MMM – The Race with the Personal Touch

By multiple race winner Paul Thompson

Friday 28th September 2012

Paul Thompson approaching Slieau Whallian

Paul Thompson approaches Slieau Whallian in 2012

I am picked up by club-mate Simon Halliday at lunchtime.  We are heading to Liverpool airport for our flight to the Isle of Man for the Manx Mountain Marathon.

All change this year.  The race is traditionally held on Easter Saturday and the organisers have moved the event to September to avoid clashes with other events and the possibility of the mountain road being closed due to weather conditions which has almost happened on race day in recent years.  For me this has meant a change from a long weekend away with family and our Clayton-Le-Moors Harriers group to a quick trip across to the island for the race and return on Sunday morning.  I have been competing in the MMM each year since 1996 so despite not having competed in any other fell races this year,  I have decided to run.  With a 4 mile leg of the Northern 6 stage road relays completed last weekend my preparation is complete!

With hand baggage only, the trip through the airport and 30 minute flight are straight forward.  Our gels make it through the security checks as the individual items are below the required size limit which is a bonus.  Out of the airport at Ronaldsway south of Douglas we wait 5 minutes for a bus for the short trip to Douglas which is where we are staying this year.  It is over 10 years since I last stayed in Douglas.  The Cherry Orchard in Port Erin has provided good apartment accommodation near the finish for many years but Douglas was my choice for a 2 person,  2 night stay on the island and with the new earlier start,  being nearer to Ramsey is good.

On arrival in Douglas we call in at Tesco for supplies and then head for the B&B at the other end of the impressive Douglas promenade.   Our navigational skills are challenged  and we overshoot the B&B by 1km but are lucky enough to find a good chippy with our route choice and enjoy fish and chips before booking into our accommodation at the Acacia hotel which is cunningly hidden above its associated Thai restaurant so that hungry menu spotting fell runners are too distracted to spot it.

With a 6 o’clock pickup in the morning for the new 7.30 start, we decide on a 4.45 wake up so head to bed early.

Saturday 29th September 2012

A feature of all my trips to the Isle of Man has been how hospitable the people are.  We arranged for cereals to be left out last night in the dining room at the hotel.  On heading down at 5am we find the dining room staffed and ready for action and a full breakfast menu available if we require it.  30 minutes later we are fuelled up and heading down to the promenade to Villa Marina for the transport which the organisers have laid on.  With a small entry this year and some people having support who can get them to the start, a combination of cars and a minibus is laid on and we are soon heading up to Ramsey which is a 20 minute car journey away.  Even though we are nearer to the start this year the trip over the mountain road running parallel to the first third of the course starts the butterflies fluttering in my stomach.  The mountains are clear of any fog which is unusual for the start of the race and may be as a result of the move from Easter to later in the year.

In my earlier years of doing the race I admit to making a few unplanned deviations from the route early on in the course and on many occasions resorted to following multiple winner Andy Hauser or top local Tony Rowley who is now driving us up to the start.  This is a nice personal touch and it is good to have our annual catch up on how much, or little, running we have been doing.  Tony no longer competes in the event but is an ever present feature at the race along with Richie Stevenson and the many other Isle of Man runners and volunteers who assist with the organisation of the race.  Tucking in behind Andy Hauser had other advantages as his pace judgement is excellent and having completed the race on many occasions he would stay strong right to the finish in the south west of the island.

The MMM is a classic point to point race which covers 31 miles from the top right of the Isle of Man to the bottom left of the island.  Both ends of the course are within sight of the sea and there are not many lumps on the way down that the route misses out.  Point to point races have appealed to me since competing in the Lancashire 3 towers race in the early 90s.  The logistics of a separate start and finish and long straight courses having more road crossings must make organising these events difficult, but when you look at how far you can go on a route from one point to another on a long event it is impressive.  The number of road crossings on the MMM is well into double figures and is testament to the volunteers and organisers.  The route is so well managed that you barely notice these crossings.

The 7.30 start moved from 9.30 to merge the historical walkers and runners classes seems early, but with Simon and I generally starting our long training runs early anyway, it does not seem to onerous.  I decide on shorts and vest with a short sleeved Helly Hansen over the top which I plan to remove once I get warmed up over the first couple of climbs.  After getting ready in the hall at Ramsey and photos on the start line we are off along the front at Ramsey.  Up the first climb of North Barrule island residents Lloyd Taggart and Nigel Armstrong set the pace.  I am in a small group further back with Tom Cringle and Andrew Brierley who comes over from Scotland for the event and is supported by his family from the island.  The climb up North Barrule goes from sea level to 565 meters and is the longest on the course.  Due to it being at the start of the race it is not usually the hardest climb of the day.

On reaching the top of the climb the wind picks up and is very cold.  Balaclava, gloves and cagoule are all pulled on and I’m glad I opted for the additional t-shirt at the start.  The next couple of miles across the ridge to Clagh Ouyr, which is the first of a few tops which are difficult to pronounce, is followed by a short descent to the mountain road before the climb up to the highest point on the course on Snaefell at 621 meters.  At this road crossing we normally have support from our team but this year we are on our own.  However due to local support and other runner’s families there are plenty of drinks around.

The climb up Snaefell is surprisingly easy on the MMM as the mountain road is above 400 meters so the climb is only around 200 meters.  Another short descent back to the mountain road on the other side of the hill is followed by some running parallel to the road before the climb of Beinn-y-Phott.  I get into a good rhythm and try not to consider how I am running too much as it is still a long way to the finish.  The next section through Beinn-y-Phott and Carraghan to the Injebreck plantation and then on to Greeba Mountain via Colden and Lhargee Ruy and Slieau Ruy can be navigationally tricky in mist but there a no problems today as it is clear.  The wind direction is not helping us along though and is a cold cross wind.  The wind and wet conditions underfoot are going to make for slow times this year.  The conditions and less training than normal this year mean that tiredness is starting to kick in prior to the descent to Greeba Bridge.  The memory of this descent always lasts longer than others due to the gorse which you take back to the mainland with you attached to the legs.

From Greeba Bridge to St. Johns is along a disused railway.  I have chosen to change to road shoes at this point in the past but whilst the running on the second half of the route is good, the wet conditions mean this is not feasible this year.  A couple of KM of flat running is welcome respite from the mountains that have just been completed.  St.Johns is past half way and there is always plenty of support here.  The weather is often better from this point in the South of the island but this year the cold wind is persisting.  The steep climb up through the Slieau Whallian plantation provides a good indication of how you are going.  I walk all this climb once off the initial track and lose a couple of places with them soon getting out of sight ahead.  Making sure I take on plenty of fuel at this point I also start on the jelly babies which will hopefully sustain me through to the finish if I ration them correctly.

The next climb up South Barrule always looks ominous when tired but suits my running as it is not steep but is rough underfoot.  I get my head down and start feeling the best I’ve felt in the race. Psychologically, once this bump is out of the way the route is cracked.  I know on a good day that from the road crossing at Round Table after South Barrule, the rest of the course can be completed in just over an hour.  It may be a little longer today but I will make it.

The running over the last third of the course is great.  This year the additional climb up Lhiattee ny Beinnee has been added which means more running along the cliffs in the South West of the island.  The small extra climb is definitely worthwhile as the scenery is great and it does not add any additional distance.

Down to sea level now and Fleshwick Bay.  No time to look for seals today as the adrenaline of getting close to the end is kicking in and I’m feeling good.  The last climb is a sting in the tail and goes from sea level very steeply to 200 meters.  There is normally a marshal at the bottom with chocolate and drinks and he does not let me down this year.   I jog up the climb at what would normally be walking pace and start the long run to the finish on the cliffs in Port Erin.  The view of Bradda Tower is always a delight as the panorama is excellent and there is only a mile to go.

At the finish t-shirts and drinks are distributed.  Brendan Bolland finsishes one place ahead of me and with the slow conditions has missed his bus to the ferry terminal in Douglas which he needed to get back to Liverpool in time for a wedding.  He is quickly offered a lift by someone watching and is straight off and makes the ferry without issue.  Lloyd Taggart has won in 4hrs 55mins.  Tom Cringle pulling through the field takes 2nd spot in 5hrs 15mins and Rob Sellors gets 3rd in 5hrs 31mins.  A Manx Fell Runners 1,2,3.  Jackie Lee wins the ladies race in 5hrs 58mins taking 10th place overall.

Simon achieves an excellent 9th place and I manage 5th in 5hrs 41mins.  This is down on previous years but pleasing considering a lack of racing this year and wet conditions under foot.

A lift back to Douglas and an afternoon Pasta meal in the town soon have us feeling refreshed and previous winner Ian Gale who lives nearby gives us a lift back down to the presentation in Port Erin at 6pm where refreshments are enjoyed and the days racing is analysed and previous year’s events are discussed.

In terms of numbers the change of race date has not had much effect but the hope is that in the longer term it will and with the enthusiasm of the organisers I am sure it will.  This race is superb and the people involved with it are even better.  Travelling overseas to an event will always add extra excitement and I would recommend a trip to “The Island” to anyone.  If you need any advice on the logistics of competing in the MMM, contact me.

Sunday 30th September 2012

A lift down to Ronaldsway airport from friends and Island residents Mike and Chris Doolan avoids a bus trip and within a couple of hours we are back in Liverpool and setting off back home with the pleasant aching of legs and feeling of achievement which accompanies the completion of a challenging race.