The Three Legged Races: Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running

Article by Shaun Chambers

Daddies Escape are a relatively small group of runners from the Tameside area of Manchester and we train together weekly and race most, or every-other weekend. We all have kids and collectively recognise that we won’t always be able to get out together so we maintain regular contact via a WhatsApp group.

I’m a native of the Isle of Man and chose the festival as an opportunity to combine my love of running with a timely trip back home with wife Sami for a weekend break, staying at the luxurious Shore Hotel in Gansey. Two weeks before, fellow group runner Rick Lee decided to throw his hat into the ring and join me on all three races, to share the car and see some of the world, staying at the Falcon’s Nest Hotel in Port Erin.

And we’re off ..

Our trip began late on the Thursday night before Easter, setting off around 10:15 pm to get the 2:15 am sailing from Heysham to Douglas aboard the legendary named Ben-my-Chree ferry. The crossing was silky smooth and somewhat devoid of other runners with most probably already there, staying the extra night.

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Good Friday

We docked in Douglas at 5:30 am and with hotel check-in still a good few hours away, decided to kill some time and load up on food at a local cafe. It was here, we’d discover that Manx toast is a thing to behold. Thickly cut and a meal in itself. As we had travelled through the night, sleep had been a bit of an afterthought so I decided to get my head down to recharge the batteries but could only manage 90 minutes before I was up again in race mode, looking forward to the start at 6:45 pm.

We left in plenty of time to drive over to Port Erin to meet Rick, who had also had a short nap. On arrival, it was a gorgeous mild April evening with clear skies and  perfect for running the first of the three races organised by Manx Harriers; the mixed 10K Road Race. It’s only when you arrive that you realise this isn’t your average 10K. There is a strange sort of ‘Monty Python’ feel to it where, on one hand you have a real elite field of serious runners, punctuated with the occasional person painted blue with a 12″ rubber knob on his head (let’s call him ‘D*ckhead for now!).

It’s only when you arrive that you realise this isn’t your average 10K!

In most 10K’s, these would be slow charity runners raising money but no, they are also very capable runners who aren’t there just to make up the numbers. It’s also when you realise that this festival is steeped in history. Just checking the website results takes you back to 1972 where just 144 people competed the festival and on closer reading, you notice the large number of universities that are represented. This hasn’t changed to this day as there is a general feeling of ‘Freshers Week’ where everyone is determined to do something crazy but all good natured and very competitive. Amongst these younger students are some ‘older’ runners who may have been previous students and just can’t stay away! On arrival, some students were already loading up on energy drinks, or ‘beer’ as they call it.

Arriving at the 10K, some students were already loading up on energy drinks, or ‘beer’ as they call it.

This was a theme that was continue through the festival and soon, the rumours of the 29-pint man would start to emerge. To have all these fun, competitive people in one place was fabulous and for a race series that does not even advertise or offer a medal. I bumped into Festival Director Chris Quine who is a very approachable and friendly guy and asked him about this. He said that he believed the “memories you take away with you of the festival are far more important than a memento”. Like vintage Champagne, the festival is built on reputation rather than advertising.

“Memories you take away with you of the festival are far more important than a memento” : Chris Quine (Festival Director)

The 10K race got under way on time, catching the last of the daylight on a route that can be described as undulating, which as we all know is a race organisers word for hills. There seemed to be a sort of ‘animal theme’ going on where the fancy dress costumes all seemed to be wildlife-related. Even for me, a native of the island where I have lived and worked and still have family, the scenery was just stunning and thoughts of ‘should I come back’ returned again and again. I did 41:30 and Rick did 46:39 with the winner Michael Christoforou from Edinburgh University romping home in 30:39, some 30-odd seconds ahead of second place. Amazing stuff and again a demonstration of the running talent in attendance here at the festival.

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After the race, we stayed and mingled with all the other runners before finding a chippy in Port Erin for a snack then onto Rick’s hotel, the Falcons Nest. Rick wasted no time getting a Magners but I settled on water. We finished the meal late on and I turned-in sometime in the early hours. Rick went onto another pub in Port Erin, ‘The Haven’, getting in around 1am.

