Reading this is optional. Could be a time-vampire, but then again, so is daytime TV. Scrolling down to look at photos also an option. If you are hardcore, then this account is a bit like a TV box set binge, just so you know. Maybe get some Pringles in just to be on the safe side.
Digested read: I like the RSR. It is even more fun in fancy dress.
Magic Realism I think it’s called. That is, the acceptance that magic can exist in a rational world (not that the world feels particularly rational right now, but let’s not go there). It might of course be false memory syndrome or just general common or garden personal delusion, but when I think of the Round Sheffield Run (RSR) I just feel a little warm wave of happiness pass through me as I take the opportunity to indulge in some temporary escapism by filling my mind with memories of the event 🙂 it really is magical. To recall it in your mind’s eye is to give yourself a virtual hug.
For me, the RSR has a personal symbolism and significance. I entered it the first year it took place from a foundation of complete ignorance. I had only ever done a parkrun 5k before, and took very literally the blurb about it being an all-inclusive race for all abilities. I figured you only ever had to run about 2.9 km in one go, so that should be fine right? It never really dawned on me that you end up doing near enough 25 km and there is more than a smidgen of hill to negotiate. But you know what, I’m so pleased I was that naive, because if I had thought about it too much I’d have concluded it was way beyond me, not been brave enough to enter, and I’d have really missed out. This event was just brilliant from the outset. The route and location are fabulous of course, but it is the organisation, attention to detail and friendliness that makes this trail run, in my experience at least, a really social and inclusive event. 2014 was my first time tackling anything like that distance, and my first experience of running and enjoying the experience of doing so actually at the time, (no really), instead of just retrospectively when awash with a post runner’s high and feeling smug afterwards. You know, that Goldilocks zone, when the endorphins have kicked in but the stiffness has not? So what is this darned race then? I hear you cry. For any still uninitiated, I shall try to explain.
Firstly, here is the course profile (thanks veloviewer sponsored athlete for sharing) it is from last year, but hey. It isn’t my time either, but maybe I won’t draw attention to that and so some reader, somewhere, will be left believing it is. (I was way faster, obviously).
The official blah de blah on the Round Sheffield Run‘s website reads thus:
The Round Sheffield Run, trail running enduro is a unique creative “multi-stage” running event following the beautiful Round Sheffield route, a superb running journey linking some of the best trails and parkland. It would be a tough task to find anywhere in the UK that showcases these kind of trails & scenery within its city limits.
The 11 timed stages make up 20km of the 24.5km route.
The unique format breaks the route down into stages. Each stage being raced, and competitors receiving both results for each stage as well as a combined overall result.
Competitors have the opportunity to relax, regroup with their friends and refocus before the next stage begins. Competitors are allowed to walk or jog in between stages. The unique concept creates a special and unique social vibe. The race format also opens up the course to all abilities.
Personally, I think they deliver. In the first year, there were just 600 runners, last year probably double that number. I don’t know exactly, I didn’t count, though I could have done had I taken a clicker with me, as pretty much all of them overtook me at some point on the course.
Why so brilliant? It might not entirely sound fun to the uninitiated. I excitedly told a non-running friend of mine about having done it before and that I was doing it all again this year (‘it’s really great – pretty much all off-road; lots of mud and hills and 24 km of running all at one go!’) and she said ‘oh poor you‘, so maybe there are gaps in my communication skills. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions. It helped me, that the first year I ran as a pair with my Cheetah Buddy, and we got the most brilliant number EVER by chance. It is true that we missed out on the comedic potential of the best fancy dress opportunity of all time by not realising it was in our grasp until we got there, but this was at least partially rectified by Photoshop afterwards:
Last year (2015), as far as I remember it delivered all over again. The trails were paved with gold. A continuous archway of rainbows lined the course, and at intervals unicorns appeared in the woods to silently guide our way. The unicorns in this part of Sheffield actually crap golden nuggets so you could gather those as you passed if you wanted, though most favoured the jelly baby alternative option for ongoing sustenance. Tables groaned under the weight of jelly babies, bananas and water at the feed stations, and every marshal applauded each runner as they approached them, and then hugged them as a long-lost friend once you reached them. Volunteer marshals are always intrinsically, probably even pathologically brilliant, but in many races you pass them breathless and faint and don’t get to interact with them all that much beyond a slightly strangled ‘thanks’ as you pass. The RSR is different, loads of opportunities for hugging and chatting. What’s not to like. All very nurturing and moving. I found this account from a marshal’s perspective from a previous RSR, they seem to have had a fun time too!
To turn my head even more with regard to the RSR, I cannot tell a lie, later on I had a brief period of fame (ish), as their unlikely poster girl to promote the 216 RSR so get me and my running fame. Naturally I am a massive fan of this event. All in all, I was looking forward to doing it all again on 26 June 2016. Yay, bring it on.
When I say ‘bring it on‘ I do of course mean that there was a bit of pre-event apprehension this time. It is weirdly a bit more daunting if you know what you’ve signed up for. I’d fondly imagined that by the time RSR 2016 came around I’d have lost weight; trained loads; perfected my gazelle like bounce for bounding up the hills. Best laid plans eh… These things did not happen. I have however, learned a little from experience. My regular hobbit running buddy and I agreed to run together but not as a formal pair. The idea of running as a pair is great in theory, but in practice I think it’s quite hard to get someone who really is the same pace as you, and if one of you gets injured and has to drop out, well la de da. It seemed less pressurised to enter as individuals and run together anyway if that seemed to be working out on the day. I may be deluded in many respects, but not so deluded I was expecting to be in the running (great pun there) for any prizes. I suppose for competitive dudes out there, the pairs option does give the chance to clean up in a different category, but dear reader, this did not apply to us. We also were completely committed to the fancy dress option, and that was going to be AWESOME. We even had a trial run out together in fancy dress to check it out, that was hilarious. I’d run in fancy dress every day if I thought I’d get away with it!
My Sheffield half-marathon experiences have convinced me that fancy dress is always the way to go if you want to harness the maximum fun and comedic potential of any event (other than job interviews possibly but never say never). Fancy dress brings you extra crowd support, reduced expectation from others about your running prowess AND people assume the costume must slow you down. ‘Naturally, without the 250 gram drag of Roger and Ginger we’d have been way quicker‘ we can say afterwards, should we feel the need to justify our run times at any point. Secretly, (see magic realism reference above) I was rather hoping the equine assistance would speed us up those hills, that didn’t happen either.
