Digested read: I entered the DABKA Round Donny Run 30k event on a bit of whim, why not, wouldn’t want to miss out on an inaugural friendly distance event now would I? It was hot, it was longer than 30k, but yep, it was well signed, it was fun and who knew about that amazing viaduct and the endemic population of pathologically friendly fellow runners and helpful marshals that are so prolific in these parts. A few teething problems maybe, but I had fun, and loved the medal, which I think you’ll find is what running is all about. Would recommend.
Now read on at your peril, this is a long one. It’ll probably take you as long to read this as it did for me to run the blooming thing, but look at it as a test of your stamina and mental strength, these things count for distance running, trust me, I’ve googled it. Or you could save yourself a lot of time and watch the video summary of the Round Donny run course. Remember, the choice is yours, you read on now, it’s at your own risk, contributory negligence on your part for being sucked into a time vampire. You have been warned. You’re welcome.
No sooner had my Smiley Buddy deposited me back on my doorstep after driving me home from the Round Donny Run, a concerned neighbour came scurrying across the road to ask if I needed any assistance. She naturally assumed from my creaking and stiffly cautious progress towards my front door I must have experienced some sort of medical emergency and was in need of immediate help. It possibly wasn’t the greatest testament to my athleticism that I had to admit that I was absolutely fine in a ‘but I have just run(ish) over 20 miles‘ sort of way, meaning, that whilst I was able to move immediately after the event, sitting in a car for the drive back to Sheffield stiffened me up completely. To the point I did seriously consider just asking my buddy if I could just live in her car for a few days, until I’d regained the use of my legs. In the end, I thought that was maybe asking a favour too far. After all, she had chauffeured me to Donny for the inaugural DABKA Round Donny Run, hung around for me waiting for me to finish, and taken me home, and to be fair, I probably wasn’t at my most fragrant post the event, and I’d have matured to an even riper pungency sat in her car for a few extra days during this seemingly endless heatwave. Even the best of running buddy friendships need some boundaries. By this I mean I did ask if I could, but then pretended I was only joking when she laughed in a ‘clearly that’s a joke’ sort of way. I didn’t push the point. Anyway, it was nice of my neighbour to enquire after my welfare, but she did look slightly horrified when I told her my temporary (hopefully) impairment to my mobility was self-inflicted. ‘But why would you do that? Run all that way in this insane heat?’ she queried. I showed her my medal.
I think it is quite a nice one, enamel, that’s unusual, and the shoe tread design, it’s a fine bit of bling… she was unmoved, not even unmoved, completely nonplussed would be more accurate. I concede it is hard to communicate what motivates people to run (I use the term ‘run’ loosely in relation to my own event performance) to those that don’t. Honestly, I don’t even quite get why I put myself through these things myself, so you can’t really expect others to get it. I speak from the heart here, as every event I enter I go through agonies of regret in the weeks and days before about whether or not I’ll actually turn up to the start. I like lots of things about running: the people you meet; the places you discover; the post-run endorphins, coffee and chit-chat; the whole parkrun ethos; but the actual running bit… Hmm.
Seriously, for the most part it’s fun retrospectively. I am always astonished at races when the shout goes up ‘go’ and everyone sets to set off at a sprint and it suddenly dawns on me I’m expected to do likewise what’s more, with some semblance of enthusiasm! My body protests as I lumber along, bits wobble, other bits threaten to chafe, and I have to contend with a noisy internal monologue berating me for turning up at all ‘what was I thinking? How is this fun? It had better be a very fine medal indeed to justify all this physical unpleasantness that I’m currently undergoing. Oh god, I think I need the loo again. I wonder if there’ll be any loo stops. Am I lost yet?‘ that kind of thing, hilariously, I don’t even think this experience is unique to me, there are loads of us out there enjoying our running as Type Two Fun, i.e. the fun is really only recognisable retrospectively for the most part, such is the nature of the endeavour. This is why the term ‘fun run’ is often cited as the most easily identifiable and therefore obvious example of an oxymoron, pushing ‘happy Christmas’ into second place. Me and running, well it’s sort of complicated….
The Round Donny Run is a case in point. For those of you who like to know the blah de blah, the Round Donny Run website tells us that:
On Sunday 8th July The inaugural DABKA Round Donny Run takes place. It is a multi-stage trail race which will see entrants undertake a scenic 9 stage 30k course on footpaths and trials taking in the beautiful Don Valley Gorge, Sprotborough Flash Nature reserve, Conisborough Viaduct, Hatchell Wood, Cantley Park, Sandall Beat Woods, Doncaster Racecourse and back to your friends and family at the Town Fields during their annual Summer Gala.
The run can be done as an individual or with a friend as a pair doing the full distance or as part of a 3-person relay covering the 30k distance.
Details of the event popped up in my news feed months ago. This is significant. Any event that is ‘ages away’ allows me to delude myself that I will undoubtedly have put myself through rigorous training and preparation in the intervening weeks. Also, I liked the idea of taking part in an inaugural event – fear of missing out is a powerful thing. It sounded as if it might be following the format brought into being by the Round Sheffield Run, which is my favourite event of the year – i.e. friendly, sociable, inclusive and introducing participants to areas around they might otherwise never discover. Yeah, why not, post London Marathon I’d be soooooooooooo fit, I’d romp round 30k effortlessly, you know what, I’d probably even have lost so much weight with all my training and cross training and everything I’d be OK going down a size in the tee-shirt. It would be fine. Yeah, I’m in, it’ll be fun. Why not? Spoiler alert, I was delusional dear reader, but fortunately, I’m conscientious if not keen, and having entered took part anyway. Also, it doesn’t matter that my T-shirt is a bit of a squeeze, as it’s white anyway, and therefore would be destined never to be worn even if it fitted ok.
