Monday, 9 June 2014

The Spine Race Guide part 8--- Staying On Track

  There are several good guide books to the Pennine Way . Damian Hall's guide is particularly useful. However the trail Guides are  not aimed at sleep  deprived  runners  running in reduced visibility

  This part of the Guide will cover the parts of the course where it is either easy to go astray or the ground is particularly treacherous.  It may be worth taking notes of some of the grid references and perhaps writing warnings on your maps.
  For anyone lucky enough to have time for some recce trips I shall indicate parts of the rout worth taking a look at in daylight with a fully functional well rested brain.

  Checking out sections of the course before the race

  Any time you get to spend on the course will help during the race. True it won,t look the same at 2am on a foggy January night but you might just remember small clues that will help you navigate during the race.
  You will probably reach mental depths  during the Spine Race that you have never reached  before. Having a vague memory of what the trail is going to throw at you next will empower you putting you in a better frame of mind .
  Try to make the most of any  recce trip by letting your brain take in as much detail of the terrain and features as possible.
                             Don,t navigate using your  GPS.  Using a map will force you to study the terrain so with a bit of luck you will take in information without even knowing it.
                              (having said that by all means use your GPS to record your track. Your recorded track will be more accurate than any GPS mapping sim. If the trail is totally obscured by deep snow during the race then your recorded track( accurate to 2m) will help you locate the underlying slabs.) SAVE ANY TRACK AS THIS WILL BE GOLD DUST DURING THE RACE IF WE GET FOG
                             Ditch the MP3 player. You want no distractions and you definitely don,t want to suddenly realise that you have run for some time lost in your internal world with little recollection of the last few miles.
                            If your navigation is weak then you will probably take in even more information. Getting lost then un-lost will make you an expert in the local area. (have the GPS as a back up to relate your GPS grid ref to the map).
                            Look out for possible places where you could get lost at night and take your time. Remember 16 hrs out of 24 you will be in darkness!
                            Your recce trip should be more about the navigation than running training!
                             Look out also for places you could sleep. Buss shelters , Bothys, Farmers Sheds,Public loo,s . The place you will need thees bolt holes most is lower down especially before long exposed sections of the trail.
                             Take note of sections of the rout where there is no  drinkable flowing water and the last stream before a dry section of the trail.

  The Pennine Way In Winter

            I am not an expert on the course.  Myself and others have gone astray in several places which I shall list here.
           ( If any other Spine Vets can think of other parts of the course worth a mention then post comments at the end of this Blog and I will insert them into the text)
            If you get lost the chances are you will do it in the dark. The places I got lost have a lot to do with what time of day or night I passed through them. Runners with a different pace to me will have encountered problems at different places.

          Do not underestimate the Sheep/Lemming effect on the first part of the course
           Despite everyones best intentions we all switch off navigating for the first few hours and play follow the leader.
           If the runner in front of you goes off trail , there is a good chance you will automatically follow them.  Now we have two runners heading in the wrong direction ("baa baa baa"). The runners following you are almost bound to follow. ( the "baa baa" noises are getting louder). At this point the initial off track runner may have doubts but looking back he will see several others following and assume he is on the correct track.("baa baa"). Now we have the power of the lost masses and before you know it half the field is heading in the wrong direction. This Sheep effect is particularly powerful if all you can see is head torches. Don,t be afraid to shout: "The Emperor Has No Cloths" We are all running the wrong way!

          THE START TO CP1
        Runners getting caught up in race mode with potential sheep in plentiful supply.
         Just past the A62 crossing look out for a small gate on your RHS where the Pennine Way seperates from the fast inviting downward Pennine Bridalway track (well known for lost sheep)
         The trail is fairly straight fore ward  until Fords Cairn SE 004112 The apparent main track will draw you on  bending round to the west and Castelshaw Moor. The PW is a fairly indistinct right fork.
         Much of the high open fell is paved by flagstones. If frosty any stone slab bridge crossing a small stream is likely to be coated in black ice (its easy to treat slab bridges as just another slightly slippery flagstone)

        Most of the field will cross the M62 footbridge at around dusk then soon encounter Blackstone Edge SD 973164 Although the navigation is not that difficult the terrain is horrible. You will be scrambling over large slippery boulders with mud in between. The west side of Blackstone Edge is a steep crag and there is no distinct path through the boulders.

         The lead in to Stoodly Pike Monument can also be confusing as you will be tired at this point and thinking of the delights to be had at CP1.
          Hopefully the final 500m to CP1 will be better marked next year. You will find yourself descending  down a steep narrow boulder strewn track towards an invisible CP . Once you crawl over the large fallen tree across the track you are nearly there. (The bad news is that leaving the CP you have to go back up that  miserable sodding track!)

