Race 12 of 12 in the 2011 Runfurther series.
I had spent the best part of two weeks fantasising about a warm, dry, sunny Round Rotherham where the running flowed, the navigation by colourful cartoon map went flawlessly and I collapsed exhausted at the timekeeper's desk for a PB finish. Much to my amazement IT ALMOST ALL CAME TRUE!
After a comfortable night's sleep and hassle-free early exit from the Sandygate Hotel (this hotel has improved markedly since last year and is good for a sound night's sleep now that discos and parties are off the menu), I arrived at Dearne Valley College sports centre in plenty of time to see the early 6am starters off. Once they were on their way into the cold clear pre-dawn, we later starters could get registered and have a natter. I was spoilt for choice with so many well-known faces but not enough time to catch up with gossip. There was action girl extraordinaire Dawn Westrum, Runfurther Karen, two-time Grand Slammer (to all intents and purposes) Dick Scroop who does flippin' well for his age; speedy Jim Mann, Geoff Holburt, Karen Nash, Martin Beale (too preoccupied to natter), David Jelley (too busy nattering to others to natter), Roger Taylor, Fraser Hirst (just back from long haul air travel but would it slow him down?), Will Harris, Julian Brown, Greg Crowley (the other 2011 Slammer and speedy with it, but I missed him AGAIN) and Rick Ansell (not usually elusive but he was this time); Garry Scott (speeding up nicely), Jon Steele (a good turn of speed as long as it's not hot), Mike D-H (who's moving up the ranks rather well). I could go on but you're probably bored to tears already.
Ian Bishop had a black and white copy of the strip map in his hands and asked me about the changes for 2011. I fetched my colour copies and hopefully put his mind at rest.
Shortly before 7am a whistle was blown with great force in close proximity to me to advise us that we needed to be moving outside. With ears ringing I joined the exodus. The first light of dawn was just beginning to show in the cloudless sky. The temperature had plummeted to the lowest level so far in this mild autumn – not that far above freezing.
A cool dawn.
The sun made its first tentative appearance above the horizon as we passed the wood yard before Wentworth. It wasn't much higher as we descended from Wentworth, when I was finally driven to capture some images. Dave Cremins and Josh Whiteley were in the frame as they overtook me. (It would turn out that we would play cat and mouse for the day, as shown by my photographs, and finish within a minute of each other.) Keppel's Column beckoned on the horizon.
Dave Cremins and Josh Whiteley.
Checkpoint 1 at Grange Park (10 miles) soon arrived. I loitered to take care of business. Dick said “Take your time Nick, take plenty of pictures”, etc. before making himself scarce. Jon arrived, and then it was my turn to be off. Descending through the woods to the valley before Droppingwell Road I was surprised to see Karen Nash running back from the right along the track we had to cross. She’d been on a bit of a detour. She soon pulled on ahead up the other side. As I watched her pull away, a pedestrian came down the path, passing Karen shortly before passing me. I said hello and got a “Hello love” back. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and elected not to give him a good slapping. Either it’s a quirky local term of greeting between males or his mind was still all of a whirr from having encountered Karen 15 seconds earlier ;-)
Once again I had been amused and visually entertained by the little bulbous people beside the path before and after Droppingwell Road. I should have taken more pictures but I was running!
I turned right up to Hilltop and down, bypassing the disputed footpath that we used to take but haven't been able to take for several years now, down to the road, left then right down the secret hidden footpath between factory fences known only to Round Rotherham participants and others in the know. Here I caught up with Dick, who had strayed up the hill to the right, apparently led astray by another race marker flag. I called him back. According to the strip map, at this point the Meadowhall shopping complex is to our right. So far I have never seen it, so this time I decided I would look right, probably while crossing the railway line. The footbridge was made of metal and the walls were very high. It was damp and very slippery. We needed all our attention to avoid coming a cropper. I forgot to look right. I still haven't seen the Meadowhall shopping complex from the Round Rotherham route. Is it actually there?
Next came the run beside river and canal and left turn up through Tinsley. 15 miles are not passed yet but I have always slowed down by this point. I needed food. I sucked on a gel and used it as an excuse to have my first guilty walking break when I could have been running, before recommencing the shuffle up around the industrial estate. I was surprised by how the field had spread out and how I was already alone.
