Off-Road UK Races
There are also plenty of races for those who find simple road running too familiar and want to challenge themselves on courses over multiple types of terrain.
The races in this section range from simple runs at local parks - which usually feature courses that run over gravel and grass as well as tarmac - to tough challenges that put athletes' mental and physical capabilities to the test.
The latter races are not recommended for absolute beginners, but rather for those who have endurance race experience under their belts and want to step up to much more physically-challenging events.
Race: Park Runs
Location: All around the country
What they are: Created by runners for runners, these are 5k runs with a relaxed atmosphere
and are often attended by fun runners just starting out their racing career.
Although more experienced athletes may attend, they often use them as part of
their training rather than outright racing, and so park runs never feel like serious events.They take place at 9am on Saturday mornings, and are held all around the country.
Recommended for: Inexperienced runners looking for a first race with very little pressure.
Race: Inter-Club Cross-Countries
Location: All around the country
What they are: Generally, so-called 'Inter-club' competitions are a more informal version of regional and national competitions and leagues, and consist of a collection of local clubs competing against each other. An example of this is the Thames Hare and Hounds Inter-Club Cross-Country at Wimbledon Common in March - a run held by THH but participated in by athletes from any local club, with a certain number of athletes from each club scoring points. The field in these races normally comprises of 20-30 mixed-ability athletes, and the races come with a friendly, encouraging atmosphere - though with a more competitive edge than standard park runs.
Recommended for: Athletes who want to start running more competitively, but don't feel ready for more serious regional races.
Race: County Cross-Country Leagues
Location: All counties around the country
What they are: A step up from more localised Inter-Club races, County Cross-Country Leagues involve running clubs from the whole county competing against each other in a series of races over the season. In basic terms, these races are much larger versions of Inter-Club Competitions, with dedicated leagues for each age group, and typically the results of the first 10 runners of each club counting towards league results. As such, County Cross-Country meets tend to have a much more competitive feel to them, but are still friendly enough to not be daunting for fun runners making the step up - and in any case, any experienced runner will tell you that knowing your results are directly helping your club's league position is a great feeling!
Recommended for: Fun runners ready to make the step into competitive running, and any athlete who wants to challenge themselves against friends and team-mates.
Race: Wellingborough Multi-Terrain Series
Location: Irchester Country Park, Northamptonshire
What it is: The Wellingborough Multi-Terrain Series comprises of 3 rounds, all at the same course in Irchester Country Park, usually between January and February. Each round has three separate races of 5k, 10k and 15k - so runners of all abilities are catered for - and the course runs over a mixture of terrain, including mud, grass, gravel, soft tracks and hard surfaces. Prizes are given out to the top 3 runners of each race in each round, and to the top 3 runners at the end of the series.
Recommended for: Long-distance runners who have experience of mixed-terrain races, as the track can be very narrow and slippery at points trail shoes are the footwear most recommended.
Race: Gatliff Marathon
Location: Edenbridge, Kent
What it is: The Gatliff Marathon is unusual, intriguing, and extreme! Held at the end of
November each year, the Gatliff Marathon is an 'ultra-endurance' race, and has three
different courses measuring 31, 22, and 12.5 miles. This is, however, where the
comparisons to normal races end! Given a time limit of 10 hours, competitors are given
notes on the course at the beginning of the day, and are expected to find their way
between different checkpoints rather than follow a linear route laid by the organisers.
Each checkpoint provides drinks and biscuits, with the 31 and 22 mile courses also
providing tea, soup and sandwiches at a lunch stop. The entry fees are £9.00 for
the 31 mile route, £8.00 for the 22 mile route and £7.00 for the 12.5 mile route,
and this includes refreshments, a hot meal, and use of the showers at the end of the day. The Gatliff
is tough, and it can be cold, wet and muddy, but the sense of pride and achievement
at completing such a demanding test of stamina and endurance far outweighs any
drawbacks that the race might have!
Recommended for: Athletes who want an ultimate test of their capabilities, and feel comfortable with orienteering!
Race: Grim Challenge
Location: Aldershot, Hampshire
What it is: Now with two separate races held over one weekend due to its increased popularity, the Grim Challenge is an 8-mile off-road challenge that takes places over the Army's vehicle testing tracks. The course involves long hills, water-filled ravines, uneven rocky terrain, crawling under camouflage netting and wading through large puddles - so all competitors are guaranteed to get a little bit wet! Prizes are issued to the first 5 men and first 5 women who cross the line, and there are also prizes up for grabs for teams of 3, based upon the individual positions of the team members. A free 'survivors' T-Shirt is handed out to those who complete the course.
Recommended for: Runners who want something different from normal cross-country or road races.
Race: Tough Guy
Location: Jenny Walker's Lane, Wolverhampton
What it is: Priding itself as the world's 'safest most dangerous event', the Tough Guy competition is definitely not recommended for inexperienced runners or those who have a fear of heights or enclosed spaces. Held at the end of January, the event consists of a cross-country run followed by a very physically- and mentally-demanding obstacle course full of wall climbs, wading through swamps, narrow tunnels and walking over lakes - with a total distance of around 7-8 miles covered. Though none of the challenges are mandatory, the event usually takes place under freezing conditions and should only be undertaken by those in peak physical condition. Despite being a very gruelling challenge, the Tough Guy attracts around 6,000 competitors a year, and each event raises thousands of pounds for charity. There is also guaranteed to be a great camaraderie between competitors!
Recommended for: Fit runners who want to boast that they gave the toughest physical challenge in the world a go!