Words by Ellie Ross
I’m sitting on my backside in the middle of a forest catapulting onions at a castle.
One by one, I place the vegetable cannonballs into the webbing, pull back on the bungee and release.
The bulb shoots through the air, but plops embarrassingly short of its target – a wooden cutout of turrets just metres away.
My attempt at this challenge – aptly named ‘Besiege the Castle’ – has fallen short of success.
But there are plenty more chances to secure points. Brushing the mud off my thighs, I check my map for the next challenge and run towards it.
Welcome to the Red Bull Robin Hood, a brand new orienteering event held in Sherwood Pines Forest, near Nottingham.
Often seen as running’s uncool older brother, orienteering suffers from a perception issue.
“I’m sitting on my backside in the middle of a forest catapulting onions at a castle.”
Hector Haines, a 25-year-old semi professional British orienteer, says: “It’s stereotypically seen as a geeky sport for middle classes.
“Some people think it’s just about talking about maps and routes. But it’s an adventure sport that tests you physically and mentally.
“It’s about being out in the wilderness, competing against others and looking after yourself.”
British Orienteering teamed up with Red Bull in a bid to revolutionise the way the sport is perceived – and the result was Red Bull Robin Hood.
Run as a traditional orienteering event, it sees competitors race through the largest area of woodland in the East Midlands, using a map to navigate their way to 30 control points.
Using an electronic tab, they tap in at each control to gain points and the winner is the person with the biggest score by the end of the 75 minute time limit.
But Red Bull has thrown in six additional physical and skills-based challenges – from archery and a tower rope climb to a balance beam and memory test – worth bonus points.
These stations are not only fun, but also emphasise the dual test of body and brain.
Competitors open their map just one minute before the start of the race – and those 60 seconds are crucial to decide on an efficient route.
Speed, stamina, decisiveness and map reading are all required – making this arguably more demanding than regular endurance races such as Tough Mudder.
On a sunny November morning I pitch up to Sherwood Pines – and am met by the Sheriff of Nottingham yelling at me to get off his land.
Luckily, Robin Hood is nearby and he hands me a sword, making the Sheriff retreat and pick on someone else instead.
“Robin Hood is nearby and he hands me a sword, making the Sheriff retreat and pick on someone else instead.”
Scores of actors, dressed like merry men and maids, add to the Robin Hood theme – and raise a lot of smiles.
As around 130 other competitors and I walk excitedly to the start, they line our path and high-five us, as a minstrel plays a tune on his lute.
David Sissons, Nottinghamshire Orienteering Club secretary, says his club is struggling to attract younger members but hopes this event will help.
“We’re facing the X Box generation,” he says. “But orienteering can take you to places you’ve never dreamed of – you can see different parts of the outdoors and run around in it like a big kid.
“This event is a fantastic way to draw in new people. I’ve never known anything like it – it’s not every orienteering race that you have minstrels playing as you walk down to the start.”
Robin Hood blows the bugle and we are off – scattering in different directions.
I scramble through bracken, picking up a few thorns and a couple of stitches as I run to as many control points and challenges as possible.
I wobble over a balance beam, with a log on my shoulders, but I bash it on the wooden archway in front of me, resulting in a fail.
I pass a handful of other competitors – most running alone, but some more relaxed parties in groups of three or four.
The 75 minutes whizz by. I check my watch and suddenly realise I have just three minutes to get to the finish – and I’m at the furthest point from it.
Turning around, I sprint towards the end point, where a band is playing and finishers are tucking into a well-earned beef stew.
I cross the finish line late – but triumphantly. Onion catapulting, navigation, Robin Hood and a heck of a lot of running have made for an epic adventure in the woods.
As I walk back to my car to start the drive home, a dog walker asks me why she has seen so many people in green T-shirts like mine running around with maps.
“Orienteering,” I reply with a smile. “All the cool kids are doing it.”
The second Red Bull Robin Hood will take place on Sunday November 1 2015 in Sherwood Pines Forest. See redbull.co.uk/robinhood!
For more information on orienteering, see britishorienteering.org.uk.
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