It was that time of year again … time to dust off the fell shoes, get out the buff, hat, gloves, waterproof (jacket and trousers), Saltwell vest, map and compass and head off to my favourite race of the year – The Hexhamshire Hobble.
This was a race I first ran in 2011 then again in 2012 so having missed a year, I was looking forward to once again ‘dancing’ on the common – which is so often what it feels like when you’re avoiding ice, bogs and deep water – well if that other favourite of mine could be a waltz (the Anniversary Waltz) why couldn’t this be a jive, samba or a cha cha? There certainly felt like a lot of rhythmic change and careful placing of feet during the course of the run!
The day began with a rendezvous between myself, Jamie Ferguson – who kindly offered to drive us there (well … Leigh did on his behalf), Rob Brooks and Chris Kennedy. As the temperature gauge dropped in the car, thoughts turned to the course, the possibility of snow, the strong winds and, of course, the fact that Jamie was only wearing shorts!
We arrived in good time to find Jim and Gemma already there. They had been regaled with stories of how awful the course was this year – full of 7ft deep water holes and lots and lots of mud! This was confirmed by other runners taking delight in telling us what lay ahead.
Thoughts then turned to what to wear. Should we start with the waterproof on or off? That was the question. Whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous weather (and Hamlet thought HE suffered!) or whether to cover up in full waterproof garb. As Rob and I looked around, we realised that we felt positively underdressed. And I was, at the time, looking like Dick Turpin with hat, gloves and full face cover!
The race began swiftly, after the obligatory Saltwell ‘before’ photo, and made its way out of the school field, down through the village and up and up and up and up on a tarmac hill towards Allendale Common. It was freezing but I still hadn’t removed any clothing by the time we got to the top which is usually the case for me. Confronted with mud and lots of water and stones and boulders, we picked our way up towards Stobb Cross then on towards Ladle Well where it was particularly muddy – multicoloured mud at that!
As I began to approach Hangman Hill we experienced the beginnings of snow and the wind was becoming brutal. It was hood up and push on time. Jumping from one side of the water to another to avoid the boggy areas, it was difficult to look ahead to see what was coming. I shouted my number to the marshal – 24 … it’s 24 – who then shouted it to another marshal who had her back turned to protect her from the biting conditions. A left turn took us along to King’s Law which saw blizzard conditions as we were running along through the heather. Runners were regularly stopping to zip up coats, re acquaint themselves with their gloves and hats and fasten laces. I was so pleased that there was someone in front of me with a bright red jacket so I could use that as a beacon in the whiteout.
As we ran through the trenches between the heather, I managed to have my first fall of the day when I took my eye of the ground for a second and tripped over a large stone – not recommended!
By the time I had reached King’s Law, the sun had returned and I managed to have a chat with another runner who had run off road in other countries but was a first time hobbler. She was looking much fitter than I felt.
The next part was a tarmac road which was a bit of relief before we reached the dreaded hill near to Westburnhope. This was a killer! Reaching the top, I heard someone say that we’d reached 7.5 miles … another 3 miles to go and the wind was now blowing me backwards – yes, you guessed … one step forwards, one step to the side and one step back … it was the waltz, at last! Although it didn’t feel anywhere near as serene as a waltz and I certainly didn’t have that lovely straight upright core position that so many dancers have – more like the image of a bent over, knock kneed hag from Owen’s World War I poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’!
I struggled on as if in a drunken stupor then, at last, like a mirage on the horizon, I saw it … the gate that led to the tarmac road that led to the descent that led to the finish line! Hurrah! Suddenly, I had a new lease of life.
I ran past some people at the aforementioned gate and headed for home to be met by Gemma, Rob, Chris, Jamie and Jim who had stoically waited in the cold for me to return. Chris had arrived first in 1:23:08, closely followed by Rob in 1:23:49, then Gemma, who gave an outstanding performance as the second senior lady home in 1:26:49, Jamie in 1:37:40 then little ol’ me in 2:06:40 – and I didn’t feel like jiving at the end! A great Saltwell performance.
It wasn’t my best time but it’s still my favourite race and it was great to meet and make friends with Saltwellians who I hadn’t known previous to the event.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering … Jim stayed at the school and ate all the cake!