Welcome back blog fans - having gone to ground for a while, it's certainly about time that I wrote a new post. I'm getting pretty excited for the Parish now, and although it's still over a month away, I suppose that's not really very long at all. Plus, the entries have now closed and the numbers have been allocated, so that's one of the first things I like to look for on the build up to the big day.
I've been having a look through the entry list and was quite surprised to come across some interesting stats (which hopefully you won't find too boring, it intrigued me a bit but maybe I am having an 'anorak' moment...)
This year there is a record entry of 1620, compared to last year's 1598 - so only 22 extras. My race number however is only 5 higher than it was last year, which suggested two things. The first was that perhaps entry numbers in one category e.g. senior men might be a bit lower and there might be a slightly higher entry from (for example) senior women, to allow for the balance which made my race number stay virtually the same. The other (and much more obvious answer in my view) was that the rest of the field was pretty static but that this year there is a boost in the number of entries from under-21s. Looking through the entry list, this is immediately obvious. Last year there were just 22 under-21 men, this year there are 43. Last year there were 45 U-21 women whereas this time round there are 49, making a total of 92 under-21s which equates to about 1 in 20 walkers...not bad at all.
The explosion in the U-21 men category is pretty interesting given that in the last 3 years is has hovered stubbornly around the mid 20s/low 30s mark. The women's entry is virtually always slightly higher but the gap has closed quite substantially this year. Should make for two very interesting races on the day I think.
Something different to which everyone can relate though is the subject of support drivers. Every year as the field increases in size, so inevitably does the amount of support cars cruising along beside you. It's quite good fun to catch snippets of Manx Radio through the open windows as the sun blazes down (in theory!) or spot the big white numbers in the rear windows and then find yourself alongside the person wearing that number - "Oh so it's you who has the Ford Focus!?"
The problem is of course that the amount of vehicles creates a headache for the organisers and the other drivers, not only in terms of walker safety but also keeping the roads as free as possible for general traffic. Yet just about everybody agrees that support cars are essential for most people - I know I certainly rely on having support. We are encouraged if we can to try and limit the support, or even wait until after Peel, but in practice that can be difficult and from a personal point of view I wouldn't be comfortable going all the way to Peel just relying on the free water and bananas - valuable as they are.
There's no doubt in my mind that the feeding stations are well-positioned, and I think that walkers are very well provided for. There are just about as many banana stops as can reasonably be accommodated - from Marown to Rushen there is one virtually every 3 or so miles, and I hope you'd agree that the Lucozade stop at the bottom of the Sloc is an absolute lifesaver. After that one, there's the best feed station (the Round Table - check out the palm trees and the butlers) and usually a few friendly old ladies with oranges on the way towards Peel.
I think if I really tried, I could probably go to Peel without support, relying on the free stuff all the way. But from a comfort-zone perspective, I like to have some things that you just can't get from the tables. I think this is probably the reason why there is a lot of traffic, especially in the early stages - people like to have that backup there and it's someone to talk to if nothing else.
The question is how to persuade people not to have a support stop 'early doors,' so that the field can get strung out a bit. It's difficult though, especially if you're like me and you don't like to carry much (if anything) on your person. I've got a lot of respect for anyone who can carry a backpack or even a bumbag - at least it helps you to be self-sufficient for a bit longer. I usually set off with a full bottle, get a top-up and some fruit at Marown and aim for a first support-driver base just before Santon Church. I'm quite lucky too that we have family friends who live on the course at Ballasalla, so that allows me to pit-stop again until about Ballabeg. After that I can just about make it up the Sloc but between Eairy Cushlin and Peel I usually get mum to drive on every 2 or 3 miles and meet me again in case anything goes horribly wrong, which is has done in the past!
So it's a bit of a dilemma - most people have support cars, most people need them, but could we really do without them until later in the walk?
What does anyone think?