          CP1 TO CP2
         This part of the trail is fairly easy but with some tricky sections as follows.
         Just up the hill from Gargrave there is an easy to miss gate  on the RHS where the PW leaves the wide track and continues through fields. SD923551
         On leaving the canal path SD910510 the trail wanders through fields divided by barbed wire and swampy ground.  There is no visible track on the ground and it may well be dark. Its easy to loose the trail and following the Harveys Map or GPS won,t be accurate enough.  If you can, check out this area in daylight.
         The 3km of trail before Malham . alongside the river may be easy in daylight but it is easy to miss the wall crossing points in the dark. Once you have missed a wall gate you will waste time hunting for a place to cross! loosing 30mins in this area is not unusual.
          Malham Cove SD896641 is probably one of the most tricky areas on the whole of the Pennine Way in the dark. Much of the trail passes through Limestone Pavement and large boulders with leg breaking holes. Add to this steep crags and gullies where a GPS can,t get a good signal. In the dark covered in snow it can be terrifying.
        The good news is that in summer, this is a beautiful  and spectacular place to visit for the whole family. The pubs in Malham are good as well. (checkout the trail as far as the open ground just short of Malham Tarn)

         Pen-y-ghent SD838733 Can be intimidating for anyone not good with heights. The climb up requires some rock scrambling and the trail from the trig point on the top leads NW and not the more obvious NNE trail. Take care as you head down hill on an indistinct trail as there are several Shake Holes in the area.
        The 2015 course has been changed from that in 2013/4 in that you will follow the origional pennine way course and descend down to Horton. This adds about 3k to the course but is safer as you can be checked up on in Horton before tramping along Cam High road. There is a Cafe in Horton but it may be closed.

         CP2 to CP3
        The trail up to Great Shunner Fell has several side branches. (you will probably be well revived by the Haws CP and possibly not concentrating). Half way up the fell the most obvious track heads right and levels out . The actual trail branches off and continues to climb. (if you find the trail levelling out early before the top you have gone wrong!) 
         Great Shunner Fell itself is high and exposed but once past the Cairn the trail is mostly paved with  flagstones which can get very icy on the descent to Thwait.
          The trail just past Thwait SD892982 can also be confusing as it winds through farmland towards a particularly nasty slippery muddy  contouring path which eventually slithers down to a bridge near Keld.
           By Keld the boost you had at CP2 will have warn off  (This may be a good time for a feed and a nap). You are in for a long slow exposed drag uphill to   Tan Hill Pub.
           Just past Tan Hill you will encounter several Km of bog (get mentally prepared)
           From what I can recall the rest of the trail to Middleton is ok but much of this was in daylight.
           Check out the bothy you pass about 2km past the tunnel under the main road.

         CP3 to CP4
         The path from Middleton alongside the river is fast and easy but once past High Force waterfall NY880283 the trail soon leaves the river into some tricky small fields.
          The trail crosses two bridges then becomes forced close to the river at NY837297  from this point  on you will have to tackle long stretches of  large slippery boulders (much of the time you will be on all fours) there are short stretches of boardwalks then back into the boulders. This section of the trail is 3Km long and requires good concentration. Some competitors find boulder crawling really hard. Take it slow as it is really easy to take a bad fall! (The boulders can be coated in ice formed from the spay from the river and falls!)
           The end of this section has a  steep scramble up the crag beside Cauldron Snout NY814287
            Cauldron Snout and the 3Km trail downstream is worth a recce.

           After Cauldron Snout you have another long slow haul up a fairly good track towards High Cup Nick NY746262  Near  the hanging valley you have to cross the beck which requires you to head up stream to find a place to cross. If we have serious snow as in 2013 it,s difficult to judge safe places to cross (If in doubt head upstream and use your poles to probe the banks) This whole area can be very confusing as many of the fords are un crossable and the ground is covered in snow . You are high up and exposed to any wind.
            This is a section of the PW I have not seen in daylight but would love to recce.
           Dufton is a village where you may need to feed and get some sleep  (Public loo and bus shelter)
           It may well be worth a short detour into the village centre  for some Pub R ad R.

           The next section of the trail over Cross Fell will test you in both nav skills and endurance over probably the most cold bleak and windy part of the PW. It is well worth a Summer Recce
            This is a section of the course that I have only done in daylight. The upper sections : Green Fell , Dun Fell and Cross Fell could well be covered in snow.  The wind may well have covered others tracks so you need to concentrate on your navigation. ( If running solo seriously consider teaming up with someone else as far as Gregs Hut especially at night). Don,t be tempted to short cut from Cross Fell to Gregs Hut . The area is covered by massive Shake Holes! Stick to the trail.

