The sun has risen as reluctantly as I have on this grey Tuesday morning. At 7.15am, Gloucester Road is eerily quiet and the few somnambulant pedestrians, irresistibly pulled towards the city centre with their headphones on, have more than an air of the zombie apocalypse about them.
The Bearpit is also quiet, but music pumps from a small speaker, and BearFit Bootcamp leader Carly Wilkinson is bright and almost impossibly perky as she chats and welcomes the four of us the workout. I look down at the barely-worn trainers strapped to my feet and wonder how they got there.
Carly ramps up the music, tells us the aim of today is AMRAP: As Many Rounds As Possible (cue a collective groan a panto would be proud of) and we’re suddenly off – leaping around doing tuck jumps and tricep dips, squats, squats on tiptoes, squats with leg lifts, squats with kicks, burpees, and something that Carly makes look smooth and graceful, which comes out as a poor attempt at a breakdance move when I attempt to wrap my limbs around it.
I’m hopeless at all the press-ups and planks, but find my niche when the skipping ropes come out (a misspent youth) and suddenly realise that I’m sort of enjoying it. The staff in Bearpit Social giggle at us, and commuters begin to stroll through, watching us with a mix of interest and wariness lest we suddenly insist they drop down and give us twenty.
At the point that the Bearpit is busiest, Carly, with a glint in her eye, gets us into pairs, ties a stretchy cord around my waist and instructs me to run as hard as I can, while my partner behind hauls me back. I’m really getting into it and gleefully galloping like a reindeer when I spot a familiar face amongst the suits.
“Hi Mike,” I say as casually as I can, flipping a sweaty strand of hair from my face as I jog past, as if being trussed is how I spend every morning.
“Hi Jess,” he says equally nonchalantly, and never before have I ever been so grateful for the British stiff upper lip.
It’s astoundingly peaceful down here in the centre of one of Bristol’s busiest roundabouts. As we cool down, we take a deep breath in, lift our hands to the green leaves of the trees above, and look out at the planting that has transformed the Bearpit’s concrete bleakness in recent years.
At 8.15am on the dot we wrap up and one of our number scoots off to take her kids to school – bafflingly, there is a whole day still to come. The rest of us gratefully retreat to Bearpit Social to claim 10% off a well-earned coffee, and Carly tells me about how BearFit came about.
“I was thinking about where I could put on fitness events in outdoor spaces, and connected with Miriam Delogu of Bearpit Bristol on Instagram. She invited me to come and do something in the Bearpit that would have a positive influence on the area early in the morning, and I was totally up for getting involved.”
The bootcamp has been running since May, and will continue at least for the summer. “We’ll see how it goes after that – obviously the weather will be a factor,” Carly continues. “Whatever happens, I’ve made a connection with these guys – they are really supportive, and they’re not going to get rid of me!
“It’s nice that we’re doing something good for the community, in a space that I really like and that’s regenerating. We’d love to see 50 people doing a colourful fitness rave down here in the mornings in the summer.”
Outdoor fitness has become something of the norm – it’s not unusual to stroll past one of the city’s green spaces and find mums running with buggies, shouty muscle men swinging kettle balls or enthusiastic lycra-clad groups running laps around cones. It feels like another way to reclaim the public spaces that are rightfully ours – by sweating profusely on them.
“It’s nice to be able to look up and see the sky, and feel the breeze and the rain,” Carly says. “I think you feel more connected to your body when you’re doing exercise outside. It’s not about how you look or how much you can do, it’s just about coming out here and moving your body, and that’s really important.”
I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing – until I stand up and discover I’ve become entirely gelatinous. I bravely swing a leg over my bike, and then have to get off and push it up the slight ramp out of the Bearpit. Perhaps it’ll take a few more sessions before I’m a true bootcamp convert.
BearFit Bootcamp runs from 7.30-8.15am on Tuesdays and costs £5. For more information or to book: www.projecthb.co.uk/classes
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