Sunday, 28 December 2008

Who ate all the Quality Street?

Well Christmas just wouldn't be the same without that huge family tub of chocs now would it? I did feel slightly (just slightly) guilty for eating what was definitely more than my fair share of them, particularly the orange and strawberry cremes, so today I decided to head out for a bit of a walk to burn off some of that cocoa butter.

I still haven't got any decent serviceable trainers so once again was confined to the hiking boots. I had however been planning to walk in the hills around the Corrany Valley with my great-auntie who is a keen hiker, so we fixed up to get out there today. Luckily the weather was on our side and as well as staying dry we even experienced some sunshine.

The Corrany is in the North of the Island and runs between North Barrule and the village of Glen Mona on the Douglas-Ramsey coast road. Despite having been up North Barrule and the surrounding hills before, I had never actually been walking down in the valley where the old mines are situated or on the track by the ruined house at Park Lewellyn.

The valley track from the housing estate itself is now private land and so strictly you are not supposed to walk near up to the mines or to the ancient keeil that lies on the lower slopes of North Barrule. Instead, we walked up the track from the Glen Mona pub (which is a public footpath) and onto the ridge overlooking the valley (which ultimately comes out at the Black Hut.) This gives you a great view down into the valley at the old mine buildings and powder house and is so reminiscent of the old Snaefell and Glen Rushen mines, especially when you try to imagine the journey that the miners must have had in order to get to these remote locations.

We managed a 2-hr walk covering about 5 miles at a leisurely pace, which included a few minutes break to have a look down at the old mine workings and the buildings. I didn't really feel as if I had exerted myself very much and if the forecast for tomorrow proves to be correct, I will be going out again - probably onto the moors around the Mountain Box and Slieau Managh to check on a few more letterboxes after last week's rain.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

It's about time I wrote another post, even if only a short one, as it's been 10 days since the last time. Truth be told, not much has really happened since then so there isn't that much of interest to talk about anyway!

Went to football training last Wednesday on the NSC astro. There was a disappointing turnout but we did some running and then played a 1 hr 15 minute 6-a-side game, which was a decent runaround at least. That was the first time I have played on the NSC since it has been resurfaced and it seems worse to me than it used to be - definitely a lot harder when you fall on it!

With all the rain last week, the football match on Saturday was called off so I drove to St Johns and walked up Slieu Whallian instead, just at a leisurely pace and in hiking boots because it's an absolute killer. I try to do a fair bit of letterboxing when back home (if you're wondering what it is, have a look at

Managed to find the box having been there before, but the plantation looks a lot different in winter when there are more fallen trees to contend with.

I desperately need new trainers to start walking again. I last bought a pair in April for the "7 Stations" but after that and the Parish they started to wear badly, which I was disappointed about as they are a reputable brand. I'm tempted to go and see Ben Scott to ask him to check my gait and recommend some shoes because I don't really want to spend money on a pair of shoes that are only going to last me 2 events before they start rubbing.

Have a relaxing Christmas!

Friday, 12 December 2008

Walking Haven

The Island has a well-known reputation for being financially advantageous, but in terms of walking events, we don't do too badly either.

As well as the Parish there are numerous other events that take place throughout the year - right the way through from January to December, so we're in a pretty privileged position in comparison with some other parts of the British Isles.

The beauty is that all of these events have wholesale appeal. Serious walkers can use them as training and preparation for the Parish walk, or indeed as competitive races in their own right. Charity walkers have many opportunities to raise money for their specific causes. For those who just want to concentrate on the fitness and social aspects of walking, there is no pressure - just plenty of chances to get out and benefit physically and mentally from a couple of hours walk and talk with friends or fellow entrants.

I'm thinking in particular of two events that I have participated in - the 7 Stations Challenge (Sara Killey Memorial Walk) which is in Spring and the End to End in September. There is also the Peel to Douglas walk (which I believe went very well last week,) the HSBC Winter League (which always get good attendance and reviews in the local press) and other events like the Union Mills Garage 20k, the Foxdale 6, the Welbeck 1 hr challenge and so on.

The social aspect of walking and the feeling of solidarity with everyone else was something that really struck me when I first did the Parish, and it's true of every other event I have entered. It's very easy to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, which is nice - because even if you've got nothing else in common, there is always the walk to talk about. In actual fact one of the biggest benefits of having someone to walk with is to keep encouraging you along, to help you set a comfortable pace and to get you through some of the more difficult physical and mental parts of the walk.

During the 2007 Parish I had the good fortune to be caught at Dalby by two many-time Parish finishers who are both well-known and respected in local walking. Without their help and advice, I doubt if I would have got to Peel - but even if I had, I would not have got close to the time I eventually achieved.

After that experience, I knew I had to improve technically and feel that to some extent I have done that. This meant that during the End to End in 2007 and the 7 Stations this year, I was able to enjoy walking alongside someone much more, not having to worry about pain and blisters.

I don't have friends who regularly walk, and generally train by myself, hence the reason why I'm quite happy to fall into step with someone else for company during events. Occasionally I've been out with a friend and her work colleagues, or with mum on some of her routes but always ask for the car keys in case I want to stretch the pace a bit and get back to the car a little bit quicker.

The Sara Killey event was great as I spent virtually all of Port Erin to Ramsey in the company of someone or other who set a similar pace, it really is surprising how much quicker the miles pass when you can have a good natter.

This year's Parish was a bit more lonely than 2007, mainly because of the weather, but also I was a bit closer to the front this time so everyone was more strung out. This is where having a support crew really helps, but I'll leave that discussion for another time.

Finally, the End to End in September was the best race I have ever been in, for various reasons. The main one is that I spent about 8 miles stride by stride with the only other U-21 man in the race, 2008 U21 Parish winner James Moore. Naturally we were both going for it hammer and tongs, but we found plenty to chat about. It was great to be able to talk about Uni, Douglas nightlife, football...something I had not had chance to do before whilst walking.

In some ways it's a shame that the U-21 races in my opinion creep under the radar, and yes of course I am biased, but there have been plenty of good ones over the years involving some of today's best walkers (Steve Partington springs to mind, if I remember correctly the fastest ever U21 man to Peel in the Parish.) Also one of the other bloggers, Julia Furner, is a previous 2-time Parish and End to End U21 winner, hoping to finish this year.

Of course the action at the sharp end of the field is what everyone wants to know about, and this year's End to End was certainly a very good race. I reckon though that the closest contest was a bit further back between James and myself, the lead being decided on who put which foot forward first (I managed to blag the pictures from the prize presentation to prove it!)

It's a big shame that James was forced to drop out at Orrisdale with blisters, having had the lead for a while and having had the measure of me on the uphill sections. It's testament to his character that he was there on Peel Prom at the end to see me finish, something I really appreciated.

Have a great weekend and my next post will hopefully be from the comfort of a heated house, with some decent food and a real shower!!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Training Part 2

So another weekend over, and just one more left for me before I get home. Next weekend actually should be very relaxing as I am going to Carlisle to spend some time with a couple of friends from school back home. I've got a couple of essays due on Monday though, so it's looking like a marathon effort in the library this week to get them done by late on Friday so I can head across the Pennines without any nagging deadline worries. Watch this space...

That's a bit of a digression I know but it is slightly relevant, I suppose, in that next weekend is a wipeout as far as any sort of training is concerned, and I'm not just on about the walking variety.

Having re-read last week's posting, I might have come across as taking the view that only walking can help you build up for the Parish - but I'm sure that's not true. Any kind of physical excercise in my book can only be beneficial, whether it's taking the dogs for a walk round the block or going for a 10-mile run.

I would say there's no need to feel guilty if you can't go 'Parish' walking with your bottle of juice and comfy trainers - a stroll in hiking boots along the beach it just as good for general stamina and can make you feel a lot better after a long day (or week) in the office. If you're aiming for speed and technique then of course a few road/NSC track sessions will be helpful, but for the majority some general activity here and there helps keep you 'ticking over' during the winter and can provide some stimulation to get out of the house.

Being a student, I'm in the privileged position of having a raft of sporting opportunities open to me both in Durham, and also at home too. I play 11-a-side football in Durham twice a week - training on Wednesdays and matches on Saturdays, which (to my limited knowledge in this area) is great for leg muscles especially, and helps to build stamina. Add to that the 5-a-side centre down the road, and the fact that I'm in a house with 4 other football-crazy can see where this is going.

Surprisingly, I actually play more football at home. Most local teams, both 1st and Combination (the 2nd team, if you like) train twice weekly as well as playing on Saturdays. Mine is no different, and we have fitness sessions on Mondays with not a football in sight - usually it's the gaswork steps by the swing-bridge in Douglas or a gym somewhere. At least on Wednesdays we get to practice skills and match situations, so all in all it's quite a well-rounded way to stay in shape.

Hiking is another hobby of mine. It may not seem like everyone's idea of fun, but putting on some heavy, cumbersome hiking boots and going up Snaefell for example, really works the calf muscles - especially when you are wading through thick grass or when it's especially steep.

