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  

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The training run that involved singing ‘Jerusalem’

* MANLY BEACH: a great place to train barefoot, but beware the rugby mobs

STRANGE things can happen on training runs. Exactly ten years ago today I remember setting out for a steady six-miler, only to have it brought to a juddering halt by the triumphant World Cup-winning England rugby squad!

Yes, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson, Ben Cohen, Clive Woodward and all the rest of them. In the flesh. They were all there, all to blame.

The entire track-suited squad, complete with trophy, big smiles and huge hangovers, emerged from their seafront hotel a couple of miles north of Sydney at exactly the moment I was passing.  There was mayhem as they staggered onto their team bus, which was quickly surrounded by swarms of English fans who appeared from nowhere.

Most of the fans had spent the last few beer-sodden hours getting wet in the rain and slowly making their way from the Telstra Stadium a few miles away to this hotel on Manly Beach, intent on prolonging the celebrations and serenading their heroes. But I was a mere passer-by, only out for a training run, now well and truly enmeshed in the middle of the mob.

Id not come to Australia specifically to see the World Cup its timing was just a happy accident - but now that I found myself just inches from the England heroes behind the tinted glass windows of their bus, I had little alternative but to join in raucous choruses of 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' and Jerusalem'.  I normally have little interest in the oval ball game, but sticking it up the Aussies in their own backyard doesnt happen often so I'd been as pleased as anyone when Jason Robinson went over for that try and Jonny Wilko drop-kicked the winning points the previous day.

It quickly became clear my training run would have to be abandoned, right outside the foyer of the Manly Beach Pacific Hotel so suddenly in fact I barely had time to even press the pause button on my Garmin.

Mrs C-O-R and I were in this neck of the woods to do a few months of house-sitting and dog-sitting for our good friends, the surfer dudes Bev and John, who were off on a lengthy charity trek around the edge of NSW, pedalling and kayaking all the way. My plan was to spend this time writing my book on old-time running champion Alf Shrubb, and getting in some good quality training in the fabulous surroundings of Sydneys Northern beaches.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to find that injury, as well as rugby celebrations, curtailed my training a little, but overall the sun, sea and ambience were good for healing purposes and I returned to the UK in better shape than when I left it!  The book also went well and, being in Australia, I was able to get introduced to the great runner Ron Clarke who kindly agreed to write its Foreword.  

Sydney and its hinterland is of course a great place to be if you like the outdoor life, but despite its sporting bent I was surprised at how few races I was able to find during our five-month stay. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but all I could find in the December was a 10k and 5k being staged in the city as part of the Sydney Marathon Clinic programme, and then the following month Australia Day was marked by an 8k contest in Centennial Park.  

Races may have been scarce, but great training routes were plentiful - and the superb Manly Beach option proved much easier to negotiate once Jonny and the boys had gone home with the cup!

Monday, 4 November 2013

575 acres, 323 runners, 646 mud-caked shoes

As if the water hazard wasn’t enough, I got a thumb in the eye
from Witham runner Claire! Or maybe the camera is telling fibs?

SHORTLY before he expired, Johnny Cash recorded a haunting song about a man who goes around taking names.  A man who decides who to free and who to blame.

Chelmsford’s answer to that man made his annual appearance in Hylands Park last weekend, exercising his strange and dangerous powers over 323 runners who assembled obediently for their Sunday morning punishment in this green corner of the city.

The man’s name is Kevin and, where the 53-12 Cross-Country League is concerned, he shows no mercy. If the 575 acres of Hylands Park has any muddy or flooded bits, he will find them with his inner water diviner and divert his race route through them.  Not past them, but right through the middle of them.

Kevin’s favourite thing is positioning a marshal to block access to a wooden bridge, thus forcing incredulous runners away and into the black morass below.  No, I take that back. His favourite thing is actually forcing runners into steep-sided water-filled ditches for a few dozen yards, allowing them to escape and then directing them back down again.

But the amazing thing is not the way Kevin deliberately makes his friends and rivals suffer, it’s more the way that 323 of us willingly turn out on a sunny Sunday morning to submit to his whims.

