Go Ape: Training Goalposts!

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As I may have oh so briefly mentioned, I’m going to be doing a fairly intense (I had no idea how intense…) obstacle run at the end of March, which I’ve been training for by using a 5K running app (see here, I LOVE it!). However, there’s more to an obstacle run than running. You may have caught that obstacle part, there. YES! There are obstacles! Now, thanks to a variety of fallen trees and other hazards in the local woods, I’ve been getting quite a lot of obstacle training into my runs, but none of them compare to the challenges that lay ahead… So, there was only one thing for it – another challenge, part training, part confidence boost, and all over good fun – Go Ape!

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I knew this would be the perfect chance to get a little workout in, see how well we were all doing, and catch up with my team mates at the same time. I’ve been to Go Ape four times now (that’s me above back in 2010!) and I’ve loved every visit, so I knew it would be awesome! So, last Sunday, enjoying the first day of spring weather, we headed to Alice Holt.

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The course is very lively, and beautiful in the sunshine, consisting of five sections, four of which are accessed by climbing a rope ladder. You start off with a safety demo (and I was picked on to be the volunteer this time when it turned out I had a PR pass!) and learn the ways of Go Ape, in which safety is paramount.

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Swinging from a tree is serious business, but there are so many safety procedures involved it’s very safe – if you follow instructions. You have a variety of clips and attachments to make sure you’re always anchored in multiple places, which is very reassuring when you’re hanging from a tree in the middle of the forest. I have no idea how high these platforms are, but I have to tell you, they do make your knees go funny when you stand on the edge!

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Once you’ve done your safety demo, which involves the first of five zip wires (how else would you get down from such a great height? Zip wire, of course!), you get to start on the first ‘big’ set of crossings. First of all, you need to climb a rope ladder (can I overcome the obstacle of a rope ladder? YES!), and then you’ll face the first of the two Tarzan swing / cargo net combos. This is the part I look forward to the most – weightlessly flying through the trees, before a quick scramble up a net – which is one of the obstacles we face at the run at the end of the month!

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The swing is daunting, and the cargo net is tough, but that’s what makes it so much fun! Unfortunately, we had a young girl in front of us at my visit who completely freaked out at the Tarzan swing, and despite careful, patient and professional coaching from one of the Go Ape team, she eventually had to back out and come off the course. The first Tarzan swing is the test of your courage – if you can’t make it across, it’s unlikely you can do the rest of the course. But we’re all made of stern stuff, right? Of course!

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The first cargo net is tougher than the second – I think it’s slightly looser – but we were really pleased with how well we managed to haul ourselves up them. Can we overcome the obstacle of the cargo net? YES!

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The rest of the course is made up of various methods of getting from one tree to another – there’s always a metal cord that you stay clipped to as you go along, so you cannot – cannot – fall off of anything as long as you’re attached. The challenges vary from easy (wooden blocks to step on) to bloody difficult (stirrups), but if you ever have enough and just cannot take the strain, all you need do is relax into your harness and pull yourself along to the next tree platform.

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Sometimes the course handily splits in two so that you can follow an easier path if you wish. Did we do that? Of course not, we were doing a very important training session! However, there was one challenge I could not complete…

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Walking across the beam with noooo hands! Rachel actually pulled this off twice – incredible! I just couldn’t get my balance and held onto the safety cords which are attached to the wire – you can see them to the right of her head in this photo. That’s the nice thing about Go Ape – it’s tough, but if it gets too tough, you can sort of cheat. Unfortunately for me, balance beams are one of the obstacles I face at the end of the month. Can we overcome the obstacle of the balance beam? Well, only one of us…

After each treetop section is complete, you get on your zipline and speed off into the distance…

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…and it’s seriously the best fun you can have in the woods when you’re stuck up a tree. Amazing!

When you’ve finished your course, you even get a certificate and can pose with the Go Ape ape for a photo (if you bring a camera, natch), just to prove how awesome you are!

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All in all, Go Ape is fantastic experience, whether you’re testing your strength, training for an obstacle race, or just want to have some fun! You do need to be in reasonable shape to complete the course, but it’s certainly not incredibly physically challenging. Plus, it gives you amazing bragging rights after, and the chance to eat some ham, egg and chips for lunch completely guilt free afterwards… Which may or may not be what I did at Alice Holt…

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Book your own tree top adventure with Go Ape at www.goape.co.uk. They even have segway courses (and you know how much I love segways!) and loads of locations all the way across the country (find out here). Tickets cost between £30-32 for adults, £24 for 10-17 year olds, and they even have special courses for tiny ones at £17 per child! I was given two tickets for the purposes of review for this post, although the fact that it was my fourth trip is a pretty good indication of how much fun I think Go Ape is!

So, let me know – have you Gone Ape before? Are you planning to? And how do you train for obstacle runs like Tough Mudder or X-Runner?

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Itchen to get to the Park

Another Sunday, another Sky Ride: Itchen to get to the Park. This time, it was just me and Rachel. We braved the terrible weather and wound up doing half of the trip, opting to cycle back from the highlight, Itchen Valley Country Park, to our homes, instead of all the way back to the starting point. Personally, I would have preferred to continue, but it was pouring it down and Rachel didn’t have a jacket! That’s one downside to a mountain bike with no basket or panniers…

Here she is, during a dry spell! Everyone got the Sky Ride bibs again, which helped keep a bit of the rain off…

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Anyway, getting a bit ahead of myself here – this was our route! We were five minutes late to the start yet again, this time because we just couldn’t find the area we were supposed to meet at. We cycled around the park and stumbled across by accident in the end – although some others arrived much later than we did!

As usual, there wasn’t any time to take photos during the ride itself, but I managed to take a few at Itchen Valley Country Park. Here, you can see how much it was raining on the day!

Brr!

We stopped at the cafe and filled up the bike racks…

Rachel and I somehow missed the fact that there was an offroad cycle at the park itself, because we were busy getting ourselves coffee at the time… Still, it gave me a chance to show off my new helmet! More on that in another post…

Neither of us had our locks with us, so we brought our bikes around the back of the cafe and left them in plain sight by the door…

Here’s our friendly cycle group, still sheltering from the rain at the front of the barn!

As usual, the leaders were very friendly and helpful, and made sure everyone was safe and working to a pace they were comfortable with.

As we missed the off-road ride, when the group cycled off, we spent some more time at Itchen Valley exploring. Unfortunately, it turns out that the usual cycle track used at the site had been ruined by some vehicles which had left huge ruts down the centre, so we had to make do with cycling in the fields.

It was quite hilly and bumpy, and the wet grass was pretty challenging to cycle on, but I did all right! Unfortunately, cyclists aren’t allowed on the nature trails at the park – which is fine by me, as I also love walking too.

However, I did think it a bit strange that cycling was considered to be too stressful for the wildlife in the area, but that it was okay to have a brand new Go Ape adventure park installed in the same place!

That’s fine too – because I also love Go Ape and it’s great that there’s one now so close to where I live. Mind you, it’s still expensive – £30 per person.

What would Go Ape be without the obligatory ape statue to pose around?

To the left of the centre of this picture, you can see the zip line for the finale of the Go Ape experience – puts the one that’s already there to shame…

After checking out the Go Ape course, we decided to head on home, but not before one final photo to show off my new helmet!

In my first wet weather cycle, I learned the following things:

  1. My trainers do not have a good grip on the pedals when they’re wet.
  2. It doesn’t take long for your saddle to get soaked.
  3. My waterproof jacket is not all that waterproof.
  4. Brakes make scary noises in the rain.
  5. Wearing a helmet makes you forget how wet you’re getting.
  6. And most importantly, cycling in the rain is still good fun!