Sat at home one night after an evening of running/exercise, my friend sent me a message about something called ‘Round Sheffield Run’. It looked good, she said, followed by a winking emoji face – an icon which basically replaced the words ‘shall we do this?!’ I looked into the run very briefly - to be honest if it’s a running event I do not usually take too much convincing! The race appeared scenic, was a reasonable distance, and the multi stage nature of the event sounded interesting - why not I thought!
I had never heard of Round Sheffield Run before this. The event was billed as an ‘epic’ trail race set on ‘superb’ trails and parkland in Sheffield. Quite a statement. The race was to comprise of 11 timed stages of running, totally 20km, with 4.5km worth of recovery breaks in between the stages. I had certainly never done anything like this before either. So taking this into account I was not really sure what to expect as race day arrive. I call it race day, it did not really feel like race day, I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t chasing a time or a PB, and I was not really expecting to be racing anyone. Running with my friend as a 'Female Pair' I was a little worried about slowing her down, especially as hills have not been my friend of late! But aside from that there were no pre-race nerves, just a little uncertainty about what lay ahead… I need not have been concerned on any fronts though, as I can honestly say Round Sheffield Run was so much fun, even on some of the most testing running stages I have ever completed…
The race started at Endcliffe Park in Sheffield; it was a fairly cool morning, and waiting in the start funnel there was a sense we all just wanted to get going! After checking in our timing ‘dibber’ (probably not the word but it’s what I called it!) at the start line checkpoint, my friend and I were off. The first stage felt a bit like a normal race, set on a mix of paved and dirt tracks it was a gradual incline which did not seem too bad. The setting was already beautiful too, with woodland engulfing us and a calming stream running alongside us. This is alright I thought! At the end of this stage it felt a bit unnatural going to check in the ‘dibber’ rather than rushing to stop my watch. It was a bit of a juggling act between the two, and one I soon gave up on, just letting my watch run its course and focusing on checking the ‘dibber’ in and out of each checkpoint.
The liaison between stage one and two was short, a brisk walk and we were soon onto stage two. I had seen on the Round Sheffield Run website that stage two was said to be the toughest on the course; so had braced myself. We started a hilly climb, and I could already see in the distance it was long. My friend was ahead of me, eating up the hill with seeming ease; I could see the summit (so I thought) and just tried to keep going until I met it and caught her up. As I neared what appeared to be the top, a slight turn revealed that this was by no means the end of the hill. It was getting stepper, narrower and more uneven underfoot, and was certainly going on for much, much longer. This second part of the hill/stage was tough. I couldn’t keep running that’s for sure (I would like to bet my friend might have been able to without me though!) Some sections were so steep it actually felt quicker to walk, and most people were. This stage was virtually 2.5km of an increasingly hard hill climb! It sounds really hideous doesn’t it, but it actually was not (see image where I am actually smiling whilst running the stage!). It’s hard to explain, but the environment around was so peaceful; running water, natural stone footpaths, twisted tree trunks; that it didn’t feel a chore to run the hill, unlike some I have faced whilst out road running!
The next walking liaison was very much welcomed and was a longer stretch along a small road. I did laugh at the cars overtaking us runners. If I was driving I would have been thinking this was the worst running race I have ever seen – everyone walking! Little did they know what we had just accomplished and what we were about to go onto face.
The next two stages felt a joy to run, both predominantly downhill, it was good to get the legs running freely again. Stage four was a bit of a challenge with some heavy rainfall overnight leading to some very boggy patches inside the woodland. Freewheeling downhill and then suddenly hitting a boggy patch was interesting to say the least - at one point I was within a few millimetres of skidding right down into a ditch! I was laughing so much at my complete lack of control – it felt like being a child again!
As we walked the liaison onto stage five I commented I felt like I was on holiday. It certainly didn’t feel like I was in Sheffield. Having run through such beautiful woodlands so far, we were now strolling through quaint houses and alongside a small railway set in front of a massive expanse of hilly woodland and trees. It was perfect. I say perfect, that was until I realised we were heading up towards the hilly woodland and trees – I should have expected after some kind downhill stages the hills would be back. Before we could start stage five though we had to climb a long set of very steep stairs, which made the quads burn before running could even begin again! The start of stage five was right at the top of these stairs – so there was no time to exactly let the pain subside. The stage start was also a very steep incline itself, which was then followed by lots of smaller inclines through more woods, although the up and down nature of this section was more bearable.
