Monday, 25 June 2012

The Hat-Trick is complete

I am absolutely exhausted, this is the 3rd time I have sat down to write this blog, but I can't finish it as my brain doesn't seem to want to work. That's what 8 hours sleep in 48 hours does for you. Oh yeah, there's the small factor of walking 85 miles and then going to the pub to celebrate as well!!

At 05:16 yesterday morning, I managed to cross the finish line for the third successive year, which, considering only 5 weeks ago I was on crutches and my participation looked in tatters, I am absolutely delighted!

I wrote a post the other week discussing how much of the walk was a mental thing, and I can quite honestly say that Saturday was pretty much a 100% mental effort right from the gun. I went into the day with a game plan designed to protect my foot which so far has paid off, but once the pain in other parts of my body has subsided I may have a clearer picture.

Before I give you a run down of how the race panned out for me, I just want to say a huge congratulations to Richard and Vinny for an absolutely outstanding performance to come in joint winners in a record time - what a tremendous way to finish and in such a sporting manner. My commiserations to Michael who led for long periods of the race, he just couldn't sustain it but also finished within the previous record time, and I hope he can take solace from such a brilliant effort. Congratulations also to my regular training partner Simon Briggs who finished in an unbelievable 7th position in only his second attempt at the distance - well done mate you deserve it.

The buzz of expectation at the start was immense and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. We turned up at just after 7.30 and by the time we made it to the start,  the track was absolutely chocka. I thought about trying to sneak in at the front where I knew Simon was, but I know how I'd react if someone did that across me, so I decided to head towards the back. I walked the first lap of the track with Caroline, and literally as we got to the entrance to the NSC, we said our goodbyes, and I headed off through the pack to catch my sister, brother in law and niece.

It was a nice steady start but we were quickly confronted with the lagoon just under Braddan Bridge which made passing very difficult as no-one wanted to go through it and a huge bottleneck built up. Most people tried to get round the outside, but a few others just went straight through. I didn't fancy having wet feet straight from the start so I queued to go round the side.

As the pack spread out, the pace picked up a little, and it seems like no time at all and we were in Marown. Up the Glen Darragh Road, and this is where my head first overruled my body, and I backed off the pace. I figured that my heel was only going to cause me aggro if I pushed myself hard, especially up hills. The first leg to Rushen passed without incident, and I arrived at just after 12:20 which was about 4 minutes up on last year. The weather had been a bit hit and miss to this point, it started off bright and warm, but literally in the way between Arbory and Rushen the heavens opened. Unfortunately, my mate Dicko who was doing the fist support stint wasn't joining me til 2pm, but I did have a hi-viz jacket that did a job, and kept me reasonably dry.

Shame I can't say the same about Ballakillowey and the Sloc. This was the point I struggled last year and I kept telling myself I was going to enjoy it this year......yeah right. Pretty much exactly the same thing happened, and because I backed off the pace to protect my foot, people started to pass me which was demoralising even though I kept telling myself that this would happen if I slowed down. To add to this, I started feeling a bit ropey, my heel was giving me a bit of grief, and the rain really started - a perfect storm if you like. My sister came past and tried to encourage me along, and I put a brave face on and said that I was going slow on purpose (not this slow though). Her back up was waiting at the top, and it dawned on me that the way I was feeling was actually similar to the time I trained with Simon and James Bassett, and I thought I could be dehydrated. My mouth was extremely dry, and some friends had given me a bacon bap in Santon, and I also relieved the support table on the Orrisdale Road of a couple of sausages. The saltiness of these and not drinking enough was enough to affect me, so after a dioralyte and a banana I began to feel much better. As soon as the road became flat, the discomfort in my foot disappeared. It also helped as I caught up with my sister's friend Kathryn and we chatted merrily which took my mind off the task in hand. I had been caught by a mate, Phil Christian who I walked the Sara Killey with in 2011, I had seen him at the start and also at Marown, and it was good to catch up.

The trudge into Peel passed pretty much in a flash, apart from a quick pit stop when my support arrived so I could put a dry top and my new waterproof jacket. I headed through Glen Maye and into Peel with Tim Crookall as the other guys had carried on when I stopped. He knows absolutely everybody! I think the rain had dampened some spectator's spirits as there were fewer there to cheer us on than in previous years, but nonetheless the atmosphere was absolutely brilliant. I was 8 minutes up on last year's time, and only just outside my target time by 2 minutes. This is the target I set myself at the start of the year, but I didn't legislate for a serious injury so close to the event so I was very happy.

