Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Squeaky Bum Time!

Well what can I say - things still haven't really sunk in yet, but it seems a long time ago since the alarm went off at 6.40am on Saturday morning. A lot of people mentioned that they had been up since 5am that morning getting everything ready, but if I had got up at that time I would have just been sat around nervously waiting for the start to come, so why not get an extra hours sleep. I did sleep better than expected on Friday evening, as in previous years that hadn't happened, but I would be lying if I said I hadn't worried about the fact that some people had tipped me to win. In the build up I just tried to ignore it and brush off any questions around the subject.

After a quick shower and the usual pre-race breakfast of a banana and bagel with peanut butter, I packed the remainder of my gear into the support vehicle and we set off down the to the NSC. Kyley's dad Paul was to do the first section of support, so he dropped me off in the QB car park and drove off towards Braddan Bridge, to spectate from the bridge above the Access Road. Back at the start the excitement and intrepidation was building up, combined with the speculation about whether or not we were going to go along the Access Road or main road, given the pool of water under the bridge. Having done numerous training sessions over the winter, where we set off from the NSC along the Access Road, I knew to expect a large amount of surface water and Dave Walker had the same thoughts, as we had exchange texts earlier on that morning about it. My initial feeling was to walk through the water and then change trainers immediately afterwards, especially given the previous issues I have had with blisters on my feet in wet weather. On the other hand I didn't want to waste time at the start and lose sight of the leaders at such an early stage. Dave, however, had an interesting alternative, which was to bring two plastic bags and put them over the feet before going through the 'lake' under the bridge, so I also grabbed a couple of bags before I left home.

15 minutes before the start I heard that we were no longer going along the Access Road, so I dumped the bags in a bin. 5 minutes later the Access Road was back on, so I went back to the bin to retrieve them, only to be told by someone else we were definitely going along he main road. Hearing this last piece of information I passed my bags to Marie Jackson and asked if she would get rid of them for me, only to get the definitive confirmation, with 3 minutes to go, that the Access Road was back on. I hurriedly ran back over to Marie, grabbed the bags and pushed back into the front, where I got a few funny looks and comments. Finally the countdown from 10 began and the wait was over, the 2012 Parish Walk had started. The field is now getting so big that as we completed the lap of the NSC track before exiting on to the outer road, we caught the competitors at the back of the field, who had barely crossed the start line! We then proceeded out on to the main road and turned on the Access Road, where my earlier fears were confirmed when we approached the 'lake' under the bridge. However, bags at the ready Dave and I stopped (you can see the two of us in the middle of the photo getting prepared), slipped them over our trainers and then waded through, much to the amusement of the crowd watching from above. The end result was nice dry feet and an early confidence boost.

The next 3 miles to Marown were steady but not too quick, as we all had a bit of a laugh and joke before the serious stuff started. The next couple of photos were taken from the end of Glen Darragh Road on the way to Marown Church and the 6 of us (Robbie, Vinny, Richard, me, Michael and Dave) had opened up a sizeable gap from the field and it was at this point that Robbie decided to pick up the pace at the front, as we set off towards the Braaid, closely followed by Richard. As we walked up the Cleanagh Road Vinny and I discussed the fact that we didn't think we had started as quickly as 2011 and it was just after this point in 2011 when Jock had made his break, never to be seen again for the rest of the rest. It was a bit surprising then when we went through Santon in a slightly quicker time than the previous year and the 6 of us were all still together.

Nothing particularly exciting happened from Santon to Arbory, but after this there was a noticeable increase in the speed as we headed towards Rushen and I said to Vinny that the race was about to properly start. Richard shot off, closely pursued by Michael, with Vinny and I a few metres behind. Robbie and Dave had backed off a bit, so it looked like it was shaping up to be a race between the 4 of us. Going up Ballakillowey Richard started to increase the gap between him and me and Vinny, but Michael was slowly starting to get back in touch with him. Unbelievably, given the steepness of the ascent, Michael was actually race walking up it!

