Isle of Wight Challenge

The original plan for this race was to build up with a couple of shorter ultras in 2020 and then concentrate on working hard to make this my target race in May 2021. What’s the saying? Men plan, COVID laughs?

My not quite 50 mile ultra in October 2020 took longer to recover from than planned, so training didn’t start proper til the new year. Obviously around then we were well into another COVID lockdown, luckily exercise wasn’t really curtailed as long as you were alone but I did struggle to fit it in and get to the different parts of the route I wanted to practice. All the time wondering if the race would even go ahead… then the road map out of lockdown was launched and all looked like it might be ok in time, but the set up of overnight stays for the walkers wouldn’t be allowed in May so the race was pushed back to July. Sure, you say, extra training time should help. Only you’ve probably read the last blog so you already know I’d optimistically booked a 100 miler in for June.

Suddenly I had to train for my first 100 miler without stepping up to 100km first and then I had to recover within 4 weeks to do the 100km race. I took the week after the South Downs Way very easy, then started adding the runs back in. I was having some achilles tightness and with a busy social calendar couldn’t fit in long runs, so whilst I was running regularly again within 3 weeks the longest I ran was a half marathon and my weekly mileage was around 50km. Good tapering but it didn’t feel like good race prep.

Talking about race prep; I wanted to do this race as it’s around my island; a route I’m keen to do but couldn’t find the time to do as a training run. This should give me a local edge too, right? Possibly, but it also made me complacent and the night before I realised I wasn’t really feeling that ready. The 100 miler was a big logistical operation, I’d treated this one like the local marathon that starts near my house, just get dropped at the start and crack on.

On the start line I was feeling positive, opted to start in my waterproof as the forecast was wet, which obviously was a mistake but not a massive one. The plan was to go out quick, as always, because the first 25km was fairly flat. Found myself flying and running in the top 5, clearly too fast even for my fast start plan, but it felt steady and I was enjoying it so I went with it. The trouble started around 30km when I slowed. This was the plan and my splits were ok in line with that, but I got it my head that I was crashing and going to slowly and struggled to shake it off. Only 2km previously I’d felt on top of the world but now I was right back down to earth with a bump. I was tired too, normally I don’t worry about caffeine in race day, have a little to cover the usual addiction but race day gives me the buzz, not sure if it was that or the really bad sleep the night before but either way I cold happily have stoped for a nap. I plodded along the coast line as the weather cleared, really only cheered when a peregrine falcon flew past a few times then stopped and watched me run past. By the time I hit half way at Chale it was meltingly warm and I was grateful for the biggest incline of the day as it gave me a good excuse for a prolonged walk. Luckily I still had some bounce for the downhills but there were more and more roads and my trail shoes are not cushioned enough for excessive road pounding.

Needles as seen from Headon Warren
It wasn’t quite this clear on race day

It was pounding down these roads that I heard a honk from behind and was relieved to see the family cruise by and pull over down the road. Dad had brought my nephew over to say hello at some point earlier but I was struggling and it didn’t register as much as it should have (sorry!). Not sure if it’s the buzz from seeing them or just the fact that my wife force feeds me (party rings, mango and orange) that helps but I was a new man when I left them. 3 people overtook me whilst I was stopped but I’d caught back up by the next aid station in Ventnor.

St Catherine’s Lighthouse

This begins the third stage of my race, we’ve had the fast start and the hard bit, now was the bit with the people. Two of the people that overtook me where James and Richard, I ran with both of them at points and then together into Ventnor. I ended up running a lot of the race with Richard for company and we ran walked together from Ventnor to Culver, bumping into the family twice more for moral support and more mango. James struggled here with stomach and foot issues but he caught us up again before long. We were run walking now but the walking stretches were getting longer and the running getting shorter. James caught us back up with Jamie, and Charlie who had kindly nipped out to pace him for a bit as he was struggling with a toe injury. We let them pull us along nicely and ran as a fivesome into the last aid station at Oakfield primary school.

Onto the home stretch, 18km of roads. I’d planned to try and catch some time back up here but none of us had much left to give. There was a lot of walking and eventually Richard and Jamie left James and I behind with their insanely fast power walking. At Lushington Hill I convinced James to try a jog, we made it to the bottom and I felt pretty good. James was fine but didn’t have any running left so we said farewell I jogged on. When I caught the other two up we ran together for a bit, again I had more running left so I pushed on ahead. I never finish a short race strong but seem to find something towards the end of an ultra; probably just the thought of stopping soon.

It wasn’t long before the running was hurting again, but then so was the walking as it put different pressure on the blisters I could feel on the balls of my feet. I was counting down the last couple of km though and knew I had enough left to run it home. I was on autopilot now, I knew the area well and just spotted the signs to make sure I took the right route. Finishing along the cycle track is a bit boring, I was just plodding along looking for the next km marker that I knew was due… but it didn’t come. Bollocks. I almost sprinted back in myself the 300m I’d gone past Stag Lane to see the arrows pointing up the hill! The sun was low blaring down the hill and I hadn’t seen the arrows in the glare, so I’d run 600m unnecessarily and now I had to run up bloody Stag Lane. I could see Richard and Jamie (well two people) and had to shrug off the urge to just walk it from there. I know the hill, it’s not as bad as it looks so I sucked it up and kept running.

Again, I was running slower than I could ever dream of running in a training run, proper ultra shuffle at 7-8min/km. Finally I turned into the Agricultural Showground and down to the finish line. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to be there but I spotted my sister, then heard Sally give an embarrassed cheer (she assures me it wasn’t) and then the much louder cheer from Martyn. I was a bit too knackered to be as appreciative as I should have been but it is nice to be welcomed in by familiar faces. I must have been knackered because when Sally jokingly suggested the massage tent I dropped my bag and wandered in… I’ve never had a massage and hate the idea of one, the lady was keen to point out she it wasn’t going to be a full sports massage but it wasn’t so bad. Don’t think it helped though, still hobbled to the car!

I finished in 14 hours, 6 minutes and 53 seconds. A respectable time and slap bang in the middle of my target range, giving me 17th place overall I think. I didn’t get the finish line buzz that I did on the South Downs Way though, overall I was just relieved to be finished and a little deflated. I found this harder than the SDW and yet it’s hard to see why as nothing really went wrong, I didn’t have any big issues to work through, it was just really hard work. I think there were lots of little things; incomplete recovering, low recent training mileage, usual poor fuelling, lack of caffeine, starting too fast, too many roads pounded in trail shoes, etc. Ultimately though I think I just underestimated it and let myself get stuck in my own head when it started to hurt. I seem to rely on Sally a lot to get me out of these funks, might need to do the next one without her to test myself further, which isn’t an immediately appealing prospect but that’s kind of the point.

Apologies, lots of words and no pictures for this one. I decided not to bother with photos as I’ve seen it all before, turned out to be a mistake as my phone decided to disable itself bouncing around in my bag and I had to restore it from factory settings to get it working again. I dug out a couple of photos from training runs to spice it up a bit. One more shorter ultra across Dartmoor in August and then I’m concentrating on shorter, faster stuff again for the rest of the year. Maybe.

As always, Strava link here.

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