Thursday, 29 January 2009

Top 6

It's been a quiet week on the walking front. I haven't specifically been out training but I did manage 2 miles to Tesco on Saturday (although I got the bus back!) Apart from that, all I have done is day-to-day walking back and forth from town, lectures etc. I did play football on Saturday and again yesterday, for 2 and a half hours, so I'd like to think that I have had an equivalent physical workout to doing a decent walk.

I'm sort of in limbo at the moment because it's quite a while until I am home for Easter and to my knowledge there aren't any events going on up here that can help me get motivated to go out training. Another problem is that the dark nights make it difficult to go out, in a strange way I am craving the NSC roadway! At least it's lit and relatively safe - no tree roots to trip you up although admittedly there are plenty of cars. I will just have to knuckle down and get on with it. I have thought about going to the gym and using the treadmill, and one of my housemates has said he wants to go running at least once a week, so either of those could be an option. The latter is more likely I think, so hopefully I can give that a try.

I've been thinking about possible training routes back on the IOM that I can do when I get home, so I thought I would post my limited dossier of 6 and maybe they will give you some inspiration if you haven't tried them already. I tend to stick to what I know and am not really too adventurous, but there are plenty of very nice walks out there if the weather is good and you have the time. In ascending order then:

6. NSC Roadway: I know for some people this would be hell on earth, going round and round the same track and seeing the same things every 10 minutes or so. I only just started training there in the week before Christmas, but I was pleasantly surprised. There are no nasty hills and it's very convenient for me from home. There is always the traffic to contend with, but this only tends to be really bad near to the astro pitch, and if you are there late enough after work you can generally get a good few laps in without being disturbed. Human company or an i-Pod come in handy is monotonous.

5. Marine Drive:. Yes it may be boring, but I have found it very handy during TT week for last-minute training where you just want to keep 'ticking over' without going too far. In the past I have parked at the Port Soderick end and walked right the way along to Manx Radio and back. It's 3 miles each way so the whole thing is about 6 miles and is very pleasant to get away from the roads jam-packed with bikes. Great views on a nice day and there is always something going on out to sea if you get bored of the constant rock faces!

4. Marown 'Figure of 8': This was the first training walk I ever did for the Parish. Park at Chibbanagh Plantation on the back road from Douglas to St Marks and walk back towards Douglas until the top of the Lhergy Cripperty road into Union Mills. Go down the steep hill into the village and then follow the Parish course to the Glen Darragh road by Marown School. Still following the Parish route, go all the way to the Braaid Crossroads. Go straight on and take the first left onto the narrow Newtown Road (also part of the Parish route.) Come out on the main road by Mount Murray, turn left again and go past the hotel, and golf club to come out eventually at the nasty juncton on the St Marks back road once again. Take a left to bring you back to the plantation. It's about 8 miles, some good hill training in there but plenty of flat too. Lots of pavement and even where there is no pavement, the roads are generally quiet anyway.

3. Ballasalla/Castletown 'Figure of 8': Park in the big car park by the ford in Ballasalla next to Rushen Abbey where the recycling bins are. Follow the narrow road in the opposite direction to the ford to bring you out on the Ballasalla to Port Erin road. Carry on to Cross Four-Ways and walk against the Billown Circuit to Ballabeg Hairpin (Parish route again.) Turn right and go into the village, past where the tiny shop used to be on the left hand side, follow the Parish past Arbory Church and walk all the way to Colby. Go through the village past the pub and the Spar until you get to just before where the old Level Garage used to be, on the left hand side of the road. There is a tiny little road on the left hand side (just past the 'Welcome to Colby' sign) which goes over the railway tracks and brings you out by the big house with high walls that borders the coast road at Gansey. Alternatively you can extend this one by going left at the site where the garage was, past Strawberry Fields to bring you out by the Shore Pub.

When you get to the coast road turn left and walk up Fishers' Hill, once again against the Billown Circuit and into Castletown. Turn left at Castletown Corner, walk past the football club and all the way to Cross Four-Ways via Malew Church. Follow the way you came to get back to the car. This one is nearer 9 miles I think.

2. The Sloc: Park on Glen Road in Colby, in the lay-by on the left before Colby FC. Walk back to the main road through the village and follow the Parish route to Ballakillowey roundabout. Follow the Parish all the way up the Sloc to the Round Table. Turn right, go past South Barrule, the quarry and Magnetic Hill and follow the road all the way back, right into Colby past the water works and the football club. 11-odd miles, great hill training, don't do it in the rain though!

1. Baldwin Valley: I really like this walk. I do it from home (Saddlestone) and go to Braddan Bridge, past Jubilee Oak to the school and then Strang Crossroads. Turn right past the new Union Mills FC and take the next left which brings you to East Baldwin. Follow the road past Papermill, into the valley until after about 2 or 3 miles you get to the steep hill on your left which takes you to St Luke's Church. Go up the hill (very steep) and turn right at the junction. Follow the road round to the left past the church, down the hill and up the other side to Injebreck Reservoir. Turn left past Ard Whallin, through West Baldwin, all the way to the junction with the Mount Rule back road to Crosby. Turn left, past Ballamillaghyn and into the Strang. Go straight on towards Braddan school and retrace your steps from there. Again this is about 11 miles or so.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Walking in the dark

This week seems to have gone especially quickly; happily it is Friday tomorrow and the weekend beckons! I've now had chance to get back into the swing of Uni life since getting back on Sunday night.

Wednesday afternoon is always free from lectures as the Uni set the time aside for sports training, so I had football yesterday from 1.30 until 4. Normally we don't go on that late, but we've got a big game coming up on Saturday so we spent some extra time practising corners, free-kicks and the like before the usual free-for-all game at the end.

I've decided to really try and get into a regime of doing some walking twice a week if possible. It was quite easy when I was home for Christmas, given that I didn't have any evening commitments on a Tuesday, Thursday or Friday. In Durham though it's a bit more difficult because Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays tend to get taken up with other things, only really leaving me with Thursday. Theoretically of course I could go out during the early morning (but would rather be in bed, it's too cold up here at 7am!) or during the day, but work has to take precedence over training.

Tonight I managed to get out for a decent 45 minute session. In all honesty I could have chosen a better route because 3/4 of it was in total darkness along the river and then a public footpath leading into a housing estate. I did manage to build up some good speed on the flat sections and there are a couple of notable hills which just stretched things out a little bit. I was still feeling a bit sore from the football, but nothing too bad, and got home feeling that I had done just about the right amount. It's a bit disconcerting when you can't really see where you are going, so I'll have to re-think evening walks for next time I reckon.

Tomorrow will be a quiet day of lectures, library and rest for the match on Saturday. I might try a gentle wander along the river on Sunday, when I can see where I am going. Also I finally managed to get my entry in for the Parish tonight, so there is no going back now!

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Back to the grindstone

After a month of proper food, a fully heated house etc etc I am finally back to Uni tomorrow morning. I suppose you are thinking 'about time too' and I must admit I'm quite lucky that the holidays are so generous, but there will no doubt be plenty of work to get on with as soon as I get back. Sunday isn't a great day to travel because of all the maintenance-related disruption on the trains, so even though I leave the Island at 11 I'm not expecting to be back in the house until about 6.15.

I've had another decent week, having managed to get out walking three times and football training twice. Did a 1-hour session of walking on both Tuesday and Thursday and felt pretty good, pushing the pace at times but mainly trying to concentrate on technique. Monday and Wednesday were taken up with football, although Wednesday was pretty tough because of the wind so we mainly played games rather than trying to practice dribbling through cones and all the other skills that the manager makes us practice, as the wind was blowing things all over the place.

Our match today was cancelled due to the weather so I decided to get out walking instead. With the bad forecast I decided on a fairly sheltered route which also happens to be one of my favourites, which is around Baldwin valley. I set off from home at about 1 o'clock, having missed the best of the weather, and got home almost exactly 2 hours later before the worst of the wind and the rain, although I did get a bit battered on some of the more exposed sections.

I went from home in Saddlestone, down past Kirby Garden Centre to Braddan Bridge, then up the hill to Braddan School and the Strang Crossroads where I turned right out towards Abbeylands. Past the new Union Mills football pitch I then went left into Baldwin, following the road past the old papermill and up to the T junction before the steep hill that takes you towards St Luke's Church. Once at the top of that hill I went right, past St Luke's itself and then down the steep hill towards Injebreck reservoir. Once up the other side I then turned left, following the road past Ard Whallin through West Baldwin all the way back to Mount Rule, Strang and then back home the same way I had come. In total I think it's roughly somewhere between 9 and 10 miles. The wind was very blustery around St Luke's and also on the road just before you drop down towards Mount Rule, but I felt ok in the legs and tried to keep pushing on at a comfortable pace.

I'm very pleased with how the new trainers are shaping up, and they will be going back to Durham for training over there. I think this first week back is going to be a bit hectic but hopefully I can get some walking done before next weekend.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Dermot O'Toole's book

Just something I forgot to add yesterday. I recently bought a copy of 'A Walk Through Time' which is the definitive history of the Parish Walk and was written by Dermot O'Toole, who has finished the course on numerous occasions.

It's a great read and covers everything from the historical origins of the walk to a year-by-year report. I'd recommend having a skeet at it in the bookshops at the very least. I think it's available pretty much everywhere.

By the way if anyone found a yellow Dunlop hat down at Ronaldsway on Sunday, I would be very gratful as quite amusingly it blew off my head in the middle of the walk.

Monday, 12 January 2009

The highs and the lows

I have had an extremely hectic last three days on the sporting front - happily most of it was positive, but seemingly as ever in sport, there were some frustrating moments too. Apologies that once again this is quite a long posting.

Saturday afternoon was football. I had a match at 2pm, the first game the team had played since early December because of a combination of bad weather, Christmas and lack of fixtures. That meant everyone in the club wanted a game, so predictably everyone turned up. As a result I had to make do with a place on the bench for the first 45 mins, but I was pleased to get the whole second half, since having been told I wouln't be starting the game I wasn't expecting to get more than about half an hour. We were all a bit rusty and I didn't play especially well but we escaped with a draw, a good result on the day against a decent team.

In a way I suppose only playing half the game was a blessing in disguise because I had planned to enter the 10k HSBC Winter Walking League event at Ronaldsway on Sunday morning. I still felt pretty fresh after the football so I was confident that I would be able to produce a walk that would accurately replicate my level of fitness and my walking ability (or lack of it!)

When I got down to Ronaldsway, it was obvious that conditions were going to be difficult. There was a very strong wind, which although gusting sideways across the majority of the course, was actually right in your face around the back of the Industrial Estate next to the Post Office building. At least the early morning rain had stopped, and although I would have preferred the rain rather than the wind, I just had to get on with it.

I'd never entered any of the winter walking league events before but I felt that it could be a good way of improving my technique and getting some more training mileage in my legs. I wasn't even sure of the course when I lined up on the start line, but there was a great turnout considering the weather (about 50 entrants) so the message was simple - just follow the crowd.

In a nutshell, the course is as follows: the start is by the Strix building opposite the Ronaldsway playing fields. Everyone then walks down the road, with Strix on their left, and round the loop at the bottom of the dip past the Post Office place before coming back up the road, past the start line (on the opposite side of the cones) and all the way to the sharp bend by the main road at the front of the Airport, before U-turning and heading back across the start line. 1 lap is 1k so the whole course (10k) is 6 miles for those of you like me who deal in the latter measurement.

The first half-lap was a nightmare akin to the TT Access Road on Parish day, with everyone jammed into one side of the road, but by the bottom of the dip things had thinned out a little. The headwind was terrible on the lower section of the lap but at least it was at everyone's back as we turned towards the main straight.

I started quickly to try and get clear of the main bunch and get into a rhythm. I often find that my shins are very tight and painful for the first 15 or 20 minutes of walking, and this happened on Sunday as well. I kept going at the same pace and eventually walked it off but it's something I could do without...maybe just a leisurely couple of hundred metres warm-up beforehand will do the trick in the future.

Not being sure of what pace I could manage, I thought beforehand that I would be happy with between 65 and 67 minutes for the distance (which very roughly equates to about 5.5mph.) I thought this was realistic based on my times for the Parish, 7 Stations and End to End, which are the only timed walks I've ever taken part in. Plus I wanted to try and get close to the personal best time for the winter league set by a friend of mine in an earlier round!

By half-distance on lap 5 I realised I was going quicker than my target speed, and just focused on trying to keep going at that pace of about 1 lap every 6 and a half minutes. I had already been lapped by race leader Michael George and was not too far off being lapped by 2nd placed Chris Cale. George was apparently on a mission but was hotly pursued by the chasing pack of Parish regulars Cale, Mark Hempsall, Andy Green and Marie Jackson until she stopped after 5k having set the fastest time for that distance.

I had maintained the same position in the race from laps 1-6 and then managed to get past someone on lap 7, but the positions around me remained unchanged until the end - despite at one stage being close to two guys in front, I fell away long before the end and had a pretty isolated last 3 laps. I crossed the line in 62 mins 49 secs, 9th position 'on the road' (albeit only by virtue of a few people stopping after 5k,) but nevertheless an absolutely dream performance. Following calculation of the handicap I actually finished 30th out of 32. Note to self: must do better!!

Michael George posted the fastest time on the day whilst Chris Cale had a very strong 2nd half of the race to come home a deserved 2nd (without the handicap.) The rapid Andy Green took 3rd, and Mark Hempsall was sadly disqualified...I'm not quite sure why, but probably a result of the dreaded 'straight leg rule' upon which I'd like to add a few words in a moment. But the race is won outright on handicap to give everyone a fair crack of the whip, so congratulations to Alan Pilling who produced a fine steady walk to take the honours. Dave Mackey claimed the 5k win and it was great to see so many juniors on the course, no doubt the conditions were more difficult for them than anyone.

Getting pulled up by the judges for not having a straight leg as you place your foot on the ground is the ultimate walker's nightmare. In the winter league everyone is under scrutiny, but it is great that the organisers are able to arrange for the judges and marshals to supervise the race, because without them there would be no winter league at all.

Having not taken walking very seriously until last year, I hadn't even heard of the straight leg rule until it came up very controversially in the End to End. I was also warned about it myself in that event when descending towards the finish in Peel - as you're going downhill it can be hard to establish the correct contact with the ground, especially when you know you are moments from finishing the race.

It was mentioned to me again on Sunday. In my enthusiasm in the early stages, I was not extending the leg properly so that the knee of the grounded leg was not fully straightened. I had to tone things down and concentrate hard, particularly on the little downhill incline after the straight.

It's very frustrating trying to learn how to go fast whilst staying within the rules, and it is certainly a fine line. In my case the best analogy I can think of is that when I am walking what feels like a quick marching pace, the technique is perfectly fine, but whenever I try to get any sideways movement of the hips (what I think most people would identify as a classic racewalking style as opposed to my 'marching' analogy) I get pinged for bent knees.

The problem is entirely of my own making and something that I have got to sort out myself, because if the knee is not straight then you are not walking properly, simple as that. I'll keep trying though because I find it a lot more comfortable and a lot less stressful on the hamstrings and calves to have a nice fluid style rather than striding out like a soldier on parade as I feel I am doing at the moment!

I won't be walking again until at least Thursday, following a killer circuit training session at football tonight (leg 3 of the extended sporting weekend) so I'll perhaps post again on Friday. Have a good week.

Thursday, 8 January 2009


Finally my new pair of trainers are here. I know I've been complaining a bit in the last couple of blogs about my inadequate footwear but happily you won't have to listen to any more of that :)

Got home from work yesterday and there they were on the doorstep, all lovely and new in their blue plastic wrap. I didn't actually get chance to open them until late in the evening because of football training, but they feel comfortable based upon the 5 or so minutes I walked them round the house! The acid test will of course come with training but they are a brand I have used before (Asics) and I know I am comfortable with them.

The main reason I've been waiting so desperately for the trainers is the fact that since coming back from Durham I have had very little in the way of decent footwear for walking. Stupidly I left my usual pair of trainers behind, leaving me with a choice of astro-turf football boots or scruffy, too-small trainers that I found in the back of the wardrobe which must somehow have escaped the skip. I managed the 3-mile speed sesh last week in the old trainers but they were too tight and rubbed really badly towards the end. I went out again on Tuesday and opted instead for the astro boots. They look ridiculous for walking (although having said that, I suppose I look silly enough anyway) and squeak like mad because they have much more of a plastic complexion than running shoes/trainers do. It's quite funny really but needless to say I won't be needing them again for walking.

I'm now looking forward to getting out tonight for an hour or so, with a bit more confidence in my footwear and hopefully more comfort for the leg muscles and feet too.

Footwear is obviously one of the most important considerations to have in mind for the Parish. It is certainly up there in terms of 'most crucial' although I would say that making sure you eat and drink regularly is just as critical. In my experience it helps to have a shoe that will to some extent absorb the hammer blow of the road as you are going along, but it needs to be comfortable too - it's no use spending crazy money on the latest cushioning technology if the shoes are too tight or even too big, because you are likely to encounter more serious problems like blistering, damaged nails etc.

What you want to wear on your feet I think depends to some extent on your targets for the walk. If you're hoping to reach Rushen, for example, then I'm sure you'd be perfectly ok wearing the pair of trainers that you regularly use around the house, when you go into town, when you drive and so on. If the shoes are comfy for a good length of time and don't cause discomfort during day-to-day wear, they should take you the 19.5 miles no problem.

