Wednesday 31 October 2012

Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham 2012, UK : 80km

When I applied to participate in the 80km Rowbotham’s Round Rotherham (RRR), I knew it was going to be a ‘challenging’ one for me as it is a race which is against my personal preference in many aspects. I love running in hot environment and most importantly, when participating in races, I prefer to concentrate solely on my running and rely on signs/ ribbons/ markings to map out the directions of the course.

Unfortunately, English races are not like that. The unpredictable weather means one almost always has to run in wet and cold weather conditions with a guaranteed fair share of mud plastered to one’s body at the end of each race. There is also a general practice here for not marking the race course in the way that is normally done in the rest of continental Europe. Due to these reasons, I have never participated in any English races before, despite having lived here for almost 5 years. The idea of having to hold a map or sat-nav to find and search for the right direction while running a race has never really appealed to me.

One of the very few signs for the race

Despite the RRR not being the kind of race which I would normally do, I somehow proceeded to enter the race after I found out that it is listed as one of the qualifying races for the legendary Western States Endurance Run (WSER) in California, USA. It was due to my determination to test my limits at the 100 mile WSER that I ignored all my self-evaluated ‘drawbacks’ of an English race to make my first hesitant step to enter into this unknown (and scary) arena.

My training before the RRR was satisfactory. I was doing quite well with all the hard interval sessions, without sustaining any injury. Despite that, I found myself to be not particularly motivated with the race. It could be down to tiredness because for the whole five nights before the race, I was doing night shifts (21:00 – 08:00) at the hospital. I was trying to get as much precious quality hours of sleep as I can during those few days, in anticipation of the grueling race ahead.

To my surprise, the weather forecast for the day of the race was a good one. This fact alone was able to lift my spirits a little and made me feel more excited. My wife and I travelled the approximately 1-hour journey to the start point at the Dearne Valley College. There were about 300 runners waiting to run the RRR, which is celebrating its 30th year this year. Among them I found a familiar face in Graeme Harvey, who had participated at the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail with me in July.

The Start and Finish Point : Event Centre, Dearne Valley College

At 07:00 sharp, we started the race when the day was still dark and cold. I have already made up my mind regarding the strategy which I will adopt at the race. My main priority and foremost target was just to complete the race in order to obtain the qualification for the lottery of the WSER. 

Starting off at 07:00 sharp
As I have not had any experience of running with a map/written directions, I have decided to try and follow some of the fast runners if their pace was not too fast for me. Besides Graeme, I did not know any of the other runners and their backgrounds. I was following 2 runners who were leading, whom I later found out to be Duncan Harris and Ken Sutor. I was relying on them for directions.

Ken, Duncan and myself

Very soon into the race, my fear of the route not being marked the ‘European’ way was confirmed. I began to worry because I knew then that if I was not able to keep up with Duncan and Ken, I would surely be lost and stranded. For almost all the first half of race (40km), the 3 of us were running together in a very fast pace (13km/h) despite the slippery terrain caused by the mud from previous days’/weeks’ worth of rain. The route was very pleasant with a mix of rural/urban scenery. The sun, by now, has emerged and it was simply glorious!! We were crossing canals, streams, parks, old industrial areas, and neighborhoods, passing by streets lined with gorgeous orangey-red trees.

Beautiful cricket ground at Treeton

Autumn colours greeted the runners at Harthill
When we were getting close to the 40th km, the route got more demanding. We had to cross fields which have just recently been ploughed. Running through these fields was tough as the ground was soft. At one point where we had to climb up a very muddy ascent, I struggled to keep up with Duncan’s and Ken’s pace. I decided to slow down to avoid risking a fall/injury. Due to my slowing down, I lost my optical contact with both of them when I reached the top of the ascent. I was left in an embarrassing situation where I did not know where to go!!  Instead of trying to find my way using the written directions given by the organizers (I did not trust my sense of direction), I decided to wait for the next runner to appear.

