Thursday, 10 November 2016

Spine Race Report 2013

    Friday night and 12 hours to  the start of the 2013 Spine Race

         Racing the whole of the Pennine Way in January Can’t hurt that much. Can it?

Here I am in the back of my van starting my final prep for the Spine.  Typically I have left everything to the last minute.  The current problem is how to pack all I might need in my drop bag.  It all comes down to what could be a crucial choice - tent or bivi bag?   I know I won’t make CP2 at a sensible time so I err on comfort rather than lightweight.  The tent it is!  The same goes for the choice of the faster cooking MSR Gas stove over super light weight’ fuel tablet’ stove. The stove choice proved particularly important 6 days later.
Back in the race HQ others are making similar decisions. We worry about the weight of our packs. How much we carry is the only thing we can change at this late stage. Few of us appreciate that it,s the small decisions we make  out on the trail  that will really make the difference.

          I ponder why I am here and feel a bit of a fraud (I have not even paid to enter for god’s sake!).  Last year I entered the Spine Challenger but had to pull out at the last minute.  I passed on my entry to fellow Totnes Runner Mark Brooks.

Mark was not at all keen to enter, as he hates cold weather.  He came up with a list of excuses: no bivi bag, no traction aids, no decent sleeping bag, no transport. To each excuse he came up with, I supplied the solution.  My parting words as he left for Edale in my van were, “ If you win the Spine Challenger you can let me have your prize of free entry to the 2013 Spine”. 

He won and so here I am.

Day One  only 268 miles to go.

As expected the majority of the pack rushed off up the hill.  Racing was not part of my plan.  As a 57 year old plodder with nothing to prove I knew I could make it to CP2 and that anything else would be a bonus.  As for finishing the Spine, if I did that I would be chuffed to bits!  For now I had only one aim, to get up to Kinder Scout without breaking into a sweat.

I stopped several times to change layers.  I have to control my body temperature .The heat I produce must match the heat lost. If I run hot or cold I am just wasting energy. On shorter runs up to say 12 hours you can get away with things but this race is different.

The Kinder Plateau gave me an early wake up call.  I slipped into race mode picking off several runners until I took a wrong turn at Kinder Downfall.  I am an orienteer and I didn’t even have my map out!  The Spine had given me my first gentle kick; a more serious beating was soon to follow.

The rest of that day can best be described as a settling in period.  A bitterly cold wind blew from the east and we runners started to form up in groups , each following a navigator.  I found myself at the front on map and compass with someone else on GPS cross checking our track.  All was well as where the path was indistinct or branching  as it forced concentration.  The Spine however could never be taken for granted.

Our group soon found ourselves following a good obvious path but we were heading SW on Castleshaw Moor.  Somehow we had all stopped navigating, missed a junction and were now 1.5km off track!  There was a recovery path marked on my OS map but it was too indistinct to follow on the ground.  This left us with a run along a Pennine bridleway and 2km of road to get back on track.  Total time lost about one hour.  That second kick hurt!

Soon it was lights on time and the group began to work better together.  Two  of us navigating and those with good night vision spotting the indistinct path among boulders dusted by snow and ice.

We arrived at the next road checkpoint.  This is was where I made my worst decision of the whole race!

I was hungry , very hungry but stupidly I decided to pass the brightly lit pub and stick with the group.
  Several more runners had joined us and we were on a fast, flat wide track.  The pace quickened with someone calling out our speed.  Subtly the group was speeding up.  Within a few km I knew I was running over pace and the hunger was turning into that old familiar slightly nauseous feeling that warns of imminent throwing up!  The pace slackened on the more technical ground for the last 5km to CP1 but the damage was already  done.

I arrived at the CP, got my feet sorted and then tried to eat and drink.  Not long after I threw up.  When I get into that state my face drains of color and my lips go purple.   This has happened to me many times before. (I usually crawl on and recover.)  This time I was immediately grabbed by the Medics , declared an emergency, told to lie down and get some tubes of dextrose, coke and porridge down me. 

