Surprising how fast it comes around really. Suddenly it was Round Sheffield Run 2017 on Sunday. Arrgh!
Actually, I felt pretty comfortable. Despite still feeling lingeringly dehydrated and a bit sore from the climbing and running over the weekend I was just simply looking forward to it. I usually have nerves and butterflies in the run up to a race, but not this time. I think it’s because I was really looking forward to it, and hadn’t really piled any pressure on it about pace.
Now, there was a little pressure, as ‘Team Whippet’ (myself and Paul) had entered again with the aim of beating his original time 3 years ago of 1hr 30mins for the timed sections. Last year Paul had the remains of a cold eating into his efficiency meaning we were outside that with 1:35 but we were aiming to do better this time. So, there should have been some pressure, but this year bad luck had fallen on Paul again and he was suffering from a really bad spell of insomnia meaning he was pretty knackered. This meant the pressure was off really, I was happy to just run and enjoy it and see how we did.
The night before, I dropped a message to Paul about the plan for tomorrow only to get the news that there was a chance he wasn’t going to run it. Far too knackered and he didn’t feel like he’d be able to get around. We decided we’d see on the day, but all of a sudden I might have to run it solo, ad that would change the pressure somewhat. I felt like I was in pretty good shape for it, not quite where I wanted to be based on losing the traction after my half marathon break plus some illness, but definitely good enough to try and beat the time if Paul wasn’t running.
Liz and I got our stuff sorted the night before and booked a taxi to pick us up at about 8:10. I got up at about 7:15, pottered around a bit with some breakfast and coffee and had a last minute packing spree to put in the things I’d forgotten like sunglasses! Eventually the taxi turned up and got us there for about 8:20. We had our numbers already, so just needed a loo trip and to pick up our dibbers for the timing sections. The loo queue did take a reasonable amount of time, 10-15 minutes. Andy found us at this point, and we got in contact with Paul. Nope, he wasn’t running. Eeek!
Finishing with the portaloos, we headed over and picked up our dibbers and joined the queue. By now, the queue was filled with green numbers. We were yellow, the group ahead, so ended up being called forward as the loo queue delay meant we were late in our starting slot.
At this point I decided to “go for it”. When Paul and I were preparing for the 2016 run, I built a Garmin workout using the stage breakdown of Paul’s average paces for each stage from 2015. With that running, we just needed to keep under the slow pace limit, and I had to hit the lap button when we started and finished stages. It wasn’t quite perfect, as some stages had much different real time pace profiles, but it was a good enough guide. All I needed to do this time was start the work out and try and keep to it.
Soon we were at the front of the queue, dibbing in and off and running. This year the RSR had an ‘elite’ wave starting right at the front to avoid the congestion which can sometimes happen with faster runners on the tight trails. The cut off speed for this was 20min/5k male 22min/5k female requirement, which I’m about 15 seconds off of! This meant that because we’d started at the back of the wave, I was spending a lot of the race catching up and overtaking people. The first stage was a good one, and looking at my actual pace I was pretty much on the nail for it, even though I felt like I was pushing faster. There were quite a few groups of people I was over taking at this point, but the paths are good and wide so I didn’t need to call out or anything for them to make space. This stage had a couple of road crossings with dibbers on either side just in case you got stopped by traffic, but they also made good cheeky pause spots to get a breather in if you needed them and it was far to early for that…! At the end of the stage it was a gentle walk through Forge Dam to the next dibber where I had a brief chat with marshal there about walking section strategies. By hitting lap at the end of the stage, I could tell exactly how long I had before the timer started again for the next stage and it seemed to be twice as long as it took to walk. This pretty much carried across all the other walking stages. The marshal suggested that some people did yoga in the breaks… I wasn’t so sure about throwing the odd downward dog in, they are hard enough normally!
Stage two beckoned ominously. It was a tough climb up Porter Brook and last year by about 3/4 of the way up I was really really suffering and felt like done myself in. I quickly realised afterwards that that was part of the beauty of the format of the race; you can push yourself really hard in the sections and used the walking sections to recover, but at the time it felt pretty dire! This time I went into it knowing that it was going to hurt, but to push hard.
There was A LOT of overtaking in this stage, pretty much a constant stream of people walking up the hill getting slower and slower as you climbed. I set a decent pace, well below the pace ceiling I’d set of 5:30, hoping to build up a decent cushion before I hit the real climb just before the 4th k of the route. It wasn’t enough of a cushion though; I was about 3/4 up when my watch started to warn me that I’d dropped below the average pace needed to keep under the ceiling. Cripes Paul, what had you been eating when you blasted this stage in 2015? I managed to keep running for almost all of the stage with the exception of a steep section just before the end were people were walking spread entire across the trail and I didn’t have enough breath to call out to get them to move. Eventually I got past them and pushed up the final stairs the the finish. Ouch. I’d managed a 6:10 average pace, whereas 2015 Paul managed 5:30. This meant I had work to do!