At the top of Ballakillowey Vinny and I were still together, but Michael had caught Richard and the gap back to us was slowly increasing. Vinny dropped back a bit at this point and I did think about try to catch up Michael and Richard, but given I had 'overcooked' things last year going up the Sloc I decided to back off. On reaching the Round Table I was informed that Michael was now 3 minutes ahead, which was a bit of a concern given his obvious speed on the downhill sections, given his race walking technique and I fully expected him to pull out a lot more time on the run in to Peel. After the Round Table the heavens really opened, so time to put on the trusty orange waterproof jacket and I took on a lot of soup for both energy and warmth and kicked on, with the plan to get in touch with Richard. This happened at Glen Maye, as he stopped to change his trainers at the top of the hill passed the Waterfall pub and we set off towards Patrick and then into Peel. As I had mentioned in an earlier blog I always get cramp going up the hill into Glen May, but unbelievably this time I didn't - maybe it was the cooler conditions!I knew Vinny was getting ever closer again, as his support driver Sean Hands was appearing more and more regularly as we arrived into Peel. I knew I walked the section from Rushen quicker than 2011, but was surprised that I arrived over 7 minutes quicker in 5:23. Below is a shot of Richard and I arriving at the Peel check-in.

Not long after Peel my replacement support driver James joined me and immediately gave me a top up of soup, a gel and a couple of ibuprofen and Richard mentioned he had been suffering with a bad patch, but was starting to come around again. I was feeling strong and pushed on, but was aware that Vinny was less than 50 metres behind, so knew it was only a matter of time before he was back with me again. If there is a chase on and you want someone to close a gap, Vinny is the man to do it, as he would prove later in the day. As he caught me he explained that he had really suffered on the run down to the Round Table, so had done the sensible thing and slowed down a little, regrouped and then pushed on. We set a storming pace into Kirk Michael and were definitely there a lot earlier than in 2011, as there was no-one in fancy dress outside the Mitre. Going through the village I had a welcoming party of our good friends Glen and Jo and their kids Rocco and Reuben (Rocco is also my godson), with the banner below, which provided a great boost, especially as news had reached us that Michael was now 10 minutes ahead!

From Kirk Michael to Ballaugh and then on to Jurby we really put our foot down, but didn't seem to be getting any closer to Michael with reports on the gap to him being anywhere between 9-11 minutes. I was still feeling really good and knew there was more left in the tank than at the previous point in 2011. On the approach to the turn off at Jurby Church we got a very brief glimpse of Michael, who had already checked in and was on the road passed the prison. Approaching Jurby my Garmin watch had started constantly buzzing and telling me that the memory was full and I need to delete some of the history. This was particularly annoying and I should have checked beforehand. The photo below is off me taking the watch off to hand to James to try and sort out, whilst telling him to make sure he didn't press the stop/start button.

After Jurby you have the long stretch to Bride, which seems to go on and on, but this year it flew by and Kyley joined me at this point. Kyley has done my support for the last 5 years for both this race and the likes of the End to End and Sara Killey, so knows what I want and when I want it can can also see when I am suffering or need a boost. Another bonus was due to the cooler weather and rain, the black flies that have plagued everyone over the last couple of years were nowhere to be seen. We got a lot of mixed updates on this section ranging from 12 minutes behind to 3 1/2 minutes. Where the 3 1/2 came from I don't know, as on arriving at Bride I was disappointed to find out we had lost further time and the gap had increased again to 13 minutes and we both thought that was it and we would be fighting for second place. However, Vinny made a point of telling Sean his record was going to go today - nothing like a bit of confidence! Between Bride and Andreas Vinny was struggling a little (don't know if he reconsidered his record-breaking thoughts at all) and I opened up a gap of about 100 metres on this quick leg. I always find it is a good time to relax a little and conserve a little energy before pushing on towards Lezayre. 

At Andreas Church Vinny had closed the gap a little and looked like he had pulled through his bad patch, so I expected him to catch back up shortly afterwards, which he duly did. It was then than Tony Mepham from Manx Radio told us Michael had been unwell and had stopped for a massage, bringing the gap down to 8 1/2 minutes. I still didn't believe we could catch him, but there was still hope. From this point to Lezayre Church we knocked off some really quick miles and arrived there around 5 1/2 minutes down. Coming out of Ramsey I took a bit of a breather up the steady climb and then picked up on the descent on the way to Maughold, before another uphill drag before reaching the village.

