Monday, 21 December 2015

A Really Wet 2016 Spine Race! Be Prepared

It,s now the 20 th Dec and it,s raining again. The forecast for the next two weeks shows little change.
So I have put together a few thoughts of the implications for the class of 2016.

 So It,s Really Wet . How will this affect you?

 Your thoughts will probably be mainly concerned with Waterproof Garments . But there are many more things you should consider.
I shall start with waterproof Garments.
To be honest anyone taking The Spine seriously should have their waterproof/breathable  shell layers sorted and tested by now.


You can get wet from the outside and the inside.
   Outside problems     
                                    If you start with Event /Gortex or other top grade fabric your main issues will be at your neck, waist ,ankles or cuffs.  The most difficult area will be your Glove /cuff joint. This area is subjected to the maximum movement (pulling action) and it is exposed not just to passive wind/rain pressure but also suffers from water draining down your arms towards the cuffs. Having a long cuff to your gloves will help as a long overlap can be easier to achieve than a good seal. Compression straps on your jacket must be adjusted carefully if you remove jacket or gloves.
          In practise if running in the rain we all tend to carefully adjust the neck seal then sort the gloves as an afterthought once we are moving. We tend to underestimate the effects on the whole body of cold hands.

Inside Problems      
                                  Sweating can get your base layers damp and warm. We all tend to ignore this as it,s not so obvious as a cold stream of rain water.
                                  Your shell layers should be breathable but this ability is drastically reduced without a reasonable  humidity gradient. If you are running in 100% humidity outside then your sweat will build up . The only real solution is to slow down.
   In practise on the race high sweat rates are mainly a feature of day one. By the time you reach CP1 if the humidity and rainfall has been so high that it,s difficult to vent the sweat then your base layers will be wet .
                    There is no proper drying room at CP1  so will have to either carry on to CP2 with damp layers or raid your limited spares in your drop bag!

                    As the race progresses and given similar conditions then external problems become more of an issue.

           The Feet

           It,s a fact that none of the major shoe suppliers design for Wet Spine Race Conditions.
           Waterproof socks just can,t stand a 100 mile bashing let alone 268miles.
            Gortex trail shoes are mainly designed to cope with wet grass and not sloshing through Km after Km of wet mud and bog. 
             If you combine gortex shoes and good fitting gortex gaiters they will keep surface water at bay for a while. The problem is that if it stars really wet then you can expect to spend hours sloshing through 10cm deep water that gets deeper in the hollows. 
              If you insist on gortex shoes then you probably need about 15 cm clearance  ( in otherwise a Boot). The top of the boot then needs sealing with tight gaiters. 
              For anyone reading this who has small feet then you will have problems.
              Once a Gortex shoe gets flooded your feet will get cold and heavy.

              Most competitors just won,t be able to bring themselves to wear boots as that will put them into a category  labelled "walker!" I know you are all convinced that no matter what I say you will be running The Spine Race.
              Wet feet = trench foot + blisters= slippery slope towards a DNF.

               Most runners gaiters are made for dry,ish trails to keep stones out of your shoes, very few are properly waterproof. 
               Waterproof socks are probably the best way to go but don,t expect them to last for the whole race. Take spares.    When a waterproof sock fails water tends to seep in rather than rush. This means that provided you are wearing wool liner socks your feet should stay warm.

               If like me you do have old leaky sealskins it is possible to cut the bottom off and use the top half as a tight compression gaiter.  Anything you can do to reduce  the flow of cold water  around your shoe /trouser joint will reduce heat loss. Chopping up leaky socks can be done at the CP with that knife on the kit list that you did not plan to use. 

               Your Head and relentless rain.

           Waterproof hats with stiff brims will go a long way to deflect the rain from your face.

             A much bigger problem is the effect of the rain on your moral.

             Lets face it ,it,s much more fun running in dry conditions or even snow. Trudging along worrying about the damp seeping in and the lack of visibility (especially at night with low cloud base) can play havoc with your will to go on. 
             It does not help that anyone reading  race reports will be far more impressed with tails of freezing conditions rather than a rain.

               As usual in ultras it,s the slower runners who suffer most as they take longer between CP,s

             Sleeping Out On The Trail.

             Again this is one for the slower runners. Trying to keep your sleeping bag dry inside just a Bivvi Bag in driving rain or drizzle is near impossible. If you have not made up your mind about the choice between a tent and Bivvi bag for CP1.5 then go for the tent if the forecast is wet.

             Forced Real Navigation.

           I have put this heading in because most of you won,t be doing much real navigation. Most if you will be following either a good navigator or the little arrow on your GPS!
           There are many parts of the Pen nine Way that are susceptible to FLOODING. If this happens you may well have to make up your own rout!!!!!! No more following the little arrow. You will have to come off the trail then work out how to get back to it . The Map and Compass navigators will have a big advantage if this happens especially if the visibility is low.


          Having spent many hours running with Guido A Swiss Runner in 2015 I was surprised  to learn that they don,t have Mud in the rest of Europe especially on National Trails!  Runners from non UK countries will be in for a shock. One way or another we will have plenty of mud. 
         UK style fell shoes are built for grip in mud but  Spine Racers should be more worried about grip on wet rock. A fall in mud can ruin your day as you tend to get covered , a fall on rock can do real damage to your body. The low level farm land is where you can find the most mud, often churned up by cattle obliterating any signs of the trail.  The other area where Mud can get past a joke is in forested roads where log extracting has taken place. 
         Tape up the laces of your shoes as there is nothing worse than trying to re tie the laces of a mud encased shoe.

             The Running Pole (singular)

              Very few UK ultra runners who have not done events such as the UTMB use poles. Attempting the Spine without them is a mistake especially in really wet conditions. The use of one pole to help control  your body while moving down hill in slippery conditions can be more effective than a grippy shoe. (your other hand holds nav gear. 
                 The other place where a pole can be vital  is moving through flooded ground. The water will not be clear so you can,t see what you are stepping on . In places you will have to cross submerged  wooden plank bridges over ditches. You can use the pole to probe for safe footing.

            Dry Bags.

            Whatever the maker says your pack is not waterproof.  Dry bags may be a bit heavy but they can save your race if you slip and land pack side down in water.  Personally I tend to use about 3 . My really vulnerable gear such as Down Jacket and Sleeping system have their own bags.

            Pack And Dropbag Weight.

           If it,s wet you will need more spare gear. From past experience I can say that I have used most of the clothing in my drop bag on wet years where as in 2013 several items remained unused  as I could wear  dry clothes for several days.
           If you think about it . If it,s really cold you tend to wear more on your body and carry less in your pack.
           The good news is that all that surface water will lower your overall pace so a heavy pack will be less notable.
            One way or another your drop bag will really stink by the end of the race as CP drying rooms have always proved inadequate for the demands of Spine Racers. nothing ever gets as dry as you would like.

          I hope all this Doom and Gloom has not put you Off 


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