I know many people who have done this, indeed when I did the Parish for the first time I just used my regular trainers that I had bought many weeks earlier and I found afterwards that despite the usual aches and pains, I was largely ok. The only thing that gave me pain for a few days afterwards was shin splints, which is why I decided to have a serious look at running shoes because of the added cushioning that they offer in comparison with other trainers. Fingers crossed, this has solved the problem so far.

In the End to End last year I met a guy who was walking in what were basically slip-on pumps, and he managed the 22.5 miles to Peel without any obvious discomfort. People wear hiking boots too - my advice would be stick to whatever feels best for you. Just because 90% of the walkers are in trainers doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be better off in them. If all your walking is done in boots then do the Parish in boots - you can always change your footwear to trainers if you are uncomfortable on the day. Also I'm not sure that doing the Parish with a brand new pair of shoes on your feet is a good idea - try and break them in for a while beforehand so you know that you are happy with them and you won't be nagged by doubts when you want to be enjoying the day.

If you're keen to do more research on finding what shoes are best for you, I'd recommend the footwear guide at:

(Don't be put off by the 'running shoes' reference - because these shoes are designed to absorb the weight of someone running, they are ideal for walking too. In fact they probably last longer because you're not putting as much weight on the shoe when you walk.)

This is a decent guide that helps you identify which type of shoes you will be best suited to - broadly speaking there are three types of shoe: cushioning, stability and control. Which shoe works for you will depend on how you place your foot on the ground - this is called pronation. The website gives a better explanation than I can about this, and there is a raft of info elsewhere on the internet, so you can explore this at your leisure.

Generally people who under-pronate require cushioning shoes, people with a mild pronation use stability shoes and those who over-pronate are best off with control shoes. The website gives the example that mild pronatiors would leave a thin, high-arch footprint with a wet foot (eg when you get of the bath) mild pronators leave a print where the arch hits the floor but the inside of your foot does not (the 'classic' foot shape) and overpronators leave a flat footprint.

Hopefully that helps a bit, but I would certainly advise having a look at that website and others for more accurate, detailed advice if you are looking for new shoes and want some proper, clear guidance on what should suit you best.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you all had a pleasant time on Wednesday night, whether at home or in town. I've never really been big on celebrating New Year, but have come to appreciate it more in the last couple of years, especially when invites from friends to their house 'gatherings' come along. This year though I didn't drink much and was home by 12.30 ready for work on Thursday morning. Maybe a short straw, but it was my fault for agreeing to go in. At least it was double pay, which will cover the new pair of trainers that I bought online last week!

This week I have done pretty well in terms of getting out walking. After Sunday's leisurely 5-miler I went out again on Monday and covered about the same distance but in a shorter time, as I was by myself. I parked the car at the Mountain Box and went for a stroll around the moors opposite the north face of Snaefell. It was very chilly and there was very thick ice in places. To be honest I was glad to get back into the car afterwards but I felt invigorated and was glad I made the effort. I did a triangular route via the Watershed Cairn on the Millennium Way (the pic at the top) followed by the summit of Slieau Managh and then a steep descent into Block Eary, which is the valley that starts roughly where the Black Hut is and runs along the base of Snaefell on the Ramsey side.

On Tuesday evening I went to the NSC and did 6 laps of the perimeter road (which I think is near enough 3 miles.) This was the first decent speed training session I have done since the End to End and it felt really good. My heels and calves were hurting quite a lot at the end of it, but after some gentle stretching as a warm-down and a hot bath, everything felt ok. I was down there for about an hour in total but that included some stops during the laps. I'm not quite sure what sort of pace I was doing, but it was 'brisk' to say the least. I made a bit of an error in wearing shorts, because it was bitterly chilly down there, so future night training might have to be in tracksuit trousers - not exactly the most comfortable but at least they will keep me a bit warmer. Plus when the new trainers finally get here, it will be a lot more comfortable and I hope to be able to gradually increase the distance.

On Wednesday morning I went out with mum. We climbed South Barrule and actually found ourselves above the mist that had been swirling about the Round Table crossroads. It was very surreal to see the summit of Snaefell poking out from a mass of white about feeling like you are standing on top of the world! We walked along the moors to the Glen Rushen mines and then came back along the road. It took about 3 hours and I think must have been about 5 miles, although I haven't had a proper look on the map. In the main I am not too worried at the moment about how far I am walking, just trying to get out regularly and get some fresh air.

I've arranged to go hiking with a friend tomorrow if the weather stays dry, and will try some road walking on Sunday if the shoes are here tomorrow. Next week will be a bit more difficult as I have got some work experience in town from 9 until 5.30 every day, so I will have to get to football training and then see if I can make time to get some walking done during the other evenings.