Monday 21 October 2013

Race report: Rowbotham's Round Rotherham 2013 (80km trail Ultra)

[There's a 25 min audio montage of the race here which fills in more than the stuff I can remember 2 days later.]

We got up at 5am - relatively late for a race day.  The only food we had available for breakfast was salad that I'd made the day before; lettuce, baby plum tomatoes, a few cubes of cheese, a few chunks of chorizo, walnuts and olive oil.  Weird breakfast but better than nothing.  The hotel had decided to put on an early breakfast, for them, on the Saturday morning at 6am instead of the usual 7.30am, but we kinda needed to have left for the race registration venue by 06:10 in order to be confident of times and a relaxed start.  MrTOTKat eschewed the salad for breakfast in favour of a cooked breakfast after dropping me off at the start and seeing me off before he headed off to the local parkrun.

Salad and a mug of tea downed, we drove to the Dearne Valley College where race HQ was for registration and race start.  The hall had about 30-40 people milling about in it, pinning on race numbers, taping up bits of their anatomy and rubbing vaseline in various places.  I felt quite self-conscious in my "posh" Compressport shorts and Freespeed top over the top of my Compressport t-shirt, but I knew they were extremely comfortable and there was no point feeling weird about that.  Registration was pretty quick and easy, just check your name off, pick up a number, some pins, a t-shirt and race memento patch then off you go.

After a couple of trips to the loo just to be sure I really really didn't need a wee any more, it was almost time for the off and people filed out into the dark outside for race briefing.

A quick chat through a slight course detour around some construction in a new housing estate and general tips about the mud and navigation and it was time to send us on our way.

The first stage is the longest by a very long way; 17.5km.  And I wasn't going to see MrTOTKat until the second check point as he was running Rotherham parkrun.  He'd be starting parkrun when I'd already been running for 2 hours so the plan was that he'd see me first at the second check point.  Everyone set off at a very reasonable and gentle pace and as soon as there was a hint of an upwards gradient, dutifully slowed to a walk.  A really nice surprise after what happened at the start of the London Ultra where everyone shot off like whippets which was very much not my plan!

Having been quite worried about navigation, there were a couple of points in the first stage where there were moments I wasn't sure and there were quite a few bits in the woods where it wouldn't have been obvious if you'd been going the wrong way.  But I trusted the group and followed and all was fine.

It wasn't too hard to tune into the navigation markings thereafter.  Either white discs (as below, on trees sometimes, on lamp-posts or fences at other times, occasionally on dog poo bins even!) or red&white or orange tape marked turns and continuations sometimes.

CP1 came along and I didn't bother with any drinks top up as I'd not had much of my 2x 500ml bottles yet.  I'd normally lamp it through a 21km race with no water anyway and at this pace, I wouldn't be sweating that much.  The plan was to drink to thirst and I just wasn't thirsty yet.  So I checked in to the check point, had a couple of micro caramel oaty squares, a mini fairy cake and a soggy custard cream that'd been out in the rain a while.  I also went for a speculative wee "just in case" and discovered that while I'd thought my outer t-shirt had protected the inner layers from the persistent drizzle, it hadn't and I was soaked to the skin.  It wasn't uncomfortable and it wasn't making me cold at all, so I was OK with that.

There were some really weird statues along the route at this point - I managed to get a photo of one before my phone camera decided to stop playing ball.

Off for another 10.2km to the next check point and where I'd see MrTOTKat for the first time since breakfast, and after 1/3rd of the race distance and around 1/4 of the race time.  That was quite a revelation when I figured that out.  In some ways it was great, in other ways it was quite worrying as I got quite achey and tired before I got there.

Some of the way-marking has been around for a long time...

CP2 sort of crept up on me, having been far too long in coming.  A custard cream and a swig of tea and a bit of a chat about MrTOTKat's earlier parkrun and I needed to get going again as it's all too easy to spend ages at check points and not really notice.

CP3 took forever to come along and by then I was sure I wanted dry socks and a change of shoes as the ones I was in were pretty damp and I could feel a hot spot starting on the ball of my right foot.  The approach to the check point was over a muddy field, up a hill, through a gap in a hedge...

