Friday, 12 December 2014

Part 10 :Race plan.

 OK You have all your Kit as sorted as it will ever be .
        You are fit but wish you were fitter.
        You have read as many blogs as your brain can handle.
         You are convinced that everyone is better prepared than you.
         You have looked at the maps (and got confused)
         You have perhaps spent some time on the course.(but wished you had spent more time)
          You have looked at the weather forecast.

 You are still nervous about the actual race.

       Its time to think about a race plan.

          Most of you will have read Damian,s comment : "Grams Matter"

          This is indeed true but in wildly different ways for different runners .

         Take the top 3 in 2016.  They all had light weight Kit because the faster you move the more effect weight has on your pace and energy expend ensure. Pavel ,Eoin and Eugeni will all plan to move light and fast in order to reach CP3 without sleeping if possible. Eugeni

        The first thing to say is that : A Race Plan Has To Be Flexible.
         Having said that once the race has started you will find that you will be faced with a series of decision points. Some of these  decision points are predictable.

         I won,t tell you how to plan your race but I can give you a "Heads UP" on the decisions you may well have to take as your race progresses.
         Each decision you make will have ramifications later on in the race and  will alter your race plan.

         The bottom line at any stage is the simple question: Do I push on or do I make changes?

         The main factors that will demand decision making are as follows.

          Cut Off Times. 
          You should be aware of the cut off times stipulated in the race rules.
           This will be particularly relevant to slower runners. However even the Elite runners should be aware of the cut off,s
           Its 268 miles and literally anything could happen. ( You could have an accident and be hauled of the course . After being patched up and assessed by the medics they may allow you to continue. One way or another you will have lost time. Your pace may also be seriously affected.

             The Need For Sleep.(how much /when/where?)
             There is no avoiding the fact that a tired brain is lousy at decision making. Added to that your ability to judge how cold you are can not be relied upon.
              To get good value from your sleep you probably need to be fast asleep for a minimum of 2hrs. Less than this is just emergency rest . If you get less than 2 hrs you may suffer later. However we are all very different in how much sleep we need.
              If you get really tired you may become hyperactive.  You are now out of control and even if you know you desperately need sleep you just can,t fall asleep.

              Nutrition and Hydration
             The time to feed and drink is before you really need to.

              Coping with the weather.
             Again the time to add layers or strip off is before you need to.

               Working with other runners.
              If you "team up"then any decision will have to take into account other runners.

              You as a runner  . Just how strong and fast are you?
               I won,t give advise to the front runners. Their tactic is usually go non stop for the first 110 miles then sleep/rest  at CP2 and every CP from then on. This will either work or they will DNF in a big way!
              The leaders for the last two years  kept  going as far as CP3 , and then sleep. (This gives them  a massive advantage but I doubt if many runners can emulate this feat of endurance). 
               If  you can hold it together as far as CP2 and then try to sleep. The use of a separate CP from Challenger finishers has made sleeping much easier.
                 CP2 was an  open hall with no designated sleeping area. The Challengers arriving at the hall all receive cheers and clapping when they arrive . (Keeping the noise down for full Spine Runners trying to sleep  was a big issue)

               My blog has always been aimed at the mid paced runners like myself who just want to get to the finish line. The following thoughts reflect how I feel you can achieve this aim based on my own timings and crucial decision points.

             The Night Before The Race
              Sleeping soundly the night before should be a key part of your race plan.
               If however you don,t get a good nights sleep then not sleeping at CP1 will become a less wise option.

             Day one 

              Equipment---- You won,t need to sleep before CP1 so if you have a tent and a Bivi bag you will only need to carry a  Bivi bag for emergencies.
             You all know my views on moving to fast on day one. You really can afford to take it slow and start to get a feel for the race . Your first real  decisions will probably be about self confidence and deciding to get in a team or go solo. You need the self confidence to let other runners push past you. Run at your own pace and take control. As dusk approaches running solo will feel a much less safe option.

           CP1 Decisions.----- Do you sleep or push on?
                                           Whatever you do you should shower and feed well.
                                           If you stop to sleep you will find this CP noisy but not as bad as in previous years with all the Challenger tail enders milling about. for a first time Spiner this is still the safest option.
                                           If you push on then there is no obvious comfy sleeping place before Malham except the small Top Withens bothy.
                                           If the weather is bad then sleeping on the trail will gain you nothing.
                                           What time do I start again if I sleep? -----If you can get away by 5am you may have a chance to get a feed in the Pubs at Malam.  Whatever you do try to get back on the trail before dawn to make best use of the light.
                                            If you don,t sleep at CP1 then some time soon you will need to sleep  out on the trail. (Only the Elite runners will make it all the way  to CP1.5 /CP2 in one hit.)
                                            The next decision point is Pondon Reservoir. There is a cafe just past the road junction SD 979379. You should be ready for breakfast  but this stop adds 1km to the course. I will probably stop here as it will help me move faster later.
                                             Next decision point is at Lothersdale. You walk right past the pub and stopping to eat here by the warm fire should be part of your plan.

            It may appear that the race plan is obsessed about food . You should consider this phase of the race  as an intensive course in training your body to consume more food than is normal. This re-programing  of your digestive system will pay dividends later in the race.

                                              Next point Gargrave . Drop in at the Co-op for hot food if available and possibly  stock up food for your  sleep stop near CP 1.5(there are also good pubs just down the road from the co-op.
            For the first two years of the Spine it was just possible to sleep actually in the CP 1.5 tent or a marshals tent but now with larger numbers this is unlikely so prepare to sleep on the ground. You will need a good sleeping mat!
             Don,t count on any shed or bothy to be unlocked. (you won,t know until you arrive!)

