The Telegraph - The Boot Camp: Mud, Combat Training And Dawn Starts

5.40am. BANG! The wake-up call is the sort of robust knock on the door police use to precede a dawn raid. Here – dark midwinter, in an isolated location in Galloway, south-west Scotland – it is the signal to emerge from the duvet, hurl on outdoor physical training kit and assemble outside at 5.55am, in formation, in front of a Marine commando and a Special Forces military fitness instructor.

It is the start of my third day at The Camp and adrenalin floods my system. So, too, a detox-induced queasiness and an unanticipated enthusiasm for starting the day in top gear. It is a weird cocktail of emotions. Outside on a frosty lawn, shadowy figures in camouflage trousers lay out mats, weights, kitchen bells, Swiss balls, cones and laminated signs calling for lunges, reverse curls, jackdaws and tricep dips.

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Like my course mates, who range in age from 23 to 67, I have signed up with the resolution to shift a few pounds and kick-start a new fitness campaign. But I arrived in my default mode: mild panic. How would I survive? Me, an urban wimp, with a dodgy knee and no recent recollection of troubling a heart-rate monitor. I don't run. I don't do mud or extremes of temperature. Up until now, I didn't possess a microfibre of Lycra kit. Boxing, abseiling, sprinting, circuits. What was I thinking?

But here I am, yanking on socks, vest, T-shirt, long-sleeved thermal top, sweatshirt, fleece, leggings, tracksuit bottoms, trainers, waterproof jacket, hat and gloves. As I grab my water bottle and bolt down the stairs I picture home, zooming in as if by Google Earth to a silhouette glowing with cosiness, where husband and children sleep soundly, and even the puppy has a hot-water bottle. There's no time to indulge in an "if-only-they-could-see-me!" reverie. There are 17 of us ready to fight the cold, circling shoulders, jogging, punching to the front, sprinting on the spot, peeling off layers, then into 45 minutes of high-intensity training: press-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, star jumps…

"Maximum effort, ladies," Karl the Commando demands.

"Good effort there, Sarah," calls his sidekick as they pick us out individually for encouragement with sniper-trained eyes.

Above is a planetarium-perfect sky. On the horizon lie the snow-topped hills of Galloway Forest. It is beautiful, but with lungs bursting and heart pounding, I'm focusing on staying with the relentless pace of Karl's instructions: "Counting down from 30, sprint! 29, 28… ladies, I can't hear you! Start again from 40, 39, 38…"

At last it's warm-down, euphoria, breakfast (small bowl of muesli with cinnamon) and off to the lecture room for a session on nutrition. The "next detail" is already written on the board – 0855 Hill Walking Kit – with the thought "Life is short. Bite hard!" Cue to rush to our rooms to layer up thermals for a three-hour hike over bumpy, marshy terrain before lunch.

Quick glance at my mobile. "Dead yet?" reads a text from my 11-year-old son. No way! I'm loving it.

The Camp is the brainchild of Sebastian Morley and Sam Costello, whose officer/soldier relationship in the Special Forces evolved into a friendship and business partnership once they'd hung up their rifles. They have experienced to an extreme degree the physical effects of training in jungles, deserts and fjords, and on operation in the Middle East. The philosophy behind their women-only, week-long, residential weight-loss courses is an achievable hybrid of military and civvie elements: to raise the metabolism and achieve fat burning through constant activity in a challenging outdoor environment.

"It is military based, but not brutal. You will not be yelled at. The boys are unique motivators," explained Sebastian in an introductory talk, adding the caveat that we would burst into tears and hit an emotional wall. "Stay with us. The lads will help you through."

Unlike its increasing number of imitators, there is nothing gimmicky about The Camp. Safety – from assessing injury niggles to biking ability and abseiling preparation – is an overriding concern, expressed with professionalism and sensitivity. Clear-minded preparation removes fear. Before we abseiled down a 100-metre rock cliff, Sam talked us through the logistics with anecdotes from previous camps. Result? Guided by instructors of this
calibre, everyone happily pushed themselves well beyond their preconceived limits.

"You'd do anything, you lot," laughed Karl, after watching us struggle to do some ridiculous joke exercise he'd inserted into pre-bedtime PT for his own amusement.

The Camp promotes itself with the line "Drop a dress size and tone up in one week", and that is a conservative promise. After just three days on LSD – that is, the Long Slow Duration of constant activity from 5.40am to 8pm – I had lost 5lb, 7cm from my waist and converted 2.1 per cent of body fat into muscle. By the end of the week, one girl had lost 11lb, another 20cm from her waist and another had converted 5 per cent of body fat into muscle.

It is tough. Some were sick. Others cried. Most of us experienced waves of nausea that we were thrilled to hear were normal; our bodies were using up our dreaded stores of glycogen. We were united by a determination to put the effort in and see the reward. A buddy-buddy atmosphere meant that we looked out for each other and had a laugh, indulging particularly in that familiar preoccupation with food that comes when a group of women are on a low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb (but absolutely delicious) diet. I can report portion envy, plates scraped clean and mock threats to attack the PTI on an isolated hill for his emergency ration of chocolate.

But The Camp gave me so much more than weight loss. What you lose in physical matter, you gain from the camaraderie, the personal challenges confronted and incredible confidence-building skills. Activities include boxing, mountain biking, adventure training and team games interspersed with fascinating "rest" periods learning about orienteering, firelighting, observation, rifle shooting and survival techniques.

What did I take home? A racing metabolism, a waist, a host of new friends, a knowledge of the stimulating qualities of thermogenic spices and an overwhelming desire to return. I experienced the thrill of knowing that I can still run as I did as a teenage lacrosse player and appreciate the feel-good factor of exercise as much as my rower husband.

To the dismay of my children, "Maximum effort, guys" is my new catchphrase. "I wish they'd sent you to that yoga camp," they moan.

Sarah Edworthy


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