Despite knowing in advance that vast amounts of mud and pungent water would be involved, bright colourful shoes and glittering new running kit was in abundance at the start.  Well, this was the beginning of a new season and the sun was out after all. My clubmate Paula was one of several rather optimistically sporting new, bright pink footwear. And the hordes from the Witham club turned up in dazzling new tops, although at least these were largely black – the same colour as the mudpools that  awaited us.

In the mayhem of the start area, the signal to begin racing involved a curious sound, reminiscent of a police siren or a burglar alarm.  Or perhaps Kevin had found a wah-wah pedal, discarded here by a guitarist at the last V-Festival? Made a change from someone shouting "Go"' anyway.

My club Tiptree Road Runners (just 63 members) are now competing in Pool ‘A’ of the league after promotion last winter. Alongside the bigger clubs from Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford, we feel a bit like the equivalent of Crystal Palace, cannon fodder arriving wide-eyed in the Premier League. But we believe we have the spirit not to sink out of our depth. Oh yes. No ditch is too deep for this plucky squad. Typical of the Tiptree M.O. was the member who’d been rendered unfit to run by a Norfolk beer festival, but willing to compensate by recording results and taking photos. Not forgetting another member who chalked up a good result despite running with only one eye in working order following surgery.

The sight of Ipswich JAFFA’s international runner Helen Davies floating over the mud with apparent ease was a thing of wonder, and tended to make the rest of us feel clumsy and pedestrian. Some of the myriad photos published on social media afterwards had a similar effect. Those gentle but relentless slopes inside Hylands Park look remarkably benign in photos and, of course, the pictures don’t do justice to the fierce winds either.

646 muddy feet will have needed considerable attention in the shower on Sunday afternoon (apart from Helen’s perhaps). But most of them should be clean and mud-free again by the time we point them towards farmland just outside Harwich on December 1, which is the 53-12 League’s next instalment.  The race director that day won’t be Mudmeister Kevin, but the punishment will no doubt be just as potent.

* 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:    


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

And now for something completely different....

"Go careful out there folks!"

THERE was a runner in flip-flops, a runner saving a drowning man, and runners lost on a remote sea wall. There were even a few snakes knocking about.

Welcome to Saltmarsh75!

The event more than lived up to its promise as the newest and wackiest event on the running calendar in Eastern England. Around 100 heroic figures wound their way, sometimes painfully, up 75 miles of the Essex coast via its myriad estuaries and marshy inlets. Some ran, some walked, some were attached to dogs.

Many finished their ordeal wide-eyed, telling tales of remote, silent stretches of sea wall where they didn’t see any other form of life for aeons.  Luckily the sun shone brightly otherwise all those war-time pillboxes, abandoned Land Rovers and other mysterious remnants along the Dengie Peninsula would have seemed downright spooky.

The silence was broken only by the cries of seabirds and puffing and wheezing of the weary travellers, but there did come a point when the sound of female swearing filled the big Essex sky. In the Dengie nobody hears you scream, but this incident happened over the water near the vast metropolis of Tollesbury.  Tiptree Road Runners’ very own Jo Roblin is not cowed by a marathon or a triathlon, but when it comes to snakes crossing her path, decorum and restraint goes right out of the window.  Her sudden surge of leg speed when the ‘anaconda’ made its appearance was unprecedented.

Jo bravely foiled the evil snake, but in the hero stakes it would be hard to top the efforts of Adam Richardson, another Tiptree runner.  Adam popped up at various places throughout the two-day event, playing a support role to girlfriend Maxine, who spent an awe-inspiring 20 hours and 33 minutes on her feet in order to finish. Adam’s presence at a spot near the Goldhanger checkpoint was particularly apposite – for here he saved someone from drowning!

In case you think I’m overdoing the hyperbole, I am assured the story is true. The man who narrowly avoided a watery grave had in fact gone into the water to pull his dog out of danger, but got into difficulties himself. Growing more tired by the second, he was unable to pull himself out and Adam swooped to the rescue, hauling him clear of danger. Apart from being wet through and exhausted, man and dog were apparently none the worse for the adventure. Now Adam is one of our club’s most promising runners, and by all accounts a decent carpenter too, but his skill-list definitely doesn’t include swimming (like many a runner – we have heavy legs, you know), so his actions were all the more praiseworthy.

