I’d looked forward to this race like no other. Having been injured and unable to run for a couple of months I was itching to get back out there and complete a race of some kind. Thanks to the powers of social media, I heard about the little gem that is Bawtry Forest Trail Race; 7 miles in length and clearly very low-key, given that is was difficult to find out much about it before entering.
Maltby Running Club must win the prize for the most intriguing pre-race instructions sent out; along with the usual snippets of information about the course and toilet arrangements, was a request to watch out for ‘stray piglets’ on arrival at the forest. Sure enough, a cute little pig did indeed cross in front of me just before I parked my car.
With no car park as such, the race marshalls implemented a most complex parking system very effectively, and so the crowd of mostly club-runners gathered easily by the starting flag. “There are no fun-runners here!” I overheard another competitor say; as about 200 of us prepared for the off in the most peaceful and beautiful forest around, most were, like me, glad to be there and not amongst the 60,000 lining up further north for the GNR.
After a quick safety briefing, the claxon sounded and we were off on a hard-packed trail into the forest and onto the first loop of a figure of eight course. Running off the back of very little run training (two parkruns and 4-miles on trails) as well as lots of aqua jogging and strength work, I chose to start fairly near the back of the field and the width of the track meant that there was no scope to set off too fast, which suited me fine. I quickly got into a rhythm as the track narrowed and headed slightly downhill. Conditions underfoot were dry and fairly smooth until we turned onto a wet, grassy narrow path that soon deteriorated into wet, muddy bog. Hooray! I love wet, muddy bog, and was keen for my new Hoka Speedgoats to learn to love it too. Having brown, muddy feet when I take my socks off at the end of a run or event is a sign of good terrain, and I knew early on that my feet would be pretty engrained by the end of this route.
By the time we approached the second part of the figure of eight, the field had spread out a fair bit and, although I was not racing as such, I had picked out my nemises, the two runners I wanted to beat. To the ladies from Penistone Runners, thank you; you may not have realised you were my rabbits, but I enjoyed chasing you. The course continued along a mixture of wide open tracks and narrower paths, gently undulating through the forest. I had never heard of Bawtry Forest before this race and was for some reason expecting a pine forest; instead, I got a glorious old deciduous forest, full of gnarled shady trees. By the time I reached the 8K marker (the course was very well-marked out with distance markers, arrows and enthusiastic marshals), my body was starting to feel my lack of recent running and I found myself needing a few short walk breaks. That was until a man passed me and asked if I was OK; I explained to him about my recent injury and that I was being cautious. He responded that it was his first race since having his hip replaced, and that was enough to guilt-trip me into speeding up again.
To end what had been at most a gently undulating course, the organisers had saved the longest and steepest climb to put the finish line at the top of. Running without a GPS I had not realised that the finish was imminent, and I was about a quarter of the way up when the cheering crowd at the top gave the game away. I was pleased to cross the line in a time several minutes faster than I had hoped for, despite having to take walk breaks, giving me a good baseline to build my post-injury training from.
The race goody-bag was the final surprise; as well as a technical t-shirt, sandwiches, a banana, a couple of sweet treats and two bottles of drink, there was a 6-pack of crumpets – not bad for an entry price of £12.
All in all, this little race was a very good find and one I’d recommend to anyone who loves to run on varied trails in a peaceful, pretty location with like-minded people. Well-organised and great value for money, I’ll be back to do this one again!