Why were 380 people running around Thetford Forest in the dark on an October Friday night?

PUBLISHED: 07:58 19 October 2019 | UPDATED: 08:36 19 October 2019

Lee Youngs (left) and David Powles pre Night Trail

Lee Youngs (left) and David Powles pre Night Trail


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The start line at Night Trail 2019The start line at Night Trail 2019

When I signed up for the Thetford Forest Night Trail it was still summer and the prospect of running through the trees on a Friday evening felt like brilliant fun. As a regular race runner around Norfolk I'm always looking for quirky and interesting events to take part in.

However, gazing out of my office window a few hours before the race at the incessant October rain pouring down, as well as the ocassional flash of lightning I'm suddenly wondering whether this is a good idea at all?

I mean what plonker would sign up to a 10km race, in the woods, in the dark, in this weather?

But I needn't have been concerned, as this was genuinely one of the most enjoyable, refreshing and liberating runs I've ever taken part in.

The finish line at Night Trail 2019The finish line at Night Trail 2019

The event is one of a series introduced by a group called Night Trail and manned entirely by volunteers. Whether you are into running or not, the amount of people around Norfolk prepared to give up their time so events like this can happen is staggering.

Driving to the High Lodge start point with my friend, we half expect to get there and be confronted by one man and his dog, having no idea whether there are others out there who share the view that running through the forest at night is an appealing way to spent your Friday evening.

The car park is already heaving, however, and around 380 people have had the same idea. As they congregate at the start line, the sight of hundreds of people wearing head torches in the middle of nowhere is a joy to behold.

My biggest fear at this point is injury. A head torch can only highlight so many trip hazards and dangers and I know a few runners who are not taking part for that very reason.

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The race begins and a snake of brightly lit runners makes its way into the forest, weaving around trees, avoiding puddles, trundling up hills and along tracks.

It's great fun and once I get my bearings and work out a comfortable pace in such bizarre circumstances, it quickly becomes clear there is something magical about this run.

I quickly work out a few tactics. If you slot in behind another runner you can use their steps as a warning for any potential hazards. The runners themselves are also shouting out to warn others if they spot a potential problem.

I take it slow through the small, skinny trails, where overhanging trees add to the list of things to watch out for, then sprint where the route opens out a bit. It's weird not knowing or being able to see what you are running on next, especially so when trekking up a hill which never seems to end!

At one point I decide to take a look behind me and quickly stumble over a tree route. It acts as a reminder you can't switch off for a second when taking part in a race like this. That becomes even more important for the last few miles when the tiredness kicks in and it becomes harder to lift the legs.

After about 45 minutes of running, by which point the race has stretched out and you feel quite isolated and alone, a beacon of light appears in the distance. The finish line is near.

I cross the line in 11th place, feeling happy and triumphant, the adrenaline running through my veins.

What a superb event, hurry up with the next one please.

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