My legs recovered from the High Peak 40 pretty rapidly, and by mid week I was running faster than I’d done all year (a minute a mile faster than in August over a hilly off road 5 mile route). And just as I began wondering if I could get close to my 2010 Round Rotherham 10.29 ‘dream’ time, the first two weeks of the academic year hit me like a brick wall. By race week I was simply aiming for not falling asleep on my feet and a finishing time starting with an 11.
I still don’t feel at home at the 7am ‘runners’ start, surrounded by skinny, scantily clad racing snakes. Although this year I’m neither wearing the most clothes, nor carrying the biggest rucksack. Usually I manage to resist the mass stampede at the start and end up firmly in last place for the first 5 miles. This year I got carried away running and chatting, and went through the first mile in under 10 minutes (faster than my marathon pace, not the best way to start a 50 miler...). By Elsecar at 5ish miles my right thigh/hip was tight and I had to stop and stretch. To my surprise there was a group of people behind us, but they disappeared into the distance fairly rapidly over the next few miles. (Although looking at the photos taken a couple of miles further on there was still a handful of people behind and out of sight.)
Usually my Round Rotherham bad spot comes at 20ish miles in Rother Valley Country Park (on more than one occasion I’ve temporary vowed to finish the race and then never run another ultra...). This year the bad spot came much sooner. Struggling with 40+ miles to go, I thought about dropping. It was a gorgeous sunny day though, so I thought I might as well keep going rather than DNFing and spending the rest of the day sulking on the sofa. And running slowly was more comfortable than walking, so I kept plodding on. Eventually my leg loosened up and I started repassing the people I’d last seen at Elsecar. I ran the whole way through the dreaded country park and was even disappointed to come out the other side onto less runnable terrain.
I went through half way in 5.15, and at this point I began to wonder whether a finishing time starting with a 10 might be possible (the 1st half contains more flat, even trail/road than the 2nd, so some slowing down was inevitable). The 6am starters, along with the 7am starters who went off too fast, provided me with a steady stream of targets to catch, and I kept running pretty well. I struggled on the slightly uneven terrain across the fields and through the woods between Firbeck and Maltby, and downgraded my ambitions to finishing inside last year’s 11.44.
From somewhere I got a second wind though and the last 10 miles flew by, and the final hill before Old Denaby seemed far smaller than before. I left the final checkpoint with 3 and a bit miles to go with 10.15 on the clock. Sub-11 was doable, but I was going to have to work for it. The two blokes I’d been going back and forth with since 30 miles provided additional motivation (it was the usual story: they were running faster but lingering at check-points). Counting footsteps I kept myself mostly running, and covered this section 6 minutes faster than last year. Glancing over my shoulder with a couple of hundred metres to go I could see the two blokes, plus another I’d passed when he took a wrong turn, just behind. Running as fast as I could (which at the end of a 50 is about 10 minute milling) I just held them off and finished in 10.55.
26 minutes outside my PB, but far faster than I thought was possible given how tired I was and how early on my legs started aching. So very happy with that. And I managed to get the eating and drinking right. A couple of biscuits eaten on the go after each checkpoint, plus a gel and a salt tablet during each stage worked well. The OMM front pack is really comfy and keeps the snacks easily to hand, when I don’t want/need to carry a bigger rucksack with belt pockets. And a 650ml bottle of water (instead of the two 750ml bottles I used to haul around...) was plenty.
I’m now wondering about whether I could ever run a sub 10 hour 50. At Round Rotherham probably not (or at least I’d have to be in really good shape and have a perfect day to even get close). But on a pancake flat course? Maybe...
So Thames Trot next year? Or maybe go the whole hog and try a track race?...
photo © Copyright Christopher Thomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Beforehand my goals were to
- i) beat my 2009 time of 9.43
In retrospect i) was never going to happen, and in fact it took a concerted effort to squeak inside 2010’s 9.59. I didn’t strictly speaking manage ii) either, having a couple of short walk breaks on the steeper bits. But I did take 6 minutes off my 2010 time for that stretch, which I’ll take as a mini result.
The weather at the start was foul and (after a last minute change of clothes which left the back seats of the car covered in sudocream....) I set off in long tights and a fairly heavy duty jacket. I was also trying out a new bit of kit-an OMM front pack attached to my 10l OMM ‘last drop’ rucksack. I really like this pack for ‘shortish’ races without a huge kit list, but the lack of easy access pockets for food is a problem
The weather cleared up soon after the start and I had to stop, unfasten the front pack, remove my raincoat and then reattach it. Which took forever (or a couple of minutes at least). Rushup edge felt like a bit of a struggle, although not as much of a struggle as the splits revealed afterwards. I was, on average, 2 minutes a mile slower on that stretch than last year. Where have my (pretty crap in the first place) climbing legs gone?...
It started raining heavily coming down from Hollins Cross, so it was back off with the front pack and on with the raincoat. The climb out of Castelton was slow again. And then it stopped raining again and I was overheating and the jacket had to come off again. I was seriously rueing not having worn a lighter jacket which would have coped with the rain without boiling me. Hopefully getting the front pack on and off will get easier/quicker with practice...
By keeping running through Tideswell (and past a bloated dead sheep) I was gradually passing people who were walking. The one problem was food. I was planning on supplementing gels with biscuits and snacks from the checkpoints. But they mostly had sweet flapjacks which I was struggling to eat (note to self: carry a back up stash of savoury biscuits in future).
The climb out of Deep Dale 1 wasn’t too bad and then on to the road of doom. And with a combination of counting footsteps and inventing pace and heart rate goals, I ran all but a couple of hundred metres of it, making up the time I’d lost on the big off-road climbs.
The last couple of miles were a bit of plod (probably due to not taking on enough calories), but I managed to just make it round inside last year’s time.
Photo © Copyright Christopher Thomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence