Tales of Trails, Part II: Isle of Wight

This is part two of a guest post by Alice, about her latest trail running adventures.

Adventure 3: The Isle of Wight (115km Coastal path around the isle)

This was meant to be a 100 mile run around the Isle of Man, but due to ongoing restrictions and border closures, I had to revert to a more local back up plan. The Isle of Wight is beautiful, and I have been on many holidays there, including a 2-day trip a few years ago to cycle around. Therefore, it seemed an obvious choice as back up to my Isle of Man coastal path challenge.  There is a well publicised coastal path route of 115km which follows the coast around the Isle. For both the Isle of Wight and Isle of Man, I was always planning to split the run over two days due to being unsupported and not wanting to run through the night especially close to cliff edges.

It had been just four days since the SDW 30 mile run, but after three days of no running, I felt I was probably rested and ready to go. Day 1 started well with my 5:30 am alarm and in a taxi for 6am, getting me comfortably to Waterloo for my 6:45am train to Portsmouth Harbour. I picked up a pot of Pret porridge and settled in for my two hour train journey. Storm Ellen however had different plans and just as the train pulled into Guildford station we were informed there was a fallen tree on the track.

After an hour sat on the train at Guildford, a train taking me back towards London, and two more changes, I eventually arrived in Portsmouth. Having missed the ferry I booked on to, I was lucky enough to be allowed onto the 11:15 ferry. This meant that I did not arrive in Ryde until 11:54am and with a two hour delay the mental battle started.

I started off with a good pace and the route was easy to follow with signposts spaced regularly enough that when you started to doubt you were on route, another one would appear. The sun was shining with a fresh sea breeze and hearing the bustle of families on holiday kept me motivated. Day 1 was from Ryde heading south along to the western edge of the Isle to a small village called Freshwater.

However, it wasn’t long before the clear blue skies become a foe, with the heat sapping my energy and dehydration setting in. Regular diversions to the route proved frustrating and after just 20km I was struggling. I realised I had a minimum of 40km to run to get to the B&B I had booked in Freshwater for the night and sunset was 8:15 pm. I thought I was being sensible having a gel every 10km and drinking sugary drinks, I’m normally so particular with my nutrition and making sure I’m fuelled. However, in hindsight it is clear that my already fatigued body was not getting enough energy and I was in a cruel state of not allowing myself rest because I felt if I stopped going forward then I wouldn’t make it to the B&B. 

The final 12km became intervals of 800m run to 200m walk, in my head ticking off every 2km as an achievement and then finally seeing Freshwater along the coast and a final 2km downhill lifted my spirits. Diverting slightly away from the Coastal path I found my B&B for the night and couldn’t wait to sit down and eat! 

I was greeted by the lovely Mike of Weston Manor B&B who took me up to my room, he informed me that there was nowhere open to eat (now gone 9pm) and that due to Covid restrictions in the breakfast room, I couldn’t be seated tomorrow until 9:15am. As it dawned on me that the next time I would eat food would be a whole 25 hours after my Pret porridge it was too much, I sat down and I cried. Mike clearly realised my plight and immediately offered to rustle up a cheese sandwich for me. The next thing I know his wife Vicky is at my door with a plate of food, and a heavenly Gu pudding. Vicky stayed with me for a while in my room and provided a friendly ear for 15 minutes as she calmed me down after hearing about my trials! 

In the morning, Vicky cooked up a wonderful breakfast with lower protein and more carbs than the standard B&B English breakfast. Needing to let the food settle I wasn’t able to set off until 10:30am and spent the morning looking out the window at Storm Ellen blowing trees practically horizontal.

The first 3km can only be described as a gale force wind tunnel walk to the Needles, at times I was physically blown backwards and it was draining. Already, the mental games began. It took me 30 minutes to go 3km to the Needles…at that rate 55km would take me 9 hours.

The headwind quickly became a tail wind as I headed back from the Needles, so I decided to stay off the coastal path on the very western edge of the isle as the wind was so strong I didn’t feel comfortable being on cliff paths. A bit further a long it felt more sheltered and the path was at sea level, so I re-joined the route. Turns out, being at sea level meant I was quite literally in the sea. The waves crashed against the sea walls and up and over my head. As well as getting drenched I started to feel the waves pull you back towards the sea and after a particularly strong wave again decided it was unsafe. The idea of going back on myself and adding more Kms wasn’t palatable, so instead I decided to climb my way out, vertically. After a 50m scramble away from the sea I found myself faced by a thorn bush, however undeterred I braced myself and climbed through to a perfectly manicured lawn. Again, I had to assess my options of going back through the thorns and down the cliff to the sea…or trespassing and potentially having to deal with an angry homeowner. I decided the second option was preferable and suddenly found the energy in my legs to sprint across the lawn and let myself out the side-gate back to the public road! Following a road for a few kilometres I realised I would hit the Coastal path again as it came inland, so set off knowing I’d already lost a lot of time and needed to get some kms under my belt. Unexpectedly 2kms later I had another unexpected break, but this time bumping into a friend from London! She, however, was on a leisurely long weekend to the Isle and enjoying restaurants, walks and beaches…sensible!

Path erosion resulted in more diversions and high tide caused by the storm meant that the path was sometimes underwater. On occasions I took off my trainers and waded through, however there was one instance where the water was too deep and I was against faced with a 4km addition if I traced back my steps or a scramble through woods, which it turns out was laced with barbed wire and brambles. In my desperate state, this was still preferable. 

Due to Covid, a lot of cafes and pubs along the north of the Isle appeared to be shut which meant I had to ration my water a lot, luckily today was slightly cooler. Eventually in a small village about 5km out from Cowes there was a pub open so I stopped for a drink and sit down. Trying to learn from yesterday I nibbled on some biscuits, trying to convince myself that that would replenish my energy stores.

The route into and through Cowes to passenger ferry was pleasant with protection from the wind, no diversions and lush green rolling hills with clear views across the glistening sea back to mainland. Once you’ve got the passenger boat across from West to East Cowes it’s the final 10km, in a state of depletion I struggle again resorting to 800m running with 200m walking. As I approached Ryde I realised what I had achieved and managed to skip the last 200m walk and ran in, straight to the fish and chip shop!

Unlike my other two adventures, there was no elation on finishing, but sheer relief. A few days on I am just about starting to look back and remember the better bits…the blues seas, sandy beaches, dramatic cliff coastline, hospitality of Mike and Vicky, the leafy wood trails, the wooden bridges through reeds, the dramatic weather, the refreshing sea showers! 

But there are also valuable lessons I have (re)learned:

  • It’s so important to let you body rest and recover, don’t attempt a 115km run four days after a 50km run.
  • Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. You must give your body energy to run! Attempting to run the first day on a small pot of porridge and four SiS gels was never going to end well. You also can’t rely on your body to tell you what to do, I was beyond the state of being able to fuel. Even going past shops I was picking up water to drink and not food. You must eat before you get depleted, before you feel the need.
  • Check the weather, such a basic error, but had I been more clued up on Storm Ellen I possibly would have thought twice about heading over.
  • Remember why you’re there and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go to plan – yes the train delay scuppered my plans…but I can’t let that stop me remembering why I set out on the adventure. 

The Isle coastal path takes you through varied terrain along beaches, through quaint towns, around yacht filled marines, over Downs and across meadows. I wanted to give an honest post on how not all adventures go to plan and pictures don’t tell the whole story, I was not always smiling! 

I would, however, encourage anyone to do this route either over one day, two or even three! I hope the London City Runners trip in September gets to experience all the delights the isle has to offer!

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