Belgian Boot Camp: Matt Brammeier writes for RCUK

‘Let the madness begin’, I said last week, and madness it was! After my early morning flight from Girona, I was soon enough in Antwerp enjoying a fantastic lunch at the Beaufort restaurant atop the MAS museum. Looking out of the window over the city it was clear that the next couple of days were going to be tough. Black clouds, hail stones and snow threatened. Scene set.

One minute we were sat at a Michelin-starred restaurant enjoying superb food and the next we were welcomed to our base for the next three days. Zilvermeer in Mol is kind of a Belgian equivalent to Centre Parks but a little more beaten up and, let’s say, “Belgian”. We would be sleeping in a giant cabin, all together in one room. It reminded me of a school trip many years ago in the UK and I was feeling just as excited. Honest.

So, what would we be doing? It was still something of a mystery, rumours were doing the rounds and some crazy stories were flying about, but as long as I had a warm bed to sleep in I was happy! A few moments to settle in and we were all togged up and ready to go. Our guides for the week were a group of guys normally working for the Belgian special forces.

Assault course

We were split into teams and set our first exercises of the week. At first I thought it was pretty tame stuff but I was soon reminded that I was surrounded by 30 ultra-competitive bike riders and we all wanted to win. This was going to be a tough few days. After racing around the woods carrying a 250kg log to stripping a car of all its wheels, running an assault course carrying the wheels, putting them back on and pushing the car around a circuit we finished with a rowing race! We were all dead after just a few hours.

After a tough day we were all in bed ready for a good sleep. Sure enough, that wasn’t to be. As you can imagine, sleeping in a room full of over-excited cyclists wasn’t going to be easy, not to mention the fireworks thrown into our room at 6am! After less than three hours sleep, day two was upon us.

A full day of exercises and tasks was looming, all unknown to us. After opening my big mouth too soon I was appointed ‘team leader’, so it was down to me to try to organise our team and try to help us win this thing. Like the previous day we were again carrying logs, running assault courses, throwing hammers and cobbles, rowing, etc, etc.

The rucksack

All of this whilst carrying a 25kg bag of sand. Each team had a rucksack and had to have this with them the whole time. Typically, the Belgians spent the whole time working out how to flick the system but our guides were ready for everything and even weighed our rucksacks to check we hadn’t dumped any sand.

You may have seen my tweet earlier last week about running into the tree? One of the tasks was a blindfolded race around the forest guided by one member of our team; let’s just say our guide wasn’t the best. I ran flat out straight into a tree and was lucky not to break anything or knock any teeth out but I was in a fair bit of pain for a while!

The day was done and we were treated to a nice meal in our cabin while pining for our beds. The next surprise soon arrived; a 15km hike during which we had to collect markers at each checkpoint, all of this while carrying the bags of sand. One final twist was if we saw another team we could ‘ambush’ them and, if we could get hold of a green rope attached to their rucksack, we could dump our bag on them and make life easier for ourselves.


This meant walking the majority of the 15km with our torches turned off and in total silence to avoid an ‘ambush’. As we were taking turns to carry the bag, typically it was me who was carrying the thing whilst we were ambushed. We stopped quickly to answer the call of nature when, unknown to us, we were being stalked by another team.

All of a sudden I had eight guys running at me, I was isolated from the others (as they were all still pissing) and somehow had to protect this bag, instinctively I just fell backwards and lay down. Probably the last thing somebody would do if they were being attacked, it must have looked hilarious but I thought it my best chance of protecting this thing. As you can imagine the rope didn’t last long and we were soon carrying two bags.

A couple of hours later we had got rid of both bags and could concentrate on getting home in one piece before the morning! There were still a few curve balls to come: we arrived at a bridge crossing and were greeted by a group of policemen with dogs and guns. We couldn’t cross the bridge until we had shot some targets and let the dog attack one of us (wearing a protective suit of course) This was, of course, pretty comical; imagine seeing Gerald Ciolek being mauled by a dog!

After all this we were almost home and in plenty of time, we spotted a bar and soon enough had a few of Belgium’s finest beers in us, forgetting that we had to cross an ‘Indian bridge’ which is basically two pieces of rope across a lake. Somehow we all made it!

Phew, that was some day.

Icy swim

Next morning, same drill. At 06:00 hrs, cue fireworks and horns! “Put on your swimming shorts and a pair of running shoes!” It was pissing rain, dark and three degrees. We were out running round the forest just a few hours after our epic walk. You could see a few strange running styles that morning! The need for swimming shorts was soon apparent when we were all directed into a freezing lake. If any of you have ever experienced the pain of an ice bath you will know the feeling we had! This sure was different to last years jaunt around Hollywood with HTC-Highroad.

This was team building, Quickstep style! I loved it! It was hard work and we were all nailed but I didn’t once hear anybody complain. If you ask me, the camp was a massive success, I came to it feeling like a bit of an outsider and not really knowing anybody and left feeling like I’d spent half a season with these guys.

Bring on 2012 !

I almost forgot the most comical moment of the camp. Our team director Wilfred Peters lives just a few kilometres from Mol so was super-motivated to use his navigational skills and win this last task. So, walking down a canal in the early hours, Wilfred spotted some people crouched by it. “shhhh, another team. Let’s get rid of this bag”, he said. So he and his seven team mates lurked in the bushes, waiting to attack. Unbeknown to them, these two guys had absolutely nothing to do with our camp and were minding their own business, doing a bit of night-fishing.

Soon enough Wilfred and co had these guys pinned on the floor until they realised their mistake. Sorry, fishermen!


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