Round Rotherham 50 – Race Report

ROUND ROTHERHAM 50

20 OCTOBER 2012

RACE REPORT

Photo by Armada Photography

Position: 5th out of c300 starters

Time: 7 hours 19 mins 47 secs

Distance: 50.5 miles, 2,630 feet of ascent

Photo by Hannisze

Preparation

This was my longest ultra race so far, and my preparation had gone pretty well.  The race came 5 weeks on from my surprising run at the High Peak 40 mile race in mid-September.  I’d completed that race only 2 weeks after starting to run again after a 2 month knee injury – I’d intended to run only half the course but ended up completing all 40 miles.

My knee suffered a reaction to the High Peak 40, not surprisingly, and I was forced into a couple of weeks of inactivity while it recovered.  But I then managed a couple of good training weeks, running 50-60 miles per week, including some good reccying of the course with Frazer (Hirst).

I then had 5 days of complete rest before the big race, so was feeling good.  I was pretty nervous though.  Ultra running (especially distances over 50km) is still fairly new territory for me, and in my previous race of this type of distance (48 miles along the Thames) I’d gone off fast and blown up quite spectacularly.  So I had to try and get a balance between targeting a fast time and not overdoing it too early on.

A rubbish night’s sleep on the Friday night was not the best of starts.  I guess it’s never going to be great when the alarm is set for 3.30am!  I’m a bit nerdy about my pre-race eating (and then my pre-race toilet trips!), so I like to get a bowl of porridge down me about 3 hours before the race…..hence the very early start.

Anyway I was off just before 5am, picking up Frazer and another guy, Trevor.  A cup of tea on the way was slowly helping me to wake up, and I was feeling OK by the time we arrived at Dearne Valley Sports Centre about 5.50am.  That left plenty of time for registration, and for my usual warm up, stretches and several toilet trips.

As we waited outside, it looked like being a cracking day.  From the early morning darkness, a spectacular sunrise was emerging in the distance.  That was enough to persuade me to wear just my Dark Peak vest on top, with no other layers.  I’d stuck another layer in my drop bag, which went off to the mile 30 checkpoint – so if I got it wrong then I’d only have to freeze for 30 miles.

7am, a countdown from the race organisers and we were off!

Photo by Hannisze

The first 10 miles – Dearne Valley to Grange Park

I was targeting an ambitious time of below 7 hours 30 mins.  The terrain is faster on the first half so I was aiming for 3 hours 30 mins for the first 25 miles, leaving some room to slow down over the heavy fields in the second half. That meant 8 ½ minute miles for the first half…… so a 7 minute first mile was not in the plan!  I kept telling myself to slow down, but wasn’t doing a great job of it.  I did stop myself running with the 2 leading packs, as they sped off into the distance, and I promised myself that I’d slow a little when I got off the boring road section after about 1 ½ miles.

Soon we crossed a bridge to leave the road….CRASH – I was flat on my face!  At the pre-race briefing we’d been warned about the slippy bridge…and I’d clearly paid no attention whatsoever!  I picked myself up, and gingerly started running again.  Worryingly my previously injured knee felt a bit sore from the fall.  But as I chalked up a couple more miles, my body seemed to get over this shock and I felt OK again.

I was enjoying chatting to a number of runners in this early section, most with very impressive ultra CVs – particularly the guy who had recently returned from the Spartathlon and who had done 9 Comrades Ultra marathons in 9 years!  Much respect!  We usually had quite brief chats and then I slowed down and left them to speed off into the distance!

After 5 miles we left the tarmac footpath and entered the muddy woods!  Time for some slippy, sloppy fun!  I’d been running at close to 7 ½ minute mile speed – this was worrying me after my Thames Trot experience earlier in the year.  At least the mud slowed me down for a while.

I ran the next 5 miles through to Grange with Frazer and Jai, enjoying some good chat.  I was also enjoying the lovely early morning sun, which was burning off the low mist which had been hovering over the fields and rivers.  I never expected the Round Rotherham to be this picturesque.

We reached the Grange Park checkpoint, at just over 10 miles, having clocked around 8 minutes per mile.  Still too fast, still worried…. I do need to chill out a bit!  But aside from that, and my early bridge crash out, it had been a really enjoyable first stretch.

Grange Park to Treeton – miles 10-17

The next 3 ½ miles were the only part of the course which I didn’t manage to reccy…..and I was to pay for this….

The pleasant greenery continued for another mile or two out of Grange Park.  I continued running with Frazer and Jai, although a couple of other runners were close behind us.  I think we were around 12th to 15th position at that point.

