‘D Section down!’ screamed our section leader and former Royal Marine Commando, Dave Shutler. Hurling myself to the floor, oblivious to the wet, cold and (probable) rabbit and horse dung I asked myself again what I was doing. It’s 7:30pm on the coldest Saturday of the year and Chingford is under attack...
This is not the first page of a post apocalyptic fiction thriller; this is “Hell Day” - a 12-hour military themed experience put together by Chingford’s Pegasus Military Fitness.
The nine other lucky participants and I (or mad, crazy, masochistic fools as described by our family and friends) were ordered to meet at Bury Road Car Park for 8:00am for a kit check (pulling up at 8:00am was ‘deemed late’ we were told).
The squad for the day consisted of four men and six women, ranging from early thirties to mid-fifties, black cab drivers to accountants. Dave called out each item as we desperately tried to display to him we had remembered the kit whilst simultaneously trying to keep it dry in the driving snow.
Leaving our rucksacks (hereafter called 'bergens') at basecamp, we headed out onto Chingford Plains for the first session of the day: 90 minutes of plyometric exercise with Mark Lundqvist, a former member of the South African Defence Force. At this time of day, in this weather, it was hard. It was in the snow, on the floor and in the mud. The only respite being a hard, but often-hilarious attempt at a ten-man human pyramid, ultimately successful and the beginning of a bond between us.
After our first speed march (AKA 'tab'), our next session, deep in the heart of Epping Forest, was self-defence. This session was run by Barry Watkins, founder of Pegasus Military Fitness and black belt kickboxing instructor. These 90 minutes consisted of “dirty” fighting; Barry demonstrated then enabled us to practice how to destroy an assailant’s biceps, fists and probably hearts.
Another tab followed, and we left our bergens at our next basecamp. With the sun finally starting to shine and the temperature peaking at a balmy five degrees, this gentle(ish) run/ walk session was the first to lower our defenses and we began to relax. The pile of tree trunks at the end of the undulating mile and half was a visual wake up call to what we’d signed up for. Quickly split into two teams, we had 30 seconds to pick our tree before a race back to our basecamp. A crushing win for the orange team (so called due to the colour of my top) was achieved, before another speedy tab, this time to High Beach.
'Right lads, that’s the end of the hard physical work,' said Dave and Mark. 'Now we’re going to work on the mental side of the challenge.' After six hours of intense physical exertion, this was music to our fatigued ears.
'Chingford is under attack, you are the defence force. The survival of your town is dependent on you.' This statement illustrated the aim of our mission, with the group being split into two sections, practicing recognised patrol, attack and defence manoeuvres led by Dave.
The Pegasus team then played their joker - their way to break our hearts and minds - another 90-minute physical session, with the intensity raised another notch. At this point, with over seven hours of cold, wet and punishing effort, the mental demons began to kick in. Simultaneously, from deep within, the teamwork that the same Pegasus guys had been promoting throughout the day also came to the fore.
A good helping of hot food appeared in the forest to offer us some comfort before we kitted up for our final and biggest assault; evade discovery then seek and destroy the enemy before they destroy Chingford. At that point, I wondered if the pad and pen we’d been advised to bring with us was to write our final words for our loved ones back home!
'No head-torches, no talking.'
Heading off from High Beach in gloomy darkness, wet, tired and cold, a four-mile tab without being discovered by the enemy awaited. We were advised that the enemy could be anywhere between our current position and Station Road and with over eight hours of physical and mental exertion behind us, the fun and conversation subsided. This was real.
It’s hard to describe that this obviously manufactured scenario felt real, but the quality of the day and the Pegasus team meant this culminated in a march through the dark forest that nobody involved will ever forget.
So... it's 7:30pm on the coldest Saturday of the year and D Section, my section, cold, wet and tired almost to exhaustion have just hit the deck on a section attack up Yates' Meadow.
'C Section up!'
Then the bombardment starts; missiles, bombs and rockets are upon us without warning.
'D Section up!'
My training from the day kicks in, as I rise and with controlled aggression run towards our assailants, determined to save Chingford.
The finale of the day, with all ten of us that began together, is attacking as one amidst a fantastic choreographed firework ‘assault’ by the enemy.
After slaying the terrorists and congratulating ourselves on saving our hometown, we began the tab back to Bury Road car park. Letting our guard down, Pegasus had one final surprise: an “IED” attack leaving us our final challenge, a casevac (or evacuation of casualties) of an 80kg victim of the explosion. The final vestige of our energy was removed as we dragged the body home.
We finished to applause from the Pegasus team. We were back, 12 hours and over 20 miles after we started, wet, muddy, exhausted but absolutely elated.
People travel the world for experiences but Pegasus Military Fitness managed to put something totally unique together in our backyard. For a team and character building exercise I could not recommend this more.
For more Hell Day photos, go to the Pegasus Flickr channel >>