|The Harvest Hobble 2013.|
Since moving to Grantham some six years ago, I have been meaning to get to the Lincolnshire Wolds. I'd heard a rumour that there were hills to be found and the temptation of running through 26 miles of a new area with a bit of hilly terrain seemed to good to miss. I had not heard of the Harvest Hobble before until a club mate passed me a flyer at the previous week's Ponton Plod. Apparently the event hasn't been run since 2003 but a new LDWA organising team led by Terry Baines is bringing this excellent event back to life.
The are two route choices 13 miles and 26 miles. The 26 mile route begins at Ludford some way North East of Lincoln and passes through Tealby - Walesby - Otby House - Normanby le Wold - Acre House - Nettleton Grange - Rothwell - Thoresway - Stainton le Vale - Binbrook - and back to Ludford. There are four checkpoints, each providing the weary runner with cake and juice and there are a further three self clip points.
As we left Ludford at 8am a, Paul Elliot ran off fast in front. He was wearing a bright orange t-shirt which I thought might help my navigation but within the first three miles Paul had run out of sight. He went on to cover the ground in a whizzo 3 hours and 35 minutes. I was left behind with a group of two other local runners. I thought that running with local folk would also be beneficial in terms of finding my way but I had to have a pit stop before the first checkpoint and the two in front (and another bloke that came through) ran ahead leaving me to run this event on my Jack Jones. I decided to follow a map instead of using the route description. It worked well. I didn't get lost.
This event was run in excellent conditions. Some late summer sun illuminated the harvested landscape. The trails ran through, or adjacent to ploughed, drilled fields. The promised Wolds hills were more like undulations but the undulations provided a stiff test. The gradients were mostly not long enough to excuse walking but they were definitely steep enough to make running hard.
On the way to Otby House my map suggested I was approaching a self clip. It is easy to miss a self clip, usually they consist of a small hand held metal or plastic scissor like clamp which runners use to clip out a piece of their tally cards to prove that they have visited a particular point on the course. I was concentrating hard on locating the self clip and was relived to see it on top of an isolated stick at the side of the track. When I got closer it seemed the self clip was but a simple plastic clothes peg and I was confused about how the peg with its smooth interior would cut a hole out of my tally card. I stood by the side of the track pressing the clothes peg hard against my tally. It didn't matter how hard I pressed, it was smooth and it was not going to leave an imprint, I couldn't understand it. Eventually the runner behind caught up with me and suggested the clothes peg wasn't the self clip. The self clip was at least 200m further along the track. Oh dear...More than slightly embarrassed I journeyed on to find a proper metal clip device adjacent to a fence post a little bit further along the trail.
I wonder if someone from the adjacent farm had put that peg out as a joke. It was so obviously the self clip it wasn't funny! I suspect the joker responsible was watching me fumble around from an behind an adjacent bush or something - grrrrr.
I felt good as far as Rothwell but I noticed that on the way to the second self clip I was being caught by a runner behind. It didn't feel like I had slowed down but I had to put in a bit more of an effort to avoid getting caught. By Rothwell there were at least four runners in front of me but I couldn't see them even on the long straight sections. The sun continued to shine and I enjoyed finding my way in the still frequent undulating and unfamiliar location. At one point on the course I passed a gaggle of deer and at another I was running at a field edge adjacent to a horse and rider. It was great to be in the glorious outdoors and was worth the 5.30am wake up.
There was a long straight road after the checkpoint at Rothwell and despite filling up on cake and juice the extra pace on the tarmac took it out of me. I was looking forward to a drink at Stainton le Vale (18.6 miles) and was disappointed to arrive to remember that the checkpoint was another self clip with no refreshments. My body was slowing down dramatically, it was time to dig deep and shuffle on.
On the way to the final checkpoint at Binbrook a herd of brown cows came careering towards me. The farmer had just left the wide open field in his 4x4. I don't if the cows thought I was the farmer returning with food but they certainly seemed pleased to see me. I wasn't as pleased to see them. I ran faster than they towards the nearest fence. When I arrived at the sanctuary a staring match ensued between me and the cows. It was a proper stand off and I got a bit cocky knowing I could scale the fence if their curiosity turned into a charge. The staring match continued as I stealthily tiptoed round the field. The diversion took me off route and it took some time in the adjacent fields before I could relocate with the map, I thought I would be caught by the runner behind but when I got back on the route I checked behind and there was no sign.
I was grateful to reach Binbrook at about 22 miles. I had kind of had enough by now and was struggling to keep the legs turning. I drank the juice I had been awaiting since Stainton, ate some more cake and carried on. During the final section I began to catch up some of the walkers doing the 13 mile route. It meant I could concentrate less on thumbing the map. Acknowledgements were mutually shared as I passed each walker and eventually the village of Ludford came into view - phew.
The road through the village back to the finish seemed to take forever and I was grateful to arrive back fifth in 4 hours 10 minutes. I enjoyed butternut squash soup and skipped the rice pudding with fruit in favour of a pint in a local pub. I was grateful to the two local runners in front of me for suggesting areas worth visiting on the way back to Grantham. The Wolds was a great area and a bit like the Harvest Hobble it is a bit of a hidden gem.
Thanks to Terry Baines and the team, especially the checkpoint volunteers, the cakes were especially good!