Monday, 15 June 2015

At Richard's

I get out the car, still feeling a bit lost, and look around. The garden is beautiful, well kept green lawns and trees and kaleidoscopic views of a fairytale sunset all round. I gather my things together - my phone, a scrap of worn paper and a half-drunk bottle of red wine. I look around some more. Is this the right house?

Then I see Richard Wild perched on a picnic table on a patio some twenty or so steps away. He watches me as I cover that distance, the bottle of wine tucked under my arm, the other hand returning the affections of his dog as it jumps around my legs. There are greetings and how-do-you-dos before he shows me the view over the Point of Ayre that envelops the rear of the garden. Soon we are sat in an enclosed ornamental back garden beside a babbling pond, a glass of wine each and, I'm told, chips on the way.

'Yeah, I think I'm out the race,' I announce.
'What's wrong then, tell me what's wrong with your knees.'
'Ever since the Northern Ten, they've both had this nagging aching feeling that hasn't really got any better at all over the last five weeks.'
'But it's not a stabbing pain?'
'No - in fact, if it weren't for the Parish, I dare say I wouldn't notice it too much. But there's something wrong in there, and it seems like madness to start an eighty-five mile race on bad knees!'
'That would be a shame after all the training.'
'I know it's annoying. But I am holding out hope that they'll recover in time. In which case, I was going to ask you what you thought of this.'
I produce the scrap of worn paper - my training record. Until this evening it has lived mostly in the living room over the piano, next to the homemade map of the course that dominates the wall. I explain how the chart works and Richard ponders it for a moment.
'This looks like the sort of training that will leave you exhausted and knock your immune system out.'

He's certainly right about my immune system - there are large shaded out patches over the sheet of paper representing a number of bugs and infections that had me bedridden. He points to one of them and reads out the word 'Sick,' then looks at me.
'So nothing at all here?' he says, waving his finger over the shaded out area.
'Not a couple of miles here and there?'
'No, nothing.'
'And what's this here?' he asks regarding the whole shaded out area at the bottom fifth of the page.
'I've been trying to leave these knee's to recover. That last ten written there is the Northern Ten.'
'And since then nothing?'
He puts the sheet of paper down.
'You know most of us don't really go over twenty miles very often, because of the recovery time required... but you do it all the time and it seems to have been effective for you.'
'Yeah. But you don't think this is the right way necessarily?'
'Well it looks to me like you're doing too much on single walks, and yet your overall mileage is still too low.'
'So more shorter walks?'
'Well, yeah...'

He goes on to explain how he trains, and how some professionals he knows train. He outlines a form of discipline and structure that has never occurred to me. To me training to walk means walking, and walking is just walking. But as I listen to him I realise that he makes perfect sense - measured and meaningful distances with prescribed purposes, some working on speed others on endurance, still others working on recovery. He points to an average training day on my record again.
'See, I would only do this a couple of times a year, only really at events.'

We discuss plans for the race itself, how much we can expect to drop in speed towards the end, what will make sensible targets for us, how many really great walkers are in the race this year. And however well or badly trained I am, with shoddy knees I'm a non-starter anyway!
'You know what you should do,' he says, frankly, 'is go out for a walk. Do ten miles, at Parish pace, and see how they feel. If they get bad, you've got your answer'

I lean back and rub my right knee absent mindedly - it's throbbing slightly now. The sky is infinitely empty but for a faint and indeterminate wisp of white. I imagine that that wisp is the seed of an enormous change - that that wisp will grow and mutate until it has become a vast, deep grey sky of its own, laden with water and water, all tense and ready for the morning of the race. I look back at Richard in sunglasses sipping his wine. He's right of course, but now, as the left knee begins to throb a little as well, I worry that I already have my answer.

Monday, 1 June 2015


A panel of black light is just visible behind the curtains. Without looking at the alarm clock I know it's one minute to two - I turn it off at the wall. I put my right foot on the floor first - seems fine. Left foot - normal. Brushing my teeth I test my weight on one, then the other.