The bus lane before Sheffield Airport now has a padlocked gate across it. Cutbacks! The wasteland that follows has been transformed over the past few years, now with hotels and landscaping and a decent footpath to follow instead of ankle-twisting waste land. A new boundary and stile preceded the underpass beneath Sheffield Parkway. I caught up with Will Harris, who was unsure of the way. “Left to Catcliffe”. Catcliffe came and went and we climbed up to the expansive fields (landscaped ex coal mining area) beside the river, to the big substantial footbridge left over the river, over the railway and on to Checkpoint 2 at the cricket club in Treeton. Dick had caught up with me again. He urged me once more to loiter awhile to eat, drink, sort myself out and take plenty more pictures. I began to suspect ulterior motives behind his friendly advice. ;-) ;-)
Looking like summertime at CP2 @ Treeton.
Approaching the leftmost viaduct arch along the Trans Pennine Trail (how this path has improved from unkempt mud bath to proper cycle path since I first did the Round Rotherham) I couldn't help noticing the mass of solar panels on the south-facing house roofs up the hill to the left. The first of the relay runners had overtaken me. Will Harris overtook me for the final time to ultimately finish 37 minutes ahead. A couple of minutes later I caught up with Karen Nash again. “Something's not right”, I thought to myself. “I shouldn't be seeing Karen at this stage in a race”. She was suffering with painful right hip and was fighting back tears of anger and frustration that her body was preventing her from doing what she knew she could do. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. I trawled through my experiences to offer the best encouraging words I could find. I asked if she needed an Ibuprofen but she was already well dosed in that department. We plodded and consoled into the Rother Valley Country Park before she forced herself, with a groan of frustrated anger, into a shuffle that soon took her ahead and out of sight. Bear in mind she was 'crook' and I was fighting fit and on for a (near) PB. She finished 44 minutes ahead of me. Some have got it and some haven't.
I carried on with my shuffle and soon caught up with Julian Brown, who was WALKING. “Hello”, I thought. “Either he's injured, he's been overdoing it recently and can't manage it, or he's only interested in a pleasant stroll on a warm sunny day (in mid October)” We walked, jogged, chatted and played cat and mouse for the next 16 miles until the big open fields after Firbeck, where I was 'running' well at PB pace but he caught up with me for the final time and ‘sauntered’ ahead in relaxed fashion to finish 17 minutes ahead.
Several field crossings (they are so much better than in December) brought us to Checkpoint 3 and the halfway point at Harthill, where Runfurther Karen was snapping away with her camera. The sun was blazing and everything felt good. I spent minimal time here before resuming my journey.
After Harthill came many fields, freshly ploughed with young crops of grass or some other plant life across which our path took us. Occasionally the field path was not visible and we had to guess our route across, trampling more of the crop than should have been necessary. It’s the farmer’s fault, I thought, for not re-establishing the route across. Sometimes there was a tractor track across the field to guide the way, but when it was absent, we guessed and trampled and built up heavyweight mud platforms on our shoes.
The calm sunny day with good visibility meant that the airfield was active, with light aircraft doing circuits and landing as I passed the end of the airstrip.
Someone had thoughtfully built a scaffolding footbridge across a boggy area before the railway crossing.
Jon Steele crosses bridge over bog.
The permissive underpass at the golf course under the A57 still looks shiny new and pristine, making me wonder if the golf club rather than the local council is taking care of it.
I caught up with a Vibram FiveFingers wearer on the approach to Checkpoint 4 at Woodsetts. He’d done well to pad along for nearly 30 miles but his toe joints were getting sore, so he would be changing to ordinary shoes from his drop bag at the checkpoint. I’d hardly eaten any of my food so I did not need much restocking from my drop bag – just another 500ml of Coke, four more gels and a Nutrigrain bar and I was good to go.
Dave Hardy enjoys a bite at CP4 - Woodsetts. Josh and Dave C contemplate the fayre.
Even though there are still 20 miles to go I always feel as though I’m on the homeward stretch once I leave Woodsetts. It’s just a case of keeping up the fuelling and hydration, holding it together, enjoying the beautiful scenery, ticking off the landmarks and counting down the miles back to the college.