After 12 miles near disaster struck.  By this time we’d left the countryside behind and were running through an industrial area.  As we joined a path alongside the railway line, I found myself crashing to the floor and down into a big gap full of nettles and thorns between the path and a security fence.  Another runner kindly pulled me bag to my feet, but my legs and hands were covered in blood.  Closer examination revealed that I had a large gash in my middle finger on my left hand, with blood pouring out.  It later emerged that the council had built a new security fence with spikes sticking out – my finger and hand had gone into the spikes when I slipped on some leaves.  I think the new fence had also made the path narrower.  A number of other runners fell there on the day, and I wasn’t the only one who ended up with stitches being required…..

Maybe I should have paid attention to this sign!! Photo by Hannisze

I was worried as to whether I could continue.  I wasn’t in too much pain, but I was losing a lot of blood.  I wrapped my finger tightly around my running vest to try and stem the flow of blood, and I tried to press on to the next checkpoint where I hoped to get some first aid assistance.

Of course, this meant I was running effectively only one arm, and that meant I had no balance when going down hills.  I fell at least another 3 times during the 5 mile stretch to the next check point, including once down the stone steps going under the Sheffield Parkway.  Feeling pretty fed up, I pressed on and just about stayed close to Frazer and another runner show we chatted with.  Jai had pushed on strongly ahead.

Eventually we reached the Treeton checkpoint at 17 miles.  The marshalls there were extremely helpful.  We tried and failed to stop the bleeding with elastoplasts and some tape.  Eventually we used a whole roll of bandage, tightly wrapped round my finger and that seemed to stop the heavy flow of blood.  The marshalls seemed surprised that I planned to continue.  I wasn’t convinced myself but wanted to press on to the next check point and see how I was there.

The picture of my running shorts below gives an idea of the damage caused!!

Treeton to Harthill – miles 17-25

I left the Treeton checkpoint feeling pretty downbeat, although I was relieved that we had stopped (or at least slowed) the bleeding, and that I had a chance to continue.

I had lost a lot of time – certainly over 5 minutes, probably nearer to 10 with my various extra falls….  It had been really frustrating to watch countless runners arrive at the checkpoint and pass me while I received first aid treatment.  I tried to press on quite hard to regain some places in the field, but taking care not to overdo it.

I climbed the hilly path out of Treeton, knowing that I needed to turn right at some stones at the top of the hill.  At that point I saw a large group of runners – in my still quite flustered state, I decided that these were local runners out for a Saturday run and not part of this race?!  I therefore ignored the route they were taking and turned sharp right, clambering over the large stones, and headed down a ploughed farmers field towards the water.  About half way down I questioned myself.  I was not on a path, and was sure from my reccy that I should have been following a clear path.  I could see the other runners descending towards the water but on a much better line, and realised that they were racers.  I back tracked and cut across the field to join the correct path, feeling fed up – more time lost!

I pressed on through the woods, passing this large group of runners.  As I carried on I passed 2 fellow Dark Peak runners, Jim Fulton and Richard Hakes, who stopped to take my photo (shown below).  Seeing the familiar brown vest gave me a good boost.

 Photo by Jim Fulton/Richard Hakes

 As I pressed on over the A57, I sensed another runner close behind me.  It was Mark Liptrot, who I recognised from previous races this season.  Mark’s presence was forcing me to keep up a fairly fast speed.  I probably should have let him past, as I still wasn’t in a great frame of mind and was not feeling too good after my numerous falls.  I needed a bit more time to have some relaxed running and pull myself together.  But I pressed on, largely keeping just ahead of Mark and clocking up the miles at around 8 minutes per mile.  Looking back, this was just what I needed and helped me gain some valuable time on runners further ahead.

We entered Rother Valley Country Park and we bumped into the guy who Frazer and I had been chatting to before Treeton checkpoint.  This gave me a boost, as it meant I had got a good amount of lost time back.  We had a good chat about fell running, Bob Graham Rounds etc.  This was very helpful to distract me through this long seemingly endless stretch, which could otherwise have ground me down.

As we passed under the M1 again and turned right towards Woodall, I had another boost as I saw Frazer’s bright yellow top ahead.  I thought I wouldn’t see Frazer again before the finish.  I must have made some really good time on this stretch.  I pushed on up the hill in pursuit of Frazer, and was able to keep around 50-100 yards behind him across the final fields before the Harthill checkpoint.

Harthill is the half way point (25 miles) and I arrived there in exactly 3 hours 30 minutes, which is a speed of around 8 mins 30 secs per mile.  This was exactly what I had planned before the race, to allow for a slower second half.  Of course it might have been quicker but for my big crash and gash at mile 12…..