From here though, it was downhill fun-times! After a gentle 9 minute walk in the drizzle to the top of the Limb Valley with a banana and some water, we started out on the first big downhill of the run. This section is bloody amazing: about 2.5k of downhill trail with the odd sweeping corner and undulation. I pushed really hard here from the start, averaging a sub 4 minutes per k pace. Again, loads of overtaking meaning I was calling out “On your right!” or “On your left!” every couple of seconds, but pretty much everyone was fantastic at keeping out the way. The stage ended just as I started to feel like I couldn’t keep it up anymore which was pretty perfect.
The next stage was another downhill. It didn’t take long to walk there at all, so I took a few more minutes to get my breath back. At this point I noticed my HRM wasn’t working properly, meaning my data was screwed up so I fiddled with it, but realised that that hadn’t worked. Also, quite a few of the people I’ve overtaken had caught back up in the walk/breather and set off on the next stage. Setting off again, I caught them all back up again and overtook them. I did ponder if this meant I’d be forever leapfrogging then, but I think that I was making progress ahead of them gradually, so didn’t keep buzzing past the same people. This stage is similar to the previous, all downhill and winding and just great fun. Checking my HR data and seeing it was still not working properly, I repaired my strap with my watch and it seemed to fix it.
Original on FlickrNext was a longish walk around the back of the Dore train station before starting up the stairs leading in to Ladies’ Spring Wood. Thankfully the stairs aren’t part of the timed section, instead the dibber is at the time of them, but it’s still a steep uphill climb. It took quite a while before I came across anyone running in this section, again lots more overtaking, but the terrain made it harder to do so. I spent half of the stage with my watch beeping at me for being slow, and then went it eased and become downhills, pushed hard to try and make the time up. Just as I was seeing the end of the stage my watch beeped at me to tell me I was on track for pace, so it was a close one! On reflection, I’m not sure if it was the hills, or the traffic that meant I wasn’t faster here. One to think about.
The next stage was really short, catching me by surprise a little. The toughness of the previous stage had left me feeling a little nervous. Was I pushing too hard or not resting enough? This meant I came in pretty much bang on pace, but quite surprised when it finished. I really could have done this section faster and gained more precious time.
I’d lost track of which stage was which by this point, and asked a pair of Striders if this was the downhill stage next. They laughed at me, saying they wished it was as it turned out to be Graves Park, which is quite hilly. I was a bit nervous starting this, but actually found it really easy. I’d settled into a good rhythm here, and again passed loads of people.
Lees Hall Golf Course was a stage I was looking forward to and a bit worried about. Last year, I become a bit of a cropper, doing an Elvis impression and sliding down a steep hill in the mud on my shin leaving quite a hole. This time it had been much drier over the past few days, so there was no much mud at all. The end of this stage had a reasonable steep hill which slowed me right now, but as it was the end of the stage I could have pushed harder and grabbed a few more sections had I realised. Finishing it, I chatted to a runner who’d powered past me at this hill, the first person to overtake me while running over the whole race so far. It was his first time, and he’s been part of the reserve list before getting a place at the last minute. He’d fought his way up the field from the last starting wave which was pretty good going!
I filled him in on what was to come next: a 800m dash down a bloody big hill (~18%!) and then we started off. I pushed this really hard from the get go and was rewarded with a GREAT time for the stage. 23rd fastest in the race, and 9th fasted in my category. It’s hard to keep under control when pounding the concrete that hard on the downhill. I did consider using the grass instead to cushion the knees and feet a bit but figured this would just slow me down.
Only two running stages left now but this one was a tough one. The run along Brincliffe edge is a tough climb for most of it and includes a short but steep section of stairs up to the road which did me completely. Nothing left in the thighs for it! After getting to the top, it was easier though, as the rest of the stage was downhill through Chelsea park (which I’d never new existed until I did RSR last year). I remember finding the pace really tough here, thinking I wasn’t going that fast, but Strava disgrees. I guess I was just really starting to feel it by this point.
Now it was the finish, a 400m dash through Eccesall Park to the finish line. I think this is the only stage I did slower than last year! I was pushing hard but there was just nothing left to turn it into a proper sprint! I blasted over the line and staggered to the check in point to get my results print out and was stunned to see I come in at 1:25! Grabbing my freebies and teeshirt I spied a massage tent and joined the queue to get loosened up a bit.
The queue took about 10 minutes to get through, and for a £10 donation I got about 15 mins of someone with very strong thumbs causing me some significant discomfort. It was pretty painful, certainly harder than I massage, but it did loosen up my lower back which was feeling very sore at that point and get my calves working again. I suspect that I’d have been a lot more stiff the next day without it.
After that I found a spot to sit in to watch the others come in, and almost immediately Liz appeared in time for me to clap her across. She’d done really well and was really happy with her time. We all met up and had a beer in the sun before heading out to find a brunchy breakfast at The Sellars Wheel.