In Terry Pratchetts Discworld, the Witches of Lancre and surrounding areas believe that you can only bring a Witch up on solid rock. "You can't make a good Witch on Chalk". In much the same way, there are a number of people who probably say, you can't have a good Fell Race on Chalk.
|Claire pic of me - before the stitch....|
Its been about 15 years since I first heard of the Isle of Wight Fell Race Series. Given that I was born and grew up on the Isle of Wight, and still didn't know about it until I had moved away should give you an idea of either how unpublicised it is, or in fact, how little running I did as a kid.
(the latter is the more true).
Finally, 2016 was the year I got to go home and run 3 races in 2 days.
The basic premise of the series is that there is pretty much one hill on the Island that is big and ugly enough to make a decent hill race, and it is that hill, St. Boniface Down, which provides the amusement for the 3 races.
Saturday starts with registration, a bit of a wander around, and making sure I know where the final sprint will occur on the races, and where each of them goes in terms of the first part of the hill- the races all go through the town of Ventnor before heading up the hill.
Number got and pinned on, time wasted and wandered around Martin and I made our way to the start of the first race which is on the Seafront. All 3 races start from the same place. The atmosphere at the start was a little odd for a fell race. There were about 4 clubs with massive turnouts who all stood around in very separate groups, no mixing or conversation between them. It almost felt like a Crosscountry meet rather than a fell race. But then, maybe I'm a bit more used to seeing people from relatively local teams wandering around taking the mick out of each other and renewing old acquaintance rather than seeing running clubs from London trying to psyche each other out.
So the allotted start time came and we all gathered on the front. The first race is an AS, (short race with a fair amount of climb for the distance). The weather was sunny and there was no kit requirement- brilliant. Nice to see some common sense being used. Unlike most races, there was no pre-amble, there wasn't even a "ready?", there was just a horn being blared and everyone lurched forward with a surprised expression as they tried to start their Garmins.
The route took us round and up through Ventnor, up one of the steepest roads on the Island (tulse hill), and up onto the hill. I managed to keep in the top 20 as we headed up through the town, and got ahead of one or two more before the single track onto the hill started. Uphill along a footpath and some stairs, I began to think that I might overtake a couple more once we hit the open hill, and I was right.
A lot of the guys had gone off hard and were paying for it as the climb steepened. Yes, it was a walking hill for the majority of us, but I have no illusions that the strong guys at the front ran the majority of it. Breathing hard I topped out ahead of 3 more guys and ran around the flatish loop being pursued by them at great speed. (or at least, what felt like great speed). Then came the downhill where I just let go and enjoyed myself, stretching out away from the guys I had been with for a while and overtaking another 3 and getting a final one in my sights for the end.
Down the same path as we came up, round the corner and then I began to open up for a final sprint downhill as I overtook the next one... to find out I had reccied the wrong road! Instead of being a madcap dash downhill for 200m, there was close to 800m of flat and downhill road to go.
I kept ahead of the one I had overtaken and we closed in on yet another, gradually bringing the distance down, with me thinking... this is a lot lot lot longer than I was anticipating, down to below the level of the finish - the final 30yard to the line was an uphill drag. Round the final corner and a sprint to the end taking another place in the process. 11th overall. Not too bad considering I wasn't going full beans.
Martin was in about 100th place, and pretty happy with that, so we sat around for the next few hours, ate lunch, had an icecream (should have had a beer really, just for the look of the thing). A number of the Overners decided to hit the sea and generally do the tourist thing, which is all well and good, but we had a nap.
Race 2 started at 3pm. Quite late on, considering the first race barely took 20 mins to finish. This race was a BM. A bit further (12km, to the mornings 4km) and with just over 400m of ascent. Again, there was no kit requirement, but also a warning that there was no water on the way around. Once more, Martin and I went to the start, where we met up with Jeremey and Pam from Totley who were happily mooching around, Pat having been first V60, V50 and V40 lady that morning in the AS.
The race started soon enough, in much the same way as it had this morning, except with the addition of a "ready?" before the hooter.
Off up the same roads through Ventnor, a little slower than in the morning, it has to be said. Up onto a different path this time, and up a slightly steeper hill - again more overtaking until I was in about 12th place, running with the same 2 guys from the morning. Not too bad, I was thinking. Keep it steady.
The route wended its way to the top of the Down and down across the back of it. We ran pretty much as a three, it was pacey, I had the best of them on the downs, they had the best of me on the ups. Not only that, but Claire, a Glossopdaler who happens to live on the Island was there to take photos and cheer us on (until her voice gave out). Thanks Claire!
