Stu Hutchison

The Manx Mountain Marathon... HOT.

Saturday 20th April saw the start of the 2019 Manx Mountain Marathon, it’s 50th anniversary

Over eight hours later I was very glad for it to be over.

Soon to start the race from Ramsey in the North East of the island.

Soon to start the race from Ramsey in the North East of the island.

We had made plans a while back to head over to the Isle of Man, an island people on the UK mainland don’t seem to familiar with in this age of aeroplane holidays. But do go, it is a wonderfully beautiful place steeped in Gaelic history. It was a ferry journey over on Good Friday, to return on the Bank Holiday Monday. Saturday was the marathon with my running partner, Stu Hutchison, and Sunday a day of rest.

As well as the marathon it was also a get away to celebrate Ruth’s birthday, and just plain chill out with us staying at the wonderful Knockaloe Beg Farm just outside of Peel where we stayed last year for the Sea to Summit fell race. On arrival we had not realised the farm was open to the public and we literally witnessed the birth of two Goat Kids!

I won’t say too much about the family side as that’s private, wink wink. Suffice to say it was a wonderful holiday in the good company of Claire my wife, Ruth and Stu, and their beach loving son Finley

So, onto the main event. Well sort of… The Manx Mountain Marathon. There is a lot I could say, loads. But I’ll keep it brief if but to save my burnt shoulders and not to mention burnt psyche.

The utterly shocking swine of a last climb before dropping into Port Erin.

We started off in Ramsey at 8am, it was slightly cold, and then the temperature increased phenomenally over the day, with no real cover across the course. For those that cannot remember this was the Easter Bank Holiday weekend at the end of April. To say it was hot is and was an understatement. It was relentless with many litres of water needing to be taken on board. Such was the heat across what is a hard course that around 30 people did not finish.

So, onto the course. In normal circumstances it is punishing with 30 miles across the island taking in a number of major hills in a rolling manner. The best analogy I can give is running a race in the Howgillls - that tough. The cumulative climb is approximately 8.5k feet with descending just as harsh as the climbing. I struggled badly with the heat, very badly. Not sure why, but I did. At each checkpoint I was having to douse myself in water to cool down and keep the sweat from my eyes. Stu seemed to fair better. I started off strong and practically legged it up Snaefell, continued strong and then by an atrocious heather climb started to struggle. And I mean really struggle.

The amusing thing is it only got worse after the heather off roading.

By now we were 12 miles in and it was damn hot, boil an egg in your pants hot and I was suffering. By mile 18, which was the half way point I was not in a great place. 18 miles in I was in deep trouble. A combination of over heating, poor food consumption, very worried, mind all over the show, and Stu was motoring on with no problems.

We met the girls and Findlay, who were offering support across the day as well as spending time together at the official half way point at St John’s.

The photos show a worn Cobley arriving, but before we left I managed a smile with Stu over a slice of pizza.

We said goodbye to the girls and Findlay, Claire was concerned, then ploughed on after this official half way point. By now I had stuffed my face full of cocktail sausages etc. etc.etc. I was ravenous and staggering about all over the show. Ask Stu. Feeling faint and to be frank, not great at all. It is funny how all the modern gels etc. never seem to work on me as much as real food - frazzles, cocktail sausages, cheese blocks, cherry tomatoes etc. etc. etc. We passed fresh runners all staring at us, some passing compliments, who were arriving for the half marathon, i.e. the latter part of our course. Later on it became a psychological challenge as these runners zipped past Stu and I.

So off we toddle thinking all the climb is done. Ha, ha, he, he… Oh no. We had to climb back up to ridge height above St John’s in stupefying heat through a forest with what must have been a 1:3 climb. We honestly could not believe it.

It then became a run across bridleway, road, and mostly rolling moorland in exposed sun with numerous climbs and descents. The heat was tortuous and the ground very hard underfoot.

If you want to see the route, have a look at:

One very important point to note was the support needed from Ruth and Claire (plus a sleeping Finley) as we progressed into the day, especially the second half. By now we were tired and again suffering from the heat. The race is very well organised with safety in mind, checkpoints with water at regular intervals. But without the girls supporting us as well I reckon we could have been in deep trouble.

As we draw to a conclusion I’ll talk about the last five or so miles that to be frank were downright bloody rude as we descended into Port Erin.

We came off a long ridge run via a bonkers quad destroying descent, prior to that I’d been chatting to a runner from Wilmslow Running Club; nice to see someone from my neck of the woods. The ridge run held spectacular views of the sea, the descent just brought out swearing.

We literally hit the coast at a cove with a dead end road where the girls could meet up with us. We were shattered and heat ridden. We walked up the road assuming it was the route back to Port Erin. No. Oh no. Certainly not. The race planner had put a hideous sting in the tail as you faced a shocker of a climb, a ridge run with precipitous cliffs to the sea below, then a long drag to sea level across grass whilst aiming for the sea tower dominating the landscape outside Port Erin.

Port Erin to the top left of the photo. The shocker climb by the road directly ahead.

The shocking last climb hit my morale hard and I can honestly say climbing up in that heat reminded me of walking the GR20 in Corsica. Stu trudged toward its doom. I made a selfie protest.