Everything seems fine - except, maybe, when I'm depressing the clutch, there's a touch more stress there than there should be? Or maybe it's all in my head. 'There's always something,' Emma often says, 'you're always fine on the day'.

But everything physical I do, I'm inclined towards the right leg, just to be sure. Leaning over some boxes to flick all the lights on, opening the heavy fridge door, rolling out the trolleys... the bread looks great though! Everything's proved large but relatively tense - this'll be a good bake. 'Fluffy puppies!' Angiolino used to say.

Hours later, I've forgotten myself, and Adam has arrived. He barges through the door, shouting over the radio, 'Hey Mappy!' He gets an apron on - 'How's your knee?'
'Yeah, fine I think.'
He immediately checks that all my oven timers are actually moving, and then starts arranging the baked bread into crates for the delivery drivers.

The work becomes rather more loud and erratic with Adam around, and there's some great music on the radio - loads of Eastern European composers I've never heard of, and some radical minimalism called 'Stone Playing in Pot'. There's something wild and weird for piano going on when Matt arrives. 'What the f___ are you listening to?' he laughs, 'it's amazing!' and starts dancing around like he's made of syrup. He's still dancing in the cupboard as he gets an apron on. 'How's your knee?'
'I think it's fine.'
'That's great.'

There are several million things to do, and we get our heads down. As the windows become full of sunlight, those dreamt feelings in my left knee, those imaginings, grow gently more persistent, gently more realistic, and eventually more real. Miles has arrived in a peaked cap - he hasn't brushed his hair yet.
'How's it going guys?'
'So far so good.'
'Excellent, how's your knee.'
'Yeah, it's ok.'
'Good good.'
Three timers are going off at once - Adam is dwelling on the colour of a deck of baguettes


On my way back from the bins I quickly look around - there's nobody here. I start to racewalk very slowly. There was a time when this movement felt really weird, but now there's great pleasure in it, a lovely feeling of fluidity. I always say to people who find racewalking strange that when you're really in your motion, everything from the shoulders down feels like a bicycle your head is riding. As I turn back onto Fort Street I break step and walk normally. There's definitely an ache there - but nothing I could really call painful. And there's definitely more stress on the inside when I racewalk. Three weeks of missed training now - I'd best look at that self-referral form when I get home.

Sian is just on her way out the bakery, smiling.
'Hey Dave, how's your knee?'
'Yeah, not bad.'
'Ah, that's good news! See you tomorrow.'
'Bye bye!'

It starts to rain a little outside as I settle down in the cafe with a coffee - it feels great to be done. Soon, Emma and the Peanut will be here to pick me up and we'll all go home for games and dinner. I'm sure that left knee will be just fine. Like Emma says, there's always something. And anyway, aren't they both hurting a little bit?

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Injury and preparation

Over the past weeks, discussions in the Mapp household have turned increasingly to the support driving effort. After much deliberation and debate, a target-time of sixteen hours has been agreed upon, and a list of checkpoints with timings drawn up. A print-out, distributed to everyone involved, includes my expected arrival time at various crucial axis points along with the phone-numbers of everyone in the team - from the Onchan Silver Band, to drivers, to back-up drivers, to emergency back-up drivers who don't even know they're involved. There are some challenging logistics around Andreas, where I am scheduled (hoping...) to arrive after ten hours and twenty-six minutes, at 6.26pm. At this point, or nearby, my mum and John will liaise with my fellow sourdough baker Matt Shepherd, to hand over the crates of food and equipment before they head home to give Emma Mapp the car. This is because she will be sat in a dark room completing the elaborate cycle of rituals that culminate in the fabled 'sleeping of the baby'. Rituals fulfilled, she will leave the care of baby Rosa to Mum and John, and drive out to meet me and Matt Shepherd at Lezayre at approximately 7.35pm. What could go wrong?

