Round Rotherham 50 - 2018
Updated: Oct 25, 2018
Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham is a fifty-mile race in the former manufacturing heartlands of South Yorkshire. It is part of the excellent Runfurther Ultra Championships, has about 2300ft of climb and is good running, passing reclaimed industry, woodland, rivers, canal banks and farmland. I’d completed it twice before.
I spent the preceding week personal training in North London, explaining to Londoners why it’s fun to spend your weekend running around Rotherham. Not so obvious a case as you’d have thought. There are plenty of decent Ultras and LDWA events in the South of England but there is not, for obvious reasons, the same sort of no-nonsense, fell and ultra-running community down here. Down-here running is all about events with cheering stations, pumped in dance music, goody bags and tears on Instagram. And paying £80 for it. They don’t really have a frame of reference for the good folk of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria who quietly spend their weekends getting stuck into races that might well leave a Tough Mudder competitor begging for mercy.
On Friday afternoon I checked into Holiday Inn, Manvers: the destination for people who want to sleep in a comfy bed ninety seconds from the race start. Other reasons escape me. Personal training hours meant that getting up at five thirty on Saturday was no hardship and I got prepped and registered at the new start at Manvers Boat Club, the new event HQ, 2km further along the route from the old start and finish at the Sports College. My leisurely approach, however, meant that I was too late to get a Wainwright strip map and had to rely on a concentration-sapping LDWA style route description. After an amusing chat at registration:
‘How did you know my name without me saying?’
‘We’re good lad’ (said in a thick south Yorkshire accent)
. . . but before getting chance to say hello to anyone, the race was underway.
We ran the first 10k in the last hour of darkness. As we made our way through Elsecar we were treated to a delicious sunrise. The woods towards Wentworth were significantly less boggy than the last time I ran here, and I was pleased with my pace. As the sun lit us, I ran past Stephen Jones who I’d been paired up with on the night section in the Fellsman back in April. He seemed on good form; since then he’d completed several hundred-milers, in one of which (the Brecon Beacons 100) he was one of only seven finishers.
It was becoming a grand morning; running conditions were perfect. Going through the fields on the way to Scholes I caught up with Martin Dietrich, winner of the inaugural Hardmoors 110 and something of an inspiration. I told him we had a kid on the way and he told me having grandkids was slowing him down. Then I saw Nick Ham and we ran together, on and off, through fields and woodland to the first checkpoint at Grange, 16k/10 miles in. Nick is always a pleasure; his extensive knowledge of ultra-marathon routes around the country means he can keep you updated on every twist and turn, which proved useful on the couple of occasions I was happily taking a wrong turn. His shouted melodic tones ‘Right at that fence Henry’, correcting me just in time. I’ll say it now: a sat-nav app for ultra-runners voiced by Nick. Get it made.
There’s a fair bit of industrial stuff on the next leg, around Sheffield’s edge. The collieries, iron, steel and wire works are gone, but the associated canals, railways and track-beds, and warehouses are all still there, along with endless new galvanised iron fences. I was out on my own, avidly following my route description around houses, grass banks and an airport, and still going well at the second checkpoint at Treeton. I was relaxed and enjoying myself, armed with the knowledge that the route becomes a lot pleasanter from Treeton Dyke Lake to the Rother Valley Country Park.
Around 35k I flagged for first time, but it was nothing a Cadbury Boost(™) could not fix. I trotted through Norwood, under the M1 I had driven up the night before and over the pleasant but steep fields to Harthill. The 38k checkpoint here is just under halfway around the route and I’d run it in 4 hours. I was pleased with progress; my legs felt good and it was still only 11am.
The stretch from Hartill to Woodsetts is the southern edge of the Round loop. It travels due east on arable land. Wide views, brightening weather and late wildflowers made it very agreeable, I still wasn’t noticeably slowing. After meandering around a golf course and making a point of kneeing a farm stile to see how much blood I could draw, we hit the Woodsets pavilion checkpoint where they had properly decent sandwiches. I also caught up with Martin, a first in ten years of running.
Things were going better than I’d hoped. Inevitably, then, as we began to head north up to Firbeck checkpoint, I began to slow down. The slowing was not sharp, but it was noticeable. In the woods after Langold Lake I was having to push myself. I pressed on into Firbeck, but coming out the other side, I found myself walking. To counter this, I put some music on. It turns out that a 1996 Helter Skelter mix can really put a spring in your step: I really, really enjoyed jogging past Roche Abbey and up to the Maltby checkpoint listening to music to which I used to do homework twenty years ago.
With about 16 km to go I was getting tired, but the finish was in sight. The five and a half minutes per kilometre I had run comfortably at the start of the day now felt impossible, but I kept going. So long as I was running I reasoned I would still be under ten hours. The route navigated north east through several farms and a couple of woods, one of which i managed to get lost in for several minutes. Then under the M18, over more fields and then the perpetual uphill track about which I had forgotten. There was even a farmer at the top, leaning on his gate and laughing at us as we ran past. A nice touch from the organisers, I thought. But after all this, there was an agreeable downhill across pasture into the last checkpoint at Old Denaby – and from there, only about 10k to go.
This last stretch took us back into a landscape in which canal, industrial estate, housing estate and cycle track mingled and led to the old finish at the Sports College. Agonisingly, we had to run past it for another 2k to the new finish at the scenic boat club. I kept on grinding and got back to the 81km finish in 9.49.04, a ten-minute PB for the route.
Top route, top race, top day.