Thought I should write a bit about myself so you would know just who it is that's rambling on! My name is Paul Callow and I'm 30 years old, I'm married to Emma and we have 2 beautiful daughters, Holly, who is three years old and Lucy, who is nine months old.
My exploits in the Parish Walk up until the 2011 event were full of broken promises regarding the training. Try as I might, I never put the right amount of time into my training and thought I could finish the race with just sheer determination. Each time I did this, I came up short... as you'd expect from someone who always thinks he know's best!
In 2011 I applied online for the Parish Walk and as with previous years I thought to myself "This year I'll train really hard and finish the whole thing". As we got to the end of February I realised that time was getting on and my training should really have already started, but fear not, my belief that there was plenty of time to train deterred me from mentally giving up.
So fast forward to the end of March and my local football team (Ramsey AFC) have been on a great cup run, but surely it won't last and then the walking can start?... Mid April soon arrived, I was playing in the semi final of the Junior Cup and was yet to really start any sort of real walk training. To put you out of your misery we lost the game in extra time, but there was no time to feel sorry for myself, I had a race to train for and there was only seven weeks to go!
My trainers were tied, the old casio digital watch was strapped to my wrist and the vaseline pot had been dug out of the medicine draw of the bathroom. I was ready to go and started my first of many walks from Douglas to Laxey (and back). Having started my training so close to the event I thought that if I over compensated (by starting off hard and quickly increasing the intensity of every subsequesnt session) I could be at the right level of fitness and stamina in time for June!
I won't bore you with every single training session anecdote I had within that seven week period, because to be honest, I don't have that many, it was just me, my iPod and miles of roads ahead of me! All you need to know is that I made it to the start line with the knowledge that I had done more training for this event than I had in any of my previous attempts. I felt good, I felt ready and I was hoping to see Douglas Promenade before the 24 hour time limit was up!
By this point you will probably be thinking "It'll make a mockery of the event if he finishes this having done so little to prepare" and the reason I know this is because that was the last thing I said to my wife before I left the house that morning. Nevertheless, I started more in hope than expectation and my motto was to "take the race one church at a time".
The starting pistol had been fired... It took a while to weave my way through the crowd of walkers on the NSC track, but this afforded me the space I needed to speed up as I left the complex and turned onto the TT access road. I negotiated my way passed a few people I knew, and was fortunate to be walking at the same pace as an old friend of mine, Michael Cowin. We'd not seen each other for quite a while, other than just in passing, but as he told me of his ambition to finish the race, I realised we'd have a lot of time to catch up on each others news. Michael was always a great sportsman, he'd won numerous trophies with Laxey Football Club and was now into fishing in a big way, so I knew he had fitness, stamina and patience in his locker.
The pace to Peel was good, and I felt as though I could probably have gone a bit quicker, but I took notice of the advice I'd heard from many other competitors, "walk your own race". When you goal is to finish the the full 85 miles, it's important to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other consistently, rather than going fast and burning out.
The furthest I'd been before this race was Jurby, so it was at that Church where my challenge really started. As I travelled north, the sun was shining and it was a really pleasurable experience, I'd heard about the great support that others had received coming through Bride & Andreas, and I was not disappointed, adults and children were out clapping and cheering on the walkers as they passed by.
Upon leaving Andreas, myself and Michael were separated by 100 yards or so, after I had to take a toilet stop, I walked hard to catch up and when I did Michael told me that he'd hit the wall, we discussed what it would mean to finish the walk and as we approached the Church at Leyzayre, he'd had a change of heart and we carried on into Ramsey. The crowd outside the Swan pub seemed huge and in good spirit, most had a pint in their hand, so I'm sure that had something to do with it. As I made my way down Waterloo Road, my uncle Malcolm came out to give me a verbal splash of cold water, I particularly remember him looking me in the eye and saying "You're going to finish this aren't you!", I replied "we'll see" but in my head I was thinking "You're damn right I'm going to finish this!".
As we headed into Maughold, Michael's head started to drop, he told me to go on, but I said no way, there had been plenty of opportunity for him to have gone on ahead during many toilet stops, but he had slowed his pace so I wouldn't be left behind. I was dark by the time we reached the Church and this is where Michael and I were to part ways, I felt sad that I wouldn't but crossing the line with him, he'd been great throughout the chatter and even the long inevitable silences during the miles of road we'd endured, but he told me to keep on going and finish it, which spurred me onwards.
At this point my wife was walking alongside me with some food and drink supplies, she told me how proud she was of me and that during the next few hours I should think of my favourite baby names, a bit dazed and confused (due to the hours of walking I'd done) the penny didn't drop straight away... her lovely smile, followed by the words "I'm pregnant" filled me with happiness and put an additional spring in my step. I had a new lease of life and spend the next couple of hours singing various random songs to myself, despite other support crews being in range and hearing me; one support crew even joined me in a rendition of Elton John's 'Bennie and the Jets'!
Walking into Laxey on the everlasting bend I had slowed up and saw some of the other competitors pass me. My feet had started to ache, but my spirit was high. I knew that once I got into Laxey village I could make it to Douglas with my eyes closed having done so this stretch on numerous occasions during my training. The fog had come in and visibility had become poor, but this added to the anticipation of getting to Onchan where my support crew and family met me, to give me one final cheer before moving onto the promenade in Douglas, I spent the walk down Royal Avenue thinking about how I would feel when I crossed the line, which I now had no doubt that I would do. The final half and hour of the walk and I could almost see the finish, My dad wandered along the promenade for 20 yards or so, but couldn't keep up as I was speeding up to beat the man in front of me, Gordon Corran, I'd been told he was doubled over in a fair bit of pain, but still going strong.
The competitive streak in me took over and I busted a gut to cross the line as fast as possible. I saw Gordon as I passed him a gave him look of solidarity and respect as he'd obviously been struggling with his back, but never gave up!
Yards from the finish, I could see the timing board and I was going to make it under 20 hours, not bad for a first time finish I thought? I clocked in and walked over to celebrate with my wife and family (all of whom had been part of my back up crew during the day), they had dragged themselves from their beds at stupid o'clock in the morning to see me do what I didn't know I was capable of doing... Finishing the Parish Walk. I'm the first member of my family to do so and that made me very proud!
In the days that followed I was congratulated by people on Facebook and friends in the street. I even had a few messages from people saying that I had inspired them to compete in the 2012 event, which gave me a great feeling. I always said that once I'd completed the Parish Walk, I wouldn't feel the need to do so again... Well here we are! With the fantastic news that I was to be a dad again the following February I knew that the logistics of having a young baby in the house wouldn't allow me much time to train and prepare for 2012, but with my girls now sorted into their daily/nightly routines, I'm ready to train hard and attempt to beat the race once more!
The main point of this story isn't to brag about how I finished the Isle of Man's toughest challenge without doing that much training, it is to give a hope to those of you who want to take on the Parish Walk and believe in yourself that you can achieve your goal! Preparation is vitally important, but the race itself is definitely more about mentality than anything else.
All I will say is that I don't intend to leave my training until to 11th hour this time round!