Not quite as heroic as Adam were the quartet of lead runners heading out of Steeple at the start of Day 2 of Saltmarsh75. This group included yours truly (it’s a bloody long time since I was in a leading pack, I can tell you). Convinced we were supposed to head along the coastal path to Maylandsea (for that’s what it says on the tin), we nonchalantly ignored our written route instructions and made for the sea wall on the edge of the Blackwater estuary. Wrong.

This section had been deemed unfit for human passage by the race organisers and they’d switched the route. Which we would have known had we read our instructions, of course. In our defence, encouraging us on our way was an old chap who looked to all intents like a race marshal, but turned out to be plain old Joe Public (or it might have been Fred Bloggs, I’m not quite sure).

The lack of a hi-vis jacket on his person should have made us suspicious, but the way he waved his arms and pointed us towards the sea wall meant we had no reason to suspect he was any of the following: (1) the local village idiot; (b) an over-enthusiastic ex-traffic cop; (3) a race saboteur; (4) a daft old trout.
I suspect the best explanation for his actions is the one from an academic source – deep in the bowels of Essex University – from where another of my club colleagues, Paula Rothero, has posited the theory that the man was in fact a personification of cartoon character ‘Wile E.Coyote’.  Some of you will recall that Wile was the feckless creature in the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts, the character who constantly tried and failed to foil the progress of Road Runner (‘beep beep’). See what Paula is getting at there?

Anyway, those of us who ran Saltmarsh as mere minions in a relay team are now genuflecting in wonderment at the achievement of the brave 39 master athletes who managed to cover every single mile of the 76.35 over two days - especially club colleagues James Haskey-Jones (8th) and Tracy Harrington (10th and first female).

Congrats also to organiser Roy Read and his team.  Saltmarsh75 was long, it was tough, it was thoroughly mental. But it was undoubtedly a big success.

* 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:    


Monday, 19 August 2013

A quick poppy rekki

* 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:    

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

One hell of a relay: Ipswich-Harwich-Blair Witch!

Important to get a feel of your baton before you start !

I FIND it helps to focus the mind, not to mention the legs and lungs, if you divide the running year into seasons.

Therefore I have declared the next couple of months as the 2013 Relay Season. Hoist up thy batons and run!   

Like many a runner, we at the small-but-perfectly-formed Tiptree Road Runners like to spend the summery weather outside of our comfort zones. This year that means pitting our wits against the bigger boys and girls in team relay events.

We have four relays over the next 12 weeks and we’ll be in there with the best of them, exchanging slippery batons, soiled wristbands, or simply touching hands, whatever the race officials require.

Relay-running is as old as the hills, and probably started when messengers passed on news during wartime in ancient lands. Nowadays we have no messages to pass on, we just do it for the hell of it.

First of the quartet is this Sunday’s Ekiden event in the well-kept 60 acres of an Ipswich college. The Japanese invented Ekiden running, the first one a grueling three-day affair in 1917. This week in Ipswich things will be a little easier, with teams of six tackling a mere 26.2 miles around the college fields.  

It promises to be a notable occasion as our big red club gazebo will be making its public debut!  With our upright banners flapping alongside, it should make an impressive sight.  Upgrading to this level of equipment shows we mean business. 

Flying your flags like this makes it easier to gather your flock together before an event in order to talk tactics, distribute numbers and supply safety pins to the forgetful.  And if it gets hot or wet, you can dive under a gazebo for shelter. The luxuries we modern runners enjoy know no bounds.

More physically demanding than Ekiden will be the Thunder Run relay in Derbyshire later this month. This jamboree lasts 24 hours, including eight hours navigating paths, woods and fields in a rugged country park after nightfall. Imagine ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in running kit and you’ve got the idea. In Catton Park nobody hears you scream.

Here our 16 runners can each expect to run three separate 10km laps during the 24 hours . Not too demanding for a marathoner, but in my case that’s a week’s mileage in one day. I may hide a bike in the woods for use during my third lap. Three hard 10ks in 24 hours? I didn’t even do that sort of thing when I was young, fit and foolish.

After the Thunder Run is done, we’ll need a change from running round in circles. So what could be better than point-to-point action in God’s Own County?  The first day of September heralds the ten-stage Essex Way Relay, a rural journey of 83 miles from Epping to Harwich.

