The people from the Isle of Man are a little bit crazy*. Now, I’m allowed to say that as most of my family are from that tiny little island that lies almost equidistant between Liverpool and Belfast. But why do I call them crazy you may ask? For a start they like bikes, fast bikes, that race around the island’s tiny roads and mountain bends at 200mph. But lots of people like fast bikes you may say. OK, well they talk to fairies (honestly whole bus loads will stop mid-conversation to say ‘Hello’ to the fairies under the Fairy Bridge). Well, that certainly nudges them up the crazy ladder. OK, how about this; they like to walk 85 miles up some fairly substantial hills/mini mountains, in a climate best described as temperamental, touching the gates of all the parish churches on the island, in under 24 hours? Will that do it for you? And this year, for the third year running I took part! Definitely the crazy gene kicking in.
So what is this madness? It is the Parish Walk, now in its 102nd year. This year the record was broken by Richard Gerrard who completed the course in 14hrs 40 mins and 8 seconds. And there were 174 finishers out of over a thousand starters. The distance alone is pretty crazy but when you take into account the hills and the windy roads and the weather that changes before you can say “pass the vaseline” this is really a race to test your walking mettle. You can choose to complete the 85 miles or stop at one of several points along the route.
As I mentioned this was my third year. In 2013 I got to Rushen (19 miles) and had to retire with an injury. In 2014 I got part way up the infamous Sloc before I had to stop due to heat exhaustion (20.5 miles). What is a Sloc you may ask? Well it is a very long, very steep and very windy hill. This year its peak was demoralisingly hidden under cloud cover so it felt neverending.
Due to a late start to this year’s training (thanks to a sprained ankle in February) I didn’t have any big plans. I just wanted to get to Rushen again, then I could drive to Peel for an ice-cream and congratulate those who were stopping at this important check-point and cheer on those who were going further. I started the race with my cousin (a finisher in 2013) and we walked together for the first 19 miles – over four hours of near continuous rain. With much nagging/persuasion from my cousin, I’d decided to take on the Sloc again. My pace dropped, there was lots of swearing and the rain had cleared and we were now in strong sunshine and I was not enjoying myself. My cousin headed off and I promised I would get to the top of the Sloc and finish (this is not an official stop point so my time would have gone back to Rushen, but it would have been one hell of an achievement). I finally got to the top, to the all important beer tent, knocked back a glass and while my husband was putting my kit away in the car I decided to carry on to the next checkpoint at Kirk Patrick (30.5 miles). My technique had vanished at the bottom of the Sloc, my knees were aching, my neck was burning, my feet were stuck in a rhythm of their own but somehow I got to the church at Kirk Patrick. “But it’s only another couple of miles to Peel, you can do it,” the kindly lady at the checkpoint told me, so with much muttering and mumbling I swallowed down the remaining jelly babies with a dribble of warm Lucozade and went for it.
To this day I don’t know how I did it (family support was a hugh factor, thank you all). But I sailed into Peel on a high, crossed the finish line, beeped my timer for the last time and grasped my beautiful shiny medal. Many words of congratulations were followed by, “So how far are you going next year?” Well, we’ll see. I’ve already achieved so much more than I expected. Will I ever finish it? Never say never. But for now I’m giving my feet a rest and putting my legs up…
…I wish! Training starts for the Medoc Marathon this week.
If you fancy taking part, registration for the 2016 Parish Walk opens on 1 December. The walk will take place over the 18/19 June 2016. See you there.
*As well as crazy, the Manx are also the most kind-hearted and welcoming bunch people you’ll ever meet. They also know how to have a bloody good time!