The first time I injected steroids, two years ago, I decided to pin my right quad. I drew the oils from the vial into the syringe with a thick 19-gauge pin, changed that for a 25-gauge, warmed the gear in the barrel up with my lighter, tapped out the air bubbles, and swabbed the injection site. Then for ten minutes I was dripping in sweat as I held the needle against the skin on my upper thigh, afraid to break through. Finally I took a deep breath, pinched an inch of thigh between thumb and finger, and pushed it in.

With the 25s you hardly feel it going. Just a little sting as it breaks the surface, then the needle sinks into the muscle smoothly. There are no nerve endings inside muscle tissue. That first time, as I aspirated to check I hadn’t hit a blood vessel, saw the little bubble of air draw back clear, and slowly started working the plunger down, my hands shook so much that I started stirring the needle round in the muscle, leaving a bruise afterwards. It always takes a long time to get the stuff in: you’re pushing thick oil through a thin needle, so you need to press down hard for a good minute. That was surprising, first time. There’s a sort of pay-off between using a thicker pin that hurts more or a thinner pin that takes longer to push the gear through. Some people use a tiny insulin pin, but for me that’s too slow. The 25s are just right. Once I’d got the oil in, with the black plug of the plunger all the way down, I whipped the pin out fast.

It was Logan who got me started on gear. I’d been training with him for about two years, had toned up and started to get some definition, but I was hitting a wall in terms of mass. I’m a hard gainer, so even though my diet was right – six meals a day, with my protein intake right up, on a constant feed of whey, tuna, cottage cheese, beef jerky, liquid egg-whites – even so I couldn’t push on past my lean, featherweight sort of look. I wanted to get properly big. One day we’d been talking between sets about body composition, hormone levels, and muscle mass, and Logan mentioned, very casually, that if I wanted a boost I could start on supplements. Test boosters and prohormones, the stuff you can buy legitimately. A prohormone is a precursor to a hormone; the capsules themselves don’t contain an active substance, but it converts to an active substance inside the body. Some people call them designer steroids, but when you’ve tried real gear, you know the difference. I started on Epistane, which is a relatively mild supp. After about a week and a half on it I was getting massive pumps, feeling the muscles swell to bursting after a work-out, and finding that I could push myself that much harder. By the end of my first cycle I’d gained a decent amount of mass, and I managed to keep most of it post-cycle. A couple of months later I did a Haladrol cycle. My sweet spot with H-drol was 75mg a day. That was where I really exploded.

All this time I was learning a lot about the chemistry of it from the forums. By the time Logan asked if I was ready for the real stuff, not just orals but injectables too, I considered myself to be a veteran. I knew about the side effects of course, but that’s why you’ve got to educate yourself. When you start pinning gear, you need to be able to handle it. I was lucky to have Logan there with me first time, but I put in a lot of hours too, reading up on cycles. If you passed behind my desk at work you’d never have guessed that behind my inbox I had a secret browser window open, where I was learning about how to dose a Post-Cycle Therapy protocol, or how to buy anti-oestrogens as research chemicals. That’s the best thing about the internet, you can find a whole community of lifters who are dedicated to making good information available. The last thing we want is some sixteen year-old misusing gear, ending up with bitch-tits on a dialysis machine. Whenever there’s bad publicity for steroids they clamp down on the suppliers; you can easily lose your best source.

Let me tell you about Logan though. He’s like no-one I know. For a start, he’s American, and covered in tattoos. When I met him he was just getting a second sleeve built up, which is finished now, and in the locker room you can see the mad designs across his chest and back: angels and skulls, hourglasses and thug-life slogans, pictures of his daughters. He told me once he used to be in the marines. Sometimes I wonder if he’s been in jail, and makes things up to cover the missing years. He was all-state wrestling champ in school, he says, and had try-outs for the NFL draft. Then he was a rapper. This one’s true – if you google him you can find his videos.  He’s into conspiracy theories, and that’s what he mainly raps about: the Illuminati, the pyramid eye on a dollar bill, the twin-tower Jews who phoned in sick that morning. Rap’s not really my thing, but he had a certain way with rhymes, I could tell.

What I really got from Logan was his intensity. I’d been working out on my own for a while when we met, and he told me straight off that my routine was useless. I was wasting my time with the resistance machines, pushing those little weights around on the cables, like the pansies who pose on the shoulder press for ten minutes between sets. No, I had to move it over to the free weights, the bench, and the squat rack, he told me; I had to do splits for the different muscle groups; and most importantly I had to hit it hard, so I reached muscle failure each time, and get as much protein down me as I could. Then I had to repeat it, and repeat, raising the weights each time, so I didn’t plateau; and if I couldn’t raise the weights, then I had to do extra reps. I didn’t mind that he was making money from me – I was glad to pay the 30 pounds for a training session. For the sessions on my own I would do routines that Logan had devised, and would imagine him there with me, spotting me on the heavy reps, keeping me from flagging, getting up in my face like a drill-sergeant – Come on, Richard, squeeze out two more now, drive, drive, hit it hard – so that I could smell his breakfast on his breath.

