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!!

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