Training to walk eighty-five miles at speed on open, undulating roads is a year-long challenge that, for nearly all of us, is attempted with children, jobs and community commitments all demanding our time. When you talk to people who have never heard of the walk, you find them incredulous - and yet the course has been surmounted by amateur sportspeople on the Isle of Man more than two-thousand times. In 2012 I added my name to the list of finishers, with a hard year's worth of training behind me; and whilst I lay in bed that dawn, unable to move an inch without vomiting, I was glad to put the whole strange obsession behind me. A few hours later though, crawling slowly to the bathroom on my stomach, I had accepted that the walk wasn't over. The walk is never over. In fact, the walk starts the day after the walk.
Trying to sleep or scraping out the mixer at work, some stretch of narrow B-road will appear - a steep camber encroached by wild hedgerows and vanishing into drizzle, fog or the sea. Running the bath, cooking the dinner, changing a nappy - the strange stillness of the A4 in the afternoon after the carnival of Peel has vanished - the long stoney drive of Andreas church as the sun gives way. The Sloc in drizzle - the crowded TT access road - approaching Maughold at twilight. The promenade.
There is a giant map of The Island above our bed, the route of the walk coloured in in pencil in painstaking detail. There are small stickers over the checkpoints elucidating various timings and statistics – though they only go as far as 2013. There is an A2 flipchart easel in the living room, scribbled over with training dates and distances and targets. There is a large drawer in our wardrobe dedicated to walking equipment and clothing, and another in the kitchen dedicated to medicine and first aid. And there are three pairs of Asics Patriots, retired from service after problems with overheated feet, dumped forlornly by the back door. Dumped, that is, but not thrown away.
But if the walk really does start the day after the walk, then we're already half way through. I for one am feeling the urgency already - since the End to End in September, which I put a lot of work into, I haven't been on the road at all, a total of three lost months. But I imagine a lot of walkers are finding it difficult to get the time in at the moment and, like me, have big plans for January. Here at the Mapp household, we've just moved to Ramsey, Baby Mapp has turned eight months old and Mummy Mapp is shortly to return to work. There has been many a family crisis meeting regarding the 2015 Parish Walk and a plan is definitely forming...