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.