There were more sunny open fields to cross, the causeway between the fishing ponds and left turn across more fields. The sun was warm and I was fair working up a sweat. The Buff had migrated from my neck to my wrist hours earlier.
Julian caught up with me once again just in time to advise me that I needed to fork left in the woods to get to Langold Lake. I was having leanings to the right at that instant and could have wasted a few seconds. At the lake we came across an RSPCA woman who was lugging a cygnet in a cloth carrier. It had been reported by a member of the public that it couldn’t open its beak properly, so it was being taken to ‘hospital’ for investigation and ‘repair’. Julian and I spent a good few minutes chatting with her and I took more pictures (with her permission).
Cygnet 'goes for repair'.
At 35 miles and Checkpoint 5 we came upon the first change for 2011 – the new, posh, Firbeck Village Hall on the left, just opposite the old one, now boarded up. I just needed a quick water bottle top-up and I was off before Julian once again to begin the long, zigzag crossing of the wide open fields. I found myself with Dave and Josh again, but not for long. They, followed by Julian, disappeared into the distance. Nevertheless my crossing of that section, which on a bad day can seem never-ending, went quite quickly and comfortably.
Before I knew it I’d turned sharp right down the lane and left onto the grassy path towards my favourite part of the whole route – Roche Abbey. I gawp in wonderment every time I pass such structures and lament the mindless destruction of our heritage that was perpetrated during the tyrannical reign of King Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s. Think of what all these monasteries would look like now if they hadn’t been looted and smashed up nearly 500 years ago! Armada Photography lurked within the shadows as usual to capture those special images as I ran through the grounds.
Remains of Roche Abbey.
I was still alone and I was enjoying the solitary concentration of running as fast as my body allowed along that undulating wooded path, eventually diagonally left to descend across the fields and into the wood again to the church graveyard on the right, where the strong dappled sunlight created stark contrasts between light and shade. Here was the second change for 2011. Checkpoint 6, Maltby, had been brought back half a mile or so to just after the 40-mile point. It was now under cover in the church hall. My legs were somewhat leaden after all this running and I had to adopt my kneeling therapy to squeeze the blood out of the muscles and restore better function to them. It always works to a greater or lesser degree. After 30 seconds of that and a quick water bottle refill from the tap, I was off, leaving Jon Steele taking refreshment (I expected him to catch me soon).
The penultimate section to Old Denaby always seemed a long hard slog, but it’s even longer now. Nevertheless I always relish these final 10 miles because I usually pass other runners all the way to the finish. This year was no exception. I got my head down, got on with the job and slowly picked them off one-by-one. The full sugar Coke was on virtual drip feed to keep the legs fuelled. When that was no longer enough, a Kellogg’s Elevenses bar, eaten half at a time, kept me on the boil. I was getting competitive now and first thoughts of a PB started to flit through my mind. Could I beat 9:13? All photograph-taking was off limits from now-on.
The third and final change for 2011 was passed without incident (new massive field after the old railway cutting with tractor track diagonally across to show the footpath route).
The usually visible path diagonally left up the field after Firsby Hall Farm was not there. Instead a wiggly ‘trod’, which degenerated into a fanned-out trampling of the farmer’s field towards the top, delivered me more directly than ever before to the dip and footpath descent through the woods towards Hooton Roberts (I love that name). A brief walking break up the lane to the crossing of the main road was followed by a nice downhill run on the other side. A couple shouted encouragement from their car as they passed in the opposite direction. I glanced at my watch. I forget what I saw – something like an hour maximum in which to get a PB. I thought to myself: “No chance; I’ll never cover the remaining miles in that time. I’ll aim for sub 9:30 and be satisfied with that.” I didn’t let up, though. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try my best to the end.
I’d lost count of the number of people I’d overtaken and I now had another two in my sights. I caught them at the right turn onto that final track over the top. I recognised them as two I’d run with on and off during the day. A few pleasantries were exchanged before I set my sights on a lone runner further up the track (another one I’d run on and off with). We ran together down into Checkpoint 7 at Old Denaby. I didn’t need any provisions now because it was a short hop to the finish. I left within seconds, alone how I like it to follow the route like I know the back of my hand.
