Shall I? Shall I not? I shall, I shall not. I just don’t know, I may, let’s see how I feel. I have broken a finger nail, I can’t. Oh hell its only 30 minutes from home and under £20 – why not? Stop Procrastinating and Do!
Stop caring what other people think. Just do you.
The Rowbotham Round Rotherham 50 had never been on my bucket list, not that I have a bucket list. However I will admit it had never really grabbed my attention. However after speaking to a few ultra runners over the past couple of months and club members’ Claire and Laura who had completed it before, they all spoke very highly of the event, so why not give it a go? With Entry on the day for an extra £5 I didn’t have to make the decision until the alarm went off at 5am. It was only 30 minutes drive from home as well.
So I found myself driving through the townships of Rotherham at 5.30am in the morning towards Dearne Valley College to take on the Round Rotherham 50. Nuts.
Having arrived in plenty of time, I registered and handed over my £18. I was handed back a bright green technical tee (even for entering on the day), my number and a carrier bag for my ‘drop bag’ goodies at half way already marked with my number on it. The organisation was already as slick as a whistle and instantly I had a good feeling I would be well looked after. Rotherham huh? Never judge a book by its cover. After faffing about, sorting out my bowels and my dropbag, I was ready for the start line.
100’s of runners lined up in the darkness of the college car park. It was busy, much busier than I thought. This is a popular event, a very popular event. In Rotherham you say? Hell yes! Never judge a book by its name.
Running begins not with the feet but with the mind
Some had opted for a 6am start, the walkers and perhaps some of the run/walkers. I have utter most respect for all the walkers, 12 plus hours on their feet munching through the same ground that has been churned up by a herd of ultra Elephants. Full respect my friends. I glanced round in anticipation, and before I knew it the whistle had gone and we were off. I was in it for the long run.
Instantly a group of faster runners pulled away and the masses soon spread out down the cycle path. Let’s hope the front runner knew where he was going as everyone was following him. I fell into a comfortable pace following the others, unable to see the navigation on my watch as it was still dark.
We soon hit the trails, there were a few runners around me playing cat and mouse with each other, making polite conversation, ‘have you done this before?’. I was amazed at the amount of people who had done this 2 or 3 or 4, 14 times over. There must be something special about this route. Rotherham I tell you, it’s not quite the Peak District. Never judge an ultra by its name.
Through the first woodland we went, a little muddy in places, flat in other places with the odd tree stump here and there. The rising sun was melting through the sky as I negotiated the Trans Pennine Trail. I had opted for just tee shirt and shorts. The raincoat was tightly packed away for emergency raindrops only. It was rather muggy and warm for an early October Autumnal morning.
The first few miles passed quickly. I was slowly tuning into the navigation and getting my head in the right place for the challenge ahead. The route was officially well signposted with the black and white circular arrows dictating the way. In addition some of the route had been taped. I had the route printed out with the Wainright ‘strip maps’ and the route on the phone as well as back up along with written instructions. Yet I found that I was beginning to trust this little grey line on my watch to show me the way.
You ask me why I run? The same reason I breathe.
A muddy track leading up to Keppel’s Column kept me on my toes. I was running almost on my own within 7 or 8 miles having dropped a few eager beavers at the beginning. Reaching Keppel’s Column one of the paparazzi were out in full force capturing every step. At this early point in the morning I had my best frock on, mascara, lipstick and blusher. Or not. Smile away.
The first checkpoint at around 10 miles was soon in sight. The kind volunteers at the checkpoint ensured I was well looked after offering me ample amounts of cake and jelly babies. Some runners and walkers were hanging about but whilst I was feeling the love I grabbed a piece of flapjack and shot off through the woods.
The next section was really the only bit of the route that was familiar to me. The Round Sheffield Route in Reverse. At least I wasn’t in reverse gear just yet.
