At 6:20 on a drizzly summer morning, 10 adults and one dog slosh along the trails behind Skyview High School in Soldotna. They move at various speeds -- some jogging, some walking, some running. The trails are wet and muddy from an all-night downpour.
"Come on you guys. Keep the pace! You can do this," yells Jennifer Jolly, their "boot camp" trainer.
Fitness boot camp is a four-week session of tough outdoor workouts, Monday through Friday, from 6 to 7:30 a.m. Participants range from athletes to those who haven't broken a sweat in years.
A graduate of Kenai Central High School, Jolly, 31, is a television news reporter in San Francisco. She's also a fitness trainer and owner of OutFit Fitness, providing outdoor boot camps, fitness vacations and, most recently, Mom and Baby Boot Camps in the Bay Area.
After her daughter was born 15 months ago, Jolly wanted to get back in top physical shape. She found she enjoys exercising outdoors and began sharing her enthusiasm with others.
"OutFit" stands for outdoor fitness trainings," Jolly said.
Boot camps are high-energy, military-style fitness programs that have been springing up in many American cities. The regimen serves to stretch, strengthen and give a good cardiovascular workout based on each participant's abilities.
Just reading the list of exercises makes a couch potato cringe: push-ups, squat thrusts, crunches, kicks, walking lunges, sprinting, jogging or running up hills.
"Hill? That's not a hill," Jolly chides the group. "I moved to San Francisco, and now I know what real hills are."
Boot camp rules are don't compare yourself with others, don't judge yourself and pace yourself -- that is, push yourself without getting hurt.
What it's like for them
Camp instructor Jennifer Jolly leads her group through an exercise. "If you get tired doing 'foot fire' drop down and do push ups as a break," she said.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"Soreness was an issue for me in the beginning," Laurie Mead said at the end of week three. "For the first couple of days, my legs were so sore I could barely squat to get on the toilet seat. Then after the fourth day, I could go up the stairs without whining and moaning."
The 39-year-old Soldotna resident retired from her 20-year child care business this summer.
"I hadn't done serious workouts for many years," she said. "I've spent the last 20 years taking care of my family and the business and not focusing at all on myself. It feels good to be getting outdoors now and doing something positive for my health.
"Last week I ran up the stairs, then realized what I had done. It's worth the effort, to be able to do that.
"Sometimes when I don't want to keep going, Jen pushes me a little, and that gives me a boost," she said.
"I know we're not supposed to compare ourselves with others, but sometimes a little competition is inspiring," Mead said. "When Jen had us race up one of the trails by Skyview, I looked over at my opponent. She's usually a little faster than me, and I thought, 'Oh please God, let me beat her.' And I did."
When Karin Gensel started boot camp, she was physically fit.
"But I hadn't been exercising outdoors much during the last two years," she said.
The Kenai resident was working out three times a week in a "hot yoga" class led by Rick Resnick.
"He leads 'Bikram style' yoga," Gensel said. "The room temperature is usually 105 degrees. Your muscles can stretch further when they're warm, and sweating is part of the workout.
Although Gensel was getting 90 minutes of intense stretches and feeling satisfied from her yoga workouts, she decided to try boot camp for toning her abdominals.
Jennifer Jolly talks OutFit Boot Campers through a toning exercise near the end of one of her hour-and-a-half-long workouts.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"I've been able to reach my goal in that area, and now I really appreciate the outdoors."
Gensel likes the outdoor angle of the camp and is looking forward to skiing and snowshoeing during the winter months.
"I think it's good for the body and mind to get outdoors in the winter. It helps people avoid seasonal depression," she said.
Jolly has the boot camp meet in various locations -- often beautiful settings -- for the workouts.
"It's been so much fun," Gensel said. "The beach, then being by the river or on the trails. This has been a blast. There's never a dull moment."
Prior to boot camp, Will Lord's only exercise was walking.
"Even that wasn't a daily habit," he said. "I couldn't even run a few blocks before. Now I can."
The 55-year-old Kenai resident said he was a night owl and used to get up late in the mornings.
"I like getting up early now. I want to make it a routine to exercise early in the morning. Otherwise, it cuts into your day.
"I'm the only man who's been attending. I think more men could have come and enjoyed this challenge."
