My Day In The Hunger Games - This Fitness Event Makes You Feel Like Katniss Everdeen

Ellie Ross
Health & Fitness On Trial

Tracing my finger along the map, I inhale a lungful of pine-scented air.

Between the trees, shafts of light filter into the woods, casting eerie shadows around me.

I know the others are here somewhere, but I haven’t seen anybody for a while. It’s better like that. After all, we all want to win.

I’ve just refolded my map when I hear the twig snap. In one motion, I turn to the sound - but there’s no one there.

Then, I spot a flash of green. It’s a girl - I can tell from the swishing brown pony tail - but her back is to me and she has already dashed away, making her way deeper into the belly of the undergrowth.


ORIENTEERING WITH A TWIST

My first experience of orienteering feels increasingly like something out of The Hunger Games.

OK, there are a few discrepancies - for a start, there’s no killing.

And unlike the teenage "tributes" in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, we Red Bull Robin Hood competitors have not been chosen to fight to the death at a morbid "reaping" ceremony.
















Katniss Everdeen was skilled with a bow and arrow. [The Hunger Games/Lionsgate]
Our very own Finnick / Sam Claflin streaking through the forest. [Red Bull Robin Hood]



Instead, 130 of us excitedly signed ourselves up for this brand new event, held in Sherwood Pines Forest, near Nottingham.

Run by the energy drink company and British Orienteering, 'Red Bull Robin Hood' sees adventure runners burn up to 1,000 calories as they race through the largest area of woodlands in the East Midlands, navigating their way to 30 "control points" on an 18km course.

As well as these targets - all worth ten marks - Red Bull has thrown in six additional physical and skills-based "challenges" on the route.





Competitors are left to navigate their own routes through the race. [Red Bull Robin Hood]



From archery and catapulting to a memory test and a rope climb, they are worth a golden 30 points each.

The aim is to clock up the biggest score by visiting as many control points as possible in just 75 minutes.

And, just like in The Hunger Games, speed, stamina and mental agility are all required to triumph.

KATNISS’ BOW AND ARROW

As I pitch up to the event on a sunny November morning, I get my first taste of life as Katniss Everdeen, the novels’ 16-year-old heroine, played by Jennifer Lawrence in the spin-off films.

Katniss is skilled with a bow and arrow, using it to hunt deer for food and, later, as a weapon in the Games "arena."

And, just like her, before we enter our "arena" (or, the start line of our course), we take part in archery training, to practice for the bow and arrow challenge.













Our writer Ellie handles a bow for the first time! [Red Bull Robin Hood]



As I pull back on the bow, I envisage Katniss’ bullseye shot in the first film, where she shoots an apple from the mouth of a suckling pig to attract her sponsors’ attention.

But my arrow flops into the ground, well short of its target.



“You need to stand up straighter, and don’t be scared of the bow,” the archery coach tells me, as I scamper off.

Ellie tries her hand at target practice. [Red Bull Robin Hood]



THE COMPETITION BEGINS

At the start line we stand in a circle, clad in uniform green tops, and nervously await the sound of a bugle to release us into the woods.

Luckily, there is no Cornucopia filled with supplies for tributes, making The Hunger Games start the scene of a bloodbath.

But I know there’s still a battle on. With the biggest prize money at any UK orienteering event (£500 for the winning male and female categories), there’s a lot at stake.







It's all suddenly very 'Catching Fire' as the race begins! [Red Bull robin Hood]



I am up against well-seasoned orienteers with their own compasses around their necks and thick long socks to protect their muscular calves from the brambles that lie in wait.

They are hungry for victory.

The gamesmaster says something along the lines of “May the odds be ever in
your favour”, before the bugle is blown and we scatter, clutching our maps, in different directions.







MENTAL CHALLENGE

As I unfurl the scroll - marked with alien signs, lines and colours - I start planning a route that will take in as many of the big-scoring challenges as possible. Then, I run.

As well as being physically fit to power through uneven terrain and thick forest, a successful orienteer needs to be quick-thinking and decisive.

They need to use their brain to map read, work out the most efficient route, and get to the finish on time.






Archery is all part of the challenge [Red Bull Robin Hood]



And, like tributes, they must use common sense to get to know an unknown territory fast.

I hunt down as many control points as possible, using an electronic stick to tap in and collect the points.

I narrowly avoid twisting my ankle on bumpy ground as I reach the memory test challenge.

I’m required to study a logo, then pick the correct one out from a lineup of six.

Katniss would breeze this, but the combination of fatigue and indecisiveness forces me to take a wild guess.









Don't get lost! Time penalities could cost you a lot. [Red Bull Robin Hood]



ALONE IN THE FOREST

I press on, wobbling over a balance beam, catapulting onions at targets (missing miserably), and running through the forest to collect points, scratches and a couple of nagging stitches.

After 75 minutes, I have passed only a handful of other competitors. It’s just me and my map in the woods - and that solitude is both refreshing and empowering.





Being on your own makes the trials even more challenging. [Red Bull Robin Hood]



Craig Anthony, Development Manager for British Orienteering, agrees.

“The thing that ties orienteering with films like The Hunger Games is being out in the forest on your own,” he says.

“That kind of independence is challenging - and it’s a crucial part of the sport.”

I make it to the finish line - but am five minutes late, have failed most of the challenges and come just a few places from last.

As I wolf down a finishers’ beef stew and chat to the other competitors while a band plays, I realise that if I were a tribute, I would definitely be dead by now.

It seems I still have much to learn from Katniss Everdeen.













FIVE TOP TIPS

    1.    Invest in a compass. Knowing where North is will help your map reading.
    2.    Keep track of where you are. Fold your map and use your thumb to mark your position.
    3.    Don’t finish late. Time penalties are severe (minus 10 points per late minute).
    4.    Plan your route. Take time at the start to work out the fastest path between control points.
    5.    Don’t just follow others. Trust your instincts and stick to your plan.







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GET INVOLVED:
The second Red Bull Robin Hood will take place on Sunday November 1 2015 in Sherwood Pines Forest. All registration fees go to the Wings for Life charity. See redbull.co.uk/robinhood.

For more information on orienteering, see britishorienteering.org.uk.