50/50 marathons

28. Not the Brighton Marathon

19th April 2020

Today I should have been doing the Brighton Marathon. This was not the Brighton Marathon, but instead, it was a weird hybrid of the Isle of Wight Marathon and the Needles Cross Country half Marathon. For anyone who’s done either of those races, you’ll appreciate that it was quite tough!

The day started out full of promise

The sun was out and I felt….. mmmm, ok I wasn’t feeling 100%, but it didn’t matter. It was a good day to be vaguely alive.

Last week’s Easter Lockdown Marathon was a meandering, let’s see where I go, kind of route. There was no plan other than I left my house and 26.2 miles later I came back. This week there had been some clarity from the government. You could actually drive somewhere to get your daily exercise. So I figured I could run somewhere and get picked up. This actually makes much more sense because I was finding that I was seeing a lot of people out for walks when I stayed close to home. This way I saw practically nobody, so I didn’t need to be doing as much crossing over to avoid being too close to someone.

The plan

This week I had a plan. I had consulted the oracle (Google maps) and had plotted a route that would leave my house and go anti-clockwise around the Isle of Wight, ending up somewhere around Freshwater Bay. Difficult to be accurate as there are so many twists and turns along the way that clock up the miles, but it looked around the right distance. One key part of the route was to join the coastal path that makes up the Needles Cross Country half. I’ve always enjoyed that race, so I thought it might be nice…. idiot!

support along the way

The first half

After leaving my house at about 9:30, I ran along the seafront towards Gurnard. It was super busy, walkers, runners, cyclists, and cars. This made it interesting to maintain the appropriate distance. At times I was running in the middle of the road.

Once beyond the Woodvale pub (ooh nice cold pint of beer), I headed out through Gurnard luck, where I was pleasantly surprised by the welcome sight of some friends, The Cranwell’s, waiting to give me a cheer. Such a lovely surprise as these solo marathons are hard without the support along the way. This gave me a real boost and I continued up and along Rew Street with a skip in my stride. Here I also bumped into another friend who was out for a cycle. Another boost. Heck, I was like Pac-Man eating up boosts as I ran. I continued on towards Porchfield at a good pace. I hadn’t really been monitoring my speed but I realised I was keeping a steady 8-minute mile. Schoolboy error. It’s all too easy with a marathon to go off at a pace that may feel fine for the first few miles, but guaranteed, unless you’re Mo Farah, this will come back to haunt you later in the run.

A sun dappled road near Newtown Creek
Yarmouth harbour on a sunny day

Early warning signs

By the time I got to Yarmouth, I was beyond halfway and was beginning to feel the fruits of my earlier labours. Fatigue was upon me, far too soon. I was reminded of the first of these 50, The Isle of Wight Marathon. I made the same mistake of setting off too fast then and by halfway I was toast. This was feeling a bit like that.

Leaving Yarmouth towards Freshwater and Totland, the hills were quite hilly and my legs were feeling like lead. My idea to tag onto the Needles Half route was suddenly becoming a really stupid idea. For anyone who’s done that race, most people would concur that it is a hard route. Beautiful, but really hilly. Nevertheless, I continued at quite a slow pace, by now my earlier 8-minute mile pace had settled to a 10-minute mile pace.

Alum Bay was quiet. Not a soul around. A bit like an empty funfair in an episode of Scooby-Doo. My memories of Alum Bay are of a place that is full of tourists. As a kid, I would delight in filling a glass test tube with the different coloured sands taken from the cliffs of Alum Bay. You were rewarded with a multi-layered kaleidoscope of colour in a test tube that would ultimately gather dust on your parent’s shelves until one day it just wasn’t there!

As I ran/staggered up towards the Needles I looked back upon the cliffs of Alum Bay, and once again I was filled with doubt about where those colourful sands that I remember as a kid actually came from. The cliffs are essentially a reddish-brown in colour, what about all those other hues? It’s still pretty, so that conspiracy can wait until another day.

One of the main things that I wanted to achieve on this run was to see the Needles. Any Islander would probably admit to enjoying the sight of The Needles, especially on a sunny day. It’s kind of like our own Statue of Liberty, only in the shape of a lighthouse flanked by some rocks. The area is steeped in history, at one point it was a rocket testing site. Now it’s all pretty run down, but worth the trip if you like a bit of history.

A very quiet Alum Bay
Looking back at the Alum Bay cliffs
The Needles

Bloody hills!

So while I geeked out at the majesty of the Needles, I’d forgotten about the steps up from the old battery and then the subsequent beasty hills as you join the Tennyson Trail. it’s fair to say that I was done for at this point. I was spinning out and once again I found myself regretting my life choices.

Schoolboy error number two

I sat down! You never sit down on a marathon, it’s fatal, but I bloody did it. I saw a bench halfway up from the battery and I bloody sat down. I stopped and had a look around while I caught my breath. A couple of minutes max, but the deed was done and I entered the last few miles as a stiff-legged hobbler.

In the far distance I could see the Tennyson monument standing proud. I knew that to get to that point there were hills. Once again I was reminded of a previous marathon of the 50, the one I dubbed the South Wight Ballbreaker. In that, the Tennyson monument was my halfway turning point and even with fresher legs, I struggled up those hills. This time I was in the final couple of miles with legs of lead. It was slow going.

When I did get there, I stopped, had a look around and sat down, again! My head was spinning, my legs were elsewhere for the time being and I felt sick. What had I done leading up to this point to make me feel so rubbish? Was it the glass of wine I had the previous night? Was it the stresses of the previous week? Was it my stupid pace at the start? I dare say it was a combination of all.

Feeling exhausted at Tennyson Monument
Freshwater Bay

All I needed to do was make it down the hill into Freshwater Bay. It wasn’t pretty. I stumbled down the hill, moaning and groaning as I went. Thank God nobody was around to witness this pitiful display. Once in Freshwater, I sat, was sick and waited for my lift home. The sun was warm and it was peaceful. All I could hear was the water lapping the shore. Glad to finish and then here was Caroline to come and pick up the pieces yet again ❤️

A friendly boost

One of the best things about these marathons in this time of lockdown, no, THE best thing, is the support I’m getting from friends. The hand made medals have been a real treat at the end. This week I received a hand made mini-me from the lovely David and Alice Baker 😊

I was supposed to be running the Brighton marathon with Dave and once it was postponed we decided to still run together on the Island. But the ferries have all pretty much stopped so that put a stop to our plan. Dave ran his own marathon yesterday, supported by Alice in the last 12k. It would have been lovely to run with them today. I loved receiving their medal at the end.

Next week should be the Southampton marathon. But it will be another virtual run. Need to get planning!







I am running these marathons to raise money for Mind. If you like what I’m doing and would like to donate you can go to my Just Giving page below.