You benefit from prevailing winds behind you on this jaunt, and there’s always the thought of the chip shop near the finish line if you need extra motivation. Of course you can get fish and chips in Harwich any old time, you don’t have to run there for the privilege. But they slip down better if you’ve earned them.

A fraction shorter than the epic Essex Way is a brand new event this year, the Saltmarsh 75, which from all accounts might prove a lot harder than its inland opposite number. It winds along the 75 miles of mostly wild and lonely coastline under the control of Maldon District Council. If you thought the start at Burnham-on-Crouch was a thinly-populated backwater, wait till you see the finish at Salcott-cum-Virley! Media types who think Essex is nothing but fake tans, stilletos and nail-bars should come and see this one.    

The late Jim Peters, arguably Essex’s greatest-ever runner, would be baffled by the way the county is represented in the TOWIE show, but would definitely approve of our 2013 relay-running scene. He loved a good relay did Jim, and, were he in action today would have been a solo entrant for the Saltmarsh 75 and perhaps the Essex Way too.

Jim was in the news only last week and I was pleased to play a part. The old running track in Mayesbrook Park, Dagenham - where Jim trained and competed in the 1950s -  was officially re-named ‘The Jim Peters Stadium’ complete with a new Olympic standard track in the shadow of the impressive Sport House complex. Borough Archivist Tahlia Coombs had pushed for Jim to be recognised in this way and as author of his 2011 biography ‘Plimsolls On, Eyeballs Out’, I was invited along to take part in the ceremony.

Good job a spin round the new track wasn’t on the agenda, as your Clapped-Out Runner currently has an achilles tendon of the strained variety.  It’s an injury that has ruled me out of the Ekiden, but wasn’t too severe to prevent me limping to the microphone in Mayesbrook Park to tell the youth of today (700 of them) a bit about old Jim Peters and his exploits of 60 years ago.

* Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) 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:    

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Legs that move a little too much!

A RUNNER’S injuries come in many shapes and forms. To prove it, this week I have been mostly suffering with tennis elbow and restless leg syndrome.

I know what you’re thinking. Neither of these ailments are normally caused by running. I wouldn’t disagree. In fact, my proposition is that they were actually brought on by NOT running.

Over a recent 14-day period I committed the cardinal sin – I made the decision I was simply too busy to run. My excuse was a pretty good one, however, for we were moving house. But, as a wise man once said: “A runner who is too busy to run, is too busy.”

My average weekly mileage – on the low side for several years now – duly plunged even further. But did this respite allow old injuries time to heal? Did I get a rest from the usual minor aches and pains? Not a bit of it.

It’s clear now that the big mistake was to appoint myself as chief and sole removal man for all the goods and chattels of Mr and Mrs Clapped-Out Runner. Most people bite the bullet and entrust this work to a removal firm, but donkey’s years as a runner meant I had supreme confidence in my basic fitness and stamina to cope with all the lifting and shifting on a solo basis.

Now I know what Eddie Izzard feels like on his marathon-a-day projects.  What I’d forgotten is just how much gubbins can be acquired by one household over the course of a few years. CDs, vinyl, books and other publications filled several dozen boxes alone – and that was before even starting on little matters such as furniture.

Do you realise how heavy boxes of vinyl LPs are? How heavy a complete set of Mojo magazines is?  And don’t suggest I flog them on e-Bay, I’ve heard that one before. Several times.

The real killer was that all the van-loads had to be moved TWICE – i.e. from old house to storage, and then from storage to new house. The legacy of all this was a full set of bodily aches and strains, bruised shins, and a painful case of tennis elbow.

And, on top of that, the Restless Legs Syndrome. What causes RLS is a bit of a mystery. Judging by the stuff you find on the internet, it’s largely a mystery to the medical profession too.

Club colleagues at Tiptree Road Runners reckon restless legs is common among runners. During a training run the other night, one of our group told the tale of his spectacular twitching foot. He said this rather embarrassing involuntary movement can only be stopped by quickly downing a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

“Oh that’s nothing to worry about, I have that too,” piped up another of our group – presumably referring to the twitching, and not the wine consumption.

My own legs and feet occasionally take on a life of their own after dark, moving around in the wee small hours in a desperate bid to become comfortable, and often waking me in the process.