Mum and John are well primed on the task at hand. John and I spent a while over the map last time they were over - although John was mostly figuring out where he was going to get his breakfast from. Also, the three of us have already worked together over the thirty-nine miles of the End to End, and a fine team we made. I have great memories of John shouting me up the hill, whilst my mum could be overheard asking, 'doesn't he need a rest?'

Whilst everything from Peel to the Round Table was certainly hot and challenging, we all really enjoyed the 2014 End to End. My only experience of racing having been the Parish, there was something luxurious about being finished in the afternoon, having lunch with the support team and family and then driving home. 'So you'd only be at about Ballaugh now,' commented Emma as we ate soup in the sun - it was a sobering thought. Near the other end of the distance race-walking spectrum however, the Northern 10 last Sunday felt like a tiny Parish in itself.

I had searched on-line for the course details and the sort of times racers finished in - when I saw that Alex Eaton had last year set the record at 1hr 20mins my jaw needed pushing back into its socket. I did the maths - exactly a 7.5mph average. After dwelling on that for a few days, I got into my trainers, joined the Northern 10 course at the end of my drive and hit go on the stopwatch.

Nowhere near. Fair enough, it was a bit windy. Fair enough I was carrying a rucksack full of water. Fair enough, there will be a bit more adrenaline on the day. But still - nowhere near. That evening I looked up the times again, and there it was. One hour and twenty minutes. In fact, all the walkers last year, up and down the results list, had put in seriously impressive times. I showed Emma the website and described the uncompromisingly flat course - maybe ten mile races aren't for me.

On the day of the race I turned up early and eager. I had eaten and drunk really well all week, and gone to the length of not playing football in the back garden with my little brother the night before. I pestered as many walkers and judges as possible for some advice, and after parading my walk around, was told to push my elbows further back, and to work my legs with my arms. On the starting line I noticed that no-one else was carrying water around their waist, and so hurriedly ditched my hydration belt. A moment later, events sweeping me along despite my better judgement, I was panting past Skyhill Plantation in third place with a stitch. Richard Gerrard was just ahead, Adam Cowin working on an ever-growing lead further up the road. And as we passed Ellan Bane Farm I thought it had all gone wrong: 'what are you doing!' I could have yelled, 'you know you can't go this fast!' And as we approached the Ginger Hall I was gasping for water - 'just ahead,' shouted Richard Wild, 'by Sulby bridge'. There I swallowed half a bottle of water at once and threw the rest over my head - ten miles! This is impossible! On the distance I could see the long-legged Richard Gerrard maintaining the same effortless speed with minimal movement. I pushed my elbows further back. And I powered my failing legs with my arms.

On Jurby road, not far from where we live, Emma and John appeared to cheer me along, and we fought off the sun with lovely big swigs of tap water that had never tasted so good. Their presence was instantly effective, as I suddenly got the sense of being on the home straight. The road ahead and behind me emptied, and a fantastic wind began to push me along - I focused on the sea-blue sky, and remembered a little mantra I had used in the End to End to keep my attention on driving the body forward.  I swallowed water, loved the wind, and landed in Mooragh Park before I noticed it. I found difficulty in stopping a body that no longer felt like mine and found my way to the stopwatch. One hour, twenty-five minutes. I smiled.

And am still smiling. My body on the other hand has taken a good week to recover, and I'm still nursing an ache on the inside of my left knee. I've been forced to take the week off training, and this evening I've been stood in the living room staring forlornly at the training record. I made a point of shading the week in and writing on the word INJURED in heavy black lettering. So after work this afternoon, instead of going training, we got Rosa to sleep in the back of the car and went for a pleasure cruise down the course from Bride to Ramsey. I was explaining my previous blog entry to Emma, and she was full of ideas for lifting the spirits in any and all eventualities. As we past The Grosvenor, we remembered the Onchan Silver Band huddled under the porch during the very wet late afternoon in 2013. I remembered the harmonies dispersing as I continued along the pavement alone, leaving just the trombone on an inner part, strangely de-contextualised and fading into silence until eventually it couldn't be told apart from the sound of rain upon the tarmac. The fields were black-green and wringing wet - they smelled extremely fresh and alive. Every time I looked at my watch I was excited - I really was in fifth place - I really was an hour ahead of my time - this was really the race and there really were only twenty-nine miles left