Unfortunately I decided I was going to push it a bit on the way out to the halfway mark and ended up overstretching... As the distance between me and them got larger, so did the stitch. Dammit.
Heading down to the dismantled railway I pulled up and let them past me. Running was becoming painful and I let another couple past at the gate. More still poured past as we went along the railway to the final ascent. The combination of shortening my stride and slowing down considerably meant that the stitch was slowly receding, but there was no question of being able to run hard or fast. Another person went past as we went over the stile to go up the hill.
And then everyone started walking.
Even at the slow pace dictated by the slowly easing stitch, I was able to re-take some positions, and continued to do so up the slope, through the wood and the stairs (some runners were doing this race in non-studded road shoes... an ok idea for some of the terrain, but certainly not for going through muddy woods). Up onto the top of Luccombe down. Ahead of me - far too far ahead I could still see the 2 guys I was originally running with. Between us were about 8 runners, and now the Down was flattening out, their road running ability was swaying the balance back to them. I battled on, only catching up with one other. Claire was there on the way back as well, and then came the final downhill.
|A rather arty picture by Claires friend, Ian Dyer.|
True to my thinking, I hit the road (now knowing exactly where the final sprint was going to come, thanks to this mornings minor palaver!) with plenty of time over the guys behind me, and no-one really to chase in front. So a somewhat easy bimble to the end saw me finish in a slightly disappointing 17th. (don't get me wrong, its not like this is a disaster, its just a bit annoying that the stitch occurred because I wanted to go faster downhill... I should have known it was going to happen and held back a bit, then I might have ended up 10th or 11th. Ah well).
Home for tea etc. Then back out to the wilds of Ventnor on Sunday morning for the final race of the series. The CL- 20km or so with 487m of ascent. Martin and I were standing at the start, and who should turn up but Andy Wilkins! Aha! 3 Glossopdalers in a race on the Isle of Wight, finally, enough for a team! (not that we counted as getting anywhere near enough points, but there you go).
Again with this race no kit requirements, so the road runners were very happy indeed. Again a lot of the runners were out in road shoes, which is fine for a lot of the course, but there are bits of it where it wouldn't be such a great idea. The start was a little different, and it was very much like the start of a 10k. Flat out along the seafront for a couple of km before a right turn away from the sea and up the hill. A mass of people went out hard and I recognised them as people that I had definitely beaten the day before, even with a stitch. Should I be worried? Well, I figured it would be a decent run out anyway, and not wanting to do the same thing with as yesterday I decided to really run within myself just enjoy it. Worried? Not at all.
We rounded onto the first hill and a couple of runners went backward. Up and over the road and one of the guys I was running with the day before was in front of me... going too fast? Not sure, but just take it easy. The downhills were pleasant, the uphills were gradients that I could run, and the flats were where I really lost time on other runners. Not to worry, I was pushing myself a bit on the ascents, because that was the time I could really make myself out of breath without worrying about a stitch. Gradually a few people got overtaken, we went through the halfway point where my family were standing cheering us on. I downed a gel as we hit the dismantled railway, and then proceeded to go backwards as various flat-skilled runners proceeded to cane it past me.
Not to worry, the hill was coming soon. Having done it yesterday I knew the speed it could be taken at, where to run and where not to. I blasted up with a bit of speed, overtaking through the wood and the stairs, and onward to Luccombe Down. Another 2 fell by the wayside as they couldn't open a gate (ok, I was only about 5 metres behind them and closing, but their inability to open a gate slowed them down to allow me to teach them how to open one, and also how to get through first). Over onto the top, worrying all the time that the guys behind me were closing me down on the flat, but it seemed the hill had taken more out of them than they thought, and a final pelt down the hill to the road run in.
I knew I was being chased all the way as I'd had a conversation with someone earlier about how they loved the downhills - he was going to be quick, and he took about 50m out of me on the descent. It wasn't enough. We closed down another person on the run in and I had plenty of time to chill out before a final sprint to the end where I was *not* going to get beaten to the place. 14th overall and 13th for the series.
It has to be said, it was a great weekend away, (even though it was a weekend at "home" for me). The races were very well organised, and although slightly trail-y they are still pretty challenging.
Great fun, thanks to all the marshals and to the race organiser.
Results here, and massive congrats to Pat Goodall from Totley for being first V60, 50 and 40 in each of the races and the champs, and for beating the current V60 record. Nicely done!