1. running in the wild or in the elements; escaping the modern world and reconnecting to nature.
2. running freely, with exhilaration; without limits or restrictions.
3. running to the peak of our evolutionary ability; running extraordinary distances and achieving the extraordinary.
– © Jen & Sim Benson, Wild Running
It’s no secret I love Sherwood Forest, we go bike riding and Robin Hood hunting there as a family, I went to see Jake Bugg there recently, we’ve nature crafted with the ranger there and even met Vikings there. Now the Forestry Commission are piloting a series of off the beaten running routes at Delamere, High Lodge, Sherwood and Bedgebury Forests. These 5 and 10k trails have been mapped at 4 sites by wild running enthusiasts and authors of guidebook ‘Wild Running’ Jen and Sim Benson.
Using insight from England Athletics to understand the motivations of different types of runners, these trails have been designed for those who actively seek escapism and are driven by a sense of freedom.
That would be me! I am never happier than outdoors, or in a forest, and I need a kick with my half marathon training, I am determined to beat last year’s time. There are rivers and canals close to home, but sometimes that’s not enough and the suburban pavements I have to navigate to reach them get in the way of my escapism.
I run as much for my mind as my body, I soon realised after a bout of hormone induced depression, that running was keeping me sane. Running in the forest absolutely appeals to me.
Jen and Sim Benson explain what to expect:
“The trails offer you a great mixture of winding, technical trails and wide, open paths through a beautiful variety of forest and woodland; fun; fast running with some hills thrown in and easy-to-follow navigation, perfect for runners of all levels.
“Running in a forest brings with it a specific magic as the seasons pass; spring with its carpet of bluebells, flourishing trees and plants in the summer, a blaze of colour in the autumn, and winter, when crisp leave crunch beneath your feet.”
Sold, sounds amazing!
My wild running experience
I am road testing a Volvo XC90 this week, it was the perfect companion for a wild run with its 7 seats to carry friends, big boot for stuff, smooth drive on country roads and its touch screen synch with my phone, to appreciate the forest wild running spotify playlist. We parked in the Forestry Commisson car park and off we went to find the start.
With less than 10 weeks to the Nottingham Half Marathon, I invited my training partners from See How She Runs to come and join me and test the 10k route.
I downloaded the running route and spotify playlist before I left, both are really easy to use, just click on the links and bingo, your phone prompts you to download the relevant apps. I chose Map My Run, which I have used on my desktop, so I know it will also be really handy for finding and planning runs locally and wherever I am this summer.
It was a real adventure to escape to the forest for the evening and we couldn’t have picked a better one, it was cool but the sun was gently dipping through the trees, ideal running conditions.
It took a little time to work out where the course started, map my run helped us locate it, basically just turn right in front of the toilets and cafe and follow the start of the family cycle track which is clearly mapped out on boards when you arrive. It is at the bottom of the glade that stretches out behind the cafe. We soon began to pick up the wild running signs and once you find the start the course it is very well signposted and you don’t need to keep looking at the app.
It was wonderful to be running in the woods, most of the trail is off the main cycle paths and snakes through dense trees, it feels magical to be running in these surroundings.
The trail was a mix of densely wooded forest, green glades and larger tracks through towering pines. It has gentle hills but avoids the long and labourious hill climb I remember from the cycle route. It’s a winding route with constantly changing scenery and new paths to explore.
It’s harder going running on the forest floor than pavement, our first lap of the just under 5k route took us longer than 5k usually would, we could really feel it in the calves and we were more out of breath and less chatty than usual. We decided to follow the gravelled cycle path for our second lap as it was getting darker and our legs were tired, this also gave our 10k route variety, although it’s definitely not the same escape to the wilds feeling of the wild running trail.
It took me a while to find my rhythm and relax into forest running, you do have to focus on your foot work on the uneven ground. But I loved the constantly beautiful scenery, long rows of trees stretching into the distance, a stray foxglove, the sun breaking through the trees, even the darkest parts that we were sure a gruffalo was hiding in. It is a lovely trail, it’s plotted with lots of variety and twists and turns into new scenery, so you feel like you are truly conquering the forest rather than just following a path.
As we came close to the end of the trail I found myself tumbling down the hill, arms spread wide in a rhythm that could only be described as childlike. Confident of my balance and footwork I let my eyes take in the trees around me and felt a dizzying sense of awe.
The course really made me think that running can be a night out and a special event and not just something I do from my front door. It was wonderful to escape suburbia for the night, to chat with friends and to achieve something!
I was really pleased, having dragged my two companions out, that they felt the same too. It felt like a wonderful escape from the hectic school holidays.
In the end we were too busy chatting or appreciating the calm of the forest for a playlist, but it does have some cracking tunes, some of which are already on my running playlist – great choices!
Get the route
The routes are available from the Forestry Commission England website where readers can view maps, print directions and upload a .gpx file to their GPS device if they wish. The site also has a wealth of other information including top tips, the benefits to running in the forest, playlists and top trails for running.
Bounts is a free fitness app that rewards you for being active, the Forestry Commission have used ‘beacons’ to mark out five of their forests to get active in so once you have downloaded Bounts, you simply head to one of the participating forests and you automatically start earning vouchers and rewards for your favourite high street shops, restaurants and cinemas.
Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/wildrunning for further information and to download the maps, playlist and Bounts.
As an experienced runner I loved the Wild Running Course, but there is also Run Forest Running at Delamere, Dalby and High Lodge Thetford, which is aimed at beginners and those wishing to get back into fitness. This includes a 10 week email programme, encouraging running in the quiet haven of the forest, a place to build your confidence and your distance.
Let me know if you try any of the courses out, I would love to hear how you get on.