Cardio drills, strength exercises, jogging in formation 

When my editor asked if I wanted to write a "funny, first-person" account of a fitness boot camp, I thought it sounded like a great idea. In theory.


Kind of like how, in theory, I'm versed in Russian literature or, in theory, I understand the draw of paperback romance novels (and, likewise, the allure of titles like "Savage Heart" and "Tempestuous Tartans"). But I'm all for making a fool of myself in the pursuit of writing (how noble, right?), so I gave boot camp a go.

Operation Boot Camp stages month-long fitness classes around the metro. I signed up for the one at Lake Hefner, which sounded like a beautiful locale until it was pointed out that we'd probably have to run around the lake. "Is sailing across it an option?" I wondered.

The other fun fact is the time boot camp started: 5:30. That's a.m. I had to be up, dressed, possibly with my teeth brushed at 5:30 in the morning. Can we even consider that "morning"? I'm pretty sure that deserves a "middle of the night, who would be up at that hour besides, you know, monks, and they're really just chanting" description.

So for those keeping track, this boot camp involved possibly running (in my case, crawling and dying) around Lake Hefner at 5:30 a.m. What else could it involve? Puke. I overheard a friend who did a similar camp taking bets on how often I would grace the grass with my stomach contents on the first week.

It inspired such confidence that I became obsessed with a list of things I didn't want to do:

Cry Puke (which leads to crying) Run around Lake Hefner Cheat at the exercises (see No. 3 for an exception) Make up excuses Quit Die

Operation Boot Camp is based in Atlanta, with franchises throughout the country, and many in the metro. I chose the camp at Lake Hefner, which is owned by David and Kari Bouse, who is also the lead trainer.

The 30-day camp includes a group workout or homework every day. This isn't a camp that is isolated to workouts only " besides logging meals, campers can also expect a daily e-mail from the team leader with information on different topics and great recipe ideas.

Instructors at Operation Boot Camp go through training and continue education throughout the year. Most of the trainers started out as campers.

The average trainer-to-camper ratio is 6:1, but the month I participated, it was more like 2:1.

The next boot camp at Lake Hefner begins Monday, but there is a free preview week continuing today through Friday. These preview workouts are open to anyone. There is also a special Saturday preview workout.


Day 1
Mental State: Nervous
Physical State: Flabby, but feeling fine

The Saturday before the class started, an orientation was held for new campers, kind of like the awkward icebreaker at middle-school camp where you secretly size up the competition.

The new recruit packet was surprisingly clear-cut without any scary proclamations about death or creepy self-help speak. It also included helpful grocery and food guides, which were realistic (it wasn't all celery sticks and ice cubes). We were given logbooks to record everything we eat (and if we don't eat right, we're given more work), our goals and other information. 

Still, apart from the orientation and packet, I have no idea what to expect. Will the instructors yell and call me a pansy-ass? Or will it be all encouraging with a big group hug at the end? I hate group hugs, but I'm also not a fan of being yelled at, so I'm not sure at this point which I prefer.

I'm also not a fan of running. The only thing I hate more than running is being hot and sweaty, so I'm sure this is going to be all kittens and rainbows. My ideal exercise would be those water aerobics classes taken by old ladies with osteoporosis.

The day (and I'm using that term loosely) started with some upbeat trainers and liberal use of the word "hoo-yah." My "hoo-yah"s mostly ended in a question mark, but their energy was infectious.

The first day of camp is a fitness test to see where new campers are at and how veteran campers have progressed " and there are more veterans than I expected, which speaks well for the program. After getting warmed up, we began the test with " you guessed it " a mile run. This run kicked my ass. It slapped my mom in the face and spit on the ashes of my childhood dog. I was incredibly slow. I think I saw my papa lap me (and for context, my papa is 94, walks with a cane, has had both hips replaced, is blind in one eye and has one leg that is shorter than the other " seriously).

Running aside, the rest of the workout was fun, and I left feeling energized and excited for the next morning.

Day 3
Mental State: Bitter
Physical State: I hate you

I hate everybody. I'm tired from getting up too early, I'm sore pretty much all over, and I'm craving a Diet Coke so much that I'd probably not think twice about stepping on my baby niece to get to one.

But then a boot camp miracle happened: I loved today's workout.

Every morning's workout is different, and I've generally enjoyed them, but I seriously loved today's.

We broke into two groups and alternated between courses " cardio and core strength " doing exercises like walking planks, skipping (yay!) and push-ups. I was gross and sweaty (my grandma would interrupt here to say "misty, Jennifer, not sweaty"), but I didn't care. 

Day 5
Mental State: Surprisingly awake
Physical State: Oh, God, the shin splints!

I may be so awake only because of the excruciating pain that shoots down my legs with every movement.