I’m not going to lie, it did cross my mind that it might be a scam at first. Hardly anybody entered, and it didn’t have that big a profile. Granted, I’m over in Sheffield, but for many weeks it seemed very quiet compared to other events I’ve entered. It’s a shame that these thoughts do crop up. There have been some scam events in recent years, night-light runs and obstacle courses being the most common contenders for fraud. I did feel though if you were going to do a scam event, you’d go for something more flashy, and frankly in support of a better known charity. I reckoned it was legit, definitely worth a punt.
DABKA; Doncaster and Bassetlaw Kidney Association helps kidney patients, their families and carers live with renal disease, from pre-dialysis through to transplant. DaBKA is run entirely on a voluntary basis for the benefit of renal patients. They provide information and support to patients, their families and carers. We are hoping that we will be able to raise some much-needed funds for them and raise awareness of the great work that they do
The number of entrants was pretty small (but perfectly formed) for the inaugural event, and a lot of time, effort and funds went into getting the Round Donny Run up and running, so whether or not it did raise funds I just don’t know, but I’m sure it raised the profile of the charity, and I daresay as the event continues and grows it could be a money spinner for a local initiative. Here’s hoping.
So I entered, and then largely ignored it, until a couple of weeks ago. As the event drew near, there was a little flurry of e-mails explaining logisitics, where to park, an OS map of the route popped up on Facebook,
this didn’t massively help me to be honest. A Strava route would have been better. I knew there would be different stages, but I never did work out how long each one was, and, significantly, nor did I discover the actual distance once you added in the recovery stages. Because it was advertised as a 30k event, with the option of having relay teams of three people running 10k each, I’d imagined it wouldn’t be far off that distance. In fact, on the day the walking sections added to the mileage quite significantly, and I’m not going to lie, that was a mental challenge of me as I found in searing heat I had literally no idea how much further there was to go, not helped by my TomTom watch expiring on my at the 18 mile mark, as if saying ‘this was what I signed up to, you are on your own now mate‘ not grand, also not strictly true as my TomTom is an inanimate object and can’t actually talk, but I’m sure you get the gist.
As the weekend drew nearer, I was half hoping they might cancel due to low numbers of entrants. It was just so insanely hot. I’d hardly been running at all, broken post London, my running mojo upped and left, I did do a few parkruns and the Round Sheffield Run a couple of weeks before but nothing since, and frankly didn’t want to venture out of the house in the heat, let alone head out for a long distance run. As preparation for a 30k run goes I hold my hand up to being at the ‘lamentable‘ rather than ‘exemplary‘ end of the preparation continuum. Nobody’s queuing up outside my door for running training tips. At least it meant I wasn’t injured… little prospect of getting a running related injury if your primary state of activity is just about inert.
Still, on the plus side, I did know one other member of my Smiley Paces running club had entered, and so our fates became intertwined. I had a massive wobble a couple of weeks before hand and she talked me round pointing out it could be seen as just another training run. Then I remembered about the bling and the t-shirt and the potential for generating amusing anecdotes etc and after some mental faffing I was back in. Also, she was up for going together and driving us both there and so that was it, destiny sealed. The thing is, there are pros and cons of jointly committing to doing a run together. The pro is that agreeing to both go means that you are much more likely to do so, no baling or you let your running buddy down, that would be unthinkable! By weird coincidence the con side of the equation is exactly the same thing, you have to do it now. Curses.
So the day dawned. Hot, hot hot. Ridiculously hot. I did my usual faffing routine, there’d been some last-minute emails warning about the heat and saying there would be extra water stations and sponges with water along the route. I debated about whether to wear my running water belt. I hate running with it, but being dehydrated would be worse. I filled up my bottles with electrolyte laden fluids, stuffed some naked bars in, and some toilet paper for good measure. I coated myself with factor 50 sunblock like a channel swimmer covering themselves with goose fat. I was still fearful I’d sweat if off. I have my hat and deeply unattractive but very practical freebie TomTom sunglasses and then porridge consumed and trail shoes on I was out the door and ready to go.
Disappointingly, my lift arrived soon after. I was sweating even at 7.00 in the morning, this did not bode well. She wasn’t feeling too good, nursing the end of a bad cold and a good night out the evening before. I was feeling a bit guilty that she might only be coming because we’d pre-arranged it, so she felt obligated to come, but she was gracious about it. ‘See how it goes‘, well quite. I felt the same.
It was an easy drive out to Doncaster, but actually it’s further away from Sheffield than I thought. It occurred to me, that I hadn’t really thought about the event very much at all apart from entering. I don’t know the area at all. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Doncaster, other than passing through the railway station on a train en route to elsewhere. Oh well, that’s the joy of trail running, you get to see new parts of the world.
We were sent directions in advance advising there’d be some parking at the Doncaster School for the Deaf, which was pretty much opposite Doncaster race course. We round it OK, and we’d even remembered to bring our printed out car parking permit, but in fact a cheery marshal was on hand to wave us in the right direction and give us a freshly minted permit to display on the dashboard.
