School has memories I'd forgotten until recently, of competitive girls who got off on being faster, fitter, more agile than the rest of us.
Remember, in those days the hour devoted to 'PT' and the compulsory 'extramurals' of netball and athletics were the ultimate drag. So those little – they were also little – smug bunnies flying over the vaulting horses and sprinting around the pockmarked running track made me feel both inadequate and scornful.
Fast forward more years than I'd like to mention, and I'm having flashbacks. Except this time there's no scorn in the picture.
Adventure Boot Camp
For about a year now, there's been a growing buzz about Adventure Boot Camp. The concept and the business have been around a lot longer, but suddenly, in my circle, the bug seems to have bitten. Women who've been perfectly happy with a gentle stroll on the Promenade, maybe some yoga or Pilates, are suddenly raving about the benefits of something that sounds very much like the old 'PT'.
Adventure Boot Camp was established some years ago. Basically, it's a four-week programme, based (mostly) outdoors in a number of venues around Cape Town, operating Monday to Friday, with two options for sessions: 6am to 7am, or 6pm or 7pm. It's a women-only thing, and no, there's none of that GI Jane stuff of abusive instructors (nor have I been required to attempt a one-armed push-up. Yet).
But Boot Camp is in the mould of 'PT', or those famous Canadian Air Force exercises: whether you're doing a cardio-and-legs day, or an arms-and-upper-body day, the instructors are on a campaign to keep your heart rate up, build your strength and endurance, and distract you for the duration so that you don't realise how hard you're working. You'll do step-ups, push-ups and sit-ups until you groan.
It works. Time flies when you're doing triceps dips.
As an aside, which is valuable for those on a weight-loss campaign, there's nutritional counselling; and if you're getting lonely over the weekend and feel like you need more exercise, there are scuba diving, power yoga and other similar activities organised (my weekends these days involve a horizontal lifestyle as much as possible).
I've always been a morning person at gym, but it's another thing altogether to get up at 5.15 daily (that feels more like night than morning). I was initially as nervous about that as I was about the prospect of having to eat something before 6am, and the fear of not keeping up with the pack was somewhat further down my list of horrors.
How foolish. Because mornings become easier (especially once your routine is slick enough to set the alarm a little later); and eating can be dealt with by as much of a banana as you can manage. But those competitive girls – the ones who actually love running and leaping and pushing themselves – they're at Boot Camp, and until I learned better, I assumed I had to keep up with them.
The other thing I didn't think to worry about was a good exercise bra. I never needed one before, because nothing I've ever done before involves running. Do you know how hard they are to find? If anyone has a source, let us know.
So what does it feel like?
It's hard, but it's fun. You'll use muscles you'd forgotten you had – there hasn't been a day since I started that I haven't been aware of my thighs or my shoulders, my abs or my biceps. It's wildly challenging, and it's unexpectedly empowering.
I thought I was reasonably fit and strong, and probably, by most standards, I was.
Relative to where I could be, though, I was tragically off the mark. I'm loving finding my limits again, and pushing them (if only for a brief moment every day).
Limits are variable. There are women in my group – the terminology they use at Boot Camp is 'in my camp' – who never break into a trot and others who sprint; there are women who don't have the wrist strength for push-ups and so do them vertically against a wall, and others who can do two or three dozen man-style pushups in a minute.
But there isn't, I'm told, anyone who doesn't improve over the four-week period and now – about halfway through – I can see why: you'd have to be hiding in the toilets to avoid improving with this regime.
Well, yes. I put my hand on my hip the other day and was quite startled to feel a muscle move under my fingers. I don't think I've had lats since, well, since I discovered Nigella Lawson. There is some small recovery of some bits that have been slowly sagging over the last while. I left some weight behind when I lunge-walked until I fell over from exhaustion.
And those smug competitive bunnies? I'm cheering them on (because as soon as they get to the end of a particularly rigorous sequence, we all get to stop).
(Heather Parker, Health24, updated February 2012)