Black Ferns strength and conditioning coach Jamie Tout puts Cheree Kinnear through her paces during a Black Ferns training session.
As I ran back down the side of the Auckland Grammar rugby pitch completing just my second round of the Bronco fitness test, I began seriously questioning what I'd got myself into.
Sure, it sounded cool to experience first-hand a Black Ferns training session, but I quickly realised that to be at the top of the women's game takes blood, sweat and tears ... and a lot of cardio.
Think it's easy to train like a Black Fern? Think again.
A typical Black Ferns on-field training session can consist of up to 110 minutes of high-intensity skill and fitness-based exercises.
During the international season, the team rotates on four and seven-day turnarounds with rest days considered a "luxury", according to Black Ferns strength and conditioning coach Jamie Tout.
Fortunately, my experience under Tout's guidance was only set to be a tiny sample.
The start of my session wasn't too much to sweat about as I was guided through some dynamic warm-ups involving the usual shuttle runs, high knees and butt kicks.
Although quickly noting a pair of rugby boots would have come in handy on the slippery field, it all seemed fairly doable.
But that was just stage one, as Tout soon reminded me, and stage two was only going to get harder in the lead up to that brutal Bronco test.
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"The first part is just general, we usually get the girls running around so they can feel how their bodies are going ... but we try and incorporate some rugby things as well," Tout explained.
"The transition stage then gets you ready for those high-speed movements. So you're starting to run a bit faster, changing direction, things like that."
fter a few embarrassing attempts at simulating a lineout lift with a resistance band and struggling to convincingly hold my ground in a scrum harness, it was time for the real killer.
Widely regarded as one of the most brutal fitness tests on the New Zealand rugby scene, the Bronco is no easy feat.
The test involves running to the 20m line and back, to the 40m line and back, then to the 60m line and back before repeating the series of shuttles four more times.
Running an accumulative 1.2km may not sound that tough but with 29 turns and no breaks between shuttles to catch your breath, the Bronco makes the more commonly known Beep Test look easy.
"It's a tough one," Tout assured me humorously.
With the likes of Black Ferns veteran Kendra Cocksedge completing the test under five minutes, Tout set the bar for me to finish each full round in one minute in order to stay on track – although I immediately mentally flagged that as an unrealistic target.
My first set of shuttles weren't so bad to my surprise as I managed to make it back to the start line a little over the one minute mark.
However, that's when things started to go downhill.
My legs became increasingly sluggish and I felt my pace slow on every turn. I heard Tout call my time prompting me to pick up my pace and stay on schedule but that five-minute marker had already left my mind.
Too proud to call it quits and walk the test, my only goal was to just keep running.
As I turned on my last 60m shuttle and eyed up the final stretch I gave every last bit of effort I could before finally collapsing at the try line.
I'd done it. Somehow, I had completed it and that's all that mattered.
Comparing my time, Tout said I'd clocked in a minute and a half slower than Cocksedge's benchmark. It didn't sound too bad on paper but it meant she would've run nearly another half a kilometre while I struggled along.
To think it was just a taste of what the Black Ferns endure on a daily basis had my head spinning, and more so that many of the players also balance family life and a career.
Fact is, the women in black work tremendously hard every day to be the world's best - and take it from me, they deserve every bit of glory and respect that comes with it.
Typical Black Ferns training schedule
Morning – On-field training session
Afternoon - Gym session
Double training day
Morning - 'Clarity session' working on what the game plan is for the upcoming weekend
Afternoon - On-field training with unit and team-based sessions
Morning - Extended on-field training with unit and team-based sessions
Afternoon - Gym session