Once More Unto The Breach

The Camp claims to be “Europe's original, best & most exclusive weight-loss boot camp for fitness” and boasts that clients will “Drop a dress size and get fit in one week”. The word ‘sceptical’ didn’t quite cover my feelings about this claim. Then my mother and sister booked onto The Camp’s Scottish LUXURY fitness retreat for a week of weight-loss and mother-daughter bonding. All of a sudden scepticism turned to envy and I experienced the unusual sensation of FOMO (fear of missing out) in relation to a week of military inspired physical training. When was the last time that happened? Well, be careful what you wish for. A few weeks before their planned visit to The Camp, my mother slipped on a half defrosted haddock my grandma left on the stairs (stranger than fiction), severely twisted her ankle, and broke a bone in her foot. My mum asked me to step into the breach and join my sister at the camp. Envy turned to sheer panic. Would I really be able to survive a week of short rations, interval training, and no Diet Coke? And what about the bonding?

Despite my trepidation, the experience proved to be exciting, educational, rewarding, and inspiring (I was too exhausted to be cynical). Make no mistake, the mixture of high intensity interval training, with lower intensity endurance activity, coinciding with a lack of caffeine [wine / nachos / peanut butter sandwiches / insert vice here] was damned hard work. However, aside from any personal weight loss or fitness goals, there were plenty of inducements to get us through the week. The breath-taking Scottish countryside distracted from blisters and aching limbs, but that wasn’t the only visual distraction! All The Camp instructors were ex-military and wore a rather fetching pseudo military uniform throughout the week. I found myself wondering whether, as well as making it a policy to employ only ex-military trainers, (with their experience in training people to the highest level and motivating people under extreme circumstances) The Camp had also made it policy only to employ only the most drop dead gorgeous trainers alive! I don’t know whether this was a help or a hindrance, but I can honestly say I have never found the principles of muscle repair so scintillating.

There are times when the vague thought of wearing a dress in a size smaller at your friend’s December wedding isn’t really incentive enough to do another five burpees. There even comes a moment when you couldn’t care less about the sight of well-shaped gluteals in combat trousers, and you would much rather lie down in a hedgerow and weep.  For me, that time arrived on about day 1! The real beauty of The Camp, and the real reason why we managed to get through the week and achieve our goals, was team work. The nineteen women on the camp, despite our varying ages, shapes, sizes, goals, strengths, and weaknesses, were all in it together. The design of the programme created an atmosphere in which we were a team. For example, one day, we did a tyre flipping challenge. The two teams lined up in a queue behind the largest tractor tyres I had ever seen. Each team member had to flip the tyre three times then run to the back of the line. In this way the team would move the tyre forward. The course was pretty long and included a fair few hills. As I got closer to the front of the queue, I was looking at that tyre, guessing it probably weighed as much as I did, and feeling pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to flip it once, never mind three times. Approaching the intimidating tyre, feeling like all those baby penguins on David Attenborough documentaries who are just definitely going to be eaten by a leopard seal within the next two minutes, I lowered into a squat, imagining how embarrassing it would be not to be able to get it even an inch off the ground. Just then, a cacophony of noise erupted from behind me. My team (the rather pessimistically self-christened “B-Team”) were shouting and clapping, yelling my name and various encouragements. Suddenly I felt as if I could do it. I did flip that tyre and pretty soon I was flipping it like an omelette (well, that’s not really true, but you get the picture)! The B-Team reached the end of the course, feeling exhausted, relieved, but also pretty great.

One thing I’ve learnt about military men, is that they often share a very particular sense of humour. For this reason I wasn’t surprised when the chief instructor smiled and revealed that the next task was to get the tyre back to the store room. Without the atmosphere created by team banter, there would have been no way that I would even have attempted the journey back with our monster tyre, or even to walk back without it! One of my team, who is in e-commerce in the real world, but at The Camp was just in lycra like the rest of us, joked “Once more into the breach, eh!” and with a lot of shouting and whooping, we got all the way back, perhaps even more quickly than before.

Although it has passed into everyday usage, the phrase comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V and the young King’s motivational speech to his soldiers attacking Harfleur (Henry V III.I). The “breach” is where the walls of the besieged town have been penetrated and King Henry (Whoops! I don’t wish to evoke thoughts of Tom Hiddleston in the same sentence as the word penetrated!) is urging his men on, beyond exhaustion, to capitalise on this opportunity. Shakespeare’s Henry V is a chronicle of that monarch’s victories in France, and is celebrated for many of the rousing speeches featured in the battle scenes. Quotes from the play are often trollied out for TV coverage of big sporting events like the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Clearly, the comparisons that can be made between eight women flipping a tractor tyre and one of the most famous siege battles in literature are limited. However, I’m trying – and the rhetoric that Shakespeare gives to his motivational monarch in this scene, is similar to what we needed to hear at the camp to achieve our goals.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; 
Or close the wall up with our English dead.”
To convince his men they have the strength to go on, Tom Hiddleston – sorry - King Henry, implies that there is just a little more to go. “Once more […], once more” was something we heard quite a lot on the camp, when there was really rather a lot more to do, but it worked. ‘Just one more sit-up’ our instructors told us, and pretty soon, we’d done another whole set of reps. Shakespeare’s monarch addresses his men as “dear friends” making them feel as if they are bonded together as a team. This is a feature of many of Henry V’s motivational addresses, most famously in IV.III when he calls his men “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”. The repetition of “we” emphasises the idea of the solid group of brothers. This technique means that each individual has an extra incentive, because they are working for the team, brothers whom they wish to support, as well as for themselves. This was the atmosphere created at The Camp. Our goals as individuals were supported and bolstered by the support of the team, and on top of that, we had the extra motivation to do our best for the team. With the help of a bit of Shakespearean rhetoric from both the instructors and ourselves, we all lost weight, inches, and inhibitions, but we gained a great deal more, in the form of fitness, knowledge, confidence, and friendships. Not just in the tyre challenge, but for the whole week, being in a “band of brothers” (well, sisters), helped immensely.

As for my real sister, we both enjoyed the bonding and she really enjoyed the boxing. She achieved all her goals for the week and plans to incorporate a lot of what we learnt on The Camp into her exercise regimes. I, on the other hand, although I had a whale of a time, managed to pull a muscle, hit my sciatic nerve, had to be carried down a mountain by one of the unfortunate instructors, and may have bonded a little too much with several people while on Diazepam. Well, at least I didn’t slip over a half-defrosted haddock.


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