The written directions/map for the route

I waited for about 16 minutes before I saw the next runner (Ian Symington) approaching me. During the entire time of waiting, my spirit was hitting rock bottom. I was feeling very upset with myself for losing sight of Duncan/ Ken and my body was getting cold by being stationary for so long. Initially, I had thought that it was going to be easy for me to pick up my pace where I have left to continue the race by following the next runner but I was greatly mistaken. I had only managed to keep up with Ian for about 20 minutes before my pace began to slow down and worse still, I lost all my competitive motivation to continue with the race!! Despite feeling very low and demotivated, I managed to run together with Ian until after CP3. 

Ian Symington 

Me approaching CP3
When I slowed down my pace and Ian sped away, I found myself to be stranded again without any idea of where to run to. Instead of staying stationary this time, I attempted to find my way but soon lost my bearing. I retraced my steps back to where I started and met the next runner (Kevin Hoult). By then, I have lost another 8 precious minutes and I was completely disappointed with how this race was evolving for me. I was feeling like a little boy, lost in the countryside and unable to find his way. I was totally frustrated!


Kevin was running a very fast pace and before long, he too disappeared from my sight. I was alone yet again, searching futilely for signs. I lost another 5 minutes by walking and waiting until the next runner (Chris Davies) appeared. I ran along with Chris and when I reached CP4, I was determined to pull out from the race. I was feeling very foolish and frustrated for losing my way so many times and having to rely on other runners for directions of the route. However, thanks to my wife’s objections and encouragement at CP4, I did not. I pushed myself to continue on, always making sure that I stayed a few steps behind Chris, so as not to annoy him too much! We ran at a rather slow pace but I had no choice because honestly, I simply did not have the slightest idea of where to head for without him.

Chris and me approaching CP4

A demotivated me leaving CP4 with Chris

I continued running with Chris until we reached CP5. My wife was there again to encourage me and to urge me on. (Thanks, Babe!!) I was still feeling very low at that time but my wife kept reminding me that it was almost done, that there were only 2 more checkpoints to reach before the end of the race.

Me & Chris approaching CP5

I soldiered on after the checkpoint and soon found myself to be in the company of 3 fast runners who had caught up with Chris and myself. I decided to follow one of them (Ben Paviour), almost until the end of the race. Even though I was able to keep up with the other 2 who had gone ahead of us, I could not find the motivation in me to do so. At that point, being in the 8th or 6th position did not make any difference to me. 

Me & Ben approaching CP 6

Ben and me approaching the last checkpoint, CP7

Crossing a very muddy patch  
I carried on with the comfortable pace set by Ben and continued like that until just about 1 km before the finish line, when Chris sped up from behind and tried to overtake us. Chris’ attempt somehow had the effect of waking me up from my subconscious ‘trance’ and I suddenly found the ‘wings’ to speed up for the finish line, not wanting to lose my position when I was already so near the end of the race.

Me at the Finish Line
After having wasted 30 minutes being unable to find my way, I lost 5 positions in the final ranking to finish in the 8th position with 7:23:28, with an 18 minutes’ difference from the 3rd placed runner, Kevin. Duncan finished first with an unbelievable performance of just 6:29:29 and Ian finished second with 6:53:20.

Being always very competitive in races, I am unable to accept how this race has evolved for me. I know that I could have finished in a much better position but considering how different the conditions were (for me, at least) in this ‘orienteering’ race, I accept the result and am happy that I now qualify for the lottery for WSER 2013.

After this experience, I am quite convinced that I will not be participating in anymore races of this type. For me, running a race is an expression of FREEDOM. I love the idea of running at an uninterrupted pace and at the same time, being able to explore a new place, simply by following signs and markings of the route that will eventually lead me to the finish line.

The most interesting aspect which I discovered from my experience of running this race, is how absolutely normal it was for the rest of the local runners to compete under the very same conditions which I found to be so difficult. What a contrast this is compared to Greece, for example, where in the very few cases when races were not marked properly, the organizers had to bear the brunt of the participants’ complaints and furious comments on internet forums. The only conclusion I can draw from this is the simple fact that this is just how races are done in England and they just happened to be different from all the others which I have participated in.

Well, I am not proud to say that I got lost not once, but TWICE (???), in a race at South Yorkshire when I did not get lost either at the Atacama Desert during the Atacama Crossing or at the Sahara Desert during the Marathon des Sables. Now that the race is over, I can finally see the irony of that and laugh about it good heartedly.

The very muddy me at the end of the race

My very muddy feet 

I thank my wife, Hannisze, who has supported me once again, like no one else has ever done. I was surprised she managed to make her way to ALL the 7 checkpoints to cheer me on (thanks to Henry Marston and his very accurate sat-nav postcodes) and as usual, to capture my various emotions (mostly frustrating ones, in this race!) through her unique documentary photography skills.

I admire my fellow runners whom I had the privilege to run with (Duncan Harris, Ken Stutor, Ian Symington, Kevin Hoult, Chris Davies & Ben Paviour), for their ability to run so effortlessly without having to slow down to seek for the right directions. Please accept my apologies, guys, if I had caused you any annoyance by tagging too close behind you. 

I respect Ray Matthews, the 71 year old gentleman who completed the race 3 times back-to-back, making it a total of an astounding 240 Km (150 miles), for charity. R-E-S-P-E-C-T Ray!!!!

The admirable Ray Matthews

After this not-so-pleasant experience, I can now focus on my next big challenges for the beginning of 2013. I will be doing the Vibram Hong Kong 100 Km Ultra Trail Race ( in January and the Namibia Desert Challenge  (,  a 5-stage 230 Km race in the stunning Namib Desert, in March. At both of these races, Hannisze has been accepted by the organizers to be part of their Media/Film Crew. So, I can be rest assured that I will have her continuous support and encouragement when I run the races. 

The other races which I plan to do in 2013 will depend on the outcome of my application in the lottery for the Western States Endurance Run, and of course, from any potential injuries or any unpredictable changes which may happen between now and then. Fingers Crossed!

All the photographs in this Entry are taken by Hannisze and the whole selection of photos she has taken at this race can be viewed at her Photography Facebook Page at


  1. Argi - it sounds like this was a really tough experience for you. Well done for staying in the race and gaining the necessary finish to apply for the lottery at Western States. It may not have gone as you had hoped, but the end result was still the achievement of your pre-race objective - congratulations. I look forward to following your upcoming races.

    1. Thanks for following my races, Daniel! It was quite an experience for me, this one. But like you have said - at least I achieved my pre-race objective :-).

  2. I was leading a group on the last 2 stages, through the dark across fields but was amazed that one guy who hadn't done the event before caught us up. He was following the route on his mobile phone, using the GPS route from the website! It's probably the best way to follow a route that's not fully marked if you are not practiced at reading the route on the run.

    1. Thanks, Henry, for the tip. Will remember that for my next English race!!

  3. Nice report. It's interesting to read the account of someone with different experiences and expectations of Ultras. I understand your frustration at having your self reliance denied you when you became 'lost'. Even so your time was still phenomenal compared to what most mere mortals can achieve.
    If we both get through the lottery I'll see you at Western States next year. I'll show you the ropes. ;-)

    1. Thanks, Nick for 'dropping by' my Blog :-) Let's hope we both get through the lottery for WS. Give me a nudge if you see me at the start line, will you? Good luck to us!

  4. Thanks for your interesting account of the race. If your wife has any photos of me on the race, please email me on I am trying to think of races which are marked. High Peak 40 is one of them although even there there are a couple of points where the signs are not obvious.

    1. Hi Duncan! Since the race, I have found out that you are one of the fastest runners in the UK. It was an honour to have run with you. We will send you the photos through email, no problem! Thanks for the suggestion for High Peak 40. Will certainly check it out :-)