The pre-event recce:
What did happen, is that we went on a recce the week before. I figured it would help us psychologically if we familiarised ourselves again with the route. Afterwards we’d know better, where we could push on (yeah right) and where we might best conserve our energy. This was a mixed hobbit hashing shared experience truth to tell. Less team bonding and more team incredulity. High points were giving parsley to a goat (Betty I think she is), low points were about 7km in when my running buddy stated ‘so, that must be about half way now yeah?’ This was followed by a long pause from me whilst I processed her statement – maybe it was her dry wit? She was probably being sarcastic. Careful scrutiny of her face suggested otherwise. ‘Erm, no….’ It took her a while to fully absorb the enormity of this statement. It wasn’t so much that she was whingeing, more that she was utterly incredulous. I felt awful, and completely thrown. It was like I’d broken it to her about the tooth fairy, and knew that shortly I’d have to explain about Father Christmas too. I wasn’t sure how she would take it, well, I knew it wouldn’t be well, and we were rather a long way from outside assistance… I thought it was going to be OK at first, as I saw she had slowly registered the logic of my account of the course. I also pointed out (perhaps cruelly) that there was a tad of contributory negligence at work here, because she had actually run the RSR before in its first year, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable of me to think that she knew how far it was. She made a conscious effort to think positively ‘oh well‘ she replied, ‘at least we’ve still got a few weeks to get ready! ‘ This was a bit trickier ‘Erm no. You know how tomorrow is Saturday?’ I said. Slowly and deliberately, to avoid any possible further ambiguity. ‘Yes.’ She said confidently. ‘And you know the day after that is a Sunday right?’ ‘Yes.’ she replied again. ‘Well, it’s a week after that‘. Pause. ‘Oh.’ I think it would be fair to say morale dipped a bit after that, we made it round, only squabbling mildly as we found ourselves lost coming out of Brincliffe Edge. A passer-by intervened and pointed us in the right direction so we didn’t have to retrace our steps right back to where we had started from fortunately. Even so, not quite the confidence giving romp of the circuit we’d maybe anticipated. I’m not telling you how long it took, but let’s just say it’s lucky we were still pretty near the summer solstice. Nice goat though:
So, once the awful reality of the distance we would be required to run and the time we had left to us before we joined our start wave had sunk in, we decided that best option was just to do one more joint jog out to pick up our numbers, and thereafter just focus on our tapering. (I am particularly good at this). We met the Wednesday before the run and did a gentle jog down to Frontrunner to pick up our race numbers. Even this task turned out to be a bit beyond us as we didn’t know it only opened at 10.00 o-clock. Never mind, we had a nice detour browsing in a local antique shop, we could have added a bit of extra onto our run instead I suppose, but one should never under-estimate the importance of a good taper, so not worth the risk… At five past 10.00 we were back trying the door of the shop, and bouncing on one leg the lovely staff member opened up to us. A cruel and judgemental customer might have thought he was still getting dressed and had been caught in the act of hauling his shoes and socks on, but an experienced runner would instantly recognise he was just doing some one-legged running drills. After all, everyone who knows anything at all about running, knows it is really a one-legged sport, improved by practising hopping at all and any opportunities (you can thank accelerate Thursday morning breakfast woodruns for that insight!). He didn’t actually laugh in our faces when we explained about coming in to pick up our race numbers in advance of the RSR. But then we got in first about perhaps not looking like we’d realistically make it round, but contrary to appearances we would be giving it a go. (I bet we were the only two of the hundreds of people who went into Frontrunner to collect their numbers who made such hilarious quips and original observations whilst being horribly over-excited… yes?) To be fair, he was very encouraging. We said we’d done a recce, but acknowledged there might have been a bit more walking and talking than actual running going on (we didn’t mention the squabbling) and he said that was the whole point of the RSR so that was fine! We were a bit giddy with excitement of pre-race anticipation, and also our 10% discounts. I bought a new pair of running socks (which are blissful) and my hobbit friend got a visor. I now have visor envy, but tried to be pleased for her outwardly at least. I did contemplate going back later and buying one of my own, but then she probably would have noticed if I’d turned up wearing with it on Sunday and I’d look like a stalker. We also got our numbers and felt VERY EXCITED. Big up for Frontrunner, they are always really helpful in there and trust me, I’m very needy when I nip in, I’m like a nightmare mystery shopper on acid or something, self-parody is my speciality when it comes to acting the part of the clueless beginner runner to test their customer service. They’ve done alright so far, though I will always be a bit scared of running shops I think. They are also good at taking selfies which include a reflection of the RSR venue in their cool shades apparently, so that’s good to know.
With just a few days to go, most important activity was weather-watching. Mainly it was torrential rain. It wasn’t entirely heartening to see periodic film clips of flooded crossing and quagmires from the event team. Participants also helped by supplying snaps of fallen trees blocking the way. Still, there was a sense of an atmosphere building, and what’s the point of going off-road without extra mud and additional un-mapped river crossings? The yin of encouragement to the yang of fear was periodic postings of event T-shirts, water in bottles (as opposed to falling from the sky) and stock piles of jelly babies and post-run refreshments. All good!
The video clip of a raging river more suited to white water rafting that the organisers thoughtfully uploaded on Facebook the day before helped clinch any indecisiveness about footwear. No question, rather than debate between trail or road shoes, the jury was definitely decisively in favour of Wellington’s, so that was one less decision to have to wrestle with on the day. Good oh.
So before I go on, can I just say I’ve used photos from RSR Facebook page as well as friends and fellow Smilies. The RSR organisers (rather brilliantly) and as in previous years, make the photos freely available, but ask for a donation in lieu. Good plan and fair enough. I donate each year, and would encourage others to do likewise. Bargain I reckon, and a good local cause.
All the event pics are being uploaded to Facebook for all competitors to enjoy for free! The page we are using for donations to Weston Park Cancer Hospital is https://www.justgiving.com/rsr16 in lieu of any good photos! Last year we raised over £1500 lets see if we can beat this target this year!! smile emoticon
Race day rendezvous
Always good to wake early on a race day, need to get that breakfast down nice and early. Thus I was naturally really thrilled at being woken by a 4.00 a.m. torrential downpour. Oh well, at least I could listen to the early morning radio play whilst I had my breakfast porridge. Played Facebook messaging tag with my running buddy over what to wear (Smiley Vest over T-shirt, tick); when to don/ mount horse (last-minute) and moment of leaving house. This was early morning view from my window by the way.