            CP 1.5 decisions ---- Do I bivi/camp  before or near the CP or in the shelter of the woods further on . You will be warmer and less exposed if you camp at lower elevations near Malam itself but there are usually hot noodles at CP 1.5.
           In 2015 CP1.5 was at the Outdoor Training Centre (there was no food there but there was a kettle so use it to make a :rehydrated meal. (Getting hot food inside you and cooking it up in a warm dry place is way easier than out in the open while you set up a Bivvi)
             How long you sleep will depend on how tired you are. One way or another you will need hot food and plenty of it as the trail over Pen-yghent and Cam high road is very exposed to high winds.
              The 2015 Spine Course runs through Horton . ( The cafe in Horton stayed open all night in 2015) 
         By now you will be well into the race and your pre- race energy reserves will be used up . At this stage of the race you will be running on the food you consumed over the last 24 hrs. Your body will still not have fully  adjusted to what you are asking it to do and so be very vulnerable  to the cold.

                                               CP2 decisions:  I have pushed on past this CP for the last two years heading for Tan Hill Pub..Never made it before closing time! perhaps in 2017?  CP1.5 all the way to Tan Hill is a long day on minimum sleep. There is little shelter at Tan Hill and the pub porch is tiny so Look for a good bivi spot around Keld before you climb to high towards Tan Hill.
                                                Once past Tan Hill and the notorious bogs around Washfold Rigg you do have a possible emergency bolt hole : The underpass tunnel below the A66. This tunnel is frankly disgusting but it is sheltered with dryish patches of concrete covered in litter. If you sleep here you need a sign saying "Don,t wake me!" as everyone passing will be concerned for your welfare. 
               Once past the A66 the trail rises up over the fells then crosses a track with a large Bothy where it is possible to sleep.
    The Middleton CP is a good place to sleep. Make sure you know exactly where the CP is located by looking it up on google maps before the race . It,s not easy to find

     The next leg is Middleton To Dufton. You are now heading for the high open exposed ground at High Cup Nick. Trail finding ,footing ,navigation,snow cover , river crossings , and high level cold winds will notch the race difficulty up higher than you may encounter before on the PW. (Be prepared for anything)
      The Dufton village hall will be open .
     Once past Dufton the ' hardness  level'  goes up yet again (it may well be worth teaming up for safety reasons)  with everything except the river crossings.
     Gregs hut should be with luck the end of your external physical challenges . It,s pretty much down hill to the next CP.
      CP4 onwards will give you the first taste of real bogs. (They will get steadily worse from now on ). Although the PW is not very high on this section much of the trail is badly marked and they appear to have run out of flagstones to lay over the tricky bits of the trail.  Fortunately there are no massive climbs to worry about.
      You should have a much better idea of how your body is coping with the race by this stage. You may be able to push on a bit harder as you will be able to judge your energy levels and forecast what you need to do to get to the next CP.
       Just before Hadrians Wall you cross a busy road and have the option of turning sharp right ,  diverting to the pub and Cafe in Greenhead . ( you need to back track up the side road to rejoin the PW and cross the Golf Course. NO SHORTCUTTING!) The Start of Hadrians Wall is the last settlement area before Bellingham so if you need to stop and rest this is the best place.
       Once you leave the Wall you hit a succession of bogs which will leave you drained.
CP 5 onwards . Stock up with food at the Bellingham Co-op before the fast march to Byrness. (the Co op is about 1 Km past the CP so if you are short of food   and it,s approaching 9pm .you may have to re-stock before checking in . This is a massive pain but without  enough food for the last leg you could be in trouble)

   You will start a  long severe climb as soon as you pass the A68 at Byreness  At this point anyone with energy to spare will push on . If you have been moving in a group now is the time it could well break apart.  You should however bear in mind that The Cheviots are pretty much A wilderness area (You won,t see any buildings for the next 20 ish miles). This is like the run in of any previous ultra you may have done . Everything is on the line but there are no friendly Marshals to pick up the pieces if you get it wrong. Even if you are full of energy you can,t really relax. Make use of the Mountain Refuge Huts to fuel up . Stopping for 5mins could save you an hour later on .
          Once past the final big hill The Schill and you are home and dry. (Well dry ish possibly)

   Cold Weather Conditions        
         Ice  is mainly a problem on the down hills when you can loose control. (especially ice coated flagstones!) It is at it,s worst in the hours before dawn when you may be at your lowest ebb. (This is something you should take into consideration when deciding what time  to exit a CP.) You are usually moving on the flat or up hill for the first 2 hrs after a CP . Take a look at the gradients after each CP. It is no use heading out early if you may encounter steep  slippery ice descents  in the dark.
         2014 was warm and wet so we never encountered real cold and ice.
The state of the trail can vary enormously . Its not just a matter of temperature and snow fall.
         In 2012 I gather that sheet ice on the stone flags was a real problem for some of the race. ( What happened was the ground was  warm and wet before the start.  The  layer of water froze the night before the start leaving every stone coated in ice . For many the best way to run was on the half frozen bog alongside  the flagstones.)
         In 2013 the early weather was possibly colder but the ground had been dried by a cold east wind for several days so the flagstones were mostly ice free except where they crossed small streams. This made safe  progress without traction aides quite fast.
         Some of the most tricky ground was frozen mud on farmland that had been previously churned up by cattle. Each time your foot hit the ground it could be  twisted .
           If you do find yourself heading down hill on icy ground then run beside the flagstones. ( If the ice is severe enough to make the flags dangerous then it will be hard enough to freeze the surface layers of the bogs beside the flagstones
           Your best defence against a fall moving down hill with patchy ice is using a pole as an extra point of contact with the ground. DON't USE THE WRIST STRAP as if you fall you can create massive loads on your hand possibly breaking a thumb or wrist!

          This is a real problem on day one . There are several slabs bridging streams on day one and even if all the normal slabs are ice free you will find BLACK ICE FORMS ON THESE BRIDGES.