You don’t argue with the Spine Medics.  I was on final warning!  I managed to do as I was told, crawling onto a bunk and eventually falling to sleep  despite the dorm door banging near my bunk.

I woke up to find my appetite had returned.  After a stiff talking to by the head Medic I was allowed to go on, having promised to up my fluid and food intake.

Day two - 45 miles done

       Setting off just before dawn a new group had formed .We quickly got back into eating up the miles.  I had learnt my lesson the previous day and resolved to run at my own pace and stuff my face all day.  If any one else wanted to tag along at my pace, that was fine but I would not wait or pass any food stops.

Group running on long ultras is more complex than you may think.  In a group of say four runners , the navigator will lead.  Perhaps two runners will cruise at below their sustainable pace  ,saving the energy it takes to navigate.  Any other runners are probably being pulled along at above their sustainable pace, not wanting to leave the comfort of the group. Inevitably they suffer and gradually go down hill.

I personally reckon groups of two or three work best.  I had also noticed on day one that the runners with support crews tended to stop at every road head and take advantage of their crews, leaving the rest of the group shivering while they waited.  Supported and unsupported runners don’t always work well together.

The composition of our band gradually changed and I found my self running with an Irish lad, Eamonn, and Andy, a young guy who lives only five miles from my home.  Navigation duties meshed well as Eamonn had a good GPS and Andy a booklet with detailed maps and notes on the route.  We made small detours at times to visit cafes, pubs and the Gargrave Co-op pie display. I grabbed 4 pies eating one even before I got to the till.

We were making steady progress.  Dave Lee joined us. Dave was the only competitor older than me and the only one I felt I wanted to beat.  Dave is a vastly experienced and tough  runner in his 60’s    Perhaps we both wanted to be group leader?  but there was a definite tension between us. He later told me he felt exactly the same way about me.

Dave had walked the Pennine Way twice before and knew some of it really well.  We all shared the navigation.  We got as far as Malham Cove but then  everything went pear shaped.  The trail was hidden by snow and due to the steep climbs we were trying to navigate in 3D on a 2D map.

We came to the end of a blind gorge which Dave was convinced was not on the trail, so we must be way off course. The GPS was having difficulty keeping a signal. Backtracking only made things worse but eventually a GPS grid fix confirmed we were on course.  We eventually located steps hidden in the snow leading up comb hill.  It was a real relief to arrive at the CP 1.5 tent at Malham Tarn.

Eamonn pushed on with Andy, as he was worried about the cut off for the Spine Challenger. I don’t recall if Dave camped or pushed on.

After a quick drink of tea I scuttled outside to put up my tent.  The snowy ground was covered in bodies holed up in bivi bags.  My TN laser tent took no time to erect despite the frozen ground . I was soon cooking up beef hot pot and Ovaltine.  Alarm set for four hours sleep and toasty warm, I went out like a light.

Day three - about 90 miles done

Still dark so I fired up the gas stove for porridge and Ovaltine, whilst I re packed.  I could hear others emerging from their bivi bags trying to get warm.  Thank god for my tent! I was in much better shape than the others around me .

I was running solo again, navigating well and keeping a lookout for tracks in the snow.  It’s easy to stop navigating and rely on following  others tracks but what with sheep and cows hoofs churning up the footprints, you have to keep concentrating.

I soon overhauled a group of four lead by Jenn Gaskell.  Jenn is over thirty years younger than me.  She is sponsored by Montane and, unlike me, actually wins Ultras!

Jenn was holding back as a couple of the lads in her group were struggling. On a race like The Spine you need to run at your own pace.  Staying with the lads was doing no one any favour's. 
  Jenn’s and my pace were better matched so after a quick word with the others she joined me and we pushed ahead.