If you combine hill walking with something like Geo-caching or the more old-school letterboxing, which adds an extra dimension to your walk as you search for the hidden caches and boxes, it can be really good fun. Plus, as has already been mentioned on the manxathletics forums, going out in your trainers after a couple of weeks in boots is a pleasant surprise and a bit of a treat.

Hiking brings other benefits too. My claim to fame when out on the Island's hills? Seeing Sean Hands on Clagh Ouyr just 1 week after the End to End this year. Not a word of a lie - just a shame I couldn't garner any technical tips for road walking from him! :)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Entries so far and winter training

I've been thinking about what to post this week, and having read Martijn's blog - have a look at - have realised that we have both gone for the same topic. I'll try not to replicate what Martijn has said, but I hope that two postings by two different people on the same subject of winter training can only be beneficial for anyone who is interested, especially considering our differing preparations.

Firstly though, the entries so far - an impressive 41 as I write this at lunchtime on Wednesday. The list includes a couple of people I know, either through school or local football, and it's nice to check back every few days and have a 'skeet' (yessir) at who has entered so far. I think (I'm sure Murray has the stats) that there were over 30 entries on the first day, which bodes very well for another bumper field this time round...although getting out of the NSC log-jam might end up being even more problematic than usual!

I have always found winter training difficult. It's hard to get motivated to go outside in the freezing cold, especially when the main event most of us are focusing on isn't until next June, and most of us I'm sure are more concerned with Christmas preparations and work deadlines than hitting the pavement on a Saturday afternoon. Add to that the snow that the North-East has had this week (yay) and even walking around town is hard enough without slipping everywhere.

It's easy to make excuses...and mine is the fact that I am still in Durham for another 2 weeks before I get back to the 'rock' for the Christmas break. Hence, it's a bit more difficult to say 'Right ok I'm going out for an hour on the prom,' particularly as in some ways Durham isn't especially well adapted for walking training (although there are plenty of lovely gentle walks along the river and around the city.)

Those of you who have been to Durham will know that it's a lovely place, with very friendly people and a surprising amount of things to do, for somewhere that is (I would say) substantially smaller than Douglas. The problem walk-wise is that the main city centre is full of cobbled streets, shops (obviously) and lots of people - worse than Strand Street on a Saturday, and that's just during the week because it's rammed with students. For training purposes then, I need to broaden my horizons a bit and try and get out of what is affectionately known amongst the student population as the 'Durham bubble.'

I considered this in about March/April time when I was training for this year's Parish. I ended up buying an Ordance Survey map and plotting some circular walks of around 9-10 miles around the city. Because Durham is so small I had never had cause to go anywhere other than on foot (except to Sunderland on the bus for a football match once) so I was unfamiliar with the ring road and other routes around the place. The map was the best investment I made - I would sit in my room working out where to go, scribble the route down on some scrap paper, tuck it into my sock and then head out into the bold blue yonder hoping that I wouldn't get lost (and hoping that my high-vis and shorts wouldn't startle the ladies in the halls of residence.) Fortunately I didn't get lost - or see any ladies for that matter, and after all I should really be able to read a map after doing A-level Geography. Plus, there is always the Cathedral on the horizon to aim for when you are rocking along the country lanes.

It's not just lack of local knowledge that is problematic though. Being a student necessarily entails other distractions too. Hopefully many of them will emerge throughout the course of this blog as the weeks go by, but it's worth mentioning a couple here I think. The first one is exams and other academic commitments - yes, students do actually do some work - honest. Exam time is between about May 15 and June 4, which played havoc with my Parish training earlier in the year, as well as causing me to miss most of TT race week - grr. I did manage to get out for a few walks, but the majoriy of my long-distance training was done in March and April when I was home for Easter.

At the moment I've got a few essays due before the end of term, as well as seminars here and there. This is making it difficult to train, as well as the voice in my head telling me not to start until January, when the walk is in the same year as the training! That's a terrible distinction to make I know, but I promised myself a good rest after this year's End to End (perhaps more about that next week, I'm waffling a bit already now.) I think a compromise will have to be reached - I'll put in a good walk before Christmas day, which will at least be the earliest I will have ever begun training, last year I think it was well into February before I laced up those trainers for the first time. It is said though that Parish Walk training begins in November, but I would like to think that applies to finishers only, as I have certainly missed that particular benchmark!

Will leave it there for now, and try to say something meaningful about the End to End and other training-related things in the next post.