A giant gate flanked by two black stone towers barred the road - I was ushered by a marshal through a rustic wooden door into one of the towers. Once inside I could see that a number of the walkers had been diverted here, through a series of labyrinthine transparent corridors ascending towards a glass flyover that appeared to connect the two towers. Vinny Lynch was kneeling on the ground in front of me - there was some trouble with the safety pins on his race number and he was swearing. Trying to get round him, I ended up taking a wrong turn, and wound up stooped in a dusty sarcophagus with a couple of comedic animated skeletons wearing trendy clothes.

With great relief I reached the kitchen, where I sat down and began to eat and drink. Some friends I haven't seen for years were there, and we were all smoking like we used to in the old days. We were in the middle of a long conversation about the music of Charles Ives when Jock Waddington walked quickly past the window - for a second he turned back to look over his shoulder, highly anxious, even panicked. I leapt to my feet - what the hell am I doing?! We're in the middle of the race! Where are my trainers?! Has anyone heard from Emma?!

Inches away, in a simultaneous and parallel dream, Emma stands in the middle of a road with no pavement, holding the sleeping baby in both arms, anxiously glancing between the two grey vanishing points, waiting for John to show up in the support car. He's already late, she has no idea where I am and the clouds are getting darker and darker.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Surprising ourselves.

This Parish Walk, some of us will surprise ourselves. We may triumph over some physical or emotional difficulty. We may get further and faster than we could have hoped. We may earn the praise and respect of those around us.

We may not.

To those who haven't tried it, it will probably seem melodramatic to say so, but I have found the walk to be an adventure into the pit of the soul.

We find ourselves to be decent people. We care about our health, about community events - we are good sports. But judgements such as these will encounter some severe stress testing over the summer solstice. The calm, the meek, the softly spoken will be heard swearing at their support drivers. The community volunteer will not notice himself  throwing another plastic wrapper into a hedge. The failed tactician, exhausted and crestfallen, bitten with anger and embarrassment, will begin to invent excuses, feign injuries, develop conspiracy theories... even cheat. Rare though I'm sure it is, I believe I have witnessed it with my own eyes.

Last summer, the feelings were complex. On the one hand I was overcome by love for my baby daughter - constantly nagged to get home and hold her, to put her to bed and put a stop to this irrational and obsessive race! On the other hand, a demon was inventing ways out of having to face an embarrassing performance. I'm not proud of the train of thought, but I'm sure it's crossed the minds of one or two other sportspeople facing apparent defeat, and in retrospect, I find something very unsporting in the act of retiring from the race after being overtaken. There is an element of resentment, of not wanting to give the better performer the clean victory they have won, of trying to take away from their achievement. But these now are the reflections of the self I was familiar with, of the good self who, under the conditions of a hot and under-trained Parish Walk attempt, proved to be fragmentary, illusory - even fictitious.

And I would not call the unsporting, disappointing self real either - in the nebula of this experience somewhere, as in all of us, there is a Mike George of the 2012 Parish Walk who, vomiting, collapsing, hallucinating, overcame the inevitable waves of depression and frustration that followed Richard and Vinny's overtaking of him, to fall half-dead over the finish line in surely the most incredible 3rd place performance any of us will ever see.

In a way, we train in utter darkness. Of all the eventualities I prepared for last year, stopping before the end hadn't even crossed my mind. Over the years we build strength, over the months we build speed, and in the final weeks we load our bodies with fuel and water - but with the psychological challenge of up to twenty-four hours of unbroken concentration, and with the core of our personalities turning out to be dreamt, how can we possibly prepare for the encounter with ourselves?