      The Cold Weather Bivi

      Reading reports of Spine Trainees Bivi experiences  has reminded me of what you need to think about.
      You need to be out of the wind and even better out of the rain.
       If you have never tried to bivi in true cold conditions you need to know what to do .
    Do not  assume that once you are in the bag you will instantly get warm.
  There are two forms of bivi: The emergency forced bivi and the planned bivi.
                Either way the aim of the bivi is to stay warm ,safe and dry.
   The first part of the operation is to set out the bivi bag and sleeping mat. If you have a thin foam/bubble wrap mat (Which you will regret!) you can put it inside the Bivi bag. Next put the sleeping bag and liner untwisted into the bivi bag. Thicker/blow up mats can be used outside the bag.
               Put your pack with food and Stove within reach of your bag opening.
     By now you will probably be cold. As soon as you stop moving your body will stop producing heat. If at this point  if you strip off any wet layers and get into your sleeping bag you will probably start to shiver. To get warm and stay warmer in your Bivi bag you need to be produce initial surplus body heat so it can be trapped by your sleeping system. The best way to do this is running on the spot or other vigorous physical exercise before you dive into your bag.
      If your body is chilled and you are not radiating heat then the inside of your bag will stay cold as your blood is diverted away from your skin to keep your core warm. True a good sleeping system will stop heat loss but its your body that provides the heat.  To help the production of heat eat some high energy food such as Chocolate or Kendal Mint Cake as soon as you are in the bag. A hot brew will also help and if you have a  fully water tight bottle then fill it with hot water and shift it around your body (Cold feet really like this!).  
      If the external temp is below zero its worth stowing a water bottle either inside your bag or insulated in your pack so you can brew up fast when you wake and not have to melt a block of ice.
     If possible try to elevate your feet to hold back the swelling.
     Your shoes may freeze solid while you sleep. These can be thawed out with your stove.
And yes I have had to do this on my first Spine!

      With an emergency Bivi situation you may not have the mental or physical capacity to go through the above . This is why its best to take action early before the real onset of Hypothermia. 
      If your body is not producing enough physical movement to produce more heat than you are losing through your clothing then you need help. Phone Spine HQ early for advise . Let other runners know of your situation and don,t be afraid of asking others for help.
As far as the race is concerned ,if you stop to help another runner in trouble you can consider your race clock to have been put on pause.
      If you just can,t go on then try to Bivi near the trail so you can get help from others. Use your Whistle  and torch to attract attention  The best way to warm someone up is to get into the bag with them  .(after first generating some surplus heat) A tent will always be warmer than just a Bivi bag.
      If you can,t get a phone signal then someone needs to get to a place where they can phone for help.
      Your GPS tracker (at least in 2014) works on the mobile phone network so if you can,t get a signal it is likely that Spine HQ won,t know Your exact position.
      Once a rescue is underway your GPS/Tracker co -ordinates should get the rescue team to within 100meters of your position. (This is still a big area to search in low viz at night). To help them find you faster attach a flashing LED to the handle of your running pole and stick the pole vertically in the ground at your Bivi. In my opinion this is the best use for flashing LED,s


       Apart  from the short lived dump of snow  on Cross Fell the 2014 Spine was fairly snow free. (The wet slush on day one hardly counts as real snow compared to 2013!)
        Snow conditions on the Pennines in january can be severe. If the temp is way below freezing and the air dry you could get driving spindrift. These are the conditions we encountered on Shunner fell in 2013.  Although the snow can be soft it may well drift preventing you from following flagstones if there are any. At times you may not see any trace of the trail at all and find yourself staggering along glued to the GPS screen and feeling for a sound footing with poles and  feet. At night flying snow can make accurate map and compass work almost impossible as you can,t even make up if you are climbing or descending. Working as a team with one of you on GPS and one with map and compass works best.
        If the snow is not actually falling you will be able to follow the tracks of other runners (Don,t assume they are going the right way . Always cross check and don,t stop navigating yourself!)
        Deep fresh snow with no trench of footprints to follow will drain your energy remarkably fast. Again it is best to tackle this as a team , rotating the front "trail breaking runner". You need to take it in turns .
        It gives me a smile to think that in the early stages of the race the Elite fast runners may well  be trail breaking for us plodders.

       Head Torch Issues

       In theory most of us think we have this sorted.
       Having  run in bad conditions of late I have put some thought into what I learn,t over the past four Spine Races.
        Firstly Power ---- Despite what you may have read in the latest edition of" Hello Magazine Goes Muddy Running" you don,t actually need 500 Lumen's to run in the dark.  I used LED LENSOR H7,s with a max power of 180 Lumen's and they were fine ( about £26 on line each , take 2).  Yes 500 lumen's is great when running full pelt along a rough technical trail and it is even better when running in a Park/Street with street lights which will destroy your night vision but the reality of the Spine is that you are moving slow and steady.
         If you are unfortunate enough to be in a situation involving a Helicopter on no account point 500 lumens at the pilots eyes!! 

        The Head Torch And Your Mental State
         Again you may think you know all  about this : The more light , the better the world feels.
         But it,s not that simple. 15 hrs of darkness is a long time and if you are on max power and wish to lift your spirits your only remaining option is to turn the power down. If however you are on minimum power and you feel like shit you can turn the power up . Its your ability to take control that will keep you moving. 
            Self empowerment is the way to cope with the dark hours which also brings me to the issue of being aware of your environment. I have talked before about how getting your head out of the GPS and using your map and senses to navigate can lift your mood. You may not have thought about it but if you use a bright torch, your reduced natural night vision won,t be able to see the surrounding hills outside your cone of light. In effect you are running in a narrow cocoon of light and your world has shrunk.  Some of the most magic times you can experience on the Spine are when the moon is bright and your torch is turned as low down as it will go. The feeling you get from this sort of special magic can get you easily through to dawn.

