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I’d heard good things about the Round Rotherham from the post-race chat on other ultras so decided to give it a try. So if the Mountain Trial was Romanticism, I thought, now for some dirty realism … This was only partially true however!

The race was first run in 1983 and some folks certainly looked they’d done every one since. It’s full title is Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham, named after Rotherham Harriers’ secretary and president Ralph Rowbotham who devised the route and nurtured the event.

There are about 150 walkers who start at 6am and the same number of runners, starting at 7, and I’d been told that navigation was easy as there are plenty of people to follow. This was definitely the case and, when it wasn’t, white-on-black waymarkers are in place at over half of the decision points.

Anyway, to start at the beginning, I’d decided not to rekkie the route, but had printed out colour maps and ‘Wainwright strips’ from the excellent Henry Marston website. I also had route instructions for direst emergency but these didn’t come out of my pack! I eyeballed the splits between the 7 checkpoints and came up with a 11 hr 15 min schedule.

Drove up to Rotherham on the Friday night, tricky finding the event centre at Dearne Valley College but made it after a couple of U-turns! Bagged some floor space and asked them to turn the heating down … cramp during a race may be regarded as misfortune, cramp before a race looks like carelessness (with apologies to Oscar Wilde!).Lights came on at 5:30am to wake the walkers so I read for a bit, then had my breakfast of pre-toasted potato farls & black coffee (dairy and yeast-free regime). It was nice not to be stressed and have time to chat to people. You could leave a drop bag to be taken to Checkpoint 4 at 30 miles, so I put my pasty and a can of Red Bull in there and gave my phone an extra charge to ensure my ViewRanger trace didn’t die. I checked my schedule and was delighted to find I’d made a lucky maths error and it added up to 10 hrs 15!

The organisers are very relaxed about kit and the only compulsory item is a mobile phone. With the frequency of checkpoints, you could very easily do this race with a bum bag. I rarely needed water between checkpoints. This would be a good ultra for beginners as not too hilly with 884m climb and nothing memorably bad; I can’t even remember where the spikes below were!

Altitude graph
Section 1 to Grange Park
7am soon came round and we started from just outside the sports hall. It was mild and still dark. I never like to think too much during the first 2 hrs of an ultra – it’s best just not to! Get those miles under the belt and start analysing later. Tried to keep up with the 2nd bunch of runners, a black + fluorescent kit theme going on, looked like Liquorice Allsorts bobbing ahead of me in the dark!Picked up the Trans Pennine Trail and the Barnsley Boundary Walk before striking off across the fields at Elsecar. The villages of Wentworth and Thorpe Hesley passed by and I used my one sheet of enlarged map as I’d read on the race’s Facebook site that the exit from Thorpe Hesley to Keppel’s column was tricky. The section was 11 miles and was happy to get to Checkpoint 1 at Grange Park bang on my 1 hr 45 schedule. Just had some Hula Hoops and Jelly Babies and got a quick water refill then off …

Section 2 to Treeton
The next section was by far the least scenic, running parallel with the M1 through various industrial estates. I quite enjoyed it though – reminded me of cutting my running teeth in Leeds. Also my feet were overheating so I found some good puddles to run through & hey presto, no blisters! Had budgetted 75 mins for this (6.3 miles) and came in just under, getting to the Treeton Checkpoint at 10am. It’s at this point you need to start making sure you’re eating enough, taking Ibuprofen etc. so I had a wrap and a boiled egg. But too depressing yet to think of the miles left to do!
RRR route, Start and Finish at Wath upon Dearne near top of map

RRR route, Start and Finish at Wath upon Dearne near top of map

Section 3 to Harthill
Possibly the trickiest bit of navigation was a dogleg up the A57 to re-descend to the railway line you were following originally but on the other side. Fortunately one of the posse I was with had the route on his phone, which saved me getting out my Wainwright srips.  Next was the Rother Valley Country Park, with its lakes and families doing their Saturday morning stuff – opened in 1983 on former quarry land. Then the dreaded ploughed fields (what felt like 20 miles of them!). They could have been worse, but each of my SpeedCrosses weighed in at 450g afterwards! Harthill was very pretty and we got another fantastic welcome at the checkpoint.

Section 4 to Woodsetts

With Harthill being at 25 miles (4.5hrs) it was now OK to consider what was left. I was still feeling good, the sun was shining & my pasty was calling me from Checkpoint 4. I got there at 12:40, was handed my drop bag and wolfed it down, chased with coffee & RedBull. I didn’t dare sit down in case I cramped, which I tend to do these days the minute I point my toes. The bags were going to the Finish so it was good to dump any old map sheets, as well as my torch, which I knew I wouldn’t now need (only 20 miles to go at 12:45!).