Stage six was thankfully a short downhill sprint and this allowed my legs to feel slightly free again. Stage seven I was instantly dubious of, as when checking in our ‘dibber’ the steward said ‘enjoy it’ in what seemed a slightly sarcastic tone…hills were going to be on the agenda for sure! A brief downhill start gave me hope I was wrong, but I wasn’t. This stage had a number of long gradual climbs which ate into my now tiring legs. I had to walk some of it, taking short sharp breaks just to let the burn in my legs subside a little. The sight of my friend powering on ahead did help to keep me going though, as did the shared pain of those around me. Everyone was in the same boat by now! One steward commented that my friend and I were smiling too much to be finding it hard – trust me it was hard, but it was also strategy so enjoyable; which I know sounds truly sadistic!
Stage eight again tricked me into thinking it would be kind, flowing downhill to begin with but then ending with yet another sharp incline. Ouch. At this point the walking liaisons between stages were very much welcomed; however it did also start to feel a bit like an (even more) brutal form of interval training. Our legs were starting to recover and almost shut down as we walked, before then being demanded to run again! Stage nine was pure joy; a very fast downhill section which you almost took off on. At this point we had left the woodlands behind and were heading back to Sheffield City centre. We were thus treated to the most amazing view of the city as we whizzed down the hill. There was also a wonderful old couple sat on a park bench clapping us runners on. In contrast to the car drivers from earlier, this couple must have thought this was the fastest race they had ever seen!
On the transition to stage ten my friend and I chatted to another runner who said she had been dreading this forthcoming stage the whole way round. Now what! - I thought. How can it be any worse than stage two?! Stage ten turned out to be the only real urban stage on the route, but didn’t see the hills disappear. A long gradual climb up a residential street started the stage. With only one stage after this I was determined not to let these final hills beat me. I dug deep and plodded up the road to the summit, feeling proud of myself; that was until we turned and ducked into some more woodland and the hills continued. I swore and laughed simultaneously at this point! My legs felt really tired now, especially making the transition back to woodland trails after a section of my more accustomed road running; but I made it to the checkpoint.
Arriving at stage eleven we were met with the final sprint to the finish – literally. This stage is a short burst to the finish line, not an uphill or downhill in sight! My friend and I set off, I didn’t feel like we were really sprinting, but there was a bit of renewed energy in us upon seeing that finishing arch! I triumphantly placed our ‘dibber’ into the finishing checkpoint – Round Sheffield Run complete! Including walking transitions, we had been out for just over three hours, but the unknown was what our actual time was for the running sections. Handing back our ‘dibber’ (which now felt like a part of me) we got our result instantly. I was shocked and delighted to see a time of 1:57:30 – I mean I had nothing to really base this on, but for nearly a half marathon worth of running, on the most hills and the most difficult terrain I have ever encountered, this seemed impressive! Later on we found out we had finished as the 31st female pair – I really was delighted with this.
Round Sheffield Run was certainly a different running experience. At first the transition sections felt a little odd, walking in a race was normally avoided at all costs! Walking on some of the hills when my legs couldn’t take it anymore also felt almost like cheating. However looking back, some of the inclines we faced were actually easier to walk and it seemed everyone had to resort to walking at some point. Words cannot really describe how beautiful the route is either, and I honestly think this helps distract from some of the hills. And there are hills, lots of them. There is no hiding from that!
Round Sheffield Run is definitely a challenge for any runner but it is not impossible either. I loved the whole experience and running as a pair, or in a small group as I saw others doing, definitely seems the perfect way to enjoy it. Round Sheffield Run is essentially a social Sunday run set in beautiful trails, with a strange ‘dibber’ thing rather than a Garmin, some pleasant walking breaks, and did I mention a few hills..!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...