11.30am. 25°C. A scorching Sunday in the Garden of England and a pre-race feeling of trepidation standing alongside sixty other runners. Stark ruddy naked!
You have probably heard of barefoot running but believe me, this is a completely different ball game. This is the BH 5K Naked Run organised by The Naturist Foundation - a mixed trail race through 50 acres of woodland park. Apart from running shoes and socks, the vast majority of people were totally in the buff. There were a few odd exceptions with some of the ladies wearing sensible support bras and a chap who wore a T-shirt (nowt else). One young lad sported his Orion Harriers kit perhaps because it was their league race so he had to wear club colours to get points. Cameras were prohibited, but an official photographer snapped away merrily whilst encouraging us to pose and do stretches “to try to look like serious athletes”. You try looking like a serious athlete in your birthday suit.
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. This was barking mad yet everyone seemed to be taking it quite seriously, as if this was a perfectly natural thing to do - perhaps it was. Then the naked race organiser stood out front holding his horn. He explained that most of the run would be in the shade and outlined the course of two short laps of the camping field followed by two big laps around the main site, then warned us about trip hazards from tree roots, as well as branches and thorny bushes around the nether regions. Youch! The fast runners were asked to come up to the start line (a few of us sheepishly migrated to the front) and the rest of the field came up behind. Hey not too close. Whoa!
Get set. Go! We set off speedily down a slight gradient, around a tree, then uphill and around a water tower. My wife (who at the last minute had changed her mind about not going) stood their goggle-eyed. Groups of naturists clapped and cheered, but it must have been a wild spectacle for any observer as the tightly grouped pack flailed about and jostled for position. I received a complementary elbow in the ribs though an apology followed and it could have been worse (below the belt so to speak). After the second mini-lap past the caravans and tents, the field started to spread out and I ended up somewhere among the leading group just behind the T-shirt Man who mistakenly headed up for another loop. We called out to go left and he turned but ended up behind as we exited the field. Tough luck Mr T-shirt Man!
It was single file along the narrow path as it weaved between horse chestnut trees and naked marshals showed the way to go (with their arms). There were several sharp turns and very few opportunities to overtake safely so I just stayed with the pace. After leaving the woods we came back into the main campsite and I followed behind a group of three that were closing down another runner who said that there was someone way ahead who was leading. We carried on downhill past caravans and chalets, then across a car park, along a road and through another car park where nude ladies held out cups of water. It was hot as hell, but I resisted the temptation and overtook another runner in the process. Just before some farm buildings I managed to take another scalp, moved into third place and re-focused on the next target. The route headed uphill and joined the original path for the start of the second big lap. There were a lot of joggers on their first lap and they kindly moved aside to let us through. Coming out of the woods I caught up behind the second placed runner, stayed with him for a time and then pushed on. By this stage I was not going to catch the leader, so losing a few seconds before the finish line through confusion over the funnel made little difference to my official 19:45 time.
Later at the presentation ceremony all of the participants were called up individually to be photographed “au naturel” receiving a certificate and a handshake from the organiser. Each one received a round of applause from the crowd that added to the sense of achievement and the overall spirit of camaraderie. I was surprised to be called up a second time to be presented with the Under 50 Winner Trophy.
The day was completed with a quick dip in the swimming pool, scampi and chips in the pavilion and several £1.90 pints in the bar. Why would you want to do this race? The simple answer is because you can and you must!
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