Lord said his overall goal has been to improve his health.
"If I lose weight, too, that's a bonus," he said. "This is paying off mentally, as well as physically."
Corbi Aaronson of Soldotna hasn't exercised much since she had children.
Stretching, toning and strengthening are all part of the drill. Jolly keeps a steady conversation going with her campers as they complete each regimen.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"I was afraid I'd come here and find that everyone was really in shape, and I'd feel out of place," she said. "But it's not that way. We seem to have every spectrum here. The ones already in shape are inspiring those who need to get in better shape, and we in turn are inspiring them, by working hard.
"I want to be able to chase after my son and not feel like I'm dying," she said.
"I like to focus on getting through just this one day. I told myself when I started boot camp, 'This is just four weeks. It's nothing. I can do this.'"
And she has.
"I'm amazed at my progress. On the first day, I could hardly walk around the Skyview track once. On the 10th day, I jogged around three times without stopping."
The 40-year-old resident credits Jolly's motivation skills.
"She said to see the goal in your mind and focus on it. One day we were going up Skyline Drive hill, and I thought I was dying. Then I pictured in my mind how I'd feel when I reached the top, and that helped me to keep going.
"I think Jen really cares about you getting the most out of this. She has people check their heart rates during the cardio workouts, and she gives us an option of keeping a food chart. She helps us get our diet in better balance."
Running is nothing new to Kenai's Mindee Morning.
"I've been running for 24 years, and I usually run four days a week," she said. "I'd like to run the Lost Lake trail in three hours. That's one reason I joined boot camp."
The 55-year-old was a dancer for many years, retiring when she turned 40.
"I wanted to do things outdoors."
Morning and Jolly have known each other since Jolly was a child.
"We used to run together. I visited her in California two years ago and attended the boot camp training there. That's when I got inspired to lift weights, and I started seeing a lot of improvement in my running abilities and general health.
"I'm learning new things that I can incorporate into my fitness regimen. Now I know I can drive over to Skyview and run up and down the bleachers for part of my workout."
Camp participants run down the beach chanting improvised rhymes as the rain comes down and the sun comes up.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Part of the fun for Morning is keeping the child alive during the workouts.
"Jen has us doing things kids do, like dodging waves at the beach. I think it's hard for most adults to just let go. We have more important things to do than play with waves. Learning to play -- that's what I'm getting out of it, not to mention a stronger middle.
"It's good to have somebody who will challenge you," Morning said. "Even though I'm fit in certain ways, I've still been highly challenged by things like jumping up steps, kicking and all the weight repetitions. I'm amazed I can keep up."
The line between pushing and hurting
Boot camps started on the East Coast in the mid-1990s, Jolly said.
"At first, some of them were brutal, with people getting lots of injuries. If you don't take care and do the stretching, you can get shin splints and over-use injuries."
One of the class members in Soldotna complained that the impact level was too high in some of the exercises.
"Listen to your body, and then tell me if it's too hard or too easy," Jolly said. "You don't have to use high impact to get the results you want."
Boot camp emphasizes pushing past the comfort zone sometimes, Jolly said. But that doesn't mean it should hurt.
"I always tell people to push, but at the same time, keep it safe. A person who hasn't worked out in 20 years can work side-by-side with a fitness freak," she said. "I find the variety of levels makes it a great experience for everyone."
The end result
Some of the boot camp members will continue working out together outdoors even when Jolly is no longer there to egg them on.
"We may have to join a gym when the weather gets really cold," Aaronson said. "But the great thing about this is being outdoors."
The fresh-air aspect is a draw for many city-dwellers, Jolly said.
"In San Francisco, a lot of people live in apartments and drive to their indoor jobs," she said. "For them, it's a treat to be on the grass or by the water and see the Golden Gate Bridge, instead of working out inside a gym."
Jolly said she plans to return next summer and do another boot camp on the peninsula.
The impact of this summer's camp likely will be felt for some time.
"When your body hurts because you're out of shape, and you fix that, then you're naturally going to feel better," Aaronson said. "Getting in shape is not about just losing weight, it's about getting healthy and feeling good."
Ann Marina is a free-lance writer living in Kenai.
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