Who wants to hang around on a street corner with their pony all alone like nobby no-mates for longer than they absolutely have to? Anyway, all went according to plan, 7.45, slightly over-excited, we two hobbits met with our respective steeds, rearing to go rather than raring to do so (see what I’ve done there?) We are lucky in being walking distance from the Endcliffe Park starting point, so spared the horrors of driving and parking, so the plan was to meet a short distance away and stroll down together. opportunities for some early morning mutual photographing were exploited before we cantered down to the start all frisky with excitement. Maybe our horses were a bit fresh, there might have been some giddy-upping, and whinnying and maybe some bucks and bolting off out of control going on. Possibly we should have tried to save some of that exuberance for once we were actually underway, but where would be the fun in that?
So off we trotted to the park. Once we’d got our steeds under control (Hobbit buddy is on Ginger, and I’m on Roger – see what we’ve done there), we were able to shriek delightedly in recognition as the first person we espied in full marshalling gear was one of our own. Ready in place, it was fantastic to see a friendly face and get some Smiley motivational pep talk from our expert running club compatriot. Big shout out to all the marshals, I mean, all of them were fab, but obviously known marshals are even more cause for whooping with delight and recognition. She was positioned at the first critical dibbing point too, an important location, and good to know we’d have sympathetic assistance to call on there in case of need. She was also sporting a RSR tee – rather good this year I think, though I have a feeling that the white will look less good on me, but we’ll see… Presume the ‘M’ stands for ‘Marshal’ in case of any ambiguity about her status. Attention to detail you see – that is what the RSR team have become known for. Similarly they have carefully erected those railings as a crowd control barrier to avoid her being trampled in any stampede inadvertently generated as each wave of runners comes past. Genius.
Once we entered the park, I immediately spotted a group of people ahead of us who were all dressed up as pirates. Oh good, people in fancy dress! Except they weren’t, as we got closer, we realised they’d maybe just got a bit carried away with the matching bandanas. Oh well, easy mistake. I wonder if people might think we were in fancy dress and not riding actual horses? Or worse still, think we’d done that really embarrassing thing of doing the race equivalent of turning up to a posh party and finding you were wearing the same outfit as one of the other guests! Oh the shame!
We arrived pretty early to be fair. We already had our numbers, so just a question of picking up our dabbers, getting a t-shirt (I found I had actually bought one in advance, which I’d forgotten, so it felt like a freebie). They were £9 in advance £10 cash on the day. Very cheery T-shirt sales volunteers I felt. Then there was baggage drop, also well organised, and a Frontrunner stall for emergency purchases. Deck chairs and various tents and awnings scattered about, music playing, all great for building atmosphere. It has a sort of festival vibe, even more so afterwards when the sun came out. We started to spot other runners we knew and fellow smilies from our smiley paces running club too. One big love in basically. Thought I might have spotted a potential cani-cross entrant, so reckon that vindicated us in going for the equine-assisted passage. Turned out not to be so, this isn’t a cani-cross friendly event. Roger and Ginger were made very welcome though. Rules are made to be broken I guess. Loads of marshals were assembling, and there was a sense in general of the event being made ready for off. All very exciting.
So we had some mutual ‘hellos’ and a bit of posing:
Hobbit buddy, Ginger, Roger and I were trying to play it cool, but it was always inevitable that we’d get spotted by the paparazzi at some point. (Honestly, this is for real, magic realism aside, this genuinely happened). Just as we’d finished posing for our own Smiley assembly shot, a guy with a camera approached us. He was from Runner’s World magazine (he said, we didn’t ask for ID because we were too star-struck), obviously he saw our cover potential immediately and so asked us to pose for a picture. We dutifully posed, asking that our fellow smilies could flank us. Even if the photo is never used, we have our memories, even if it is, with the caption ‘If they can, anyone can!’ with the strap line ‘trail running just got truly inclusive‘ I don’t care, it felt like external validation. It also occurred to us, that even if we didn’t finish now, the possibility remained our faces would smile out of some future edition of Runners World for all eternity, forever linking us with running excellence and the sporting elite. This notion pleases me. I don’t need to be confronted with the awful truth, the truth at the moment is all horrible, let’s stick with the magical side of the coin rather than the real one. Pick the version of the story you prefer as in The Life of Pi, that’s my advice. I haven’t got the Runner’s World shot, but handily, an RSR photographer also got us posing, so here we are again. Don’t Ginger and Roger make a lovely duo? How can ignorant people confuse them with camels? Even one of our own? I won’t name names though, but I hope they know who they are… ‘I thought they were camels and you were the humps‘ indeed! What was she thinking?
So, because it was all running quite smoothly (even managed to fit in a precautionary pee which was more challenging than you might think as it involved taking a horse into a portaloo) we were all ready to go. To be fair, we Smilies were split in 8.30 and 8.45 start waves, but a call went up for red, orange and yellow (I think) numbers to assemble, and we got ourselves into the line up – towards the back so the faster runners could charge off unimpeded) and were able to depart together. This might have been a bit sneaky, but we took the view we’d hold back if we were in the way, but go with the flow otherwise, and that seemed acceptable if not exactly to be condoned. You have to individually dib your dabber (or should that be dab your dipper, or maybe dip your dibber, who knows?) through the timing thingamajig as you set off, so we probably looked like bees exiting a hive, one by one, but tightly behind one another till a great swarm was heading off down the route. Here are some Strideout folk demonstrating nicely. Thank you, good team showing there. Also my endurer buddies later on, sorry I missed you.
So we were off. Stage one! You get a handy little race card (not the same as a dance card) that tells you how long each of the 11 sections are. Bit of feedback for the race organisers, not such a good quality print run as last years, this paper version was in danger of disintegration (last time it was a good quality card, more like a business card kind of thing). Didn’t rain this year, so got away with it, but high risk decision with the paper choices there I feel.
