Saturday, 26 March 2005

Manx Mountain Marathon

26th March 2005
31 miles / 8400ft
A magnificent classic. Lead from start to finish by Paul Thompson of Clayton le Moors.
A tough race, like doing back-to-back Two Breweries, or at least 3½ Breweries. Similar terrain... and a similar feeling of impending cramp.
The weather couldn't have been better. Generally cool and slightly overcast. Some early morning hill fog on Snaefell, but otherwise clear.
The race starts along the promenade at Ramsey, before cutting inland up the wooded Elfin Glen, and a long slog up North Barrule - the first hill and checkpoint. I was in joint third place at this point. A runnable ridge in the mist to Clagh Ouyr, a short descent to the first road crossing, then a swift pull up to Snaefell, the highest point on the Isle of Man at 621m.
Between Snaefell and the next hill, Beinn-y-Phott I lost around 5 or 6 places as a bunch came through. I tried not to panic and plodded on to the next summit of Carraghan. Unfortunately I'd lost site of the guys in front and started descending the wrong direction, losing more time and a place or two.
The next road crossing is at the picturesque and bizarrely named Injebreck. Then comes a tough set of heathery hills, where I kept missing the paths or trods and ending up running through knee-deep heather.
On the descent to Greeba Bridge I was already feeling pretty wasted, and this is barely halfway. I stuffed down fruit pastilles and water and followed the route onto a disused railway line. For me, these were the most demoralising 1½ miles of the route... completely straight and flat as far as St John's.
A change of terrain. A steep climb up through Slieau Whallian Plantation, and onto the heathery summit of Slieau Whallian. It was around this time that a stampede of fleet-footed runners came storming through. For a moment I thought I had completely ground to a halt (partly true), and folks behind were having a massive second wind. But instead these were the halfway-house runners who'd started 3hrs 15min after us, doing just the 2nd half of our race... and this was their first hill... hence the sprightly look to them.
The half-marathon runners were passing too fast to be of any use to latch onto, so I just plodded on in my own private world of hell and discomfort.
The next significant obstacle is South Barrule. Probably a trivial little hill in normal circumstances, but after 4 and a bit hours it loomed large. My groin and aductors were too sore now to be able to run uphill. My speed was now purely a survive and finish pace, rather than proper running.
Richard Bellaries from Clayton dashed through on the descent from South Barrule, too fast to latch onto. Sarah Steele on the half-marathon looked strong and steady and worth using as a pacer - stronger on the climbs - but I kept catching her on the descents.
The penultimate summit of Cronk ny Arrey Laa turns a corner in more ways than one. Finally you can almost begin to imagine a finish. And the scenery gets a bit less bleak and heathery. There's a nice descent to a road / drinks station, before a brutal slow steady climb up a track around Lhiatte ny Beinne. Then as you swing around the highpoint and hit runnable descending grass you really are into the closing stages.
The descending grass takes you down, and down and just when you think you can't go any lower, down some more until you are in the depths of Fleshwick Bay. Quite oppressive when you look up and see that you've still got Bradda Hill to climb.
Sarah was just ahead, getting plenty of encouragement from her support, when David Ashton of Salford came storming through. I latched onto his momentum and tried to snap myself back to life. I followed him to the summit of Bradda Hill and along the fantastic cliff tops as far as the Bradda Head tower. The finish is now within sniffing distance, and all thoughts of cramp and exhaustion were dispensed with. Having plodded along ridiculously slowly for the past 2 hours, I decided to throw caution to the wind, and sprinted down the last mile to a welcome finish at Port Erin.
A genuine classic... and plenty of scope for improvement next year!!

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