The FitBrit Challenge has become a staple of the UK cross-training scene – in 2014, its seventh year, a record 4,000 entrants set lung-busting qualifying times in Fitness First gyms around the country in a bid to reach the final. The list of men and women who made the cut featured an exciting mix of battle-hardened competitors – including 2013 winners AJ Orchard and Nicci French – and first-time finalists keen to make an impact.

While the format remained largely the same as in  the 2013 challenge (apart from the ViPR lateral tilt, which replaced the ViPR thread the needle), the 2014 event – supported by BULK POWDERS™ – saw the introduction of a pairs event, allowing competitors to tackle the challenge in teams of two. Each pair split the eight exercises between them in a relay format.

The power of two

The 2014 final took place at Fitness First’s  luxurious new Bishopsgate venue in the City of London, where staff had set up four rows of the eight FitBrit stations to create a competitive atmosphere for the head-to-head heats. The first pairs heat kicked off at 11am, cheered on by a raucous crowd, but it was the second heat that saw Paula Buckmaster and Nicci French triumph in dramatic fashion, beating second-placed Tharam Yogan and Ramos Bacanskas by just one second.

‘As a team, our strengths complement each other very well,’ said French. ‘That meant we could work out a plan where we each did the exercises that suited us best. The bike and run are the hardest stations, and also take up the most time, so we kept repeating them over and over again in training, which definitely paid off.’ The result was a hugely impressive time of 10min 17sec.

Next up were the women’s singles heats. Incredibly, both French and Buckmaster were taking part here too, despite having thrashed themselves in the pairs event less than an hour earlier. After three intense heats, it came down to the final station of the final heat, with four women hitting their treadmills just seconds apart, pounding away at speeds as high as 20km/h to try to steal first place. In the end, Tracey Davies from Fitness First Clapham Junction was simply too strong for the others, powering ahead to claim the title by eight seconds with a lightning-fast time of 10min 55sec.

‘I compete regularly in the X-training series, so I’m used to racing in a timed format, which really helps,’ said Davies. ‘The key is to keep your head together during the bike and stick to the right tempo. Everyone dreads the run at the end, but at least when you get to it you know you’ve only got that to go so you don’t need to keep anything in the tank.’ 

Groundhog day

The men’s singles promised to be extremely close, with all the top five finishers from 2013 competing in the final two heats. Former marine and all-round beast AJ Orchard competed in the penultimate heat, laying down the gauntlet to the remaining finalists with a scorching time of 11min 17sec. The final heat kicked off at a furious pace, as Duncan Macrae – the fastest qualifier and MF cover model – blasted through the 500m row with perfect form to edge in front. But disaster struck for Macrae on the second station – sketchy ViPR technique cost him precious seconds and allowed perennial podium finisher Nuno Barreto to cruise into the lead with a fast, controlled pedal stroke on the bike. 

All the competitors reached the treadmill in close succession, setting up a grandstand finish. An all-or-nothing burst from Yannick Agathine saw him burn out and have to stop, while Macrae – the last man on the treadmill but the fastest runner – set a maniacal pace in a brave but ultimately fruitless attempt to haul back Barreto after his costly tactical blunder on the ViPR. 

Barreto stayed ahead throughout the heat to finish first – but even his fantastic time of 11min 25sec wasn’t enough to overcome Orchard, whose phenomenal performance earned him a second consecutive FitBrit victory. ‘I was quite nervous leading up to the event,’ Orchard said. ‘I’d had some injury problems with a bulging disc and a ruptured hip muscle, but after the first couple of strokes of the row I got into it, and I was able to power through and ignore the pain. I’m a sore loser, so it feels great to win!’

Top 5 men

1 AJ Orchard 11min 17sec

2 Nuno Barreto 11min 25sec

3 Danny Blake 11min 28sec

4 Mark Bernhardt 11min 32sec

5 Duncan Macrae 11min 49sec

Top 5 women

1 Tracey Davies 10min 55sec

2 Gemma Frith 11min 3sec

3 Nicci French 11min 7sec

4 Julia Misinska 11min 10sec

5 Caroline Stanzel 11min 22sec

Top 5 pairs

1 Paula Buckmaster and Nicci French – 10min 17sec

2 Tharan Yogan and Ramos Bacanskas – 10min 18sec

3 Kat Osborne and Elyse Featherstone – 10min 52sec

4 Sam Shahin and Dwayne Galloway – 11min 44sec

5 Lee Varellas and Dan Ousby – 12min 5sec

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