So anyway, even though we’d given one copy to the Runner’s World photographer, we were still equipped with a version for our own reference. It was well signed as well, and of course we’d done our recce, you’d be unlucky to get lost on this route. One year they even put signs up where you could go astray saying ‘Not this way, turn back/ here be dragons‘ kind of thing, which is another RSR innovation I like. Didn’t see that this year, but then we didn’t get lost.
Stage 1 : 2.9km Endcliffe Park to Forge Dam – A pleasant gradual ascent leaving Endcliffe Park, up through Bingham Park and Whiteley woods, a stage to take nice and steady through the paved and dirt tracks up to Forge Dam.
Liaison between 1-2 A short walk / jog up past the Cafe to the start of the next stage
We headed out up Endcliffe Park, and espied some super-heroes just arriving coming towards us in the other direction which was good to know. Presumably to replace the need for any St John’s Ambulance folk. They are an impressive quartet on the local running scene and a distinctive look to them I think you’ll agree.
We shot off pretty fast (by my standards) there is definitely a buzz from being at an event and being underway. In next to no time we’d waved in recognition at our Smiling Smiley marshal buddy, and dibbed in and out for the zebra crossing (they are called zebra crossings because of the stripes – who knew that hobbit buddy? Pelican crossings are weasily distinguishable because of the stuffed pelicans at the side of the road. There is actually a very useful guide to the five types of pedestrian crossing you might encounter here. You’re welcome.) Off up through Bingham park there was a photographer here, but not sure we got snapped (we did pose a lot though, so give it time).
Here is a shot of one photographer who forgot his camera and so was made to run the whole event instead. This is some sort of racing equivalent of forgetting your gym kit at school and being made to do PE in your knickers I think. He seems OK with it though. Stormed round.
Hobbit buddy and I had agreed to take it easy, but we were in good spirits, and kept our yomp going pretty much up to Forge Dam. It is fun that, because the race is split into different sections, you get to sprint finish 11 times. They thoughtfully put 100m to go signs up at the appropriate spot to motivate you to do so. We took advantage of the breathers at each stage. Bit of foot massage when needed for rearrangement of bones and muscles in feet, and general chit-chat. I’d been meaning to ask about what had happened with regard to that outstanding gym membership for ages… plus, was keen for hobbit to come up with some ideas for names for guinea pigs that another friend of mine has just acquired. Some nice action shots of other runners at this point on the route. It is possible there was some posing at this point, and some horseying around too:
At one of the other road crossings en route, it was great to see another familiar face from parkrun, Trunce, anywhere and everywhere to be fair (though not a Monday mobster apparently, she is otherwise very well-connected on the local running scene). Great encouragement, and also a supportive enquiry on the state of our chaffing, and a recommendation for runderwear as the ultimate non-chaffing technical underwear option from wiggle as we passed. Must look into it. This kind of expertise and advice is priceless. I thank you. I don’t have a marshal shot of her, but I do have one of her running at Sheffield Hallam parkrun the previous day, so here she is, salute our runderwear ambassador if you will. Looking a confident runner there, no chaffing distractions impeding progress there I’d venture! Anyways, runderwear is ‘the ultimate chafe-free running experience for committed athletes‘, so clearly right up my street. I’ll admit I’m tempted. Though for the record, got away with my M&S standard issue ‘lord-knows-how-old-they-are’ pants today.
Stage 2 : 2.5km Porter Valley Ascent – Up from the Forge Dam Cafe this stage leads us up the porter valley and away from town towards the Peak. The gradual ascent becomes slightly more aggressive half way up leading up. This is possibly the toughest part of the course, a good one to get under the belt early on.
Liaison between 2-3 The “Recovery” Stage along Fulwood road sticking to the trail on the left past the Alpaca farm to Ringinglow road, this stage is nice and flat and will allow for nice recovery after the endeavours of the previous two.
Local knowledge definitely helped for the Forge Dam ascent, it’s our patch, we run it every week (albeit not always with that much emphasis on the ‘run’ aspect of the outing). I think if you didn’t know the area, it would be a bit of a shock. We’d already agreed we’d just take it easy-going up and save ourselves for the long haul and whizzy down hill bits later on. In fact, we got loads of encouragement from other runners. We did a sort of companionable leap-frog with some other runners who were at a similar pace to us. And inevitably, at some point the faster runners from the following wave came through so we let them pass and cheered them on. A few were familiar faces who called encouragement to us too. Plus there were a few complaints about our unfair advantage what with having six legs each to their two, but most accepted our point that we’d not really thought this through and as Roger and Ginger were more feet or even ‘airs above the ground‘, rather than kicking their heels behind us to give us added forward thrust, they weren’t massively or noticeably contributing to our success. Nobody really quibbled with that argument. How could they? The cafe wasn’t open, so no detour for that. We didn’t run the whole thing, but we had a reasonable stab at most of it, some bits were really, really muddy, I was very glad of my super expensive but good investment trail shoes. Hobbit buddy was similarly very glad of her decathlon specials, which astonishingly, though second-hand and cheap to begin with, are the only ones in which she can run with comfort. Takes all sorts I suppose.
Just as you think the uphill section is starting to take the piss, there is a handily positioned bloke with a pirate flag to call you in. He was there last year too, same place exactly. Maybe it’s a variation on Brigadoon, I don’t see him during the rest of the year, but he appears out of the mist at significant times. HUGE flag, very impressive dimensions, and the flag waver managed to shout individually tailored words of encouragement to each runner. In our case, he picked up on our team logo ‘Go Smilies’ that’ll do! So a final scramble up the muddy steps, and that was the worst climb of the run done and dusted, now we met with the feeding station, water, first of many photo stops. I mean honestly, how cool is it to do a race where it’s not just legitimate to linger at water stations taking photos of each other but positively encouraged. There were jelly babies a-plenty, mountains of water (mysteriously it did run out briefly later on but was rapidly replenished, but in defence of the organisers it did look like they’d made good provision at the outset, so not sure what happened there). There were banana halves and trek bars, which looked tempting, but I didn’t risk because I’ve never had them before. I did gulp down water (mistake, drank too fast) and had jelly babies which I feel really guilty about as I am supposed to be vegetarian. In my defence as a vegetarian for the past 33 years, the only time I’ve lapsed is by eating jelly babies both whilst running the Sheffield half marathon and the RSR because I can’t seem to find a suitable alternative, and these are so freely available at both those events. I know, it makes me a terrible human being. If only I could run fast enough to catch up with one of those vegan runners, I’d quiz them for better options. Maybe it was bad karma that uncharacteristic jelly baby consumption gave me a stitch for the next section… who knows. Maybe the jelly babies were sacrificed for the greater good, or maybe they took their revenge at the shallowness of my conviction by endowing me with instantaneous belly ache.
