Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Setting the Scene

Thanks for all the wishes before the trip. You see the 'comment' thingy does work after all!

After quite a rough start to our journey, the swell died down half way across the Irish Sea and we were on our way to the race with only a couple of sickbags coming into use.

Having landed in Heysham, Stockton proved very easy to get to and even after a break for lunch in Kirkby Steven, we were there in less than three hours.

The weather had really improved and we wandered around Yarm, a very pleasant village nearby in shirt sleeves, even stopping for a drink outside by the river. Sparkling water and orange juice for Marie Jackson and me while I jealously observed Paul and Irene quaffing their beer.

Marie doesn't change her diet too much but tries to eat well, on this occasion plumping for the fish and I had a nearly vegetarian pasta meal as we had our pre race dinner in a local italian restaurant.

After a fitful sleep, breakfast at nine for me consisted of cornflakes with milk and porridge with muesli and yoghurt. Apparently, porridge is a slow burning carbo-hydrate and therefore ideal before long distance walks.

The race was at eleven o'clock that morning and the rain was falling quite steadily in the lead up to the race, so we didn't want to get to the venue too early and they had arranged for the signing-on to be done at a local sports club, meaning at least we'd stay dry before the start.

It was held at Ropner Park which was originally donated to the town by a german who had settled locally. It was neglected in the past but has been beautifully restored in recent years and is a fine place to hold a racewalk.

The lap chosen was 1.17k in length which I know would drive some people crazy circulating 42 times but it meant that the feed stations came around quite quickly.

There were a couple of areas where the walking surface was a little rough and the hill that had been mentioned beforehand was a little more testing than we'd thought, it would be but surely no obstacle to seasoned Parish Walkers.

Friday, 25 April 2008

National 50k Preview

On Sunday, in Stockton-on-Tees, Redcar Walking Club who have in recent years produced Beijing hopeful, Johanna Jackson and Ben Wears who recently starred over here at the Bowl in his first ever 20k race, are hosting the National 50k Road Racewalking Championship.

Although by Parish Walk standards, the entry of 31 seems paltry, it does actually represent a good improvement on recent years despite lacking the King twins who are currently No.1 and No.2 in the rankings.

In the Women's race, to my mind, favourite has to be our own Marie Jackson who has the pedigree to challenge champion, Maureen Noel and the other leading ladies if she gets it right on the day.

The current holder of the Men's title is Scott Davies who has won this event for the past three years and there is nobody in this race who would seem to be of his calibre.

Second place is very much up for grabs and with Steve Hollier not making an appearance, the leading contenders would seem to be Paul Evenett, Glen Blythman and Michael George (that's me for those slow on the uptake)

Paul came to the Island for the Manx Open in March when he didn't really have the best of days as we had a very good battle, with me holding him off quite easily as he tried to pass me on the last lap. However, since then, he has been on fire with another 20k of 97 mins and a 10k last weekend of 46:45. Although, I would expect him to beat me on Sunday, he has been disqualified and not finished in the only two 50k races I can find record of him entering, so there is still a question mark over his stamina.

Local man, Glen Blythman, I am told is expected to do very well and though his race c.v.times wouldn't suggest anything special, I believe he has targeted this race for a long time and you wouldn't bet too heavily against the Redcar Stable.

For the lower placings, Ian Richards, the amazing Arthur Thomson who is 70 years old! and John Constandinou should feature.

I'm hoping to finish in about 4:50 depending on the weather.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Just Do It!

Well, I am not starting to become nervous about my forthcoming 50k race on Sunday. I've been nervous for at least three weeks already.

In fact, I'm utterly terrified. In case you didn't already know or have forgotten, in my last two long distance races, the Parish Walk and the Dutch National 50k, my challenge ended when I hit the infamous 'Wall' and finished as the PW Sky Programme demonstrates, talking like a boxer who'd become too well acquainted with Floyd Mayweather's gloves.

This time, I'm fitter and I've spent the winter working on my technique to try and ensure I waste as little energy as possible. My race results have been excellent, the training has gone well. Mr. Hempsall seems to have fixed my injuries and all that's left of the cold is a loose cough and yet.......? When you've tried your hardest and been found wanting, it's still a leap into the unknown.

