Friday, February 15, 2019

Head, character, heart (part two)

The feeling of getting colder coming out of Peel wasn't just the temperature, but the realisation that there was going to be now long periods where there wasn't going to be as many walkers and their supporters about. I could feel the transition from the walk I had enjoyed upto Peel Town Hall and into unknown territory.

The walk on the coast road is usually very scenic and you can make out the white church at Jurby in the distance. It was a bit more difficult to make it out today as the rain clouds started to roll in. I had to make my first significant stop at the devil's elbow a few miles outside of Peel to sort out some blisters that were starting to give me some discomfort. Sam from work had told me when it came to blisters "never ever change the way your walking to compensate for them, otherwise you will cause more problems in other parts of your body". This is where the character starts to show as the majority of people get them at some point. This was my first real test. The ones that came up first were under the pads of my feet near the toes and it felt like pebbles were in my shoes. I was quite lucky in my training that I would only have the odd one or two surface just as i was finishing a longer walk. I had only put Vaseline on my toes at the start of the PW. The blisters had popped by the time I got to Wendy, which if you haven't felt what its like, I can only describe it like a stinging sensation for a couple of seconds and then a touch of relief. I then cleaned them up and put Compeed blister plasters on them and hoped that would be the only ones I got.

The pitstop lasted about 5 mins and I headed off feeling a little more comfortable. Within 100 metres up the road, I had come up to a younger lad that was clearly struggling with a foot injury. I asked him what was up and he replied "I went over on my ankle stepping off a pavement....back in Arbory". My initial reaction was of pure shock. He had walked around 16 miles up over the sloc with this injury and he was still going, albeit in a lot of pain. I asked him if he wanted me to walk with him a bit to try take his mind off the pain. My thinking was, since I was well up on my time, I wanted to help where I could and that it was the right thing to do in the circumstances. The feeling of being in the Parish Walk (PW) was bringing this out. We were all in this together. Of course, we all had our goals but in this moment it didn't feel right to walk on past him. As we chatted, we came up to his support car a mile down the road. His girlfriend was supporting him and when he asked for some food, I remember her huffing and puffing about it as it was taking her off her phone. After a couple of miles, he was beginning to really suffer and had to stop next to his car where he wished me well. I met him down Strand Street a couple of weeks later where he still had a bit of a limp and told me he had to bail at Ramsey. Ramsey! I'm sure he did it just to piss his girlfriend off to keep her out there for as long as physically possible.

I then got into Kirk Michael and went past the Mitre pub. What a reception the crowd give you there! It certainly perked me up for the 3 miles to Ballaugh where I walked to with a guy I knew from my school days, Martin Allan. Martin is a 6 footer with long legs and he was literally walking one stride to my two! I made up some time in the 3 miles we walked together and as I headed for a convenience stop at Ballaugh he headed off to Jurby with a pace I wouldn't have been able to handle. It was now time to get onto the soup which had been heated up in Peel, so was nice and warm. This was a godsend as the rain was starting to get heavier and the temperature colder.  I will never forget walking up towards Jurby church with two other guys. I had my soup which was being watered down with the rain, one of the guys was eating a yoghurt and the other lad was battling to walk properly. He had started to compensate for his blisters on both feet, so he was walking on the side of his feet with a "ahh.....ohh" for every step. He did well to check out at Jurby even though the other guy was willing him onto Bride which he politely declined. The trip over to Bride is one of the longest distances (7.5 miles) between churches and although pretty flat the majority find it monotonous at the best of times. I got through it in around 2 hours and although my pace was starting to fall to under 4mph, I was able to continue to put one foot in front of the other. By this time I had seen a couple of my mates on the course who were out giving me a gee up. The feeling this gave me is difficult to describe, but seeing familiar faces and knowing they are out there looking out for you gives you a massive lift. One of them was Mike, who I had walked with to Arbory. He was eating a Chinese take away from Ramsey whilst telling me he had called it a day at Peel. The Chinese smelt fantastic but my brain was already telling me my stomach didn't want anything. I would have to rely on Wendy to keep trying to get food & fluids into me, otherwise I would be running out of fuel and the dreaded wall would come.
Walking over to Andreas and passing the first houses on the left there were people sat on camping chairs by the road under umbrellas. They had a hog roast on, music blaring out and were having a party. They shouted out my name (they must have had a programme to check the numbers) and all stood up and clapped. I in turn clapped them back and did a worshipping motion with my arms. Little things like this had so much impact to keep me going. These people were out in the rain welcoming walkers into their Parish. I was now focused on the next goal of reaching the time to put my head torch on. Wendy had been joined by my mate Gareth to 'help out' and when I saw them just down from the church, I said with a grin "time to get the lights ready!". By now, it felt like there were fireworks going off in my trainers. I had made the decision that the trainers were only going to come off when I got home. Now, the track up from the main road to the church is a couple of hundred metres with broken stones, not gravel, broken stones. The next 5 or so minutes, going up to and returning from the check in at the church, I can't really recall as I must have just blanked it from my memory. I got back to Wendy, the lights went on and I headed off towards Lezayre. The pavements and road aren't the best around this part of the course and when I was away from the worst of it, I just turned to Wendy and said "we're going to finish this now". She replied "it was never in doubt!". I don't know why I said it. Was I trying to convince myself? My legs felt stiff, my feet had never felt so bad and I still had the best part of 30 miles to go. Whenever I go past this spot now, either in the car or walking I just smile. Heading towards the Ginger Hall, I overhear a supporter telling their walker that Michael George had just won and I could hear him in the background being interviewed by Manx Radio.