Jenn, the young Racehorse, and I, the old Carthorse seemed outwardly to be a mismatched pair. We powered up and over the spectacular snow covered heights of Pen-y-ghent.  We ran on down to the cafĂ© in Horton only to discover it was closed Mondays!

Climbing back up the hill we recalled the pre -race briefing:  The 2013 Spine had been shortened missing out the Horton dogleg and about 3.5km, including a big climb.  We had lost well over an hour and the other  lads had caught us up again.  Still we felt we had done the “proper Spine route”.   Re passing the lads. A freezing wind blasted us from the east but we hardly noticed as we chatted all the way to Haws.  (110 miles completed.)

We had our feet sorted and wolfed down the hot food.  Before leaving Hawes I raided the local butchers and carried of several pies and some local cheese.
Many runners only carry specialised energy foods such as jells and energy bars to save on weight.  I find I need salty foods and solid carbs. As a self confessed pig and carthorse I am not so bothered about the weight. If it’s not the sort of thing I would raid the fridge for, then it has no place in my pack . One superb “Spine Snack” I used were a large jacket potato cooked in the CP with half a stock cube inserted in it. This is foil wrapped put in a plastic bag then stowed inside my down jacket. It will stay warm for up to 6 hrs in my pack . Hot food  and warm hands , a real boost at low moments.  I also used sachets of HP sauce squeezed directly into my mouth to keep awake!( I have never trusted the Caffeine type supplements that can mess up your head)
My body is not so much ‘ A Temple ‘ as a ‘Council Waste Food Processing Plant’.

 Night fell and our route now took us up into the snow covered heights of Shunner Fell.
Conditions were atrocious.  With a howling wind, spindrift and no trace of the trail. We used  Jenn’s Garmin Oregon GPS to keep us on track.  (visibility was so bad that it was difficult to read any contours ) We waded, lurching forward through the boulders.  The snow was deep, up to waist height in places.  Behind us blowing snow immediately filled in our tracks.  Our water bottles had all frozen up and the going was getting tougher. This was survival racing, pushing onwards in our own little world.   Jenn trudged just behind me walking in my footprints. I was on autopilot mode (head down and pushing on)

I shouted back to Jenn, “are you ok?”  Her reply was instant.  “I’m having the best time of my life!”  I was shocked to realise  I felt the same.  Here we were, two  miss matched knackered runners, short on sleep, fighting our way through a snow storm up an invisible boulder strewn path in the middle of the night   This was totally nuts and utterly wonderful!

We never stopped chatting that night and I soon found my roll had changed.  Jenn wanted to be the first woman to finish the Spine Race and my new mission was to help her every way I could.  This took even more pressure off me and raised our already high morale still higher.

Team Age Gap Warming Up.
‘Team-Age-Gap’, as we called ourselves, was on a roll.  We would run until the early hours, and then make camp at the Tan Hill Pub, the highest pub in the UK.

The race organisers had been talking to the barman at the Tan Hill pub. He was keen to help the racers  and we had been given his phone number.  I phoned him at about 10 pm to let him know that we would not get there till 3am. I asked where would be the best place to put up the tent?  I was astonished when he said that if we arrived any time before 3 am we should shout outside his bedroom window and he would let us in to sleep on the pub floor! Who was this saint?

Team-Age-Gap eventually got to the pub at 2.45.  I found myself standing on snow covered table shouting up at various windows, watched by two bemused sheep.  I was trying to shout, yet  being terribly British and trying not to make too much noise at the same time.

No response.  Now what?  Jenn shone her torch through the ground floor window.  Russ, another Spiner, had been kipping on the bar floor.  He woke up and let us in.  A warm room, running water, carpet, cushions and sofas - for us, sheer bliss.  We hung our wet gear over  the stools and tables  in the lounge bar and Within minutes we were asleep.