A steepish hill lead up to ‘Hilltop’, and then dropped down into Sheffield. This part was very overgrown for the Round Sheffield Relay a few weeks previous but had been kindly cut down to make the running much easier today. Surrounding runners were catching up a lot of the walkers by now, and polite ‘excuse me please’ ‘just passing on the left / right’ were the main conversations. Onto a metal footbridge full of local graffiti we ran, no Lord Muck from Turd Hall around here. This was familiar running ground for my Running Club around near Meadowhall and Tinsley.
Coming off the canal a girl was deliberating over the correct way, a couple of us followed our watches and maps and ran onwards chasing pavements onto a road that I recognised from club training nights somewhere around Brinsworth perhaps? The watch was still stacking up well, bravo my Suunto, bravo.
I caught up with a guy who was on the phone having a conversation about how his other half could change a light bulb or something like that. ‘I may sound out of breath I am in a race’ he said – something you only hear in an ultra. 13.1 miles in, I was still feeling alive, a half a marathon in. One guy pipped up ‘I only start feeling good after about 20 miles’ – something you only hear in an ultra. You just gotta love Ultra’s, right?
We loose ourselves in the things we love and find ourselves there too – Gibson Daily Quotes
One of the guys in front of me missed the little turning round a narrow wired way. I called him back pointing to the somewhat hidden black and white ‘Round Rotherham’ sign and also backed it up with my little black line on my watch. That’s the loving the nature of ultras, here to help each other. We are all in it for the long run, just battling with yourself not specifically with others. Just loving it.
After a fist fight with some brambles I had gone off track by a few metres, nothing major but it meant clambering over a fence, I realised I had been day dreaming of running an Ultra. Snapping back into the present time I realised my mistake and focused onwards and upwards towards the roaring Sheffield Parkway full of Saturday shoppers fighting to reach Meadowhall Shopping Complex. Yuk in a bucket.
Run long, run strong, run with pride, with every stride
I was now back on unfamiliar ground. The flat landscape over to Treeton had been full of miners many years previous, now just full of crazy ultra runners destined for the next piece of cake, handful of crisps and pieces of sticky flapjack eagerly awaiting at the next check point. Another great thing about Ultra’s – the food!
One of the kind volunteers filled me up with water at the next checkpoint and I grabbed a handful jelly babies, a jaffa cake and a piece of banana. Banana skin in the bin off I went along side another guy with well wishes from all at the checkpoint. So friendly already.
I befriended this guy for a while. We chatted about the race then he left me with a ‘see you later’, as he took a sharp left turn. I couldn’t work out whether he knew something I didn’t but that I realise now was the male version of saying ‘I am going for a wee’. I would have just said ‘I am going for a wee’. And then there was me.
Round the boggy paths I ran following my shadow and watch line and round the damp marsh areas. The route was remarkably flat after the Redbull Steeplechase a few weeks previous. My watch was making little circular patterns as I came off the path across the bridge and double backed on myself to an area I semi knew – Rother valley Country Park. The solidarity of running on my own against the side of the railway line, left me in competition with just my shadow. I was apparently 2nd Lady. I didn’t know who was in-front how far or where or when, and I didn’t care it was just me myself and I.
Don’t you dare compare yourself to any runner out on that course during your race. Compare yourself to you. Compare yourself to your PR’s, compare yourself to your last race, compare yourself to your running habits. Focus on you and you will succeed. – A coach
I ran through Rother Valley Country Park. This was a soul destroying 2 or 3 miles. I passed a few of the faster walkers / runners with the odd ‘hello’ just following the monotony of the road around the park. The devastatingly relentless never ending black hole of the country park road sucked every bit of energy out of my blood and I wasn’t even 20 miles in yet.
One of the guys caught me up and we ran on together for half a mile or so. In the distance another guy was deliberating which way to go. Straight On I said confidently as I glanced at the watch which directed me straight on then just to reconfirm there were the black and white ‘Round Rotherham’ signs. Bingo!. I was learning to trust the navigation and trust my own instinct. Onwards and upwards as I livened up and ran and ran and ran.