The walk from Ginger Hall wasn't pleasant with taxis flying past heading towards Ramsey and kicking up water from the rain soaked cambered roads. I was down to around 15-16 minute miles by this stage and getting up into Lezayre, I felt relieved to leave the main road for a while. Back down on to the main road and I was looking forward to getting into Ramsey and going through Parliament square and past the pubs. Paul from work had mentioned going past the Swan and Central pubs was something to look forward to, as it was packed with revelers. I went past Ramsey Grammar and thought about the walk I did that had taken me up through the middle of the island. How different things were today. I then hear a loud voice "hey! It's one of them parish walkers!!". Four girls, who were lets say a little tipsy, came out of one of the houses and started to wolf whistle me. They said they were heading to Night Life nightclub over the other side of town. They were good fun and I challenged them to a race towards the pubs before we went our merry ways. They couldn't believe I was still walking quicker than them after all the miles I had done. It was probably down to the heels they were walking in to be fair! The pubs might have been packed when Paul went past but tonight for me there was two blokes smoking and a dog watching me go through. The girls screamed their goodbyes, to number 404, and disappeared off down the street while I headed out towards Maughold. I caught up with a lad as we were just leaving Ramsey and his Dad was supporting him and looked concerned. I asked if he wanted to walk with me for a bit, so we could try get through it by chatting. He was in no mood to chat and just put his earphones in and continued without saying a word. It was obvious he was fighting a battle raging in his head.
Next up, away from the bright lights of Ramsey, was the pitch black and hilly walk up to Maughold. To this day, I don't know if I actually dreamt of speaking to a woman who went past me up the hill climb. All I remember saying to her was that I was feeling f*cked. Her response in a strong Irish accent was "you have done brilliantly so far, you have plenty of time, just take it slow and easy, slow and easy, slow and easy...…." and with that she disappeared into the darkness. Whoever it was (if she existed), I'd like to thank her as it stuck with me for the next few hours. I had now walked into Sunday and Maughold was looming, 67 miles in. As I walked down towards the church, on both sides of the road the locals had put candles in jam jars to light the way for about 100 metres. I could feel myself getting emotional as after the darkness, I was again being welcomed into another parish and it felt amazing. At the end of the lights, on the left, there was a big Manx flag draped over the house wall. I could feel myself welling up. For a proud Manxie my pride was fit to burst. I got to the church just before 12:30am as the party (the residents were throwing in the marquee) was in full flow. The poster declared the party was going on till the last walker went through. The spirit of the PW was alive and well in Maughold! I checked with Wendy and we worked out that I had plenty of time in the bank to literally crawl the 18 mile down the coast to home. Ballajora hill was first. I had done a training walk up around here so it wasn't new to me which helped. It's a short but steep hill which takes you over the tram tracks and then there is a mile of flat, before an ascent for a mile or so to get up onto Hibernia.