We parked up near to a massive ambulance. When you are at an event with a conspicuously high number of St John’s trained people in evidence I never know whether to be reassured that the event organisers are taking participant health and safety seriously, or terrified that it is basically thought necessary to stalk us all day with highly trained medical personnel as there could be a life threatening occurrence at any moment. You have to question whether it’s a good idea to take part in any endeavour where ambulances follow you round as a matter of course. Oh well. There didn’t seem to be a massive amount of parking, but there were other car parks and roads around, and I guess locals would know other areas and maybe even walk down.
Oh well. Parked at 8.00 exactly, we had some faffiness, sorting tops and water and what to take, other runners rocked up. We debated with them whether or not to carry extra water, the consensus was we would. Blooming good call, I’d never have made it round without. Me and my Smiley buddy weren’t quite sure where we were heading, but basically followed a couple of other runners marching purposefully ahead of us, and sure enough, after a ten minute or so walk, following some yellow chalked arrows on the pavement we ended up at the Town Fields start area.
The fields were dry and the area huge. We could see some tents at what must be the start line, but it looked like runners were congregating by a brick building in the opposite direction. We followed the migrating lines of trainer clad people and after only a brief panic on my part, as we walked alongside what looked alarmingly like the track for a school sports day had me shuddering with unwelcome flashbacks of getting stuck in a tyre during an obstacle course race, we were at the building registration HQ.
The building was sort of the opposite of a Tardis, in that it seemed a lot smaller on the inside. It was really well organised, with tables where you could pick up your number, another where you were issued with your dibber, an area where you got your (too small) tee shirt and could pin on your number and do all the hoiking of kit and joining queues for the loos that is a prerequisite of participation in any event. As the numbers were small, the building could cope, but my those corridors were narrow, if there had been many more runners assembling it would have reached grid lock pretty quickly. A large map of the route was on display, but it was hard to get to as it was up on a wall along the corridor, also, somewhat fatalistically I felt there was little to be gained by looking at the route at this point. I was relying on the route being signed and marshalled and it was a bit late in the day for checking out the land marks to look out for along the way. Maybe if next year, they stuck it on a board outside to avoid congestion I’d take the time to go and look. There was a long, long queue for the loo, until someone in the know pointed out there were extra loos in the changing rooms. A bit more signage would have been good.
Registration was speedy, and so once we’d got our numbers and had our precautionary pees we headed back across the dusty dried out grass to the start area, where the MC was practising with his mike and the start arch was speedily being inflated in front of our very eyes.
I was seriously impressed by the attention to detail in the organisation. The place was crawling with pathologically friendly and helpful marshals (that is a compliment, in case you are wondering). Yet more St John’s people were gathering (enough now, their extreme prevalence is starting to freak me out a bit), and the event compere was enthusiastically welcoming people as they assembled at the start, calling out the names of running clubs from vests various, and talking about the DABKA charity.
There were explanations about the dib dab dobbering. I was quite chilled with this as it’s been a thing at the Round Sheffield Run for years, but some runners were a bit apprehensive about how they’d get on with them. I’m probably tempting fate in saying this, but I’ve never had a problem with the technology, so it must be fairly well tested and robust, as long as you don’t do anything stupid like affix your wrist band to your ankle say so you have to do the can can at every check point in order to dab your dibber in chest high dobbing points. Not quite sure if I’m referring to dibs, dobs and dabs correctly, but I’m sure you’ll get the gist. There was a bag drop – big secure tent, so no worries there. Lots of milling and chilling, all very relaxed and friendly, a really good vibe.
There was a photographer on hand, so plenty of opportunity for posing for official shots, and taking shots of each other, and making new friends, and taking photos of them too. It’s always a good idea to get lots of snaps at the start, because you never know quite how the day will unfold. One nameless pair shared their view that as we got given the tee-shirts on registration, and it was so very, very hot, no-one would be any the wiser if we all just went straight home now and skipped the run altogether. Me and my smiley buddy tried to make out we were horrified by the very thought, we did the honourable thing and conceded we had nursed (and rejected) the very same thought. Tempting though…
The organisers were having a few teething problems, so somewhat stressed, but as participants we were all tickety-boo. Because of the heat, the event organisers had introduced a cut off time, as after that there would no longer be any first aid available on the course. I did/do understand the rationale for that, but couldn’t get my head around whereabouts that would be as the instructions were given in relation to stage sections, but I was planning the route in miles. Oh well, I decided que sera sera, given the heat I could only do what I could do, but I would be gutted if it was to be my first DNF, even so, a DNF is better than a DNS I figured just go with it. We gathered, we fraternised, we checked out the different running clubs. I found it a bit strange being out of my usual home patch, lots of new clubs were in evidence, and really none that I recognised other than Doncaster Athletics Club who were really well represented and seemed a friendly and inclusive bunch.
The event was going to start a few minutes late due to, erm, actually, I’m not sure why, sorting out the dib-dobbery I’m guessing. But that didn’t spoil the fun, beyond me wondering if they’d add that on to the cut off time consideration. There were some novelty treats to come. The BEST BIT, was that the organisers decided to line up the slower runners at the front, so they could dib through first, and have more time on course than the speedier runners at the rear. This was a little strange, because it did also raise the possibility that we’d all get trampled by a stampede of faster sprinters behind, but it would have been well worth it, just for the experience of starting off at the front. An absolute first for me!