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Easter Saturday

I opened the curtains on Saturday morning to reveal another glorious day and perfect conditions for the legendary ‘Peel Hill Race’ . A full-english was downed in preparation for the exertions to follow later in the day. Peel is about 11 miles from Douglas and the race is split into male and female events; the blokes doing 4 miles and the ladies doing three and starting at different times. See Dave Griffiths’ slideshow of the course here (LINK). It starts by the Manannan Museum on the quayside before a steep climb out of the quayside onto the hills above Peel. Again the place was absolutely buzzing and the students were again in fancy dress. If aliens would have landed there and then, they’d have been convinced the human race were a very strange bunch. Mankini Man (that must have chaffed mate!). Knob-head was there again and already students were loading up on drinks, this time shots; obviously afraid they may have some blood in their alcohol streams.

Despite the light-hearted nature, the race was seriously contested, proving that you can be quick and still be an absolute nutter. It seems that everyone is of the same frame of mind and completely committed to the occasion in the same way there is always a nice vibe to a pub on Christmas Eve. One of my brothers, Johnny came to watch. 

The Easter Festival of Running
The course was tough and challenging and I came home in 30.03 with Rick on 34:59. 10K winner Micheal Christoforou managed second, coming in 17 seconds after the winner Linton Taylor in a staggering 20:22. On the route, students were taking drinks again (shots this time!). We stayed for the ladies race to cheer them on as, apart from wanting to, it seemed the ‘done-thing’. In the run up to the festival, I’d had a calf-strain and felt it now so decided to take a dip in the medical seas of the island which actually did the trick and believe me, was as cold as any ice-bath!

Beats an ice-bath!
Some (students) decided to stick with tradition and do the 11 mile Peel-to-Douglas pub crawl, taking about 5 hours to cram in the alcohol. It’s here the rumours of the 29-pint man surfaced and legend tells that he’d had 10 pints before he started the race. No doubt a contender for ‘Student of the Year’ and a legend to all that study with him!

We favoured a more civilised route and as a thanks to Sami for holding all the gear over the past two days I took her for a meal to my brother Peters’ pub, The Grosvenor in Andreas which is on the TT course. We arrived at 7 and took a couple of hours over dinner before staying a few hours longer to catch-up with family news and to relax.

It was still an hours drive back to Gansey, call it an hour and a half after dropping off Rick in Port Erin. Sami and I eventually got our heads down around 2am.

Easter Sunday

Back home in Manchester, whilst some kids were probably onto their third chocolate egg, we tucked into porridge, coffee and orange juice to prepare for the final race, the 5K out and back road run from Douglas promenade. The separate mens and ladies races were an experimental idea this year but having raced this event last year, I much preferred it and gauging the responses on the running forums since returning home, is the preferred alternative of many others. I looked around and just took it all in again; the race was so well organised, well-signposted with excellent and quick timekeeping / results. I noticed Chris Quine again chatting to anyone and everyone, a real figurehead for the event and very welcoming and friendly.

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The route was flat, which was welcome after the hill race the day before and once again, there were some sights to behold including one wearing high-heels. I later heard from him (Duncan Ng) and he gave a great quote as to why he does it:

“I love overtaking people in heels. The reaction you get when they realise that is priceless!” : Duncan Ng

210 men contested this one. It must be mentioned again here the quality of the field. If this shows what university sports societies are producing then British Athletics is in really good condition. Rick finished in 21:44 with me a few minutes earlier on 19:41. Winner Micheal Christoforou stormed home in under 15 minutes, some 5 minutes ahead of second place Linton Taylor who had pipped him the day before on Peel Hill. In the ladies race, Manx Harrier Rachael Franklin took gold with 17:27, followed just 17 second later by Katy Hedgethorne of Cambridge.

After the race, a free chip-butty was on offer at the Outback Pub but we instead went to The Cafe in Douglas for some more thick toast and coffee. I joined Rick and Sami that evening back at the Outback for the start of the celebrations, and what a celebration. With all the running behind them, the competitors really let their hair down and partied like some something out of ‘National Lampoons’. Everyone was friendly and some were crazy but the whole night was awesome. Sami and I left around 11, leaving Rick who was nowhere near done. He finally dropped into bed just after 4am after a £35 taxi ride back to Port Erin.

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One for me, and me alone (Easter Monday)

I still had one run to do and this one was all mine. Having lived on the island for many of my years, I chose a recovery run that took me past my mums house to pay homage to her and for all the memories she had given me. The route took me around Port St. Mary and up my childhood street Seafield Road. That done, I set back and got my stuff ready for the trip back to Tameside, catching the 7:45 ferry from Douglas to Heysham.

What a wonderful weekend. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew I would be back next year. Thanks to all the organisers, stewards and marshals; you’re all awesome and you’ve something special.