Lessons from a military fitness boot camp survivor!
Hi readers, some light relief for you all amid the credit crunch on these darkening nights. I took some time out recently from my normal business routine and here’s my story about the week-long, life-changing, female military boot camp I attended.
Why did I sign up? Health is everything!
My 46th birthday – such a depressingly “non”- older age – was looming with the big 50 in close pursuit. I’d done a double-take at my repeated reflections and excellent impersonation of a fat Russian peasant woman in shop windows and life reality – against the expectations of where I expected to be at the age of fifty in terms of business prowess, financial solvency and still looking fab and fit.
Of course, there is a huge connection between all of these aspirations, especially in achieving long-term business success and staying power. Female entrepreneurs must look after themselves to develop the right image and stamina to stay in the end-game and at the front and at the moment just simply to survive.
Often, we also have to care for a lot of people around us, but all too often neglect ourselves in that equation, not spotting the first signs of stress, often brought on by not taking enough exercise, time out, or just cutting ourselves some slack. Recently, this was brought home to me in a very real way. A few close female friends, all very successful in their professional fields, suffered sudden physical ill-health, one a near fatal brain haemorrhage, the next chronic diabetes, the last chronic fatigue syndrome. None have been able to work properly since or not at anything like their former capacities. For all, it really was a bolt from the blue, no prior history of ill-health but all had worked themselves into the ground for decades. This kind of behaviour clearly had come back to bite them by “mid”-career. The positives – all are greatly recovered now and their enforced life re-evaluations have led to them making significant changes. They are leading much more balanced and happier lives. But this bumpy landing could have been avoided. It was a wake-up call for me!
Anticipation! Camp initiation!
So my solution? – Military fitness – an extreme kick-start before the onslaught of Christmas and my winter excuses. One Saturday, I found myself setting off at dawn with a mixture of trepidation and sheer naivety, at an unearthly hour – which soon became routine over the ensuing week! – on the Kings Cross train to Dumfries, to a remote 3,000 acre private estate in South West Scotland. I immediately spotted a fellow cheerful traveller heading for the same destination – and we met others along the way. By the time we had arrived at the beautiful Country house, our “home” base for the coming week, we had already bonded as women do so successfully.
Upon arrival, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the estate and its ideal backdrop for a luxury leisure break, given the luscious comfortable accommodation, set in breathtakingly beautiful countryside, with wonderful open-hearth fires, Gourmet cooking – yes we had a Gourmet chef – big friendly Alan – but he was only allowed to give us mouth-watering starvation portions! I was often to return to this fantasy over the coming week. But, for now we were military boot campers and I was quickly disabused of any illusions as we received our first military “detail”, which thereafter we received on a drip basis, hour by hour – in our trainers words “on a need to know basis, Girls” setting the pattern, tone and rules for the week ahead….
What tough feels like!
We had a small team of military trainers, Carl, Matt and Ewan, who had all trained and served extensively around the world with her Majesty’s special forces. They had seen some serious and sobering action. For them, taking on a crazy, if zany, group of mainly middle-aged women, all there for different reasons (most at some kind of crossroads or re-evaluation in their lives and not wanting to get past their “sell-by date”, was a walk in the park. But they took it very seriously…and so did we. We were the client, we’d paid a lot of money to be there aka “punished”, and they were going to ensure that we met our objectives, however uncomfortable and challenging that might be. We’d “thank them for it” as our former svelte selves re-emerged. For us it sooo was NOT a walk in the park.
It was just about everything else though…
It was all about completing the course and taking part to the best of our abilities and achieving meaningful individual targets. I only remember one exercise – dragging my feet around the estate exhausted, searching for tiny flags with the aid of compasses during which I seriously considered requesting a short temporary exit “pass”. But I didn’t and neither did anyone else. We were stoically kept moving the whole day, the whole time. Not at the same sustained pace of course – that would have been impossible and I wouldn’t be here to regale the tale – but at a level which kept our metabolism and blood sugar levels boosted. Similarly with the diet and snacks allegedly keeping us on an even keel – a mid a lot of moaning and initial disbelief – bringing the jokey image to mind of two disgruntled Jewish friends berating their culinary experience at a restaurant – including “and such small portions!”
