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: