‘Endurance! Endurance! Endurance!’ was the name of the game across the weekend of 15/16 September as some of our more ‘hardcore’ members took on the infamous Ventnor Fell Runs. Ryde Harriers teamed up with the Ventnor Fell Running Association to put on the event which attracted 275 competitors from across the country, an increase on last year’s entries. Split into 3 races – The St Boniface Fell (tricky), The Ventnor Horseshoe (trickier) and The Wroxall Round (trickiest!!)
The forecast was for wall to wall sunshine, the perfect excuse to depart from the big smoke and head to the southern flanks of the Isle of Wight to do a series of three fell races. Wait right there… fell racing on the Isle of Wight? Well it’s true and they’re not to be taken lightly!
Arriving at the start line of the first race in the Isle of Wight Fell Race series in Ventnor, I (Oliver) was taken aback by the rainbow of singlets filling the seafront. A huge contingent from differing London clubs, a smattering of others from the South of England, a gang of hardened fell runners from the Welsh hills all lined up alongside the usual suspects from the Isle of Wight.
Although I know the trails around Ventnor relatively well, I still had butterflies in my stomach before the first race. An out and back route from the seafront straight up to the highest point on the Island. The route climbs up through the town centre before reaching the edge of the downs, where you hit the steep slopes of Boniface Down. I came to the race with fresh legs and with high hopes of a good showing, but the line-up of lean Londoners and wiry fell runners certainly made for a competitive field. After much mingling the runners were called to starters orders and we were off. A ferocious charge up the through the town, without realising I was cruising up the hill in a mad effort to make it to the staircase bottle neck that forms at the entrance to the downs.
Up until this point I felt great, but then I hit the steep sections of Boniface and my elegant stride turned into a wheezy hike. By the turn around point I had lost about a dozen places and my legs felt as though they had nothing left for the downward stretch. However, as I approached those steep sections muscle memory took over and, plunging downhill in a frantic sprint, at least half of the of the previously foregone places were recovered. The crowds around the finishing straight were a huge boost for the sprint over the line. For a race of only 3.5km, that took little longer than a Parkrun to complete, it left me truly exhausted.
After lunch I returned to Ventnor for round two. Again, the congregation formed to pay homage to the fells. The first section of the race, up through the town, was identical but as we hit the downs the route traversed the lower slopes of Boniface before rising up its western flank. As soon as the ridge was crested, the route plunged down the other side towards Wroxall where the route quickly returned to an upward trajectory onto St Martins Down.
By this point, my legs were feeling the effects of the morning’s race and the first climb. I was also now cursing the beautiful weather, which is great for beaches and BBQ’s, but less appealing when running along exposed trails in the mid-afternoon sun. After a steady decent through green fields the route reached the former railway track that provided an ideal opportunity to stretch the legs out before the final climb up onto the back of Bonchurch Down. The climb starts with a progressively ascending trail through hedge lined paths and pasture fields; but then rapidly transitions into a low-budget via-ferrata as runners haul themselves hand over hand up the steel railings alongside steep steps in the cliffside. This provided a welcome relief as the arms finally lent some assistance at a much-needed hour. The homeward straight was a cruise along the ridge back to the top of Bonfiace Down where we plunged back down the steep slopes into Ventnor. The culmination of two races and over 2,200 ft of ascent meant the final descent was taken a little more gingerly than the during the first race. The faces at the finish line were beaming with support, but the tales shared were of fatigue and yet there was more to come.
Sunday morning arrived and with stiff legs and a weary body I returned to the start line in Ventnor for the third instalment of déjà vu. After setting off too fast in the previous two races, I was adamant that I would keep my cool and sit back for the first few miles of this race. Again, we departed Ventnor sea front, but this time hugging the coastal path past the Botanic Gardens where the path rises up and onto Weeks Down. The legs felt surprisingly strong up the first climb, taking what felt like a steady pace behind Stuart Backhouse (IWRR), but I should have realised the pace was less than steady when we started reeling in numerous runners. It wasn’t long before my legs felt empty and I started descending through the field of runners. Luckily, I came with a more relaxed attitude today and enjoyed plodding along the final miles, over Appuldurcombe Down, through the Donkey Sanctuary, back up the via-ferrata steps, along the ridge and one final sprint back down Boniface Down before arriving back in Ventnor. The crowds remained in excellent spirits and cheered us on through the final sections of the race.
A lot of people might think fell racing on the Isle of Wight can’t be legitimate as its highest point is less than 300m above sea level, but these three races were a brutal challenge! They were organised incredibly and enormous credit should go to the race organisers and all of the volunteers who helped out (particularly those providing the cakes – fantastic refuelling). The competition was intense, but with the very best approach. I will definitely be back in 2019!
Paul Cooke took the title of first Islander home in both the St Boniface Fell and the Ventnor Horseshoe legs (coming in at tenth and eighth place respectively) with fellow club members Adam Tuck and Stuart McDonald following close behind and giving Harriers a very respectable standing for the event.
Congratulations to Hayley Baxter of IWRR for being first female Islander to finish the 2 latter races and to our very own whirlwind, Elaine Parry, for taking a close second in the Horseshoe. Jimi Eldridge completed the Harriers Hat-trick in the U18’s section when he hammered home in second place.
(The other Ladies team photo)
Huge kudos to everyone that took part across the weekend including the marshals and volunteers who helped to make it happen. Mouse pointers at the ready for next year’s entries!
Isle of Wight Fell Race Series 2018
Race 1: The St. Boniface Fell, (Category AS) 11.00am Saturday 3.8km/235m ascent.
Race 2: The Ventnor Horseshoe, (Category BM) 3.00pm Saturday 12km/443m ascent.
Race 3: The Wroxall Round, (Category CL) 10.30am Sunday 21km/487m ascent.
Post-race pictures across social media depicted KT tape, bed emojis and beer in abundance proving that the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra unified our hill-climbing heroes!
Foam rollers were well and truly left behind though as club sports therapist Jake was 4,000 miles away marrying the beautiful Bella in Canada! (Congratulations to you both and sorry for the lack of stretching!)