Doncaster… funny place to go and run a trail half marathon you’re probably thinking… bit odd I agree, but I have a good friend who lives just down the road from this race and when she posted a link to it on Facebook and proposed to her sister that they do the 2 man relay team option I may* have invited myself to stay for the weekend to do the half marathon.
This was the first time the event had been run so we didn’t really know what to expect. It started and finished from Rossington Hall to the south of Donaster which is currently used as a race horse / jockey training centre and also a hotel. A route description got sent out the week before with very detailed route maps and descriptions, including a “turn right at the horse” to get to the start line instruction! There was some chat in the race blurb and also on their Facebook page about hills but I took these with something of a pinch of salt as I’ve never noticed anything particularly humply in the area compared to Edinburgh’s finest.
Race day was forecast to be overcast and around 14 degrees in the morning so it sounded like perfect running conditions. It was a socialable 10am start with race numbers to be collected by 9:30am. Parking, registration and the start were all a couple of minutes apart so this made for an easy morning and we could leave bags etc in the car. No queues for loos which was also really nice and we had some time to chat to the horses before the start. The PA system was pretty poor so we didn’t catch much of the pre-race brief but figured we’d take the approach of follow the people in front!
Having realised that I could count on my fingers and toes the km I’ve run in my trail shoes since buying them earlier in the year, and not knowing the course, I didn’t really have any expectations for time and was hoping this race would be a fun morning out with friends and a training run on the Dublin marathon plan. So as not to compare times with road running pace and put myself under any pressure I decided to run “half naked” with my Garmin set to the clock time and giving km alerts rather than having the distance and pace showing all the time….a new approach, I wasn’t sure how it would work for me but figured it was worth a try.
The race started with a full lap and a bit round the outside of the horse racing track. This is surprisingly longer than it looked at 1.2km per lap. We then left the track and headed round the grounds of the hall and onto the trails. The course was a mixture of well compacted farm tracks, fields and wooded sections, down the hill and along the flat of the horse gallops then back round and up the other side of the gallops, returned back to the horse track for another full lap (change over for the relay runners), then a second lap round the trails and finishing with about 3/4 of the horse track (felt like 3 times as long at this stage!) and back to the start/finish line. Once we got off the race track and onto the trails the crowd of runners had thinned out so you could pretty much run your own race but there still people nearby at all times. Fellow runners were really considerate on the narrow sections, letting people pass or asking from in front if you wanted to pass to just let them know.
The weather didn’t get the memo about the forecast and by the time we set off it was clear it was going to be a lot hotter than had been forecast (about 20-22 degrees and sunny). I was glad I’d decided to run with my camelback on as I think the water stations at around 3, 6 and 10miles wouldn’t have been enough for me and I was glad to be able to take small sips more often.
Running without my distance and pace showing all the time worked well and meant I ran at a comfortable pace and enjoyed the run. When we went through 10k I realised I could probably make it round in under 2 hours which at the back of my mind had been a target. The second lap was a bit slower than the first and I definitely wasn’t alone in walking up part of the gallops hill on this lap! I finished in 1:54:48 on my watch so I was really pleased with my time, although we all measured it a bit short of the half marathon distance.
Medals, water and homemade cake met us at the finish line which was very welcome and there was also a hot food and ice cream van so we treated ourselves to an ice lolly in an attempt to cool down. T-shirts were an optional extra to pre-order on entry with a huge choice of colours and sizes, although some colours had been substituted so I didn’t get what I ordered anyway!
It was an interesting route with a good mix of terrains, probably comparable to those round Foxlake in East Lothian. Nothing extreme on the scale of trail running but a good introductory race and there was a wide range of running abilities from the field of around 250. Organisation was excellent, it was well signed and marshalled, and fellow runners were very friendly. There was good support around the course as it was quite wiggly so you never too far from the start/ finish area which meant some spectators had walked out onto the course and others had set up camp with deckchairs and picnic rugs in the sun to support around the finish zone. The hills weren’t too bad but the elevation gain over the course was all concentrated in a few short sections. All round, it was great morning out and we all really enjoyed it so I’d highly recommend if anyone has friends or family in the area or needs an excuse to visit South Yorkshire next September!
Action photos courtesy of my friend who ran the first relay leg and was waiting at the finish.