From my perspective, the annual ASDA Sheffield Half Marathon is unique to many around the country. The simplest way to explain the event would be ‘climbing a 6 mile hill and then running back down it.’ While it has an elevation profile that brings significant dread to many, it also offers a huge sense of achievement on crossing the finish line and indulging on your ASDA special ‘Mars bar.’ Having picked up a last-minute entry in 2017, I already knew the streets would be lined with excited supporters, children with jelly babies and friendly volunteers trying to convince you that you in fact still look strong at mile 13 and in all honesty I couldn’t wait to start.
This year I entered as part of Team Rolls Royce (ABCF), the guys I used to work with when I lived in Sheffield. We were running for Snowdrop Project, a local charity provides long-term support to empower survivors of human trafficking. Training had been a bit hit and miss and there were many nervously happy faces on face day.
Having lost valuable minutes in the 2017 event due to starting too far back, I made sure to shimmy my way to the front of the crowds. While I had no intention to race the half marathon, there is nothing more frustrating than having to walk at the beginning!
Frustratingly the race was delayed by 10 minutes due to obstruction on the course, however this was efficiently dealt with and at 9:40 wave 1 was off, shooting for the 6 mile hill climb.
I set off with the group at the front, running as if it were a 5k (way too fast), and as the first mile came in at 5:57 minutes, I looked down at my heart rate, which did indeed confirm this. At this point with the thrill of the support and desire for a course PB, I decided to race the event. So I ignored the fact I had set out harder than ever before and kept running full pelt up the hill. While the hill did go on for a very long time, I find a secret enjoyment in hill climbing so I was almost disappointed when I reached the top. Unlike a lot of other runners I find it much easier to push myself running up hill than I do on the flat, however one of my problems in the previous year had been maintaining that effort back down the hill, mostly through worry of injury.
Halfway up the hill I remember looking down at my watch and seeing my heart rate at 178 and thinking wow, am I going to be able to maintain this? The climbing for me is one of the highlights of the event. The first half requires supreme mental resilience and determination, and in return there are numerous rewards at the top, from an incredible view over the peaks, the halfway point and to a big downhill run.
The streets were lined with supporters, calling out my name (which I later realised was on my running bib) and yelling ‘GO STRIDERS’ which is one of the perks of being part of one of the biggest and well known running clubs in the Sheffield (and the UK). Excited children (and adults) exclaimed 7th Lady, 7th Lady as I pounded the roads, which due to the scale and size of the event I couldn’t believe. There was one point when the speedy lady in front of me (with the green shorts) began to slow, but before I could catch her, she picked back up again. That was the last chance I had to gain a space back.
As we turned and began to go back down I could feel myself gaining momentum. Previous fear of running downhill was almost overtaken by a drive and desire to get to the finish (and not let any other women overtake me). It’s such an experience to run down closed ring roads, something very different when they are not bustling with traffic and pollution. Again the streets were lined with what seemed like the whole Sheffield population, which I found really helped pull me onwards.
The guy at the 400m sign assured me I looked strong, however inside I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain this speed much longer. It’s a sneaky course, as there are a few little hills in the last 3 miles that will catch out even the best of runners and in addition to this the run to the finish line is on a slight incline. This aside I managed to maintain to the final stretch and from somewhere managed a brilliant sprint over the finish line. I think this is honestly the first time I have finished a race and genuinely felt like I had nothing left to give.
A MASSIVE PB FOR ME AT 1:27:23!
Many people congratulated me once we had picked up our medals, commenting on how they had struggled to keep up and much to the amusement of those around me, I opted to get my medal engraved (for free) with ‘Pocket Rocket Rach’. On my way back to meet the rest of the team I ran into a friend I met when I first moved to Sheffield, Michael, who also achieved another PB. It’s so nice to see how far he has come with running, especially as he didn’t run at all when I met him!
Being part of the team challenge, we were lucky to have VIP treatment post-race, with croissants, and (alcoholic) complimentary drinks. I am also incredibly proud of my little superstar Jenny for completing her first ever half marathon, the only road is up!