Douglas man Richard Gerrard could well claim a record-equalling sixth win in the Parish Walk this weekend.
He currently stands on five wins - jointly with Derek Harrison and Robbie Callister - one short of John Cannell, whose first of six victories came 43 years ago in 1976.
’JC’ is in the line-up again this Saturday and aims to walk 32.5 miles to Peel, the former race distance for men over 40 years of age and all women.
This year’s event is the eighth with Manx Telecom as headline sponsor and has a total entry of 1,619 competitors, including an ever-growing number of 89 under 21-year-olds who are limited to the short course to Peel.
With the weather set to be warm and sunny for the majority of Saturday, it could well prove another battle of attrition but could also result in a very high number of walkers venturing beyond half-distance at Ballaugh into the hours of darkness.
All support drivers and other road users are urged to be vigilant throughout the 24-hour period of the event from 8am Saturday onwards.
Numerous road closures and one-way systems will be in place for the Parish route, which wends its way round an arduous clockwise course taking in all 17 of the island’s parish churches.
Last year, 184 walkers completed the full 85-mile distance inside the 24-hour limit. The last of those - Nicolaas Willemse - was cutting it finely, a mere 0.4 of a second inside the maximum time.
The pace in recent years has increased substantially. No fewer than 16 received gold awards in 2018 for achieving sub 18-hour times. Three of the 57 events of the modern era have been won in times exceeding 18 hours.
A further 48 walkers were presented with silver awards (sub-21 hours), with the remainder all registering bronze award times.
None of the main race records were exceeded last year and it would perhaps be a surprise if either the men’s or women’s standards were to fall this weekend.
Gerrard’s main rival is likely to be 2017 winner Liam Parker of Ramsey. Others likely to be in the mix include six-time finisher and former podium man Dave Walker, Centurions Pete Muller and James Quirk, plus of course the evergreen Robbie Callister going for his 17th finish. He was eighth last year, despite nursing a broken collarbone.
From off-island, watch out for Frenchman David Vandercoilden (No.5) who was fifth in his debut 12 months ago.
Defending women’s champion Bernie Johnson has to start as favourite for the title again. Her main rivals are Jayne Farquhar, Maureen Moffatt, Karen Lawrie and Polish-born Ewa Kowalewska who led the class at Andreas.
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