Sections 5 to Firbeck & 6 to Maltby

More nice rural sections but alarmingly my fingers started going numb 40 mins after the pie so I had a 9Bar and a gel and feeling came back. Then, at the lovely Roche Abbey I started feeling sick and had to walk even though it was flat. I had a couple of Hula Hoops but wasn’t able to chew or swallow them very well, so I decided my digestive impulses had packed in and not to worry about it. Just had a bare minimum of food from then on and, sure enough, got a 2nd wind.

Sections 7 to Old Denaby & 8 to Finish

Really these just went by in a blurr, hoping to get in under 10 hours! The last 2 miles of navigation got very tricky as we crossed a railway, an industrial estate & the River Don, and I was grateful to the runner from Leeds who repeatedly gave me directions. We both made it to the Finish in 9hrs 50 mins to a great cheer & welcome sit-down.This has to be the best-value race I’ve ever entered, my £19 got m floor-space in the sports hall to sleep the night before, hot meal (x2) plus snacks and drinks en route, T-shirt & cloth badge. I got back home at 7pm (no navigational mis-haps this time!) having thoroughly enjoyed my Rotherham adventure. A big thank you to all the helpers (it’s a slick machine you’ve got going there!) and great company on the way round.

Enjoying post-race soup, coffee & pasta :)

Enjoying post-race soup, coffee & pasta 🙂

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Friday

The London to Brighton is a 56 mile largely off-road race and the main focus of my training this year.

Three and a half weeks to race day and we finally got our map books in the post. I’d heard this is what normally happens, so had put out email tentacles and was sent a write-up by a friend of a friend who did the race in 2010. Because he’d seen nobody between 25 and 40 miles, and also my experience of getting lost in the Long Eaton race, I thought I’d better recce!

Our youngest child going to Guide camp offered a perfect opportunity a fortnight before the race, so I booked my train tickets, planning to walk the whole thing over 3 days. Even tho the 1:25000 OS maps in the route book looked nice and clear, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

In London, I caught the DLR to Lewisham, nearest station to the Start. This is in a TA Centre and I got quizzed by the security man as to why I’d taken a photo of the sign on the gate! The streets of Lewisham, Catford and then Bromley are quite fiddly and it’s easy to make what orienteers call a ‘parallel error’ where you mistake one junction for another and everything goes pear-shaped!

The route followed a couple of urban nature reserves alongside the Ravensbourne and PoolRivers. It would still be dark while running this section on race day so it was a good confidence boost!

After Catford Station there was an unlikely looking exit from a retail park and I annotated my book ‘Go past Halfords and Wickes’. Then at Bell Green I somehow ended up marshalling traffic as a lorry had to reverse to avoid a low railway bridge!

I had my packed lunch at Beckenham Place Golf Club where I saw a fox and several squirrels. After Bromley and Hayes you get to Keston where I had a coffee in the pub and found the location of Checkpoint 1 at 10 miles. My friend-of-a-friend’s write-up said that the 300 year-old Wilberforce seat is here where William Wilberforce proposed to William Pitt that they should introduce a bill to abolish slavery, so I kept an eye open for it. Later I showed my map book to some walkers who told me the location but it was off the 2012 route so I never saw it!

I got quite lost in some orchards shortly after and had to get my i-phone out to navigate, eventually finding the route again but backtracking so I could annotate my book. The mistake cost me 30 mins but better now than race day!

After this there was a climb up to Biggin Hill where the route emerged for 400m onto the A233 at the Air Base. I was lucky to get a look round the very moving RAF Chapel which closed at 4pm.

The next page of map takes you to Tatsfield where there’s a Post Office and store. It’s handy to know where there are shops just in case you need extra food or water (a £10 note is much lighter than a bottle of water you may not need)!

Late Friday afternoon, so somewhere near the M25

I had to detour here round some private land that was only crossable on race day, then it was over the M25 just west of Clacket Wood Services. I’d earmarked the pub at Limpsfield Chart as the place to knock off for the day and call a taxi and got there at 6:30 after 8 hours of walking and 18 miles into the route.

Saturday

Having stayed at a friend’s house in Caterham, the same taxi picked me up at 8am and dropped me back at Limpsfield Chart. There was a nice descent of the North Downs here and I soon reached Checkpoint 2 on a minor road where spectators were not allowed on race day.

Edenbridge Golf Course was tricky to navigate so I put more biro on my map and searched for somewhere to have coffee. Didn’t find anywhere until Ashurst Wood at 2pm but the Three Crowns was worth the wait. A sign told me that when it opened in 1743 the rent was 12p a year, now it’s 12p a minute!

There was a nice section past Weir Wood Reservoir but this day was 10 hours and it was still two and a half pages until I could knock off. Had another coffee in a pub at Horsted Keynes, location of Checkpoint 4 and generally pretty village.

