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: