More than a race... The Isle of Man Ultra

If you've not been to the Isle of Man, you should go. It's a fantastic place with great people, brilliant running, and a range of terrain and scenery I've never experienced in 30 miles anywhere else!

It's a few years since I've run the end-to-end race (which was then called the Manx Mountain Marathon) but this year I was back to run the "Isle of Man Ultra". I entered the race a long time ago, and soon realised that the end of my summer was going to be busy! After the Matterhorn Ultraks I was doing my Paris-Nantes ride, then working in France, then back home for a bit, then to Florence for more work and a conference, then back from there last Thursday, and off to the island on Friday... A fantastic exciting month or so, but slightly chaotic! So, here we go...

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I arrived back from Florence last night, quickly unpacked, washed my Scott kit and packed again (albeit a smaller bag). I was going to get the early afternoon ferry from Heysham, which meant I needed to leave home at 11:30 at the VERY latest. After getting everything sorted, collecting the dog from kennels and leaving him with a hairdryer-based automatic feeder, I left at about 11:35. Not a great start, Noddy van would have to work hard...

Inevitably, I missed the ferry. After making up some time, 50 zones on the motorway made it a bit tight, then our fate was sealed by massive roadworks in Lancaster. I arrived at the port 1 minute before the ferry was supposed to sail, but it had already gone.

To cut a long story short, over the next 12 hours I parked the van, packed my bag, cycled to Morecambe and Lancaster, bought a train ticket and waited for the train to Liverpool. The train in front of mine broke down in the station, so the train I needed was cancelled. I cycled back to Lancaster, cooked some Cassulet in the van, slept for a couple of hours and checked in for the 2:15am ferry. We would arrive at 5:45, just in time for the 6am pickup from Douglas to take me to the race start...

Finally on my way!
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I locked the bike up on the Promenade and met my fellow travellers, one of whom I'd spotted on the ferry. Soon we were on the way to the start at Ramsay. Unfortunately the keys for the hall were missing so registration took place outside. By the 7:30 starters were ready to go I was pretty much ready too, despite a lot of my kit having lorry grease smeared all over it (an unfortunate consequence of clambering about to get to the bike off the ferry!). I watched them start, then realised that there were only 4 of us left!

7:30 starters underway
Over the next half hour or so more people arrived, many of whom were frighteningly speedy-looking locals. As always, it was almost impossible to tell who is going to be fast unless you've raced them before, but that didn't stop me worrying!

Finally it was 8:30 and I was glad to be underway. We could see the top of North Barrule from the start and it looked a little misty, but the weather was good for running. We set off along the promenade, then up into Ballure plantation and around the reservoir. Here I pushed on a bit from a group to catch the leader, wearing a Clayton-le-Moors vest. I later learned that this was Paul Thompson, 7/8/9 (no-one seems sure!) times winner of the race. We were running at a good pace up North Barrule, and even when the climb got steep Paul was still running every step. I found I could stay with him by walking hard on the steep bits though, and after an hour or so we had a decent gap to the guys behind us.

We swapped the lead as we continued over the next few hills to Clagh Ouyr, then down to the road and up to the highest point on the island: Snaefell. I reached the summit slightly ahead but took a less good line down and ended up about 20 seconds behind Paul when we got to the Bungalow checkpoint and drinks station. On the climb I caught Paul up again and we were together over Beinn-y-Phott. I was feeling OK, but the inside of my quads (as Ron Burgundy might say, in the crotchial region?!) were feeling sore and the race now felt like the welcome end of a long season!

Snaefell from the bus later on...
My line off Carraghan seemed, shockingly, to be better than Paul's, so I ended up in front as we started to catch the 7:30 starters. I saw three Totley guys having fun just before crossing the river, which was as slippery as ever (and still with a secret video camera set up to catch those of us who fell in!). The next section is the slightly tricky navigational bit, and I began to wonder whether I should've held back to run with Paul over this bit. But I believe in racing and was happy I'd gone for it. My line over Colden was fine, but I messed up slightly after that and ended up going to the summit of Lhargee Ruy rather than skirting round - not a disaster but a few moments lost. As I glanced back I couldn't see Paul, but could see a pair of guys in vests gaining on me. Just after Greeba they caught me, and together we threw ourselves down the horrible gorse section towards St Johns. I was pleased to note that even the locals couldn't avoid bloody legs! I was running with Ben (a very speedy fellrunner but his first time at this distance), and Tom (the Manx "long distance specialist", according to Ben).