I was walking up to the Manx Harriers clubhouse before the End to End. ''What's the story then,'' asked the infamously straight-up Robbie Callister, ''was it really blisters?'' Honestly, I didn't know. The blister in question circumnavigated the leading toe of my right foot and was the size of a toe itself. The nail could be seen bobbing about in the plasma. Placing it onto the ground produced a sensation like a long, red hot needle being sunk into my foot. But I have asked myself over the course of the year - didn't that sort of thing happen before? Haven't I carried on under those conditions before? Wouldn't I carry that same blister over the finish line this year, and in good time?

The answer to that question, as to the question of how we will all fare under the gruelling conditions of this unique endurance race, will, and must, for another five weeks remain a surprise.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Where are we up to?!

For a thousand residents of the island, the daffodils are nothing but ominous. The change of the clocks, the sunny mornings - everything Spring speaks only of the imminence of the walk. And as training is supposed to be reaching its peak, the weather typically goes haywire. May and April, we will often be seen on the round table, simultaneously wringing wet and baked alive.

On Saturday night I found myself stood at the living room window with sunburnt cheeks looking out over the purple fields and the distant streetlamps warming up. I wanted to still be walking. From now into the dead of night, fighting my way down the east coast in a headtorch. Some part of me was glad to be home, full of tea and hot food, the bath running, Rosa sleeping soundly. But something else wanted to be cold, aching and wet with twenty miles still to go. Dry-mouthed, peeling the hundredth tangerine - swigging luke-warm sugary coffee from a plastic water bottle.

From nowhere I remembered a pain in my biceps - I couldn't move them. From Laxey I wasn't moving my arms at all, just keeping them tucked into my chest, trying to stop the burning. I lost Emma somewhere down here in 2011 - I found her with her head in her hands on Royal Avenue. I banged on the windscreen and gave her a smile. 'Where are we up to?!' she shouted. 'I think we're nearly on the prom!' I shouted back as I lumbered down the hill.

Six, maybe seven weeks. That's all that remains in terms of realistic training time. Experts will be talking about slowly reducing exercise whilst slowly increasing food intake. To the West, the colour of the sun is lingering over the sea until ten, and wherever you go files of luminescent walkers are swigging water as they stomp and wiggle up the pavements. So where are we up to?

''It will be the first seriously long walk of the year, and I'm determined to make it happen. I have Saturday off work and Rosa's grandparents are over to babysit - nothing can get in the way.'' 
So ended my previous entry. The moment I left work prepared for my 'training holiday', I was conscious of pressure building up behind my cheekbones. Having never had a sinus infection before I didn't know what I was in for, and didn't think twice about it. If you've never had one, it has to be about the sorest of the common illnesses. It was apparently accompanied by other cold symptoms - headache, grogginess, low metabolism and so on. My go-to friend on medical advice gave me little comfort: 'you should train through it', he said. 'It won't effect the infection and will probably make for harder, better training.' I didn't.

As the infection eased though, I did a handful of short, fast walks, about an hour each, and everything was feeling loose and energised. I think the training I did for the End to End, and the training through Jan - Mar, though intermittent and troubled with irritating infections and lack of sleep, is all coming together in a positive way. I've trained less than previous years, but more technically than before, and certainly more than I did last year. To get specific, including 5 weeks of sickness, I've averaged 17 miles of proper training a week since the new year - nowhere near the rumoured 80 miles a week of a certain 2015 Parish Walk favourite, but not a bad effort all things considered. And in the name of keeping a positive outlook, Emma Mapp will be taking a couple of days off over the next week to take Rosa while I make up for some lost time


