ELLE Adventure: The bootcamp diaries
When a fitness fiend and a doughnut devotee go on an extreme exercise retreat, break out the kale shakes and Kleenex!
Text by Lara Ceroni and Laura DeCarufel
First confession My love of fitness—and, along with it, the pursuit of healthy living—goes beyond my jean size and chest-to-hip ratio. Whether I was 12 and attending step classes with my mom or entering my first Ironman 70.3 when I was 20, I’ve never worked out to lose weight. Working out is my addiction, which is why spending an intensive week at The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu (theranchmalibu.com) in southern California detoxing, doing yoga and hiking 16-plus kilometres a day is my idea of a dream vacation. Let the games begin!
DAY ONE A bell chimes at 5:30 a.m. outside my quaint cottage door. “Morning, Lara! Vinyasa yoga class in 30 minutes at the fitness pavilion.” (Cellphones, BlackBerries and watches are restricted on the grounds.) I’m psyched for the 16-kilometre hike ahead…until I see breakfast: a quarter of a cup (even that’s being generous) of homemade granola. Delicious but oh-so-small.
DAY ONE (AND A HALF) Nine kilo metres into the hike, I’m getting my walking legs and my competitive juices are flowing: I want to make it to the summit first. When I do, hallelujah: It’s snack time. I see our guide pull out a bag of almonds and apricots. “Take three almonds and one apricot,” he says. Are you kidding me?
DAY TWO Today is known as Toxic Tuesday—the day our caffeine- and- sugar-riddled bodies expel known toxins and are cleansed of impurities. I’m told that we’ll have migraines and stomach aches and generally feel ill. I feel fine, but I’m starting to obsess about the contraband I have back at my cottage: Starbucks VIA instant coffee. Can I hold out? I do…until 3 p.m. Three hours and three fitness classes later, I rush to The Ranch, grab a steaming cup of hot water (intended for watered-down herbal teas) and make a cup of joe. Guilty? Yes. Satisfied? Most definitely. I wonder if Laura is in need of a java fix.
DAY THREE Keri, our program guide, suggests that I force myself to stay at the back of the pack for the 18-kilometre hike today through the Ray Miller Trail because she feels that it would be good for me to curb my need to compete, so I try. Ahead of me is Sierra, a 17-year-old profession ally ranked downhill skier from the United States. She’s chatty, like most teens, and it’s getting on my nerves— or, at least, that’s the excuse I use to motor to the front of the line and break away from the pack to run up the rest of the mountain trail. Someone yells “You’re Superwoman!” as I disappear from sight. It makes me run faster. Later on, my masseuse lays on the deep-tissue massage thick. Him: “You like to be in control; you won’t let your muscles relax.” Me: “Don’t tell Keri.” At dinnertime, we’re served artichokes done three ways, which basically amounts to one artichoke, three preparations. I steal a caramelized onion off of Laura’s plate when Pixie, our yoga instructor, says to me coolly: “You’re in control of your own results.” I’ll show you results, I think. Tomorrow I’m doing 15-pound—not 12-pound—weights in exercise class.
DAY FOUR All right, today I’ve met my maker: I wake up starving. As I fill up my CamelBak with “water, water, water” (the daily mantra at The Ranch), I suddenly smell fresh sage growing in the overflowing vegetable gardens (60 percent of the food we eat is taken right from their backyard)—I instantly think of frying it with beef tenderloin. At this point, I know I’ve lost weight on the 1,500-calorie-a-day plan, but it doesn’t feel healthy and I’m not interested in losing any more. A few hours pass. It’s 8 a.m. and I’m standing before a one-kilometre mother of a mountain. My hunger takes a back seat to the thrill of my mission: I want to top it at 17 minutes but end up making it in just under 18.5 and feel that usual sense of guilt. Why do I always think I have to do better? I beat everyone else, so I’m rewarded with four walnuts instead of three. You have to love life’s small miracles.
DAY FIVE It’s the last day of our detox, and Laura and I start it off with a Starbucks coffee. (Sorry, Ranch!) Admittedly, I won’t miss the daily yoga, but I will miss the people: Linda from Orange County, who, after years of fighting alcoholism, is clean and determined to live a healthy life, and Chris, a corporate lawyer from Chicago who, inspired by turning 50 and tired of living in a concrete jungle, decided to take a six-month sabbatical to enjoy the outdoors. It makes me think: Why am I here? I find out soon enough when I’m given our plan for the day. We’re told that we’ll be embarking on a solo 45-minute meditation hike. It’s time to contemplate our achievements throughout this journey. As I walk through the Mishe Mokwa loop, I start to feel emotional. Through out my entire life, I’ve been my biggest competition. My twin runs a mile quicker than me? I aim to go faster. (I never do, by the way.) If I work out six days a week, shouldn’t I be doing seven? If anything, this retreat has made me take note of my fitness and respect my level of health. With each step toward the finish line (and an apple, hurrah!), I let go of my need to push harder, feel stronger and be better; I already am.