Restless Leg Syndrome is the umbrella term used for all this sort of thing, but there appears to be no simple antidote or explanation. Opinion varies over the underlying causes; iron deficiency, too much alcohol and/or caffeine, dehydration, arthritis, vitamin imbalance have all been mentioned.

If you, dear reader, are a sufferer and have any helfpful suggestions, please respond below!  Stretching or getting up and walking around can bring temporary relief, according to many. Others stick their leg out of the bed covers and push against a cold wall or floor.

Some say a cold shower is the only answer, while lying on your front on the floor for 30 minutes is another bizarre (alleged) remedy. Other people - around 1.6 million, including yours truly - have felt it helpful to join a Facebook group called “Sleeping With One Leg Out of the Covers”.

This group’s motto is: “Blanket on – too hot; Blanket off – too cold; One leg out – perfect!”  I somehow doubt whether this group will ever come up with a seriously effective remedy for restless legs, but maybe the simple process of getting out of bed and logging on to their home-page will be enough to do the trick?

* Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively:    

Monday, 20 May 2013

The bleakest, most hardcore run you’ve ever done?

The 'end of the world' in Essex  (Andreas-Photography).

THIS could be the best, most uplifting run you’ve ever done. On the other hand, if the weather turns grumpy, it could be the bleakest horror show you’ve ever experienced in running shoes.

And not knowing which of these scenarios might play out is what makes this event so intriguing!

So where is it? Well, strangely enough it’s tucked away here in Essex, in a part of the county relatively few people know about. It goes along a stretch of coastal path described thus in an award-winning book: “As hostile and remote as it is unique and noteworthy.”

Once you’ve left the start area and covered a few miles you’ll be about as far from T.O.W.I.E. as it’s possible to be – without actually leaving the county of Essex!

The location and format is a brilliant idea. It’s a 75-mile foot-race that is apparently the brainchild of local runner Roy Read and Maldon District Council. Ultra-runners can enter and have a crack at the whole 75 miles, or you can club together in relay teams of anything between 2 and 12 people. It covers a 75-mile route northwards - beside river and sea all the way - from South Woodham Ferrers to Salcott-cum-Virley, and will span the two days of the first weekend in October.

Many lovers of wild places will already know the nature of this territory, but it seems likely a large proportion of the field of runners will be heading out into the great unknown.

People have been transfixed by the landscape around the coastal edge of the Dengie Peninsula for many decades. Authors and travel journalists have used the phrase “end-of-the-world landscape” time and again. Apparently H.G. Wells was inspired to write War of the Worlds here and Alfred Hitchcock is said to have filmed part of his horror film The Birds here.

As well as a huge sky, there are surreal juxtapositions of man and nature in the salt marsh: a loud generator, a cluster of containers, a microwave transmitter, the wreck of Darwin’s Beagle and the oldest intact Christian chapel in England dating back to AD 654. There’s an old World War II fighter plane training area, and remains of artillery and aircraft paraphenalia can be seen at low tide.

Starting at S.Woodham Ferrers, competitors will follow the River Crouch until it meets the North Sea, before turning left through the remote Dengie Marshes to Bradwell-on-Sea at the mouth of the Blackwater Estuary. An overnight stop at Steeple will offer respite until morning, when the remaining 37 miles along the River Blackwater, through Maldon, Heybridge Basin, Tollesbury and Goldhanger will climax with a final challenge:  five miles in Old Hall Marshes nature reserve, ending up in the hamlet of Salcott-cum-Virley.

Race organizers warn: “This event is no stroll along the river. Large swathes are uninhabited, isolated and raw, presenting a psychological challenge as well as a physical one. A prevailing wind can make the district a tough place to be. You’ll need both strength of mind and of legs to conquer one of Britain’s true remaining wild places.”

Entries open on Monday June 3 to individuals, relay teams or single-day runners. There is camping and breakfast provided at the end of Day One in Steeple. More information is on the main website or via e-mail at   or you can follow ‘Saltmarsh 75’  on Twitter or Facebook.

The route follows the public footpath along the top of the sea wall coastal defences as much as possible, so is extremely flat and navigation is straightforward,  but participants will be very exposed to the elements for most of the way. If it’s windy - and it often is - you will know about it!

