|* Best to check both ways . . . .|
BAD-tempered horses, frightened pensioners and high-speed trains. Just three of the hazards you don’t expect on a gentle run across the Essex countryside.
All I had planned for Sunday morning was a quiet test-run for my latest injury; a very low-key reconnoitre of my allocated stage on the forthcoming Essex Way Relay. ‘Reconnoitre’ is a tricky word to say, let alone spell, so luckily my clubmate Tina has introduced a new term for us to use: ‘Rekki’.
When gingerly doing a ‘rekki’ with a sore ankle, you probably don’t need your run to be incident-packed. On the other hand, when things start kicking off you do tend to forget about the wretched injury, which might actually be helpful.
Anyway, Stage 8 of the Relay is an eight-mile jaunt from chocolate-box village Dedham, past the magnificent folly of Mistley Tower, and up to Bradfield. They give you written route instructions, but you can also look for the little red poppy motifs that are pinned to signposts. My former neighbour Germaine Greer led the campaign to make the poppy the official flower of Essex, so in her honour I like to look for these signs rather than fiddle with paperwork.
With my injury-hit lower legs encased in enough strapping and medical gear to supply a small hospital, I bade farewell to the silent occupants of Dedham cemetery recalling the instructions to turn left after finding the “red dog loo”. The first hazard presented itself less than 400 metres away. It was nothing to do with my injury, or canine toileting, but a big sign that warned: “Don’t touch the horses – strangles has been found in this area.”
Strangles is apparently a nasty contagious disease that can give horses a scabby face, runny nose and depression. And guess what was blocking my path to a kissing gate? A large scabby-faced nag, face covered in flies and looking thoroughly depressed with life.
To use the gate without touching him would have been impossible, so I vaulted a barbed wire fence further along, at which point I spotted an elderly couple cowering to the rear of the horse, desperately wondering how to get through the gate in one piece. I heroically tried to entice the horse towards me, to allow them free passage, but it failed to work. Depressed horses tend not to do what you ask.
Eventually the old folk scurried off to another corner of the field to find a different road to freedom. Let’s hope they were successful and found their way back to Dedham and a nice tea shop with a free table inside. When you’re old and shaky, a cup of tea will usually sort you out (so I’ve been told).
As the miles ticked slowly by I found my troublesome Achilles was coping better than expected. This was due, I presume, to the Incrediwear sock support recommended to me, which was snugly encasing the affected area. It’s made of bamboo charcoal and germanium, which sound bizarre ingredients to find in a sock, but there you go.
This magic sock helped speed me onwards and I galloped like a horse without strangles as I came upon the grassy slope which takes you down and over a railway line. I reached the safety of the other side just seconds before the 12.32 from Liverpool Street to Manningtree thundered by. You have to keep your wits about you on the Essex Way.
My truncated ‘rekki’ of Stage 8 ended as planned beside an ice-cream van on the banks of the River Stour. I’d swerved all the diseased horses, electric fences and speeding trains, and, what’s more, the injury felt OK. It was time to spend my lottery winnings of the previous day (£10 of your British pounds) in quiet celebration.
Talking of celebrations, a remarkable tale has emerged from the running club down the A12, our friends Springfield Striders.
A few days ago their chairman Kevin received a phone call from a stranger hundreds of miles away who’d found a camera beside a road somewhere in Hampshire. He’d examined its contents and found pictures of a woman giving birth and of a man running along in a Springfield vest (not in the same shot, I hasten to add!).
The pictures looked rather intimate and precious, so he took the trouble to track down Springfield and its chairman to see if they had clues as to the camera’s owner. Now our Kevin is well known as a man who loves to see fellow runners suffer in the ditches and rivers of Essex, but this weekend he proved he actually has a heart of gold. He dropped everything and quickly posted news of his phone-call on social media in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Within mere minutes his message was seen by Simon, a fellow Striders runner. Simon has a Hampshire-based brother, recently did a race down there in his club vest, and his sister-in-law recently gave birth. Bingo. Job done!
It was a positive result for social media, and also a good advert for always wearing your club vest when running on foreign soil . . . .
* Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running are now available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each, in addition to paperback format. Use this link: Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon or, alternatively: www.robhadgraft.com