I'm off the booze and I've stopped eating fat and protein. The race is planned and I have a fair idea what I'll consume on the day. It seems like months since I last broke some serious sweat and there's nothing more I can really do but go and race.

So stop being a moaning Michael, relax enjoy the event and only worry about things you can influence.

By the way, May 3rd may be National Idiot Day but Wed 23rd April was Arsey Blogger Day. Actually, it's now run into two days because if you think one comment yesterday and two over the previous five months is enough, you can get stufffed (whoops it's aberrant 'f' ing day as well!)

P.S. I don't understand hosthe times and dates work on these blog things either

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

How to Cheat at Athletics - Without Pharmaceutical Assistance

There's an old saying that there's no short cuts in athletics but I reckon I came close to discovering it in 2006.

The Grand Plan? Run the London Marathon to get fit for the Parish Walk to STAY fit for the 100 miles and to stagger the End to End if there was anything left.

Until recently, I've never really been that keen on training and when I first drifted into the sport at the end of 2003, my idea of a schedule was to try and run myself into the ground playing football on a Monday, possibly going out for a half hour dash around the houses in my neighbourhood and entering as many races as I could.

Although I have known, Murray since our now 22 year old lads were at Ballaquayle Infants School, I didn't really know what he did in his leisure(?) time and in honesty, I fully expected to beat the old chap when I ran my first cross country around Port St. Mary Golf Course in that year.

By 2006 though, I was starting to take things a little more seriously but I still didn't do long training runs for two reasons: firstly because I used to get very sore knees and secondly because I didn't think I could find the time.

The decision to run in London and completing the Manx Marathon made me realise that I was going to have to put some real effort in and I started to join Murray's training group every Wednesday for such delights as Belmont Hill eight times, twelve repeats up past Summerhill to Port Jack and 5,6 and 8 x 1 mile at the N.S.C. As my companions in the group were all dedicated and talented runners, Nigel Armstrong, Paul Curphey, Mike Garrett and Andy Gosnell, there were times when this could be a little downheartening because it was a real struggle to keep up with them. Indeed Murray suggested that sometimes I ran less far or missed the odd repeat but I think he rather liked my reply, 'They're not going to make the Marathon any shorter for me.' and with the fillip that I had secured a Manx Harriers big race place, I gradually managed to close the gap to a respectable distance.

Things nearly came to a disappointing conclusion for me though when I ran a training marathon at the Ramsey Course on the Saturday, then 5 x 1 miles on the Wednesday and followed that up with the Island Cross Country Championships the next Sunday. My knees independently staged an immediate strike and despite cold baths, pleading and threatening their removal from the rest of my body, they refused to even comtemplate improving and I started to think that I would visit London as a spectator.

For all the years I thought I had a knee problem, I didn't really think anything could be done for them and I imagined that one day I would be reduced to a hobble. I think it was Bridget Kaneen that I have to thank for telling me that I was talking rubbish (not that she'd have said such a thing so gracelessly) and persuaded me to go and see someone.

So after a couple of weeks of inactivity, I had an appointment with an Aussie physiotherapist called Neil Sleeman who apparently practised in Sydney next door to an eminent knee specialist and within about 5 days, I was literally up and running again. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, all that was wrong was that my I.T. band was pulling my kneecap across and causing it to grate because my quadreceps were not strong enough.

Through March, I was able to manage two more long runs, including the 20 miles that never was and therefore, arrived in London in one piece but that was the sum total of my endurance training for the entire summer. The rest was all races; much more fun and now you know, 'How to Cheat at Athletics!'

The question now is whether you at some stage would like like to hear about the rest of my summer of 2006 or whether that will just bore you all to tears? Finally, I think I have found a way of eliciting some 'comments' because if you don't post anything back to me, I shall save myself the trouble of writing it.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

George Family get Up, Down and Dirty

Short on time tonight and may not complete this post in one go but went for a fantastic walk today which I can thoroughly recommend for anyone who does running or walking but gets bored on the N.S.C. OR roads.

Park up in Glen Maye village. Head off down the Glen Rushen road and then fork right when you get to the 'Bayr ny Skeddyn.' Fork right again and go up towards Creg ny Crook, through the plantation and then cross the Parish Course bearing a little right and aim for Eary Cushlin. Although you are heading away from Nyarbyl press on towards Lag ny Keilley until you get very close to the Sea and then turn right following the 'Raad ny Foillan' until you reach the Cafe.

