mundane adventures in running
I’d both feared and hoped for rain. While streaking through the woods in wet and and wind would have been unpleasant, there would have been something exhilarating and authentic about it. Sadly, or luckily, the weather was beautiful, sunny and crisp.
Backtracking… after hearing about naked runs in North America, I’d hoped for wild crazy and free affairs with whooping and woad covered bodies, runners getting natural, getting naked and communing with nature. Reluctant to get arrested for breach of the peace for parading my junk through the parks of South East London, I looked for naked races in the UK. There were two, one a dilettante romp around London Zoo to save the tigers, seemed far too tame, and besides I really hate zoos really quite a lot. The second was the British Naturist Foundation 5k, looping round a woodland course on a private estate, no charity involvement, no sponsors, it felt far more like what I was looking for.
The race is held at a nudist camp in the edge lands of London, where the city’s suburbs start to disintegrate into scrubby countryside. I walked from the railway station to the venue. A nasty scrubby path through unloved estates, under thundering main roads, past landfill sites. We colonise the fields here, nature takes them back. sprung carcasses of burned beds poke through the blue bell lined woodland floors. Concrete underpasses are quickly covered in primal graffiti replete with spurting cocks.
The closer I got to Brocken Hurst, the more wild the countryside seemed. Abandoned coppice woods reached up to creaking canopies. I eventually found myself at an imposing electronic gate where two red faced tabarded men smilingly ebulliently welcomed me and ushered me to the reception where registration was taking place.
Banter. There was banter. I’m not great at banter, but especially not when nervous at the prospect of racing, and at the prospect of getting naked. It made me more awkward, more nervous.
I headed to registration and was struck by flesh. The car park attendants where wearing tabards but nothing else. There’s something obscene and farcical about the combination of high vis and cock and balls. it just doesn’t make sense. I wanted to tell them to put some clothes on, or take some off but wasn’t sure which. I held my tongue.
Registration was much as you’d expect. I’d been asked to bring ID to register. I went to the office and showed my passport and a bank card and found myself having a peculiar and slightly terse conversation with a race official about why I didn’t have ID with proof of address. It was strange to have a mild bureaucratic spat with a fifty year old woman with a perfectly even all over tan and massive, unclothed boobs.
Next step was to strip down to my waist to have race numbers scrawled on my arm and chest by another large breasted naked woman. She was some combination of matronly and saucy, reassuring and raunchy. More banter… you doing him with lipstick… that’s your trademark isn’t it… oo, this is a hairy one, I don’t know how we’re going to get it on him… ooo, you like them hairy…. i do i do… stop it, he’s half your age…
I kept my trousers on. I looked for some kind of moral support. The two guys behind me were talking about feeling nervous, so I latched onto them. I introduced myself, and we chatted. This was their first naked race and their first experience of nudism on such a large scale.
We took a very matter of fact walk around the course. About three quarters of the runners doing the walkthrough were naked. It is odd having a conversation with an utterly naked stranger. Odd that you can talk about tri transitions, favourite trainers, upcoming events, nutrition tips. I got chatting to Dave, more of a naturist than a runner, who told me about nudist walking events he and his wife liked to go on. Dave was typical of most of the naturists I met that day: he was kind, welcoming, non judgemental. He unquestionably enjoyed nudity and wanted to share the experience with other people (but then also wouldn’t particularly care if they didn’t embrace it.)
By the end of the briefing, I felt a bit more comfortable. Any idea that this might be in any way a sexy event had been erased from my mind. The fairly mundane chats, the brazen relaxedness of the runners, the pre race jitters combined to give me a feeling the opposite of an erection. I slipped into the locker room, stripped completely, so all I was wearing was my wedding ring, and headed back to the start line.
It was a cheery, smiling, jokey crowd. we were noticeably male, and noticeable white. a Few of the very few women were wearing sports bras, a couple of the guys were wearing caps, glasses, armbands. Everyone was wearing trainers and socks. I decided to brave the chestnut spikes and went barefoot. The bits of clothing spoilt the effect for me, it would have been more visually arresting had everyone been completely bare.
My plan had been to take the race easy. I’d had a cold in the run up to the event, and had drunk the better part of a bottle of wine the night before. I figured it would be nice to just enjoy the experience, and to really relish being naked and running. At the start line, though, I changed my mind. I figured that it wasn’t going to be the beautifully natural and liberating experience I expected, so decided to just run. The whistle went, I started slow and at the back of the pack, but after the first 200m muttered a ‘see ya’ to the guys I’d been talking to and picked up my tempo.
The tracks were narrow and shaded. There were a fair few roots (kindly picked out in white spray paint) stones and spikes. It wasn’t an easy course, especially not barefoot.
I felt strong, and free and powerful running naked through the forest. While it was hard to forget the ridiculousness of the situation, it was also hard to ignore the glory of it: naked, every muscle on my body visibly flexing as I sprang, darted, cornered, spurred on by smatterings of spectators along the side of the track.
I kept accelerating, and could feel my power surging through the race. The further I got the faster I became, until I started to to wonder if I was near the front.
At the final stretch a slight uphill on a stoney path I gave it the last of my energy and belted it to the finish line, sweaty and panting. I took my number, and was placed 6th, 20.13. Not bad. I stretched as modestly as I could, watched the remaining runners come in.
When all was done, it was a bit of an anti climax. I lurked about for a bit but eventually just started to feel awkward. I showered, dressed and sloped off back to the station and back to London.