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What could get Debbie Graham up at 6.30am on a Saturday morning and in bed by 8.15pm?

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Why would anyone want to spend a weekend tired, hungry, covered in mud, crawling along the ground while being shouted at by an ex-army sergeant?


Lost weight and lost inches is the answer and thats why boot camps are recruiting a growing battalion of enthusiasts. The women-only Phoenix Boot Camp, held on the Victorian Colloquy estate in Lyonshall, has just been voted Best Holistic Boot Camp 2011 by the only independent Boot Camp Survey and comes with the promise that anyone who attends will lose weight, with attendees dropping between seven and 10lbs per week-long camp. But unlike other boot camps, all clients are equipped to ensure they can maintain their weight loss and the pounds dont pile on as soon as they get home, according to Phoenix founder Susie Sore.


Ex-Royal Marines Commando David Gothard who ran the camp I took part in enforced the message: I get the satisfaction of seeing people come away with the experience of being pushed beyond the boundaries they think they are restricted by. Its what I love doing, I could do this 24/7, he said. David is personable, funny and encouraging and with only 10 to 12 in the group, there was no escaping his eagle eyes. He made us want to succeed and do well.


The accommodation at the Colloquoy wasnt what I was expecting, thank goodness. Not the bunk beds, sleeping bags and cold showers associated with army life, but country-style chic at its very best with inviting sofas, a large dining area, Jacuzzi and sauna, and, most importantly, stylish, spacious and super comfortable bedrooms with a huge baths. I did not realise how important that bed and bath were going to become to my aching muscles as I snuggled down without a care on the first night of
my stay.


The reality check came at 6.30am the next morning when I had to struggle into my running clothes for an early morning run before breakfast. And it wasnt just a jog it was sprinting up hills. Within a minute I was bright red and puffing. I soon learned the idea of getting fit and losing a few pounds is all well and good in theory but in practice, well its damned hard work.


Breakfast, when it came, was a lovely tasty, but small, bowl of porridge. But despite the small portions the boot camp food was delicious and cooked to perfection by the in-house chef. Home-made soups, risottos, chicken stuffed with feta and when you leave you take the recipes and portion guide with you so you can create the meals at home.


And what we lost in portion-size we gained in camaraderie. It was all girls together and nothing unites us girls like a situation with no wine and no chocolate.


Come 11am (the time I normally surface on a Saturday morning) as we stopped for a short break and a snack, I couldnt believe what I had achieved in a few short hours. I felt energised and glowing or was that the promise of food? Here you go Debs a smoothie, said Kirsten Emes, the camps manager. I looked around for the snack to accompany the drink but there was none. Surely some mistake? In my book a smoothie is definitely a drink, not a snack. Still it was delicious and did go someway to fill the hole the exercise had dug.


By nightfall I had also endured circuits, pushing tyres and barrels up hills, stretcher runs, a run through woods involving crawling along the ground, an evening walk and an abdominal crunch session. Tired and exhausted after dinner I passed on the yoga session and crawled into a hot bath and bed. Saturday night and I was all tucked up by a quarter past eight!


And come the morning all I could say was ow, ow ow. Not one bit of me was free from pain and hobbling was my only mode of getting about, and it was all going to begin again


And yet, it was becoming addictive and as the stiffness began to wear off I started to enjoy the challenge, to feel energised and motivated, surrounded by my army of new friends. When it came for me to say goodbye on Sunday afternoon I was sad to go, knowing the others were going on to enjoy a week of hiking, gorge-walking cycling and challenging themselves to the hilt, whereas I would be sitting at my computer. However, I do have a confession (sorry Kirsten, David and Susie). On the way home I could not resist pulling into a garage and buying the biggest bar of chocolate come on I deserved it. I must have burnt off hundreds of calories.


So would I go again? You bet, boot camp is a great way to get into shape and make new friends, but I may take a secret stash of healthy snacks along too.


Phoenix is running week-long and weekend camps in
Herefordshire throughout 2012. Contact: 0845 8381162.
www.thecolloquy.com www.phoenixbootcamp.co.uk

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