Sunday, 18 January 2015

The changing roads

You think you know these routes - last week, between Bride Church and the Ginger Hall, this was a mellow road with a deep view of the sea to the left and Snaefell in frost ahead, cheery Primrose Hill sat all eccentric and purple in front. Now, hurling ice-cold gravel into my face, the gale shoves me into the gutter of the road. The cliffs have vanished, and so have the hills - I break my race-walking stride to keep balance, pushing into the hail and flying grit with my quads, following this anonymous, crumbling pavement through an apparent desert of billowing fog. I push with my right foot and the gale stops dead, effectively throwing me forward onto my knees. I get up. A pair of blurry headlights float past.
With limited training time, every day counts, and I already feel that the projected walking plan is a tad underweight - so no amount of inclement weather can put a day behind. I was pleased to get home, wringing wet and blotchy, to chalk up 17.5 miles onto the training record for another Thursday. In pretty much three hours flat that averages 5.8mph - not a bad job at all, and serving as a warm up for the first of five longer-distance walks.
Rosa Sophia Mapp is under a rigorous sleep-training regime. Her natural abundance of energy has got her up on her feet and talking ahead of time, but unable to sleep more than half of the recommended hours. She will often be found at her collection of play tables, red-eyed and squealing with the sheer joy of being exhausted. (As I write this, she breaks the sound of the silence and the crackling fire with a solitary note of the piano which, on tip-toes, she can now reach.) And so Saturday's early walk became Sunday's early walk, and Sunday's early walk didn't start until nine. And so the 32.5 miles from Bride Church to the Finish became the 24 miles from my house (Jurby Road) to the Finish, hoping to meet the family at Noa Bakehouse for eggs on toast and a lift home.
For most of us, everything from around the North onwards means cold, darkness and painkillers. On my two finishes, it has also meant rain. Something about the last third of The Walk seems particularly difficult - whether its the steep climb out of Maughold, the 11.5 miles between checkpoints or the traffic I don't know. Somewhere on the A2, my eyes were struggling to focus away from the constant slanting rain within the beam of the headtorch, whilst everything outside it turned to utter black. How far to Lonan? How long since Maughold? All sense of location and progress was lost in the wilderness of slow passing cars and shiny black tarmac.
This morning, I reached Maughold as the wintery sun was still melting away the last of the frost. Sheep idly ignored me, and the only sound was of birds playing in the changing breezes. I had no idea you could see so much sea from around there, even hear it faintly - and was the climb up to Ballajora always so short? Up on the A2, I hardly heard a car all morning, and the road that seemed so ominous before appeared to be gently descending underneath me. The sun was on my face all the way, and as I approached Laxey I was suprised by a snow shower falling from a bright blue sky.
I reached the war memorial with tired legs but very happy, and then strolled through town to Noa. I was thinking how the more I get to know the course the less I know it - you can learn the Parish route, but these roads are transforming all the time.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Dave and Richard overtake

Training finally got underway yesterday morning - a fifteen mile loop, beginning from my house off Jurby Road, taking the A10 up to Bride church, then following the course as far as Ramsey. It felt like revisiting the scene of a crime.

Dave Walker appeared first - I don't remember much about him that day, he came and went. Then it was my friend Andy Boardman. I know him from the Onchan Silver Band - his  very talented daughter plays cornet in the junior band, and we talk about walking all the time. He appeared as he always does, riding a push bike about two thirds of the way through a race - we once chatted through the sunset between Andreas and Lezayre, and another time on the home straight past Port Erin in the End to End. 'You're going like a steam-train' he once said to me. And, 'you're doing so well', he said another time. But not now. He looks concerned.
'Dave Walker's just overtaken me,' I tell him, breaking the ice.
'I hate to tell you,' he says, ' but there's another guy right behind you, looks so fresh it's like he's just sprang up out of bed'. I look over my shoulder.

At the time I didn't know Richard Wild. And yes, he looked very fresh and healthy indeed.

I'm suddenly very conscious of how much I've slowed down. It's like the engine that powered me through the last two walks has turned into porridge. 'Hiya,' I say to Richard, 'what's your name?'
We get talking. 'I've never done it before', he tells me. 'I've no idea if I'm pacing myself correctly!'
I look at my watch. 'Yeah, amazing,' I answer, 'if you carry on like this, you'll be done in under sixteen hours!'

We're approaching St Jude's, tall trees on either side of the road providing shade that only seems to accentuate the long days heat. I decide that it's time to get my act together and ramp the speed up again. Richard has caught me up, but now I'll use him as a pacesetter - and if he's on for a sixteen hour finish then so am I. Still a few minutes ahead of my best time - the safety margin is narrowing, but the target is still on. The sun is retreating, the support team is changing, and the walk is nearly two thirds complete. Everything is fine. Time to focus -

Here in 2015 the training plan has taken shape. Preparations will be a collaborative effort between me and my wife Emma, otherwise known as arguably the most hardworking support driver in Parish Walk history. Between caring for our beautiful baby daughter Rosa Sophia, making bread at Noa Bakehouse and musicing at The Onchan Silver Band, we have decided to sacrifice a full half of our one day a week together to The Walk.

Thursday mornings. And the priority will be endurance. I intend to put in at least twenty miles to begin with, increasing the distance to thirty-five from mid-february. In addition I have requested the middle weekend of every month off work, which time will be used to attempt much longer walks, focusing on the north where I now live. And every morning and afternoon, of every day of the week, I want to find time for squat-thrust burpees and plank.

Twenty-two Thursdays, twenty-two middle-distance walks - five weekends off work, five long-distance walks. But the plan is one thing and the execution of the plan is another. A couple of corners down the road and Richard Wild was a blur on the horizon.