As we were being briefed, a white car came speeding across in front of us, the driver leapt out, and ran across to hand something to one of the organisers, as he did so, he hadn’t put on the handbrake, and nervous laughter went round as we all watched the white car continue with it’s forward momentum, wondering if it would come to a halt or collide with the next inanimate object in its way. Disaster was averted as the driver leapt back in, drove off at speed, then came driving at speed back towards us with a velocity that at first was entertaining and then alarming as I seriously thought he was about to ram raid the starting line up. Suddenly being at the front didn’t seem such a coveted position!
Once the car excitement had abated, there was a count down to dibberdom, and off we went. As you have to dib out, it was a stuttering start, but joyful to be underway. Although I was one of the first through, naturally I was soon being overtaken by speedier souls, I cling to my belief in the validity of the fable of the hare and tortoise, it is hope over experience that often gets me through on such occasions. Heading off felt fun. This was going to be grand, I was here, we were all doing it, the event was happening. Yay! Oh look! They even had a photographer to capture the off!
So I had a very brief moment of feeling like I was leading the field, VERY brief, and then yomped on along behind pretty much everyone else. The first leg was really short, blink and you miss it – maybe 0.5km. Phew, that wasn’t so bad, I can do a few more legs like this. Dib out, and onto the first of the walking/ recovery sections.
My only real criticism of this event, was that I had no idea how long each section was. It would have been really handy to have had a list giving distance for each running section and each recovery stage, because it made it hard to judge how to pace yourself for each bit. This information may have been buried somewhere in the advisory notes, but I couldn’t find it, and references to places didn’t help as I’m not local. To be fair, I think section maps did go up on Facebook in advance of the event, but that isn’t particularly user-friendly or accessible on the day. I don’t recall seeing a summary anywhere…
Never mind, it didn’t matter much, as I just blithely followed everyone else. I like the element of surprise out yomping, it maintains interest and distracts me from the overall unpleasantness of being expected to run. The first walk section though seemed to go on forever, though. It took in the delights of a Sunday morning desolate Donny town centre, and coming so early on in the event seemed a bit bizarre. I overheard one runner remarking to another ‘this is the weirdest race I’ve ever been in – are you sure we are supposed to be walking this bit?’ Yep, we were though. Some runners, frustrated by the pace, chose to sprint on by, this might have got them round the course as a whole faster, but wouldn’t have moved them up the rankings of the actual race results. It is a strange one to get your head around if you aren’t familiar with similarly devised events. I was on my own, but already groups of runners were sort of finding their pace, some ahead, some behind, plenty of time to go… Highlights included going over the railway bridge – this is the Doncaster I know!
After what seemed like miles and miles, during which time I’d already started drinking my water, this did not bode well, but it was soooooooooo hot, especially in the town centre, with light reflecting back up from the hot tarmac.
Eventually, we espied a cheery marshal just over the bridge, pointing the way down a canal path and onto stage 2. I found the signage pretty good for this event. There were loads of marshals, a reasonable amount of red and white tape at intervals and some yellow arrows in biodegradable powder paint I think on the off roady trails. Some of these did wear off quite quickly, but for the most part I was in sight of other runners or had some vague idea where to go because of the excellently briefed and helpful marshals. Others I gather did not fare so well, due to vandals laying a false trail at some point which is a darned shame as it was beyond the control of the organisers, but obviously pretty devastating for those who ended up going a couple of miles awry. The organisers were on it as soon as they heard, putting extra marshals in place, so did all they could. From a personal point of view, I thought the markings were ok, and you didn’t need any navigational skills. I myself have also been caught out by
small minded anti-social bastard vandals pranksters laying a false trail in the past, getting so lost I came in behind the sweeper at my first ever fell race the Wingerworth Wobble – and it’s heart breaking but really not the fault of organisers, it just happens. I felt pretty confident on this route for the most part, just a couple of minor wobbles navigationally speaking. Here’s the next cheery marshal with excellent directional pointing skills, I tried to stop and photograph all the volunteers I passed along the way, too often they are the unsung heroes at events. Not sure I got them all, but I did my best.
And suddenly, we were out of the urban, and alongside the canal. It has been so very hot and dry, I guess it wasn’t as lush or scenic as it might have been, but it was shaded, and the dry air meant there were no midges or biting insects laying siege to runners as they passed by. It was nice, not spectacular scenery, but pleasing nonetheless.
We hugged the canal for quite a while, and then at some point, it widened out and we moved a bit away from it, as the adjacent land opened up into farm land. It was dry and dusty, and you could hear traffic at times. The runners space out a fair bit, and I found I ran long sections on my own. I didn’t mind this particularly, I’m so slow, I do all my long runs on my own anyway, unless I can persuade someone to come out and do a walk recce of a new route with me. I think the event would be improved by more runners though, so you don’t feel too isolated on unfamiliar paths. It felt safe though. The second section was incredibly long though, and that was a surprise after such a short opening sprint (cough).
We romped on. Up and over bridges, under bridges, giving and receiving thumbs up to marshals and volunteers. Occasional runners passed, I offered to give way to some as they caught me up, but many were sticking with running buddies anyway so it was all pretty friendly and supportive. People encouraging one another and exchanging small talk about the heat, the ludicrousness of running and the unexpected appeal of parts of the route. I have no idea what the mood was like at the front of the pack.
