Graham Meek reports back from the Isle of Wight Half Island Challenge

A bit of background first: my mum passed away from Cancer in September. I decided that I would like to raise some money for Cancer Research UK. As I have run 3 marathons, I felt that I needed to do something more extreme, so I entered the London to Brighton 100k, which takes place on May 27th (search for me on Just Giving, if you would like to help me towards my fundraising target). With help from many Sandhurst Joggers, I started to research ultra running, nutrition etc. and have been running 5 times a week since January following my training plan. I decided to add the Isle of Wight race to my training plan, where I would be running 52k  (my longest ever run) while most participants would be attempting to complete the full 106k.

Anyway, onto the Isle of Wight: my wife dropped me at Farnborough station on Friday morning and I headed to Southampton and then the Red Jet Ferry to Cowes. Fortunately, this does not require you to go through Customs as my white powdered Tailwind decanted into small plastic bags may have aroused suspicion.

After a couple of buses, I arrived at the B&B that I was staying at in Shanklin. With time to kill, I decided to get some more buses to head to race HQ to pick up my timing pass, map etc. – one less thing to worry about in the morning.

Time for carb loading – I was lucky to come across a fantastic restaurant with friendly staff and great food. At first, I was the only person in there, so got talking to the staff about what I was doing this weekend. A group of 8 then turned up and the manager mentioned to them what I was doing, which led to them asking a barrage of questions, which was great. After paying for my pasta, bread and crumble, as I was about to leave, they called me over and got out their wallets and gave me £25 towards my fundraising – what a lovely gesture from total strangers.

Back to the B&B to relax, make sure that I had my kit all ready for the morning and set the alarm for 4:15. I managed to get to sleep fairly quickly only for my phone to ring at 12:30. I did not answer it in time, but it was my brother ringing from New York panicking that I was doing the London to Brighton the next day, for which he had promised to be a member of my crew.  I cursed him for waking me up for the next hour or so as I tried and eventually got back to sleep.

The alarm went off and it was time for breakfast, as I like to eat 3 hours before my 7:20 start time. The golden syrup porridge filled with hot water was not particularly pleasant (unlike the milk version). The blueberry pancake and hot cross bun were much more palatable.

At 6am, the taxi picked me up and after handing over my £38 taxi fare (ouch!!), I was at the event, which would be attempted by 1,700 people (walkers, joggers and runners). I sat at a table and chilled out while talking to some competitors and found out the useless piece of information that Austrians do not understand the concept of sponsorship and donating to charity fundraising!

I handed in my bag, which I would collect at my finish, filled up my hydration pack with water and one of my Tailwind plastic bags, quick toilet stop and then entered the starting pen. Before we could set-off, we had to join in with the 10-minute aerobics warm up, which turned into more of a dancing session than following all the stretching movements – got us relaxed anyway and raised a few laughs.

IOW Challenge logo

At the start-line, I reminded myself of the strategy: easy-paced running, walk the uphills, eat something every half hour, drink regularly and enjoy it (the same strategy that I had been employing in my training and with success at the Grizzly a couple of months earlier).

Across the start line, a quick turn right on to the coastal path with sea on your left and the corner of the island (the Needles) in the very far distance. Within the first mile, 3 of us, who were running at the same sort of pace started chatting. The girl was also doing London2Brighton in 4 weeks, but was running the full 106k – rather her than me, I thought.  A couple of girls came flying past carrying nothing. I assumed that they must have a lot of crew to help them. After a couple of miles, I slipped on a narrow step as were going down a steep bit and landed on my bottom. As is always the case with us lovely runners, everyone nearby asked if I was OK. Luckily, I was fine although slightly embarrassed.  After mile 3, I had half a baby bel, washed down with some Tailwind.

We all settled into our respective paces and I overtook some people and some people overtook me.  At about 4 miles in (I don’t do Ks), we passed through a campsite, where there was some sort of biker convention. The ones that were up were very friendly and wished us well. There were a few spectators every now and again on the route, who were very supportive. At about mile 6, there was the first midpoint aid station, where there was plenty of cheering, timing chip scanned and snacks if required. I had carried enough Tailwind to fill up at each mid point as well as main aid stations, but I felt I had enough to get to the main aid station, so ran straight through.