Less than five miles is on surfaced paths. The rest is on grassed paths and across fields. Therefore, trail shoes would be ideal although road shoes will be fine if the weather is dry leading up to the event. There will be 12 manned checkpoints offering basic refreshments and medical support.

The setting for the race was given high profile by a recent BBC2 documentary based on Robert Macfarlane’s superb book The Wild Places. In this, Macfarlane wandered around Essex “looking for wildness” and confessed to being astonished by what he found on the Dengie Peninsula.

As he gazed out over the saltmarshes he said: “It’s hard to find space like this in Britain – to be able to look out at the horizon and find your eyeline unbroken. It’s like a paraphrase of infinity. Extraordinary.”

Macfarlane strolled along the path where Saltmarsh 75 will be run and somewhere between Burnham and Bradwell, on the lonely sea wall, he sat down and spent the night - just for the hell of it! Just to taste the remarkable isolation and tranquility. There was no artificial light for miles and no other people or noise. He was amazed by this “eerily intricate region” where the saltmarsh stretches out in an ocean of grass and seems likes Essex’s own prairie.

Hopefully all the runners in Saltmarsh 75 will be well past this spot by the time night falls on October 5th, because it truly was, as Macfarlane noted, “The darkest, loneliest place in Essex.”

* Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively:    


Friday, 3 May 2013

The Strange Tale of the Great Race-Number Cock-Up!

The race number that launched a thousand quips . . . .   

WHAT’S the daftest thing you’ve ever done with a race number?

Whatever your guilty secret, you’d have to go some to match the true confession I heard this week. It involves a runner who went into panic mode when the race number for his debut half-marathon plopped on to his doormat Wednesday morning.

After ripping open the envelope, our hero (who calls himself ‘Ant Knee’) was baffled by what he saw. He immediately logged on to an internet forum to get advice.  Runners are known to be a helpful and friendly lot, and he got a big response. Here’s the edited highlights:    

ANT KNEE: “I'm running my first half-marathon on Sunday. I received a letter today containing a piece of paper on which I have to fill in my personal details. I’m guessing that under some foam on the paper there is the micro-chip, as it says on the strip of foam ‘Do Not Remove’. But there is no race number. So will I get my race number on the day? And what is this piece of paper?”

COUGIE: “What's on the other side of the paper? Is there by any chance a number? Because that sounds an awful lot like a race number to me! If it’s blank take a magic marker to it. They usually put your race number online or on the envelope.”

THE DUKE ABIDES: “I'd love not to have a race number. Annoying, fiddly beasts. It’s one of the reasons I love Parkrun!”

ANT KNEE: “There’s no visible race number anywhere. I now see there are two strips of foam, both saying ‘Do Not Remove’. So I’m guessing it’s under one of those. I guess I'll be given the race number on the day? Will I have to buy some safety pins or do you think I'll be given some?”

MEDIVALERT: “The pieces of foam sounds very much like the timing chip I had on the back of my Reading Half-Marathon race number, so I definitely wouldn't take them off . . ."

STUTYR: “It does sound like the race number with the chip embedded in it. Most races use a separate plastic chip that goes on your shoe, but I did a race recently that had something similar to what you describe. Is the other side of the personal details sheet blank, or does it have some markings on it?  It’s possible it went through the production process and missed the printing of the number?”

COUGIE: “The sheet with the personal details and chip attached to it with foam will definitely be your number. If it’s not printed on the flip-side they've messed up. Ring them.”

ANT KNEE: “The other side of the paper says Lichfield Half-Marathon then there are four downward lines underneath. I reckon the lines are my number which hasn't printed properly. I have now phoned the race organiser and he asked me to send him a picture of it via text. Not sure how many others have been affected like this. Will have to see what he says.”

ANT KNEE: “OK! Mystery solved! I'm a bit red in the face. The race organiser came back and said he wouldn’t embarrass me further, and told me my race number is 1111. LOL! I can be such a plank!”

CALUM CRIGHTON: “Ha ha – brilliant!  I was going to suggest it was 1111 . . .”

PUDGE: “Priceless! Good luck in your race, Ant.”

DAVID FALCONER: “To be fair it does look like a bar code . . . I remember being taught in primary school to always do a ‘1’ with a little line underneath and the diagonal line at the top for this very reason. Tell ‘em to use a different font next time!”