I was getting quite tired of the constant faff of navigating and today was a bit boring compared with the excitement of London yesterday. Got to the Sloop Inn at Freshfield Bridges just after 6 and borrowed the pub phone as I had no signal. Took my pint outside to wait for the taxi to my B&B. I’d completed 25 miles in 10 hours and was now 43 miles into the race!

Sunday

Yet another taxi brought me back for the last leg which started with a 3 sides of a square detour but at least it went past a nice campsite with some toilets. Chailey Common was very pretty and I could hear the tannoy from Plumpton Race Course for several miles.

It was here near Checkpoint 5 (again no spectator access) that I got the first welcome views of Black Cap where the route crosses the South Downs. The classic road race crossed the Downs via Ditchling Beacon, 3 miles to the west but hasn’t been run since 2005.

Here I saw another pair of runners with the telltale A5 spiral-bound route book and we had a quick chat and wished each other good luck for on the day. I thought I wouldn’t see him on the big day but I did!

There was a large ploughed field crossable only on race day to go round, then it was up Black Cap which was great after the monotony of the middle third of the route. It got cold though as you picked up the breeze from the Channel. There’s some straightforward easy running past Falmer and Woodingdean and then the stunning descent into Brighton crossing the hill-top racecourse and following a big spur to East Brighton Golf Club. Then its just 400m to the beach and the Finish at Blackcap Volks Railway Station.

Me at the pier

The last 16 miles had taken 6 hours bringing the total walking time to 24 hours, minus an hour over the 3 days for food stops and probably 2 hours for navigational errors = 21 hours. As a result of the recce I upped my 11hr schedule to 12hrs and wished it was 10 years ago and I’d entered the road race! Never mind – I felt confident of not getting majorly lost on the day as I fought the seagulls off my well-earned fish and chips at a beach-side café.

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In 2010 the Derby Nomad Ramblers group decided to celebrate their 75th anniversary by planning a long-distance route around Derby on existing footpaths. The route is 50 miles and is waymarked with yellow and black markers.

It formed the basis for Long Eaton Running Club’s 52 mile ultra race, which I completed in June – some of my orienteering club friends were doing the Footpath Relay on the same wet and windy Saturday! It’s only the 2nd year they’ve run the race and this year there were 25 finishers plus a handful of teams running it as a 6 leg relay – sadly not enough people on the course to reliably follow!!

The route info was supplied as 50 strip photos from Google Earth and it took me 4 hours to stick these together on A1 card and transfer the route onto 8 bits of A4 1:2500! A marathon of Pritt Stick and highlighter pens!

The Start was in Breaston near Long Eaton, from where it’s about 5 miles down to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Shardlow. I reccy-ed this bit and we had a nice afternoon out in Shradlow looking at the tiny Heritage Centre and the canal-side pubs.

From there the route follows the canal to Findern, then up to Littleover and 2 ½ miles along the greenway towards Etwall. The next section (Dalbury to Kirk Langley) I decided to reccy and it’s a good thing I did as the vegetation was very high, hiding many of the way markers. In fact, I caved in and decided to take 6 sides of impenetrable route description with me on the real thing!

After that, it was local territory from Kedleston to Duffield and Drum Hill. By Stanley Dale Abbey and Risley I figured I’d be walking anyway so navigating wouldn’t slow me down.

On the day…

The 7am starters in the Long Eaton Ultra. I’m in orange

We had all chosen start times between 6am and 7:30. I opted for 7 with 5 other runners so we set off from Breaston’s Navigation Inn in fine weather. The first checkpoint (12 miles) was a mile dogleg away from the canal at Chellaston and I got there in 1hr 52 having a welcome drink and some Jelly Babies. Checkpoint 2 is the Hollybrook Inn at Littleover and I got there at 10:25am. I ran with a Japanese runner who’d come up from London. He’d started at 6am so had lost a lot of time navigating. We walked most of the greenway to Etwall as it was raining and we were tired after 22 miles but then I got a 2nd wind and went ahead. I later heard he retired at Duffield.

The next section via Dalbury was fiddly and slow (e.g. crossing wheat fields that hadn’t been trampled even tho’ a public footpath, hidden stiles) – but at least it stopped raining! Checkpoint 3 was the Bluebell Inn at Kirk Langley where Dave and Sarah were meeting me with coffee so I had a welcome sit down and a good feed! I’m lactose intolerant so I can’t eat any of the lovely cake they had at the checkpoints.

Dave and Sarah ran with me in Quarndon then Dave met up with me again in Dale Abbey. I should have reccy-ed this bit as I missed the start of the path from the A6096 and ended up having to wade through chest high nettles and brambles after running along 3 sides of a field to join it. Lost me 15 mins! Dave found me soon after and we ran together to Checkpoint 5 the Carpenter’s Arms at Dale then Dave continued as navigator all the rest of the way, encouraging me to keep running up the hills.