Note for others, up until now I’ve always been somewhat contemptuous of people who are members of the flat earth society, but here running round Donny, you begin to appreciate why the idea of the earth as a slightly squashed sphere would indeed appear to be errant nonsense. This is a really flat route. There are no hills. One incline, but that was going up to the viaduct, and not really a natural geographical feature in the same way as a mountain say. The paths were largely tarmac, or compacted mud and grit, so pretty much like road running for the most part. If there had been loads of rain I suppose some sections might have been muddy, but not too bad I would have thought. I wore my trusty innov8 parkclaws, which are feeling their mileage a bit now, but are my go-to shoes for unknown terrain, but really road shoes here would have been fine. My guess is that this course would be paradise for speed merchants, they could hare round unimpeded. Less opportunity for small talk with other runners out and about though, so they’d be missing out on a large part of the run in my book, but each to their own.
At one point I noticed a load of guys lurking by a rock face to the side of the canal. I thought they were answering a call of nature, but in fact they seemed to be about to embark on some rock climbing adventure, not quite Stannage, but did the job.
It was peaceful by the canal, and picturesque in places. There was a diversion across the canal at one point, and extra marshals were on hand kitted out with life jackets presumably in case sirens started singing to them from the decks of canal boats and they felt compelled to jump in after them. I assume that runners were deemed to be moving at too great a speed to hear such voices luring them waterwards, and therefore the event risk assessment allowed us to take part without wearing buoyancy aids. I nevertheless threw caution to the wind, stopping to both take photos and pose for them. Well, seeing as I was there, why not – and I didn’t fall in, so no fear of either sirens of Weil’s disease for me!
There were fishermen (they were all male) fishing. I don’t get the fishing thing, it seems pointless and cruel, but the sitting by the water thing looked appealing. Eventually, and this was odd too, though welcome all the same, there was a water tent. Not a tent on or in the water, that would be a life raft, but a tent with bottles of water, so you could stop and get a drink, and refuel and cool off but it was in the middle of a run section. I don’t care about my times, I was just aiming to get round, but again I found that confusing, that the clock was still running at the refueling point – though on reflection, I suppose that’s the case at most ‘normal’ events, so maybe I’m being unfair there. It was much-needed though, I was more than ready for something to drink. Again the marshals were super friendly, I think there may even have been jelly babies on offer, and – brilliant idea this – a bin full of water and sponges so people could cool down but without wasting the bottled water. I’ve not seen this before at an event, but what a great idea. High five to whosoever it was who came up with that one. I’m genuinely disappointed I didn’t think to take a photo of a barrel full of water and floating sponges by way of illustration and emphasis of this point, but I daresay dear reader you can use your imagination and recreate the scene almost as well in your mind’s eye. See? Clever eh? Genius even. Like all great ideas, ridiculously simple to execute, just needed some bright spark to think of it and make it so.
Refueled, rehydrated and revived I romped on. One of the advantages of running in a completely new area is that you get moments of real surprise. There was some fairly impressive industrial architecture along the canal, bridge wise, but then at one point a mighty viaduct came into view, Conisbrough Viaduct to be specific, and it really is extraordinary. It loomed into view from quite a way back, and then there was a bit of hike up hill to clamber on to it. There a fearless photographer was sat on the wall in defiance of gravity, snapping pictures of runners streaming past. I wasn’t doing all that much streaming to be honest, so paused for a chat. Turns out she was supposed to be running, but had twisted her ankle doing The Trunce, and very sensibly decided not to risk it running the Round Donny, but to bike up and take pictures instead. Hurrah!
We photographed each other, then, after pausing to take in both the view from on high, and the other runners hot on my trail, I trotted off again.
Here is a smorgasbord of her photos, they capture the event nicely do they not? Good job.
Honestly, bit of a blur after that, more hot trails, more running, more uncertainty about when the stage might end. I followed the other runners, fading yellow arrows and sniggered inappropriately at the gratuitous knob graffiti which also seemed to be showing the way ahead with extra enthusiasm. Eventually, just as I’d given up any hope of the section ever coming to an end, I emerged onto a road, just over the brow of the hill was another handily pointing marshal, always good to see! This was a dib point, and then it was but a short walk to the next water station.
which was just the other side of a cut through by some houses, that felt a little strange, but hey ho. Quick pit stop, and on again.
So I guess that must have been a walk for a bit, just a short road section, past a graveyard, which I may have just hallucinated because I was pretty sure I was dying of the heat at this point, and then another cheery marshal (where does this run source so many smiley and supportive people, it’s very impressive, I’ve rarely felt so supported and welcome on a run, even on my own turf) was on hand to direct you into the woods.
This was a shorter by comparison shady section. I was on my own for the whole length of it, but this was not bad thing, as it enabled me to take a wilderness comfort break without fear of interruption, it was a lot better running after that – I obviously wasn’t as dehydrated as I thought!
