Late last year British Military Fitness (BMF) was rebranded to Be Military Fit (BeMF). The Bushy Park BMF regulars and I thought nothing of it. Some new vans, some new bibs. Nothing’s going to change and we’ll all carry on as normal.
Then the news arrived that the timetable was changing. Sessions would now only be on weekdays at 10 am. As many of the members are professional people, weekday sessions at 10 am are not convenient. Previously there were two evening sessions on Tuesday and Thursday and morning sessions on Saturday and Sunday. There are varying stories for the reasons behind this, but this is my take, gleaned from information/discussions/meetings from others.
The “rebrand” was actually that BMF was being sold/bought. The company was changing hands. Part of which was to Bear Grylls Ventures. Members were not told this. There were some unpaid bills (BMF paid the Royal Parks to operate in the park, and also have a licence to do so) that debt needed sorting as the companies switched over. This pissed off the Royal Parks, (who manage the park), and then pretty much said “screw you” to BeMF. Somebody, somewhere annoyed someone else.
Not only was the timetable changing, but the area of land BeMF was allowed to use was limited to a small triangle of grass (maybe 2500 m2). We had previously been able to use the whole park (over 4 million m2) with a few exceptions due to protected areas. The use of the whole park and the varying terrain and locations was a huge plus point of training in Bushy Park. Limited numbers per session also came into force.
Pretty much all regulars, many who had been going for 10 plus years, cancelled or suspended their membership. BeMF did what they could, putting on equivalent sessions in a nearby park (1 mile away) which is more a recreational park and dog walking area with none of the beauty of Bushy. Many members did not take to it.
Numbers of attendees plummeted. From 50-60 people on a Saturday morning, there was less than 10. Many of the seasoned regulars did what they could to lobby the Royal Parks to change/soften the decision, but it bridges seemed to have been burnt. Various vitriol was aimed at Bear Grylls.
Ex-members did what the could, setting up impromptu sessions to train together when they could. One trainer set up his own running club which filled a gap from many. It worked out well for me. It was coming into Christmas and was revving up for marathon training, so missing military fitness did not bother me too much as I used the mentioned running club sessions, my Windmiler training sessions and solo runs.
I felt for the trainers (former or serving members of the British Armed Forces) who were caught in the middle of a business decision made by someone far above them and the indignation of the members. There is also the Royal Parks who have contradicted themselves a few times about protecting the park (which is their job). However, 50 people moving around 4.5 km2 of the park has less impact than 1000 people running the same course every Saturday at 9 am.
Over the last few months, a Tuesday and Thursday evening have reappeared on the timetable as did a Sunday morning. The area BeMF are allowed to use was extended to a footpath along the south wall of the park. A slight improvement that allowed longer runs, but nowhere what was used previously. The most popular session on Saturday morning has not returned. The popularity of Bushy Park parkrun has been stated a number of times for the reason for this.
BMF/BeMF and parkrun do not impact on each other in any way unless you count taking up parking spaces in the car park and the fact that it allows BMF/BeMF’ers to run parkrun after the 8 am session which was highly useful. But parkrun does have a large impact on Bushy Park, hence my mention of contractions above. I feel the Royal Parks are not going to put any limitations on parkrun due to the publicity it gets from being the birthplace of parkrun (the parkrun route does change from time to time and negotiations are possibly ongoing about this again). I suppose in the Royal Parks eyes, reducing the numbers in the park on Saturday morning is some help to them. The car parks are commonly overfull.
My suspended membership was about to restart and the London Marathon was completed. I needed to get back into training. I tentatively re-upped my membership at went to a session. The numbers were a lot less, but there were a few old faces. One of the trainers had changed and I think there’s an air of – this is not what it used to be, we need to keep the members as happy as we can – from the trainers. I was very hesitant at the first session back and didn’t want to enjoy it partly due to some kind of strange feeling that I could agree the owners had messed it up and somehow take some strange justification out of it. The other part due to the defiant tone of the former regulars on a WhatsApp group.
I think the trainers have done a good job. They are in a tough spot and limited by the space they can use, but they use it well and keep the sessions varied and interesting. Also, even though there was a thought that sessions would get easier as the company tried to accommodate and attract more people. The sessions have got tougher, or should I say more strictly governed as exercise form and reps are monitored. It’s tough, like it used to be.
Overall, it’s been enjoyable and I’ve been back many times. It’s a pity about what happened, but things change and evolve and relations may thaw. It’s the Summer at the moment and its great working out with like-minded people in the sun. The Winter may change my mind, but right now I’m going to make hay.