Thursday, 28 November 2013

Ruby’s big adventure at the Chelmsford 10k

Ruby, Ruby, Rubaayyy..…..

I've always liked a good coincidence.  And here’s one that amused me last week . . . .

As some of you may know, on Sunday 24th November 1963 a shady character called Jack Ruby famously stepped out of a crowd and shot dead the man accused of assassinating President Kennedy. 

Well, EXACTLY 50 years later – almost to the hour – on Sunday 24th November 2013, there was another incident which caused the names ‘Jack’ and ‘Ruby’ to become newsworthy (in Essex road-running circles anyway!).

Nobody was shot, and this incident didn’t make global headlines, but a runner called Jack and a dog called Ruby did achieve their 15 minutes of fame on social media . . .

Our story begins a couple of miles into last Sunday’s annual Chelmsford 10k road race.  As the field of 408 runners approached the tiny village of Chignall Smealy (stop sniggering, it really is called that), three dogs in a nearby house got highly excited and came scampering out to see what the fuss was about. Chignall Smealy is in a quiet rural area and the sound of 816 feet pounding the lanes outside was highly unusual and of great doggy interest.

The trio of hounds shot out into the Mashbury Road, not far from the village church, ignoring their owner’s desperate calls. Two of them were soon rounded up, but one of them – a beagle called Ruby – couldn’t resist joining the race and was soon galloping happily alongside the runners.  She seemed particularly attracted to the yellow-and-white kit of local club Springfield Striders (48 of them in this race), and one of their members in particular - 27-year-old Jack Willis.

Now Jack is a decent runner (last month alone he managed an 18-minute Parkrun, 63mins at the Tiptree 10 and under 83mins at the Essex half-marathon),  but little Ruby had no trouble keeping pace with him.  Of course, she did have the advantage of four legs.

Jack and the others around him admired Ruby’s pluck and stamina, but as the miles started to go by and she showed no sign of stopping, concern for her safety began to grow.

Through Chignall Smealy they went, along winding Mashbury Road and towards Chignall St James past various farms. Her canine friends may have long since gone, but Ruby seemed determined to get to the finish line at the Melbourne Park Athletics Centre.

At first it had all been quite amusing – but gradually the smiles began to disappear as it dawned on the runners that before long they would be back in busy Chelmsford and little Ruby would be in serious danger from the traffic.

Jack took up the story later: “The dog ran with everyone for a good few miles and was loving it. It wouldn't have enjoyed it so much when we headed back into town though. So when I came to the next marshal point, I picked the dog up and asked one of the spectators to give me a lift back to where the dog lived. While I hadn't actually seen it escape, I knew roughly where it was, so it wasn't too difficult to find the house and the owner was very grateful."

Other runners noticed Jack shuttling back and forth and a couple of his clubmates admitted they thought he had got into some sort of trouble and was either lost or injured.  But Jack - presumably now covered  in dog hair as well as his own sweat - was dropped back at the roadside by the sympathetic spectator, and simply rejoined the race.

He says he wasn’t too upset at having to sacrifice a good time, and eventually came home in 45mins 18secs anyway, a clocking well short of his best but still good enough to finish in the top half of the 400-plus field!

Many runners had noticed Jack with the dog in his arms and his ‘Good Samaritan’ act attracted much praise afterwards, particularly on his club’s Facebook page:  “God knows where the dog would have ended up without Jack doing what he did” said one colleague.  Another Springfield Strider reported that Ruby’s owners had been in touch with the club and were keen to contact Jack to thank him properly. He certqinly did agreat job - for it would have been very easy to simply treat Ruby as someone else's problem and get on with his race.

Jack modestly admitted he hadn’t been running at his best when Ruby intervened - but the chance of a PB might have been a possibility.  If he keeps a training log it would be interesting to know what he has pencilled in there to explain a finish-time eight minutes slower than expected!   

* 16 books by Rob Hadgraft available via  

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