Round Sheffield Run feels almost like a bit of a cult event – if you have taken part in it you know just how uniquely good it is, and if you haven’t, you don’t know what you are missing out on! My friend and I took on Round Sheffield Run in 2016 for the first time; it was totally unknown to us and just something my friend had spotted and thought looked different to try. It turned out to be one of the standout events of the year for us both. Needless to say, we eagerly signed up again for 2017, where we took an impressive eleven minutes off our debut time. Taking part in the event for the third time in 2018 was always on the agenda, with the event date firmly fixed in both our running calendars. The unique concept of Round Sheffield Run means it comprises of 11 timed stages of running totally 20km, with 4.5km worth of recovery breaks in between the stages, with the vast majority of the course set along simply beautiful trails and parkland in Sheffield. The event also allows you to compete as a pair, which is another novel idea and one which really allows you to share the experience with others.
My friend and I approach Round Sheffield Run with a relaxed attitude; for us the event is not really about a clock time, it feels more like a challenge than a conventional race. We know we will have a great day of running whatever happens, just as long as our legs are able to conquer the (many) hills! The race starts at Endcliffe Park in Sheffield; itself a beautiful location. My friend and I had chosen an early start wave and it was already apparent that the event was set for beautiful weather, clear blue skies, sunshine and a developing warmth. To complete Round Sheffield Run a timing ‘dibber’ is used to check in and out of each running and recovery stage – it almost makes a Garmin useless and I only use mine to log the distance I cover rather than referring to pace or time. I am always trusted with the 'dibbing' task and I tend to grow quite attached to my little timing device by the end! Now the race…
Stage 1 is a gentle introduction to what is to come; the route weaves through picturesque woodland on a mix of paved and dirt tracks, with a few very gentle inclines thrown into the mix – it feels like a warm up almost. This stage also gives you a taste of the scenery to come to expect, streams running tranquilly through enchanting woodland, with the trickle of waterfalls complimenting the crunch of runners’ feet. It really is beautiful.
Stage 2 is a real test – named King of the Mountain, it gives you an idea of the sort of gradient challenge it presents. Since our first year, my friend and I have resolved to try run as much of this stage as possible. As we began the ascent I stopped talking to focus my mind and breathing on the test ahead. It is a test, the start of the climb builds gradually as the terrain itself progresses underfoot from well-trodden woodland paths to rocky narrow trails barely wide enough for one person. We had to walk a couple of small sections which were so steep and rocky that I am not sure if I could ever run them, but aside from these we climbed to the top of the ‘mountain’ with increasing assurance.
Stage 3 and 4 are predominantly downhill; which is basically a lot of freewheeling fun. Downhill sections actually appeared to be our weakness last year; we noted that many runners were a lot more skilled at this form of running and we were overtaken a lot on these parts, whereas on hills we seemed to gain distance. Feeling bolder we attacked these stages a little more, still having to carefully navigate our way through tree roots, rocks and hidden dips, but at the same time trusting our limbs to bound downwards. I always feel like a child on these sections, a smile etched widely across my face despite my concentration, and squealing the odd little yelp as I dance dangerously down the trail tracks.
Stage 5 requires you to climb a long set of steep stairs which reach high into woodland before you can even 'dib' into the start checkpoint. This simply warms the quads up nicely for further hills to come. This stage begins steeply and is then followed by lots of smaller inclines. It is somewhat peaceful, however when my friend dared me to look down and I realised just how high up we were actually running on quite a small pathway, my heart did beat a little faster! Stage 6 offers some relief all round comprising a brief and welcomed downhill sprint, which again my friend and I confidently took on.
Stage 7 I think is one of the toughest, maybe even more so than the King of the Mountain section. This stage is essentially a long gradual climb which eats into tiring legs. My friend and I had joked earlier that our enthusiast attack of the downhills and determined hill climbing may start to bite us back later in the race, and although I think we were both feeling the strain here, we kept moving, consistently climbing and not letting the terrain defeat us. Stage 8 rewarded our efforts; predominantly downhill with a cruel sharp climb right at the very end just to shock the limbs a little more.
Stage 9 is unforgettable simply for its amazing view. At this point the race starts to head out of the woods and trails and back toward the city and the Endcliffe Park start. This stage starts at the top of a steep hill which leads to a very fast downhill section with an extensive view of Sheffield’s cityscape almost beneath you. Flying down here on tarmac paths felt very strange; it was like our legs had adapted to running on trail pathways. As road runners usually my friend and I would relish a tarmac path, but not now – this felt odd!
Stage 10 – actually maybe this is the hardest stage! In my head since the start I knew this section was to come, but I had kept pushing back the thought. It is tough. Starting at the foot of a residential street, a long ascent follows, before turning sharply back into woodland for yet more climbing. Nice and steady would be our approach my friend and I agreed, and once more we determinedly made our way up the climb, overtaking a number of other tiring runners in the process, before entering the woods. Running through the woods my legs felt drained now and when asked to climb a few steep steps, the task suddenly broke them. ‘My legs have gone to jelly!’ I said to my friend – but as any good running buddy and Round Sheffield Run partner should, she reassured me we could do this, and I believed her.
Stage 11 – the sprint finish; a short 400m back across Endcliffe Park, neither up or downhill, but simply flat running across the grass. My friend and I both agreed we had nothing really left in our legs to actually properly sprint, but we gave it our best shot. No matter what race you do seeing that finishing arch always evokes a strong feeling inside, and there is nothing more powerful than running into a finish side by side with someone you care about. I was smiling even before I triumphantly placed our ‘dibber’ into the final checkpoint, and I smiled even more as I gave my friend a weary but joyful hug. I think we both knew we had ran really well and the hug almost felt congratulatory.
Saying goodbye to my trusty 'dibber', we received a print out of our overall result. Our legs definitely were telling us we had pushed them this year, not just through some jelly like moments out on course, but upon finishing our hamstrings and hip flexors were instantly twanging! But would the result reflect this? Our official time (which excludes all the walking transition stages) was 1:41:32, five minutes quicker than last year, and we later discovered we had finished as 13th Female Pair overall, five places higher than last year. A very pleasing result!
Round Sheffield Run is certainly a different running experience. The transition sections at first may feel a little odd, but it is all part of the event, demanding your legs to go through so many functions from walking, running, flying down hills, climbing never ending inclines, or tiptoeing up almost impossible pathways. The atmosphere in the race village is worth soaking up post run too, with a DJ playing some gentle summer music and deckchairs spread across the grassland. On a beautiful summers day my friend and I sat here resting our legs and reflecting. Post run, sitting in the gorgeous sunshine, relaxing with a medal around my neck, nursing slightly aching but proud legs, and with my friend at my side I was simply very happy - what more could I want from an event? My friend and I truly run Round Sheffield Run as a pair, and I am not underestimating when I say my friend and I do really compliment each other as runners – we just work and I love that this race shows that more than ever.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...