One option for this event was to do a sort of relay in teams of three, but it wasn’t altogether clear to me where the handover points for this were. It didn’t matter as such, but it did contribute to my growing confusion about what the actual mileage of the event was going to be. I’d long ago clocked up 10k, but seemingly was not a third of the way through the route. Oh well, I’m here now. I have another Smiley running buddy, selfie queen, and her philosophy on longer runs is something along the lines of, ‘well tea time is going to come round eventually, so I might as well keep moving forward and try to get back for it, I got here under my own steam, so I can get back too‘. I find this helpful, others may not. Basically, onwards. It was going to be a long one though, and I was slow, even my standards, it being so hot. I was starting to fret a bit about the cut off, as I didn’t know where and when it was. I’d be gutted to be turned back after coming so far.
Over a road, over a bridge, directed down alongside another housing estate and…
Much excitement – spectator interaction! Some local residents were out picnicking and playing with water guns, and – by mutual consent – took aim and gave me a good soaking with their guns. It was really fun, they cooled me off, and then waved me on my way over a little bridge – which was just as well, because even though just seconds earlier a marshal had clearly instructed me to do just that, I was in danger of heading off back down the crescent to where I’d just come from, destined to repeat that loop in perpetuity like a runner caught in some weird vortex. That would have been a bad thing dear reader, not grand at all.
The next section I was pretty much on my own. There were dusty paths, long stretches adjacent to quite busy roads, so you could hear and occasionally see traffic rumbling by. The trail markings were clear though, so even though I was alone, I wasn’t worried about getting lost. There was some shade along the way, but it was quite nice to come across another water stop eventually, with again, friendly marshals and this time some pleasingly interactive fellow runners too. I’d actually been stalking them on and off from afar for a while, but not caught up with them before.
It was fun meeting them. They were having mixed experiences, but seemed to think we should make the cut off. Was it here that one of them pronounced she’d cracked having a pee standing up, an achievement for which I warmly congratulated her. It’s amazing what becomes interesting and relevant chat on a run. I was a bit worried about washing off my sun block with the cooling sponges of water, so opted instead to fill my cap and let the water just run down from my head. My new best friend running buddy offered some sun block, but I declined, I wanted to press on and was reasonably confident my slathering in factor 50 would hold. I left them debating whether or not they’d both continue. I wasn’t far ahead, but pushed on.
The next section was a bit strange, well, maybe that’s the wrong word, sort of unexpected. We went through what looked like quite a dreary landscape, but actually there were loads of pools which I think given a bit more rain would have been quite an impressive wildlife reserve, lush and green. As it was, it seemed a little bleak, adjacent to an enormous Amazon warehouse, it seemed extremely unlikely the actual amazon being so dry, though to be fair, we know great acreages there are being turned into dust bowls through deforestation. The path sort of looped round on itself, so at one point I could make out distant runners ahead, and then saw a solitary runner behind me, so I gathered one of the two must have decided to withdraw. I think there are times when it’s sensible to do that. No point in risking your health for what is at heart a pointless activity, and one that is supposed to be fun. How does the saying go? ‘Run often, run long, but never outrun your love of running‘. Agree.
If I’m honest, my enthusiasm was dipping a bit by this point. I had no idea how long there was still to run, and it was dry and dusty. Ahead of me was a limping runner, I wanted to crack on to meet the cut off, but wasn’t sure I’d make it anyway, and she looked sore, so I stopped to check she was OK, which she was sort of. By which I mean she was in a lot of pain, but it was a recurrence of a known injury. She’d taken a punt on whether to run or not, and as she’d been in a team of three doing the relay didn’t want to let her buddies down. She had water she said, and food, so we just walked and talked for a bit, and then satisfied she really was OK, I half-heartedly picked up my pace again, more in hope than expectation. I didn’t think the cut off would be in reach now. Oh well, it’ll still be an experience and miles banked, you always learn something when you go out for a run, well I do anyway, I guess I’m still quite a blank canvas when it comes to this running malarkey, everything is news to me! Dusty paths, more road crossings, cheery marshals all a bit of a heat baked blur!
I asked the next lot of marshals about the cut off, one had no idea what I was talking about, and then another said in a kindly tone ‘you’ve missed that now love’ fair enough. I’d plod on though, game wasn’t over yet. Ahead of me was the big-hatted runner I’d stood alongside at the start. I never actually asked her why she was wearing a large hat, but then again the correct response to such an enquiry would be ‘why not‘ I’ve run enough times with companion animals to know you don’t need an excuse to don a different outfit for a run, it raises spirits and morale, that should be enough. I set myself the goal of trying to catch up with her. I did, and we trotted along together for a while, sort of leap frogging each other, I got ahead of her at one point, and then she overtook me later, so we had fragmented conversations. Enough though for me to establish she is a pretty amazing ultra runner and did a 55 mile (I think) endure 24 event just last weekend, and she told me about other ultras she’d done which were many, magnificent and inspirational. Wow, just wow. It’s great hearing what other runners have done. Might even check out the White Rose Ultra some time it’s apparently got generous cut off times and clearly marked paths, plus you get fed proper food, always a boon. Point of information if you are thinking of doing this Round Donny Run, there aren’t really feed stations as such, there were jelly babies, but you did need to carry your own supplies – I had my trusted naked bars – I underestimated the distance here and probably should have thought a bit more about nutrition and hydration in advance. I’ll know for next time though. I was fine, and because it was a small field and the marshals were fantastic they’d have given you their last sandwich if necessary I’m sure, but best to be self-reliant.