Just one last thing though - if you do fancy some decent winter training, the Peel to Douglas walk is taking place this Sunday 7th December. I'm not sure of entry details/timings etc, but all the details I believe are at Should be a good event, it usually attracts most of the big names and I shall be sorry not to be back in time for it.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Parish Nostalgia

Ok, so entries for the Parish don't open until midnight on Sunday - and for those of you ultra-keen to get your names down, you probably won't get a chance to read this until then at the very earliest. Just to 'kick-off' the blog though, I thought I'd share with you some of my best (and worst) Parish memories, to break things in gently and build a bit of excitement as the entries start to trickle in.

Unfortunately I'm not old enough to remember anything pre-2003, as you'll guess from the little 'profile' section on the right hand side! That said though, there have been plenty of memorable performances and talking points in the last five years.

My first contact with the event was as a marshal at the Round Table in 2003. Together with some friends I had a brilliant day soaking up the atmosphere, looking out for walkers I knew (seeing school teachers in pain was a particular highlight, if a bit cruel) and generally trying to lend a hand wherever I was needed. Lasting memories were of blow-up palm trees, Mann-Vend guys dressed as butlers and of course the brilliant view all the way back to Cronk-ny-Arrey-Laa - we could see the walkers rounding the sharp right-hander at the very top of the Sloc 15 minutes before they got to us.

For 2004 and 2005 I was out and about supporting for mum and her close friend. This gave me a chance to get a better feel for what people go through during the walk - where, when and what they like to eat, what sort of conditions they prefer and how to be a good support crew without driving your walker mad with constant comments like 'Are you ok,' 'do you need another banana' etc etc.

2006 will I'm sure always be remembered for Sean's incredible record - and not forgetting Robbie in 2nd, beating Derek Harrison's long-standing record too. I remember deciding in the afternoon that I was definitely going to watch the finish, then in the evening realising that I couldn't face going out...and regretting it massively in the morning when I read the news on the website.

2007 was my first crack at the U21 mens' race, with the goal being to reach Peel. Prior to the race I had done a reasonable amount of training and also read the forums on the site in the hope of gleaning tips on things like food and race pacing. Depending on whose views you read, between 70 and 90 % of the Parish is 'in the head,' although it didn't feel like it on the day! (100% was in the legs!)

I'd averaged a steady pace from the start until the Round Table (something like 4.2 mph I think) but then must have gone down the other side into the dip a little bit too fast, because I 'hit the wall' at Eairy Cushlin with cramp in both hamstrings. It was a massive shock, because I hadn't felt any twinges or discomfort until then - the muscles just 'went' and I knew I was in trouble.

After some Deep Heat and a bit of stretching I carried on in quite a lot of pain - not just in the legs but the shoulders too. After a while though, on the descent into Dalby, I began to feel better and thought for the first time 'I can actually do this.' The climb out of Glen Maye was a killer, I was walking like a robot trying to keep my legs straight to prevent the cramp hitting again - but once back on the flat I really perked up and was able to get past a few people on the way into Peel. I finished in 7.27.22, shocked and pleased to have come 4th in the U21 mens category and dying for a chinese takeaway and a hot bath!

2008 was a strange year in many respects. Firstly the weather - it's virtually inexplicable unless you were a walker, marshal, support crew or member of the public who happened to be out following the race, and I probably escaped the worst of it, restricted as I was to finishing at Peel. Some of the footage on the Sky highlights programme from Jurby, Andreas and Lezayre (I'm thinking Michael George and Sue Biggart approaching Ramsey, for those who watched it) was unbelieveable, the way the rain was bouncing off the road. Everyone knows it was the wettest Parish in history so there's no point me whingeing about it further...but I think we really did have all 4 seasons in one day (well maybe 3, there wasn't much sunshine!)

This year with a better and more strictly-followed training regime than 2007, new-ish trainers and course knowledge, I was confident of beating my previous effort and hopefully improving on 4th place. Somehow I managed it - despite the driving wind and rain on the Sloc - getting to Peel in 7.12.25 and coming 2nd (admittedly only just) in the U21s. Maybe I could have cracked 7 hours in better conditions but it was the same for everybody, and anyone can claim ifs buts and maybes! 2008 will stick in the memory for a very long time, for the efforts in particular of Chris Moon (whose achievement at finishing was remarkable) and Jock Waddington, who proved a lot of the pundits wrong and produced a great performance to see off the threats of the rest of the field. It's a shame that Sean was forced to retire when going so well but hopefully this year's End to End result went some way towards alleviating the disappointment of the Parish for him.

That, I'm sure, is enough for the first post. I'll try and post again sometime in the middle of next week once a few people have got their entries in.