Checkpoint 3 at Harthill could not have come at a better time. Across the field and into the car park and the little village hall I ran with words of encouragement from all. I made a dash for the proper toilets save me using a tree as a portaloo, proper loo’s on an ultra, a first time for everything! The height of luxury, and did I mention this race only cost me £18? I got a refill of water, downed some orange juice, refused a cup of tea (did you read that? I refused a cup of tea!) and was back on my merry way. What a lovely friendly checkpoint. Tick.
Through farmers fields I tramped. There were a few of us running sporadically within reach of each other now. There was no exact defined path but it was easy enough to keep to route through the meadows and rough terrain. I hooked up my watch with my newly founded ultra slim ‘power bank’ to give my watch extra juice. One of the guys passed me and asked if I was OK, after seeing me faffing about. I explained I was powering up my watch rather now than later, in other words whilst I had the co-ordination to hook it up! Everyone was so friendly, passing people, people passing, exchanging words of encouragement each way, asking how everyone was, a community of strangers in the middle of a ploughed field sinking into the mud with each footprint. Ultranbery at its best.
Through more meadows and farmers fields and round the edge of an airfield I ran. I caught up with another guy we ran together for a little while until it was time to drop him. My juices were now flowing again. A dog walker cheered me on as I skirted around the edge of more farmers fields negotiating the tractor tracks to avoid the crops. Dog polity barked at me to tell me I was 1st Female. How did that happen? Maybe I caught one at the checkpoint or maybe some of the 6am runners had been counted through previously. I put that thought out of my head unsure if the dog could count or spot the difference between a female and male ultra runner. After all most of us wear silly buffs on our heads, numbers on our shorts and look all so attractive with muck up to our ears.
I was back on my own running through isolated woodland, anything could go wrong in the dark woods as paths veared off to the left right and centre. I followed the black and white signs, the little line on my wrist and the signs in my head. For the good of running I was feeling the love, 1st, 2nd, 3rd or last position didn’t matter, feeling the run did. I was living the run, planting positive messages in my brain triggering my little legs to run and smile at the same time.
I am my running sole mate
Back onto Road I ran I heard fast footsteps behind me, one of the relay team pounding the pavements, I cheered him on and he returned the gesture. Into Checkpoint 4 I went at Woodsetts with big cheers from everyone. The checkpoint food was inside the hall. The minute I entered I got handed my dropbag. I told the guy I was actually OK without it even though I had left extra food, drink and spare trainers and probably the kitchen sink. The checkpoints were so well stocked that all I needed was my Kendal Mint Cake and a few gels for the extra boost.
The volunteers at the checkpoint were so welcoming. I felt like a princess, being fussed on, offering me a cup of tea, and asking if I would like some sandwiches and chocolate cake whilst they filled up my water bottles. Such great co-ordination and hospitality. I took x2 jam square sandwiches then went on my way walking across the field munching on the bread and sweet jam. The combination of sweet and savoury went down an absolute treat. 30 miles in – the power of jam sandwiches, perfect to avoid a sticky situation later on in the race. You just gotta love the basic things in life.
It was getting rather humid by now, my body had warmed up a bit too much and within a few more miles I was beginning to run out of steam. I was sweating a bit too much for my own good so pulled out my buff and stuck it on my head to cool myself down.
Each time you run you will receive lessons. You have enrolled in the school of ultra running. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid. What you think makes no difference; the lessons will be presented until learned. – Keith Pippin
Open ploughed muddy fields, negotiating the small crops, and sinking into the squelchy mud made the running challenging at the same time the varied ground made me concentrate on my footage and I soon forgot that I had just gone through a few low moments. I carefully watched every footstep careful not to face-plant, jumping over the grassland and leaping over the boggy puddles.
The next checkpoint some 5 miles or so later was at Firbeck Village Hall. I went into the building got a top up of water and grabbed some small crackers and a fig biscuit, even though I was tempted with the offer of a cup of tea I refused and got my way. This was the first ultra where the checkpoint were inside and offering cups of tea. Faultlessly brilliant, only in Rotherham.