We jogged along to catch up with a small group of runners ahead. I had a theory, based on nothing other than wishful thinking, that if we were a big enough group close to the cut off, they might take pity on us and let us finish. My watch was at 16 miles, so it seemed bizarre if they wouldn’t let us continue just another couple of miles. Of course I now know we had another six to go at least, which is quite a different distance. As it happened, when we arrived at the next water station, which was also a dibber point and should have been the cut off, we were told that the St John’s ambulance people had agreed to stay on a bit longer, so we were ok to continue! Hurrah. I didn’t want to go home with unfinished business, not when I was feeling ‘fine’ just slow, but I knew I’d be able to finish if they allowed the time to do so.
I’m so glad we were able to continue, because the last section was my favourite one. We started in shady woodland, the pathways of which concealed marshals ready to ambush you if you were in danger of going the wrong way and who called encouragement. This was one bit of the route that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable running on my own. The psychology of this is inconsistent. I run on my own in woods and across fells all the time on my own patch, and never give it a moments thought. I didn’t really like being a lone female in dense wood where I didn’t know where I was. Again, a few extra runners taking part would help, and maybe in future years participants won’t lament the isolation of the path, but the difficulty of overtaking others on congested narrow routes… here’s hoping!
It was a short section, then you emerged at the back of some houses, through a gunnel at the back. There was another roady bit, I think this was another walk section, but to be fair, by this point the distinction was academic, as I’d given up any pretence of trying to run anymore, it was just so hot, and now I knew I was going to make the finish I sort of stopped trying. That’s sounds really bad actually doesn’t it, when I say it out loud. I’m just being honest, I can’t be the only person in the world who undertaking a running event in that heat starts to think as long as I’m moving forwards that should be good enough. Oh well. Given that left to my own devices my natural state of motion would be inert, it’s pretty remarkable I was hoiking myself Round Donny at all, be it running, or otherwise.
For those who need external motivation to help them pick up speed, there is always the jurassic run, that might help me put a wiggle on… I think that would be the Round Dino Run though – do make sure you book into the correct event next year or you could be in for a surprise in the wooded sections…
There was a mischievously positioned photographer in a collapsible chair sitting the opposite side of the road from one of the marshals who was offering up jelly babies as sustenance to the weary. I snapped him snapping me, maybe we can do swapsies later?
A strategically placed marshal stopped runners from continuing down the road, and waved us back to a cut through that took us past the most enormous and well manicured grounds of what looked like a stately home estate of some sort. Not a clue where it was, but it was a completely unexpected landscape. I wished I was a bit fitter, as this part would have been lovely to run through, wide fields on either side, and easy flat terrain. About this point, my TomTom spluttered and gave up the ghost. It had recorded 19 miles which was a puzzle, but my watch won’t upload at the moment – long and boring story. I thought once the memory was full, it would ditch earlier runs, but no, it just turned itself off like it was having an almighty sulk. I wouldn’t have minded quite so much, but a few minutes earlier it flashed a ‘memory nearly full’ warning, but I couldn’t work out how to delete any previous runs so it was just basically shouting ‘panic, just panic!’ at me in a really unhelpful way before completely refusing to engage with me. Blooming great.
I emerged at the end of this section, to be greeted by the sight of a quartet of St John’s people, I say St John’s but they looked more like ghost busters, all tooled up and ready to go. They smiled encouragement and pointed the way to the next tent. I don’t know if they were going to assist someone, or just standing down as the end was very nearly in sight.
My only real hiccup of the day followed shortly afterwards. I made my way down to the next marshal point, where there was water and melted jelly babies and a cheery marshal again
The route went across an open field, and then into woodland beyond. There was a group of young lads, some on bikes, who were curious about what I was doing and what the event was. They started chanting ‘Smiley Paces’ and taunting me for being a slow runner, ‘well you try running with me then’ I said, one did, another on his bike, I protested that using the bike was cheating, so he ditched that and ran instead, not for very long, as I’d correctly assessed that despite their youth and my fatigue they wouldn’t actually be able to run more than a couple of hundred metres, so I put on a sprint and they peeled off. It felt really uncomfortable though, they were being overly interactive rather than deliberately harassing me, but I guess groups of youths just don’t get what it’s like to be a lone female runner. I was mightily relieved to shake them off before I got into the woods.
The woods were cool and it was a relief, but I felt like I’d gone miles by now and still had no idea where the finish was. I had one moment after I clambered over a bridge when I couldn’t see any more tape and my heart sank. There was only a fifty-fifty choice of direction though, and I took a punt which was correct, as some guys on a bench had been watching other runners go through and asked me what the event was and where we’d been. It was hard to respond to the latter question as I didn’t really know, I recalled the viaduct, and the canal and the amazon lakes, and they nodded, saying I was definitely nearly back now, just about to emerge at the back of the racecourse. Which indeed I did!
The school for the deaf where we’d parked up was bang smack opposite the Doncaster Race Course, so I felt like I was indeed nearly home when I saw the familiar white rails which instantly signify a race track. Only who knew a race course covered such an extensive area. It was a straight line to the exit point, but it was blooming miles. I passed posh stable blocks with hundreds of immaculate wheelbarrows all lined up ready for use. The grandstand was there, and a little dot in the distance was a hi-vis marshal ready to receive dibbers. I caught up with my behatted buddy here, but her walk pace was phenomenal, but it was company for a welcome while, before she marched off into the distance with me scuttling along in her wake!
Finally, we were spat out and it was the last few hundred metres back to the start. I’m not gonna lie, the novelty of the event had rubbed off a bit by now and I was looking forward to finishing. As I wended my way back, I passed other runners who’d finished and were sporting their bling. That was nice actually, as it included runners I’d met at the start, and it’s always good to know how things unfold. I’d say they were pretty happy with how it all worked out.
More marshals were there to make sure I’d not overshoot the final turn:
At last, the end was literally in sight. As I was one of the last few stragglers, I had the undivided attention of the compere who called my name and I got a huge cheer from the remaining few bystanders as I loped in, which was lovely if not entirely merited. I dibbed in, was handed my medal, which we have already established as being both fine and original bling that quite cut the proverbial mustard. I have no idea where that phrase comes from or what it quite means, but who cares. I surrendered my dibber in return for which I got an instantaneous print out of my times by section, the compere announced my finish time for all to marvel at, whether they were astonished by my speed or by my sloth was not a question I pursued.
Erm, nothing to write home about perhaps, but then again, they’re all going to be PBs by definition as first time out, and if I do make it back next year, it’ll be fun to have a base line from which to improve. I was reunited with my bag and got a paper goodie bag which had water, a banana, I think and some fliers for local physio deals. Best of all, there was my Smiley buddy on hand to greet me home. Hurrah! I earned that white tee.
Alas my Smiley Buddy hadn’t had such a good time. She’d fallen foul of the misdirected course, and after a 2 mile detour, what with her cold and failing morale decided to withdraw. It was the mental blow of doing so many extra miles early on that was impossible to overcome. It’s true what they say, running can be much a test of mental strength as physical sometimes. So, she made a good decision, particularly as she wasn’t well to begin with, but disappointing all the same, and I did feel a bit bad that she’d consequently had to hang around for me for three hours or so. Oops. I owe her, big time. Thank you Smiley buddy. A few didn’t make the cut off, which did happen, but later, some withdrew and some didn’t make the start. Lots of these guys were sacrificed and harmed in the running of this race, they all most definitely didn’t make it through to the end of the day. However things may unfold in Russia at the weekend, these guys will not be coming home. Sad but true…
Still, we got to debrief on the way home as I stiffened up nicely as already described. by now I’d forgotten how dispirited I’d felt once my TomTom abandoned me and I moved into limbo land, and instead was feeling encouraged and inspired by having had another micro adventure.
Oh, by the way, whilst it’s true that my TomTom gave up the ghost, but others did manage to Strava the route, so I’ve basically stolen another runner’s version in the interests of the greater good. According to their gps, the distance was in fact 21.96 miles, which I think we can safely call 22 miles, and elevation of 802 feet, which is basically mill-pond flat and smooth by Sheffield standards. Here’s the route, enjoy:
It’s also worth mentioning that whilst I thought it was hot out there in Donny and was quite
chuffed relieved just to make it round before the cut off and indeed at all. It was sobering as well as exciting to hear later that whilst I was hulking my weary carcass around the dusty Donny trials, Kilian Jornet was on target to complete a record breaking Bob Graham Round and in fact smashed Billy Bland’s long-standing record by 1hr in a totally amazing run. That’s 106km across the Lake District with an 8,200m ascent over 42 fells, which must be done within 24 hours. How is that even possible? Respect. Mind you, I reckon I felt like I’d done something pretty similar, so that practically amounts to doing the same thing doesn’t it? Well it should, just saying. Trail Running magazine, amongst others, has done a write-up – about Kilian, not about me, just to be clear.
Oh, nearly forgot, for those of you who are more interested in the arrival than the journey to get there, here are the DABKA Round Donny Run 2018 results, for me though, that really isn’t the point, but stats geeks out there, get stuck in, loads of numbers to crunch and pore over.
So, if you are still here and still reading, well done you. You have proven yourself capable of acts of endurance too. Either that, or there is some horrific task that you really, really don’t want to do. You do know you are going to have to tackle it eventually don’t you, this blog post really is nearly at an end now, and that’ll be that.
So conclusions, this event had a lot of merit. It was the inaugural so there were a couple of teething issues – for me the critical one is knowing the length of each section and recovery stage in advance in km would have been helpful. I thought the organisation was great, the team worked really, really hard to pull it off. Some sort of coffee or refreshments available at the end would have been good, but hard to justify for such a small field. There was a gala event going on the other end of the fields and for those with any energy left I guess you could have foraged there. I’d recommend it though, you see parts of Donny you don’t expect, it’s extremely flat so potentially fast for speedy runners, and doable for non-speedy ones like me who to be blunt are somewhat portly in the midriff and struggle up the hills. It was really friendly, with a supportive ethos and I’d really like to see the event continue and grow. Local(ish) events like this are most welcome and need support if we want them to carry on. Fingers crossed it was worth all the hard work and will be the first of many. Look out for it people, and yeah, give it a go. It is almost a marathon at the end of the day, but felt doable, because of the friendly and supportive vibe along the way.
So thank you everyone who made it so, especially the cheery marshals for being awesome, and my fellow runners for being encouraging and funny and of course to Tony Vout for having the vision and getting it off the ground in the first place, no mean feat! Job done.
See you same time same place next year? It’ll be even bigger and better and the weather gods will be more benign. Probably. Possibly, well, it’ll be what it will be, but you wouldn’t want to miss out two years on the trot now would you?