It certainly felt like summer this weekend. The clocks going forward on Sunday coincided with what was probably one of the nicest days of the year so far...hours of sunshine and barely a breath of wind. Ideal conditions for just about everything, although as far as the walking was concerned, maybe a bit more cloud cover would have made things more comfortable. Still, I'm not complaining, let's hope the good weather carries on for a few more days at the very least.
I really enjoyed the race on Sunday morning. There was a strong turnout of walkers, marshals and spectators and the course round the NSC was more enjoyable than the Ronaldsway route I entered in January in near gale-force conditions. It took me the first couple of laps to get into any sort of rhythm, it sounds strange but I found myself struggling to know what to do with my arms, they felt all out of sync with my legs. After that I managed to settle down and concentrate on trying to keep a consistent pace without going too fast.
After about 4 or 5 of the 10 laps I got a really bad stitch, which slowed me up quite a bit - it was painful to draw breath. I'm not quite sure why this happened but I think it might have something to do with drinking before the race - I find if I have Lucozade or Powerade etc prior to starting something physical, I tend to develop a stitch after a while. I thought 'just keep going, slow down' as I was more bothered about finishing the walk and getting some good practice than trying to keep up with people. After about half a lap, from the swimming pool to the clubhouse by the roadway entrance, I started to feel better and was able to push on again. It's great to have company when walking and I was fortunate enough to be side-by-side with a couple of fast walkers for the majority of the race. So Bridget and Mike, thank you!!
The most satisfying thing about the day was being able to get more advice from people really in the know. When I first did the Parish and the End-to-End, I walked at my own pace just as I would walk to work or around town, probably somewhere in the region of about 4mph. That always got me to the finish line but I used to suffer really bad shoulder and leg pain afterwards. At the time I put it down to the distance, but then reflected a bit and thought that the way I was walking probably wasn't helping me very much. So ever since 2007 I have been trying to modify my walking style to be as economical and clinical as possible - not only to go faster but also to feel better.
I've had plenty of help and advice from a lot of people, without which I'm sure I wouldn't be so bothered about the whole walking thing. In actual fact, there is a heck of a lot more to it than just putting one foot in front of the other. If you can get your arms working a bit, you can generate drive from the top half of your body - taking some of the strain off your legs. So what if you feel self-conscious and start saying to yourself 'this isn't natural' - I'm sure most of us have been there - if it helps your technique then go for it. Nobody cares on Parish day - if everyone is mad enough to do the event, then nobody is going to care whatever gets you through if it works for you.
On Sunday I also had a very useful and constructive discussion with a Parish finisher (and former blogger) about pacing yourself in the Parish Walk. Different things work for different people and I don't want to seem like I am dishing out opinions on how you should be walking, but I think setting the right pace is something that many people can relate to and have difficulty coming to a decision about.
The key thing is not to start too fast. We hear this every year, and it's a maxim that applies to many sports, not just the Parish. Although it is extremely frustrating walking 4 miles to Marown essentially in convoy, and although it's hard to resist the temptation to overtake that group of people in front, try to resist it as much as you can. I think that's stating the obvious a bit, but it's nevertheless important to get warmed up and get your body working before you start to go for it 100%.
You also hear that, for those hoping to finish, the race doesn't start until Peel. Having no qualifications on the subject, I was happy to listen to the advice on Sunday, which is that there is nothing more satisfying than picking people off one-by-one as you slog through Kirk Michael, Jurby and Bride - often the very same individuals who blasted past you through Colby and who you just knew would 'hit the wall' later on.
If like me you have more modest targets than the full 85 miles, then I think there is room for the argument that going for it from the off is not such a bad idea. If your training has gone well, you're confident of making (for example) Rushen without any problems then I'm sure there is no harm in going for it. The Parish only happens once a year and I'm sure some people look back on the day thinking 'if only I'd tried that bit harder, I'd have broken 5 hours to Rushen, or 8 hours to Peel...' Having regrets after the event is irritating, but I would suggest it's better to do that than to retire injured a couple of miles short of your target.
Last year I decided before the race not to hit the pace I wanted until the Braaid crossroads. I did manage to stay reasonably disciplined - I to within about half a mile of the Braaid before making a real effort. I didn't want to burn out before Peel and was worried that if I tried too hard too early, I would suffer the same problems as I did first time round, which was cramp at Eairy Cushlin.
When I got to Peel I was very happy with my time (and happier still with the Tangy cheese Doritos - anyone else get massive salt cravings? I think there is a lesson there) but felt I still had something left 'in the tank.' That frustrated me a bit - obviously nobody wants to be on the point of collapse when they reach their target but I think I could have given it a bit more, a bit sooner. I'm not sure what to do this year, but I want to beat last year's time. That probably means going faster at an earlier stage...which conflicts with the voice in the back of my head that says 'dont start too fast!' So I am in a quandry and still totally undecided. The key is finding the balance, and it takes practice.
At the minute I'm just glad to be home. I did a really nice (and quite last-minute) 7ish mile walk on Friday evening with a friend - from Governors Hill, along the Prom, through town and back to GH again. I spent about an hour hill walking on Saturday morning and then drove to Ramsey as taxi service for a hockey match in the afternoon. On Sunday I did the 10k, went home, had lunch, played 35 minutes of dire Combination football (rearranged because of the IOM national team game on Saturday) and then went for a lap of the TT Couse in the car in the evening, a vice of mine which I have been deprived of for too long. Tonight I've had circuit training for football and I am suffering, to say the least. I'll still try and do about 45 mins walking tomorrow night and then there is football again on Wednesday. Might need to stock up on the Lucozade I think!