Just leaving Peel

I always think that the hard work really starts from Peel, so I continued to take it easy as the coast road to Kirk Michael is deceptively hilly in places, but I knew that as soon as I had passed Glen Wyllin then it is pretty flat all the way to Bride apart from a couple of short hills. Shortly before the Devil's Elbow I passed my sister's support car and nodded to Jo and asked how she was. She said she was fine and then pointed to the passenger seat. Lo and behold, Lou was sat in the passenger seat saying that she's had enough and didn't want to continue. This was like a role reversal from my first attempt to finish in 2010 when it was me who had had enough and she was the one to get me going. I therefore repaid the favour by politely explaining that if she didn't get out of the car I was going to go round and drag her out. She got out and we set off again. She kept saying that she had been holding Julian back, and was feeling bad etc etc, but I told her not to worry as he would be fine. In fact he was fine, because he was hiding in a field waiting for her as we passed. Anyway, they pushed on, and unfortunately I couldn't keep pace and that would be the last I saw of them until Jurby, but I was delighted that Lou continued as I know she would now be regretting it if she quit.

Me and Phil almost at Ballaugh
I managed to increase my pace over the flatter sections as I arrived in Kirk Michael 12 minutes faster than last year, picking up a minute a mile roughly. I was back walking with Phil at this point, and we were caught by Martijn Biesmans on the way into Ballaugh. I couldn't fathom why the number 11 was down the order like this, and he explained that he was walking in a group of friends who had one support car between them so he was taking it easy. Good job he was because when we arrived at Ballaugh Church, he forgot to check in and about a mile down the road he had to turn back. Just beyond Ballaugh Dicko handed over the support baton to my father in law Andy. Phil and I pushed on and made it to Jurby by 18:41. As we arrived at the turn to the church, I saw Lou and Julian heading off towards the prison, I called up to them, but they didn't hear.

After making it back to the main road, I decided to stop and address a couple of blisters I was feeling on my right foot. As I said in previous blogs, the trainers I had chosen to wear have a history of rubbing the inside of my heel, but I had chosen them over my other pairs because they actually offer more padding at the back and thus protect the damaged area. I had put a compeed on in the morning to try and protect the susceptible area, and this had worked to a point, but was now getting sore. It was handy that my father in law was now supporting as he has a van which meant I could sit down at the back quite comfortably and have a good rest. I pulled the plaster off as it was half hanging off anyway due to the wet, and underneath the skin was just damp and sore, but no blister. I put two more compeeds on over the area to protect it again, and one just on the ball of my foot by my big toe where a small pea sized blister had appeared. Phil had gone on ahead, and Kathryn had caught and passed me whilst I was gathering my thoughts and tucking into chicken soup and sarnies. I reckon I was sat for around 5 minutes and for those people who saw me get up and start off again must have thought I was almost done for. My legs had stiffened and my feet were very sore so it took me a good few steps to build the pace back up.

I made it to Bride at 19:37 which kept my 12 minute gap on last year's time. Looking at the stats sheet I had in my pocket, I kept thinking that I should be extending the gap as last year, I was 30 minutes ahead of my 2010 time, but remembered that I was pushing it all the way last year, and taking it easier this time around because of my pesky foot which was still not bothering me too much. I think this is largely to do with the anti-inflammatory painkillers I had taken combined with the game plan of relaxing up hills. On the way into the village, Rich Wild was waiting at the end of his drive offering encouragement, and he was actually lending me his head torch for the night stint as the one I have isn't actually mine, or even that good. We had a quick chat, and he said that the leaders were through Maughold and he was off to see the business end of the race.

Heading down the Burma Road, we were told by one of the race officials that we would need to put on our lights within the next mile as darkness was falling fast, not helped by the cloud cover. The rain had been pretty intermittent to this stage, and nowhere near as severe as the forecast had perhaps indicated, I was expecting a deluge at any time, but it never really came. I caught Phil again, and we walked together to Andreas and then on towards Lezayre where he had stopped in 2010. We got separated before the church, I can't quite remember where, but I just remember the drag on to Lezayre from the Ginger Hall taking for ever and having no one to talk to. My support changed once again, and my mate Brian replaced my father in law. I had a moment of mild panic as I honestly thought that I had missed the turn to Lezayre Church as the road was in complete darkness as I headed along. Eventually I saw 3 or 4 support drivers for other walkers stood at the junction with lights and hi-viz jackets so I knew I was ok. I always find Lezayre a funny church as like I say, it's a fair old trudge from the Ginger Hall, and once you turn off the main road, it's a decent distance up to the gate. Luckily, the walk to Parliament Square is quite short, and well lit, so I passed the Swan to applause from the gathered crowd outside which gave me a real lift.

