myisleofwighter Chloe Devereux gives an insiders guide to the Needles Cross Country Half Marathon, that covers some of the most picturesque topography the West Wight has to offer, as well as top training tips and advice key to surviving the route.
Looking to take the step from 10k races or simply wanting to challenge yourself, the Needles Cross Country Half Marathon must be one of the most scenic routes around. Demanding terrain with more hills than your average route, this is certainly a test of fitness, yet with an age range from 18 – 60, it is definitely achievable for anyone who has trained and is looking for a great race to run.
Covering the West Wight in all its glory, the race begins in Freshwater town, where you are only momentarily on the road before slipping off down the first of many footpaths to come. This takes you along the Causeway, across the Yarmouth Estuary, and then quickly darting off past Freshwater Church, where, if you are into your history, is where Emily Tennyson was buried. The route then takes you through Kings Manor Farm, a working livestock and arable family business, which has recently opened a farm shop and café serving delicious sandwiches and home reared beef burgers.
Off-road for a good couple of miles, you travel over fields and through a small copse which precedes your first sight of the sea at Yarmouth. Escorted across a road, the run continues along the sea wall, past Fort Victoria Country Park, originally a mid-19th Century coastal defence fort, it now hosts an aquarium, planetarium, country park and model railway.
The first steep uphill climb you encounter takes you onto a higher part of the cliff, running through a wooded area, for a mile or so before the footpath emerges at one of many check points. With refreshments available, be sure to grab a sip of water before continuing straight onto the beach at Colwell Bay. A chance to feel the sand under your feet, if only for a few minutes, and breathe in the fresh sea breeze.
Once you pass the pier at Totland, a steep climb (if ever there was a euphemism…) awaits. Luckily, although pretty much vertical, it doesn’t take long to climb up the stairway. Once at the top, whilst you may be feeling your legs, try to find your pace as you are then challenged with a steady, constant climb. The route weaves onto a residential road, before turning back onto grassland, this time climbing up to Headon Warren – an area of lowland heath renowned for its biological and geographical features, peppered with heather and gorse, and home to the elusive Dartford Warbler.
Descending into Alum Bay, world famous for its coloured sand cliffs, it’s the perfect checkpoint for friends and family to meet and support you. You too, may also need a quick sip of water as there is another steady hill awaiting. Don’t despair however, the view of the English Channel is truly superb and enough to distract any runner from the climb.
With a fairly flat run to recover from Alum Bay, you have now reached Tennyson Down. Just metres from the edge of the cliff, the sea breeze bringing a much needed cool down, you will need to prepare for one final feat. The rise up to Tennyson Monument again is steady and fairly long and you will need to find that extra bout of energy, but take strength from knowing this really is your last hill to tackle!
Now the only way is down. Let your body recover as you swoop down the other side of Tennyson. Another refreshment point awaits at the bottom for those that require it, but you’re so near the finish – only a mile or so, that many runners find it easier to carry on. Cheered on by the stewards and again experiencing a different terrain (this time you’re touching on marshland), you find you get a second wind. Back on the road for a couple of hundred metres, you’re retracing your steps from when you set off. Keep your pace consistent and reserve a little energy for when you enter the sports ground. There, you’ll have around a hundred metres of football pitch to the finish line and it’s the perfect spot to sprint out the last stretch and clinch those few extra seconds on your time.
Once the race is over a presentation is held with prizes for fastest man and woman in various age categories. If you’re in need of food and a few celebratory drinks to toast your achievement, there are many restaurants around the West Wight to choose from.
For those that don’t want to travel too far, just up the road in Freshwater Bay, The Farringford (the estate once owned by Tennyson himself) has recently refurbished its Garden Restaurant and offers an array of tasty dishes including homemade pizzas baked in their very own stone oven. Alternatively, for those who enjoy their seafood, Salty’s in Yarmouth rivals some of the best restaurants on the Island.
TAILOR YOUR TRAINING
With a large number of steady up hills, include one session of hill training a week. This may entail finding a hill which takes you around 30 seconds to sprint up, then jog down to recover and repeating 6-12 times. Equally, just incorporating more hill work into your runs will do the trick – just mix up the pace in which you run up them.
To get used to running on all the terrains, aim to run in forests, through fields and uneven tracks to strengthen your balance and the smaller muscles in your legs. Take it steady to begin with, jogging only to allow your body to adapt.
Finally Fartlek training is useful to give you those final bursts of energy towards the end of the race. Once a week, find your own checkpoints (trees, signs in the hedge, houses, etc.) along your run sprint to one, recover to the next, skip to the following, recover again etc. Mix it up and make it fun!