Yesterday's workout involved a lot of running and jumping. And jump ropes. I left feeling like the muscles along the inside of my legs were seizing up, and it only got worse through the day. Although today's workout was set up as a physical game of Skip-Bo, it dragged for me. I found myself checking the sky repeatedly for a hint of pink to signal the end (of anything, really: workout, life, world) and practically collapsed in the grass when it came time for the final core exercises. The core workout is really the only thing that stays the same from day-to-day.

Today, as an added bonus, the particular patch of grass I decided to roll around in for core has resulted in some sort of splotchy, swollen rash on the back of my arms that I didn't notice until after a long day most likely terrorizing co-workers and friends with my possibly communicable disease. A search of rash slides on a medical Web site has left me with four possibilities: heat rash, swimmer's itch (the grass was wet), bug bites and shingles. I went with shingles (obviously).

Day 8
Mental State: Ebullient
Physical State: Rested and ready to go

I've cured by self-diagnosed shingles with only willpower and generous amounts of calamine. Also, I've discovered that I can wake up at 4:55 a.m. and still make it to the camp location on time.

The workout " which involved suicide sprints " kicked my butt, and the shin splints are ever-present, but I'm starting to see progress and lead instructor Kari Bouse has given me different exercises to combat the pain.

My first week of boot camp is now officially over and, taking stock, it's been a positive experience thus far (and still no mention of circling the lake). I've been dutifully filling in the logbook, and I genuinely wanted to get up Saturday and Sunday morning to complete my homework (we have exercises to do every day, even if we're not at the boot camp). I've even muttered a non-ironic "hoo-yah" or two.

Day 11
Mental State: Clear
Physical State: Exhausted

The first part of the week was hard for me, both physically and mentally. But we have tomorrow (Friday) off, and I'm looking forward to a slight break. Another plus, I have yet to fall victim to any of my seven fears going into this.

I'm exhausted, yes, but I really am enjoying myself. The instructors are encouraging without being too cheesy, and many of them started as campers themselves. Plus, they all know everyone's name, and there's nothing like hearing "Jenny, squat lower!" to keep you motivated.

Another big milestone: I faced down a mortal enemy and lived! Today, while doing a warm-up runner's lunge, I had the pleasure of spotting a new camper with eight legs that had sidled up to my hand. It was sporting a lobster bib printed with my face and was packing a tiny vial of A1, so I knew it meant business. I neither screamed nor kicked others out of the way to flee. Instead, I moved my hand and stomped on it. Thank you, fitness boot camp.

Day 17
Mental State: Filled with running-related dread
Physical State: Tense

It's the middle of the third week and I've hit a wall " a big wall that comes with leaden feet, agonizing shin pain and screaming knees.

The third week, I was told on Monday, really steps up the running. They weren't kidding. For the first time, I really and truly thought I wouldn't be able to complete a workout, and that was incredibly frustrating. Seriously, the only thing that kept me shuffling along was the trainers. One of them always ran beside me, telling me about their own bouts with shin splints and giving me tips for dealing it.

Part of me wanted them to leave me alone so I could slink off into the trees and dig myself a shallow grave, but the other part was really thankful they were there.

Day 19
Mental State: Cautiously optimistic
Physical State: Surprisingly relaxed

OK, wall has been breached. I don't know what exactly happened (a nighttime visit from the running fairy?) but the shin splints have become tolerable. I wanted to give myself a huge hug and a high five for pushing myself today.

Instead, I drank too many caipirinhas after work.

Between yesterday's workout (attaching bungee cords to a partner and holding them back as they sprint " not unlike driving a plow horse through the fields) and today's game of dice (roll a six, run to cone number six, do reps of something, run back, roll again), I really feel I've turned some sort of endurance corner.

Day 22
Mental State: Monday
Physical State: Yup, still Monday

Although I turned up tired, groggy and more than a little unmotivated, I left exhilarated. The workout used stretchy bands that we utilized while jogging in formation, and there were moments when I really was amazed at what I was able to do.

We have just four days left, and I'm already thinking about how I can keep this workout regimen going.

Day 26
Mental State: Proud
Physical State: Motivated

Today marked the end of boot camp, and I have to admit I'm sad I won't be doing walking lunges or tricep presses at 5 a.m.

Although the workouts were tough " after all, that's the point " I had a ton of fun. Today was a repeat of the physical test we completed on the first day, and looking at the little numbers side by side that recorded my push-ups or run, it hit me just how far I've progressed: I more than doubled my push-ups and sit-ups, and I dropped close to three minutes from my mile run (yes, I started out that slow).

But besides the physical stuff, there have been other changes. I realized it's possible to wake up before the sun " in fact, I loved how it made me feel the rest of the day. Keeping track of everything I ate made me aware of portions and balancing carbs with protein. Finally, I just feel more capable, more comfortable in my own skin and motivated to keep going.

So, would I do it again? Absolutely. And that run around Lake Hefner? Never happened.  "Jenny Coon Peterson

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