With Round the Rock being my one and only local Ultramarathon and being an ultramarathon runner it makes sense that this race features on my calendar almost every year since its inception in 2011. I, like most other local runners are very passionate about this stunning race and sing it’s praises regularly when overseas doing other races. It’s for that reason that I’ve written this, to spread the word about an awesome event on a stunning island just thirty minutes away from central London with great air links from all corners of the UK and further afield. There’s no excuses not to have a go and at 48 miles it’s a great introduction to Ultra running.
As this is about the fourth time of me running it and as virtually all my training for other races is done on various parts of the course, I won’t go into all the bits of detail. I usually only write these reports due to my failing memory but I don’t need to do that on this occasion, I can just go back out and run the bits I’d forgotten about.
RTR usually takes place on the first Saturday of August or thereabouts which is mid summer and can be quite a warm race but it’s not uncommon for us to experience very swift changes in the weather being such a small island.
The briefing takes place the night before at a fancy four star hotel central to everywhere and close to the race start and finish. It’s thorough and quirky with a real “small race vibe” although it has great potential to grow. The arrival of stars such as Steve Way and Paul Martelletti are helping to put the race on the map along with excellent financial rewards for the top runners. Steve and Paul took away £2000 last year for finishing in less than 6 hours. Paul went on to beat his record this year and finished in 5:42 to win a bit more cash. Alright for some! After the briefing you grab your race pack which includes your good quality technical Tshirt, a useful bag and your race number along with as many safety pins as you would need. The race organiser Digby makes very sure he welcomes everyone equally, regulars, islanders, new comers from UK and other countries. It has even been known for him to accommodate racers who haven’t been able to find or afford accommodation. Anyway, his ego is inflated enough so I’ll move onto the race.
It starts at 06:00 in a central part of St Helier. Much improved toilet facilities at the nearby marina and water available for all along with a van to dump your drop bag in. You have access to this at the half way point. Racers gathered and chatted and before we knew it there was a quick countdown and we were off, hurtling through the streets of St Helier along the edge of various harbours and past the ugliest industrial part of the island – all within about five minutes. The pace at the front is blistering and the field of around 70 (including about 8 relay teams) spreads quickly. The key to this race is to keep the sea on your right as you head around in an anti clockwise direction. The first leg of the race is 10.9 miles and skirts the south, south east and easterly coast lines until you get to St Catherines breakwater, the first check point. This first section is 100% on road, pavement and a little gravel trail with only two significant hills. They’re small but provide a welcome excuse for a walk following a good hour of lively road running. Not really a fan of road stuff anymore but it’s good to get a few quicker miles in the bank at the start. The route passes beautiful properties and a lovely coastline with constant views of the sea and the ever changing seascape as one of the largest tidal ranges in the world alters the appearance of the island. This year I started off way to fast but was enjoying chatting (between panting) to a friend who should have been way ahead of me and ultimately finished as first lady. I pushed a bit too hard and was very happy to get to the beautiful harbour village of Gorey overlooked by the imposing castle so I could have a toilet break and excuse to sit down for a minute and get my heart rate down a bit. That was the last I’d see of Leanne and the other four or five runners that were within sight.
Gorey to St Catherines is a short, rolling run of about 20 minutes but it looks a lot further than a couple of miles. This year I made a conscious effort to fly through the checkpoints so slowed to fill up my water bottle and ran off in search of check point 2 which is at the 22.9 mile mark. I am always excited at this point as I think it’s the start of the cliff paths and more excuses for walking but I always forget there are a few more miles of hilly road running before you get to the cliff trails proper. You have one fairly long uphill on a quiet country lane before it flattens out a bit. My morale was damaged as I was overtaken by a couple of runners but I realised they were relay runners and my confidence resumed. A little bit of trail and a long road downhill brings to you to another pretty harbour village call Rozel before heading up to White rock and the start of the cliff paths, the hilliest and my favourite part of the course.
I moved well along the cliff paths but I think over cooking it on the first leg was taking its toll. My legs felt lethargic and I could feel hot spots on most of my toes but I kept on plodding and enjoying the ups and downs. I saw very few other racers and virtually no other people at all. The few dog walkers I did see were very encouraging. Along this usually dry and always hilly part of the course you pass a couple more little harbour villages – Bouley Bay and Bonne Nuit before getting back on the road for two miles which takes you into Check point 2 and the half way point (ish). Unfortunately on my way towards Bouley Bay I lost concentration, twisted my ankle, stubbed my toe and fell face first for about 15 feet straight into a thorny bush, banging Knee in the process. My knee swelled up instantly and the large cuts oozed blood all over my leg. My arms, neck and hands were covered in splinters and blood and my knee was excruciating. I sprang to my feet to check no one had seen me and limped on, admiring my appearance of being covered in blood. This would have made a great photo I thought but unfortunately I was sweating profusely and it all washed off. Except for my knee which continued to bleed for about 8 hours more.
I made it to CP2 in record time, about 5 minutes quicker than last year. I was hoping to knock 19 minutes of last years PB and finish in just under 8 hours, thus earning me a “GOLD medal”. To explain this quickly, you get a Gold medal for any time under 8 hours, a Silver medal for between 8 and 10 hours and a Bronze medal for a finish between 10 and 12 hours. After 12 hours you get a hug from Digby. Probably better to DNF and just go home! I had several silver medals and had brought my time down from 9:25 in 2011 to 8:19 in 2015. I left the checkpoint promptly after ditching my T shirt and filling my mouth with Jelly babies like I was stocking up for a winter of hibernation. After another mile on the road I re-joined he coastal path at Sorel point, the northernmost part and ran for half an hour to Devils Hole passing some of our only wildlife, the Manx sheep….
….and onwards towards Greve de Lecq. By this point I’d caught up with a chap from Jersey who now lives in the UK. I think he said this was his fifth time doing RTR. We met up with another guy and enjoyed a run together along the short road section leading down into the bay of Greve De Lecq where the local occupants were preparing for a small music festival appropriately named “Groove de Lecq”. The view heading down the steep decent was incredible with the water in the bay a stunning turquoise colour and incredibly clear. Very inviting but unfortunately not on todays menu. From there you have a very steep hike for about five to ten minutes and then carry on along cliff paths to Plemont which again looks stunning. You continue onto Check point 3 which is at Grosnez and the 30 mile mark
The remains of Grosnez castle
From there I ran on my own and didn’t see another runner for the rest of the race. I descended from Grosnez down onto St Ouens bay, the view from here is incredible (see below) and started to run along the 5 mile beach but the tide hadn’t long gone out and I changed my tactic and scrambled up onto the main “five mile road” for an hour of very boring plodding with a bit of walking chucked in.
At Corbiere you get back on the cliff paths for my favourite part of the island, a three mile run taking you to the bay of St Brelades. The views are incredible looking down into the blue sea filled with kayaks, paddle boarders and super yachts. Another mile running along the beach and then up onto Portelet common for a short loop before joining the road and continuing down a steep decent that brings you to St Aubins harbour. Throughout the race you have a choice of running along beaches or the road/pavement closest to the beach. If the tide is high you have no choice. If the tide has just gone out, the sand will be wet and rippled which will cause ankle issues and wet feet. Low tide is great as the sand should be dry but firm and you can cut off a significant chunk of the total mileage. I am always flexible with my plan but usually coming to St Aubins harbour and seeing the finish line about three miles away in a straight line or four to five miles away following the pavement/esplanade I usually take the shorter option. It may have been a bad move as within minutes I was knee deep running through the sea but psychologically I was making better progress going in a direct line. I will never know which would have been quicker. Half way across the bay I watched my target time of 8 hours slip away but I pushed on hard to finish in less than 8:10. My final time was 8:09:48. 10 minutes off my PB but unfortunately still no Gold medal. That will have to wait until next year.
St Brelades Bay
There was a nice atmosphere at the finish with a few runners in front, Digby handing out free beer and lots of support for the people left to come in. I hung around for a few hours waiting for some friends and enjoying the sunshine and a dip in the sea. There was a BBQ and awards evening but unfortunately I had a few too many beers at the finish and passed out at home. Maybe next year!
I highly recommend this race and often do to anyone looking to take the Mrs/Mr away for the weekend and incorporate a cheeky race, any elites looking for a bit of cash, any first time ultra runners and anyone who just wants a challenging 44-48 miles trail run with awesome views, friendly people and about 1000 metres of ascent/descent.
On reflection of my own performance, I feel that if I had ran faster and walked less I probably would have finished in a quicker time! It was a hot day which seemed to slow everyone but the winner down. I didn’t have my ipod which may have gotten me out of a few slumps. All a load of shite. Excuses only satisfy those making them. I wasn’t fast enough……but I loved it once again.
I couldn’t recommend this race enough, get entered.
A Jersey cow
Thanks as always go to my sponsors Mercury Distribution. Without their help I wouldn’t be able to complete these races. Thank you
Some images stolen from Google and no running images as I forgot my ipod. Use your imagination