I have trained in the past so many times over this last stretch, so I know pretty much every inch of the last 20 or so miles and I knew at this point that there was nothing stopping me. I felt strong physically, and I got to Maughold church at 00:18 which was 15 minutes faster than last year, and I knew that I was in much better physical shape so should be able to cover the stretch to Lonan quicker. Given that at this point you've already cover 67 miles, it's natural that there is going to be an element of slowing. In 2010, the next 11.5 miles took me 3 hours 35 mins (3.2mph) and last year I improved to 3 hours 22 mins (3.4mph). I improved my time over this leg by over 15 minutes which equates to around 3.7mph. In numbers it doesn't seem much, but it's almost 1 minute 20 seconds a mile quicker.

Between Maughold and Lonan, I passed loads of people, and Brian gave me coffee at Dhoon, and this was like rocket fuel to me. There was sugar in it which I normally don't take, but it really hit the spot, and I was able to chase down loads of other walkers and pass them with ease. Even the hill up to Lonan church was no real problem, and I managed to push on towards Onchan after checking in. I live about 200 yards away from Lonan church, so the last stretch to Onchan is a journey I take every single day and I decided that I was going to push myself absolutely as flat out as I could as I was only 3 minutes behind target to break through the 21 hour barrier. If I could up the pace to 14 minute miles I would make it with about 3 minutes to spare. I made it to Onchan village in 68 minutes, so my chance was slipping away but I was hopeful that because I was now in touching distance of the end, I could muster one last burst of energy to cover the home straight. Dicko had appeared in Onchan as he lives on Whitebridge Road, and he said he was going to watch me finish.

Fortunately he did.

I had said to Brian at the Whitebridge that I was ok, and I would see him at the top of Royal Avenue. Dicko was waiting at the top of Church Road, and as I turned down to the church, it was as if someone just flicked the off switch. I have never had a feeling like it, but all of a sudden I was empty, completely drained and light headed. I managed to stagger to the church, and I have to thank Charlie Turner who was checking people in, as he grabbed me just before I keeled over. I composed myself and managed to make it back to the main road, and stumbled down to the car where Bri was waiting with the boot open. I literally fell in to the boot and sat myself up. I must have had the presence of mind to realise that I needed something to eat and drink, instead of struggling on. Looking back, I don't think I had eaten anything of note since about Glen Mona and had just had coffee, red bull and dextrose tablets - not exactly the best of diets. So, a cup of soup, a chicken sarnie and 6 jaffa cakes later, I was back on my feet chasing down the people who had passed me. I was conscious of one guy over my shoulder who was catching me, and try as I might I just couldn't hold him off any longer.

So I crossed the line in 92nd place which is my equal best placing (92nd in 2010, and 105th last year), but my time was my fastest by 24 minutes. 21 hours, 16 minutes and 45 seconds.

85 miles + trying to race walk to show off for the cameras = instant cramp

I am pleased with my time, but I do know I could have done much better if I hadn't injured my foot. I missed 4 full weeks of training which I think made a heck of a difference. That said though, to actually complete the course when I knew deep down that my foot was probably only about 80 percent right I am absolutely over the moon, and I will take so much away from this year.

So what next??

It's the presentation tomorrow night at the Villa, doors open at 7pm and the presentation gets under way at 8. The night is always fantastic, and this in itself is one of the things that spurs me on when I am in the depths of despair. If you can attend do. If you have finished and you are not sure whether to go, you should as it is an amazing feeling to go up on stage to collect your award. It makes the pain worthwhile.

In terms of walking, I probably won't do anything for a few weeks now, just let the legs and blisters settle down. Steve has arranged a debrief session on Thursday night, so it will be good to chat to the others from our regular walking gang and see how their races panned out. My next event will probably be the Salclear Ramsey half marathon which I did last year, and will be good preparation for the next big one - the End to End. I have unfinished business with this walk so I'll be knuckling down as soon as physically possible to give it a good go.

Finally before I go, I would like to say a huge thank you to all of the race organisers, volunteers, marshals for their meticulous preparation and giving up their time, and also the Isle of Man public for their unwavering support of this year's event all of which made it such a record breaking success.


  1. Well done Ed. An amazing achievement in any case and all the more so after missing so much training.

  2. Well done Ed ! Best regards, Martijn Biesmans.PS Afterwards I found out that I didn't forget to check in at Ballaugh ;-)Have done it twice ;-)