The ‘TT’ (Tourist Trophy) is a series of motorcycle races that take place on the Isle of Man each year.
The route of those races is 37 miles and grant winner George Shelton decided that it would make for a good day’s run.
So, earlier this summer, he and his brother Fred set off to tackle the route on foot.
The Next Challenge Grant
George and Fred’s trip was supported by The Next Challenge Grant, an annual bursary for aspiring adventurers.
It’s funded by me – Tim Moss – several other adventurers and crowdfunded public donations.
Since 2015 it has supported 50 different expeditions with awards from £50 to £800.
Running the Isle of Man ‘TT’
by George Shelton
The Isle of Man, set in the middle of the Irish sea, is home to one of the world’s most exciting and deadly racetracks: The Snaefell mountain course.
For two weeks a year, the public roads that make up the course are closed for the infamous, bonkers and completely brilliant TT races. However, for the rest of the year, anyone else can use them. So, several weeks before the racing kicked off, my brother Fred and I thought it would be fun to have a crack at running around the 37.73 mile course in a day. The combination of an adventure, a challenge, and the chance to spend some time together on such special tarmac, was just too good to not try to pull off. We also liked the idea of having a bit of a time limit on our trip – it could fit into just 24 hours. We would arrive on the island on the first ferry of the day, and get one of the last flights back to Liverpool in the early evening. What could possibly go wrong…?
In terms of planning and preparation, we opted for the ‘less is more approach’. This applied to training as well, and predictably, would come back to haunt us. Things started off on the wrong foot almost immediately, when I managed to book the ferry for the Friday morning, rather than the Saturday morning. A classic Shelton start to proceedings! Thankfully Fred spotted this, and we were able to rectify the tickets reasonably quickly.
Before we knew it, we had met up in the car park of Liverpool John Lennon’s airport, late on the Friday evening. This was to be the start of our complex plan to get the ferry out, and then fly back. It involved me meeting Fred at the airport car park for him to leave his car there, us then driving to Heysham in my car and leaving it there. Jointly catching a ferry to the isle of man, running around it, and then flying back to the airport in Liverpool where the car situation could be reversed (collect Freds car and then drive back to get mine from the ferry terminal). If it sounds complicated, it’s because it was!
Before we knew it, we were decked out in running gear at Heysham ferry terminal at 1:30am on Saturday morning, much to the amusement of the other beleaguered and sleepy passengers. After stuffing embarrassingly large quantities of food and essentials into our tiny backpacks in the carpark, we boarded the ferry that would take us over to the island. We were amazed to see two bikers tucking in to full English breakfasts and pints at 2am, and couldn’t work out whether this was a brilliant or a terrible idea. Passing on the eggs and sausage, we had a hunt for somewhere to sleep. What looked like a peaceful sleeping zone transpired to be a childs soft play area, and we were unceremoniously turfed out at about 2:30 by an angry mother. Upon reflection, lurking in the child zone in the middle of the night probably wasn’t the best idea.
After a night on the floor of the Ben-My-Chree, and a quick breakfast of brioche, bananas and that essential cup of tea, we pulled-in to Douglas at 6am and disembarked. Mist hung in the air, and we both put on a jacket as we faffed about on the dock. Fred installed and started his strava, and I had a quick check of the map to see where we were going. We jogged our way through the quiet streets of douglas, shaking our hands and cracking on with the running to stave off the cold. It wouldn’t take long before we hit the course, and could start making our way around it. Before long, we started to notice bright yellow sponsor banners and covered hay bales surrounding a smooth bend in the road. It looked like we’d found the course!
On the ferry over, we’d decided upon running the course in reverse (compared to how the racers would ride it). After looking at the elevation of the route, and seeing how the most murderous of climbs was at the end of a circuit of the track, we both agreed that tackling this first, whilst we were fresh, would be the most sensible approach.
Pretty early on, we managed to make a navigational error. Rather than turning right at Quarter Bridge, we instead turned right at Bradden Bridge, and made our way northeast via Ballafletcher road, Rather than the A2 (the actual course). As Ballafletcher Road morphed into Johhny Watterson Lane, we realized the error of our ways and collectively groaned! We’d come here to run every inch of the course, and that’s what we’d do. We’d have to re-run the first section at the end of the lap, and just use the detour as a warm up. Oh well – as an old boss once said to me after I had printed 1000 business cards incorrectly: ‘Onwards’.
Reaching Cronk Y Mona, we settled into a rhythm, and Fred put some music on to help us grind out the mountain. It was still cold and misty, and we were keen to get this mountain bit done before the day got ahead of us. We were both happy to have got going, and had the all-too familiar pangs of ‘what the hell are we doing’ circulating in our heads (even though neither of us voiced this)!
We ran on the right hand side of the road, with plenty of cars giving us space. Save for the odd grumpy Range Rover driver, the locals were very kind and considerate.
The mountain section of the course, which we were running-up in reverse by this point, is spectacularly fast for the riders. It’s not uncommon for the racers to be in excess of 200mph on some of the straighter sections. Whilst this unrestricted section is open and clear, Fred and I were careful to run very much on the hard shoulder, and without headphones, just in case we needed to jump into the hedge/ditch.