Tom Cringle (
Along the railway line in to St Johns Ben and I pushed on a bit, running together and deciding to decline the raw Onions left out for us by a kind spectator... I was glad to have the couple of kilometres of flat rocky track out of the way and we soon set off up the climb through Slieau Whallion plantation. The climb was really steep and I wondered how the others were feeling, so I dug in and ran most of the climb. The answer was that they were feeling pretty good! I got a gap of maybe 25 metres by the top of the plantation climb, but it wasn't much. The climb continued after the plantation and in this section I slightly extended the gap to Ben, but suddenly just before the top Tom appeared next to me.

We drop off the top and I try hard to stick with Tom - suddenly everything hurts! As I wobble downhill trying to run as fast as I can it feels like the wheels are officially off. I decided it was a two gel situation and necked them as fast as I could, but it didn't look good. Tom was now well away, I don't remember someone leaving me this far behind in such a short time before, and felt pretty stupid for thinking that I might be stronger than them.

Fleshwick Bay
There are more flagged sections in the second half of the race, and the navigation is theoretically easier, even so I nearly missed a flag in the Arasey plantation but got back on track just in time. The next section would take us to South Barulle, arguably the last big hill on the route, and an out-and-back so I'd be able to see how far apart we all were. Before I got there though it became apparent that Ben was not far behind - I tried to turn right on the big track near Claghbane but heard him shout to go left. Aaaargh, surely he'd catch me soon!

When I eventually got to the South Barrule climb I felt much better going uphill than downhill, and jogged most of the lower slopes. I saw Tom coming down when I was maybe 2 minutes from the summit, so I guess he had three minutes on me. On my descent I saw Ben in a similar place, but was slightly surprised to also see Paul, and another two runners lower on the slopes: I needed to keep it together or I could easily end up sixth! After one more climb to Cronk ny Arrey Laa (obviously) the route joins the stunning coastal path around the western coast of the island to Port Erin. I couldn't see anyone in front or behind but felt sure I was being caught so worked as hard as I could on this section, which felt much longer than it is!

Before the last climb the route drops all the way down to Fleshwick Bay, then it's the tough little climb to Bradda Hill and a gradual descent down in to Port Erin. I could see Ben descending to the bay as I climbed, and fueled by this and a few Blackberries I managed to run most of the ascent. This last part of the course is beautiful - it all is, but I see hills and bogs more regularly than rocky coastlines and clear water!

Looking back to Bradda Tower from the finishline
As I came in towards the finish I glanced at my watch and wondered if I could finish inside last year's winning time, which I think was 5:24. According to the results, my time was 5:24 dead. In the end Tom had taken nearly 6 minutes out of me to finish in 5:18:24, and Ben was 2:29 behind me, followed by Paul another 6 minutes back. Results

At the finish we were all given a bottle of Okells Manx beer, and Tom even gave me a cup of his winning Champagne! Unfortunately, after the running was done I was back to travel disorganisation, so spent an hour on a bus to Douglas, then half an hour cycling to my campsite to set up the tent... Just in time to turn around and do the same in reverse to attend the prizegiving in the evening! It was nice to catch up with Runfurther people I haven't seen for a while though, like Karen Nash and Chris Davies, and enjoy a beer and a pie at the end of a tough day.

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The Isle of Man Ultra is a fantastic race. It's hard, hilly (nearly 3000m ascent) and beautiful all the way round. I had a tough race this year, I never felt really good and seemed to do a lot of hanging on, but I very much enjoyed the day and will hopefully be back soon!

I should thank the organisers, Manx Fell Runners, for a fantastic event, to the marshals for spending time out on the hills, and congratulations to everyone else who ran. Thanks of course also to Accelerate and Scott Running for continuing to support me, I wore the Scott Kinbalu Supertrac shoes again, which were great through the slippery bits, and used the little Scott race pack to carry my compulsary kit.

Till next time, Isle of Man!


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