Race Report: Round The Rock 2013

This report came through from Digby Ellis-Brecknell:

 In its third year and with 112 entries Round The Rock 2013 was promising to be a phenomenal race. With Charmaine Horsfall and Leanne Rive, two previous ladies winners returning along with 2nd and 3rd placed runners it looked like it would be the battle of the Titans. At the last minute a surfing injury for one and a running injury for another meant the promised encounter was not to be as billed. Whilst in the men’s race a different story was unfolding; Daniel Doherty the undisputed champion of the previous two years, with a record time of 6hours and 15 minutes, was unable to race due to injury, Michael Charlton racing in the Bolton Iron Man and a number of other local ultra runners were unable to compete due to other events, this had opened up the possibilities for a new champion.

Round The Rock is simply a stunning race, what else can be said about this 48 mile race that takes runners around the coastline of Jersey; golden beaches, granite sea cliffs and wooded trails. I am biased I know, as founder and race director, but after running round the island some 10 times I still get a buzz whether it be a hot summer or the depths of a winters night. A buzz is what could be felt at 5.30am on 3rd August as runners gathered around the Steam Clock. With a final briefing at 5.45 the runners eagerly awaited the 6am chimes of the Steam Clock, but as in the previous years it failed to sound and so the runners left to the sounds of “Go.”

The lead was stolen by Paul Burrows keen to test the mettle of the other runners. Following the starting of the race I took to my car to check on signage before arriving at the first check point to await the runners. Driving past the runners I soon drifted upon the leading runners, Paul having been passed by a very comfortable looking James Averty whose easy loping form was being shadowed by a very determined Mel Varvel. I had been warned by another runner that Mel was a force to be reckoned with, and would be a challenger for the ladies title. This early push by Mel seemed to me a mistake, the early miles follow an easy route on roads with few ascents to test the runners which lead many a runner into a fast pace that on reaching the cliff paths would come back and haunt them. After all Mel was not used to the route and her early push would no doubt be short lived.

Coming into the first check point at St Catherines, James Averty floated through in a comfortable time of 1 hour 16 minutes, only a few minutes back were Mel, Eliot, Dom and James. The first checkpoint heralds a change in course profile as the large sweeping bays of Grouville and Long Beach give way to smaller coves and headlands that in turn mean ascent and descent. For many this section is where the quads and calves start to retaliate from overly exhuberant fast paced running on the flats. The water stop at this point is a hurried affair as runners started to appear in droves, not yet in ultra mode but more road race mentality, keen to push on and tackle the miles ahead.

The weather at this point was still cool but promising to become a hot affair, that would no doubt start to play havoc with some runners. Having had such hot weather we had decided to add in two additional water stops in the later stages and with the clouds starting to disperse this decision was starting to look like a sensible one, along with the supply of fresh watermelons and oranges for each check point!

On reaching White Rock at Rozel the race enters a new phase as stretching out in front is a cliff path section of around 12 miles. This terrain most people describe as challenging; the ascents and descents are short and sharp, often made up of railway sleeper steps which make it hard to build up a good steady rhythm on the ups, downs or flats. The only consolation; the scenery! This coastline is made up of pink granite sea cliffs, narrow paths and breathtaking views… this is why we run!

At the 22 mile checkpoint James Averty was still holding onto a one minute lead over James Manners, followed by Mel and the first of the relay teams. James Averty no doubt using his local knowledge of the cliffs to plan his tactics in this testing stage.

As race director it is easy to concentrate on the front runners but more attention has to be placed on the runners who are struggling as they are the ones who are taking on the greatest challenges. To help them in this we use teams of sweepers who track the last runners along the course, they are our greatest safety net and often prove to be the saviour for struggling runners. The North coast has a habit of seeking out any weak spots that runners might be hiding and so by the time they reach the 30 mile Grosnez check point some are always ready to drop out, leaving this immense challenge for another year. Not for Mel however, having managed to steal an impressive four minutes over the chasing men, when this was relayed to me I had visions of the legendary Ann Trason leading the field at The Western States 100.

