Soup splashed my face as I slurped up a clump of noodles, glancing tentatively at the clock.
Within three minutes, I'd made a solid dent in the bucket of pho noodle soup.
My mates, Vince, Cal and I had come to a Vietnamese restaurant to attempt their extra-large pho noodle challenge.
To win, we had to eat a bucket's worth of pho with one kilogram of rice noodles, 600 grams of meat and over three litres of broth in under 20 minutes.
While Cal was sitting this one out, he wanted to come along for support.
If we did it, we'd get the meal for free and be featured on their wall of fame but if we failed, we'd have to pay over $80 for the meal.
Vince was devouring his bowl next to me. Better get a move on, I thought, slurping up more noodles.
Five minutes later, Vince held his empty bowl over his head and I followed suit a minute later.
"Great work, mate," Vince said as we fist bumped. "Keen for a burger?"
"Always," I grinned.
Vince, Cal and I are competitive eaters and although this meal was big by normal standards, it was like an hors d'oeuvre compared to other challenges.
Over the past three years, I've trained my body to devour as much food as possible in the shortest amount of time.
I got into competitive eating after I noticed a local joint had a one-kilo burger challenge.
"I've gotta give this a try," I said to my wife, Liz, enthusiastically.
To get the feed for free, I had to gobble up the whole thing in under six minutes.
When the timer began, I chomped in a frenzy until it was gone. The staff were shocked I'd actually done it.
"That was one of the fastest times I've ever seen," the owner exclaimed, shaking my greasy hand.
Maybe I had a unique talent for this?
After that, I looked for other challenges as a way to get a cheeky free meal.I managed loads of them, until I attempted a four-and-a-half-kilo burger with six meat patties and thick layers of cheese dripping down the edges.
Shoving the feast down my gullet, I realised I'd bitten off more than I could chew.
I sheepishly coughed up more than 80 bucks for the defeat.
This can't happen again, I told myself.
I soon realised there was a whole sporting community called Competitive Eating Australia.
They held sanctioned events and formulated rankings based on these scores.
I had natural talent, but if I wanted to climb up the ranks, I had to train like an athlete.
After some research, I discovered that competitive eaters stretch their stomachs with litres of water.
It can be incredibly dangerous, as drinking over three litres can cause internal drowning if you're not careful.
"You sure about this?" Liz frowned. I nodded. It was all or nothing.
Days before a big challenge, I quickly guzzled litres of water so it would inflate my stomach like a balloon.
It's extremely uncomfortable but the most important part of my training.
The day before a challenge, I eat as much watermelon as possible, because of its high water content.
By the time I start the competition on stage, I'm ravenous.
Competitive eating is a mental game, and it's super challenging to keep eating when your brain recognises your stomach is full.
For speed challenges, the real trouble is flavour fatigue, when your body grows tired of eating so much of the same thing.
No matter what it is or how spicy the food is, I keep going.
After a big challenge, I drink loads of water to rehydrate, then nap so my body digests it all.
I've since climbed up the ranks of the sport by doing challenges all over Australia.
I'm most proud of my current national record for the Hello Harry Fat Bastard Challenge, where I smashed four beef patties, four slices of cheese, tomato jam, mayo, mustard and pickles, along with fries topped with cheese sauce, bacon and shallots in one minute and 49 seconds.
Within two years, I was ranked the fifth-best competitive eater in Australia.
I was stoked until I realised my hobby had taken a toll on my health.
Although I've always loved strength training in the gym, I'd piled on weight.
I didn't realise how much my body was changing until I stepped on the scales.
I'd gained 30 kilos in 18 months.
Shocked, I joined a weight loss challenge at my gym and put off all food challenges.
In 16 weeks, I lost 33 kilos.
After that, I rejoined competitive eating but kept exercising to stay healthy.
I also get a blood test every six months.
I keep up my stomach stamina by eating three huge meals a week.
I'll go out to a burger joint for a practice meal with Liz and our daughters, Charli, 13, and Harriet, nine.
The girls don't like to sit with me when I'm training. They reckon it's embarrassing.
Still, they're supportive of me and often boast to their friends about their dad's special skill.
Charli even helps me to film challenges for my social media pages.
My training can be pretty expensive.
Each week, I eat over eight kilograms of food just practising, along with regular meals.In America, competitive eating can be a career because of the prize money.
The biggest competition is Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, with the recent winner earning $10,000 cash for smashing 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes, but here, the sport can't provide an adequate income, so I work full-time as a baker.
I'd love to see it become just as big as it is in the United States.
Until then, my goal is to become one of the top four competitive eaters in Australia.
I'll eat anything to win.
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