Day four - 130 miles done

Up before dawn, and despite eating some cold leftover chips we found , starving again!  Decided to fire up my stove outside - I did not want to set off any smoke alarms.  Opening the fire door I was confronted by the two sheep who seemed intent on breaking into the pub!  I knew it was cold outside but if the local sheep were seeking shelter it must be bloody freezing!  Two hot meals and a bowl of porridge later we were ready to go.

The barman came down stairs and offered to cook us breakfast.  He was a real star.  He even apologised for not waking up!

We learned he had just returned from ‘a Cage Fighting Tour’ of the US.  Jenn now knows  all of the seven moves you are not allowed to do to your opponent in a Cage Fight so you had better not mess with her!

Just as we started Dave Lee appeared.  He looked wiped out, having not slept for forty plus hours.  I suggested he go into the pub where our new Cage Fighting Friend would make him breakfast.  Dave would have none of it.  He wanted to come on with us.

My last memory of the pub was the sight of our Cage Fighting Friend standing in the snow feeding the pubs two pet sheep.

I phoned race control to give them an update on Jenn and I and also of Dave,s condition.  Dave promptly shot off ahead but we soon came across him brewing up food.   For the next few hours Dave kept  yo-yoing around us but never at a steady pace. We found his behaviour very disconcerting.

About 10km short of the CP at Middleton, Dave vanished completely.  I phoned race control again and suggested they send someone to escort him in to the checkpoint.
 Locating the Middleton CP proved to be a real pain but eventually we arrived and Jenn’s Mother did a great job of looking after us both.  Dave soon arrived and was prescribed; ‘a good nights sleep’.  Jenn and I showered, ate and crashed in the bunks intending to sleep for four hours.  One hour later my head was still buzzing.
“ Hey Jen, you asleep?”
“ No, I don’t think I can.”
“ Me neither.  Do you want to hit the trail?”
“Yes, let’s go for it!”

We arranged with Jenn’s mother to meet us in Dufton at 8 am, where we would sleep in her car for a few hours.

The path now ran along the Tees towards Cow Green Reservoir and the falls at Cauldron Snout.  We had been given special instructions on how to pass the Falls but long before we got there we found the trail disappeared among massive boulders alongside the icy rushing water.  There were several sets of footprints leading up a near vertical slope away from the water.  We followed them up and over 2 km of horrendous energy sapping  boggy ground towards the lights of Cow Green Dam.  We never did see the Falls!   Far  ahead in the distance we thought we could see runners lights . We passed the Dam and followed a wide, gradually climbing track.

Day five

 Around 3 am Jenn dramatically started to fall apart.  I had not realised that she had just not been eating enough.  Without food she did not have the energy to generate enough speed to keep warm.  Once this cycle starts it’s difficult to reverse especially for a well trained runner with a minimum of body fat.  The early stages of hypothermia set in. Running with a partner  during high altitude cold night sections can be vital as your decision making ability can quickly goes down the pan!

Jenn was desperate to stop and camp - not, I felt, a safe option.  I argued that her mother would be waiting for her with a nice warm car in Dutton.  If we stopped on the high exposed ground she would get even colder and find re starting even more difficult. ( we needed to get down off the cold high ground as fast as we could)

I fed Jenn on shotblocks  and lent her my down jacket.  Crawling along at a snails pace  she could not warm up.  My next step was to carry her pack, take her arm and frog march her forward.  This helped but progress was difficult on the icy, rutted track whilst trying to carry two packs.  Jenn put her pack back on, as it helped keep her back warm, and I dragged and chivvied her foreword despite her pleas for us to stop.

Dawn broke as we crawled past the spectacular High Cup Nick but Jenn was past caring.  I phoned race control again to update them  of Jenn’s situation and to make sure her mother and the promised “nice warm car” would be waiting in Dufton.

The ground sloped downward and a battered Team-Age-Gap  eventually shuffled into Dufton.

We arrived in a deserted Dufton only to find no car!  I sat Jenn on a bench, draped my sleeping bag around her and brewed up hot drinks preparing to put the tent up on the snow covered village green.