I ran like a hunted animal, like my life depended on it, twisting and turning along the intricate route across railway (thank goodness there were no trains coming and I didn’t have to waste time climbing over the bridge), across the river and alongside the canal, through the station, beside the big river and biscuit factory (no biscuit smells this year) and over the big road bridge to the delightful Swinton.
True to form, the sound of car abuse drifted to my ears as engine screamed and rubber was torn off on the side roads for which I was headed. I prepared myself for evasion tactics. Luckily by the time I got there it had stopped. Instead I was greeted by the sight a table with drinks at someone’s front garden, with the residents offering us refreshments. I’d seen it earlier on in the day but this was a first for Swinton. I declined with thanks. My two drinks bottles would last me for the final mile+.
A right and left past the derelict pub brought me to the canal spur. I was still overtaking but this time I was amazed to be catching up with Dave and Josh, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 15 miles, and they were WALKING. We rounded the end of the dead-end canal. I glanced at my watch. There were 2 minutes to go to PB time, making a new PB a rather forlorn hope now. I was just flabbergasted to have got here this quickly. I didn’t look at my watch again. I forced myself to run with Dave and Josh up the path to the road, across and into the scrub land opposite. We zigzagged around the bushes up to the track that led us down to the college. I was giving it all I had but I couldn’t hold onto them. I veered left across the grass past cheering and photographing spectators, down the ramp past more Armada Photography, past Geoff who shouted PB encouragement to me – “Too late, it’s already gone” I gasped, up the car park and round the back of the hall to the physical support of the timekeeper’s desk. “What time did you make it?” “9:14:20”.
Aaargh, I'd missed it by less than one minute (it was 9:13:24 in 2009). Never mind. I never honestly believed I’d get anywhere near a PB so it turned out rather good in the end. I was 56th (38th in 2009). Now, if only I hadn’t spoken with the RSPCA girl for so long…..
Dave and Josh finished in 9:13:43. No ‘if only’s this time. I’ve already said I couldn’t hold onto them.
It was sweet to finish with a flourish with a best personal performance of the year and to get my highest Runfurther points on the final race of the series. It was the 'cherry on the cake' of a great year's running. The amazing weather (sun tan in mid October indeed) and amazing event organisation and support made for a perfect ultra-running day.
The other Grand Slammer Greg Crowley, who I always seemed to miss (or fail to recognise) at the events, finished 38th in 8:40:01. His Slam has been impressively speedy, earning him big points. Very well done Greg.
The race winner was Ian Symington with a time of 6:47:14. Words fail me as always when presented with evidence of such speed.
Ian Bishop finished second in 6:50:04. Well done Ian B. Now, what would you have done if I hadn’t given you all that route advice at the beginning? ;-) ;-)
Third was Kevin Doyle in 6:53:05.
Geoff Holburt finished 18th overall in 8:05:15. I don’t know how you do it Geoff, you speed freak ;-)
Fraser Hirst’s air travel obviously didn’t slow him down, since he finished 35th in 8:37:39.
Will Harris was hot on his heels, finishing 36th in 8:37:45.
Garry Scott was 44th in 8:54:34. The new speedy Garry. Well done you.
Julian Brown had an easy day but still bimbled home in 48th with an impressive 8:57:27.
Jon Steele finished close behind me in 9:20:00 for 59th place.
Mike D-H, he with good blog, came in 112th in 10:28:56.
Dick was not far behind, finishing 116th in 10:37:12. Well done both.
First woman was Helen Skelton in 8:00:10.
Second woman was Victoria Mousley in 8:25:30.
Karen Nash was third in 8:30:51. That’s an impressive result Karen after our little ‘hike’ together through Rother Valley Country Park.
Dawn smashed her PB with a 90th place finish in 10:01:46. She's another one who writes a mean blog. She made a striking comparison between her 2010 and 2011 times. Last year, when she had terrible navigational woes in the early miles, she started and finished in the dark. This year, fitter and faster and without any such route-finding issues, she started and finished in daylight. Well done Dawn.
My picture-taking tailed off seriously towards the end, as already explained. Here’s the cream of the crop: RRR pictures
The Round Rotherham is so far the only UK race that is a qualifier for the Western States 100. How bizarre is that? It will change of course as more races get submitted. I shall be chucking my name into the WS100 hat for 2012. The same goes for the UTMB hat. It’s already in the LDWA Games 100 hat. Bring on 2012!