           Gregs Hut to Garrigill is a rutted but potentially fast track. There is a small shop in the village. (this is the last shop to re stock food at for a long while without diverting from the PW into Alston)

            CP4 To CP5
            Take care just past the YHA in Alston. The PW signs are very confusing. You need to drop down than cross the road bridge heading west then take a right at the next junction NY716461

             The trail meanders up onto the fells   and back down several times  crossing the railway.You will encounter bogs without flagstones . Although not difficult to navigate the lack of trail on the ground makes this stretch of the PW easy to get lost on.
              The trail does not follow the rail track except for about 200m  . Running along long sections of the track missing out the fells is CHEATING! and your track is being recorded. 
             Eventually after a long slog across the wet boggy Wain Rig you will cross the golf course and drop down to join Hadrians Wall. 
              You pass several car parks with toilet blocks early on but after that there is very little drinkable water.
             Hadrians Wall is a long roller coaster of a ridge run . Stick to the path on the ridge and don,t be tempted to run lower down to your right or you may well miss the turn to the north at NY781686
This turning is hidden from view till the last moment and you may get drawn on by another path that continues along the wall as did one runner in 2014! 

            On leaving the wall you drop down to a particularly deep bog , stick to the flagstone path or you could find yourself up to your waist in muddy water.
             The trail passes in and out of forested areas which may have been cut since the maps were made.
             The PW leaves one of the widest forest gravel roads on the RHS (I have missed this twice) A bit further on there is a sign saying "alternative path to PW". On rejoining the PW you will find it is a minute track through the forest.
              It was not long past this junction that the 2014 racers encountered a section we called The Road To Hell or the "mud road" this was a long section of deep sloppy mud. One slip would have left you coated head to toe in mud with no way of cleaning it of . Slipping could well tip you over into a serious DNF mental state. Once past the forest sections you are back on another confusing farmland section.

              When considering sections of the course to Recce you need to try and think where you may be so tired that your navigation goes down the pan. The lead in to Bellingham is a typical example. It,s not that difficult but in the dark it,s easy to get lost.
               The bridge before Shitlington Hall is a typical example. Your GPS may say the PW crosses a ford at NY830849  but in daylight it,s easy to see the bridge 100m upstream .

                   CP5 to the finish.
               First step bon,t get lost in Bellingham .
               The  Bellingham Coop(which you will pass on your RHS) is open till 9pm and it,s the last shop in which to stock up before the finish line!
                Once through Bellingham the path across the fells is indistinct and mostly unpaved.
                Eventually you will enter the forest and join a long straight logging road all the way to the forestry centre buildings.
                 Don,t get carried away as you need to turn left just past the river bridge at NT778013 .  
                 The track winds  through the woods towards the Byrness is goes on for ages before you eventually reach the road.(It appears to have been planned to give tourists a nice scenic walk)
                  The road crossing at Byrness is your point of no return! From then on the PW climbs up to what is in effect exposed wilderness almost until the finish line
 If you have been moving with a group then it,s during this section you may  well all split up . Although   you may be happy to cross the finish line with your own group, somehow the sight of other competitors   overtaking your group or the chance of catching others ahead of you can spit up any tight group.
 ( once you have got in the last big climb to the Roman  Camps the Spine Race will  probably turn into a proper race or  a race to finish in the time limit).
                 Many of the tail enders in 2014 had problems on the cheviots.  This can probably be put down to physical and mental exhaustion. Once you are in this state then it,s easy to make a mistake. The last finishers in would have spent hours navigating in the dark. It takes tremendous resolve and guts  to finish a race like the spine at he tail end . Personally I think tail enders deserve more recognition than the winners. 
                Although the navigation on the cheviots is not that hard, your actual ability to navigate at this stage of the race will be weaker than two days earlier. If you get a chance walk this section of the course before the race.
                You have two emergency bolt holes on the Cheviot Hills. The Mountain Refuge Huts could save your life and even there presence is an indication of how bad conditions can get on this part of the course. Make good use of them to re-fuel and perhaps change layering.
                Once past the second Hut you are nearly but not quite home and dry. 2.5 Km past the hut is "The Schil" and it,s a monumental hard and seemingly unfair slog to the top!
                 From then on it,s a dash mostly down hill to the finish line which is hidden behind one last  short steep hill on the final road section.
                  If you make it then you are entitled to a free beer at the pub. This will be the hardest earned beer in your life!

              That,s only a brief description of the course. You will be surprised how fast time will fly once you are actually racing (providing you have not blown it for some reason!)

            Life On The Trail (The laziness of the long distance runner).