Much to my relief Jenn’s mother soon arrived with hot soup and food.  Her car looked, to a 6ft 2ins bloke, very small but somehow we both folded ourselves into the back . The strange angle of the folded back seats caused my calf to cramp but soon I dozed of.

We woke after about two hours.  The Dufton pub had opened and we all trooped inside to  eat chips and plan our next move.  I half expected Jenn to quit there and then but she was determined to go on. She had to make her own decisions.

I had my doubts that Jenn could go much further so we agreed that Jenn’s mum (An experienced hill walker) would  come with us for a while to see how Jenn felt.

Jenn was okay on the level path out of Dufton but as soon as we started to climb she slowed down and burst into tears.  Jenn could see that she was still struggling and was mortified that she might be ruining any chance I had of finishing the Spine. We could all see that this was probably true. Short of carrying her there was nothing more I could do to help her.  I reluctantly agreed that I would push on alone and Jenn would join the following, hopefully slower, group.

After a tearful parting I carried on up towards Cross Fell.  Looking back ten minutes later there was no sign of Jenn or her Mum.  The snow deepened on the exposed fell side and the wind was rising again.  I was deeply troubled that Jenn might not be able to keep up with the second group and try to go it alone! I felt I terribly responsible for her safety.

A local fell runner appeared heading to Dufton.  I gave him a message for Jenn telling her of the harsh conditions on the higher ground and that on no account should she run solo.

 I was physically strong but lack of sleep meant my  emotions were on a constant knife edge. About five minutes later I got a text from Jenn’s Mum saying Jenn had realised she could not carry on and they were walking together back to Dufton.  I fell to my knees in the snow and wept, partly from relief but also from knowing how much Jenn had wanted to complete the Spine.

Jenn and I had gained so much strength from each other and now it was up to me to finish this race for both of us!  Besides which, somewhere up ahead was the German Team!

The climb up to Cross Fell seemed to go on for hours with several false summits but at least I had daylight and tracks to follow.  I climbed past the Domes on top of one of the fells and peered through the glass at a scientist working inside. It looked warm and inviting inside but like  part of a James Bond film set.

Just before the summit I came across a sight that reminded me of how dangerous the fells could be.  The trail was invisible but for a few exposed flagstones.  I came across two stones with a gap of six inches between them.  Below the gap was a drop of two feet to a stream.  Anyone following the flagstones could easily have put a foot down the gap, instantly breaking their leg and in these conditions this could be fatal!

I pushed on harder wanting to get out of the danger zone and down to Greg’s Hut before dusk.

Greg’s Hut was a welcome respite.  John Bamber and the medics seemed to fill the place with good cheer, making it difficult to leave.  I had tea and soup then said my farewell and continued down the track.  100 meters later I realized I had left my remaining walking pole back at the Hut!  Cursing I ran back up the hill then started again.

I had hoped to make good time on this track but it was coated in ice and strewn with boulders.  The track also divided in places, then re joined.  None of these junctions appeared on my map and I was losing confidence in my navigation.  Progress was frustratingly slow and by the time I got to Garrigill I was well and truly knackered.

A small pub lifted my spirits.  I fell through the door, ordered a pint of Coke and asked if they had any food. Unfortunately they were short staffed and no longer serving food.
 Looking round I noticed several plates of half eaten food. No one appeared to be guarding them so I sloped over and eat the lot. On looking up I saw a middle aged couple staring  at me.
 “Come far? ”the man asked, nervously.
 Edale I muttered“ I am running the Pennine Way.
 They were confused and worried by my answer.
 My gaze kept drifting towards their plates.
 Luckily the man was a real fan of Ray Mears  survival programs on "Dave". This was one of those "facing death situations". At last he had a chance to  put in  practise what Ray had taught him. 
 He knew what to do : Give the Bear what it  wants , don’t make eye contact and back away slowly! The drooling animal before him with no manners and staring bloodshot eyes, certainly stank  and  acted like a Bear.
The couple abandoned their food , backed out the door . I moved in and  shamelessly cleaned their plates.
Grunting my thanks to the remaining customers I lurched back out into the night.
A minute later one of the pub locals came running after me with my pole which I had left in the pub. I stuffed it into the top of my pack and pushed on.

