The Round Sheffield Run
Split over 11 segments, the one-day Round Sheffield Run is a real stage star, says Scott Reeves
It’s happened to us all. We’re slogging away on a run, when a thought pops into our head: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to stop and rest now? Just for a minute. Maybe two.’ It’s definitely happened to me, so imagine my delight when I discovered a race that demanded I do just that. The Round Sheffield Run covers 24 kilometres of the city’s excellent parkland and trails, but there’s a unique twist: the race distance is actually 20km spread over 11 timed stages. Between each stage is a recovery section, where runners walk a few hundred metres or so to the start of the next timed segment. It’s the aggregate of the timed running stages that creates the finish time, not the portions in between. Which is how it should be.
‘As far as we know it’s a world first,’ says race director Doug Banks. ‘The concept was taken from enduro mountain biking, which has timed downhill stages and untimed transfer stages.’
This eminently civilised arrangement makes the Round Sheffield Run the perfect introduction for those who want to try a longer race but have some doubts over their ability to go the extra few
miles. If you still aren’t convinced that you have the stamina to tackle 20km on your own, you can enter as part of a team of two, which allows the less confident to have a running buddy to encourage or cajole them to the finish line.
The race had a rolling start over two hours (each runner or pair of runners scanning a chip as they crossed the line); this meant that, thankfully, there wasn’t the logjam that often bedevils the first few metres (or kilometres) of a big race. The first stage was a pleasant canter through two parks and a wood. A few families and dog walkers nodded in greeting as I ambled confidently past; it felt more like a training run than the start of a race. After three kilometres we passed a marshal, who reminded us to scan our chips before walking to the start of the next stage. I was beginning to feel this race was going to be a doddle: I’d already completed the longest stage; surely it would only get easier.
If only. The second stage was ominously named Porter Valley Ascent. At first it took us gradually uphill before becoming, to use Banks’ understatement, ‘slightly more aggressive’. I tried to remind myself that the stage was only half a Parkrun and forced myself to keep inching up the slope as the gradient became increasingly belligerent: I could have walked just as quickly and with considerably more dignity. At the recovery station I looked around for an oxygen canister but had to content myself with water, bananas and jelly babies.
Thankfully, things got a little easier after that. I’d now completed both the longest stage and the steepest stage and, by the end of stage four, I was already more than halfway along. It helped that, as the route progressed, the timed stages generally became slightly shorter and the rest segments slightly longer. The routine of run, walk, run, walk felt a little bit like interval training. However, my legs were beginning to ache and I was well aware that they were going to be sore in the morning.
I passed the occasional slower runner who had started a little earlier than I had, and I, in turn, was passed by a few speedsters who had begun later. I wasn’t bothered; I had settled into a comfortable pace similar to that of runners around me. One particular chap became a familiar face. He overtook me on a running stage, only to walk slower on the recovery section, so I started the next stage first; then he overtook me again. We continued like this for three or four stages – I felt like his pacemaker, the Chris Chataway to his Roger Bannister.
The stages ticked by until all that was left was the final section, a 400m sprint through Endcliffe Park to the finish line. It was time for an all-out charge, so I ignored my aching legs in one last attempt to gain as many places as possible. Having said that (and done it), for all the attention to timing, ultimately this isn’t a race where your finish time really matters. Great scenery, slick organisation and a friendly atmosphere make this an event that’s ideal for those new to long distances or runners who want to put on a stage show. The next Round Sheffield Run is on 25 June. Visit roundsheffieldrun.com
DO THE ROUNDS Make no mistake, you’ll feel the miles but the surroundings make the effort worthwhile.