      The Head Torch And Fog.
       Again it may come as a surprise to some but you will often see better in fog if you turn it down. If the fog gets really thick then take the torch of your head and hold it low to the ground. This has two effects : 1 you get less  back fog reflection so the ground is better illuminated and you can see the edge of the trail better  and 2 the torch will cast shadows that help you make out details of the actual ground where you are about to tread. (With the torch beam near eye level you won,t see shadows cast by the beam.) 
      Carrying a head torch in your hand is worth experimenting with. You will no doubt have straps and cables  and battery packs to contend with. If possible work out a way of wrapping the whole thing around your wrist so you can point the beam and still carry things like poles if you need to.
     The Head Torch And Running In Company.
      If you really want to piss off a running partner then use a torch with far more power then them. If you run in front you will destroy their night vision so their lesser torch will be almost useless. If you run behind them they will be running into their own shadow and again be running blind.
      While I am on this subject I should also mention flashing LED dog tag/bike lights attached to the back of your pack . They are fine when running solo and especially on the short road sections but will have a devastating effect on the vision of anyone coming up behind you.( in company run at the back or turn them off.) If you have a flashing LED save it for emergency locator beacon use (see bivi  ideas)

     The State Of The Art Expensive Head Torch.
      Is only any good if it is charged up. At some point someone will disconnect your charger while you sleep at the CP so you have to have a spare battery pack. Just because your torch is the Dogs Bollocks it does not mean that you should not have a really good back up torch like the H7. Don,t be tempted to take that old Petzl  Tika just because you  have already  over spent  on a  Head torch.
  The torch issue is crucial for your race ,take no chances. I stash a third back up H7 in my drop bag!
      Battery life
       Most head torch run times are measured in ideal conditions at 20c.  You should expect less than half the burn time in Spine Conditions. My H7 is supposed to last 60hrs at min power. Experience has showed that 16 hrs is about the max time when continually adjusting light levels to my mood and trail conditions.

      Last Minute Nervous Retail Therapy!

      You will probably get to the stage at around new year where you feel the urge to spend your way to the finish line by upgrading your gear.
       Having an idea of how ultra runners think perhaps I can give some guidance on how not to buy the wrong things.
       Firstly if you have never run the Spine before I know you will still be fixated by trying to reduce your pack weight. You may well have bought a really sexy -17c extreme sleeping bag but then de-rated it by planning to use a thin layer of Bubble Wrap or the equally thin OMM Duo Mat that came with your pack. If there is one thing that will make a real difference in sub zero conditions it,s a decent 4 season sleeping mat. If you are not warm you won,t sleep.
 The options are:                                1 A min 12mm thick foam mat with foil on two faces.
                                                           2 A self inflating foam filled mat
                                                           3 A non inflating foil matrix filled mat that you blow up.
 Option one is cheep but bulky and not as warm as the other two.
 Option two is better , more expensive and less bulky.
 Option three (thermarest neoair type) is better still less bulky ,more expensive but a pain to blow up.
    I use option 3
         So if you have to spend then consider upgrading  your mat.

         Having survived The Spine four times  I am still not immune to the "make payment now button" and I have to confess that not having changed any of my 2014 Spine Kit I have bought one extra item.
 Kahtoola RNR 22 Running Snowshoes (around £150 from racing the planet).
         I  am now praying for heavy snow to justify them. I can say hand on heart that having them in 2013 I could have taken hour,s of my slog along the Cheviots.
          The Snow Shoes weigh around 1.3 kg and would have to be carried on my pack but to be frank if the forecast is bad for a particular leg it will be worth carrying them.
          For the best return on your money invest in hats. Your head is the biggest area of potential heat loss and on an exposed ridge this is made worse because the wind speed around your head will be much higher than around your lower body. A fresh warm ,dry hat in a bivi situation will go a long way to help warm you up.

       Pack Weight And Packing.

        I know you still don,t believe me when I say that trying to make your pack as light as possible on The Spine won,t help you. If you complete this race I guarantee that  some point,( probably around Middleton) you will find yourself changing your attitude to your pack . It will become your friend/parachute /life boat . You will leave the CP wondering if you could have stuffed any extra gear/food into it,s bloated form. If it feels to light you will worry. 
      Remember how you felt on being reunited with your drop bag on the last ultra you did? With 20 hrs to go before your next re-supply you have to carry all you can plus back up. 
      Looking back on 2014 I can say that if I had carried an extra 1 Kg of food and water out of every CP I  could have shaved at least 5hrs off my race finish time.

       Its not just the weight of your pack but also what you pack where.
       The basic rule is try to pack the heavy objects close in to your spine. This is not so easy as heavy objects tend to be hard and lumpy. What I discovered in 2013 is that if I packed my 1.2 Kg tent on the top or back of my pack it pulled my shoulder blades back . this was something I had never noticed in previous shorter races. My tent has long integral poles that prevent me closing the top of the pack if I put it inside. In 2014 I solved this problem by packing the tent inside and using a better system of waterproof stuff bags (I just accepted the inside of the pack would get damp).
      By using a front pack you will get a better pull angle across your shoulder blades and be able to carry more with less effort.
      Plan on how to sub pack each stuff bag .
 I use one bag for my bivi sleeping system . The down bag and liner are at the bottom of the bag so if it rains the gortex bivi bag and blow up map can be taken out first and set out before whipping out my down bag and shoving it into the bivi bag before it gets wet.

         Long objects such as roll mats should be strapped to the top of your pack. If you strap them cross wise to the base of the pack you will get jammed in the numerous narrow wall gates you have to negotiate.
        Take a long hard look at how you pack don,t just stuff!

      Falling!  ---- At some time you will take a hard fall. You will be heading down hill on icy slabs so it will happen. Probably the safest way to fall is onto your pack so think about where you pack breakable items. When we fall we tend to spread our fingers but this makes them more prone to breaking a finger. (your hand is stronger if your fingers stay together). Running poles can prevent a fall or lessen the impact so if it gets icy get a pole out. 

If any one knows of a good way to hang snowshoes on your pack I would love to know.

 That's it for now . This blog started as a race plan blog but I keep getting distracted and adding extras. At some point ,probably after the 2017 race I will re-edit the whole series  and make it more digestible.
 For now you will just have to put up with my dyslexic stream of musings.


Monday, 18 August 2014

The Spine Race Guide Part 9. Energy Levels

Energy Levels.