Garrigill to the CP at Alston is only about 7km but again progress was slow.  My brain wasn’t working properly and I kept making navigation errors.  I passed about 2km of fields covered in rock solid frozen molehills.  I have never seen so many in one place.  I don’t think I was hallucinating but I was in no position to judge myself.  Each molehill was like a mini tank trap ready to break a runner’s toes. The mole hills were followed by a narrow track with overhanging branches which kept snagging my pole but I was to tired to stow the pole properly.

At last Alston CP, food and a few hours sleep.  Rather annoyingly the hostel drying room heaters were not switched on so I had to dangle my wet garments over the radiators before retiring to bed.  Keeping my feet dry was vital to prevent Trench Foot. Jenn was somewhere in the hostel fast asleep.  I never did see her.

Day 6  - 200 miles - somebody stop me!

I planned to be off by 7am.  Russell  Swift wanted to run with me but was not ready by 7.  With three breakfasts inside me I could not wait.  The German team where about two hours ahead and I was determined to catch them!

Within the first five minutes I made a navigation error, which cost me time. As an Orienteer I must confess to being a bit of a navigational snob. I hate the idea of the GPS.  Now I needed to use all the tools at my disposal.  I reluctantly fished out my base model Garmin E Trex, determined to teach myself how to use it on a good trail in daylight.  Unlike  Jenn’s Garmin Oregon  my GPS had no base map so I had to use the waypoints supplied by the Spine Team. All was fine if I had a visible path to follow but once it was obscured by snow I frequently ended up running through a bog parallel to a good flagged path. The waypoints were set just to far apart.  Map and compass proved faster than my GPS in daylight.

It soon became apparent that I was physically and mentally changed.  I was running faster than at any time during the race.  I had plenty to eat and energy to spare.  Somehow over the last five days I had re-programmed my body, turning me into an eating running machine!

I was high as a kite whooping with joy, tracking Germans.  The only ones missing  from this rapturous scene was Jenn and my the  two dogs: Scooby and Suki, who I love to take running with me across Dartmoor .   I felt like Jim Carrey’s character in the film "The Mask" shouting out "somebody stop me!"  It’s a good thing the Spine medics were not around as they would have withdrawn me from the race for mental instability!

The ground flew by; at times I was hitting 7mph according to my GPS.  The sun came out for a time but the bogs were still frozen enough  to run over without getting the dreaded wet feet.

Next big landmark - Hadrian’s Wall.  Here the Pennine Way ran east into a biting cold wind.  The Spine team met me at one of the road crossings.

Conrad, one of the race organisers, ran with me for a while.  We chatted about how the runners felt about the race and how it could be improved for next year.

The subject of food came up and I confessed I could kill for a Camembert cheese or two. He thought for a while and replied "how about Brie?”   Yes, I said, three would be better!  Once my confusion had been sorted I learnt that Conrad lived nearby.  He had had a ‘Brie or two’ in his fridge and made a quick phone call.  One hour later, at the next road head, I was handed two Brie cheeses.

Dusk fell again and I parted with Conrad, turning north again towards a forested area.  I had been warned that there were two dangerous bogs before the forest and I must stick to the flagstones!  The snow had hardened and with no visible trail or footprints I struck out across open ground following the GPS waypoint line.  I found the bog but no flagstones.  A detour of 90 degrees left and right revealed nothing so nervously I tiptoed my way across the bog.  The same thing happened at the second bog.  I knew what was happening, I was running parallel to the trail but in these conditions unless I hit the flagstones spot on I could not find it!

