A week of rising in the dark for 12-hours days of military training on strict rations may sound like torture, but for RTE presenter Kathryn Thomas and her fellow recruits it was transformational, she tells Larissa Nolan.
At the recent launch of RTE’s autumn and winter schedule, all eyes were on Kathryn Thomas. There as something about her, but it wasn’t obvious what — until, that is, you took a closer look. Dressed in a silk, sleeveless top, the Carlow native was showing off a pair of toned, sculpted arms with the kind of muscle definition even seriously fit stars such as Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz would be proud of. Always slim, the presenter and broadcaster looked as though she had lost weight and replaced it with muscle tone. So what was going on? Boot camp, that’s what. This summer, the former travel show host and presenter of health and fitness programme Operation Transformation decided to practise what the latter programme preaches and combine her love of travel with an enthusiasm for fitness and nutrition. She flew off on her own to Cadiz in Spain to attend a New You Boot Camp.
Forget a holiday with a bit of yoga thrown in, these week-long events, run by a British-based company, involve training for 10-12 hours a day while surviving on small, healthy meals. By the end attendees lose an average 8lb in weight and 8in from their bodies. Thomas stuck to the training programme religiously and came home 10lb lighter and 11.5in smaller. So what exactly do you sign up for and can anyone do it? To begin with, it probably helps if you are already in shape. Thomas trains twice a week at Bodybyrne Fitness in Dublin and runs regularly. She has also completed half marathons, ironman events and triathlons. Still, she is not a preachy fitness bore: she enjoys indulging in occasional slap-up meals with friends and a few glasses of wine. When I landed at the boot camp, I looked around at the others and wondered, Does anyone else here love going on holidays to just sit around the pool drinking margaritas? she says. The 35-year-old had been looking for a break with a challenge, and came upon the New You Boot Camp online. I’ve done ayurvedic retreats and the mindfulness thing is fine, but I wanted something that would really make me push myself, and this was it, she says. It was ‚¬1,000 including accommodation, a 12-hour daily fitness programme, transfers from the airport, all food, all classes and guided walks. She flew into Malaga and travelled to a little town called San Martin del Tesorillo, where New You Boot Camp has a base at the Hotel Monasterio, a converted monastery. There were 27 people in the group — all women.
The first meal was a small bowl of grated courgette and one meatball. I wolfed it down thinking it was a starter, but that was it .
They were all of varying ages, weights and fitness levels, says Thomas. There were some English girls, some Swiss and four Irish. Many of them were high-powered businesswoman looking to de-stress: one ran a bank in Geneva, another was the head of a fertility treatment centre. The first day started with weighing in and measuring up, as well as meeting the staff, comprising trainers, hostesses and cooks. They use actual military trainers, ex-Marine guys. I had Sergeant Evans and Sergeant Buxton, she says. Thomas says the food was amazing — the only problem was there was so little of it. The first meal that came out was a small bowl of grated courgette and one meatball.
I wolfed it down thinking it was the starter, but that was it. Another night we had a delicious chicken curry with coconut milk and sweet potato. We were all eating with a teaspoon to try to make it last longer – four forkfuls and the portion would be gone. Breakfast could be a tablespoon of scrambled egg with a tomato and a slice of wholemeal bread.