At dawn, as we all slept or woke or went about our business, Marown church was a very quiet place and the TT access road was empty. In Ballsalla, once the rush-hour had passed, very little happened at the old bakery roundabout, and the beautiful road through Ballabeg was warm and peaceful. There were some sheep, some cows, and a broad green view from Castle Rushen to Port St. Mary and the giant headland beyond. From Rushen church, the road climbed through Ballakillowey, climbed and climbed through Ballakilpheric, before reaching a relative plateau at a brilliantly sunny Lingague. To it's right, a dramatic, plummeting valley strewn with gauze and horses; to it's left, seeming lightyears of glassy, blue water. And ahead lay a hill as famous as the race it forms a part of. A mile of steeply rising corners known as the Sloc. Completely unseen, the shadow of a cloud slid all the way up, and a seagull wheeled noisily overhead. There was no clue here that in just eight weeks a thousand tired pilgrims would be racing through, twenty miles in their legs, sweat down their faces, and the prospect of another fifteen hours hard racing ahead of them. The seagull conquered the Sloc in seconds, landed on a rock and cried into the valley.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Walking very slowly

Walking very slowly around Mooragh Park, I look up at the mountain road, and imagine my other life, driving to Douglas in the dead of night. Rosa has been asleep for thirty minutes, but the bright sun is annoying both of us - I have to keep moving my position in relation to the pram to keep her eyes in the shade. There is a bag of redskin peanuts in my pocket and every few steps I accomplish a small handful. I'm focusing on my feet, bringing the leading foot to land directly in front on the other, as if I'm walking on a tightrope. I often pay attention to my neck, to the weight of my head - is there any pressure, any strain that could be relieved by a better posture?

There is an elderly lady approaching - she's certain to say 'good morning' loudly. I make a point of rocking the pram gently and shushing, but if I'm not careful I'll wake the baby myself. 'Good morning!', the elderly lady bellows. Rosa's eyes flash open and she sits bolt upright, cheeky, happy and nosey, looking for the voice.

We spend hours in that park. Until the nap training began it was twice a day, rain or shine, round and round the lake at a constant, slow pace, avoiding lawnmowers, seagulls and other walkers. It's started to feel like home, and the daily, repetitive walks have become almost meditative. It's wonderful to have the time to get to know the park, to recognise the gardeners, to know when the kayaks are out, to overhear the funny conversations between the families on the tennis court. This slow-paced time with Rosa lasts exactly half a week. From 6 am Monday morning to midday on Thursday I am 'Carer A', as we say in our house.

Last Thursday, Emma signed off work at 12.30 pm. Rosa was already strapped into her high chair with her food half-mauled, and Emma's lunch was sat waiting. I was dressed up in my Lycra and fluorescents, warmed up, stretched out and ready to leave. 'I can't believe you're actually going out in this weather,' Emma said. 'There isn't enough time to train as it is,' I explained, 'without waiting for good weather.' She agreed.

One hour later, at Bride church, I was abandoning the mission and turning for home. Socks, leggings, coat, everything, wringing wet and deathly cold. I was blowing hot air into my cheeks to stop the sensation of anaesthesia in my face as I walked back through Dog Mills. No gloves, no spare socks, and no phone to call for help. The only moment of pleasure came when I dived into a hedge for a wee. I looked out over a short field that seemed to collapse a mile into the sea. Everywhere the sky was one grey-blue shade, and the rain was infinite over the shifting waves. Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, to take a nice stroll along this road one day. In fact, maybe one day I'll come and sit here for a bit, just to watch the rain. When I have the time...

The wee was over. I had to move. The walk was being cut short but the stopwatch was still running, and Bride church and back again is a round ten miles. I picked up the speed, my trainers splashing over the flooded tarmac. I'll never sit there and watch the rain. It's not a question of having time - I have the time now, all the time in the world. Given the time, this is what we do - start families, get obsessed with bread, join a band, do the Parish Walk. We may have fantasies about how we would spend our free time, but this is already it - turning a corner into the wind and feeling the sodden t-shirt pressed icily against your skin, squinting through the water running off your eyebrows, checking your stopwatch in the mad hope of keeping up at least a five mph average. Why didn't I bring my phone?!

