around Rotherham again
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