So, after the feed station you get a walk to recover and chat down past the alpaca farm (hello Betty, hiya Bamm Bamm and Pebbles). You pass some cottages in Ringinglow, where when we came through there was a family cheering and clapping next to the Norfolk Arms. We thanked them for their brilliant clapping, and even put on a bit of a half-hearted jog by way of appreciation even though technically it was a non-running section! That’s the kind of crowd-pleasing mentality that characterised our efforts all the way round. They were pleased we were pleased, and shared they’d actually been told off by one of the house-holders for waking them up what with all their loathsome noisy cheeriness and good-humoured public-spirited clapping (bah humbug etc.)! This kind of censure seems a bit mean to me, it wasn’t that early, and it is only once a year. I’d be pleased to find some sort of event happening outside my front door of a morning. Plenty to look at and laugh at with a cup of coffee in your hand without the stress of even having to get dressed and leave your own house. Oh well, maybe they’ve not seen ‘A Christmas Carol’ yet, they’ll learn…
Stage 3 : 2.5km Limb Valley Descent – Wide open grassy trail, leading into windy, flowing single-track down through the Limb Valley, a real nice downhill section that everyone is bound to enjoy. Our personal favourite.
Liaison between 3-4 – A short walk / jog across the main road and down onto the playing fields to the start of the trailhead.
Next, hiya and thanks to the marshal who pointed us over the style and down Limb valley. yep, this is a favourite section. Or would have been if I didn’t have a stitch and increasingly need a pee. It was still good fun though, a bit squelchy, but also some novelty value at the top as we espied a mystery man with a remote control and realised he’d got a drone overhead to capture us in action. To be fair, I don’t think it was only us he was hoping to get on film, but we still enjoyed our moment of movie stardom.* I don’t feel a pressing need to source an agent just yet… though we did speculate on possible sponsorship deals as we ran on. On balance it’s probably the ride on horse costume manufacturers that would be our best bet to access any funding, we did get quite a bit of interest from other runners in our equine companions, but we don’t want to rule any other options either in or out at this stage.
This bit ended more quickly than I remembered, so we must have been practically ON FIRE.
Stage 4 : 1.8km Ecclesall Woods having crossed Eccleshall road south on the liaison between stages, we are into Eccleshall woods, a favourite with locals. The first section stretches through pine, skipping between roots and pine needles, then up onto the main trail and down through to Abbeydale Road.
Liaison between 4-5 – Along the road past Dore Station and the a left up over the railway and up to the next trailhead, up the stairs to the start of the next stage. We were kind enough not to make the stairs part of the timed section.
I can’t lie, lovely as this section is, I was becoming increasingly preoccupied with bladder issues at this point. Pelvic floor exercises can only do so much. Yes, yes, trees, lovely, was this the bit with the miniature railway alongside? Can’t even remember. I do remember, that at the first appropriate opportunity I left the path and did the necessary, my mood improved after that. I’d got to the point where I figured nobody would see me because they’d be too focussed on running ahead, and even if they did, they’d just think ‘oh, there is a runner needing a pee‘ and it’s not like anyone would recognise me, they’d be too busy admiring Roger, in the event, I got away with it. Phew.
So this recovery section takes you up quite a steep hill, and then massively steep steps. Somewhat cruelly, the dabber in which to dib at the start of the next stage was right at the top of this muddy vertical challenge. I’m sure in previous years it was further along the woodland track. We joined a couple of other runners who we’d been leap-frogging earlier on (metaphorically, not literally, that really wouldn’t have helped us to progress at all) and stood slightly to one side of the top of the stairs so we could get our breath back before cracking on. We made a big show of ‘waiting for another runner behind us‘ which hilariously the guy who was waiting took seriously enquiring what they looked like so he could hep spot them whilst the woman who was with him laughed in appreciation of our subterfuge, and explained with a knowing wink that by complete coincidence they were doing the same – they were stuck with a real slow coach apparently, and might be there for absolutely ages! After a bit, we gave in to the inevitable and on we went…
Stage 5 : 2.5km Beauchief Golf Course – Undulating Single track up and over lady woods, until Beauchief golf course can be seen on the left, the track then hugs the course through the woods popping out onto the road down to the beautiful Beauchief abbey, back into the woods continuing on next to the GC eventually coming out onto the road.
Liaison between 5-6, A short walk across the main road and up the pavement and down into the next set of woods.
In the photo below these aren’t THE Tough Steps by the way, they are a little sneaky run of steps that appeared later on. Truthfully, in terms of my course description, it’s all starting to be a bit of blur about what was when and where. But this is a nice photo, and it was on the route somewhere. Be reasonable, it’s not like I’m trying to describe a route to law enforcement officials so they can rescue a kidnap victim or anything, I’m just trying to give you an illustrative vision of a trail race. If you really want to know what it’s like, don’t waste time reading about it, just go and do it. It will be better exercise and probably a lot more fun.
Hmm, tricky section to describe this one, as this bit is definitely hobbit country. In fact, it might have been just as we went into the woods here a kindly participant warned us to be careful as it was bear country too. The warning was really helpful, we didn’t see any bears at all, because we knew to pass through noisily to keep them at bay. Without such a warning who knows what might have happened. Although the track is called ‘undulating’ it was quite narrow, early on, though once you’d pulled away from the narrow bit, it opened up quite markedly, lots of room for overtaking and things without having to dive into nettles or risk tumbling down an escarpment down to the railway line for example. To be fair, we had no problems with other faster runners. Most just called ‘coming through on your left‘ or something and that was fine. Did have one moment of hilarity with a runner telling off a group of us for not being in single file, but as it was at a later point in the course when there was a FIELD alongside the wide path, so plenty of room for all of us, we felt she was being somewhat precious. Making a point about being a ‘proper’ runner to us ‘have a goers’ perhaps? Well, wait til she sees the next copy of Runner’s World that’s all I’m saying… we’ll see who the proper runners are then won’t we!