I remembered all this as I trundled home from work the next day, and turned the heating up in the car. Those are amazing views from the mountain road as you approach Ramsey, and I always look down at the tiny lake and imagine myself looking up at the cars on the mountain. Training isn't going terribly, I said to myself. After the sickness, a couple of solid, fast ten mile outings, followed by an eighteen mile warm up for next Saturday's Rushen to Ballaugh epic. It will be the first seriously long walk of the year, and I'm determined to make it happen. I have Saturday off work and Rosa's grandparents are over to babysit - nothing can get in the way. Though I really do hope for better weather this time.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

First and last steps

'It's best to update the blog about once a week,' advised Murray Lambden, 'just to help keep people interested.'
How easily can five vital weeks of training evaporate? On a couple of occasions I have been faced with a choice between going training and writing about going training, but mostly I have been unlucky with the timings of various other commitments and, crucially, ill.
It all started so optimistically. There was a terrific nineteen mile walk home from work with my fellow Noa Bakehouse team-mates, not failing to take the bureaucratic detour up to Lonan checkpoint and back. There was a draft for a blog entry saying 'I've never been so well trained by Febuary!' And there was a whole luxurious weekend booked off work to put in some seriously challenging miles. Several evenings had been spent eyeing up our giant Parish Walk map, fantasising about a number of picturesque new walking routes, but feeling doomed to face the arduous Rushen to Bride stretch that had proved effective in my 2013 training. In actuality, I got a headache and naseua midweek that never went away, and instead spent the weekend staring at the bedroom wall. Another bout of similar, if less intense, symptoms accompanied by a bizarre crack opening in my left heel this week means I missed my Thursday sprint-walk around Bride, and now face two weeks worth of little crosses over my precious training record. I feel suitably glum about my prospects of racing competetively in 2015, but there are fifteen weeks left to get this training schedule back on course.
Rosa Mapp's chances in the Parish Walk however are suddenly looking much more hopeful. It was another lovely morning playing in the house, a little while after breakfast, and the sun was low and bright through the dining room window. Rosa was pulling handfuls of my alphabetised CD's from their shelves and crawling around on the debris. Spontaneously, she decided to stand - not something she does very often without support from a convenient piece of furniture. Now aboout a metre from the bookcase, holding a glove in both hands, she realised that books too can be pulled onto the floor, and thought about getting over there. There was a chair to sidle along, and the CD rack, but she really didn't want to loosen her grip on the glove. And so she walked. Three steps, very slowly, and then stopped - but she definitely walked, for the very first time in her life, and I was right beside her, gobsmacked. To celebrate, we pulled all the books out together and then sat on them for a while.
It is a strange year. I've never been busier or happier. For the first time I'm paying detailed attention to what I eat and drink before, during and after training, and on the road I can't help feeling faster and healthier. But the strong sense of competetiveness that obsessed me in 2012 and 2013 has very much dissipated. Since Rosa's birth I have felt familiar with the world, rather than competing with it, and so much more a participant in life than an observer of it. When she goes to sleep, we laugh over photographs of her, and when I go training I worry about what I'm missing.
And yet, for all of that, there is no want of motivation for the 2015 walk. The obsession has merely mutated. My last year racing as an under-thirty-year-old, and my last year racing the Parish at all for a little while. And those persistent memories of a sunset over Maughold village, of over-hearing Uncle John saying 'If he's going to finish he's going to finish, but he's really not right,' - of lying on the hill as Emma and Hendy and Ali and Jax struggled to get the new socks over my monstrous feet.
On Saturday mornings, my alarm clock goes off at two am, and by quarter to three I've scaled the mountain and rolled down to the capital. The Finale of Haydn's 104th Symphony on a worn cassette tape is normally reaching the trick ending as I turn onto the black promenade, and the searching chords that follow it accompany my passing the war memorial. I try to feel it in my legs, imagine the thrill of finishing, remember the agony in my biceps and the waves of sickness. Rosa would be fast asleep - Emma perhaps at home, waiting to enjoy it with me.

The real ending, and then the strange, filtered hiss of magnetic tape. Maybe its an illusion, but I can feel the lack of training in my legs just pushing the clutch down as I approach the sea terminal. Fifteen weeks left, better make them count. And anyway, before all that, there are some one-thousand loaves of bread to bake.