Nora Batty, Compo and Clegg might have been involved in quite a few escapades around Holmfirth, but last year they rolled back the years, put on a bit of a pace and shifted their adventures to Newburgh Priory in Coxwold on the edge of the North York Moors for what was billed as a “reet mucky romp” through the countryside.
They weren’t alone either as they were also joined by a team of miners and half a dozen people dressed as ferrets. The common denominator among most was a flat cap.
If this all sounds just a touch bizarre, then welcome along to the new countryside sport of night running.
Notorious Night Runs as they have quickly become categorised may never qualify as an additional event in the Olympics, but if other less physically demanding games can be considered then what is taking place in the grounds of one of the county’s stately homes next Saturday may yet be worthy of consideration.
Fell races already hold a special place in the hearts of Yorkshire’s more rugged runners, but these events are far different and are aimed at encouraging even more of us to get out from behind a desk, enjoy the countryside and get a little more fit, while also having a beer or two.
York-based running event organisers Rat Race held their first night run at Newburgh Priory last year when over 600 attended. Next week they are expecting nearer 1,000.
“We put together running events that have a little bit of a twist, something out of the norm to put a smile on people’s faces,” says Stuart Caithness who is organising next week’s run, under the title of Yorkshire Terrier.
Others are held in Scotland, The Mighty Deerstalker; Sherwood Forest, Legends of Sherwood; and Horseplay at Hambledon, near Henley on Thames.
“Lots of organisations and running clubs put on 10K trail runs, but this is something special that appeals to a new generation of people looking for a slightly wackier but great fun experience. The runs are held at night using natural obstacles, whatever is in the estate. There are mud crawls and you have to cross a reservoir as part of the course, so it’s not just a run and you do get wet and muddy. That’s a given, and most do wear fancy dress of some kind.
“We do get club runners and those who come along to compete for the top places but the vast majority are simply those who want to do something different and enjoy their weekend.”
Jim Mee is a born and bred Yorkshireman who was once involved with event organising for Red Bull before leaving to come up with Rat Race. He’s set up all manner of running events that seem to involve a bit more than just running. One of them included abseiling off buildings in Edinburgh, and he has also put on races around Docklands and navigating through shopping centres. He is particularly happy with the event at the Priory as he feels it captures where the UK is at the moment, following on from last year’s events in London.
“There is a really good movement developing of taking keep fit outdoors and I’d like to think we’re at the forefront of that. It’s all about getting out into the countryside without being too serious about the actual racing. So a lot of what we do is a little tongue-in-cheek.
“You could call us a sport with a red nose. We now host runs of everything from a 5K run in a forest to a 100 mile adventure race in the Scottish Highlands.
“Running through Yorkshire over rough terrain at night is difficult and we’ve added to that by including lots of mud and water, but if you stick on your flat cap and your head torch you can have a great time.
“The London Olympics were great for awakening a whole new set of people to the joy of running. That’s made what we are doing a little more mainstream.
“The venues are very much the heroes of what we do and a lot of the time it is the appeal of purely coming to places like Newburgh that make people’s minds up to come to the events. The grounds are fantastic. It is a beautiful, classic Yorkshire estate where Oliver Cromwell is said to be buried and we race right across the Priory land.
“It is one of those places that you may have driven past hundreds of times and not necessarily know of it, even though it is open to the public on a limited number of days each year. The magnificent building hosts weddings and conferences; and within the grounds they also host live music events. We are giving people access to it to come and camp overnight and I know that many of them see that as a real treat. The owners also take a great interest in what we do and the estate manager took part in the first race last year.”
The race itself lasts around 45-50 minutes for those at the head of the field, with the rest mainly expected to arrive at the finish within half an hour although there are those who may finish a little later.
Runners set off in the dusk and by the time they are a quarter of the way around the course it is pitch black.
“Head torches, as well as flat caps, are definitely the order of the night for the Yorkshire Terrier and this year we have an inkling that other dressing up wear is likely to see the morph suits of last year superseded by the new fashion of onesies. We’re hoping that Nora, Compo and Clegg come again, but we’re also looking forward to whatever people wear.
“We have found that while all ages enjoy the runs the main age groups we attract are in the 25-45 sector.
“Generally it seems to be a combination of people who played team sports but don’t any more and those who may not yet have started families, have free time and are looking at finding something and somewhere that bit away from the regular weekend activity.”
Notoriety is spreading
Tim and Stewart are always on the lookout for new venues as they come up with further Notorious Night Runs. Who knows, perhaps a Lyke Wake Run?
The Yorkshire Terrier takes place next Saturday, March 9.
Stewart points out that due to the terrain and obstacles Yorkshire Terrier isn’t an event for children. The youngest runners are 16-17 years of age. “We do get families coming along to support. They usually have a laugh as the runners slip around on the mud slides.”