Lunch was half a red pepper with quinoa and mushrooms and lettuce or a crab cake made with porridge oats. Throughout the day there were snacks such as apple pieces and almonds or a rice cake with hummus — all of the portions strictly controlled yet designed to ensure participants were getting enough calories. The regime has a monastic element, Thomas explains. It means it’s very good for your mind strength, for determination and discipline as well as your body. You can ask for extra portions of food if you are still hungry, and you don’t have to do all the programmes, but when I was there, I thought I would make the best of the opportunity. I once thought about skipping a class and lying by the pool, but I felt too guilty. On a typical day, the first class started at 5.30am, while it was still dark, so the women had to wear head torches. You have to literally drag yourself out of bed, into a cold country lane where you work with a trainer running laps. Then there’s battle station circuits, which involve teams of four doing everything from sprinting to pitch-lifting, throwing tree trunks and tossing tractor tyres, sit-ups, burpees and squats. You feel awful at the beginning, but by the end of the hour, the sun has come up and you’re ready to spend the day sweating and working out. After breakfast, it was time for more cardio training from 7am to 8am, followed by circuits from 8am to 9am, and then, perhaps, a weight session. Some time in the pool was next, followed by lunch and then a string of courses such as boxercise, core strengthening, or a bums and thighs workout. On some of the days, a 20km hike was thrown in before breakfast. On others a 12km, two-hour trek up a mountain was the evening’s task. A few days in, and Thomas was feeling the strain. By day three, I was stiff, I was sore and exhausted. I had never done that level of exercise before and I could feel it all across my chest. I was like an aul wan getting out of bed. There was a massage therapist and she got booked out quickly. I was very hungry, too. There are two orange trees in the grounds of the monastery and I was scaling up one of them like a crazy person. I doubt I was the first one to do that. Some of Thomas’s fellow recruits suffered from nausea and headaches because of the strict diet and tough exercise, but midway through they felt better and found they had the strength to complete the programme. Your brain tells your body you can do it, Thomas says. And some of it was even fun. I loved boxercise; it was the highlight of the week for me. Then it all came to an end.
Feel the force of an army-style workout Irish firm HealthSmart runs dedicated boot camps at luxury venues across Leinster that will whip you in to shape and won’t cost the earth. Unlike most Irish boot camps, which are usually run on a day-by-day basis at prearranged parks or centres, this is the only holiday break in Ireland with a dedicated fitness programme, tailored healthy meals, nutrition workshops, and even a bit of mindfulness thrown in. Choose from a weekend camp from about ‚¬299, or a full week for about ‚¬649. Exercise programmes are tailored for the individual, with everyone exercising for three or four hours a day at their own level. There’s one coming up next month at the Knightsbrook hotel, Trim, Co Meath. healthsmart.ie. New You Boot Camp is one of the mostpopular boot camp companies in Europe, based at stunning locations in Britain and Spain. Plans afoot The broadcaster wanted a challenge to push myself Kathryn Thomas went with New You for her intensive experience in Cadiz in Spain, which cost about ‚¬1,000, excluding flights. Some of the camps suit those who are already serious about fitness and are ready to commit to 10-12 hours of exercise a day. newyoubootcamp.com Situated in the village of Lauzerte in southwest France, Camp Biche is a luxury boot camp that has the philosophy of combining fitness with pleasure. You are allowed wine and social time here, in luxurious accommodation, and all the food is vegan. You’ll be woken at 7am with a tea or coffee at your door and breakfast is not until 8am. Throughout the day, however, you get to partake in an intense programme of exercise including three-hour hikes, pilates, weight-lifting, circuits and Zumba classes. Prices start at â‚¬2,800 for a week in a shared room. campbiche.com
Weighed and measured, she was delighted with the results achieved. I felt amazing when it stopped, she says. My skin was bright and clear. My boyfriend Padraig (McLoughlin) picked me up at the airport in Dublin and immediately noticed the difference. My shorts were loose on me and I was pleased with the work I did on defining my arms — they are my favourite feature. I was glad it worked and I had a great sense of achievement. Thomas says she also got benefits from the course that she believes will last in the long term. It was quite an emotional experience. It gave me confidence in my abilities. This might sound cliche , but the group of 27 women went on a journey together and we’re still in touch. I think we all took a lot from it. I learnt a significant amount about nutrition and discipline and I’ve now cut out, or cut down on, caffeine, alcohol and dairy. It was very intense, and it wouldn’t be for everyone, but I loved it. So how did she celebrate her new self when she returned home? Straight into FX Buckley for a steak with peppercorn sauce and a bottle of red, she laughs.*