Some people have fed back frustrations about having to negotiate with other runners out on the course. Fast runners feeling blocked and slower ones feeling shoved, but with 2000 runners out there I thought it was pretty good. Part of the fun is all these interactions in my view. If you really want an unimpeded run, then I reckon you need to get yourself in the first wave, or accept that this particular event is all about inclusion, and that means there will be slower runners, and it does have a social aspect so be prepared to compromise a bit on times or think again about whether you’d prefer a more out-and-out competitive event. It’s hardly rocket science… Personally I love the chattyness of it all. However socially phobic I normally am, for the duration of the RSR I feel like I have loads of friends. Granted, most of them are closing down on me menacingly from behind initially and then subsequently running away from me again as fast as they can, but that’s understandable. Anyway, with Hobbit Buddy beside me and Ginger and Roger too, I was never alone on this journey. If you haven’t ever done it, you can never know how comforting the view through a horse’s ears can be. The reassuring bob of head going up and down in front of you is very lovely to behold.
Stage 6 : 0.9km Chancet Woods A cheeky fast short section of flowing undulating singletrack.
Liaison between 6-7, Across the busy A61 and along the pavement up to the entrance to Graves park. The stage starts a little further in.
Stage 7 : 1.4km Graves Park, gradual ascent through the mature woods of Graves park, this is another stage to take at a steady pace, up and over right across the park popping out at the main car entrance.
liason between 7-8, Following the main road on the tarmac path up around 500m to the New Inn Pub, turn left onto road here, following to the start of the next trail.
OK, so stages 6 and 7. Chancet woods, quick sprint through (ish) can’t remember, probably muddy, might have been quite narrow actually now I come to think of it. I did dive into some nettles at one point to give way, but that was fun because a heap of Smileys and other known runners came hurtling through. During the liaison bit, we met another runner, who came up with the brilliant suggestion that in subsequent events we do more to pimp our rides. A bit of cunning disembowelment of Roger and Ginger, and we could maybe have opened up say the legs, and replaced the stuffing with other supplies (gin, chocolate, clean pair of knickers whatever). I took the point, but he hadn’t factored in that our ponies were real, and so we wouldn’t dream of mutilating them in such a way. Food for thought though….
The Graves Park section I found a slog. You are back onto tarmac, and although generally speaking I really like Graves Park (the Graves parkrun is always a hoot), the RSR doesn’t take in the best bits of this park (apart from one rather dramatic rocky bit that I have never got around to photographing, it looks suddenly prehistoric with dramatic ferns and the vertical rock face with trees precariously on top of it). Also, the surface of the tarmac felt really slippery. I don’t know why, I mean obviously there had been loads of rain, but so many runners had been through you’d think any algal bloom might have been worn away by the time we got there. I even wondered if I felt I was slipping because the tread on my trail shoes was giving a false surface, but I was knackered and not confident to run much (any) of this bit. I did slow hobbit buddy down here, and gave her the option of going on alone, but she heroically refused. Start together, stayed together (apart from my pee point – which on reflection could have accounted for her mysteriously faster time) and finished together.
Coming out of Graves Park was where I’d got lost on an earlier recce, but this time it was OK. It is a bit of a walk to the feed station. (Weird phrase that, sounds like either a bird table or like you’re going to be tube fed, but neither of those options were actually available). This was a great gathering point. Like animals in Africa gathered around a water hole. Loads of people were milling around, and there were plenty of impromptu reunions taking place. Highly sociable. More like a drinks party than a race. Here hobbit buddy and I had some fellow smilies catch up with us. Cue, massive photo opportunities. Again, how brilliant to be at a race where you can stop for photos, chat, even ask other runners to take photos for you AND try different location options to create the right ambience. So it is we ended up with a group photo of all of us together, and some Ginger and Roger shots re-enacting coming out of the woods and actually ‘in action’ running despite it being a non-running section. So easy to make your own entertainment in such situations, and indeed to be disproportionately amused in doing so. I shall let the evidence speak for itself.
We were a bit over-excited and quite possibly also on a sugar high by this point. Maybe that’s why we thought it would be really hilarious to fool another runner into thinking we knew them by all as one shouting ‘hiya David’ to some random runner on the spur of the moment. This seemed like a good idea at the time. It arose from us remarking how you forget you have your name on your number, and how disconcerting it therefore is if people suddenly call your name. We tested this at the next person that passed. He did look at first, confused, then horrified, and then relieved and amused in equal measure as the sight of us rolling around laughing with our ponies revealed our cunning jape as innocent mischief. We surely don’t look all that threatening. He did take off at quite a sprint at the first possible opportunity afterwards though, but probably just competitive runner, not at all that he was trying to escape from us or anything… Anyway, good to meet you David, or ‘Dave’ as I like to think we are on more informal terms now. Thanks for being a sport.
Just to break up the text a bit more, here is a gratuitous shot of a tooled up smiley ready for action. We may look Smiley on the outside, but it seems none of us are to be messed with… For the record she galloped past us at one point, definitely well in touch with her inner pony, shouting the motivational cry of ‘prancercise, prancercise’ at us in her wake. I felt a bit emotional on hearing that. I like to think in my own small way, by spreading the prancercise word, I’ve enabled her to access her own inner equine strength and performance potential. Roger and Ginger were hobbit buddy and mine outer ponies perhaps, but tooled-up regal smiley has her own pony prancercising within. It was a timely reminder that if we accessed our inner, as well as outer ponies we would have double the horse-power, genius! It is a coincidence by the way, that she was already a very capable runner before, I feel confident she would be the first to admit that now she has embraced prancercise (entirely thanks to me), it has allowed her to grow and gallop ever onwards and upwards. Inspirational running and steeplechasing, I applaud you gunner/ ghost-buster smiley, oh, and you’re welcome!
Hobbit buddy (whilst happily married to her imaginary partner) meanwhile speculated that for running singletons RSR must have pick up potential because of this social side. I’m not sure. Firstly, I think you’d need some sort of signifier that you were potentially interested and available (but not actually desperate) for opening dating negotiations, and I’m not sure how easy that would be to achieve (tattoo on the forehead perhaps, if that space was not already taken up with a running club buff?) Secondly, I don’t know if flushed, grubby and sweaty from a run is necessarily the best pulling look for all of us. Still, another one to feedback to the RSR team I think. They are described as ‘very responsive’ on their Facebook page, so I’m sure they’ll give it some thought in order to keep their 4.9 star feedback rating.
