RW Race Report: Legends of Sherwood Forest

Credit: Peter Halter

When: April 2
Where: Nottinghamshire
First man: Andrew Lorimer 56:21
First woman: Catherine Swinson 1:11:43
Last finisher: 2:15:05
No. of finishers: 376
Road type: Trail
RW rating 2011: 90%

How do you like to spend your Saturday nights: vegetating on the sofa? Busting out some shapes in your favourite club? Supping ales in the dark corner of your local? Personally, I favour the latter or the former. Saturday nights aren't designed for exercise; they're designed for sitting.

Nonetheless, as darkness descended on Saturday April 2, I was not sitting. Nor was I drinking. I was running in Sherwood Forest, hot on the heels of a panting Maid Marian (who was lit up by the oscillating beam of my head torch) through a dense thicket of trees.

Think Robin Hood: Men in Tights meets The Blair Witch Project and you've got the picture.
Sod the pub. This was, without doubt,   the best Saturday night I've had in a very long time indeed.

Rat Race's inaugural Legends of Sherwood Forest forms the finale of its Notorious Night Runs series: a trio of offroad events that pack in a 5K (ish) daytime dash, a 10K (ish) race as night falls, and a post-event knees-up, with camping facilities to stumble back to when the running and revelry is over.

As you'd expect, the few hundred competitors who gathered at the 10K start line were a colourful bunch. Friar Tucks, Robin Hoods, Little Johns and Maid Marians abounded, and there was also a healthy smattering of off-theme characters: a few Teletubbies, a couple of Batmans, the requisite 1970s gymwear gang and a  heavily tattooed brawny chap who had decided to come as a New Jersey gangster. Possibly. He may, I fear, have been  sporting his usual attire. I wasn't going to be the one who asked.

The pantomime feel was bolstered further as Richard the Lionheart (also known as Gary the Race Organiser) warned us all of the multi-routed 'Spooky Wood' near the course's end: its dangers of straying from the marked path and the necessity of helping out anyone in trouble. And then we were away.

Over some hay bales, skittering down a track after a sharp left and almost immediately into the first pocket of terrain that would soon become very familiar: dense, muddy forest.
If an effective strategy for running through this kind of environment exists, I didn't discover it. And neither, as far as I could see, did anyone else.

Not that I could actually see very far at  all, of course. The bright stream flowing from my headtorch illuminated around 10m ahead of hooting woodland, with the only other competitor visible a merry man or maiden immediately ahead, who had been reduced to the same hunched-over scrabble I adopted.

But of course, there were others. And all of them, it seemed, were in a queue that had formed before the first obstacle after a couple of kilometres: a simple tunnel affair. As grateful as I was to have a breather, the interminable wait felt like a bit of a smack in the face, especially after having braved so many spindly branches at high speed only moments before.

Of the few obstacles on the course, mostly cargo nets and tunnels, a couple suffered from extreme bottlenecking - though by the final two (a swamp of deep, glutinous mud and a slippery slope just before the finish line) the field had spread out enough for them to be 'enjoyed' at leisure.

Overtaking was rare but, perhaps surprisingly, this wasn't an issue at all. If ever there was a race when it really was the taking part that counted, this was it. And, anyway, the real thrill wasn't to be found in running fast but in running alone.

After managing to squeeze past the Maid Marian I'd been drafting, I didn't see another soul for around 20 minutes. Storming down scarred ravines and up sudden steep inclines, then zigzagging along mountain bike tracks while spitting out bits of twig, tearing up legs and arms in a bid to take the fastest route through the thickets, all with just a tiny head torch to throw light into the gloom and all with no one else in sight...well, it was utterly exhilarating. Every man's Commando fantasies made flesh.

It's a measure of how efficiently the course was marked (with thousands of strips of red and white fluorescent tape), that even when running solo through what was, after half an hour or so, almost pitch-black woodland, I didn't feel the slightest bit worried about getting lost.

Having said that, despite heeding the crucial  advice of Rat Race head honcho Jim Mee ("Concentrate. For God's sake, concentrate."), I did have to stumble to a halt a couple of times to locate the correct route. And I guiltily confess to accidentally skipping a small section at around the 5K mark.

The organisers couldn't have hoped for better conditions. As the race began, the diving sun was smearing a thick blood-orange strip across the horizon, and by the last straight before home the stars were  out in force to add an extra dose of grandeur to sprint finishes. I puffed to the end, genuinely wanting to do the whole thing all over again.

In the bar tent I finally knocked back a Saturday night pint and listened to a covers band mutilating Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall. As the singer tried to squeeze eight vowels into the word 'sarcasm', I headed off to gratefully unburden myself  of clothes that had doubled in weight through accumulated grime.

One more gripe here: there were no showers and no changing facilities. But these are minor complaints. The Legends of Sherwood 10K is a must for anyone in the region who enjoys a good trail run and wants to try something a bit different. Just don't expect your kit to be reusable. And for God's sake, concentrate. 

Like the sound of this? Try...

Sherwood Pines 5K and 10K

Nottingham, July 17

Same location, same race lengths, but far more sunshine (it's an 11.30am start). And there's a free family fun run after the main events, too. Enter online.

Midweek Madness Delamere Forest 10K

Northwich, Cheshire, August 17

Starting to flag at work? Pep yourself up with this midweek 10K jaunt along the paths and trails  of the beautiful Delamere Forest. Enter online.

White Night Midnight Half Marathon

Brighton, East Sussex, October 29

One for those with a real taste for late-night running. This half marathon, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the British Heart Foundation, kicks off at midnight and takes in the city and the surrounding downs.