That took Terence 10y/o, Irene and me 2:12 minutes and then after a feed, Irene went to get the car in about 40 mins while we went rock climbing.

The maximum height was 250m, distance to Cafe 10k. Scenery stupendous and a great chance to work the c.v. and the muscles if not to develop technique. Do it when you can!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Broken Dream? Broken Leg More Like

Because of his improvement over the last couple of years, one of the big surprises to me was that Paul Renshaw only managed a 4 hour marathon in London on Sunday.

I was worried that perhaps it was his unique tapering method that had done for him i.e. a 42.5 mile walk only seven days before the event.

He was at the presentation for the walk last night, sporting a brilliant multicoloured hair creation and I asked him if his run had not gone according to plan or was that always his intention to run at that pace.

Apparently, he was on course for three hours but the pain became too great and he had to slow down. Eventually, he limped over the line and had to visit the ambulance where he was told that he had a fracture. What's more it wasn't an injury that had only just occurred, meaning that he had done the full marathon with a broken bone!

They're tough these Ramsey lads, you know.

'Bloody Crackers They Are'

Two of our regular lunchtime visitors, a couple of retired gentlemen arrived a little too early for their meal today and decided to sit and wait in their car.

'What them two fellas in black and yellow dooin' goen up'n'down the hill. They went up the one time with their hands up in the air. Some sort o' Parish Walk training is it?'

'Er, I'm not sure.'

'Bloody craackers, they are!'


Take a bow Mark Hempsall, recent joint winner of the 'Seven Stations Challenge' and Dave Mackey doing repeats on Mona Drive (The Arches) as part of their hill session today.

Gambling - It's a Mug's Game

How can you hedge your bets on a two horse race and end up losing twice? Read on.

Last night was the presentation for the Sarah Killey Memorial Walk and I'd love to give you a detailed report but unfortunately, the demand outstripped the size of the room at the The Cat with No Tail and I was unable to see or hear any of the details, having produced my usual party trick of arriving late (People who know me well. Don't worry. I didn't back it up with my encore of falling asleep.)

However, they did briefly adjourn outside and I was able to get the couple of snaps featured on this post.

While my reputation was on the feet of Mark (see earlier preview of race,) my money or to be more accurate my bottle of Wolfblass red wine was on Jock as I had accepted a wager with the aforementioned 'Conan the Destroyer,' of Manx walking, otherwise known as Mr. Hempsall.

I could nearly taste my first glass as I saw Mark disappear into the distance like a bat out of hell at the start and indeed I'd almost drained the bottle when despite his best efforts he'd failed to break away on the last of the hills. Metaphorically, I sat back on my sofa, lit my cigar and waited for Jock to switch into 'race walking mode' and leave 'Conan,' in his wake to plan his raid on the off-licence. And... he didn't. They were both step to step right up to the finish and to be frank, they both deserved a bottle of wine for their thrilling encounter. See below.

(Picture by Terence George)

Sunday, 13 April 2008

I Was Careful What I wished For

Great picture of Nigel Armstrong on Manx Athletics. He really doesn't seem to understand that you're supposed to be out on your feet and wobbling all over the place after running a 2:53 Marathon but he looks so fresh, I'm sure he could have gone on to do the two laps as according to Murray's spoof.

After at least two years knocking on the door of a sub three hour Marathon, Mark Clague has well and truly burst through with his 2:53.

I am very honoured that Nigel has agreed to help me during the Parish Walk for the third year and that Mark is also chipping in to back me up this year.

Well done also to the exotically named, Max Bezance who was the fastest man with Manx connections and all the other runners who competed yesterday.

About 3 or four weeks before Christmas, I said to Irene, my wife that I could do with getting a cold as I hadn't had one for ages. Marital relations have never quite been the same since as she went into some length about what a stupid pessimistic doom monger I was to be so idiotic as to wish that upon myself.

Finally, five months late, the aforementioned cold has arrived. My head hurts, my throat is sore, my nostrils well and truly bunged up. My ever present groin strain has also developed into a full grown pull and my right foot has problems with the tendons.