52 miles later!

The last bit was lovely – a golf course north of Risley descending at the perfect gradient for tired legs, then what felt like a massive climb up the bridge over the A52, 4 more fields then home! I was pleased with my time of 11 hours 3 mins, 25 mins behind the 1st lady. It was a really friendly race, the best £17 I’ve spent in a long time!

The problems with navigating have made me resolved to reccy the London to Brighton Race at the end of September – it’s 57 miles and I don’t want to do any unnecessary ones! Even tho’ there are about 120 runners, I’ve heard it’s quite likely not to see anyone for 15 miles!

 

Happy to have finished 2nd woman in the Long Eaton Ultra

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I found out about this race when innocently reading someone’s blog and thought it would be a good try-out for the London to Brighton race which I’ve wanted to do for a few years now. That race is hilly and has aggressive time-outs whereas this one is literally along 2 canal tow-paths for all but a mile of its 56! It’s also £50 cheaper to enter!!!

The race is in April and my training was getting ready for the Wilmot Wander round Derby which is 32 miles and very hilly – very muddy too as it’s always in January! I did the race in 6 h 15 and did it again in training 3 weeks later, managing to count 80 stiles along the route. Well, I thought, if its half a minute lost per stile, I could do that 40 mins faster!

Husband Dave, daughter Sarah and I went up to Glasgow by train and got a good deal at the Hilton which we managed to seriously negate by having a blow-out 3-course room-service meal. The race started at 9am at RuchilPark in Glasgow and we dropped off a bag each for Checkpoint 2 and another one for Edinburgh. The route followed a branch of the canal north for a mile before joining the main Forth-Clyde Canal. The instruction was to turn right here otherwise we would end up at Clydebank on the west coast!

Everyone must have been saving themselves as I was 2nd for the first 2 miles of the race, and about 10th by the first checkpoint at Auchinstarry. This was 13 miles in and I got there in 2 hours, refilled my water bottle and had a Bakewell tart from Dave and Sarah who’d got there by train. From then on, they managed to get lifts from 2 different runners’ wives – probably because Dave was sporting some handy OS maps and Sarah – aged 9 – looked fed up!

The route was very pretty, there are lots of Roman ruins and alleged bits of the Antonine Wall and there’s been some millennial regeneration of the canals, which had slipped out of use since the 1930s. The main focus of this was the opening in 2002 of the Falkirk Wheel which lifts canal boats 40 metres from the Forth-ClydeCanal to the UnionCanal – but only when there’s a boat coming in the other direction to counterbalance it!

The Falkirk Wheel at 22 miles – the world’s only rotating boat lift, replaces a series of 11 locks and the only climb in the whole 56 miles!

The second checkpoint was at the Wheel, 22 miles into the race, and I got there at about 12:30. There was a nice atmosphere there and some of the visitor centre crowds had come to spectate while runners’ partners enjoyed a bit of tourism! From here on I carried a bladder as it was getting hot and we were well into the race.

We had to detour from the canal here as a tunnel was in need of repair so there was a marked route up through Falkirk for a mile. The next leg to Linlithgow was 11.5 miles and was the low point of the race as the end wasn’t yet in sight but I kept telling myself I could walk after Checkpoint 3. I got there at 14:50, ate and refilled my bladder.

The next section to Broxburn was 8 miles and the canal did a big S bend so I could expose my left side to the sun for the first time in the day! I got a bit of a second wind but was still moving slowly, needing to walk some bits. At Broxburn, the next leg was only 5 miles and everyone was doing it without rucksack so that was a nice bit of relief.

We met our friend Chris here with her car so they were able to intercept me at other points and Chris and Sarah would wave from bridges while Dave ran with me. He did all of the last 9 miles from Checkpoint 5 at Ratho to Edinburgh Quay. It was interesting to see how the canal crossed the M8 via an aquaduct and gradually the route got more urban as we ran into Edinburgh. Parts of the UnionCanal had been filled in when it fell into disuse in the 1930s but since 19?? It had been restored to its 18?? Glory.

The last 9 miles took me 2 hours and I finished in 11 hours 3 minutes, coming 46th out of 64 and 8th woman. It would be interesting to see if going slower on the first bit would make for a faster overall time – but I think you should always go for it while feeling fresh! Perhaps I’m too impatient for ultra distance running!

POST-SCRIPT: This race was much better for a beginner than the London to Brighton – 5 miles shorter, no climb (literally) and canal tow-path all the way – as the organisers say, ‘If the canal’s not on your right then you’re lost!’ Because you run from west to east all day (and the canal is always south), the right half of your body comes back sun-burnt!!

Next year the race is on Sat 6th April, check out http://www.resoluteevents.co.uk/GEDM.html

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