               If you can achieve a balanced  sustainable pace then fore ward progress becomes automatic. Walking or trotting along can become as natural as breathing. The hard bit is using your knackered brain to maintain control of your race.  Fuelling your body, eating , drinking , attending to navigation and staying warm will tax your willpower.
               It,s easy to get lazy and not look after yourself by delaying actions. This is where fore ward planning can help. The key is to make everything readily accessible which is why it helps to have a front  pouch with your pack. You need to be able to get gear out without pausing step.
               You will become reluctant to stop moving and take of your  main pack, so put such things as Buff,s Gloves, Hats, Water bottles , Maps, GPS and Snacks in the front pouch or pockets. If all your short term use equipment is in front of your face you will use it. (even reaching back to grab a water bottle from the side pocket of your main pack cam feel like a huge effort).

               Every now and then you will need to take of your main pack and make major adjustments but the moment you stop you will start to lose body heat. When you do this you may want to consider re-stocking your front pouch.
                There is a fine line between steady state and physically going down hill. As the race progresses the speed at which your race can come apart will increase .

                 I am a big believer in using headgear and gloves to fine tune my body temperature. Because my gear is handy I often swap them around. This action has a subtle effect on my general moral. I like to make fine adjustments so I feel I am in control rather than a passive  victim of the cold.

                Practise  these small actions with your kit before the race.  Can you feed yourself while walking on rough ground?  You may have stopped to cook a re hydrated meal in a bag but if your body temperature has plummeted you may need to eat it while walking. Can you do this without a fork by sqeasing the bag to get the hot food down your neck.  
                 What you carry in your hands will have a bearing on all these actions. If you are using poles can you stow them easily? Your map compass and GPS should be stowed safely in your front pouch . If wearing  heavy Mitts there may not be room in the pouch so they need to be clipped to your shoulder straps.

                 Many of these questions may appear trivial but they are things I had to learn how to do during the 2013 Spine Race . Life on the trail would have been easier If I had experimented before the race.

                 Minor adjustments are even more important if you are moving in a group. If you travel alone you can fine tune your pace (and heat production).  In a group one of you will be generating either to little or to much heat. This needs to be adjusted by headgear or glove shuffling unless you  halt the whole group while you take of your main pack for more radical changes. This is another reason why smaller groups work best. Fortunately towards the end of the race miss matched groups will have split up so differences in natural pace should not be so much of a problem.  

            Avoiding The DNF

            I have written at length about not blowing your race by moving over pace in the first 100miles.
            To get to the finish line on a race this long I also believe you need to be enjoying yourself. You just can,t run for 268miles with a frown on your face

          For some of us this is all about running in company. Personally I have to admit I am just a big Kid. I get a real kick out of the complexity of the race and the challenge of the adverse conditions. If it hurts then I slow down. I am acutely aware of the dangers of getting competitive to early in the race. Having other runners overtake me early on is no problem provided they are younger than me (That's 95%of the field)
          Yes I know the vast majority of you reading this blog will swear blind that you just want to get to the finish line. One of the most difficult aspects of this whole race is keeping to that intention.

           I do believe that the percentage DNF would reduce dramatically if you could drop the word "race"from your ego at least as far as Bellingham. After that by all means let rip for the finish line. Several Spine Race Finishers over the last two years Started from Edale not fit enough to finish but still managed to get to the finish line because they were having a good time.

           The DNF,s were either injured or were not enjoying themselves.

            Communication Whilst On The Course

             The Phone Signal on the pennine way can be patchy and not strong. If you phone home for a good moan and you are cut off half way through the call this can lead to unexpected consequences .      Your  situation will sound even worse to someone waiting at home. You may unintentionally cause them to contact the emergency services.

 Once someone dials 999 on your behalf then your race is over! (it becomes the emergency services responsibility to get you off the hills no matter how good you are feeling).

           The Spine Race may be hard for you,  but for someone who cares about you , watching your tracker trace on a computer screen , it can be terrifying.

            I hope this guide has or will help you achieve your goals in The Spine Race.

            If pushed to give two top tips I come up with this: Mentally--------  Keep Smiling .
                                                                                            Physically------ Practise Walking Fast And Efficiently.




1 comment:

  1. Just a couple of points regarding, everything being at hand whilst on the move, in hip belt pockets, side pockets, front pouch etc. Items that are essential for contact and navigation such as Mobile Phone, GPS, Compass and Map - make sure they are attached to your Front Pouch or Rucksack Shoulder Strap via a short cord or thin leash with a small Crab or Clip. It is so easy in the dark of night when tired to drop things without realising and lose or break them. Your Mobile Phone should preferably be inside a small waterproof cover with attached cord, Same with the Map.
    Dave Lee