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!