All in all this had been a very good stretch.  I had no idea what my placing was in the field, but I had got back a lot of time which I’d lost through my injury.  I felt like I was back in the race.

Harthill to Woodsetts – miles 25-31

I didn’t hang about at this checkpoint, grabbed a quick drink of water and was off – moving ahead of Frazer in the process.  Soon I was back crossing more fields.

Not long after the checkpoint I started to catch a runner in front of me.  He looked to be struggling, and I then passed a man angrily waving at stick at his dogs.  As I overtook the runner I checked if he was OK and he explained that the dog had just bitten him….. not what you need half way through a 50 mile race.  I saw the same runner at the end of the race, so he did finish.

This whole section is almost all fields and pretty countryside.  I really enjoyed this.  My aim for the second half of the race was to do it in 4 hours, which is about 9 ½ minute miles.  Expecting to tire in the later stages, I decided to push on at a good speed for as long as I could early in the second half, to get some miles in the bank.  I kept going at a good 8-8.30 minute per mile speed, feeling pretty strong.  Again Mark Liptrot was close behind me for much of the section, which ensured I kept up the pace.

I think part of the reason for me feeling so good was that I was eating well.  Having started with a few Cliff shot bloks, then some dried pineapple and some dates, I was now mainly eating my wife Kate’s home made flapjack – packed with seeds, nuts and general good nutrition, these were going down great and really keeping me going.

The time and the miles seemed to pass quickly and I was soon crossing the golf course and heading down the lane to the Woodsetts checkpoint, at about 31 miles.

Woodsetts to Firbeck – miles 31-37

I had a drop bag at the Woodsetts check point, and so I collected a bit more food (mainly a few more flapjacks), a new bottle filled with my energy drink, and my ipod and headphones.  It took a few minutes to re-stock my waist bag, but I was on the way again pretty quickly and had only lost 1 place in the process.  I soon regained that place within the first few hundred yards after the check point.  That was to be the last time I saw another runner for about 9-10 miles – so a long stretch of running on my own lay ahead.  I knew that this next 10 miles would be make or break for my race.  If I could get to mile 40 in reasonable shape and still in good time, then I felt I could grind out the final 10 miles whatever state I’d be in by then…..

Getting my ipod gave me a boost.  I don’t normally listen to music when I’m running off road, but I do find it helps and provides a lift in the tough later stages of an ultra.  Buoyed by this, I was able to push on strongly for the next few miles as I crossed more and more fields.

My legs were starting to ache, but I was able to keep up a good momentum throughout the 5 mile stretch to the next checkpoint, still keeping to around 8 ½ minutes per mile.  One of the hard things about the Round Rotherham is that there is little incline, and even the hills that we do climb are quite runnable – so it means running continuously for 50 miles, with little excuse to walk and take a breather.  But I was managing to keep up a steady rhythm and work through the miles.  I particularly enjoyed running through the woods after Langold lake, and the descent on the track into Firbeck where the next checkpoint was.

From the 30 mile point it was good to be counting down the miles.  I was trying not to look too far ahead, but to countdown below 20 miles was good and the remaining distance didn’t sound too bad….. especially by the time I reached Firbeck and there was only 13 miles to go – only 1 Half Marathon left.

Firbeck to Maltby – miles 37-41

From Firbeck, it’s only a couple of miles to Roche Abbey and some pleasant running to Maltby…and then there’s less than 10 miles to go!  So psychologically I was edging closer and closer to the finish.  My overall average time was around 8.40 per mile, which was pretty good.  If I could avoid a major blow up then I was looking good for my sub-7 hours 30 target.

The first section after the checkpoint is a long section of zig-zagging paths over a big open expanse of farmland.  This was quite hard work.  I tried to get some flapjack down me, but my throat was not happy about swallowing anything….. I spent most of this stretch forcing down small pieces of food, washed down with some of my High 5 Zero drink…. I slowed a bit while doing this but it was good to get more food inside me and I figured (or at least hoped) that this would be almost enough fuel to see me home.   As I neared the end of the zig zags I saw the small distant figure of a runner in a white shirt ahead of me!  The first person I had seen since mile 31!

                                                     

Passing Roche Abbey.  Photos by Armada Photography

 After the zig zags, I started the pleasant 2 mile stretch past Roche Abbey (smiling for the cameras on the way!) and then through woodland all the way to Maltby.  Again I was able to keep up a good 8 ½ minute per mile pace, making some good time.  By the time I emerged from the woodland and into the fields just before Maltby, the runner which I’d previously seen was only 100 yards ahead.  Could I muster the strength for the chase??

Up through the churchyard and into the checkpoint.  41 miles down, less than 10 to go!

