The alarm clock sang at 4.50am. I grunted and then like an automaton, headed like a zombie to the shower. It was no fun. Thereafter followed a quick bowl of porridge and a strong cup of coffee before the journey North to Dearne Valley college near Mexborough. The Round Rotherham is a 50 mile ultra trail classic through the South Yorkshire Forest. I don't remember running through forest, the route is mainly track, ploughed fields, and canals with the odd short section of road. There is only 800m of climb on this circular route demanding a steady pace throughout. Seven checkpoints provide welcome refreshment at Grange, Treeton, Harthill, Woodsett, Firbeck, Maltby and Old Denaby. I had completed the course in 2007 when the event was run in December. The whole show is supported by an informative website. The website contains a wealth of information to assist entrants including all manner of navigation aids and statistics from previous years. I get the impression its a labour of love for the author Henry Marston.
The instructions were clear, "the start is NOT at Dearne Valley Leisure Centre east of Mexborough. The start is at the leisure centre attached to Dearne Valley College. Despite the clarity of the information we arrived at Dearne Valley Leisure Centre east of Mexborough shortly after 6:15am. The leisure centre was closed, the gates were locked. A momentary panic helped to wake me up (I was still struggling) after which I orientated our position on the map, (a skill which would prove handy later in the day) and we realised that we were just around the corner from where we needed to be.
Registration went well. I collected my bright orange t-shirt, I took some photos of the sponsors flags flapping in the dark next to a runner who was practising
tai chi yoga mysteriously on the grassy adjacent bank After final preparations I lined up at the start. It was still dark but not cold, I noticed as we gathered in the car park ahead of the final instructions that some of the field had chosen to wear head torches even though dawn was due very soon. At 7am a klaxon sounded and we steeled off into the first dark mile of the 50 miles which lay ahead.
|Afore ye start|
I struggled this year. It became apparent almost straight away. The previous weekend I had done back to back long runs and I had begun to feel invincible. I had recovered quickly from the double and had managed to keep up regular training the following week. I slightly suspected that I felt a little more tired than usual during a 10 mile run with Grantham running club on the Thursday but generally I have been feeling good of late. Despite my recent strength the wheels came off as I cruised down the tarmac path alongside a lake in the very initial stages. I felt a bit flat and my legs heavy, not how you would want to feel with 49 to go.
The initial negativity was checked to some extent by the feeling of contentment with managing to get out bed early and focus on a positive challenge. I was running alongside like minded folk. The sun was about to come up and the early signs of life stirred all around us. A eerie mist hovered above the lake to the right and the occasional golden autumnal leaf would fall through the last of the night air on to the trail in front of us. At one early stage, just after dawn we ran into a single track rail yard which housed a steam train. The yard was flanked by a few old terrace houses, the lights glowed warmly inside. Outside the steam train stood idle but with an imposing presence. I wished I had time to take a photograph of the scene but time didn't allow it, I was running the event with the intention of recording as faster time of possible but I was becoming increasingly worried about the feelings of nausea which had intensified.
|UTMBer Paul Booth of Pennine & I|
I noticed lots of international runners running the event. I understand that part of the overseas attraction is because the Round Rotherham qualifies for the chance to go through the lottery for the Western States 100. As I ran along the canal side on the way to Grange Park I listened to a conversation between a couple of runners behind me.The first was from the United States and the other from Canada. They had recognised each others accents and were winding each up by making slants on each others respective countries. It all began to feel out of the ordinary. It was before 8am, just after dawn and I was running alongside an American and a French Canadian from Montreal..... on a dirt track in Rotherham.
