I signed up to the IOW ultra as a continuous 106Km challenge in 2019. It should have happened in 2020 but we all know the challenges that beset the world in early 2020. COVID meant 2020 never happened, and the rescheduled 2021 event didn’t fit with other events. So finally I got to take this challenge on in 2022.
The challenge was a continuous run around the Isle of Wight , starting and finishing at Chale in the South West, and taking in around 6000 ft of elevation and 106Km of distance.
The run up to 21 Km and the first major checkpoint is mostly coastal path, on grass, footpath, and some decent hills. The views are fabulous, the hills in the distance near the needles an ominous future challenge, which kicks in from 11 miles (Freshwater bay) onwards. But the views are amazing, some of the best views are here. The hill to 12.6 miles goes on for miles (!) before a drop to checkpoint 2 and a decent chance to top up and refuel.
There’s then a brief retracing of my steps a few hundred yards and head uphill a bit more (like I needed it!). Once I get to the Needles New Battery, at the top of the headland, I turn right and head downhill to the needles attraction (a good place for the supporting family whilst you are busy running).
A half mile climb (in places pretty steep) on some nice trails and hills before a drop down to Totland Bay, and a fab run along the coast. It’s not a headline grabbing coast but a lovely stretch, fresh and a great break from the past few miles of ups and downs. I take the time to settle in to a comfortable rhythm for a while on the flat.
After heading inland and a bit more up and down, I reach Fort Victoria Country Park. This is ace, some great woodland, some undulations, but I like woodland running and I love this mile stretch (yes only 1, but there’s more, hold on!). From here, it’s through Yarmouth, some residential streets and then some of the best routes on this North Eastern part of the Island – Bouldnor Forest Nature reserve, coastline forest trails, ups, downs and some amazing forest. Fort Victoria country park is the little sister of this amazing stretch, one of my favourite parts of the route.
Reaching the last checkpoint before halfway it’s then country lanes, trails and fields before some hills and a climb through Parkhurst forest as you approach Newport and the 53Km halfway. To reach the halfway point I find myself taking on a little more road running and an uphill climb takes you to IOW showground and a great stop, food, support and cans of coke – what more could you want.
There’s a road crossing before the showground which I learn has confused a few and a number of people have gone off route here and missed the checkpoint, realising at 1-2Km later before retracing their steps and getting to the halfway point a little later than hoped. Easily done given the signage, and I notice an additional sign is later added to make sure people don’t make that mistake for too long!
I enjoy the pause at halfway. I change my shirt, socks etc and then head out of the checkpoint and back onto the roads and down to the BioGas works on the edge of the River. Medina – part of the Medina River Walk. A nice stretch. But this is soon followed by around 7 miles (37-44) of roads. Not the nicest and a good few undulations, but not all ultras are solely beautiful walking routes and footpaths.
I eventually head into Ryde eventually hitting coast around Appley park just before Seaview. I’ve had the pleasure of the company of another runner (Andrew) for that road section and it certainly made it more pleasant. We enjoyed a good few conversations about races.events we have done and the miles soon tick by. We will end up running together until the last 2Km!
From Ryde it’s then some more roads, but also some great trails, before heading into St Helens and eventually Bembridge. The route takes us past the beautiful Bembridge windmill and then heads towards the top of the headland, overlooking Yaverland and Sandown with the penultimate aid station. A nice break after some decent hills and an amazing view. If I was a walker I could so easily spend hours just looking at the view over the coast here.
It’s then a drop down to sea level and a run along the very classical feeling seaside region of Yaverland, Sandown and Shanklin, but the hills were looming!! This coastline gives the legs a rest from the climbs, its busy with tourists (many of them supporters of people in the event it would appear) but the resorts are sadly looking a little tired and unloved. In years to come I would love to think these towns are rejuvenated as this part of the coastline is beautiful and the resorts deserve another opportunity to flourish.
The route carries on and I make my way through Shanklin Chine, up some pretty steep inclines and steps, before a false sense of ease is waved at you in the drop down to Ventnor, the final aid station at 60 miles and a chance to refuel and restock before the final 6/7 miles of what turns out to be unrelenting hills.
From the Ventnor stop there’s a stretch. Of easy running with some modest. Ascent, but the. Knowledge that there is still a lot of elevation pending looms heavy!
Things head up at Woody Bay, west of Ventnor. Lots of road running and lots of ascent, this was tough, hard and never ending, the biggest climb! This was tough given the distance 4-5 miles from the end! At 65 miles things eventually plateau back on trails and high on the cliffs overlooking Chale, the end is insight. There’s a lot of descent to go, but it really is all down hill from here!
I start to get that lump in the throat feeling at this point. I think about the charity money I have raised and the wonderful support my friends, family and colleagues have given me. I also start to picture the finish where I know my wife and youngest kids are waiting for me. This has been the second biggest event I have completed and the first Ultra that they will be there at the end of. It’s a challenge to keep the emotions in check.
At this point I decide to empty the tanks and move off into my own space a little. My focus now on reaching my family at the finish line.
This final descent is technical in places, some roads around Blackgang, and just when I can smell the finishers barbeque, the route turns left directing me down some trails, out to the coast path again and I lose sight of the finish. Eventually the flags come back into view. Approaching the finish from the South the sound of the support builds, the finish arch is tangibly close and the challenge is over.
Finish time 12 Hrs 40 minutes, 5th across the line and 6th overall (due to the staggered starts).
I collect my medal, a finishers shirt and some champagne before a few finish line photos and the opportunity to welcome the next few runners in. This was a big challenge and I am grateful for the support the other runners gave during the event. Would I do it again? Yes, for sure. But then there are so many events out there I want to do that I might leave it a while before I come back.
IOW you were immense, especially your hills, but I absolutely loved the opportunity to run around you and experience some of the beautiful scenery you have.