...across another muddy field and then down a grassy slope to a kids playground - perfect for action shots coming in to the check point!

MrTOTKat was ready with my Skechers Go Bionic Trail for the next section which was likely to be the muddiest by far.  Clean, dry socks and dry shoes was fantastic at this point, but it meant that I spent a really long time at the check point (again).  I had a cup of tea from the flask and a top up of water in one bottle.  The thinking from here on in was that I'd only need 1 bottle refill per stage as 500ml for 8-10km should be plenty.  And it would have been, but later on I ran into problems.

Time to fill up the water bottles and then off again for a 9.4km stage.  I'd run into a guy earlier on who seemed to be doing around the same pace as me, but he left CP3 before me and I caught him on this section so we talked briefly before running together but quietly.  I eventually pulled away from him, I think he had made the mistake of trying to keep pace with someone who was just a bit quicker and he started to tire quickly and realised it so slowed and let me go.  He caught me again though when I had a navigation fail at a major road crossing - writing this now and looking at the Wainwright strips (strip 7 with the loop bit), I realise I was reading my plot on the MotionX route on my iPhone the wrong way around - thankfully for me as he put me right where I could have got very frustrated and a bit lost for a while.

This stage was the stage of every single muddy field in the Rotherham area.  Mud, mud, mud, and more mud.

CP4 was the fabled hot food stop, but not before a secret, unofficial stop in someone's garden just before we had to cross a major railway line.  I had a quick chat with the lovely couple running the unofficial drinks stop, accepted a refill of some orange squash into one of my bottles and then headed off over the railway tracks.  From here...

...across this... here.

(BTW, I hate stiles. Quite a bit.)

I was starting to get quite hot by this point, so off came the neck funnel, into my fabulous Salomon hydration vest/rucksack (which loads of people asked about) and I even ended up unzipping my inner t-shirt to get some air in.

Not far after the railway tracks was CP4.  49km in and soon to be the furthest I'd ever run.  There was soup - thick, gloopy, gelatinous chicken soup.  In a tiny cup.  But it was exactly what I wanted at the time.  And it was the last food I had from there to  the end of the whole day.  I was sort of hungry due to having had pretty much just a few biscuits and micro bites since a weird breakfast at 5.30am and my stomach was getting empty.  That tiny cup of soup was plenty enough at the time and I felt great after it.

A final change of shoes out of these ones that didn't look it, but were actually quite heavy with mud and I was worried about going another 31km in zero drop shoes with the lightest of cushioning.  My feet ached quite badly after 40km of the London Ultra and I wanted to avoid that if at all possible, so it was on with the Asics Gel Fuji Attack shoes.  The only drawback of those for me was that they are a tin y bit too small and I could end up with mashed toenails, but I could always change out of them for something roomier later if I needed to.  I just wanted some cushioning with grip in the mud for now, so that's how it was.

There were more muddy fields to come; quite a few in fact, but I don't remember a lot from here on... I kept running into an old fella who turned out to have run Comrades 3 times and was quite the trail runner.

CP5 was physically a relatively low point.  A lot ached and I was feeling quite tired.  I certainly found it really hard to start running again afterwards, but I was quite chirpy.  Especially when I realised I was starting to make places on quite a few people who had previously been ahead of me even though I was spending too long at the check points.

As with almost all of stages 3 to 5, I spent the next stage alone and almost always not in sight of any other runners.  Stage 6 I followed a couple of chaps who were walking in the distance and slowly was catching them until I came across a ruined abbey where I took a couple of photos.

The persistent drizzle had stopped and the sun was trying to break through.  I was still wet to the skin, but as I'd not been to the loo since CP3 I didn't really notice it any more.  It was certainly not cold or windy enough to feel the wet next to my skin.

3km after the ruined abbey was CP6.  Up through some steps into a grave yard where I really didn't expect to find a check point, but someone had kindly put a sign just before the checkpoint telling us it was just ahead.

I was running again at this point, having had quite a tired patch just before-hand, so poor MrTOTKat had fun trying to photograph me as I came in to this checkpoint!

