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Isle of Man Mountain Ultra 2015 – updated

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The Isle of Man Mountain Ultra is a race of real quality.  If it was on the mainland they’d be turning runners away: every ultra runner who likes the hills should run this race at least once.  There are 12 controls in its 31 miles, each one at the top of a hill.  It’s a proper fell race from one end of the island to the other, running on trods and narrow paths, with a few pathless bits and some stretches of track.  There’s hardly any tarmac, and there are plenty of steep climbs and descents.  The weather this year was just about perfect for running: dry underfoot in the main, with a bit of haze to keep it cool for most of the day, and what breeze there was was behind us.

There were two start times, 7:30 for the slower runners, and 8:30 for the faster.  But really there weren’t any slow runners: it was possibly the fastest field of any race I’ve ever run in.  The Manx runners take their hills pretty seriously, and the visitors weren’t messing about either!  First home was local Tom Cringle in 5:18:24, second was Stuart Walker in 5:24:00, third was another local, Ben Corkill, in 5:26:29.  First woman was Rosy Craine, 6:47:51, second was local Eleanor Gawne, 7:00:15, third Isaline Kneale in 7:14:38.  Full results are on the race website here.

Karen Nash has written up her race, and you can find it and a few photos on her blog here.  I’ve added my race report at the end of this post.  The photos here are copied from Karen’s blog.

Runfurther Championship Scores

The updated leaderboard and team scores are here.  With only Jedburgh to go, the women’s winners are now decided, and so are the team placings.  Apart from Ian Symington retaining his men’s title, the rest of the men’s results are still up in the air, although it would take a miracle for anyone to beat Chris Davies to the MV60 title (that miracle would have to involve me winning outright at Jedburgh!)  Karen Nash and David Wilson both ran well, and now have only one race to go to finish their Grand Slams.

Women

  1. Karen Nash
  2. Mary Gillie
  3. Sally Howarth

Men

  1. Ian Symington
  2. Probably Stewart Bellamy or Kevin Hoult

FV50

  1. Karen Nash
  2. Sally Howarth
  3. Alison Brind

MV50

  1. Probably Martin Terry or Chris Davies

FV60

  1. Janet Hill

MV60

  1. Probably Chris Davies
  2. Probably Andy Robinson
  3. Bob Nash or Dick Scroop

MV70

  1. Bob Nash

Teams

  1. Calder Valley Fell Runners
  2. Team Krypton
  3. Mercia Fell Runners

Andy’s race report

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I’ll start at the start of the race: Karen’s already talked about what came before.  We gathered at the start by the dock in Ramsey, chatting as we waited to get off.  The weather was a bit hazy, but the forecast was good, with what breeze there was due to be behind us the whole way.  It was cool but not cold, in fact conditions were perfect for running.  The slower runners had set off at 7:30, and I’d chosen to start at 8:30.  After all I’m not a slow runner am I?  Well, as it turned out, yes I am.  We all set off through the town, up the road and onto a track uphill.  Everyone else pulled away from me, apart from one runner who was some way behind – I never saw him again.  As we crossed the reservoir dam the last of the faster runners left me for dead, and I plodded up the first of the 12 hills, North Barrule, falling further behind all the time.  By the time I got to the top they were all out of sight, and I was navigating on my own for the next few hours.  Luckily for me I’m a reasonable navigator, and of course the weather was clear, but this race would have been interesting in the clag.  Although you’re generally following well-defined ridges, they are quite rounded, and you’re often following small trods, having to join them up across pathless bits from time to time.  Even in good visibility it’s easy to miss the path and end up flogging across much more difficult ground – heather etc.

Along the ridge to Clagh Ouyr, then a fast descent to the Black Hut, where a policeman stopped the traffic on the TT circuit for me to cross (acually there wasn’t any traffic, but he went through the motions).  Next came the second steep climb – and there are plenty – up the highest hill on the island, Snaefell (621m).  I could still see a few of the other runners ahead of me on my way up, but that was the last I saw of them.  From then on I was on my own, and I suspect the runner behind me had pulled out by now, and I was Tailend Charlie for the whole event.  Over the railway line snaking its way up the mountain, then up to the top, summit number 3.  I had mixed feelings.  I was last.  I was running slowly, as I’d expected to.  My legs had done too much over the past few months, and felt tired all the time.  But, I was enjoying it.  I felt I was running OK.

On down to the Bungalow checkpoint to cross the main road again, on a very runnable path.  The views weren’t up to much due to the haze, but I wasn’t complaining as it was keeping it from getting too hot.  A very soggy trod by the road led to the foot of Beinn-y-Phott – cracking names some of these hills have – and another stiff climb on a narrow path to top number 4.  I was glad of the visibility for the next bit, down a vague ridge then bending left to climb Carraghan (top 5).  The proper paths were running out, and finding the best trods was tricky even as it was.  I’d been warned about the next bit, from Carraghan to Colden.  The descent was horrible, I’d been told, then the climb up the other side was worse.  Well I found the descent fine.  It was steep and pathless and a bit tussocky, but I found lines that were virtually all runnable, and only fell once.  So – how hard could the climb up Colden be?

I got to the Injebrook checkpoint in the valley, and two other runners appeared from nowhere.  They hadn’t been in front of me on the descent, and they soon disappeared off in front.  I never found out for sure where they’d been, but I can only assume they’d gone the wrong way earlier.  As we set off up Colden they took a line to the left by the trees, and I headed straight up the pathless heather.  It was truly horrible – a fight for every step up, using hands, knees, teeth.  I didn’t go the way the other two went – they’d already been wrong once hadn’t they?  They got it right this time though, as I found out later from talking to the locals, although their way was pretty nasty too – there’s no easy way up Colden.  Halfway up, after what seemed like an eternity in one of Dante’s rings of hell, the slope eased off, and I could see a relatively heather-free line up the higher slopes.  Eventually I got to the top, somewhat chastened.  Thankfully there was nothing else remotely like that for the rest of the race.

I soon recovered my composure, and had no problems with the next tops, along a ridge to Slieau Ruy (top 7) and Greeba (8), then a blast down to the Greeba valley.  Next was a section of disused railway line, which I always find hard in the middle of a hilly race, but it was soon over, and I got to St John’s and the start of the next climb just in time to see the shorter Mountain Race start, just as I got to them.  Deja vu.  Once more all the other runners left me for dead on the steep climb up through the forestry on Slieau Whallian.  Never mind – they had fresh legs didn’t they?  I didn’t even have fresh legs at 8:30, and they were pretty trashed now.  Still, I managed to keep the tailenders in sight all the way up, and passed some of them on the way over the hill.  Things were looking up!  The run down to the Garey Gate checkpoint went well – I was enjoying myself.  Down through the trees to Glen Mooar, and after a bit of hesitation I found the track at the bottom of the valley and turned left.  I forked left where I should have done, and plodded my way along the track up the long hill to the foot of South Barrule.  I knew this track was coming, but it’s a dreary climb with no letup.

Anyway, I got to the crossroads at last, and turned left onto the path up South Barrule.  I was back in the middle of a race again, with runners coming back down this out-and-back section towards me.  Most of them were short race runners, but a few were carrying Ultra numbers.  My first 7:30 starters, although I still had some work ahead of me if I wanted to catch any of them up.  I plodded my way up South Barrule, having a good time really.  The last big hill (top 10), and people to say hello to as well.  Up to the top, turn round, then as fast as I could down again.  There’s people to catch!  I caught up with the first on my way across to the foot of Cronk ny Arrey Laa (top 11), and from then on I was passing people fairly regularly.  I missed the path up Cronk, but it was easy enough anyway, and not a big climb.  At the top of Cronk, the route joins a waymarked footpath, the Raad ny Foillan, so routefinding was pretty easy from here on.  I scampered down to the Sloc checkpoint, ran most of the way up hill number 12 (Lhiatee ny Beinee), and along the clifftop path to the last manned checkpoint at Fleshwick Bay.

No more hills to tick off, but the climb out of Fleshwick Bay is brutal.  Head down, hands on knees, and I was still passing people.  At the top of the climb I got running again, and kept up a good pace all the way to the finish on the promenade at Port Erin.  OK I went wrong in the maze of paths on the way into town, but I got there, even if I arrived from a different direction from all the other runners.  Through the finish and a bottle of beer was thrust into my hand – that’s the way to greet someone at the end of a race.  And for a change, I finished a race feeling I still had something in the tank.

Many thanks to Chris and Carol for letting Karen and I have a shower in their hotel room.  Many thanks to Mark and the rest of the IOM team for putting on such a great race.  And thanks to about 50 bottlenose dolphins for putting on such a breathtaking display of fish-juggling just yards from where we were standing, by Peel Castle, the following day.  And just as many thanks to Mike and Barney for their company and help!

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