By the time 2004 Parish Walk came about, I was established on the Manx Athletic scene as a midfield Cross Country and road runner. After finishing my first walk (I still didn't really consider myself to be in a race,) the End to End in September 2003 in a blistering 9:30ish, I decided that I should follow up on the smattering of talent I'd shown at school for cross country twenty odd years ago.
I'd actually won the school race in 1980 and put down my defeat/absolute trouncing to Russell Collister a year later down to a bad day at the office or perhaps something to do with all the naughty substances I was abusing at the time. I'd always considered myself as a bit of a handy runner who just didn't fancy the pain, so it was a little bit of a shock to me to be beaten so comprehensively by so many people on my return two decades later, as I thought myself to be very fit, from playing 1&1/2 hours of football every week.
When June came around, I had started to do basic running training as well as my football and I had what I thought was a pretty good plan for the race depite not really having done any walking practice besides a few 2 hours with the family off road on a Sunday. By this stage, I had started to tell people that I was going to finish this time, although I didn't really discuss it very thoroughly with Irene.
Grand Plan: Walk with Irene to Peel at approximately 4 miles per hour, then meet Barry Needham who I'd arranged to back me up overnight and up the pace to the finish to 5 or 6 miles per hour to the finish in about 19 hours.
It all seemed so simple for a fit young(ish) lad like me and I'd even had a side bet with Peter Thor, that he was going to double his charity money (Mighty Oak Appeal was all the rage in those days) if I finished in under 20 hours but the enormity of the mental aspect of the task was starting to kick in by the time I reached Glen Willyn.
I didn't know him in those days but Gordon Corran pulled over and warned me that what I thought was my race walking technique down the hill was more of a jog and that I should just calm down because I had plenty of time.
Settle down I did but I was still a man on a mission, trying to catch all the people I'd let go in the early stages of the race and it was probably a good thing for me that I managed to draw level with Angie Southern and Kuba Szymanski and was able to talk for a while at not such a break neck pace (Not that my neck is very strong.) They lasted until Ballaugh and Jurby respectively and then once again, I was on my own. Despite the fact that I was working very hard, I was a little peeved to note that I was no longer catching the lad just ahead of me and once again, my strength of mind came in to doubt. He was obviously feeling the same way because eventually he stopped and waited for me.
The course of our conversation turned to what we did for a living and it turned out that Barry Bridson was an airport fireman. Using diplomatic skills honed over the previous 39 years, I blurted out, 'You're not the fella that turned the engine over the other week are you?' And if you are reading this now, Barry I apologise again for then and another time for resurrecting the story.
He must be an easy going lad because he didn't punch me or walk off in a huff. Apart from the little mirage that is set for first time parish walkers i.e. the 'Welcome to Bride' sign that's about 450 miles away from the Church, another factor of my lack of preparation was coming to light or more appropriately dark. Yes 'Brains' here hadn't actually considered that to go wandering around the Manx countryside at night, it would be a marked advantage to be able to see!
I think perhaps this is getting a little long and I may be boring you, so for those getting comatose from my turgid prose, I'll give you blessed relief if you've stuck it this far. For the 'Blogaholics,' I'll leave you wanting more (You may be the sort of person more likely to finish the race actually) dangling by a thread on the Northern Plain.
Part two to follow
What not to follow:
1. Its probably not a good idea to make up your preparations as you go along, even if you're feeling a bit silly in case you don't finish. Remember better athletes than you (unless you're Tony Okell) have failed to get to the end but planning properly might just help you get there.
2. The first part of my pace plan was fine. It's certainly no shame to do 32 miles at four miles an hour and many an old stager will say, 'The Race doesn't start until Peel' but if you are increasing the speed do it gradually and don't panic by thinking that you must suddenly go as quickly as you can.
3. Me in the dark. Buy a head torch! With the hand held variety, the light is always moving around and even if you don't find it a nuisance to carry, it's going to be a real handicap when you want to eat and drink.