Well Blogophiles, this is it. The next time I blog it will be from cloud 99 or from under a cloud and most of you will be feeling extremely sore, yet I hope we will have the satisfaction of having achieved our goals.
I have been planning to write this preview for a long time but typically have left it until the very last minute. Many times, I have mulled over what I would write and the phrases I would use. One of them was going to be: 'It's a long time since I actually managed to get a long distance walk right.' However, the truth is that having thought about this, I never have. All my 'ultra' walks have been beset by problems and I have never quite managed the 'even effort' which we all should aim for. Last year, despite finishing third was probably the worst ever, when my support crew came so close to 'Throwing in the towel' and calling for an ambulance when due to dehydration and failing with my feeding, I became very disorientated and almost collapsed at Andreas. They almost caught my 'meltdown' on camera as I was just about to 'hit the wall' but was saved by my back-up Nigel Armstrong who was ironically described on the commentary as 'A judge giving me a warning.'
That is one thing that I would like to clear up once and for all. The fact is that I was spoken to at Dalby Mountain by Graham Young, the chief judge and he said, 'You aremaking contact (i.e. totally legal) but I'm going to warn you unofficially to be very careful and make sure you get in a good long stride when you go down 'Glen Rushen.'' And then he watched me nearly every step of the way for about 6 miles.
There was another period towards Lonan when apparently 'Race Control' received a complaint about my walking from person unknown and I was told by someone in a marshal's top to 'Watch my walking' as I approached the church UPHILL! This could have put me off my stride but I was fortunate enough to have had Marie Jackson, an experienced racewalker and also a judge as the other member of my support team and with her encouragement was able to have confidence in my technique. That said, I was still unable to catch Ray Pitts.
Before I step down from the 'Dock/Witness Stand, Soapbox,' I would also like to point out that I have since competed in 'A' standard* races in Holland, England and in front of our own 'International Judge,' Steve Taylor and have not yet been even close to being disqualified. You should see me trying to type while gripping the desk for all its worth.
I hope you haven't fallen asleep before I actually came around to my thoughts on the race itself. Once again my opinion has changed as we approached the big day. A few months ago, I was beginning to see the challenge as 'just' beating Robbie. Since then Peter Kaneen has entered, Jock Waddington has supplemented his obvious talent with greater fitness and then Sean Hands who I was beginning think was a spent force after his early bath in 2007 and his subsequent non-appearance at any of the winter races has obviously put a lot more work in this year. His relaxed and confident manner in Murry's interview had precisely the opposite effect on me.
In some ways, I wonder if we can draw an analogy between Sean and a boxer. 'They never come back' was the old saying and there must be a similar fear about putting your body through it again after a couple of years absence. However, I believe he has the temperament to overcome this and I now see him as the 'favourite' to accomplish a repeat performance of his 2006 triumph. One man whose mental or physical strength can never be questioned is Robbie Callister and while I do not foresee him ever going much faster than he has already due to the limitations of his style, whoever is challenging him knows that they have to put in a really exceptional performance to beat him.
My gut feeling is that even if Peter Kaneen crosses the start line, he doesn't really possess the background fitness this year that is required for the magnitude that is the Parish Walk. He has not been on form even on the shorter distances (though still quicker than me) and I can't really see this translating into victory come Saturday night. One man who has been in top form and peak condition is Jock Waddington who despite being given little chance by other pundits, even being described as a comparitive novice last year in one piece. It is rough justice that he has been laid low with a cold over the past few days, yet he told me last night that his appetite has been unaffected and could he possibly still be a contender, though I suspect that his misfortune may just take the edge off his chances of glory.
Me personally? I've gone through the worrying whether I've concentrated on endurance enough or should I have tapered for my 50k race, thereby losing valuable training opportunities and whether I could have managed a few more decent sessions in the last two months instead of trying to sort my groin injury and am now just looking forward to enjoying the day. My plan is to sit in behind Robbie and Sean, get quite close at Rushen before letting them pull out a bigger lead over the Sloc. Last year I wasn't nearly patient enough and put in a huge effort to reel Robbie in on the approach to Peel and suffered the consequences. If I am able to stay in touch, I imagine, Sean will be hoping to make the break in the area between Kirk Michael and Bride and I will try and join Robbie and keep Sean within striking distance. The idea is to sail into the lead toward the end of the race, me being the fastest man with a chance of victory at that stage, though I know only too well how speed can be blunted by distance and am very well aware of the power and iron will of both of those fine athletes.
I really don't see the point of me trying for third place again and if the opportunity does present itself, I intend to go for victory even if it ends in humiliation but that said; I still have to use my brain and must be aware of many different scenarios that may arise besides the one I have imagined.
My expectation is that battle behind the lead from 5th place in the men's will be between Alan Cowin,Martijn Biesmans, Terry Moffatt, Chris Cale, Andrew Titley and perhaps Michael Shipsides.
Try your best to beat them (but not me.)
If you're walking tomorrow, I wish you the best of luck and if you're spectating, assisting or officiating I hope that you don't get too wet and enjoy a not too exciting race that I win quite easily. Unfortunately, that is more of a dream than an expectation.