So says she, 'Are you happy now you're ill?' I grunted fairly non-committedly but for fear of her thinking I'm even more barmy than she already does, I didn't reveal the true extent of my feelings.

I'm ecstatic! The timing could not be better! I have a full 13 days left to recover before my 50k walk and it would be extremely unusual for me to contract another disease before the Parish Walk. It also means that I'm unlikely to overtrain during this taper period, so if there was a time to pick up an injury, this is it (during the last month before the race, make sure you don't work too hard so that you feel fresh for the big day.)

So, for now it's back to moaning about how rotten I feel. Time to break out another lemsip and pretend to be really miserable.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Superb Race

Keeping up the theme of my last post, I really wanted to report on Sunday's race earlier in the week but failed miserably to find the time.

I was lucky enough to witness first hand a magnificent race in the Sarah Killey Memorial Walk. Driving down for the start, we could tell it was a cold morning but the really worrying aspect was that we could actually see the snow falling on Port Erin and Port St. Mary and sure enough, when we arrived at the start, the roads and pavements were covered in the 'white stuff.'

One person who didn't seem to be affected by the temperature was Mark Hempsall who set a blisteringly hot pace right from the slightly delayed start. He was followed at a little distance by Alan Cowin who was walking in his first race since 2006 Parish Walk, then Sean Hands, myself and Jock Waddington.

The speed was in excess of 6mph and it was very doubtful that Mark would be able to maintain such high cadence and so it proved when he was reeled in by the chasing pack by Castletown.

At this point in the race, Sean Hands and I moved to the front of the field in the safe knowledge that we were stopping in Peel but the action was still well poised with Mark, Jock and Alan in close company. The conditions although now mainly dry were very cold with a biting wind in our faces, making the ascent up the Ballamodha Straight very testing. At least this year, we could see where we were going as opposed to in the inaugural event when visibility was severely reduced, although balancing that advantage was the fact that you see it rising up to a height of 200m, the distance nearly as far as the horizon.

Sean seems to be making a welcome return to full fitness after a couple of quiet years and indeed I was unable to maintain his pace, blowing up completely on the Patrick Road and finishing a good five minutes behind his 2hours 47 minutes to the third station.

Marie Jackson finished strongly to overtake the lads in her last long training session before her 50k debut 27th April for which I feel she should now have great confidence.

Mark had worked hard to try to shake Jock off up the long drag into Foxdale but only succeeded in dropping Alan.

At this stage, Darren Mealin was the surprise package on his walking debut?, only a few minutes behind with Sue Biggart, followed by Alan Kinvig, Andy Green, Ian Wakely, Debbie Storry, Pete Betteridge and a host of others still in contention for the minor places.

Hempsall and Waddington continued to stretch their lead into and after Kirk Michael and by this stage Tony Okell and Marie Gilbertson were also coming to the fore.

By Ramsey, you just had the feeling that something had to give between the two main protagonists, yet despite a scare with Mark's hamstrings which turned out to be minor cramps quickly cured with Diuralite, they remained inseperable.

As expected, Sue Biggart withdrew and the running order had settled with Alan Cowin still in third, Ian Wakely fourth, Andy Green looking extremely stylish in fifth, Darren Mealin still an excellent sixth place, Tony Okell seventh with Marie Gilbertson first lady and 8th overall.

In a titanic battle between Jock's easy walking style and Mark's powerhouse performance this was the way it remained. I had expected Mark to perhaps pull away on the hill up to the Rest and Be Thankful but his electric start seemed to have taken too much out of him and eventually I was quite surprised that Jock didn't use his race walking technique to pull away over the last mile or so.

It must also be said that both men were remarkably restrained when passing two louts were heckling and waving lager under their noses at the Liverpool Arms. It came as a great relief to Dave Mackey and me that neither of us choked on our beer; a wish that Jock had fervently hoped for.

Tony Okell overhauled Darren Mealen in the closing stages and Andy Green used his style to put Ian Wakely under pressure but the former resisted, finishing two minutes ahead of the Castle Rushen School Teacher.

Congratulations to all walkers and the Fire and Rescue Service whose organisation was excellent throughout.

Keepy Uppy Bloggy

According to Monday or Tuesday's Daily Mail, there is apparently a new condition afflicting a portion of the population:

Pressure to update your blog!

