Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Saltmarsh 2014: Panic on the streets of Tiptree!

One man and a dog - It's a busy day on the Saltmarsh route!
THERE was momentary panic on the streets of Tiptree last night in the build-up to the big Saltmarsh ultra-race at the weekend. The anchor-leg runner in the village running club's relay team encountered a horrifying incident which involved a washing  machine, her race number, and a bottle of Lenor (the one with 'Spring Meadows' fragrance).

Returning home from a club training run on Tuesday evening, Valerie (for it was she) hurled her running kit into the washing machine, setting the programme for a robust 1hr 40 mins at 60 degrees centigrade. The churning was well underway by the time the awful truth dawned: Inside the pocket of her running trousers was her precious Saltmarsh race number. It had been folded and labelled neatly inside a brown envelope by diligent relay-team organiser Wendy. Now it was turning to mush!

Quelle horreur! Valerie's shrieks could be heard for miles across the flatlands of the nearby Dengie Peninsula. "It won't stand a chance!" cried the distraught Normandy-born athlete. After a quick glass of Shiraz to help calm herself down, she did what all modern runners would do - she posted the awful news on Facebook.

Messages of sympathy flooded in as Valerie contemplated the brand new problem she'd created in addition to the nerves, stress and logistical issues that would accompany this weekend's big race along the Essex coast. 

But wait! Early this morning, unexpectedly good news began to emerge. The cherished race number apparently went through its soapy ordeal without major damage! Tiptree's carefully-assembled relay team could breathe again. When she brings the team home on the final stage, Valerie will be properly dressed after all!

She emerged this morning to issue the following statement: "Well, as it turns out it's all absolutely fine! I got the brown envelope out and the number is still intact - just a little bit cleaner and smelling of spring meadows, courtesy of Lenor!"

What this little domestic crisis does illustrate is that the numbers being used by the two-day Saltmarsh event are tough and built to last. This could be crucial, because the weather forecast for the Maldon area this weekend involves rain on the first day (70 per cent likely apparently). Light rain is expected throughout the middle part of Saturday, when runners will be making their way along the infamous third stage between Burnham-on-Crouch and the remote Othona Community site near Bradwell-on-Sea. The race organisers, rather ominously, refer to this section of over 13-miles as "the big one" and the award-winning book Britain's Wild Places identifies it as "the darkest, loneliest place in Essex". Trail Running magazine recently gushed about its dramatic and bleak beauty, calling it "wild, remote and isolated."

Runners from local clubs and much further afield have signed up to tackle the entire 75-miles plus over the two days, with those of a more cautious nature buddying up as relay teams. Your correspondent fell into the latter category and, what is more, wasn't brave enough to volunteer for the fearsome Stage 3 described above either. Maybe next year?

Instead, I find myself again manning the opening stage of Day 2. This leg, from Steeple to Maylandsea, is relatively short, but there was still time for a small bunch of us to go wrong at last year's inaugural event. We added some difficult and unnecessary terrain to our journey in 2013 and must have annoyed the hell out of our relay partners waiting up ahead for the imaginary baton to arrive! The reason for our navigational cock-up remains a mystery, but I can promise we definitely didn't go off course because we were distracted by looking for the wreck of Darwin’s Beagle, or trying to identify wading birds or the fascinating remains of artillery and aircraft paraphernalia to be seen at low tide.

The hardy souls doing the full distance all alone will no doubt be a bit more careful when it comes to navigational issues, especially as their task is rumoured to be nearer a hefty 79 miles than the 75 in the race's name. Here at the Tiptree club we are well represented this weekend in the 'solo' race. Our line-up includes last year's top female performer Tracy, and our up-and-coming ultra star Mark L, who has swapped the adrenaline of motorbike racing for legging it across vast swathes of countryside. His namesake Mark S is settling for two legs of the relay, a chance no doubt to loosen up in advance of his band Mouthful of Ashtrays appearing at Colchester's Bullstock music festival in a week's time (blatant plug alert). And, of course, going solo will be experienced campaigner James, whose relationship with mud in the Maldon area is legendary - a love affair that has even seen him feature on broadcast media in the Far East, believe it or not.

The coastal route between the start in South Woodham Ferrers and the finish at Salcott-cum-Virley is one of Britain's least populated areas, but if you do happen to be passing, give that wind-battered runner an encouraging cheer or two. They will need it!

* Rob Hadgraft's books now all available as e-books for Kindle, via:
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