Revitalised with laughter and Smiley smiles, we were off again. Nearly home now.
Stage 8 : 1.3km Lees Hall Golf Course – This is an exciting fast, flowing trail down between Lees Hall Golf course, down past the academy playing fields, opening up to some great urban views and then diving round to the left and back up towards Meersbrook.
Liaison between 8-9, Along the road in a straight line for about 500m, past the row of shops joining the main road and up to Meersbrook park entrance.
Stage 9 : 0.8km Meersbrook Park – This stage is extremely fast, bearing left along the paved path and hooking right down to the far corner of the park. One for the short distance specialists. Do take care, and don’t go too fast
Liaison between 9-10 Out the park across the A61 following the permanent signs, across to Abbeydale rd and Edinburgh Cycles, turn left onto Abbeydale Rd, and then turn right by the mirror shop for the start of the next stage. Marshalls will be in key positions for this slightly tricky liaison.
The Lees Hall section is fun, pretty much exactly as described, and with a good enough path that you can pick up some speed without wanting to cry with fear. This photo is within those sections and I picked it because it features one of our temporary running companions en route. Hello!
Quite a few good snaps from this point too. Including capturing some of the one-legged running club contingent. Amazing. They hopped the whole way round as far as I can see. Whereas me and hobbit, we just screamed and adopted unflattering gurning facial expressions throughout. Also no mean feat to keep up for 15 miles.
Also, another segment where we seemed to see familiar faces. I also got to be a bit smug, because turns out I did navigate correctly on our recce. I just knew that hobbit buddy would be thrilled to be reminded of this quite frequently as we went round. There were people various enjoying the park, so that was good. A few shouts of appreciation and recognition from children at our ponies. Some spectators on a bench who must have been there all day clapping and offering jelly babies who were caught on camera by the drone too.
As Smileys, we also had had a heads up about an official supporters contingent who were on hand in Meersbrook park, supplied with not only a sustaining picnic but also an assortment of children who were particularly excellent at shouting support. Possibly, some more competitive runners might view this as an unwelcome distraction that might impede their times. However, hobbit and I are sufficiently confident in our athletic prowess that we have nothing to prove. We therefore felt able to stop and chat, hug, give thanks for support, meet the children and ask about other runners who might have been seen going around before we went on our way. As we ran off, we agreed that it would be only fair to knock say, half an hour, off our official time to get a true sense of our performance. We know, don’t need to go on and on about it in a blog or anything…..
Some people really hurtled down this section, we were possibly a bit more cautious. Above is a photo of someone hurtling, who I can’t help noticing may also have hurtled a bit too horizontally earlier on in the course, but such mud-sliding antics don’t appear to have marred his game. Saw him at the end too actually, with runderwear ambassador, he had some minor war wounds but will live to run another day. Good job, well run!
Can we have another marshal thank you interlude? The support going round the whole way was great. One shot is of an esteemed Sheffield inaugural Strider I think, on marshal duty, flanked by two other marshals wearing possibly the finest millinery accessories I saw sported all day. Later on, another Sheffield Hallam parkrun regular, and my buddy on the monster hill for the Sheffield half gave huge encouragement as we approached the streets of Netheredge. Aw, she is so encouraging. Thanks for the hug, and for disposing of my empty water bottle for me. I’m really sorry about your injury, but can’t wait to see you hurtling round the RSR yourself next year. (Marshals get free entry the following year for either the RSR or the TenTenTen just so as you know). When you finally get to do the run yourself, you will be carried round on a wave of good wishes, positive vibes and good karma from this year’s runners. Awesome support all round. Thank you.
So, where next. Oh yes,
Stage 10 : 2.2km Brincliffe Edge – The end is getting close, this urban stage takes you up the road on a gradual climb to Brincliffe edge, keep going up the road and then duck into the woods onto the trail, contouring round, then up and down into Chelsea park, popping out in quiet suburbia on the other side. A few quiet wide streets to negotiate on the pavement before finishing just before Psalter lane.
Liaison 10-11, A nice gentle trot down the hill to Hunters bar roundabout and the entrance to Endcliffe Park saving those legs for the final push knowing the end is in sight.
Now, to be honest, when I was thinking back to last year, with the rainbows, and unicorns and everything I think I must have just completely blanked out this section. Even when we recced the whole route, I had it firmly in my head that we walked all the road bits. Alas, not so, outrageously we were required to continue running. I hated this bit. I’d have cried were it not for the rallying support from our parkrun kindred just at the beginning of this segment to wave us on our way. Also, didn’t want to let Hobbit, Ginger or Roger down at this point. It was a trudge though. It seems that even inwardly reciting (I don’t think I was doing it out loud) the lyrics for ‘horsey, horsey don’t you stop‘ will only encourage you to a certain extent. Plus, as Roger and Ginger’s hooves were airborne rather than in touch with the ground, it was a challenge for them to ‘Just let your feet go clippety-clop’ homeward bound or otherwise. Also, they are unshod. Barefoot horses don’t make clippety-clop noises all that well. The sun was out, which ought to have been nice, but just made it hot and a slog.
Some faster runners tried to encourage us with a ‘giddy up’ but it was only marginally affective. There was a ‘caution runners’ sign, but I couldn’t work out if that was to warn other road users about us or vice versa. One guy went past contorting himself and clutching his inner thighs. ‘How can you get cramp here‘ he was pleading to anyone who would listen. I felt like we’d left someone dying of thirst in the desert, but we felt helpless to assist. It’s true what they say. You learn about yourself when you run, just remember you might not always like what it is you find out about yourself. We (or perhaps I should own my statements and say ‘I’) walked on by… Actually, that last statement is really for dramatic effect. Pained as he was, he was still making faster progress than me and Hobbit and our equine companions.
Chelsea park was a relief because it meant we were near the end. Also, good to notice how well the grass there always bounces back after the Fireworks Display each bonfire night. Excellent ground management. I’d forgotten though that we had to keep running on the roads afterwards. This bit I did not like. It’s unavoidable though, but I can quite see why I had entirely erased it from my memory. I will again in time for next year.
