After withdrawing from what would have been my first 100 miler the North Downs Way 100 by Centurion Running due to a severe lack of training I decided that I needed a new challenge. So I turned to the place that I go for fitness inspiration, Twitter. After scrolling through picture after picture of peoples breakfasts, manky feet and sweaty selfies I stumbled across a retweet that caught my eye, I can’t even remember who penned the original tweet but it was about a guy that was running around the Isle of Man, This got me excited!
Now, the Isle of Man is a little too far away so I decided on the Isle of Wight just a two hour drive and 10 min hovercraft trip away and also a little smaller than the aforementioned Isle of Man. I earmarked a weekend in August and told my friend Neil to keep the date clear too; at this point I didn’t tell him what we were up to in case he thought about it too hard and declined, but years of friendship and adventures have conditioned Neil not to ask. With that sorted I started planning in earnest, the route was simple follow the coastal path but at just over 70 miles it was a little too much to do in one day so I decided to split it over two. The start point was easy to pick it had to be one of the port towns and as I’d never been on a hovercraft that was the preferred and quickest mode of transport. Ryde it is then! Accommodation was also self selecting cheap and on the opposite side of the Island, that turned out to be the YHA in Totland; this was a no brainer having stayed in YHA’s before you know exactly what you’re getting at a superb price. I found a local baggage moving service run by Wight Wanders who were super helpful and bent over backwards to accommodate our needs, and that was it all planned.
We arrived at Ryde hoverport a little after 8am and after handing our bags over and making the big decision of clockwise are anti-clockwise we were off (we opted for anti-clockwise as recommended by the guy from Wight Wanders). Following the route was easy, it was just a case of following the frequent blue Coastal Path signs but we were disappointed that after leaving Ryde we didn’t see the sea again until 8 miles later when we arrived in Cowes. We had to sprint to make the chain ferry in East Cowes only being allowed on as we had come prepared with a pound coin each to pay for the crossing. Once in West Cowes we paid a visit to Spy Velo for a well deserved ice-cream and coffee break. Being the tail end of Cowes Week the energy in cowes made a welcome change from the dull mostly road running from Ryde; we soaked up this energy as we plodded along the seafront watching the boats and crowds alike.
After Cowes the Coastal Path became a bit more coastal and path like; we ascended the cliffs leaving Cowes and were greeted with amazing views across the Solent to the New Forest. I absolutely loved the next 20 or so miles to Yarmouth which bar the odd road section was mostly on single track footpaths winding over limestone cliffs, this is my favourite type of running. It was clear however that Neil was not getting the same enjoyment as his grumbles became more frequent and he started to voice his reluctance to join in with day two.
On the way into Yarmouth we saw a couple of women that said they had seen us in Cowes and asked what we were doing, we explained and although they thought it was utter madness wished us well all the same. As we weaved through the shoppers in Yarmouth’s Market Square a little Costcutter loomed into view and like an oasis in the desert we ran to it with one thing in mind, Coca-Cola, the ultrarunner’s fuel of choice; after downing this ice cold sugary goodness we retired to a little pub for more coke and a couple of baked potatoes. We had already completed a marathon and Neil’s longest run to date; his previous longest run had been a 20 miler that I coerced him into and never turned up for (I was in Australia at the time so I think I had a valid excuse). Leaving that pub was hard work but we knew that it had to be done, so after emptying ourselves and filling our water bottles we head out west towards the famous Isle of Wight landmark The Needles.
In a straight line we were probably less than 2 miles from our overnight stop but this being a round the island challenge we knew we had to take the long way round. This section of the first day definitely had the most elevation and to be honest it had been rather hilly from the off, a lot hiller than I was expecting. Still, the views from the cliffs above Alum Bay across The Needles were worth the effort. We followed the bus route to The Needles Headland before climbing some more onto Tennyson Down. Once at the top we could see our finish for the day at Freshwater Bay and this sight seemed to give Neil a second wind and I struggled to keep up with him here. At Freshwater Bay we stopped our watches and sought out more Coca-Cola in the straight out of the 1970’s hotel there; unfortunately the only thing on offer was Pepsi but at that point we were not too fussed.
Neil had decided that he was not going to run today but I was too stubborn to come all this way and not complete what I had set out to do so we laid out a map at breakfast and planned all of the places where the local bus routes dissected my own and then we were off, me on foot and Neil on the bus. It was only half past nine but the temperature was soaring already, it was clear that today was going to be hotter than yesterday and that was going to be a problem. Initially the silence was lovely but after a while without Neil’s niggles to worry about my own began to speak up and ignoring them was going to be a challenge.
The south side of the Island was much more picturesque than the north and the path hugged the coast tightly sometimes only being metres from the edge of cliffs towering above The English Channel. With this however came some of the biggest inclines and declines of the whole trip as I descended into little coastal towns only to run up the cliffs on the other side, one of the more poignant examples of this came when I stumbled across Steephill Cove this place was absolutely beautiful and perfectly secluded; I have vowed to come back here at some point and relax.
It’s official, I am faster than an Isle of Wight bus and Neil was unable to make our first rendezvous so it was almost 20 mile in before I found him lounging in the sun in Ventnor overlooking the sea. He’d been shopping for me and had a bag with the obligatory Coca-Cola, pineapple chunks and ready salted crisps, he’d even taken the time to de-fizz the coke. I sat and chatted with Neil for a while before we decided to meet for lunch in Sandown and off I went straight up over The Ventnor Downs. As mentioned day two was hiller than the fist but they weren’t the only ups and downs, on my own I found that my mood yo-yoed as well, with the sun beating down and no end in sight at some points I felt quite down but it didn’t take much to pick up my spirits usually I’d seek out a dog for a quick fuss and this would keep me going; at one point I joked with a couple of dog owners that I was powered by Cocker Spaniel and this was almost true.
At lunch Neil tried in vain to get me to call it a day saying I had completed another marathon and no-one would think I’d failed if I just jumped on the bus with him back to Ryde. I was having none of it, I’d think of this as a failure and that was bad enough. Neil was worried that I was now slowing and with over 10 miles to go I wouldn’t make it to Ryde in time for our hovercraft home. He turned out to be right on this point but there was no way I was gonna stop while I could physically continue. Another familiar sight greeted me on the way out of Sandown, another hill, going up this one a little speedgoat whizzed past me in a Run England vest chirping a cheery little ‘hello’ as he went, this guy would pass me a further 3 times as he went about his hill session and his ‘hello’ grated on me more with each passing.
At the top of Culver down I could see Ryde in the distance even though I still had over 6 miles to go before I reached it, it was at this point I think that the song ‘I’ve got a ticket to Ryde’ popped into my head and did not leave until I finally reached there, this little ear-worm drove me mad especially as I only know the chorus. The next 6 miles were slow going and I soon realised that as Neil had predicted that I was not going to make our hovercraft sailing, I stopped to check that I’d make the last sailing before cracking on to get the job done. At some point on the approach to Ryde I did see our hovercraft come and go and this did deflate me a little as I felt that I had failed by not hitting my self imposed cut off time, but I did make it all the way round eventually and our Isle of Wight adventure was over.