Soon after the aid station, I did a superman impression as I caught my right toe on something and went flying, fortunately it was a very grassy bit and was quite a soft landing with no bleeding. I started to curse my brother again and wondered if my lack of sleep was causing my falls. My right toe was a bit sore for a couple of miles and then seemed fine.

Runners started to get more spread out and I was now on my own and about 50 yards behind a runner, who was walking the same bits as I was as the terrain started to get hillier. He was slightly quicker on the run, but walked for slightly longer. He kept turning round and I was thinking, don’t worry about me, it’s not a race.

Around mile 11, I caught up with him and we ran for a bit before reaching the monster of a hill. This steep hill was about a mile long and we walked up there together. The first main aid station was soon after we had reached the top of the hill. This time, I took the opportunity to replace my drink with some fresh Tailwind and from the large array of snacks, I grabbed a Mars Bar and ate this as I set off for the next midpoint, which I calculated must be about 9 or 10 miles away as I still had 19 miles to run.

After a mile or 2, I reached a flat concrete section. Guess what? I fell over again. To ensure that each fall had a different style to it, I went for the stumble followed by I think I am going to fall. I rolled as I fell, which meant that the backpack took most of the impact – inspired! Still no bleeding, but I had a temporary moment of getting angry with myself. This is ridiculous – I am not even half way and I have fallen over 3 times!

The next few miles were a mixture of woods and road, I caught up with the girl, who was doing London2Brighton and ran with her for a bit. She told me that I was running faster than her and that I should go in, so I did. My final mishap came at about the 20-mile mark. I did a very bad job of getting over a stile, misjudging the step on the far side.  I grabbed on to the wood on the far side to save myself and thought that I had escaped this time. About 30 seconds later, I noticed that I had some blood on my hand – I had ripped a piece of skin away from my middle finger and it was bleeding. After dabbing it on my shorts for the next mile or so, it finally stopped bleeding. I reached the midway aid station at mile 22 and the volunteers behind the snack counter started laughing at me as I could not decide what to have. I decided a fresh slice of pineapple would do the trick and it was lovely and refreshing.

With enough Tailwind and flapjack to get me to the finish, I set off for the last 10 miles. I exited the station with another guy, who commented on how strong I was looking – that gave me a boost.  He also said that there was a long road section coming up, which he did not like. I ran with him for a bit before going past him and then overtook another person near by. We exchanged pleasantries as I went past him and he mentioned that there was still a long way to go. I said not for me, I am only doing the Half Island. I immediately apologised for being so smug.

This was the last time that I saw anyone in front or behind. I was starting to feel really good on the road section and ignored my watch and just ran at a pace I felt was comfortable. With about 5 miles to go, my favourite view of the whole race appeared as I came out of the end of a caravan site and in front of me was the sea with lots of boats and some great views of the cliffs. This joy was short-lived as there were loads of flies. I had to run with my head down, so that they would bounce off my head rather than my face.

I was counting down the K markers now and after walking up a steep hill, I ran down into Cowes, picked up the start of the esplanade, which lasted for about 3k. I still felt fairly strong, but was looking forward to an uphill bit, so that I could walk. This arrived at the marker for 51k. A pleasant surprise was that the finish was only about 300 yards away. Once I had turned a corner and saw the finish, I sprinted to the line. To my surprise, I was told that I was the first person to finish the Half Island race. – a surreal feeling when in most races, I will be in the top 25%, but nowhere near the front.

I got changed and enjoyed the food and drink that was on offer as I studied and spoke to some of the people that were doing the full race, knowing that this would be me in 4 weeks time.

After all of the half island waves had come through, I finished in 3rd place. To say that I am pleased would be an understatement.



2 comments on “Graham Meek reports back from the Isle of Wight Half Island Challenge

  1. You fell more times in 1 event than I did last year!


  2. […] into detail on the background behind this challenge on the Isle of Wight half Island report (see Isle of Wight Half Island Challenge ) so to summarise, my mum passed away from cancer last September. I wanted to take on a tough […]


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