The West Wight Sports & Community Centre run an awesome x-country race each December called the Chilly Hilly. My quarantine finished just in time for me to make the start line. The family team consisted of: my very game mother (who had never run the distance before), my brother and my brother in-law, who unfortunately, or conveniently, couldn’t run as had to work last minute!
The course is a 10 mile up and down route around the West Wight. On a calm sunny day its a beautiful run, on a wet and windy it is miserable. We were treated to a nice, but windy day, and managed to arrange all the showers to pass before the start which was perfect. However, in the build up the rain had been relentless and as a result it would be the Muddy Hilly more than the Chilly Hilly.
The start time was dependent on your estimated time with slower runners starting in the first wave and 6 people starting every 10s. This is how events will be for a while, very low contact, socially distanced which actually makes things very efficient.
It had been two weeks since I raced in Daytona which had marked the start of my off season. Despite that my goal was to try to podium. This made my race plan simple, stick on 3rd places shoulder and outsprint them at the end. This plan would either ensure a podium or a blow up, only time would tell which.
At my start everyone knew each other so I felt a little left out but I knew there were some strong runners out there! Figured I was the unknown quantity though.
I was in the first wave and we started at a responsible pace and formed a group of 6. We were joined by a couple of runners from the second wave but we were running at close to my 5k pace which was a little concerning but I felt good.
Through the marsh we encountered muddy patch number 1. There had been a debate as to whether you could avoid the mud. You couldn’t! With 8 people powering through ankle deep mud we were caked in no time, but I was sitting nicely in 3rd.
Next up was the steep climb to Tennyson’s monument. This section is brutal, especially so given the head wind! I had planned to sit in the whole way but found myself at the front so decided to push on and force the pace as my heart rate sky rocketed. My podium was already looking a little unlikely but I wanted to break the group up as I was feeling strong. I would go down swinging!!
We lost a couple of people along the top but mostly everyone seemed fairly settled. Then things got blown open wide open.
At The Needles “green” guy (everyone got a name as didn’t know anyone) kicked on. Only 4 of us could go with him (ish). He pulled out 30m to a group of 3 and I was giving everything to hang on the back. We were going so fast that sister supporter Sophie almost missed me!
I didn’t have time to appreciate the spectacular views or to say hi to my mum as we flew on. I was giving everything just to stay with “Red”, “Red” and “Stripes”! As we passed the 5 mile mark half way point I knew I was in trouble. The harder half was done but any second I was going to be dropped. We ran a 5 35 mile (inc some downhill) which is by far the fastest I have ever run!! We were flying.
My mum and bro were enjoying themselves more than I was!!
Next up was muddy patch number two. Although it turned out to be less muddy and more treacherous. Rather than the deep wet mud it was slippery surface mud on a slope.
I just stalled!! My feet going more sideways than forward and the 3 guys just disappeared up the path. I was broken, alone and not entirely sure how I would get to the finish. Stopping and finishing with my mum did cross my mind but I eased up and found an easier pace.
My heart rate began to come and I recovered, glancing over my shoulder to see who would be catching me. For now I appeared to be safe.
The final climb took us up on to Headon Warren. As you exit the field you think you are done but then there is a final steep section. Maybe only 50 meters but it finished my legs. I felt as if I was walking but it levelled out and I found my pace.
On the way down, one guy we had dropped came flying past and must have had an issue as he was so strong and was quickly gone. I was now in 6th and trying to hold. The rest of the route was fairly flat and I just did what I could.
In the last mile a guy was slowly catching me and I felt like a sitting duck. There wasn’t much I could do as he wound me in. He had run a well paced race and I 100% hadn’t and as a result was suffering!
He finally passed me and we had a quick chat and he kindly warned me about some slippery concrete at the bottom. I of course proceeded to slip there but managed to stay upright with the help of a fence.
I turned the 2nd last corner to see my dad cycling away from the prime supporting position. Apparently not being in the top 6 and 3 minutes off my estimated time meant I wasn’t coming. His patience maybe needs some work!!
To finish off the legs the final 200m was on soft grass in to the head wind to finish 7th. For an idea of the effort level I set all time records for heart rate over: 5s, 30s, 1 5 10 and 30 minutes and an hour. The first 6 miles I ran at 4:07 min/km and the last 4 at 4:23 min/km, the last 4 were downhill and downwind!
I briefly spoke with the athletes ahead of me and was glad to hear they thought we had pushed really hard in the first 5 miles. I returned to the viewing point and located my dad to cheer home my brother and mum!! (lots of smiles!)
A lovely way to bring 2020 to a close alongside my family. Now for a Christmas break and let myself get fat before returning to, hopefully, some more traditional adventures in 2021!!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
My final conculsion for 2020 – I may need convincing on x-country!! It’s an awfully mucky business…