As part of my fantastic trip to the Isle of Wight Festival of Running, I took part in the first ever Needles Cross Country 10k. The Needles XC Half Marathon is a very popular race on the Isle of Wight and is known as one of the toughest and most beautiful half marathons in the country. This year, as part of the Isle of Wight Festival of Running, they also did a 5k, 10k and full marathon version. I opted to take part in the 10k to try to get my legs used to running on trail without the pressure of the half marathon distance.
It also meant that I could fit two runs into the day. The first was the Isle of Wight Medina parkrun in the morning, before the Needles 10k at noon. I had been trying to do double runs some days to get my legs ticking over for the upcoming Spitfire Scramble, so this was a good opportunity to split some mileage over different terrains.
Registration was quick and easy. My place was provided to me free of charge as part of checking out the festival, but the usual price was £8 in advance or £13 on the day. It should be noted that this cost included weekend swim membership to the West Wight Leisure Centre, a ticket to the classic film screening, Chariots Of Fire that evening, and on site camping. Now tell me that isn’t a lot of bang for your buck?
Just before noon, runners were ushered to the start line for a pre-race briefing. Then we were off. The race wasn’t chip timed so there was a quick jog to get over the start line as quickly as possible, and then the runners quickly started to spread out. The event started with a flat run across the playing fields outside the leisure centre, before turning down across a road and into the paths of beautiful Freshwater.
Although the route started out fairly flat for the first mile, it was definitely twisty turny. The path was narrow and runners moved into mostly single file as we occasionally got hit in the face with a bit of bush or swallowed some fly protein. It was a hot and sunny day and as we emerged out to the open fields, the sunshine started to feel uncomfortably hot as we were so exposed. We followed a narrow path through a crop field, with the front-runners already doubling back. This part of the race was narrow, so on several occasions, I stopped to let runners either overtake, or to allow a faster runner to get back as it was barely wide enough for one, let alone two.
A few of us looked up ahead and noted a long hill looming. Up. And up. And up. Gulp. With no shade from the sun. Actually, there was a delightful sense of camaraderie on this hill. Most runners near me walked it. Some walked backwards and took pictures because the view was just outstanding. We had a giggle about how insanely hot it was and we were choosing to do a cross-country race and we were defeated early on by a hill. Reaching the top was a blessed relief, but what a stunning view of the countryside once we got there.
The route flattened out again and a friendly marshal called out that there was water a little way ahead. I took two cups, one to drink and one to pour round the back of my neck to try to cool off a little. I could feel the sunburn starting despite pinching some suncream from a friendly triathlete beforehand and I was definitely regretting not bringing water with me.
A quick glance at Jo’s watch told me it had taken me about 40 minutes to do the 5k. Slow, but there was a lot of slow walking up that hill, pausing to take photos and stopping on the narrow paths. I quickly messaged her to let her know that I was going to be closer to 1:20, rather than my hoped for 1:10. Cross country running is definitely a whole new ball game. I couldn’t help laughing when I thought of how funny the splits were going to look – 10:20 m/m to a 16 m/m and everything in between.
The terrain soon changed to a shingle surface as we headed downhill. I’m a paranoid runner and while the downhill was welcomed, I was a bit too scared to let my legs go and just run. I wasn’t wearing trail shoes, but I also know I need to get my head straight and start trusting my body a little bit more and stop being scared of hurting myself. It was at this point, I started playing nip and take with an older couple, which we laughed over. I would get past them for a little while, then they would overtake me and so on. This went on as we turned into a field and followed the narrow path of other runners, which high grass up to our knees. In many ways, it was quite liberating as it felt like we were running with nature, instead of chasing pavements (isn’t that a song?!)
Of course, I am also a bit clumsy and it was along here that my ankle rolled. I was trying to watch my footing but it was rough in places and I simply got a foot placement wrong. I stretched it out and kept moving, enjoying the slight breeze that had finally decided to join us. Going back across the field with the narrow path was easier this time as there were no runners to stop for and bump space with, although I have to confess that my legs were feeling quite done by this point. Then it was back to the paths and this was the point I saw goats, got really excited, rolled my ankle again (which hurt) and took a goat selfie. Because what’s a pretty race without pictures of animals?
The last mile and a bit back to the finish was a bit of a slog, so I swapped to focusing on 0.1 mile run, 0.1 mile walk and this worked well to keep me moving. I often move to this at the end of a race I’m finding tough as it keeps my legs ticking over and my mind focussed. It also means that when I think I can’t take anymore, I realise I’ve only got a few metres and then I can walk, ready to run again.
The older couple were still in sight and I did wonder if I could catch them up. I knew the closest people behind me were at least a couple of minutes behind, so I thought about pressing along a bit. However, with one busy road left to cross and traffic simply not letting up, that idea came and went and the people behind me got quite close. Then I crossed, got confused over which way to go and had to shout back to marshal. Somehow, the arrow had got knocked. No big deal.
Finally, it was back across the playing fields to the finish line, where we had started. I plodded across the field and happily took my medal from one of the kids handing them out and a much appreciated bottle of water. A large timer overlooked the finish so runners had an idea of their times.
As mentioned, the race was not chip timed, but as a tough cross-country run, it’s not a PB race for most runners. It’s tough, it’s challenging, it’s beautiful and it’s well worth a trip to the IOW for. It’s given me an appetite for the Needles XC Half Marathon, but it’s definitely taught me I need to do MUCH more off-road running. Now, how many times have I said that…?