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.