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How I spent part of my summer

ATLANTA - It's a little after 6 in the morning and, for another hour, Atlanta - and its orange smog - sleeps.

But not me.

While my mind says I should be spread out across my brand new bed in my comfy studio - I work nights at the Post, see - my body knows I'm face down on a sidewalk, pounding out inverted pushups with about 20 other people who are taking part in BTB Fitness' monthlong boot camp at Piedmont Park.

This is a conscience choice; I've paid money for this. Dave, one of my childhood friends, talked me into it. With summer upon us, we both have the shared goal of getting into the best shape of our lives.

Could it be done?

At this moment, he and I are about five feet apart during this particular set, and I bust out my best Bruce Willis impersonation from the '80s romp "Die Hard." You know, when his character, John McClane, is crawling through an air conditioning duct inside the terrorist-infested Nakatomi Plaza, lamenting his terrible Christmastime luck.

"Come on, sign up for boot camp, man," I sneer at Dave as a stream of sweat drips down the ridge of my nose, salty like the ocean. "It'll be fun, we'll have a couple of laughs."

The protest is all in good fun.

Though it's hard to shake the pleasures of sleep some mornings, there's something satisfying about working up a deep sweat, the program's instructors - hardly pit bulls, they are more like the fittest, friendliest people ever - putting us through an hourlong session of cardio and strength training.

The gym had gotten stale.

Each day - Monday through Friday - carries a unique agenda, yet has a common goal - total body transformation beyond our comfort zone. Some days we duck and weave like boxers, pop "burpies" - a cruel embellishment of the pushup - after 20-second sprints, or kill a three-mile run on the tree-lined streets of Virginia-Highlands. Standing stationary is not allowed; during breaks, we do squats.

The great thing about boot camp is that anyone can do it, and there are plenty of metro offerings, from Atlanta all the way up to Suwanee in the morning and early evening. It's not cheap - a monthlong class was $299. But it's the best money I've spent in years.

My class runs the gamut of body types - overweight, lean, marginal, "getting there." Me? I'm no Brad Clooney - the magnanimous hybrid of Pitt and George - but I can hold my own. My stated aim for this class was to get a body that works better under pressure, to surpass the point of exhaustion without total system failure. After four weeks, I'm noticing subtle changes. Increased endurance, a vein which runs down my inner left leg, definition. My clothes fit better, too.

None of this can be achieved without sound nutrition. This particular program issued log books to track our intake for the month. Instructors prescribe a high protein, six-meal-a-day approach (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack). And plenty of water. Some choose to leave out a few things - that chicken biscuit in a moment of weakness - but I haven't. When I've eaten like a barbarian, I've owned up to it, and paid for said deviance with extra pushups or running. For the most part, though, I've followed through. Chicken, veggies, protein bars, bananas. And, I started participating in something I conveniently began to skip - breakfast.

I just can't seem to shake my penchant for Publix subs or my two-a-day runs to QuikTrip for Diet Pepsi from the fountain.

But, hey, life ain't a gulag. Boot camp has reinforced that. Dig deep and choose your battles.

After one particularly exhausting session - a running circuit called "The L Train" - I walked into a local gas station to buy a cold drink, looking like I mowed lawns the entire night.

"Well, hey there," the cashier said, eyeing me up suspiciously. "You doing OK?'

Never better, I answered. Now drop and give me 20.

Alex P. Joyner can be reached at alex.joyner@gwinnettdailypost.com