         Lack of energy reserves is the primary reason of feeling cold during the race and not lack of warm clothing (unless you are an idiot and choose gear based on  minimum weight).
          If you have no fuel to generate heat then you will suffer.

        We need energy to compete.
        This energy can come from two sources:   1. Food consumed during race.
                                                                                 2. Body energy reserves built up before race.

 Most of you tackling the Spine Race will have had Ultra experience. If you have completed a 100 mile race you will have taken on a fair amount of food during the race and may think that you have a good idea of how much you need to eat to complete an ultra

  When thinking about the Spine race you need to focus on the day and days after that long Ultra

     Take the next day . 
     Just how much did you eat and how hungry were you over that 24hrs?
     I am willing to bet that you could eat anything put in front of you!

     The intense feelings of hunger expose the fact that you have dug deep into your normal reserves and have in fact developed an energy deficit.
      The fact that you may not have been very hungry during the race could be because your hormonal system  effectively suppressed  hunger pains in favour of your Fright or Flight Mechanisms.

       We all differ in how efficiently we burn our energy reserves .

      Post Race  you probably felt short of energy and took that next day real easy. It may have taken some time to get back to eating normally and as for running another ultra, well that was out of the question for a long time.
     OK Now consider the Spine.  After the  first 100miles you need to get back on your feet and face another Ultra then another then another! and Another.
    To put it another way after the first 100 miles you will have to try to  replenish your energy levels in order to keep moving.  Attempting to do this  'fully' during a short break at a CP is almost impossible. 
       If you treat your second 100 miles the same way as you eat your way through the first, you will soon run out of energy. 
      This is a serious problem as it,s not just a matter of slowing up and trying to eat more. It is very difficult to make up your nutritional deficit while you are still expending energy. 
     If you slow down to much you will not generate enough heat to keep warm . 
     Once you get cold one of the first systems to shut down is your ability to digest food! 
    The simple truth is that you have to eat and digest more whilst you are out on the trail  than you would on any other Ultra you have ever competed in . 

   Your body will cope better with a steady intake of food rather than famine and binge.
    The standard Ultra format is to have a checkpoint at approx every 10 miles. 
    The act of arriving at a CP will remind you to eat and having food laid out ready will facilitate eating.
    the Spine is different . With Ultra distances between each CP it will require more will power and awareness from the runner to keep topping up.

      Many of you have will normally have  difficulty eating and running . The food will just sit in your stomach making fast progress out of the question.
      Time now to change the way you normally think. I talked in my last blog of the hard to believe fact that if you can maintain 20min miles while moving  you will probably podium.   Moving at 20 min mile pace makes digesting food much easier. 
  To digest food its best to eat little and often. ( This is one probably one of the key factors that enabled Garry Morrison to finish the Spine 3 times). However eating every 15 Min's as Garry does is not easy. I know it does not suit me. I eat less often but in larger quantities when I do eat.
  In  training for the Spine you need to consider training to eat on the move. How slow do you need to be moving to digest food and what will your stomach tolerate? 
        Leaving a CP or pub with an over filled stomach which slows you down is not a problem in the longer term. Ok you will may move slower at first but in the long term food in your belly means you mar need to consume less later that leg . Your average leg speed will be greater. 
          As the race progresses your body will adapt to taking on higher than normal food volumes. It is probably true to say that by the time you reach the finish line your whole sleep , endocrine , appetite and  metabolic system will be set at totally different levels from what they were at the start . This is why it takes so dam long to wind back down after the Spine.

 Back to back 30 mile training runs are fine and good but if the food is not in your system then no amount of fitness will stop you grinding to a halt. 

The other problem of running out of energy is that it will have a marked effect on your mental energy. The Spine Race is a race completed or DNF.t by your mental state. 
         If you use you head then baring accidents you can make it to the finish line. It follows that you have to look after your head / mental state.  The less physical strain you put on your body the more you will free up mental energy to plan and make good decisions. 

             What Hill Food To Carry? 

             Race Rules state min 3000Kcals. Some of this should be emergency Hi Cal Dehydrated Food.
              I like to have some emergency food in reserve that I plan hopefully not to use : An Expedition foods dehydrated main meal and Porridge for breakfast 2600Kcals in total.
             The general consensus of opinion is that Energy jells are no use on longer Ultra,s
              Almost all runners trying to use high tech energy supplements as their main energy supply will fail to eat properly and end up DNFing.
              Even Challenger Racers have to keep their digestion system's running efficiently for over 40 hrs . Using High Cal ,Hi Tec lightweight foods will screw up your digestive system . 
             You may move faster for a while but you will probably DNF faster as well.
             The closest I come  to high tech  foods , is carrying Cliff Shot Blocks which I use as a snack not a main form of energy supply. (I have clear reasons why I use them which I discuss later)

              You need to choose food that you like rather than what you think you should eat.
               The aim is to encourage yourself to keep eating.
                I  like to carry high fat and protein foods such as Cheese, Pies Canned fish Sausages and Boiled eggs. 

               I never pass up the opportunity to raid a pie shop or indulge in hot fish and chips.

               My current favourite  is Wraps with plenty of re-fried beans and veggies.

                The resulting bad breath and farting may explain why I frequently run solo!


              Small snacks such as Peppermi , Baby bell Cheese  and extra strong mints can also help to keep you awake in the hours before dawn.

            I always try to avoid foods that give you a sugar rush and any Caffeinated product. You should try to iron out the peaks and resulting troughs in your energy levels.

           My general lack of fitness and poor gait means that I am a very inefficient energy converter and I will eat far more than other competitors during the race. It is not unusual for me to exit a CP carrying  well over 1Kg of hill food.
            Whatever your requirements you will find that you will have to eat extra food outside the CP,s
      Pubs ,Shop's and Cafe' foods  are allowed within the  race rules.
     I have made up a list of their locations and it may be worth marking them on your Maps.

Make a mental note to yourself to plan food for the next leg while you are still 15 mins away from a CP.


          By choosing to sleep at a CP you may pass a feeding stop that is closed 
          Before checking into a CP , consider food  shopping for the next leg first!

