for a molecular biologist at Auckland University who can verify the GHRP-6 is what it says it is.
My usual breakfast glass of orange juice is replaced by porridge with berries and a scoop of protein powder. It's awful, but I force it down. Protein has no effect on GHRP-6, but carbs at the wrong time can blunt its effectiveness, according to an internet body building forum. Mid-morning I chew through four rice thins and a can of tuna. For lunch it's a carefully measured chicken salad with some grilled kumara. Later I'll have a protein shake and then another salad for dinner. No carbs post lunch. No booze, either. This is me for the next month. It's not as bad as it sounds. Honest.
My cardio workout goes well despite a painful lactic acid build-up in my thighs.
I receive an email from the director of the Australian Sports Drug Testing Laboratory in Sydney that throws a spanner into the works. No WADA accredited labs will perform screening tests for private individuals, and there are no other labs capable of doing the tests. Getting my samples tested to prove peptides won't be detected by a standard WADA drug screen might not be possible.
A letter from Medsafe arrives informing me a shipment (well, one 5mg vial) of GHRP-6 has been seized by Customs and forwarded to them. My first two shipments arrived fine but this one was seized because it was labelled "for research purposes only". The letter states that, according to the Medicines Act 1981, an approval is required for the supply of medicines for research purposes. There's a name and number I can call. This is a breakthrough. I tried for a week to get someone from Medsafe on the phone but came up against a brick wall before resorting to an Official Information Act request. I call Derek at Medsafe. I'm hoping to get a definitive answer as to the legality of GHRP-6 - I don't succeed. According to Derek, if GHRP-6 is in fact a research medicine, it would be illegal for me to a) sell it (I'm not) or b) conduct a clinical trial without approval (well, no, I'm just going to cheat at sports). So it seems I'm in the clear. Derek invites me to write to Medsafe explaining my circumstances. If I don't, it's likely my drug will be disposed of. I've already got three vials, so I guess I'll just write off the $40 this shipment cost me.
Training goes well. I'm already improving, although I curse PT's name during the lunges and squats.
Another breakthrough. I receive a call back from a professor of chemistry at Auckland University. She (well, her student) can test my GHRP-6 to prove it is what it says it is. They can also test the purity. If I can find a way to get my urine screened I can prove what I already know - that GHRP-6 is virtually impossible to detect. The professor suggests a commercial lab in Hamilton, but this is a bust. The director tells me screening for PIEDs (performance and image enhancing drugs) is very expensive, and is only worth doing if a lab can secure a contract to do large numbers of athletes. Finding a lab to do a one-off test won't be easy, and could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Days five and six
My first weekend as a faux athlete. It's tough. A family get-away to Whangamata to celebrate my wife's birthday - driving with four kids under eight and rooming with a non-sleeping baby - would normally necessitate the consumption of about 30 units of alcohol and half a kilo of cheese. I get by on four small glasses of wine and four (okay maybe six) slivers of cheese. It's a vast improvement on my former life, but the guilt is still crushing.
Testing day. I start with a solid 45min bike ride. At the gym I score 7/10 on the beep test. PT had me pegged for a six, so I'm pretty happy. We do the test at a location where some of the country's elite athletes train. There's a bloke doing pole vault and a female sprinter, but nobody I recognise. The pole vaulter finds my beep test terribly amusing. It spurs me on, but I give up before reaching total exhaustion. The Top End Athlete website rates my score as "good" for a 39-year-old. The scales reveal I've lost 3.4kg in a week. I've burned off 4.35kg of fat, while putting on almost a kilogram of muscle. It's good progress - and my back and gammy shoulder are holding together - which makes me realise I don't need to cheat to realise my goals. But I'm not up against a planet full of high performance athletes, where success or failure can be defined in millimetres and micro-seconds.
I ask my GP for a prescription for 1ml syringes and some injecting water. He seems a bit flustered. The bacteriostatic water (BW to us juicers) might be problematic. I ordered some with my third shipment of peptides but it was seized. BW is sterile water treated with alcohol, which means it can be safely used for multiple injections. You can't just buy it off the shelf. Opinion on medical forums differs over whether normal sterile water is safe if you use a new syringe each time you draw from the vial. I throw out the rule book for dinner. Instead of salad, I stir fry some vegetables in a half-tablespoon of light olive oil. Wild times.
A day off work and the gym. Exercise is a good blow-out on the mountain bike. I'm feeling great.
Pick up syringes and injecting water. The label on the water says it's bacteria-free, so I'm guessing this should be okay. Cardio in the morning and weights in the afternoon. I'm full of energy and nail the workouts. The gym scales have me at 100.6kg, which means I'm still dropping weight at around a half kilo a day.
Another great workout day, but there must be something wrong with the scales. I'm still 100.6kg. I've stuck to the diet and hammered away the gym. This is a bit deflating. I've also tweaked my shoulder.
Friday. Knackered. I drop the morning cardio and just do weights. The scales still refuse to budge. Having drunk my first coffee in a fortnight earlier in the day, I'm wracked with guilt. I've also gone full circle and am now looking forward to taking the peptide again.
Still buggered. The mountain bike ride is torture. I'm going backwards. I drink three low-alcohol beers and a half bottle of red wine at my daughter's fourth birthday party and sneak a couple of sausage rolls when no one is looking. It feels terrible and great at the same time.
A hangover. I've already turned into a lightweight. At the gym I'm up to 101.7kg, so my excesses have done some damage. Hopefully a flat-out cardio session will offset it. I'm back solid on the diet.
Testing day - my last as a non-drugs cheat. I tip the scales at 100.7kg, so I'm back to where I was mid-week. My skinfolds are down, but the beep test is a blowout. I can tell from the start I am going to struggle. My energy levels have recovered from the end of week dip, but not enough, and I test pre-lunch - before I've had my precious 200g of kumara carbs. I quit at 7-6. PT seems disappointed, but I'm not. It's just a blip. I know I will do better as my conditioning improves. I smash the weights session and feel great, barring the nagging pain in my shoulder. Perhaps the peptide will help? I'll find out soon enough.
Tomorrow: Steve Deane starts taking the peptide
Disclaimer: The peptide project
This project was my idea and undertaken by me voluntarily. I researched and believe I fully understood the potential risks before beginning and assumed any such risks willingly. I believe I took all steps reasonably necessary to safeguard my own health and wellbeing. For example, the substance I took, GHRP-6, was examined by a chemist at Auckland University, who confirmed its chemical makeup and purity. The needles and injecting water I used were sourced via 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.
* Have you used peptides? Email us your story here.