The next two stages were supposed to be 12km and 4km, so I readied myself for a long old stretch and then less than a parkrun at the end.  I was feeling OK mentally, in good shape physically with the hot spot on my foot long gone after a couple of changes of shoes to shift the positioning of cushioning on my feet, and my knees and ankles not creaking too much.

This next stage was definitely the darkest for me.  I went through a patch of feeling overwhelmingly sick.  I put it down to having been drinking flavoured isotonic sports drink (just salts and flavour, no carbs) and no plain water.  All I had with me for this stage was mixed sports drink and no plain water.  I almost lost it at one point.  I just wanted to sit down and cry until I felt better.  I wanted to throw up into the field or hedge; anything to feel less horrible.

CP7 had the same issue with me unexpectedly running in...

...however I was really very very tired by this point and spinning up running after periods of walking hills, walking to navigate or just walking because I was tired/felt sick etc., was really very difficult indeed.  All I wanted was plain water and to feel less sick.

CP7 came and not only was there fresh water and MrTOTKat but another friend was unexpectedly there too.  I squeaked an "oh! hello!" as I arrived.  What I really wanted was a loo.  I'd decided a good old dump would sort my guts out, but no... this checkpoint was just a van in a car park, a couple of chairs and some cones!

Oh well!  I chugged a couple of cups of plain water, filled a bottle with plain water and got the heck on with it.  With only 4.95km to go I just wanted to get to the end.

The old fella in blue who I'd kept meeting up with caught me yet again on this stage and we ran almost the whole of it together to the end.  Having got to CP6 and left it before 5pm - the recommendation was that if you left that one after 5pm you'd need a torch to finish - I was feeling good about finishing in under 12 hours unless disaster struck.  We chatted a bit and then ran quietly.  It started to rain properly, finally.  I pulled away from him a couple of times, but then I'd have to walk a bit because my left ankle wasn't happy.  Then the light faded really quickly and I thought we'd run into trouble before the end, but the final stretch was well-lit and we rounded a final few bends before finding the red and white tape that marked the entrance to the college ground and the finishing funnel up a grassy bank to the college.

He was ahead of me in that last few 10s of meters, but stopped and waited so we could cross the line together.  What a really nice guy!  I finally asked what his name was - thank you Bill, you really helped keep me motivated in that last few kilometers (and a few times before that too!).  I think the best thing Bill said to me was in the penultimate stage when he said I kept getting away from him and he was amazed that I just kept on going and going and going; "you should do an Ironman", he said.  *grin*

I sat outside for a bit, in the cool, just trying to take in the fact that I'd just run 80km.  Garmin said 79.91km, but Strava says 82.6km *shrug*  It's officially 80km, so I'll take that.

I had to take off my mud-encrusted shoes and change into clean ones before going into the hall where there was food, drink and finishing certificates!  What a great surprise!  I really wasn't expecting that.  (Also, I'd forgotten to turn off MotionX navigation and Garmin Fit live tracking.  Oops!)

I had a tea and a sit and a chat while I waited for the batch with my certificate to be printed.

Having finished at 18:30, I had a couple of hours before the booked dinner slot and wasn't feeling too hungry, but wanted to get clean and dry and into fresh clothes.  Onwards to the hotel!

The heart rate drift downwards tells a tale... I'm not sure of what though.  I know the first 9km were quite quick for the distance.  There were some quickish (for the distance) ones in later stages though. 68th km was quicker than quite a few in the first 25.

I'd like to thank MrTOTKat for being supportive and ready at the stations with a car-boot full of dry socks and shoes, a cuddle and a kiss, often some hot tea and encouraging words of love.  I hope to support him in a race in the same way some day.

I'd also like to thank Bill and the un-named guy in the OMM rucksack and glasses who was running this race for the first time again in 4 years after injury.  And all of the race officials, check-point teams and the unofficial drinks stop near CP4.  I was really worried about race navigation before the race but I needn't have been.

Onwards to CTS Dorset Ultra on 7th December.  Maybe.  Let's see!

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