As we’ve discovered on previous adventures, I really enjoy the hills. There is something supremely satisfying about climbing to the top of a hill or mountain, and savouring the view from the top. On two wheels I would relish the climbs, settling into the climbing, whereas on the flats, Fred would leave me gasping in his wake. Fred has more of a loathesome relationship with hills generally, and the Snaefell mountain proved to be no exception. Having said this, we eventually reached the top of the mountain, and were greeted by spectacular views as the sun started shining over the Isle of Man. Althouth we seemed to keep climbing forever, we finally started to descend, and could spy Ramsay in the distance (top of our rough triangle, and first major checkpoint), even seeing as far as the northern tip of the island. It’s only a shame the course didn’t take us right around the outside – it looked beautiful.
By the time we had descended down into Ramsay, the sun was fully up, and we were relieved to have notched off what we thought would be the most challenging section. We finished off a bottle of Lucozade Sport between us, crammed in some second breakfast chorizo, and geared up for the next leg to Kirk Micheal.
After the climbing and descending on the main road from Douglas to Ramsay, it was nice to spend some time on a proper path by the side of the road. We passed under shady patches of trees along the sulby straight, and were grateful for almost perfect weather conditions. Cool and dry with the odd small cloud in the sky.
By this point, our ‘lean’ approach to training was starting to present itself, in the form of general fatigue and soreness. Having been in this position before, and in the full knowledge that we had over half of the run still to go, we started to implement a run/walk strategy: running for 25 minutes and then power-walking for five. This structure seemed to help no end, as we mentally aimed for Kirk Michael, the next big check point. We padded our way along the road, occasionally spying the old stone signposts which showed miles to Castletown and our distance from Ramsay, and enjoyed the winding road and rolling hills.
Spotting a petrol station approaching on the side of the road, we stopped for a refill of water for our camelbacks, a bottle of Oasis, a few chocolate bars and a sandwich to cram into our backpacks. Boost bars have become a firm staple of these stupid jaunts it seems. We power-walked out of the petrol station to allow our full bellies to settle, before gradually easing back into the classic ‘ultra shuffle’ (this is a sort of pained half jog) [This is pretty much Tip #4 of my article: How to Run an Ultramarathon – Tim].
Soon after our pitstop and refuel, the familiar phenomenon of each of us encouraging the other when we were secretly finding it hard, began to emerge. Thankfully, however, we had passed the halfway point, and we knew that a brisk hike and not stopping should get us all the way around the remaining circuit before getting to the airport and catching our flight back later in the day.
We wound our way from Kirk Michael to Glen Helen, enjoying the rolling changes in elevation, glimpses of the glistening sea to our right, and the varied plants and foliage of the island. As we jogged and hiked along. It was difficult not to notice the shrines at the side of the road that lay in tribute to riders killed on the course. Since its inception, 257 people have died on the mountain course, with two riders sadly perishing in the 2018 races, just a few weeks after our run. The shrines were a stark reminder of quite how unforgiving the course is for those on two wheels. We both thought about the people that have died on the course as we ran.
The next major checkpoint for us was an acute left turn at some traffic lights around Ballig. This would ensure we head back along the bottom of the rough triangle back to Douglas. By this point, we were feeling relatively sore, but cheered to have the finish line roughly in sight and visible on signposts. The sun had fully risen, and it was early afternoon, so we were confident we could make it around the rest of the circuit in the time remaining.
Our legs and hips were less chipper, and we were definitely feeling parts of ourselves that we hadn’t realised were there before. To be honest. The last section up to Douglas was a drag. We were very much done by this point, and looking forward to getting the remaining bits completed. As we entered Crosby before Union Mills, a shout came from Fred as he pointed towards the hedge. He reached into the undergrowth and produced an apparently fully sealed Galaxy Ripple bar, which we were conviced must be a good omen. After splitting the bar and having another drink, we pushed on to Douglas, and soon reached the bend in the road where earlier I had made the navigational error. Even though by this point we’d covered the equivalent distance of the course, we knew we couldn’t leave without completing that first bit that I’d got wrong.
Jogging our way through traffic and up Bray Hill, we soon reached the grandstand, and paused to take some pictures and drink in the famous start/finish line. Preparations were already well underway for the upcoming races, with the paddocks being set up to one side, and crash barriers being erected. Amusingly, we ran past some stationary traffic, and were given a few words of encouragement by a chap who had seen us running on his commute to work many hours before.
We hobbled our way back to the infamous turn to meet up with our earliest start point on the circuit from earlier, and crumpled into a heap. At one point we had considered running on to the airport from this point, but it soon became clear that this would result in us missing our flight. With the full race track (and more) run, we booked a cab to the airport, and demolished a few of our remaining provisions. Mercifully, we had enough time to get down to the airport and catch our flight home.
After checking in, as we passed through security we were met with some interesting looks from one of the airport attendants there. One approached us, and asked us, after glancing at our backpacks: “So has there been some kind of event on then lads?”
Us: “Nope, I don’t think so.”
So why are you all dressed up then like that and limping.”
“Well we decided to run the wrong way around the tt course today.”
“Why did you do that, then?”
We shared an Isle of Man beer and two sandwiches, before jumping onboard the short flight back to Liverpool and repeating the car collection palaver in reverse (up to Heysham subsequently to collect mine). It had been a spectacular day on a beautiful island, and well within the realms of two very averagely fit people! We would both highly recommend it. It’s amazing what you can pack into 24 hours, and the lows only made the highs seem higher.
Thank you so much to Tim, for his kindness in subsidising our trip, and for his patience waiting for this article.
The Next Challenge Grant
George and Fred received a £100 award from The Next Challenge Grant.
The money came from me, other adventurers and members of the public.
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