The first checkpoint seemed to take a while to encounter. I was feeling rougher and rougher. I simply felt heavy and slow. I couldn't muster up any kind of rhythm and feelings of despair quickly began to creep in, it was far too early for that. "Perhaps I was coming down with something or it just wasn't going to be my day" I thought. On the way to Treeton I decided to self assess. The issue seemed to be centred on my stomach. It wasn't hurting but it felt like pressure had built up within and was bloating to the extent of slowing my down. It was similar to how I felt in the last leg of the Thunder Run which also involved a run in the very early morning after little sleep the night before. I decided that perhaps my body would realign around 10am which is a more appropriate and usual time to wake up on a Saturday morning. With that positive thought I plundered on through Treeton and out towards Harthill
By Harthill I'd had enough. Tracy was out in support and I explained my woes. I decided I would take extra time at the check point and ponder the pros and cons of retirement. The sign outside the check point read "runners and walkers only", Tracy must have wondered where I had gone as I didn't emerge for quite some time. I sat inside and drunk water with an electrolyte tablet. I ate lots of food. I didn't want to retire I had retired at the 100 earlier in the year, I might get a reputation. I had also picked up my t-shirt at registration. It looked good but I couldn't wear it if I didn't finish. I had to carry on. I had a WC trip and emerged back into the great outdoors. I had had a word with myself, regrouped and it was now time to find a decent stride. As I left the checkpoint i realised I was almost half way, just the encouragement I needed.
As I ran out of Hartill a relay runner passed me. In addition to the main event, the race can be run as a team relay. I noticed that I was able to match his speed even although I had run almost 25 miles and he had just begun his first leg. If I was able to follow and keep up it would make navigation easier. It was noticeable that he knew the route. I chased in pursuit, mindful that slowly I was beginning to feel better. A couple of miles further on I was still in touch. At last I had found a rhythm, My stomach issue had subsided and to some extent I felt as if the race had just begun for me. The relay runner in front paused at a kissing gate. he looked at me and gave me a rye, almost disapproving smile. "You know I'm on the relay" he said. " If you keep following me at this speed you might blow up". I explained that I had only just got going after a woeful first half and that I was grateful for his pacing and navigation. " ah I see, I've had similar issues in the past" was the reply, " good luck keep moving". Such is the camaraderie of these events.
By Woodsetts I was still running strong but my relay compatriot had run ahead. The strength which I had found would thankfully last for the rest of the race. I can't remember a previous event where I have felt stronger in the second half. It's usually the other way around. I crossed the A57 and into the golf course. I'd "misnavigated" and taken a chasing group with me. A 12 timer caught up and lead us, now as a unified group back to the right track via overgrown brambles that stung my legs. We were at Lindrick Common. The lane was flanked by massive mansions one of which was called "Nirvana" and had a massive rocket launcher in the garden!
On the way to Maltby we passed the impressive Roche Abbey which stood ruined but grandly in the afternoon sun. This was the only part of the route I could remember from 2007. I was fortunate to run this part with a Maltby runner who I guessed would know the way well. I had otherwise navigated by map, route description and following relay runners until I could not match their pace any longer! A minor error took me to the railway before I rectified the mistake by passing under the bridge.
Plenty of cake was the order at Maltby checkpoint. I knew the next leg involved a long stretch and I was tiring again but not to the extent of my morning woes. I still had about 13 miles to run 8 of which were on the next leg to Old Denaby. By luck or chance another relay runner passed as I left the checkpoint and I was in pursuit. On the back of her shirt it read "Banksy of Basssetlaw". It was apparent that the runner knew the way and if I could hang on it would save time reading the route description. I managed to hang on for perhaps three quarters of the leg before fading. I met Christensen Hornbech of Denmark and a Scottish runner both who had travelled especially to take part. I was enjoying the unlikely feel of this multicultural encounter. The leg to Old Denaby went on forever. The chat with my Scottish comrade got me through.
After Old Denaby only 3.2 miles left. I sank a bit of liquid and I was off. This had been a hard day and I looked forward to finishing. Christensen had left ahead already but I caught up. I decided to run on and chance navigating the last leg to get back as quickly as I could. Finally I crossed the canal and looked to the left to see what looked like the leisure centre. "Surely not yet? Yes that's it" I thought. I could see the sponsors flags swaying in the wind which confirmed I could see the finish. Today had been tough but I Had ground it out and learnt a lot about self management and mind over matter. I could wear my t-shirt with pride. I crossed the line 60th in 9:15:10. I retired for cottage pie, mashed potato, peas and gravy all after a hot shower. A tough start had turned into a great day out and the feeling of satisfaction was all the more intense. Nick Ham and Mick plumber completed the grand slam.
By my calculation that's 522 miles tough ultra racing between March and October. A fine achievement, congratulations and thanks again Mick for helping with my head cut at the Long Tour.