It was wonderful to do so much physically challenging, outdoor activity in the most beautiful and remote of surroundings. Scotland is just fabulous. The mountain walking, mountain-biking, river-crossing and abseiling were all great highlights.
For me, the greatest challenge was abseiling, down a jagged cliff-face of over 80 feet. I really am terrified of heights. Until then, I’d regularly dreamt of falling from great heights – so I was facing my worst fear full-on. What got me through it? Preparation. We’d been trained with the equipment down the shallowest of grass verges by the tennis courts and I knew how to use it (well in theory!) and some of what to expect. Absolute trust. These boys knew what they were doing. I trusted them with my life! Finally, not wanting to let myself down, or anyone else. I knew I could do it. I was most relieved to be allowed to go second so I got it over with quickly and wasn’t kept waiting long fearfully at the top. As it was, I did succumb to a brief episode of salty tears, naked primal fear. It’s not natural to step off a mountain! But the instantly calming, endorphins immediately released and I promptly descended to ground level with ease and some skill. What was all the fuss about?
River-crossing – swimming across an extremely cold river with a fierce current – oh yes I did need the rope – was also excellent – my nightly sojourn in the dustbin of freezing cold water, to treat my muscle soreness, standing me in good stead here! The best bit was seeing the sheer delight on all the trainers faces, like little boys, huge smiles etched across their earnest faces. They seemed to enjoy all our achievements – which constantly surprised me! It wasn’t just mirth, except my bright pink bikini. I was just being practical, never have been particularly attracted by wet clothes!
Team dynamics were fun – especially team-building exercises such as building a forest shelter for survival. It actually stood up and inter-team irritations quickly forgotten!
Mountain biking. Personal highlight again, when my entire front wheel came off on a steep incline – “never happened before Mel,…” said Ewan quickly grinding to a halt to help me find – by some miracle – the offending nut on the stony path. Soon, I was fixed. Unabashed, I whizzed off to complete my 28k ride. Just in time for dinner!
The military frisson gave the camp an added dimension. I now really do feel I am also equipped with survival and self-defence skills in the unexpected – but not impossible – event that they might ever need to be deployed. I also have the upmost respect for what our boys do for our country. Seriously.
Have to keep this brief now as I’ve been carried away by my recollections. But this boot camp – really is for the spirit – and of course it hones the body too – How could that combination not!? But it also built mental steel, stretching targets and self-belief, teaches self-knowledge, listening and focusing skills and great tolerance. Re-energised, we have all returned with sharpened skills in our tool box, re-newed vigour and tenacity to take on the challenges back home with our families and businesses – it’s a great lesson in survival strategy for toughened times!
You can achieve the incredible – for me it was abseiling and losing half a stone in one week plus 3% body fat. That was a result after years of stability on the scales! The friendships and added business zest were a great added bonus.
I have so many good – and what will be long-lasting – memories – the mud, great banter and heartfelt laughs, the appreciation of every mouthful of food, getting through the pain barrier, my lovely Scottish trainer with the soft but deep resonant, masculine lilt of his Edinburgh accent. No monopoly there girls, we were all in love with him spurring us on to perform at our peak! Whatever motivates!
Next up? A girlie reunion and spa weekend (gym optional) – but lots of food and wine mandatory- in Manchester early in the New Year. We’ve earned it and there will be lots of exercise in between, British military fitness – see your nearest Common! – etc and online community support. “No excuses girls!” Are you fit for your lives? Visit www.thecamp.co.uk
About the Author: Melanie Worthy has a long and interesting background in PR and communications, working with financial services and government agencies for many years. This year she took the leap and decided to join the ranks of small business owners and has also taken on the not insubstantial task of Co-Editor! We hope you enjoy her take on starting your own business and we would love it if you shared your thoughts and experiences.