Monday 5 October 2015

A mini holiday and an adventure into the unknown

After much debate over flights, ferry ports etc I booked the Heysham- Douglas ferry and set the dates to allow a mini holiday. Taking the van is not the cheapest way but it allowed me accommodation and for us to move the Runfurther flags, banners, display-boards, prizes and the all important Clif bars. Andy was coming with me and neither of us had been before.
Big lumps for such a small island
Despite leaving Preston in what we thought was plenty of time the Lancaster traffic made the last few miles a little fraught. Even more so for Mike and Barney who were luckily on a motorbike and so able to weave through the congestion.
It wasn't long before the runners converged on seating in the cafe area and introduced themselves. The crossing was flat calm and we made the most of the sunshine admiring the off-shore wind farm and then eventually the Manx fells and Douglas harbour.

We met one of the ROs, Mark Murphy, to hand over some Clif bars and to find out exactly where in Port Erin the finish would be. As we parked on the prom I recognised Charmain and Steve (well, their van) and it was good to have some help putting up all the Runfurther and sponsors flags. We checked out the coach departure point and headed off to what we hoped was a quiet night with a sea view.

After a quick meal our bags were sorted and we were ready.  Then the phones started ringing. The coach was full and we had been found lifts in a car. Great a lie in! Ah but what about the Clif bars? Steve and Charmain thought we had over-slept at 5.45 but I opened the door to a bemused Steve, handed him a huge box and said see you in a couple of hours. Following a leisurely breakfast we checked on the flags and went to wait for our lift (thanks Eleanor and Jackie).

 By 8am we were registering in Ramsay and meeting up with Chris who had flown plus David who had only just got off the ferry.

There was just time for a mad scramble for toilets before it was 8.30 and we were off. The numbers at this race are not great and there had been an earlier start for the slower runners but even so I was taken aback by the pace at the start. As we left the outskirts of town I realised there were only three runners behind me. Heck, I hope I make the cut-offs and hope I can keep some runners in sight to help show me the way. (I did, but it meant running faster than I wanted and Andy left alone did all his own nav for miles).
Hill 1 North Barrule
As we left town and crossed the dam of a small reservoir the ascents started. The race is only 50km long but has 2500m of climb. It is also a superb route of almost all fell race terrain with very little track and virtually no tarmac. My feet thought they were in heaven even after bogs and river crossings.

With the first hill looming I made an effort to catch others and to keep Eleanor (a Manx runner) in sight. Fortunately the yellow vests were easy to spot as was David's white shirt. The run along the crest of this hill was superb and although the distant views were misty/hazy I could see enough to appreciate the hills the island had to offer.

Another summit at the SW end and then a quick road crossing before the direct ascent of Snaefell. The Civil Guard and a policeman made sure no TT wanabees ran us down and we were soon crossing the rails of the mountain train. A local runner showed me the grassy way down and it was a fast drop to Bungalow. Here I relaxed for the first time when I found I was an hour inside the cut-offs. There was water on offer but I had plenty and had not yet taken my thermal off. Next stop the top of Beinn-y-Phott. Each summit had a self-clip needle punch and a flourescent flag.
Some very small trods and deep heather
A drop to a col and we were on our way up again; this time to Carraghan. This time at the summit I suddenly found myself alone. Even as I ran off down the main ridge I could see nobody. Ah. stop and think. I could see a reservoir and had no memory of that being on route. Then I spotted forest off to the right. I might not have found the best line but at least I stopped before it was too late. A boggy descent and a river crossing soon brought be to Injebreck. The plod from there up to Colden was a tough section with almost no path and deep vegetation. I ate and concentrated on keeping in touch with Eleanor and David. The next part would be seriously tricky in mist but today it was easy to spot them up ahead thank goodness. The day was warming up now as we dropped down through a gorse covered hillside and met the TT road near St Johns. Another policeman saw us safely across and I began to catch runners who had started an hour before us. After a quick chat with Roger who I had met at the RAB David and I set off on the old rail line to St Johns. This section should have been easy running but my legs were tired from the hills. Crossing the car park we saw runners waiting for the shorter race start and lots of local support. The path up through the woods was nicely graded and I ate as I plodded on. The views back to Peel and the coast were superb. Another hill, Slieau Whallian, was gained and the terrain changed to lower land and forestry. The next 4 km were my low point and I should have stopped to eat more. The paths became stony tracks and my feet objected. The front runners of the short race came storming by and I congratulated them. I recognised Lloyd and Jackie Taggart but no others. It was a tough section for me but soon the next road crossing at Round Table appeared and I started to run again.

Normally I am not keen on out and back sections but as we did this on South Barrule it was great to see the faster runners storming down and also it gave me a boost as I realised some of the competition was not as far ahead as I had feared. Yes, I know I was meant to be taking it easy and caring for my achilles etc but it is a race after all!

Running back downhill I regained my positive thoughts and headed off towards the coast. The hills were not over but the scenery changed yet again and there were more runners around me again now. Cronk seemed bigger than 400 odd metres but I knew we were getting closer to the end now and the next few kilometres along the hills by the cliffs were beautiful.

There was a cruel descent to Fleshwich Bay and then a steep pull up Bradda Hill. Some blackberries gave me a pick up and I was up. No more climbs.

A quick glance at my watch confirmed that if I made an effort I could keep all those I had just passed behind me and make it back inside 7hrs30 which had seemed a distant dream earlier in the day. I loved the last few km and soaked in the monument on the headland and the bay at Port Erin.

The last section was well flagged and on lovely grassy paths with just a tiny section of tarmac on the edge of town. What a joy to reach the finish in the little section of park on the cliff top. Charmain and others cheered me in. 7 hours 24. Not too bad at all. Stuart was only seconds ahead of me and Isaline only about 10 minutes ahead.

I was happy as I found my finish, dug out a warm layer and sat chatting. David managed a superb run in 6.59 and so for both of us the Grand Slam is still on. I sat with others on a bench and drank my beer- great to have a race sponsored by a brewery.

 Andy appeared from an odd direction but was happy to finish without knee pain. Chris Davies and his wife smuggled us into the hotel for a shower and a drink and then revived we all went to take down the flags. Again the extra help was really welcome. We all met up at the Cherry orchard for a meal, drinks and the prize-giving. What a great event.

Another quiet night down on the harbour and then Andy and I had a day of sight seeing.

A huge pod of dolphins leaping around near Peel castle,

 a drive round some of the TT course in the van, a visit to the Laxey wheel and port, an afternoon of reading in the sunshine and then a long slow walk in Douglas.

So thanks to Andy for his company and to Mike and Barney for their company on the ferry and to the weather gods for such great sunshine and a flat crossing.

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