Once up onto Hibernia the main road is well tarmacked and it was a case of getting my head down and using the will of my heart to get through it. Mike and his wife Kate were following in their car and told me they were staying out to see me finish. I was now literally at crawling speed and was having to stop for a pee at regular intervals with dehydration kicking in. None of the other walkers that appeared wanted to talk. I was desperate to feed off someone so I could forget about the pain I was in. One guy was dressed all in black and had hi-viz strips and lights on his legs and arms, as well as his head torch. I tried a bit of humour and called him Tron, which he either didn't hear or chose to ignore. I had noted his tactic was to stop at his support car and take on board food and juice and then go again. All in, we must have overtaken each other about 4-5 times. I just opted to plod onwards and not stop (other than for a pee) in case I seized up and couldn't get going again. The hours and miles ticked along at a snails pace. God knows what it was like for the supporters. I remembered going past the civil defence truck, with its lights flashing in Dhoon, to ensure I was on the right road and not heading up Ballaragh. I was now getting onto the road around Bulgham, still before dawn. It is really exposed to the elements up there (ask the goats), the rain still came down and just for a bit of variety the wind was now battering us. Mike said at one point he just heard me shout "just give me a *ucking break!". It was around here I decided to play my trump card. I had asked my Auntie Susie a week before the PW, if I could have one of my late Auntie Voirrey's rings to carry with me on the day for luck. I took the ring out and muttered "Voirrey, I haven't asked you for anything but I'm asking now, please can you just stop the wind and rain for 5 minutes?!". In that instance, I was nearly blown off my feet by a gust of wind and the rain seemed to get heavier! I pictured her in my mind laughing as a response. It was her sense of humour in a nutshell. That had done the trick, it raised a smile on my face. The next thing I knew, daylight was creeping through the clouds, the wind eased and the rain had finally stopped.

Coming down into Laxey, water was running down both sides of the road. It was a surreal feeling thinking I was about to walk past where my mate Gareth and his family lived and gone the long way around to get here! As it was now light, I could now see some walkers and it was like a scene from a zombie movie as we were staggering up the road towards Lonan. Dibbed in at Lonan and then back down onto the main road. The leg from Maughold to Lonan (11.5 miles) took me just over 4 hours. That was an average speed of 2.8 mph at around 21 minute miles. It was 4:40am, I had 4 miles to get to Onchan and then a further 2 to get to the finish. Wendy and myself counted the miles down each time we saw each other. The daylight was reinvigorating my head and body (the top half at least). I spent the next few miles concentrating on not doing anything stupid, like falling off a pavement. As I passed the Liverpool Arms, I could spot a couple of familiar figures in the distance walking down the pavement. It was Hannah and Sean and I was able to blurt out that it had been a bit of a rough night. On I trudged down the dip to Whitebridge, then up into Onchan, it was now nearing 6am and 22 hours walking. Sean helped me dib in at Onchan and I then found myself on Royal Avenue and Gareth's parents were outside their house cheering me on. I was then heading down past Port Jack chippy and getting close to the prom. The end was finally in sight.
As I got down onto the prom, Wendy and my entourage told me they would go and wait for me at the finish by the war memorial. As their cars headed off I looked over to the right and saw the remains of Summerland Aquadrome swimming pool. I said to myself "6 months ago, you couldn't run two and half minutes and now you have just walked 85 miles". I just burst into tears. I sucked it up after a minute or so and Charlie then appeared from nowhere and I just said to him calmly "I've done it". Bousy was the next to appear and they both headed to the end to see me come in. The mile walk across the prom took me around half an hour. I am not ashamed to say, I milked the hell out of it. It was my moment that will always live with me and I wanted it to last. Other walkers were overtaking me and I was shaking their hands and high five-ing them. Coming into the last 50 metres and hearing the gathered crowd at the end clapping me in was a special moment. The top finishers were in with them. They looked fresh as daisies after having probably 7 hours kip before coming out to see the "hardcore" coming in in the last hour! I crossed the line and raised my arms. It was finally over.

Next time - the aftermath!