My Round Sheffield Run 2017 can probably be summarised in a few words; a top 20 finish, 11 minutes quicker than last year, no twisted ankles, and a whole lot of fun! But the race definitely deserves more than just a few words…
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 2016 for us both. Needless to say we eagerly signed up for 2017. The race comprises of 11 timed stages of running totally 20km, with 4.5km worth of recovery breaks in between the stages, and is set along simply beautiful trails and parkland in Sheffield. The event also allows you to compete as a pair, which is another novel concept and one which really allows you to share the experience with others.
The race starts at Endcliffe Park in Sheffield; itself a beautiful location. My friend and I had chosen an early start wave, and as I checked in our timing 'dibber' at the start line checkpoint, it felt relatively calm around us and not at all like the mass fanfare of some races. It was quite refreshing to be honest! 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. One thing I learnt from 2016 was not to bother with my Garmin, I turned it on just so I could track the distance I covered, but the important thing is to check in the ‘dibber’ at the start and end of each stage as this is what tracks your time.
Stage 2 is affectionately known as King of the Mountain – which gives a clear indication of what to expect. Last year this stage ruined my legs; at the time I was struggling to run hills, so 2.5km of gradual ascent was not ideal! My friend and I braced ourselves for the challenge though and began to steadily attack the climb. There was damp almost humid moisture in the air at this point and as the narrow rocky path rose steeper and steeper through dense woodland, passing by running water and rocky sculptures, I felt like I was in a different country – definitely not in Sheffield! We eventually reached the top and it felt victorious. It had been a tough climb, but my legs felt literally a million times better than last year when I took on the same ascent, and this year we only stopped to walk at a couple of points where it was almost physically impossible to run it was that steep. I loved it.
Stage 3 and 4 are predominantly downhill; which is basically a lot of freewheeling fun. Downhill actually seemed to be our weakness though. As we carefully pinpointed our way through tree roots, rocks and hidden pot holes, others absolutely flew down beside us without a fear in the world! As road runners we definitely lack that level of confidence on this terrain. We even shared a joke with a fellow running pair who commented that their marathon training friend would be dreading this part through fear of injury. My friend and I are currently training for the Berlin Marathon – this was definitely us we agreed!
Onto Stage 5, and as we walked the liaison to this stage I could feel that whilst the downhill sections may feel easier than running up the hills, they were rather shredding my legs. It is quite easy to forget the toll downhill running plays. I had also forgotten the rather cruel start to Stage 5. Before even being able to place your 'dibber' into the checkpoint you are required to climb a long step of steep stairs, warming the quads up nicely for further hills to come. Stage 6 however does offer some relief, comprising a brief and welcomed downhill sprint.
How my friend and I had forgotten Stage 7 from last year I don’t know! For me this was almost as tough as Stage 2. With my legs becoming increasingly tired, the long gradual and seeming never ending climb of this stage was a real test. My friend and I took it in our stride though; I was proud of us as we ate up the distance, overtaking a number of other runners in the process. Last year I walked a lot of this stage; it was just too much for my legs. This time we did not stop once though.
Stage 8 reverted back to downhill running. By now my friend and I had agreed this event is virtually a brutal form of interval training, with fast downhills mixed with steep uphill sections and walking breaks. These all require the recruitment of so many different muscles fibres in your legs that it acts like a constant, but exciting, shock to the system. It is ruthless, but we were loving it.
Stage 9 cannot be forgotten simply for the memorable view you get of Sheffield. This stage begins to head back towards the start, and after emerging from woodland trails and rural settings, you begin at the top of a very steep hill with sights of the vast urban city spanning below. It is a beautiful contrast. Thankfully you run downhill at this stage, and whizzing past this amazing view, my friend and I could not resist sparing a few seconds of sprinting to grab a couple of photos!
Stage 10 is much more urban than the previous stages, but obviously still includes hills. Starting at the foot of a residential street, a long ascent follows, before turning sharply back into woodland for yet more climbing. Again my friend and I steadily rose to the challenge; we both knew neither of us was going to succumb to walking by this point. Our competitive edge also came to the fore as we neared the checkpoint at the end of this stage, upping the pace to beat other pairs to check in our 'dibber'. We had not been racing the course by any means, but I think we both knew and felt we had ran much more assured than last year and these extra seconds could now count.
Stage 11 is the final sprint finish, a short 400m back across Endcliffe Park, neither up or downhill, but simply flat running across the grass. It is amazing how little is actually left in your legs at this point, but my friend and I pushed as hard as we could. It was a bit surreal running into the finishing arch; we had somehow ended up running virtually alone by this point, and as we completed the final few metres it seemed as everyone was cheering just for us – it almost felt like we were the winning duo! Smiling, I triumphantly placed our ‘dibber’ into the finishing checkpoint – Round Sheffield Run complete!
Saying goodbye to my trusty dibber, we received a print out of our overall result. Our official time (which excludes all the walking transition stages) was 1:46:31. This was 11 minutes quicker than our time set last year and we later discovered we had finished as 17th Female Pair overall. I really was pleased with how well we had performed together.
Round Sheffield Run is such a unique event; I cannot compare it to anything else I have ever completed. I love it for that reason though. It is a challenge, but it is not impossible, and being able to run with a friend as a team makes it extra special. We will be back again I know it, not just because we enjoy it so much, but because we also believe we still have the potential to improve on our time. We just need to get a bit better at speeding down those hills!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...