At the check-in we were now just over 4 minutes down and the race was on! Coming out the village there was a barbecue and the smell left me feeling a little queasy, which wasn't the ideal preparation before the difficult slog up Ballajora. As we passed by the farm gates at the foot of the hill Michael's dog was standing there guarding them. If you read one of my earlier blogs you may recall a training walk we had done on this part of the course and a few months back, where Vinny, Dave W and I had left Michael at the bottom of the Ballajora, only for him to be harassed by the dog, resulting in a quick escape to avoid being savaged. Fortunately for Michael this time around the dog left him alone.

This climb and the one up to Hibernia on to the main coast road took a lot out of me and if you see Murray's video on the Parish Walk website that is probably evident. At this point we both said "lets really go for it now and reel Michael in" and posed the idea of finishing together. Given the difficult climb and how I was feeling I started to have a few negative thoughts, as my energy levels had completely dipped and I really felt like I was finished; however, the I knew the next mile or so were downhill, so my plan was just to try and hang in there. At the Dhoon School I wasn't feeling much better, whereas Vinny was storming ahead and a gap started to open. The next couple of miles were torture, as I just tried to keep in touch, but could feel my chances slowly slipping away. I was still getting closer to Michael, but Vinny was pulling away. Kyley stopped and filled my up with soup and I had a gel, but said I thought I was finished. Her response was "just get over yourself" - nothing like a bit of encouragement, but it was the kick up the arse I needed and from the Dhoon cafe I started my fight back.

From the Bulgham rocks into Laxey I knocked off two sub 9:20 miles and Vinny was getting closer. Michael was also only 2 minutes ahead, but reports were he was in particularly good shape. I caught Vinny by the Isle of Man bank in Laxey and it was then we agreed we would put everything into one final burst and if we passed Michael we would finish together. Vinny turned to me and quoted the Sir Alex Ferguson by saying "it's squeaky bum time"! As we headed towards the turn off to Lonan, I slipped and fell (see my war wounds below, but the more painful one was my ribs), but as I said in my last blog Vinny stopped and made sure I was okay, before we continued the chase. As we started the climb towards Lonan church, someone shouted that the gap was 40 seconds and we could clearly see Michael up head and I knew it was only a matter a time. We passed each other, going in opposite directions, just after he checked in and he smiled/grimaced and said "you b******s". We pushed our dibbers in at the church and the gap was a mere 25 seconds.

As we we turned back on to the main road John Watterson was a couple of hundred metres ahead and got the shot of the 3 of us that was on the front of yesterday's IOM Examiner. The roads were really wet at this point and I couldn't believe the amount of people either out in front of their houses or passing in cars, as there was real congestion as we motored on into Baldrine. Michael had stayed with us down the descent and was hanging on up the other side as well. My thoughts turned to Douglas promenade, as I knew in an out and out race, Michael would have too much pace, so I dug in again. Vinny had the bit between his teeth and from here until the top of Whitebridge we really hammered it. Having said that, at Onchan church Michael still wasn't that far behind and the visions of getting passed on the promenade returned.

As we passed the Queens Hotel Michael was no longer visible and thoughts then turned towards Sean's record. Vinny, the human stopwatch, knew exactly where we were up to and said to me we would beat it by 5 minutes, but I wasn't so sure so was really pushing it - I felt stronger then, than at anytime in the previous 20 miles. We needn't have worried too much about the timings, as the Mackey family gave Vinny and I updates about every 10 seconds on where we were in comparison to the record.

The last 100 metres were unbelievable and given the weather the turn out of people at the finish was fantastic. To cross the line as joint winner of the Parish Walk in record time and with Vinny - someone I have spent hours training with, is something I will never forget and feel proud to have been involved in the race. As I have said before it would not have been the same race without Michael's grit and determination and the record would not have gone, as I certainly wouldn't have walked that fast without someone really stretching things out at the front.

Congratulations to all that took part, everyone involved in the organisation and the sponsors. Hopefully there was a lot of money raised for local causes as well. I'm now off to try and cobble together a quick speech before this evening, so see you later.


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