It was on the climb up, the ridge run, and the grassy descent into Port Erin that I heard poor Stu wail and grimace as cramp kicked in. He’d survived the majority of the run from that awful affliction. But we soldiered on with rewarding views of the bay that Port Erin sits in. We were almost done - literally. Excitement started to rise…

The finish was amazing with groups of people cheering, including fellow runners who had already finished. We were met by the girls and Findlay who started to run in with Stu, only to see a dog that caught his fancy and he instead ran in its direction. We’d done it, we’d made it, and we flopped down onto the grass of the cafe where the event finishes and food and water is provided, with you also being able to buy food and drinks from the cafe. We hugged and we were happy and downright amazed we’d done it. The atmosphere among runners and supporters was brilliant. Would I recommend it? Hell yeah. Would I say train for it? Hell yeah. We relaxed and changed (I then started to cramp up) whilst Findlay happily played away in the cafe play area. We also took advantage of a massage with a donation to an MS support group.

Well earned food on Port Erin beach.

LDWA, Regular Irregular, and The Beast.

After a busy week despite it being the run up to Christmas, the weekend was to be welcomed with the Regular Irregular, but an incipient cold was hanging over me.

The LDWA is the Long Distance Walking Association, an organisation Claire and I are members of, and at times we run at their events. The organisation’s members run a series of walking events that are precise in terms of organisation, interesting in terms of route, and can be challenging due to distance and terrain. Some events are open to runners, predominately fell or trail, who set off after the walkers. As the name suggests routes are long and are a great way of building up the running mileage. One thing about the LDWA is the food and drink laid on at checkpoints and race start/finish locations; varied, hot and cold, and loads of cake - I like cake.

Saturday saw the The Irregulars, one of the LDWA groups put on the Regular Irregular event starting at Brockholes Village Hall.

The event saw myself and Stu Hutchinson aka “The Beast” run as a pair. To run the total event you complete three loops, with your choosing your order. The goal being to run as many loops as possible… Loops are 11.6 miles, 7.2 miles and 4.2 miles (18.5km, 11.5km or 6.7km). So a total of 23 miles if all three are completed. The common approach is to run 11.6, then 7.2, then the 4.2 miles. Stu and I being pushed for time elected to run 11.6 and 4.2 miles and viewed the event as a means of getting miles in our legs. The other Saddleworth Runners chose to run all three loops.

The weather was cool, windy, with a foreboding of rain as we started at 8.30am. We’d registered and had a brew so were happy. I had the start of a cold that came on the night before and was a bit tired and with aches. As we progressed the wind picked up considerably making running difficult at times.

The company was good as Stu and I chatted. Half way into the long loop the weather saw sheets of dizzle and gusts, but then improved toward the end as we headed back to Brockholes with the sun saying hello and it getting warm enough for coats to be taken off. We’d printed off the maps and route description but we were relying on GPX files I’d downloaded for each route. Navigation was a combination of following people, chatting, and using the Garmin Fenix. The loop saw a combination of bridleway, path, tarmac, wood, and was quite varied with approximately 1.8k of cumulative climb: STRAVA. The ground at times was muddy underfoot due to rainfall and my Inov-8 Rocklites did not have much purchase. Water courses were clearly in flood.

On getting back to HQ I was delighted at the sheer selection of food and proceeded to trough and I mean really trough.

Mr Piggy eventually filled his boots and we headed out for the short loop, and this time had a third Musketeer in the guise of Jenny from Rochdale Harriers & AC who’d asked if she could join The Beast and I on the short loop. We did point out we had not dug the map or description out, actually we could not be arsed and explained we were relying on my Garmin Fenix and the GPX. We covered ourselves by explaining a “monkey” was in charge of the Garmin.

Off we plodded and being a shorter route saw changes in the route that were quite precise and not easily read off a Fenix watch. First error led us down a road for about 300 metres to then head back. The second spectacular error saw us head into a forest following a path when in fact we should have continued on down a farm track. After buggering about climbing through bramble and hawthorn and farmer’s field we were back on track. Jenny was polite, The Beast had dug map out and had his head in it. We made it back and correct to Brockholes and managed to add on 0.6 of a mile due to errors: STRAVA.

We chilled out at the HQ and proceeded to eat, or more accurately gobble the food down (me). The highlight for me was hot custard drowning a big slice of Swiss Roll while nattering with Kate Saville, a fellow Saddleworth Runnner. The Beast was meanwhile putting his Sunday Best on.

The cold I’d picked up was by now chipping in and I was tired and aching. It was also clear that I am out of form for longs, and not good with The Trigger and The Hebden coming up in January; additionally my left bum cheek (glute) was wrecking me on the last tarmac stretch back on the long loop.

As we headed back home the weather really opened up and it was raining by the bucket load as we drove over the Isle of Skye road (local name for the Greenfield/Holmfirth Road) with the wind driving rain drops sideward. We thought of and felt sorry for the runners and especially walkers still out there.

Worthwhile, but it has brought home the fact I have to get my arse out and cover some mileage.