First confession I knew I was in trouble when I saw the measuring tape—it tumbled out of The Ranch’s info package like a plastic harbinger of despair, along with recommendations for cutting out caffeine, sugar and even gum a month before D-Day. It’s not that I hate working out (I know my cobras from my downward dogs), but when work heated up over the past six months, exercise fell off my priority list. I also love the naughtiest, most indulgent menu items: steak frites, mac and cheese, double-baked potato. I’ve never ordered a salad in a restaurant. But, since I was feeling more Barbapapa than Barbie, I was ready for a kick-start—or, you know, a drop kick. Enter The Ranch.
DAY ONE The good news is that it’s beautiful here. My luxe little cottage is at the bottom of the hill, near the stables, and surrounded by juniper bushes and wildflowers. I discover the first bit of bad news as I’m unpacking: I brought two right hiking boots. (How? Long story.) It makes me laugh every time I look at them—until we’re into the first hour of our first hike.“Are there mountain lions around here?” I ask hopefully, looking out over the rocky vistas and weighing the benefits of sudden death versus five days of suffering. Dinner brings no relief: The acorn squash may be delicious, but it’s about one-quarter of what I’m used to eating. Does rage burn calories? I’m asleep by 8 p.m., dreaming of cheeseburgers with teeth.
DAY TWO On Toxic Tuesday, I wake up with a headache that I know I deserve, based on my total lack of pre-detoxing. (Marc, the program director, asks when I last had a cup of coffee. “Two weeks ago?” I lie, squinting unhappily.) The pain lasts through morning yoga and our hike—another four-hour, 16-kilometre monster—which ends at the beach. A few of us strip off our hik- ing boots and wade into the Pacific’s welcome cool. Life seems brighter until we settle down at picnic tables for lunch and someone loudly wails “It’s soup!” Afternoon yoga and core classes pass in a bitter blur.
DAY THREE Since we’re halfway through, I decide to take stock. I’m already well versed in what I’m not enjoying—or am I? Sure, we start at 5:30 a.m., but by then I’ve slept for at least nine hours. The hikes have their killer moments, but we’re pushing ourselves through some of the most incredible landscape in California. The tiny portions mean that I think about food every 90 seconds, but I also take the time to savour the sweetness of my heirloom tomatoes in a way I’ve never done before. Then there’s the joy of our daily massages…. Am I drinking the Kool-Aid along with my rooibos tea or just paying attention to what Chris from our group calls “the silver-lining department”? Either way, today is better than yesterday.
DAY FOUR A dark beginning: Breakfast is a kale shake. “You’ll be amazed at how much energy it gives you,” Keri, our program guide, brightly assures the table while I briefly consider cannibalism. Our hike is epic, winding through the emerald mountains overlooking the ocean, then on to trails framed by hulking red rocks. (The biggest silver lining of all has to be our group itself— almost everyone is hurting now, with pulled muscles and loosened toenails, but no one complains, except for the occasional bellow of “Whose idea was this?”) After break, I decide to push myself and hike harder. I pass one person, then two. Grasshoppers jump into the sage plants as I hurtle along, draining my CamelBak and mentally throwing out everything in my cupboards.
DAY FIVE The flicker of hope I felt yesterday is closer to a flame today— which doesn’t stop me from hugely enjoying my contraband morning coffee with Lara. All week, I’ve been planning my first meal on the outside. (The common denominator? The word “slathered.”) Now, it’s a fruit salad and steamed fish that sound most appealing. What gives? The meditation hike gives me some time to think that over. I realize that I’ve resisted a “healthy lifestyle” partly because I associate it with gym socks and hummus farts, not sunrise yoga and tangy organic apples. I always focus on what I’d be giving up, not what I’d be earning back. I realize that I don’t have to be as hard-core as Mark (who eats ice cream only every second Saturday) or even Lara (who earned her Ranch nickname, “Superwoman,” and is the most inspiring friend any girl could have); I can be me—just fitter, stronger and, ultimately, happier.