Certainly, I think I'm a victim of this latest mental, medical fad but there just aren't enough hours in the day. What you really need is the likes of Dave Mackey, who chimed in with a witty aside about why I hadn't blogged lately. Well listen, Pal this is number 39, compared with your measly 22 last year, so stuff you! I wonder is one of the symptoms unreasonable mood swings and aggression to innocent comments?

So on one front, I'm losing grip with reality due to the travails of being ready to compete in this year's race and on the other I have the pressure cooker of writing about it.

Oh well, most people you meet, say you'd have to be mad to walk 85 miles and therefore, on that score, I think I'm just about ready for the task.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Lets Give Sarah a Fitting Memorial

Had I been less idiotic, the career for me would surely have been sports journalism. What more can a man (or lady for that matter) ask for than to travel the world watching football, cricket, rugby, athletics etc. AND getting paid for it.

So I thought I'd have a go at a preview for Sunday's Sarah Killey Memorial Walk, formerly known as Seven Stations Challenge. Apart from Peter McElroy informing the world that it's on the wrong date, it seems to have been totally ignored by the media, though I'm not certain they have all received the entry list.

The other excuse for the newspapers is that it's very difficult write about this when you don't know how far everyone intends to walk. However, using my network of contacts (as a professional journalist, I never reveal my source) I think I have a fair idea of who's going where.

Of the top walkers, I can see in the entry list, rumour has it that Sean Hands, Chris Cale, Marie Jackson, Sue Biggart are not, like me completing the full course while Ray Pitts and Dave Mackey are believed to be injured.

The two outstanding favourites in my opinion, are Mark Hempsall and Jock Waddington and what a battle it would seem to be. A true contrast of styles: Mark the ultimate 'PowerWalker,' Jock, the stylish 'Race Walker.' They had a very good dice in last year's End to End and despite some initial concerns over Mark's technique, he settled down to finish the deserved victor in the race behind Robbie. Since then, Jock has had a succession of P.B.s culminating with a blistering 5k last Thursday night when he dipped under 24 minutes for the first time (incidentally that's 6 seconds better than mine, so I might have to leg him up on Sunday.)

On the other hand, Mark hasn't raced since his second place breakthrough walk, concentrating instead on his base fitness in preparation for events such as this one.

At any distance up to 20 miles, I think Jock would emerge in front but I believe that Mark's extra fitness will triumph over his superior technique.

Behind them could be also interesting with Alan Cowin and Terry Moffatt also having excellent Parish pedigree. Andy Green and Vinny may also feature, though I'm not sure that they have enough miles on the road on this occasion.

Although I haven't spoken to Tony Okell since I noticed his Parish Walk entry, I cannot see an athlete of his calibre just making up the numbers, though I have no idea what to expect.

The Ladies race is even more difficult to predict but I anticipate Terri Salmon and Marie Gilbertson will be the main protagonists though Bethany Clague seems to be competing in every endurance race known to man at present. It will also be nice to see Maureen Cox take a well earned break (ha ha, change is as good as a rest) from judging duties.

Fingers crossed Adrian Cowin's arranged for good weather, so good luck and see you there.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Brian Goldsmith

If anyone does not also read the Manx Athletics main site, they may be still unaware of the untimely passing of Brian Goldsmith. Reading the various contributions to the Forum and the Tribute Page, I realised how little I really knew Brian but as with many other people, I also felt that I had a special bond with him.

He always had a word of encouragement for me both when in my early racewalking days he was passing me and latterly when I was overtaking him. He was always keen for us to train together, particularly on Friday nights when the traditionally very quiet, although we didn't quite manage to meet up quite as often as intended.

After the death of my father, he and Sandy were very friendly towards my mother at the Villa Marina dancing as she sought to rebuild her life.

One day, my son Terence had an accident in Peel and Brian and Dougie Allen helped us and nothing was too much trouble.

In his professional life, he was always available to offer any advice with V.A.T. matters which such an advantage when many civil servants make you feel somewhat intimidated.

It still seems incredible that along with many others, I saw him on Good Friday at the 10k in Port Erin and he was in fine form despite the cold weather.

I'm sure that all the walking and general athletics community will miss him greatly and hope our sympathy will offer some comfort to Sandy and his family.