Today I found myself up at 6am, porridge in hand, with plans to go to the Wild Forest Gym in Ruislip. Why was I up so early? Well, looking at the journey a couple of days previously, I had estimated it would take me the best part of 2 hours to travel there in time for the ambitious start time of 9am. Fuelled up and ready to go, I undertook the epic journey to the forest! When I finally got there at 9.10, huffing and puffing and cursing my sense of direction, the other two members and the instructor Michael were already waiting for me. After a brief introduction, and a well placed rebuke regarding my orienteering skills, we got started.
The session began with an up-tempo dash through the muddy woods as a warm up, and I discovered that my pace was slower than the others as I began to fall behind. Making my best attempt to keep up as we jogged through calf high mud, I was embarrassed as one of the group members had to keep dropping back to keep me with the group. Running in this depth of mud is exhausting, and the feet slip sideways and behind you constantly, making balance precarious at best. Rounding a tree and splashing into a small river, instructor Michael threw some wisdom out. “This isn’t Mud!” He called back “It’s earth!”
Finally we stopped, all panting. Now was the time for instruction on moving through deep sucking mud. We went through the mud, our knees high and on the balls of our feet. After some time we ended up at a central area with lots of structures and logs dotted about, clearly shaped a little into a training area. Time to get down on the ground! Following a faint trail around and over small logs and branches, we practiced crawling (using a type of ‘no knees’ movement similar to Parkour’s ‘Monkey Walk’), crabbing and frog hops. This section my legs were burning as I moved along, trying not to slow up those behind me too much! I was concentrating so much on this that actually avoiding smashing my face into a log was obviously beyond effort for me. Luckily I don’t think anyone else noticed!
Now time for arm strength. Wedged strong between the trees, a branch had been placed for just this purpose. We needed to jump up, grab the top of the branch, and hang there for as long as possible. Making an almighty leap, I bounded into the air..and slapped the sides of the branch. That’s it. No grip, no hold. Back to earth. Obviously I need to work on explosive power, as Michael lifted me up so I could reach the thing, then we all hung there for a while. “That’s it!” He said. “Just hang here, and listen to the birdsong.” At the periphery of my consciousness, the birds did indeed tweet. But mostly my mind was focused on my inner thoughts. ‘Do not drop’ they said with determination. ‘Do NOT be the first to drop’! This time my focus won out. Another of the group members dropped first after about maybe 40 seconds. The next step was exhibiting core strength enough to bring our legs right up to the branch whilst still holding on. This was something I had done when practicing monkey bars, but it’s a lot harder when you can’t grip confidently. We did some practice on this, but each time I fell, I needed help to get back up on the branch. Even gloveless I couldn’t grip well!
Next was the log carry! This is an integral part of the Tough Mudder, and one I have to admit I haven’t really trained for. We each picked a log that we thought we could lift 4-5 times. Each time we lifted, we had to take a different grip on the log. It was whilst we were continually setting down and picking up our logs that I became aware that mine had quite an assortment of mould on it. It was only a matter of time…yep! Now I have mould down my top, and making its way into my bra. I surreptitiously picked it back out at an opportune moment. Good times. We assumed a carrying stance with our logs on our shoulders and went round in a route. Then we did it back again using the other shoulder. I discovered that my right shoulder is a lot bonier than my left shoulder. Good knowledge.
After this we practiced some safety rolls, for use when we inevitably trip on the course. I didn’t feel too bad at these, as I have recently practiced them at Parkour sessions. But I was told that I am too compact when I roll. Something else to work on! It was at this stage that another member of the group did a roll, and felt his shoulder go CRUNCH. He stood there for a second quietly holding his arm, and turned slightly pale. “Hey” I said “You okay?…”
“Hmmm” He said “I feel a bit sick now”. But he carried on with the session, just being careful with his shoulder after this.
Next we were drilling jumps, which is very difficult from jumps wall to wall in Parkour! We were jumping over the river, which progressively became wider and wider. Instructed to ensure we landed on the balls of our feet, we made our way along the bank jumping back and forth. In the later stages of this exercise, half the time I was landing in the river! Still, got to get used to being soaking wet if i’m going to make it through the 4th of May!
The final part of the session was more running to finish off, but this time we took the muddy track, some steps bringing the pools up to your knees! “Just remember” said Michael. “These conditions are the BEST you are going to get on the day. The best, mind. Normally, it’s a lot worse!” We dived through the bush and brambles next to the pathway, using the techniques of movement learned earlier, getting used to crawling and scrambling through wet terrain.
Then, an hour and a half after it started, the training session was over! We made our way back to the car park, and I retrieved my bag from the car of one of the other group members who had kindly stashed it for me. As I went off to find a semi private spot to change into dry clothes, I saw the instructor Michael disappearing back off into the woods like Mowgli…
But of course this isn’t the end of it. The question is – would I go back? Well, as I clearly need more training in this type of terrain, yes I would. This was a free trial session, as it was the first time I had attended. After this, each class will cost £18 for an hour and a half. You can also buy blocks of classes with no time limit in which to use them up, and get a bit of a discount this way. Further questions can be asked direct at their website: https://wildforestgym.wordpress.com/
Jen, Tough Mudder contender