Monday, 12 November 2012

The Hobble, The Boggle and an Elf or Two

At the Hylands Hobble all you get is pain and a pint!
Craig Dawson (4th) is planning to use his big red blister as
a rear tail-light when training at night.

THE running scene around these parts is definitely getting weirder.

This morning I received an e-mail which urged me to grab my off-road shoes and get myself down to a remote spot in Essex called Chigborough Farm next month.  

Apparently they want me there because of the following: “Naughty elves have hidden some of Santa’s sacks and only you can help to find the missing presents and return them to Santa in time for the big day.”

I’m not sure why, but it struck me fairly quickly that this event was probably not one of those deadly serious, stringently-regulated fixtures in the Run Britain Grand Prix series.

Your Clapped-Out Runner would be delighted to experience something new after 30 years in the sport, but I must admit I never expected that ‘naughty elves’ would be playing a part in my running career.

It turns out the hunt for the stolen goods is actually being cunningly disguised as a six-mile trail race open to all. Presumably government cuts have hit Essex Police hard and they’ve come up with this novel way of recruiting voluntary help as they go about their business in the Maldon area. As everyone knows, runners can be relied upon to trudge for hours across the countryside, whatever the weather, for long distances. Police officers don’t generally like doing that sort of thing, so they’ve called in us runners. A clever plan.

Apparently we’ll be given written instructions and sent out on Sunday morning, December 23, across an area that includes Chigborough Lakes, a 46-acre nature reserve north of the Blackwater Estuary.  A number of large but shallow lakes could pose tricky navigational issues here, especially if we get distracted by the otters or smew that sometimes visit (smew is a splendid word, don’t you agree?).

The organiser-in-chief of the whole affair, Dave Game of Mid-Essex Casuals, is naturally not revealing the exact route we will be taking. Like one or two other local race directors, he loves to spring surprises and the details are no doubt stashed away in the vaults of a bank in Witham, under armed guard.

So without the full facts available, we can only speculate where we might have to run in pursuit of those allegedly criminal elves. Maybe we’ll be guided across the causeway to nearby Northey Island?  Springfield Striders' race organiser Kevin Wright has recently condemned us to many and varied ‘water hazards’ - but those will seem like child’s play if we’re expected to reach Northey Island when the tide is in.

History tells us that 1,000 years ago a band of Viking raiders seized control of Northey. When the local hero Earl Byrhtnoth came along and told them to bugger off, even he was delayed by the tide. He was soon wiped out by a poisoned spear, so maybe he shouldn’t have hung around like he did.  His fate should serve as a lesson to those of us who will be running in this area next month. Just remember to keep moving.

The area has a fascinating history, and the arrival of colourfully-clad runners next month is merely the latest of many unexpected developments in this quiet part of secret Essex.  For example, a famous bloke by the name of Norman Angell turned up in the 1920s, flashed his cash and was able to buy Northey Island, lock, stock and barrel!

He soon designed and built a towered house and its surrounding turreted walls that survives to this day. You can even stay there on holiday if you can afford to. Politician and author Norman doesn’t seem to have encountered too many planning problems with the council back in the 1920s, but when you are on the verge of a knighthood and the Nobel Peace prize, you can probably take a few liberties if you need to. Norman was only five foot tall, incidentally, so maybe this business about elves is something to do with him?

I suspect the trail race will be well attended by members of my club Tiptree Road Runners, particularly as it’s been chosen to launch our brand new internal trail competition. This is being masterminded by our newly-crowned ‘Club Person of the Year’ Wendy Smalley.

In highly optimistic fashion, Wendy is demanding that we carefully tailor our personal fixture lists so that we compete in at least 10 out of a series of 12 carefully-selected events over the next nine months or so. If we bow to her pressure and comply, she has promised to implement a cunning system of point-scoring that will eventually see one of us emerge as a trophy winner.

It is rumoured that even getting spectacularly lost will not harm our chances, for there could be extra points for episodes of high comedy that may accidentally occur. Wendy has yet to confirm whether the champion will be dubbed Trailer of the Year, Champion Navigator of the Year, or maybe even Elf Chaser of the Year?

Glancing through the weekend’s results and at the 2013 fixtures, I must come back to my assertion that running is getting a bit weird these days.  

Yesterday (Sunday), the good citizens of the Birthplace of Radio were scared to death by dozens of passing mudded, bloodied figures taking part in the ‘Hylands Hobble’. The race was so tough that even the winner took an hour-and-a-half, while the tailenders are probably still out on the edge of Chelmsford right now.

Despite these scenes of carnage,  I understand that a few of my clubmates are now planning to have a crack at what is known as the ‘Braintree Boggle’ in February – another eccentric off-road race, but this one more than twice as long as the ‘Hylands Hobble’!  Good grief.

* Check out Rob Hadgraft’s running books (published by Desert Island Books) at

This, folks, is a smew. But, of course, you knew that already.

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