Supported runners have a big advantage in not having to plan  for shopping stops.


          Delays While Waiting To Be Served.

             Food service at CP's will be slower for any runner not leading the pack.
             CP staff will be falling over each other to help and feed the front runners.
             As the later runners rolling CP's things slow up.

             Pubs and Cafe's

            This will happen at Pubs and Cafe's  and it can be o long time to wait. Sometimes it,s faster to get a pie in a shop . 
            The Gargrave  Co-op  hot pie cabinet will get you back on the trail faster than a Pub meal
             However if you need a proper pack off and sort yourself out stop, then perhaps a pub meal with a seat beside a roaring open fire is the  better option.
             BY Combining several   race functions such as kit sorting ,nav re-grouping, eating and warming up. you will save on race down time.

             At times it may be just plain quicker to get out your stove and cook up a re hydrated meal rather than wait queueing for food in a pub.

               CP Food

               The choice and quality of the food on offer varies each year.
               Generally you will be offered a main meal or breakfast  or possibly both.
                The CP's operate on normal time so you may be unlucky to arrive at a CP when they are serving Breakfast when you would like a main meal.
                 The CP staff try to be as accommodating as possible but planning to feed a bunch of grunting  Spine Racers on differing time clocks is an up hill struggle.

                 The CP do not provide sandwiches  or food for you to take out on the trail.
                 You may be able to steal the odd packet of crisps or biscuits but you should organise your own hill food.

                    Drop Bag Food Stocks

                  You start the Race with a 20Kg max drop bag ( It will be weighed!)
                   Hill food for CP1 to CP2 needs to be in the bag .( Gargrave is the first opportunity to shop for extra food).
                   You always need spare food in  the drop  bag just in case you get out of synchronisation with Pub/shopping hours. Freeze dried meals are the most weight efficient option.
                    If you miss the Bellingham Co-op opening hours you have no shops easily available between CP4 and the finish line (And that's probably 48hrs with no extra hill food)
                    Supported runners won,t have to worry ,giving them a big advantage.


  Planning Food Consumption 

(locations of food on course in order).


         In order to finish The Spine Race you will have to consume way more food than that provided by the CP's
          You also need to note any opening/serving times .

             Start the race on a good breakfast. Don,t worry about a full stomach slowing you down at first ,you will reap the rewards later that day.

           The White House Inn is evidently off limits in 2017 for all racers!!

                  This will have a big  negative impact on most of the field. Not having the opportunity to top up with food in the warm before CP1 will increase the percentage of DNF's on day one.

               Burger Van at M62 crossing (the only hot food on leg one)

                         Probably open till 10pm for Challengers and Spine Racers.
                         He may possibly stay open longer but no Guarantee.
                         From the M62 to CP1 is a long way to go with no hot food inside you.
                         No real shelter in which to eat your food.
                 Food --Main meal and breakfast available .
                This CP has been known to run short of food for tail end runners.
                 Even if you don,t stop to sleep you need to eat as much as you can.

               Pondon Cafe    SD 979379

                  Located in weird furniture store up the road W from the reservoir (Look for the sale reduction signs)
                  You will have to take a 1k deviation off the PW then 1k to rejoin.
                  Probably opens after 9am and has excellent all day breakfasts.
                  Extra milage but will set  you up for the day.

                 Lothersdale Pub

                     Set up to harvest your trade during the race .
                     Hot butties available from 7am .
                     Main meals served 11am till late.
                     Bang on the trail and expecting Spine Racers!
                     Seats covered in cling film and extra mats on the floor.
                     Set price deal for Spine Racers now the Landlord has got his head around the idea.
                     Now part of Spine Tradition to drop in!


                       Several pubs 
                       Co op food store with hot pies (On RHS 100 m down road just after the bridge)
                       Co op 7am to 10pm with a Hot Pie stand !.faster runners tend to eat all the pies.
                       Coop is last food shop to stock up before CP1.5
                       The Co op may well be your last chance for food until Horton and that's a long way!


                          Several Pubs (I have never reached  there before they stopped serving evening food)
                          Not aware of any food shop but I think there is a cafe
                          Many runners pass through Malham after closing time.

                      Malham Tarn

                           Bugger all except the kettle
                           BYO food.

                     Horton Cafe .

                         Expecting racers normally stays open all night.
                         Feed up, it's bloody miles to Haws! And much of the trail is high and exposed.
                         Spicial Spine Race Meal Deal.


                         Several pubs and food shops. Possibly a chippy (it may have been an hallucination)
                         Remember to Stock up before finding CP2 if it,s near dusk.
                         Tackle Shunner Fell on a full Stomach.
                         Meal at the YHA CP but no takeaways except for the odd biscuit.
                         This is an out and back CP so you will pass the shops twice.
                         Check to see if there is a chance that the `Tan Hill Pub will stay open all night before leaving the Haws CP.

                     Tan Hill Pub

               Normal opening hours.
               Some years the bar has been open all night for racers. (Warm chips and an honesty box)
               Other years Pub closed at night but foyer open for Marshals to shelter in .

                   Middleton + CP

                The Butchers  Deli  has some of the best pies in the UK.
                Again it may well be worth stocking up on hill food.
                 Once past The  Middleton Food Shops there is no place on the trail to re-stock until Bellingham. The Co-op in Bellingham 7am till 10pm. 
                 The CP is a long way past the shops but you re pass the shops to get back to the trail on leaving the CP
                 The Shops  may be shut when you re pass them! So best to go shopping on way into CP.
                 Usual CP food available.


                    Pub and Cafe. 
                    Open normal hours . Cafe is expecting your trade. 10 am till 4.30 pm
                    Don,t expect the Pub to go out of it's way to serve you food. (not always pro Spine Race)
                    Village hall (if open) Kitchen and Kettle good for re hydrating food.

                    Gregs Hut.

                     Usually a tin of hot  pot noodles available.
                     Eat them all up !You are still hours from Alston

                      Gargill    (Shop and Pub on RHS of green.)

