Well done to all of you who competed this year in the worst ever conditions (or so I am led to believe.) As I have not stopped saying all week, the sensible ones stopped at Rushen and to even reach the top of the 'Sloc' in that foul weather, was a major achievement in my opinion. If it was tough for the walkers, at least we were on the move. We should all take our hats off and bow to the marshals and officials who stayed at their posts when desertion would have led not even the hardest of hearts to call for their execution.
That 122 competitors finished, I thought was remarkable and the list of superb performances would be too long to type out here but I should mention Jock, Robbie and Maurice as they all trounced me, Sue Biggart who I I think would have beaten me and even threatened Maurice's third place had she not valiantly gone for the record. My own team mate, Dave Mackey was the fastest first time finisher and Marie Jackson with whom I did much of my training before I lost my momentum, somehow made it into 16th place and was surely the lightest finisher in the top twenty and perhaps in the race.
For me, everything was going perfectly well and according to plan. At the bottom of Ballakillowey, I was only about a hundred yards behind Jock and feeling in great form. Even at the top of that most difficult climb, I was still within two minutes of him despite not feeling that I had not put a great deal of effort into the ascent. I did drop back slightly further on the approach to the bottom of the Sloc but I could still see Sean already high up, Robbie at the base and Jock still within striking distance.
When I turned the corner, I did begin to struggle but I still was positive, thinking everyone else would be in the same boat. It was when the Sloc began to even out into a gentle hill that I should have regained my technique and pressed on but the strength just wasn't there and every time I tried to move up into my racing form, the wind would blow me off and I'd have to stroll along for a while and then begin again.
By the time I'd made it to the Round Table, I felt dreadful. The pain in my groin that I'd taken time off training trying to fix returned and my back was hurting. To ensure I felt thoroughly miserable, I was now 6 minutes behind Jock with Sue catching me fast.
Even on the downhill sections, I couldn't find my rhythm and it was chastening coming into Dalby, thinking I was really starting to motor when Sue overtook me! This is a tribute to the way she has concentrated on the technical aspects over the winter but at the time didn't make me feel any happier.
The excuses started to infiltrate my mind and I had more or less decided that I was going to quit at Peel. My back up, Nigel Armstrong was less than sympathetic, lets face it only a week earlier he'd ran two Marathons uphill and assured me despite my protestations it was too early for one, that this was just a bad patch and I'd come through soon.
Tactics now became essential. Not the ones that I should have been working on i.e. how to get back in the race but how could I convince Nigel that I needed to give up and go home. True romantic that he is, he'd met a young lady triathlete on his Comrades Marathon in South Africa and invited her to the Island to spend a weekend of love, watching a wimp like me, in the pouring rain and howling wind try to yellow belly my way out of the Parish. Surely, he'd just take the opportunity to whisk her off to a quiet warm restaurant and ply her with wine before making his advances. Not a bit of it! He was staying out there, so was she and that meant me too!
My one last clutch at the swinging straw was the 5,000m I'd been invited to walk at in Birmingham. I was going to save myself by retiring at German, so I'd be capable of recording a good time at the U.K. Athletics meeting. Nigel gave that short shrift too, reminding me what I'd been training for all this time.
The only thing I could do, my devious little mind concluded was throw in the towel at Patrick and then Nigel wouldn't find out until later! The only thing was that there was no nice hot car, steaming cup of tea or nice warm pub there and before I knew it, I'd been dibbed and off I went.
By the time I reached Ballaugh, I'd recovered somewhat and was quite amazed to hear that Jock had overtaken Robbie and despite all my travails, I was only about 18 minutes behind the latter man. Finally, I overtook Maurice and had Sue within about 20m on the approach to Jurby.
Remember early in this series, I told you that I was careful what I wished for? This time I'd told Nigel that he had to bully me into taking food and whilst also giving great encouragement on my progress, he was making certain that I ate what he was giving me. Unfortunately, some months previously, I had bought a pack of energy food where you don't get to pick what the flavours are. Unfortunately, one of the things it contained was a banana flavoured bar and me being me, instead of making sure it got the full treatment in the waste disposal or incinerator left it in the bottom of my bag and half of it had now been supplied to me and was sitting in my hand. Agonisingly slowly, I nibbled it until I was left with the tiniest piece. Absolutely disgusting but finally I disappeared that last morsel....for all of two seconds. My party piece was back and I threw up three times, losing all that hard fought ground in the process. Despite the diuralyte and whatever else Nigel gave me, about half an hour later ,I had another big slump in energy levels caused by the vomiting.
Once again though I was again on the up and by the top of Bride Hill, when faced by the race walker's paradise which is the long gentle slope down to Andreas, I was really able to power past Maurice and catch Sue who had been about 200m in front. By now, we were really paddling in the huge puddles, Sue trying to navigate between them with me just following due to the lack of wipers on my specs.
More good news. Robbie was down to 12 minutes in front by Sulby Bridge and with Sean already in retirement, I was feeling confident of being able to catch him up and perhaps even exert some pressure on Jock.
With Sue just in front of me, we were fairly powering into Ramsey, yet just as everything was feeling fine, sickness hit me once again and I was doubled over four times on the way into Parliament Square. Nigel, who had been almost everpresent had gone for provisions and when I found Mark Clague who was acting as deputy, he had none of the rehydration stuff.
After that any thoughts I had of the win were finished. The timing was bad but I'm not sure whether I was in good enough shape to have challenged anyway. The whole of the walk down the East Coast was horrible and I think quite dangerous as well with visibility very poor.
Once again, I was searching for any excuse not to complete the job and I was trying to think of a way to escape. To my mind Sue was nearly as tired and not moving with any of her earlier zeal and I was on the verge of asking Ray Pitts (Sue Biggart's support) to call the Control to see if he could get the race stopped and offer to share third prize, when Maurice stormed past us as though we weren't moving and I had to forget about my ghastly double dealing to try and catch him. Although, I was able to open a gap I was able to maintain to Sue, I have to give Maurice the credit he deserves and there was no way I could catch him.
I have to say that by the time I finished, I was just glad to have completed the course. Definitely, never again!