Last weekend was my first trip to the Isle of Man for 50 years. Last time I recall pulling out of Liverpool on the ferry in the late afternoon trying, not very successfully, to play 'Ferry Across the Mersey' on the harmonica. I think at the time a recent No.1 hit.
Well, times have changed, this time it was the evening flight from Blackpool. I had opted for this as, with an early booking, it was cheaper than the ferry and, on the Saturday after the race, I could get a flight back and avoid the cost of a second night in the hotel. I was very conscious that for the Hardmoor I had failed to organise a proper pre-race breakfast so this time I packed a tin each of peaches and rice pudding. Even before I set off though I started to fret about airline liquid regulations as I was only taking hand luggage. I had left behind the can opener on the basis that I would not get it through and I could borrow one from the hotel. In the event the cans were confiscated as a terrorist threat. Fortunately Manx2 provide a hospitaility lounge so I picked up 3x300 calory large biscuits for the morning and had some crumpets and jam. The hospitality lounge highlighted once again the inconsistencies of anti-terrorist policies. The rules include no cutlery or sharp objects (my wife had a pair of tweezers confiscated once) but in the lounge, with no further security, there was metal cutlery, a range of glass bottles plus drinks glasses including pints! Given the choice between being threatened by a broken glass/bottle or a pair of tweezers I think I know which i would go for.
Arrived in IOM early so had a longer wait for the bus but then no problems getting to the Falcon's Nest. They made up a breakfast tray for me that supplemented the biscuits and I had a good nights sleep - unusual for the night before a race - and a decent enough breakfast.
In the week running up to the event I had a sore throat and a cough for a few days but it had seemed to be clearing up. But the cough and sneezing came back on the bus over to the start. In the event I do not think it effected my running though it came back with a vengance aslmost immediately after I had finished.
I was with the early starters, a reflection not only of the fact that I anticipated a slow time but also I had to catch the 19.00 flight back to Blackpool. I reckoned I had to finish in around 9 1/4 hours to be able to catch the 17.38 bus and the check-in deadline. A number commented as we gathered at the start how pleasant it was looking and warmer than expected. We should have known better. I was off to a brisk start towards the front of the pack, a position I was able to comfortably maintain until we started to seriously climb. The effect of my lack of recent training due to injuries clearly showed itself then and I knew it was going to be a bit of a struggle. By the first summit at just under the hour I had moved from just off the front of the pack to just ahead of the back of the pack. John Vernon who I often use as a marker for my pace passed me shortly before the top and I never saw him again. He finished around half an hour ahead of me. I had worked out a schedule to get me there in the essential to catch the plane time of 9 1/4 hours. At Snaefell I was 17 minutes down on this and starting to worry. Possibly more by the time we got down. Two of us pioneered a route that clearly no others had done (no prints in the snow). Not too bad though so we probably did not drop much time. This was I think around the time the weather was at its worst, sleety snow and a fresh wind. It was also around this time that I realised I was running pretty freely down the hills. My ankles and knees were performing properly for the first time for many weeks - the best news of the day.
Other than struggling on the hills I felt ok. Also, no problems with the route other than some minor meandering on the ridge from Beinn-Y-Phott to Carraghyn. I think the course notes are a bit misleading here as you have to head west of south initially. I stuck to a compromise between the notes and what I saw on the map until I hit the Millenium Way about 50 metres East of the crest of the ridge where I corrected my line. Then it was straightforward to Injebreck. From here on I was progressively making up my lost time.
I followed the revised flagged route from there to the stream crossing and then headed straight up the hill towards Colden summit. Everybody else seemed to take a line much further left but as I looked across at them I was pretty sure the direct line was working out best and I made some ground on them. This was not the case in respect of the first of the 9.00 starters who whipped past me at this stage. I am not used to seeing the leaders at this stage of a race and it was reassuring to see that even they were not managing to fully run the hill. I had another minor hiccup at the Slieau Ruy checkpoint where I could not get my dibber to register. I realised later I was probably inserting it from the back of the reader.
After that it was just a question of keeping going as I felt my leg muscles tightening with every mile - again,I am sure down to the lack of training over recent weeks rather than the cold symptoms. No problems except that Bradda Cairn seemed a lot higher in the flesh than it had appeared on the map but all downhill from there. I had noticed over the last few miles that, despite the legs, I did not appear to be losing much ground. One or two of the 9.00 staters were still overhauling me as you would expect but I also was passing one or two. This included two after touching Bradda Tower though to be fair the first of these was talking on his mobile phone. I think in fact on the run in from the tower I went wrong, keeping too high and joining the road further out than I should. As I ran down I passed a sign for runners at a point where another track came in, I think this is where I should have joined the road. But to crown it all I did manage something of a sprint in the last 500 metres (I can always manage that downhill on the road) overtaking another runner about 200 metres from the finish. I came in at 9 hours 18 minutes so it was a quick change by the roadside, no time to sample the meal and off to catch my bus.
Though in Vasque points terms it was the worst of my three races this year I think on the whole I ran it rather better than the Hradmoor the previous week. At least I ran everything except for the steep hills.
From there on: the bus to the airport, the wait and then the flight, the drive back to Leeds where I was staying were all marked by the cold symptoms getting worse. Congestion and particularly a hacking cough. These have stayed with me ever since. Not getting a lot of sleep at night. They are today (Wednesday) beginning to ease at last so I hope I will be OK for the Calderdale on Saturday. I hope so because I would like to get in a reasonably decent time (by my standards at least) now that I appear to be free of injury. If not I can console myself that if the worst comes to the worst it has a pretty generous cut-off time! Due to my cold I have not done any running at all since the race and my legs did not feel up to it until this morning either. If I feel reasonably OK in the morning I might do a gentle 5 miles or so. If not, and I think this is more likely, I will not be running before the Calderdale.
After that I have to get some serious miles in before the Fellsman at the start of May. My early races last year were much better than this but the Fellsman was a real disaster. I cannot afford to be less well prepared than I was then. But at least this time I will be particularly careful not to lose my map half way round!