The motto stood out boldly on the front of my boot camp journal. ‘Winners
never quit. Quitters never win.’ How many times did I have to recall the mantra to keep on track during my summer adventure? Endlessly. You see, I had always fantasized about being in the army; I loved watching G.I. Jane and having Private Ryan and I wanted to join in with the ultimate discipline. Plus, I had a bit of a belly to lose after studying for Prelims. So, incentivised by the half-price credit crunch offer, I signed up for a boot camp ‘Back to Basics’ course. Avoiding euphemisms, it was a fitness experience, a weight loss journey – or if you’re totally going for it, it was, I admit, a fat camp.

However, I wasn’t going there alone – the meeting of 12 women, all connected by the desire to lose weight, in Millom train station was a testimony to the rise in popularity of these week-long residential camps. Many are endorsed by B-list celebrities, some cater for men only, and yet others are for brides-to-be. Mostly, they promise that you can drop a dress size in a week…

On the first day, I woke up at 5.30am, ran a lot up and down a hill and did 4 minutes of jumping jacks, 100 squats and 50 push-ups. Then I went onto a 3-hour hike followed by a gym session in the village town hall. All in high visibility jackets with my violet bag jumping up and down on my back. I know, I was surprised at myself too. What had I been thinking, to put myself through six days of physical hell? ‘Do you have a problem with the word fat? Now, do you? Don’t you like words like fat, greedy, lazy? Think why, in the dictionary
they’re just fine, but it’s in your mind that they change in meaning,’ shouted our coach.

Yes, the ex-policmean not only desired to sculpt our flabby and untoned bodies, but also to re-educate us about food, exercise and let us release our emotional baggage and get rid of negative energy. ‘Do you have emotional issues?’ was his first question to us upon arrival – and all our sorrows were to be written out in the boot camp journal. So this camp was quickly turning out to be far more holistic than I thought.

The structure of the day was simple – early wake-up, weigh-in, 100ml of a smoothie to drink followed by ‘Fun Run’, which lasted about two hours. I am absolutely convinced they should redefine this activity. How much fun is it to be sprinting (!) up and down a hill in the Lake District and after 1 hour 30 minutes

to be shouted at: ‘MARTA, YOU’RE LAZY. YOU’RE 19 AND LOOK AT THESE OLD BODIES RUNNING IN FRONT OF YOU. YOU’RE LAZY’. And that’s the story of how, for the first time in my life, I was called lazy. But the daily Fun Run was about pushing your limits – we ran up and down until we sweated like crazy, until our hearts were not able to pump enough blood to spread the oxygen to all our limbs.

‘Trying chewing Oatibix. Or tomato soup.’

And this wasn’t only the case of the Fun Run – we spent a day at the beach, where we carried two tyres up and down sandy hills until we were lying in the sun, collapsed with exhaustion. We hiked and we rowed and we did 50,000 lunges, squats, push-ups, knee-highs, kicks and anything that you see on these Cindy Crawford aerobic exercise videos that our mums used to watch in the 90s. In other words, it was hell. Coach, who suffered slightly from a
God complex, didn’t allow us to moan, stop or give up. To add a sense of responsibility, if you couldn’t do an exercise you had to announce to everyone: ‘I CHOOSE not to do this’.

Back at boot camp there was obviously a fascination with small portions. We were shown the diet plate which pointed out our allowances of all food groups, we learnt how much we have to run to burn 100 calories and we had educational sessions on how to eat well. Every piece of food was given out in small containers with a sacrosanct flourish and then slowly put into our mouths. 20 chews ladies, remember, nothing can go in without a prior twenty chews. Try chewing Oatibix. Or tomato soup. Not an easy feat.

The menu consisted of vegetables and protein. What a delight it was to get an omelette with vegetables! How my eyes sparked at the sight of thai chicken soup! How luxurious it was to receive a packet of porridge with 180ml of semi-skimmed milk – with the strenuous physical exercise, every opportunity to eat becomes a blessing.

Sitting in the sunshine of the Lake District and looking at my partner doing her last set of boxercises (don’t worry, I had already completed my own!), made me strangely happy. The obstacles that I thought I had, however uncomfortable, had been overcome. I believed that ‘Can’t without a ‘t’ makes a can’ and that truly, there are no obstacles for me – whether it’s a strikingly steep hill or the challenges of university life.

In the end, you are your only enemy. I came for the physical change; I came away with a whole different mentality. Work hard, be curious about all aspects of life as it is richer than you ever expect it to be, get to know people
around you and enjoy the natural world. And losing 6 pounds and 13 inches didn’t hurt either – in perspective – to achieve a sense of satisfaction.