When it comes to providing the complete package for trail running, forests tick every box. And that’s whether you’re someone looking for a great day out with the family, enjoying well marked, safe paths or you're an international athlete hoping for a podium place at a major global event.
Generations of runners have discovered that same feeling of freedom and inspiration somewhere like Bourne Woods in Lincolnshire provides, not to mention a few hills and plenty of mud!
A five kilometre run in this forest – or indeed any of Forestry England’s locations – is all about enjoying a complete body workout, stimulating both mind and body. In just a few short minutes, you can switch from the rolling, well groomed paths that cut through the centre of the woods to off-road, waymarked trails that meander through the trees before heading out onto great farm tracks. It’s no wonder the local running community loves it so much.
And it’s fabulous to see this magic still drawing in new devotees as it did for me more than 30 years ago, when I discovered the benefits and beauty that running on trails provides. Today’s generation of keen forest trail runners includes athletes like Fatima Painda, a runner who uses Bourne Woods to unwind after a tough stint in A&E where she works as a nurse, or for killer fitness sessions for her clients – women looking to improve their own fitness and confidence. “It’s such a great place to run,” she says as we sprint hard up a tough hill, an easy coast suddenly turning into a demanding workout. It hasn’t got any flatter or shorter! “I love the way it’s so quiet and safe and you can just go about your own running,” she explains, easily settling into a fast-paced rhythm as we wind through the woodland paths.
You quickly unwind and benefit from the surroundings, which is why these woods have been key in my own running. As an athlete I used to run its hills and smoother paths most weekends, then over the years have introduced the trails to countless runners visiting or looking for a bit of coaching advice.
“Places like this are so important for mental wellbeing as much as for fitness,” continues Fatima as we cruise past a serene pond. “The women I coach love it, and I love to see the benefits it provides. Amazing.” But then that’s what running in the forest is: simply amazing.