I have walked more miles this week than during any other week this year, a total of 58 from last Sunday up to yesterday, with a 6 mile run and circuit training thrown in as well. Yesterday's walk was just short of 26 miles, so time to start tapering from to the big day.
Yesterday's walk kicked off at 7am at the Manx Harriers clubhouse with a good turn out (Michael, Vinny, Jock and the two Daves). We all set off together, but Jock and Dave M decided to do a similar session to the one they had done the previous Saturday, which involved setting the virtual partner on the Garmin GPS at 5.2 mph, with the plan to do 30 miles. Michael, Vinny, Dave W and I set off on the Parish route on to the Cleanagh Road, where we took a right turn on the back road that goes past the clay pigeon shooting site and on to the St Marks to Ballasalla Road; a road I haven't been on in years. On reaching Ballasalla we stopped to fill up the water bottles and I made sure I took on as much fluid as possible, given it was a warm morning.
We continued on to Malew church and on towards Castletown, before looping back into Ballasalla via the airport. Unfortunately, Dave W had to leave us as he was getting a bit of discomfort from his ankle, that had kept him out of action for the last few days. Rather than aggravating it, he sensibly decided to get the bus back, but at that point we had already covered 13 miles, so he still got a decent walk.At this point the wind had really picked up and whilst it was struggle walking into it at pace, it did cool us down. We turned off on to the Old Castletown Road and with it being sheltered the temperature started to rise again. Rather than take it easy we picked up the tempo and a few miles later started to worry a little as we were all nearly out of water, We continued on the look out for any taps and spotted one at the side of building, only to scale a wall to find out it wasn't connected to the water supply. Continuing on and wondering what we would do next we stopped at the steam train station at Port Soderick and success, there was an outside tap, which was a massive relief, as I was already starting to feel a little dehydrated. It was a warning that if you don't take on sufficient fluids and regularly, that your performance will drop off very quickly. After our quick stop, we set off towards Marine Drive. A nice leisurely walk back into Douglas wasn't on the cards and the 3 of us took turns to set a decent pace, which considering we had already walked 20 miles plus, was quite satisfying and it was evident that Michael and Vinny are both in really good shape.
Returning to last year's Parish I had checked in at Rushen Church full of confidence and started the ascent of Ballakillowey. I was surprised to see Michael struggling up the climb and we had a quick chat before I pushed on, fully expecting him to catch me either between Ballakillowey and the Sloc, or on the way to the Round Table where his race walking technique and speed would be used to good effect. At this point I was feeling really strong and approaching the bottom of the Sloc I could see Jock and he wasn't that far ahead. This is where a made a bit of mistake; instead of appreciating that it is an 85 mile walk and making efficient use of my energy levels I stupidly pushed hard in an effort to catch Jock. Half way up the Sloc I could see he had slowed a little (he subsequently confirmed that he had been feeling ill on the way up and his pace had dropped off a little), so I continued to chase him. I got closer, but not near enough to worry him and he reopened the gap as we approached the Round Table. That was the last I saw of him!
Given the exertions going up Ballakillowey and the Sloc I decided to walk a bit more sensibly through Niarbyl and towards Glen Maye. The hill past the Waterfall pub coming into Glen Maye is one of my least favourite pats of the route. It has now been renamed 'Cramp Hill' as every year, for the last 3 years, I have had bad cramp on this section and I know some of my fellow walkers have had similar experiences. After hobbling along for a few hundred yards, during which time I had a banana and some dioralyte to try and sort things out, I regained my composure and set off for Peel. Walking up the road towards the check in point at the town hall I could feel the cramp again, but tried to walk as normally as possible past the assembled crowd. bizarrely I was asked if I was going to stop or carry on, "I think I might carry on" I said.
At Peel I had been about 5 minutes behind Jock and Vinny was a further 3 minutes behind me, followed closely by Richard Spenceley, so still quite tight at this point. I do enjoy the section between Peel and Kirk Michael, so thought I could really kick on from there. To be honest I never expected to be in second place at Peel, so I didn't really have any kind of strategy as to what I would do in this position, so I just tried to walk at a fast, but reasonably comfortable pace. At Kirk Michael Jock was 9 minutes ahead of me and I was in front of Vinny by about 2 1/2 minutes, so my thoughts of getting anywhere near Jock had all but gone, but I thought I would give it one last push and see if I could make any headway. Kyley arrived at this point to take over the support car duties and said afterwards that she was concerned I was going too quickly.
At Ballaugh I had only cut in to Jocks lead by a few seconds and hadn't put any more time between me and Vinny, but looking on the split times afterwards, all 3 of us walked this leg quickly. Between Ballaugh and Jurby I really put the hammer down and covered this section in the quickest time recorded since the electronic timing was introduced about 5 years ago. Arriving at Jurby I was told that the gap to Jock was now about 7 minutes and this gave me an immediate boost until I was then told that he had stopped to change his top and have a bite to eat! Going back down the path from Jurby Church I met Vinny on the way up. "How are you doing" I said, to which he replied "I feel like s**t". I wasn't sure whether or not this was a tactical ploy to try and lull me in to a false sense of security, but my fears were realised when Kyley informed me that Vinny was starting to close the gap. On the way to Bride was where the big black dirty flies appeared, which were horrendous. They were obviously attracted by the amount of sweating I was doing and the only thing for it was to spray my cap with insect repellent, which reduced the numbers landing on my face, but didn't get rid of them.
The never ending road to Bride dragged on and I knew at this point that I was starting to slow a little, which was backed up by the fact that on reaching the check in Jock was now nearly 12 minutes ahead. The hill going up out of Bride did nothing for me and I then started to become aware of Sean Hands's car driving past, as I knew he was supporting Vinny. Vinny later told me he had asked Sean to drive a little further ahead than normal, just so he could get past me before he stopped - another psycological ploy! I was still keeping a decent pace going but Vinny was getting nearer and nearer and at Andreas Church we again exchanged pleasantries as we passed each other on the path leading to the church. At that point I knew it wouldn't be long before he passed me!
The next and final instalment of last year's race will follow soon.....