Dropping down from the headland at Grosnez away from the fortification studded, heather covered clifftops  runners are greeted by an immense sweeping view of St Ouens Bay. The Atlantic Waves crashing onto the shoreline and depending on the tide the possibility of a shortened route across the sands as opposed to a grave track along roadside. There are two types of runners in Round The Rock; the ones who love this flat sandy section and those who cures the four miles of desert like beach where one encounters puddles, soft sands, bikini clad surf chicks and yes, bronzed male surf dudes!

Having tackled the sandy stretch, runners are once more thrown up onto the granite cliffs for a last attempt to beat the hell out of their quads, but at least the miles can almost be counted on both hands! By the time the first runners were starting to roll into the final 39 mile checkpoint at Beauport it was 12pm, a couple of relay teams had sped past, the mid pack runners were reeling into the Grosnez stop whilst others were eagerly eying up the waves along st ouens, but further back valiant runners were battling the demonic cliff paths and sultry rays. Whilst at the 48 mile mark myself and my helpers, fellow organisers were struggling with the dreaded race finish…. Always debatable as to who has the biggest ultra challenge to face!

Reports had filtered through from the field that by Beauport Mel was building a comfortable lead whilst a true battle was unfolding in the mens field with Eliot battling cramping calves three minuted behind James Manners, whilst Dom was rapidly closing in. James Averty was clearly suffering from his massive cross Ireland jaunt of Malin Head to Mizen Head and had slipped back three minutes behind Dom.

Racing down the seafront I managed to place the 45 mile emergency water stash as the first two relay teams could be seen entering their final three mile sections making a dash for the line.

At around 1:15pm the first ultra runner could be seen rounding the corner heading into the last straight to the finish. My heart leapt as I realised that Mel Varvel had triumphed! Mel had not only taken around 15 minutes of the ladies course Record but she had managed to beat the whole field by around three minutes!  Undoubtedly this would be one of those years that would remain firmly in Round The Rock’s history books.

With only half a minute between James Manners and Dom Maher their final miles had been an epic battle one that most definitely deserved a cold beer! The anticipated arrival of Eliot was not to be as his cramps had put paid to his bid for a top spot, whilst Scott Harris came in as third male. The run of the day might well be most deserved by Patrycja Bocianowska who managed to shred her previous years time of 9hrs by around 75 minutes to claim second position in the ladies category, followed by Jo in 3rd place.

Round The Rock, if I am allowed to say as Race director, is an iconic race and when the tables are turned as they were in 2013 , it can only increase its standing. It is one of those races that should be attempted by beginners or as Daniel Doherty has said as a race that the experienced should attempt if they want to go under 6 hours for a 50 mile event. However, the race belongs to the runners, whether they be fast finishers or the one who made it across the line with four minutes to spare before cut off, or dare I say it to the runners who never quite made it. As an ultra runner and race director I raise my hat and shoes to the ones who tried but did not succeed this year but have said they will return, and I raise my hat even higher to one man who has tussled with the Rock for three years but not yet beaten it.

Thank you to all the runners, marshals, sponsors, spectators and passersby who supported. So now all we have to do is wait till Saturday 2nd August 2014 when we return once more.

Race Results

Overall Position Number Name Prize Awarded Time
1 84  Mel  Varvel 1st female 07:15:57
2 87  James Manners 1st male 07:18:55
3 88  Dom  Maher 2nd male 07:19:27
4 11 Scott Harris 3rd male 07:36:58
5 78
Jose Manuel

Pabon
  7.42.19
6 73  Patrycja Bocianowska 2nd female
07:42:27
7  105  James  Averty   07:46:30
8 80  Daniel Munns Most Improved Male since 2012 07:58:56
9 45  Ross  Winney   07:59:32
10 70  Paul  Burrows   08:01:34
11 62  Jo Le Couillard 3rd female 08:02:34

Race Listing

Click here for more information about the 2013 Round the Rock race.

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