Photo by Hannisze

Maltby to Old Denaby – miles 41-47.5

I’d kept up a sufficiently good pace that I could now afford to run 10 minute miles for the last stretch and still come inside my 7 hour 30 target.  I was feeling tired now, but didn’t feel close to blowing up, so the signs were quite good.

The first mile after Maltby is all road and is a bit of a slog.  It was made easier by the fact that I continued to gain ground on the runner ahead, Chris Davies, who had beaten me convincingly in my last 2 races.  I was very pleased to be matching the likes of Chris.  We spent the next couple of miles trading places, not at a particularly fast speed, during the long haul up through the fields towards Micklebring.

As we continued through Micklebring and under the M18, I was able to move ahead of Chris.  We then crossed a series of large fields, which was a stretch I really enjoyed.  I was able to extend my lead and by the final field I could see another 3 runners in the distance.  This was great news.  I wasn’t really thinking about catching them, but having more runners in sight would help pull me along through the final few miles.

I passed Firsby Hall Farm at 45 miles, meaning there was just over 5 miles to go.  This really was getting into the final stretches of this very long race!  I started the diagonal, seemingly never ending, steadily uphill crossing of another ploughed field – it was hard going, but as I reached the other side of the field and finished the climb, my legs seemed to gain new strength.  This was probably because I’d got very close to 2 of the runners ahead.  As we started the descent through the woods, I picked up the pace and eased past them.  By the bottom of that descent I’d also caught the 3rd runner – Jai, who I had run with earlier in the race and who had then pushed ahead strongly around the time of my fall at mile 12.  I thought I’d seen the last of him there!

We pushed on together through Hooton Roberts and as we ground our way through the fields towards the Old Denaby checkpoint I opened up a lead of about 10 yards or so.  I maintained that advantage as we charged (OK that’s a bit of an exaggeration…..more like stumbled….) down the hill to the last checkpoint.

Arriving at the Old Denaby checkpoint Photo by Hannisze

Old Denaby to the finish – miles 47.5 to 50.5

Only 3 miles to go!  Come one!!

At this point I thought I had beaten Jai!  But as he came into the checkpoint he went into overdrive.  He grabbed some food and before I knew it he had charged off ahead of me!  This threw me completely.  I tried to catch back up but he had the momentum and he was able to extend into a 15-20 yard lead as we went through the final fields, and along the canal to Mexborough station.

I now thought I was beaten, but I resolved to hang in there and just try and keep Jai in my sights.  Perhaps I could then muster up one final push near the end.  Jai stayed about 20 yards ahead of me as we reached Swinton.  But then he turned away from the river slightly too early.  I followed, and we both realised our mistake.  We soon got back on track, but he had lost his momentum.  I was able to take advantage and move back ahead.   1 mile to go.  Could I hold on?

I tried to build up some extra speed to maintain my lead.  Not easy after 49+ miles, but I managed a good 8 minute mile pace.  We went through the park with me about 10 yards ahead.  Then I was stopped at the road, as a car went by, cutting my lead to a few yards.  I pushed on hard after the road and re-established a good lead.  Very soon I could see a large building which was Dearne Valley College Sports Centre – the finish!  I was about 15 yards ahead, with about ¼ mile to go.  Somehow I managed to accelerate further, and with a few checks over my shoulder I knew I was safe.

I crossed the line, punching the air with delight.  I’d finished the 50.5 mile course in 7 hours 19 minutes and 47 seconds.  Well inside my target time.  Get in!!

I checked the results list.  Unbelievable!! I’d finished 5th!  I had no idea I was so far up the field.  My best ever race placing.  It still wasn’t really sinking in as I watched a few really good runners (who normally beat me) finish during the next 10 minutes or so.

After a quick chat to a few other runners, I took myself off to get my hand sorted out.  The first aiders did a great job of patching me up, but I ended up with a trip to hospital later that night and 10 stitches as a souvenir for my efforts!

A bowl of soup and a bit more of a chat and then it was time to get home, collect the children from a party and get back to reality!

All over!! Photo by Hannisze

Looking back

What a fantastic day I’d had.  This is a really enjoyable course, through some pretty countryside, made all the better by blue sky and sun all day!  I’d had some good chats with numerous friendly runners early in the race, which really helped the miles go by.  The race itself had been near perfect for me.  I felt good throughout and gained places from around 20th after 17 miles through to my final 5th place.  If only all races could go so well.  Losing a lot of time and even more blood with my hand injury was the only downside…..but it gave me a story to tell, and thankfully didn’t bring an early end to my race.

Thanks to everyone who put so much effort into organising this brilliant event!  I’m now officially hooked on this ultra running business!  Roll on next season!

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