Logan taught me a sort of discipline, a sort of mental practice that carries over into all areas of my life. I almost want to say a spiritual practice. On a good day, when I start my routine I’m totally in the zone, nailing the lifts hard for the whole session, and squeezing out drop-sets at the end, as if my concentration has narrowed to a brilliant laser beam, pure and glowing, with all the shit and the externals fallen away. There’s a kind of euphoria in lifting. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t push their muscles to exhaustion, doesn’t know the stages of pain you have to master. Let’s say you’re doing a chest work-out, and you’re on your last set of flyes, lying on your back on the incline with 30kg dumbbells in each hand. You take it down really low so your arms are fully spread and your elbows are lower than your chest. You feel the pain burn in its flickering stage, then you squeeze, bringing it past the point where it feels like your pecs are about to tear off your sternum, your arms are going to rip from your shoulders, and you blow your cheeks and groan with the effort, and push it through the now-continuous burn to finish the set, before staggering off to rack the dumbbells and collapse there, totally spent. It’s amazing. There’s a clip of Arnie on Youtube from the time when he was an absolute beast, where he talks about the feeling of a massive pump, the mad levels of blood rushing into your engorged, swollen muscles like your skin is going to explode. It’s as satisfying to me as coming is, you know, as having sex with a woman and coming, he says, in his thick Austrian accent. He sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. After a work-out I crawl to the locker room and collapse on the bench, euphoric and light-headed.

Here’s the most ridiculous thing: I originally wanted to get in shape because of a woman. It was Jess’s body that shamed me into doing something, when we first started going out. She used to ride up on top of me or walk around the flat afterwards and I’d sort of say Jesus to myself, just whistling through my teeth in awe at the sight of her naked. She was into swimming and yoga, lithe and toned all over, and I couldn’t help thinking she must have known she was trading down, when she saw me there pale and chubby and weak, hardly able to support my weight above her. That was when I joined the gym.

It’s nice to think about how far I’ve come. I think of that first time I pinned myself as the major turning point, but in truth it’s just one in a series of incremental improvements. I know more about gear than Logan now, since he doesn’t understand the chemistry so well. When we started on HGH he didn’t even know that it had to be pinned subcutaneously, and was about to do it into the muscle before I showed him how to do it sub-q, pulling out the skin next to your belly button and sliding it right into the layer of fat there. He doesn’t really understand the different kinds of Test either – how they have different half-lives in the body, depending on the length of the ester. And his PCT regimes would be sloppy if I didn’t keep an eye on it.

I’m the one who sources for us both now. In the days between ordering and the package arriving I’m constantly on edge, worrying whether it’ll come, whether the vials will be damaged, whether the police will knock on my door, whether I’ll get a seizure notice saying they’ve confiscated the package, or whether there will be nothing at all, just silence and money gone. Since I’m making illegal orders of controlled pharmaceuticals from unlicensed underground labs via anonymous middlemen, it’s fair to say my statutory rights are fucked. I order from an encrypted account at Hushmail, and the source replies with payment details for a Western Union post in some far-flung money-laundering shithole. I’m amazed no-one’s ever phoned me up to ask why I’m wiring thousands of US dollars at a time to some Charlie Chan pseudonym in Beijing.

Sometimes me and Logan pin each other. Before a work-out we’ll get into one of the cubicles in the locker room and do it standing up, into the glute usually. We must look pretty gay, two big stacked blokes locking themselves in the toilet to stick needles in each other’s arse cheeks. I’m currently cycling a stack aimed at sheer mass, with a combination of HGH, Sustanon, Deca, Test-cyp, and Dianabol, spread across twenty weeks, with PCT to follow. This means pinning daily, to keep my levels smooth and stable. I pin quads, glutes, delts, pecs, calves, and sometimes even triceps, rotating sites to let the soreness recover between injections. You just need somewhere with no arteries or major nerves to hit. Right now I’m 245 lbs, at 5’10, with about eight per cent body fat, but I want to step it up again and build a whole new physique for next year, when I’ll enter my first amateur contest.

I couldn’t calculate how much I owe to Logan. I was nothing before I met him: I had no discipline, no strength; I never saw anything through; I had no concentration and no drive. Of course, I do sometimes wonder if I’ve gone too far. When I catch a glimpse in a mirror window and think Jesus, that guy is freakily huge, then do a double-take as I realize Oh, it’s me. When clients come to the office and give me dirty looks, wondering why the senior assessor has 20 inch biceps and mad, inch-thick neck veins popping out of his collar. But when this happens I just think of Logan saying Fuck the haters. The haters are just losers who want you to fail so they feel better about themselves.

That was the problem with Jess too. She supported my lifting at the beginning, but when I stepped things up it felt like she was holding me back. I wouldn’t say she became a hater exactly, but she started moaning that I spent too long training, that I was making her into a gym widow – I hate that phrase – and that I was no fun when I stopped drinking, and cut out carbs after breakfast. When I started on gear she wouldn’t let up about making myself infertile, no matter how often I explained that it’s only temporary. I was getting too big, she said, making her feel fat and lazy. Well, she did get a little chubby, to be honest. Just around the middle, but she wouldn’t do anything to shift it. After we moved in together she didn’t go swimming any more, since she claimed the new place was too far from the pool. Only losers invent excuses like that. In the end, she asked me outright to stop doing steroids, but I wasn’t having that. How could she love me if she only wanted me to do what suited her? When I ended things we were both ready for it. She came round to seeing it that way eventually. I’ve been single since then, but lifting keeps me busier than I’ve ever been, and last month I moved into a flat in Logan’s building, only a hundred yards from the gym. So everything’s pretty perfect just now.