                     Post Office Store.
                                                   Minute shop short  rather random opening hours.
                                                   Don,t bank on it being open when you pass.
                                                   Limited food but a good place to pick up your pension.
                       The Pub              Was closed for a time ,(May have re-opened) 

                      CP4 Alston

                                         A Long way before Alston  town.
                                          Remote from the trail , Usual CP food.
                                          Eat well next readily available food is at Greenhead  unless you make a detour to Alsto Co op.

                        Alston town Co-op  food store.

                           Opens 7 am till 10pm
                            Probably 300m off the PW and 300m back.(you will be reluctant to leave the PW)
                            Petrol station in Alston may serve snacks.
                            Last place to buy extra food if you  may miss bellingham CO-OP


                            Pub and Cafe 300m off trail
                              As soon as you cross the A69, climb the bank (following the PW signs)and you will find yourself at the end of a dirt road . (The PW is straight on  over this road) If you  go right along road and you arrive in Greenhead.
                                Good reception at both places.
                                Go back up road to rejoin PW (don,t shortcut!).

                            Hadrians Wall
                                   Sod all places to eat (No wonder the Romans hated the place!)
                                    Fill water bottles at tap by toilets , no  clean water for 20+km 
                                    The one fast flowing stream crossing the trail is the outflow from a  still lake.

                            Honeystead Farm. GR: NY 815773

                                  FollowSpine Pit Stop Signs.
                                  On the  PW trail
                                  A real life saver of an Oasis in bad weather.
                                  Comfy Chairs ,Snacks and a Kettle  Fridge.
                                  Relief when you will most need it                                        
                                 This place is an old farm shed. The owners are very generous to walkers.
                                  Honesty box SO PUT SOME DOSH IN IT!

                            Bellingham CP5

                                          Cp is 1Km short of the Co-op in town. 
                                          Seriously take into account stocking up on hill food now as this is your last chance to  buy and carry extra food before the Finish Line.
                                           You will need extra  Hill Food for the Cheviots!
                                           Ask yourself will the Co op still be open if I sleep at the CP first  .
     IF I AM SHORT OF FOOD I WILL SHOP IN BELLINGHAM CP THEN WALK BACK TO SLEEP IN THE CP. (two extra 2 Km is a small price to pay for a well fed runner heading for potentially the hardest part of the course!) 

                             The Forrest Lodge, Byrness   CP5.5

                          soup and Sausage and Mash   ( + veggie option).

                           No second helpings.

                          The best and most Spine Orientated  CP food on the whole course in 2016! 

Once out of Byrness there is no good running water so fill all your bottles at CP5.5

                            THE FINISH LINE

                                Food in the Pub Is Good.
                                A few snacks available in village hall.

            Psychological Boost From Eating.

           I like food and during the race I use this fact to keep my spirits up . Low energy reserves will depress mood and alertness especially in the hours before dawn.
           The distraction of feeding myself can take my mind off my other troubles.
           It is possible at times to feed yourself awake.
           The use of drugs such as caffeinated foods or PRO PLUS will give a short term boost but if your reserves are really low then the trough after the boost can be catastrophic. I regard this sort of action as loosing control my race .
            Loosing Control is only a short step away from the DNF.
            I do have one unconventional crude trick to shock my body back awake and this is to suck on a sachet of brown source Stolen from a take away on the drive to Edale. It is disgusting but for me it can work.

          Choosing Hill Food With A Focus On Your Speed.

          Sorry I am not talking about carrying less heavy food.

          At any point during the race you will have to expend energy multi tasking.
          A sprinter only really has one task:To Sprint.
           A Spine Racer can be swamped by multiple tasks. Eating is one of them.
           Even the process of chewing will slow you up to some extent.
           Locating ,opening,inspecting,getting in your mouth ,chewing ,swallowing then stowing all the food wrappers will all loose you ground.
            Pre planning will help. Start with stowing: that front pouch should be a nose bag full of food.
            Remove all surplus wrappers
              : Take Baby Bell mini Cheeses  as an example : They come in a string bag -----DITCH,
                                                                                           Cellophane red wrapper---DITCH 
                                                                                           The red wax case ----retain so the cheese does not become contaminated. (it is possible to eat the wax and crap it out later!)
            You can move faster by not having to unwrap the various layers.
             This is one small example but the principle can be applied to everything you eat.
            Opening wrapping should be easy but for much of the race you will be wearing gloves . You may have to stow the gloves even  in order to hold a packet of food.
           Wrappers that can be opened with your teeth lead to less faffing.
            It may be worth taking food out of original wrappers and putting it in ziplock freezer bags.
            Avoid sweats that get sticky when wet .
             Try to keep your front pouch nose bag reasonably clean and organised.

              All these points seem rather petty but you can test how much speed you can loose by trying to keep up with another runner while you try to eat . The drop in pace is dramatic!

              Part of your race prep should be practising eating on the move.

               Time lost  while eating may appear trivial . The real problem comes when another runner is in range . While  you eat, they will move faster than you .  This is not always a problem but from a mental viewpoint you may well put of eating in order to maintain your own pace. This short term advantage may well  bight you in the ass later when your lack of food really damages your pace.

Staying in charge of your race is all about taking control of all the factors affecting your efficiency

                                YOU SHOULD DO.

               Reasons  why I use Cliff Shot blocks. Mountain Berry Flavour( Caffine free)

            They can be stowed in pockets of my pouch with one end sticking out.
             I can tug them out of the pocket wearing Mittens.
             I can open them with my teeth.
             Once open they do not leek goo.
             I can squeeze them into my mouth one block at a time with Mitts still on.
             I can re -stow them without looking down.
             They are easy to share with other runners.

            The Dedicated Rubbish Bag.

