Isle of Wight: The Rematch

In June 2016 I wrote about my Isle of Wight 2016 attempt and I finished the report with this sentence.

Now in 2017 I’ll be going back to finish what I started.  I know the course now, I know when to push and when to be careful and hold back.  Nicer weather would be nice but this time I will learn from my mistakes and complete the island.

That was my first ever Trail Ultra and I got everything wrong and everything seemed to go against me.  Now here I am, one year later, and the Isle of Wight was to be my second Trail Ultra.  I don’t like mud or dirt or hills or stiles or fields or countryside. 🙂

Just like last year I stayed overnight in Southampton and arrived on the Island on the first Red Jet in the morning.  I caught the shuttle from Cowes to Chale and arrived 30 minutes after my allotted start time which wasn’t really an issue as groups left every 20 minutes.  For some reason I have a little brain freeze if I feel rushed near to a start time, even if I have time, in my mind I don’t and start skipping pre race routines.  I also don’t realise this until 5 – 10 minutes into a race.  This time I’d forgotten to go to the toilet. Never fear readers this wasn’t one of the three necessary visits but an additional one because of pre race hydrating and then having to wait.

I looked around at the group I had started with and it comprised of about 20 runners and 40 -50 walkers so in my head I could stay with the runners, get a good distance from the walkers and then stop for a toilet break.  For those of you who haven’t been to the South of the Isle of Wight there is no cover, no bushes, no trees, nothing to get behind for a bit of privacy.  So while I’m working out how far ahead I needed to be from the walkers behind me I start to realise I have a different problem; I’m catching the walkers from the group that started before mine.  As luck would have it a dip appeared and I used that opportunity to relieve myself. 🙂

My two biggest issues in 2016 were blisters and the weather.  The blisters were caused by wearing new technical trail shoes which ripped my feet apart and the weather was wet and cold.  I choose this year to wear road shoes for the extra cushioning and to carry full waterproofs for the rain and the cold.  While the road shoes could have been a risk, the weather had been dry on the Island for over a month so I was sure that I would be okay on that front.  I’d worn the waterproofs on two previous long training runs and I enjoyed the coziness on a cold night.

So the plan was simple, take the first third of the Island, mostly trail, slowly and carefully and then enjoy the road sections on blister free feet.  I even did a rough workout of when I might be arriving at checkpoints.  I’d never done this before as I’d never been confident enough in myself to even consider it.  Maybe I was maturing as an Ultra runner?  The plan kind of went like this:

Start time should be around 8.20am ( I knew I was going to miss the start time I’d been given)

Check point     Planned           Actual

1.                        9:45am             9:33am

2.                      11:45am            11:23am

3.                        2:00pm              1:47pm

4.                        4:30pm               4:51pm

5.                        7:30pm               8:46pm

6.                      10:30pm              12:32am

7.                         1:00am                4:25am

8.                         4:00am                7:28am

 

As you can see in the first half I was there or thereabouts on arriving on schedule but, and there’s usually a but, it went a bit wrong after that.  I’ll explain.

2 weeks ago I was tapering badly, and went for a gentle 5k stretch of the legs, nothing fast just a gentle jog.  Well, I did the first km quite fast and held it and then the last km I pushed a bit and suddenly I’m almost racing, going way too fast.  The next day the pain in my leg started, a sharp pain which I knew was caused by pushing too hard, I’m not a fast runner and bad things happen when I try to run fast, usually falling over.  I did run one more time before the Island but I managed to keep that slow and pain free.

So back to the Island and I was going along comfortably, not quick, not slow, having some great conversations with other runners when I tripped.  I have no idea what I tripped on but I knew I couldn’t go down, my knees couldn’t take another impact hit so subconsciously I threw out my left leg and stopped my fall.  When 100kgs moving forward suddenly stops there’s a lot of forces going on and they all seemed to hit the same point that had hurt two weeks previously.  This was at about 42km into the race and by the time I hit halfway the pain was settling in to stay.  I had a great massage and a good meal and read some Facebook messages of which I seemed to have hundreds off.

I was blister free and apart from the leg pain okay to continue so off I went.  Running was a little painful at that point but I knew 15 of the next 20 miles were on road and I could still move at a reasonable pace.  It was only when I went off road that my pace crashed dramatically but I was moving checkpoint to checkpoint by this stage.  From checkpoint 5 to 6 I had slowed enough that it took 2 hours longer than planned to travel, taking almost 4 hours to move 15km.  I tried not to stop for any length of time in the checkpoints as I knew my energy was fading and I couldn’t take food or gels down at that stage.

Between 6 and 7 I was having trouble walking due to the pain but each time I got close to just stopping and sitting down, someone happened to catch me up and ask how I was doing.  Each time unexplainably this got me going for another km or two, if only everyone could be as nice as people in Ultra races.  4 hours for 13km this time and suddenly I was at Ventnor, the scene of my failure the previous year.  In 2016 I arrived in Ventnor a beaten man, I could hardly walk and was so cold that I couldn’t feel half my body.  When given the chance to get on the failure bus I leapt, figuratively as I couldn’t move, at the easy get out.

This year, at Ventnor, I hurt even more than last year, only one small blister but with a leg rapidly swelling I left before the medical staff got a chance to look at me and pull me out.  Only 11 km I thought, how bad could those 11km be?  3 hours it took me.  3 hours at 2 mph, at times I was walking asleep but again it was other racers that spurred me on.  Of course there was no way that I wasn’t going to finish, not this time and at 7:28am,  23 hours after starting, I crossed the finishing line and the race was over and my demon had been laid to rest.

The organisation of the race is superb, the marshalls and all volunteers were a credit and all the Islanders I met clapped and cheered us and I was handed water and oranges from complete strangers on the street.  I guess they knew better than most how tough their Island is.

Isle of Wight, I’ve obsessed over you for a year and almost killed any chance of beating you before I began.  I knew I can’t claim that I’ve conquered you but you know there was no way you were going to beat me again.  This year I had to finish.

I have been to Hospital and it’s shin splints on my left leg.  The extra 60k I travelled on that certainly didn’t help but as someone once said “Pain is temporary, Victory is forever”

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