The striking feature of Roche Abbey ruins shone brightly in the distance. Before that I was to negotiate a few bumpy fields. A few runners were scattered in the distance, a couple just behind me. I was in my own head space, my own running land. After passing the ruins and a couple of other guys I entered the wooded valley of Maltby Beck and suddenly hit a real proper low. This was my battleground and I would conquer it. I pulled out my Kendal mint cake, the cool minty sugar slid down me like a slug on speed. I concentrated on my own breath, breathing deeply in and out for a few seconds. The psychological battle had begun. Me and running were not getting on right now.
Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind, the race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself.
The Kendal mint cake hit the spot after just a few minutes and killed off those evil demons in my head. I ran on through woodland, alive and kicking, still on my own, isolated from other Ultrams but ecstatically bouncing back to where I wanted to be.
Through more fields across some stiles I jumped and knew I was well back on track in the head. I was approaching the next checkpoint as relay runners were scattered on the pathway cheering their fellow team members through the next leg.
A couple of Kimberworth girls wished me luck as I ran through the churchyard onto Maltby Checkpoint just after 40 miles. The food would have looked very tempting normally, an army of cakes and biscuits and savoury snacks. But after 40 miles my taste buds had bonked out. I chose to take an easily digestible jaffa cake, a bit of flapjack and a cup of coke which I spat out just a few minutes later. It was here I heard I was leading Female and around 12th overall. I had no idea of the time ticking away on the wrist, I just had to keep on running.
My legs were tiring. How was I? I got asked. ‘Tired’ I replied as I was about to leave the checkpoint. This was a confusion of lethargic contentment. One side of the brain emotionally drained, the other side erupting in endorphins powering the legs round and round and round.
I ran on up the road with cheering from the locals. I was feeling the strain of the miles now but I always remind myself that if I am feeling bad then there must be people feeling much much worse than me back beyond yonder.
I could see runners climbing the fields in the faraway distance. It looked hilly but once approached the inclined hill it was actually quite runnable. The whole route was runnable, which is a challenge in itself, no rest-bite for the wicked. I continued to put one foot in-front of the other as my footsteps fought through the muddy ploughed fields.
I passed another guy and he politely asked me if I was ‘in the race’ I replied with a ‘yes are you enjoying yourself?’. I actually asked someone 42 /43 miles in if they were enjoying themselves? What a stupid thing to ask. He replied to that telling me that I was doing ‘brilliantly’ and looked ‘really strong’. If only he knew the truth!
Easy is boring a challenge is yours to own – Saunders
Onwards I ran in my own little running world, dragging my feet through the deep mud down in the valley. I dropped down into more fields and up a country lane. I was still tiring but still going. Another piece of Kendal Mint Cake was to see me though these last few miles, my last piece as I popped it into my mouth and let it gently melt on my tongue. Oh sugar oh sugar oh sugar right now I love you.
One of the organisers was walking towards me and told me it was just half a mile to the final check point at ‘old Denaby’ which I could see from the top of the field. Groups of runners congregated at the checkpoint as a girl came flying past me ‘well done Helen’ they shouted. Those shout outs were unfortunately not for me then as the other Helen zoomed past gracefully, as for me Helen, I felt slower than a geriatric slug fighting its way through one of the muddy ploughed fields on the Round Rotherham Route.
I grabbed a final top up of water at the checkpoint and a jaffa cake for good measure then went on my way. A relay girl was in front, sprinting down the road, I was still keeping an eye on my watch but using her as a base to keep myself going ‘You can catch her’ an old man with his flat cap and whippet pipped up, not with 47 miles in my legs I can’t I whispered to myself. 47 miles I said, 47 miles I said to myself again. That means I have just less than a park run to do, less than a Parkrun and I am not even into Parkruns. Let’s go…(featuring Ne-Yo!)