ANT KNEE: “Ah well, at least I now I’ll always have an amusing story to tell regarding this race!”

The above exchange caught the imagination of internet browsers everywhere and the story appears to have ‘gone viral’ as they say. The fact that ‘Ant Knee’ came clean and laughed at himself meant messages were virtually all sympathetic and everybody wished the poor stressed chap well in his first half-marathon. Rarely can an unknown runner have received so many ‘good luck’ messages from strangers.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t get confused when he reaches the roadside 11-mile marker on the big day!

* * * 
Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively:  

Thursday, 25 April 2013

My claim to London Marathon’s overtaking record!

LONDON: Keep calm and have a banana!
ONE of my favourite moments during the BBC’s annual coverage of the London Marathon is always that lingering shot of the very back of the field, as everybody waits for the start on Blackheath and in Greenwich Park.

Among those waiting patiently at the rear will always be the heftiest of the fancy-dress costumes, of course, but lurking among them will be a few unencumbered runners, who look suspiciously slim and fit and have no obvious need to be running from quite this far back.

I know what these scamps are up to, because back in 1988 I was one of them!

Every year you get a few, like me in ‘88, who arrive at the start area with a cunning plan. They want to start their race at the very rear of the field, stone-cold last, just to see exactly how many runners they can overtake during the 26.2 miles of the world’s greatest race.

It’s a good game, especially if you are running with no particular time target. It can yield statistics to be proud of - but I can promise you it’s the type of thing you only do once.

Overtaking is no easy process when you are confronted by people dressed as hippos, deep-sea divers and pancake-tossing waiters. Then there are walkers, stumblers and those zig-zagging with collection buckets. That thin blue line painted in the road to indicate the shortest route is not something you see very much of.

Back in 1988 Garmin devices weren’t around, so I can’t be sure, but I reckon I ran at least 27 miles, maybe more, with all the veering and body swerves that became necessary to make decent progress.

I believe I was successful in starting at the very back of the race, and even left a nominal 25-yard gap to allow for stragglers on the other start-line. That year there were 20,889 finishers and my twisting, dodging run of 3hrs.44mins gave me 8,808th place. That means 12,081 successfully overtaken!

Could it have been some sort of record to overtake and beat more than 12,000 runners in a single race? I’ll probably never know, but it kept me amused and motivated on a day when I knew I wasn’t likely to achieve a PB.

I have to confess that all seven of my outings at the London Marathon were not  treated by me with the seriousness of most of my other 900-plus races. It was always a fun day out as far as I was concerned, and not the type of event to bust a gut in. This attitude was based on my realisation that shorter distances suited me far better when in serious ‘racing’ mode.

Nowadays, with the desperate fight to get places in these mass participation events, my cavalier attitude would probably be condemned as “a waste of an entry.”

But my mitigating circumstances are that my place in the race didn’t deny any earnest charity runner his or her number, because I’d been awarded a complimentary entry from the organisers. Back in those days if you were a sports journalist and a runner, and promised to give the London Marathon maximum publicity in your particular organ, you were welcomed with open arms and given a special free ‘media’ number.

Apart from being able to sidestep the laborious entry system that faced Mr and Mrs.Normal, this had other perks too. A week or two before race day you could join the other journos, plus race founders Chris Brasher and John Disley, in Wales or Scotland for a few days of fell running, and other highly sociable activities involving foaming ale and pubs with roaring fires. The admirable Brasher would hand out generous amounts of free kit supplied by Reebok. We were like kids at Christmas.

These excellent mountainside gatherings would also inevitably include a late-night pub quiz, with Olympic gold-medallist Brasher the quizmaster. I’ll never forget his stunned reaction when I was able to correctly identify the barefoot winner of the 1960 Olympic marathon (Abebe Bikila).

Impressing a man of Brasher’s standing felt like one hell of a result at the time. It even overshadowed my performance at the marathon itself a week later!

PS: I've just been told that Sonia O'Sullivan overtook 25,000 runners in the 2010 Great North Run in a special charity challenge. Bang goes my hopes of a record. Mind you, I don't think hers beats mine because: (a) It was only a half-marathon; (b) She was a full-time elite runner with coach, sponsor and personal masseuse;(c) Money was at stake. 

* * Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus others) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively: