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Sheffield Half Marathon 2014 – a revised beginner’s guide.

Updated for 2014:  This is a revised version of my original Sheffield Half Marathon guide, adding the new start/finish for 2014 – in place of the now demolished Don Valley Stadium.  I have not completed this version of the course, so where different this time around, I have elected to copy in the official race description from the event website.  The following then is a mix of new content and my article from 2013.

Disclaimer:  This is not a ‘how to’ guide.  I am in no way qualified to tell you how you should approach such a race.  Depending on your physical fitness, strength and overall experience at running 13.1 miles you can take or leave what I have to say.  My experience of the Sheffield Half Marathon has been largely positive, but I’ve made my share of mistakes – so take what I say with an open mind and consider your own race plan please.  Before reading any further, make sure you’ve followed the link above and have the pdf route map and topography open for reference.

Right-oh, in a week it’ll once again be time to tackle the Sheffield Half.  For anyone yet to experience this fantastic event, I thought I’d offer an insight into some of its ‘quirks’.  Make sure you’ve had a good breakfast before setting out, and for heaven’s sake use the toilet well in advance of the start.  Last year(2012) I queued for the loo at about 8.55am and literally wound up setting off at the very back of the field and it took about 5mins just to reach the actual start line – rubbish.

Route map.
Route map.

Route – Don Valley, into Sheffield City Centre, and back.  Simple.

The Don Valley Bowl is a grass amphitheatre which has been terraced to give a spectator viewing area. Located behind iceSheffield and between the Motorpoint Sheffield Arena and the English Institute of Sport, the Don Valley Bowl has a dedicated Supertram stop and will be a perfect focal point for the 2014 event.

The start will be on Attercliffe Common, with runners lining up in Coleridge Road and then turning right to the start line. Runners will run towards Meadowhall Shopping Centre, before turning towards the city centre.

Big change for this year(if you have done it before) – heading straight past the left turn to Brightside lane and continuing toward Meadowhall for another stretch.  Left onto Carbrook Street and left again onto Brightside Lane all the same, to approach the City centre in much the same way as in the past.

Surprisingly flat for a city built on hills, there are however areas to keep in mind.  The first mile is mainly downhill, then it’s a steady uphill into the city centre (so subtle you can’t tell).

First ‘big’ hill then, is the slope past Ponds Forge.  Take it steady, easing off the gas until you reach the left hand bend past the bus station.  This downhill stretch will allow you to relax briefly and gather your breath.

Once you’ve risen to the far end of Bramall Lane and taken the right turn onto London Road – you have to climb Cemetery Road past Greens Gym (seems steep, but over in a jiffy), then descend onto Ecclesall Road via Summerfield Street.  You’re approaching the half way point as you begin to slowly climb to Hunters Bar.

Once you round the far end and head back the way you came, it’s a steady downhill all the way back to the ring road, and a chance to evaluate your performance so far.  If you’ve refrained from over-doing things this far it’s time to increase the pace and take advantage of the subtle downhill all the way back to Don Valley.  If you’re feeling a little stressed and doubting yourself then this section gives you a little relief while maintaining the same pace, and you can take in the faces of everybody still further behind (bonus!).  This is where you might find the opportunity to yell something pithy at a friend or colleague.

Just as you’ve crossed the ring road after Ecclesall, you make a left and battle uphill to Division Street.  This bit is evil, I’m not gonna lie.  The uphill seems twice as cruel after having just ‘enjoyed’ the mile of descent, and to make matters worse – every time I’ve run this race, the sun has broken out just as I dig in on the hill, making it a disproportionately uncomfortable affair.  Save yourself as you approach and again – maintain a steady trot as you climb.  It’ll be okay.

Best part!  Once you hit Division Street it’s downhill through the centre of Sheffield, crowds cheering.  Once through the Theatre district and onto Arundle Gate the tables have turned and you can glide down the hill past Ponds Forge….REVENGE!!

As mentioned it’s then downhill back the way you came until you get to the final mile.  Here’s the thing to bear in mind, the bit from Brightside Lane up to Attercliffe isn’t such a bad hill in all honesty.  It undulates, flattening out half way up – meaning the climbs are only short and sweet.  It weaves a little this time as it snakes back to Attercliffe, but means that you’ll emerge almost outside the Bowl.  The final straight along Attercliffe Common and back into the finish will for once be downhill, having tackled the last sharp uphill of the course.  BONUS!  This is where you’ll have to try and look composed while a race photographer catches you at your finest.

Assembling pre-race at the Don Valley stadium.
Assembling pre-race at the Don Valley stadium.

If hot (and it can be), you may wish to carry a bottle of drink with you and dispose of the empty half way.  Dehydration is a killer.  A sip here ‘n’ there can keep you moving.  Drink stops can cause ‘bottlenecks’ for people arriving simultaneously, fighting for the few cups available.  Think about how you cope with drinking and running at the same time.  Bottles aren’t necessarily guaranteed, and cups have a habit of spilling drink everywhere, occasionally into your nose causing you to choke.  Is it worth losing your rhythm for one mouthful of water?

When treated to a sponge at about 10miles – consider keeping it and mopping your brow whenever you feel.  Throw it away and you might miss it (you can always tuck it into your waist band).  I sweat taking the lid off a jar, so I’m wearing a cap to wick the sweat.  Salt in your eyes is one thing that takes the fun right out of any run.  Look out for people covered in salt from evaporated sweat, it’ll give you some idea of how much we lose while on the move.  If you think you’re in danger of excess sweating, you might consider using an electrolyte tablet or liquid in your drink to ensure you’re replacing what you’ve lost during the first half of the race.

The final climb to victory
The final climb to victory

If you’ve trained on hills, or trails – now’s the time to get out for a few short runs at Half Marathon pace on the flat and get used to the difference.  Maintaining the same effort, using the same muscle groups over several miles of hard ground is a lot harder than you think.  You’ll miss those moments where you swap from up to down or vice versa.  On the day, you’ll probably pass several runners going slower than you are, but try to ignore the temptation to speed up when overtaking.  If you’re faster than them already you’ll pass them automatically – so don’t over work yourself just to blast past them a moment sooner.  This way you won’t see them passing you after another mile or so (when the short term gain has caused extra fatigue).

So in conclusion: A relatively flat course, with plenty of drink stops that you might actually choose to avoid in favour of an electrolyte drink during the first 6 -7 miles (if it’s red hot).  Wear head gear if you want to avoid salty sweat in your eyeballs.  Remember the few hills you’ll encounter are easy to manage as long as you take them slowly and respect the effect they have after downhill areas.  Keep a sponge rather than throwing it too soon, and finally – smile for the cameras.  Good luck!

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