Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Tiptoe through the tulips, blunder through the bluebells . . .

Pod's Wood: The calm before the Tiptree Road Runners storm!

TINY TIM tiptoed through the tulips back in the 1960s and it helped him reach the top of the pop charts. Tiptree Road Runners blundered through the bluebells this week, and all we got was a series of dirty looks from dog walkers.

Actually not a single bluebell was harmed in the making of our training run. We made sure we kept strictly to the straight and narrow path (which is probably more than Tiny Tim ever did).

Yes, if you went down to the woods today you would have had a big surprise, for instead of a teddy bear’s picnic there were hordes of runners, many cursing loudly the fact they were wearing the wrong type of shoes for this jolly training jaunt.

Our newly-formed team of coaches at TRR likes to spring surprises on us (it’s their way of keep us fresh and interested I suspect). Hence this week Phill decided an evening among the bluebells was called for. He didn’t seem at all concerned by the waterlogged ground and flooded pathways, in fact I suspect these features held more appeal for him than the bluebells themselves.

My sturdy trail shoes are normally kept in the back of the car for such occasions as this, but having been pounded and drenched to within an inch of their life two days earlier,  they were still hanging out to dry at home and unavailable for combat. Hence my lovely white Asics road shoes were pressed into action and soon proved conclusively they were simply not  built for one of Phill’s carefully-planned mudfests in Pod’s Wood and surrounding area.

Pod’s Wood – now there’s an unusual name, I hear you cry.  Who was this Pod? And how come he had his own wood?  It’s hard to pin down exactly who Pod was, but his wood sits between the villages of Tiptree and Messing, around 8.5 miles to the SW of Britain’s oldest record town, Colchester. The area of forest known as ‘The Rampart’ is said to have been the site of a famous bloody battle between the occupying Romans and feisty local girl Boadicea (why does everyone called her Bouddica these days, by the way?).

Boadicea and her fierce Iceni blokes had done a pretty good job of attacking the Roman stronghold of Colchester, but when the enemy called reinforcements in, she is said to have croaked in a nasty way here in Mr Pod’s territory.  There’s nothing left in the area to prove this theory - no wrecked chariots littering the wood, for example, although I think I did spot the remnants of an old pushchair in a ditch.

It was a large TRR training group which stampeded through these trees this week, and the sound of our advance might have shaken up a few ancient ghosts on the battlefield. In fact it was probably the biggest single invasion at this spot since those Romans. This time, however, proceedings were mostly very friendly and good natured.  Mind you, a few unkind words were directed at our leader Phill when he repeatedly forced us to negotiate major puddles and water-jumps. He did later confess the route had actually been carefully researched and those water hazards were no accident. Suspected as much.

Essex is said to be the driest county in the UK and we are simply not used to getting wet feet in the month of May. However, this training run proved very nearly as wet and mud-spattered as the trail races of 48 hours earlier, staged a few miles further south in Hockley Woods.

Although I can report that Hockley was an enjoyable event, it was once again marred by my getting temporarily lost midway through. This time, at least, I do have someone at whom to point the finger of blame. In fact, there was a group of them.

Yes, you women of Springfield Striders, you stand accused of causing a major distraction, leading to a navigational malfunction on the part of one of your competitors, namely me.

When fellow runners compliment you on your socks, you have to do the decent thing and be polite and respond. Especially when these are female compliments.  And thus there was a short but detailed discourse during which I explained why I was wearing long red football socks in a running event. 

While all this was happening my concentration on the route instructions wavered and I missed a turning altogether. Only about half-a-mile later did I realise these chatty Striders were doing a different route option to me, and I should not be running alongside them at this point. It took many minutes of head scratching, U-turns and hard running to recover the situation.

The organisers of the event had offered three different routes and wittily called their extravaganza ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.  Going for quality rather than quantity, I had opted for the super-sprint shortest route, not expecting it would get controversially extended.

Hockley Woods is a surprisingly attractive and tranquil area considering how close it is to what a writer or film-maker (I can’t remember which) labelled the ‘Essex Badlands’.  For those into Bruce Springsteen, this region is a sort of UK equivalent to his gritty New Jersey homeland. Instead of Asbury Park, we have Westcliff-on-Sea; instead of Thunder Road we have Thundersley Road; instead of the Jersey Turnpike we have the A13 trunk road. You get the picture.

Historical footnote No.1:  Tiny Tim was an eccentric ukulele player with a falsetto voice, who was big in the late 1960s. Nobody who heard him sing could quite explain why. He attempted a comeback by performing with Camper Van Beethoven, an American band with possibly the best name in rock history.

Historical footnote No.2: The village of Messing (population 250) is not just famous as a training ground for Tiptree Road Runners. It also has important connections to the White House in Washington DC, and if you pop into All Saints Church you can buy a coffee mug bearing the motto: ‘Messing: birthplace of Reynold Bush, ancestor of George Bush, President of the USA.'  Yes, honestly!

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