Your time is running out
I’m talking here and now
I’m talking here and now
It’s not about what you’ve done
It’s about what you’re doing
It’s all about where you going
No matter where you’ve been
I navigated onto the canal. I had lost sight of the relay the girl now. My body was beginning to head to the finish line but slowing down for the non existent traffic lights. Red, amber, green, go, go my feety friend, go go go. My head was beginning to give way. Another runner, another relay runner came speeding past leaving me for dust. I reached a junction and suddenly lost my bearings. My watch was still working but my head had lost it. I asked a bewildered dad and his kids which was the last runner went. They pointed me down the canal again, this was not the first time I had gone wrong on a canal before. I just can’t get my head around the complexity of a straight flat line.
When you run there are no mistakes, only lessons. The art and science of ultra-running is a process of trial and error and experimentation. The failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the combination that ultimately works. – Keith Pippin
I gave myself a little pep talk. 2 miles to the finish, so near yet so far. Time to apply myself to the finishing stretch. I reached a railway station I have no idea which one it was, but was overly focused on that finish, so much so that I went straight on to the car park. A voice in my head sent a signal to my brain to tell me to look at the direction my watch was pointing in. I glanced down and was off track by around 50 metres. I quickly backtracked and ran back under the marked underpass. My head was back on track and so were my feet.
Those little voices in my head were chatting away to themselves, telling each other to keep going strong, to push, to finish strong. And it was working, I was running still, with a smile back on my face.
Back on tarmac, chasing more pavements and over a humpy bridge seemed mind-numbingly difficult at the time. My head was telling me I was nearly there run all the miles, run all the miles, as I pictured the magnificent painting that my best friend Becky had uniquely painted for me the day before for my birthday.
Just run to feel the emotional highs and lows.
I was soon back on a cycle track. A sign pointed out ‘Manvers 4 minutes’ but this was a cycle sign so I knew I probably had at least half a mile to go. Some club runners were hanging around the breath of the cyle path, with massive words of encouragement. ‘Not far to go’, ‘well done, you are first lady keep going’. How far? ‘Just up there and down again and you are on the home stretch’ they confidently told me.
The college building then emerged into my sight. The flags waving in the distance, flags that I had left some 8 or 9 hours earlier. My feet and legs suddenly came alive as I picked up pace down the cycle path way around into the car park and up to the finish area. An abundance of spectators cheered me in as I ran through the finish with a big grin on my face. I had come in first female at just over 8 hours.
My official time was 8 hours 2 minutes and 55 seconds. Could I have gone sub 8 hours? Did I want to go sub 8 hours? Did I care about going sub 8? No no no. I was hoping to beat my Nomad 50 time of just under 9 hours 30, but certainty didn’t expect to get just over 8 hours. I was flabbergasted.
Everybody finishes…some just sooner than others.
I was congratulated by people inside as I was asked if I was a relay person, ‘no’ I replied, ‘wow you’ve ran the whole thing’, reality hadn’t set in. I was handed Shepperd’s pie and gravy and a cup of tea. Reality set in, that’s real food for you, Shepperd’s pie and gravy and a cup of tea. Back to life back to reality.
I sat down to my mountain of real food and befriended a few of the guys who had come in-front of me instantly welcomed to their table. I had been running on my own for much of the event yet at the end I was chatting to complete strangers sharing stories of the race, feeling like we had known each other for months just because we had spent the last 7 or 8 hours running the same ground. Let the feet do the talking. What is there not to love about RR50?
A faultless event in every way. The volunteers were of the highest quality. Everyone knew what the runners and walkers wanted and what the runners and walkers needed. From pre-event information, to the start line. Throughout the route, the encouragement and support from everyone was undeniable some of the best I have come across. This has to go down as one of the best value for money events I have done. Although the route is not as inspiring as some of the beauty of the surrounding Peak District, the quality of the event itself and the way everyone was welcomed made up for the fly tips and graffiti. I was very surprised to find some wonderful trails around Rotherham. Never judge an Ultra by it’s name, just as you would never judge a book by its cover.
- Time: 8 hours 2 minutes and 55 seconds
- Position: 1st Female | 9th Overall out of 228