The final liaison bit, we drifted into complete idle chit-chat about whether or not hobbit buddy should invest in a T-shirt and if so, whether to stop at a cash point somewhere en route to facilitate this purchase. Then she had to phone her imaginary husband to arrange a rendezvous time and point for when we got back. Very practical and helpful for childcare purposes these recovery sections. We ended up doing a detour in Hunters Bar to find one (a cash point, not an imaginary husband). Hilarious really, a running race event where you can do this. Some kindly runners called after us, thinking we were lost, but we weren’t, just distracted. Money was taken out of the cashpoint and we rejoined the route for the final bit.
Stage 11 : 0.4km Endcliffe Park Finish – A final flourish, starting at the park entrance up onto the park itself where you will join the marked course for the dash for the finish outside Endcliffe park cafe. You will be greeted by fellow competitors, adulation from the crowd and if you wish a cold beer!
Now, I can’t help but notice this blurb mentions a ‘flourish’. Hmm, depends what you mean by flourish. I’d already done some negotiation with my hobbit running buddy, and we’d agreed on a half-hearted jog to show willing once we entered the final section, but that I wouldn’t manage to sprint the whole 400 metres. We did want to cross the line together, that was important. Anyway, we did our dib dab thing, and trotted off for a bit. Then reason got the better of us. No-one was watching. We decided to just walk for a bit, as nonchalantly as is possible when you have a pony strapped round your waist, and only started running once we rounded the corner of a hedge that had previously hidden our progress, and saw the crowds lining the last few yards of the finish line come into view. It was great that last bit. There aren’t many spectators going round, so when you suddenly see the crowds at the finish it really makes your heart race. We picked up a bit of speed and enjoyed the applause and shouts of recognition as we headed under the glorious inflatable arch.
Job. Done. Yay!
One final dab out, and a medal each, we weren’t sure whether it should go to our horses or to ourselves. Mine went on Roger for a bit, but did end up rather a lot round my neck later. You can then pick up an instantaneous print out of your times as you return your dib dabby thing, and fall into the arms of your Smiley compatriots, all of whom finished hours ago, but who was noting that? Incidentally, other running clubs and familial/friendship options are available, but if you don’t have those, most members of Smiley Paces are free and easy with congratulatory hugs in case of need, just ask. There was an official photographer, though he missed our crossing the finish line. Never mind, we could do our mandatory post-run selfies anyway. Hobbits are brilliant, hobbits on horses? Better still! I’m still nursing some poorly repressed visor envy though, hope it wasn’t too obvious…
So this is what we ran round according to strava, 14.9 miles in total and 1684 ft elevation, which is quite a lot actually:
More of a rhombus than a circle some would say. Good route though, really nice.
The goodie bag
So you get a plastic co-op bag (that’s worth 5p now for a start) and can join the queue to sweep the goodie bag table. On offer was water, banana halves, trek bars (definitely energy bars, made my teeth tingle and I couldn’t eat it, I’m sure they would be really good for ultra-runners who needed a calorie fix though) and this weird drink thing. I had an iced coffee one. Really liked it, quite a thick consistency, and it might be that it was just perfect for after a run and less desirable in ‘real life’ (like a wine you love on holiday and find out to be truly disgusting if you try it at home out of context). Great recovery gloop drink though.
Post event festival
So job done, there was a lot of gathering around in the sun. Because the weather was so good, loads of people lingered soaking up the atmosphere in deck chairs and making the most of the pizza and beer tent options. This made it a bit harder to regroup in terms of spotting people in the crowd, especially as we hadn’t made a Smiley post-run rendezvous plan. Other local running clubs pulled this off with greater aplomb and could be seen cavorting with one another in Dionysian post-run revelries. Good for them.
Truthfully, I was feeling stiffness setting in, unlike my hobbit buddy who was behaving like a hobbit possessed, feeling not just fresh, but up for going round all over again. Runners high is one thing but she seemed to me to be oxygen-deprived delusional quite frankly, but in a good way. I declined the offer, but am up for next year. I took in the atmosphere for a bit, and then headed home for a bath and a lengthy appointment with my sofa afterwards. Wish now I had stayed for a bit longer as I missed out on an impromptu reunion with my Endurer Dash buddies Love you guys, sorry I missed you, I expect it was just that we whizzed round so fast with Ginger and Roger we left you for dust, nothing to do with the fact that you started 2 hours after us.
Once again, a fab day out. A few niggles for some this time, but I think that’s inevitable as the event has grown and I’m really confident the organisers will look at feedback and sort anything that needs sorting. Thank you RSR team, marshals, fellow runners one and all for restoring faith in human nature at a time when restorative powers are very much needed. Thank you especially those out and about who gave equine related puns by way of encouragement, and laughed at our somewhat lame (gettit) return quips too. Thank you for the prancercise shout out, and the ‘go hobbit’ cries too. All the interaction helped get me round. Also, seemed to be a bit of a thing today about coming to the event in matching outfits. Who thought of that? Loads of runners did that, never seen so many colour coordinated teams, running club team vests en masse are a glorious thing to behold! Special thanks to hobbit buddy. We did it, we are awesome. Full trail marathon next I reckon!
Oh, and in case you were wondering, she did make her rendezvous, so happy families all round, even able to take advantage of Mr Pullins very splendid inflatables. Endcliffe Park has everything it really does. I do like happy endings.
I shall leave you with a smorgasboard of atmospheric photos to browse and enjoy. Well, that’s the plan anyway, I’m going to add to them as more and more photos become available. I love looking through photos post an event from the comfort of my sofa. You can relive all the thrills and spills without having to do any actual running in the cold and wet. Genius. Have you made your donation in lieu of RSR photos yet? Hope so:
What a day eh, what a day. The only thing that would improve this event for me would be mandatory fancy dress, but then again, that would only add to the competition for coverage by Runner’s World, so sometimes it really is best to stick with the status quo. Don’t you think? More unicorns would be good though. Just saying.
As for the morning after the day before? Well, we have our memories, and some also have extra straw for their allotment, so I say, everyone’s a winner!
Same time next year everyone? Good oh! 🙂
*UPDATE: So, we didn’t make the final cut for the film version of the RSR (too expensive probably) but there is a very fine video of the RSR 2016 made possible ‘thanks to JS Collective – Video/Photo & Orbit Media Ltd’ apparently. Great capturing of the occasion, and a stunning showcase for Sheffield to boot. Aren’t we lucky? Hope we are still the greenest city in Britain when Amey have finished with their chainsaws.