                     A long time ago I was issued with a Velcro attached  dedicated rubbish string pouch at the start of the UTMB.  It has been astonishingly useful in saving time separating used food wrappings from live ready to eat food. 
                    Customise the front strap of your pack by hanging an easy to get at pouch on the strap.
                     All to often runners expect to buy a pack that does everything . 
                     Each race you do is different so get out that needle and thread and get customising!
                     Somewhere on the front of your pack system there is room for a rubbish bag.

         When reading various Spine Blogs you have to take into account who wrote them .
         A tail end Spine Finisher will have to survive fur perhaps 3 days longer than the winner and this has to be reflected in every approach to the race .
         I have said before that I am a very inefficient runner and this probably extends to the way I burn up my energy reserves. My Spine Food Consumption is extreme :Probably over 10,000Kcals per day by the end of the race. It takes me some time to wind myself up to this level of gluttony,but it works for me .

       Dealing With Extreme Cold.(and how this can impact your food consumption)

         I have covered  the issue of water turning into ice above.
          Your Snickers Bars can also freeze solid.
         It is highly likely that at some point during the race you may have to deal with extreme cold conditions.
           It is not just a matter of wearing more layers , you need to try to plan further in advance.
           Everything ,and I mean everything is harder if the temp falls below-5 and you have wind chill to deal with.

           The subject of gloves is a major issue. In particular gloves V Mitts.

            I theory having gloves gives you more manual dexterity to use your maps ,GPS controls and access your food. The reality is that if it is well below freezing the gloves you need will be padded and cumbersome . They will be fine for holding poles and perhaps a map and GPS but if you need to press the correct button  on the GPS or refold a map  or unwrap food , you will have to take your gloves off.
           Gloves have a larger surface area than Mitts so weight for weight a Mitt will always be warmer. I find mitts are also easier to take on and off.
            Strangly the worst combination can be glove liners inside Mitts. This works ok for warmth but the problem comes when you need to take them off. You can,t easily get your fingers back into a glove that is inside a Mitt. 
             What tends to happen is that you have to stow your Mitts while you get your liner gloves back on . The whole process can be fiddly and you will need to place your Mitts in a safe place while getting your liners sorted. 

            A Mitt liner can sometimes be left inside the outer Mitt making getting your hands out for fine dexterity work faster and easier.
            The other advantage is that it is easier to put hand warmers inside Mitts.
            I have found that the touch screen of a Garmin Oregon GPS if set up correctly can be viewed using the top of running pole to prod the screen.


    Getting dehydrated will reduce your pace dramatically.
    Although the race is held in cold conditions you will still need to stay well hydrated.
    In low humidity freezing conditions you loose a large  amount of water just breathing.
     Staying Hydrated is not always easy. Fresh clean water is available at times on the course but is far from dependable.
     From past experience I can tell you that the road head Marshals supply very little water and it all gets given to the front runners!
    The tail enders will have to use streams. and whatever source they can find.
     If taking from streams use fast flowing water.
     Some people take filters but as far as I am aware they don,t end up using them as it takes up far to much time.
     Avoid filling up with water from the outflow streams of large ponds. The pond/lake water is often suspect.
      Farm field run off water is also suspect.

      Kit list says ability to carry 2l. most of us start with only 600ml then fill up after reaching high ground . 

      My personal choice is to use water bottles as they are faster to fill and I hate demand valve tubes.

             Some parts of the course such as the CHEVIOTS and Hadrians wall provide few water sources  especially if snow is on the ground. you need to fill up at CP5.5 and 4.


     Note For All Support Teams/ Spectators  And Road Head Marshals.

       There is never enough clean water available on the course so anyone attending road heads can help by having a 5+ltr drum of water (savers supermarket brand) available for any passing racer to top up with water. Tap water is fine ,we are not fussy.
          Please ask any race visitors to carry extra water for racers!

           FREEZING WATER containers

           2012 and 2013 were the years when every ones water bottles and bladder tubes froze up .
           In subsequent years  this fact has to some extent been forgotten. 
            You need to thread your bladder tube through an insulated pipe and if possible tuck it inside your jacket.
             Water bottles hung on the outside freeze remarkably quickly. Make a holster for them out of insulating material and if possible cover the tops.You can use old waterproof socks.
              Carrying 800g of ice along the course does nothing for your moral. You can,t ditch the ice as it won,t come out of the bottles which you will need later.
               If you use electrolytes they may help to  reduce water freezing point so experiment now with
 samples in your freezer.
                It is possible to tuck a lighter fuelled hand warmer such as that made by ZIPPO along side a water bottle to keep it liquid ( I have managed to keep a Zippo hand warmer running for 18 hrs on one fill)
            It takes as much gas to melt snow as it does to boil water (Snow ---Boiling 2X gas  consumption.
             During  the TEFT,s  stop in hut 2 on the cheviots we used up 4 gas cylinders to produce about 1l of boiling water and 2l of melted water to drink!   And it took hours.)

 Bonus Hot Drinks For Challenger Racers

      In 2016 the local Mountain rescue teams attended several road heads supplying Hot Drinks and water. This may well happen again in 2017 but it is part of the support  for the mountain rescue teams competing . Now we have split starts they will probably not be around for the Spine Racers starting on the next day.

          It is possible ,and desirable to train your body to make better use of it,s reserves.
          I have often referred  to the importance of "Running Your Own Race". Eion Kieth uses the term :Staying in Control . Control is the key to avoiding the DNF and improving your race position.
           Eion The 2016 Race winner  takes a very different approach to nutrition on Ultra,s . It certainly works for him but I do't think I have the self discipline to copy his long term nutrition strategy. His blog is well worth a read:

  I have had a few more thoughts on how your body may react as the race progresses.
 I should say that I have no medical training but did study Physiology a long long time ago.  Its what happens to the body on extreme races that particularly fascinates me.

  Several books have been written on ultras.
 I particularly like Dr Mike Strouds "Survival of the fittest"    This book gets right into the guts of what you could face during the race . Mike Stroud has accompanied Sir Ranulpf Feinnes on many of his expeditions . His insights on expeditions in extreme cold are particularly interesting and relevant to what you may face on the Spine.