The bogs had slowed me down but worse was to follow.  On entering the forest the main track was often joined by wide forest rides.  In the dark the rides were indistinguishable from the Pennine Way itself. The GPS waypoints did not take into account the winding of the trail so several times I found myself running up dead ends.  Not all the rides were shown on the OS map so I found myself frequently back tracking!

My worst moment came when I ran 500 meters up a blind ride.  I figured out from a GPS fix that the main trail was about 30 meters to the east.  The branches on the trees were so low that I was forced to take my pack off and crawl on my belly, dragging my pack behind me.  Once back on the path I was back up to speed again. A few minutes later I noticed I had lost my waterproof thermal cap.  There was no chance of finding it if I had lost it while crawling through the trees. It was a bitter blow.

The rest of that night was spent in much the same frustrating way. In low visibility missing the trail by  just 3 meters can be enough  to stop you dead.  My curses could have been heard for miles. Often I had to climb barbed wire topped walls as I could not make out  which way the gates were located.

At one point I came to a fairly wide river.  The map indicated a footbridge but none was apparent despite searching the bank up and down stream.  Eventually, muttering curses, I entered the foot deep ice cold  water avoiding the rafts of snow floating down stream. 200 meters later I came upon an obstacle that made me laugh out loud.  Before me was a farmyard with a 20 foot high pile of steaming cow dung and according to my GPS, the waypoint was smack bang in its centre!  Someone back at Spine HQ had a sense of humour.

It was with some relief that I eventually arrived at the Bellingham CP.  All the extra speed on that leg had been for nothing as the night navigation errors had wiped out all the time gained.

CP 5 was where my race was changed yet again.  We were due for 65 mph winds, -8oC and a blizzard!  With the forecast that bad I feared my race was over.

The Spine team called a conference.  It was decided that the only safe way the race could go on was if the remaining runners formed up in two teams.   I was to join Michael, Jin, Thomas, Anna and Brian and we would set off in three hours, at 5 am.  The second team of Dave, Annie and Russell (who arrived at CP5 a little later) would follow at 6 am. 

None of us fully appreciated it at that time but The Spine Race was about to get a lot more serious!

Day 7 - 222 miles done - 45 miles to go!

Russ Ladkins was carried  in to the Bellingham CP  by the medics.  Russ had been ahead of us but had to quit when his digestive system shut down and he became crippled by cramps .  Russ was put on a plasma drip with  two of the medics  watching  over him while he tried to get some sleep.  All this activity was happening  in the bed next to me. I got next to no sleep.
 I was also worried about the next leg and my lost hat problem. I was considering cutting up my towel and wrapping  it around my head for extra insulation.
 Much to my relief I was reunited with my thermal cap which the second team had found on Hadrians Wall. I knew I would need all my extra  kit to stay warm and safe over the coming leg. Preparing my pack I estimated I would be carrying over 10Kg. 

Five am arrived and we were briefed on what was to come.  Anna was given a GPS tracker that would continually transmit our position on a Google Earth  to race control.  The tracker could be used to signal race control of problems (amber light) or too  transmit an emergency signal.  For now it would be on plain tracker.  The group had to stick together and look after each other.

We set off into the dark.  Michael was leading the way with his state of the art GPS.  He had every single path on Google Earth and OS maps programmed into his machine and so never strayed more than 2 meters off the path.  This explained why I could not catch them the previous day.

Progress was fairly fast but Michael’s pace was very inconsistent.  After about one hour we reached a road and Michael announced he was dropping out of The Spine.  We were all rather shocked and surprised.  He explained that for the last hour he had lost proper control of his body temperature.  He felt he would not be able to cope with the conditions forecasted for the latter stages of our last leg.  We managed to flag down a car and Michael got a lift back to Bellingham. It must have taken immense courage to take that decision this close to the finish line.

Thomas took over leading with his GPS.  The pace quickened, as we knew we had to get as far as possible before the blizzard set in.

Back at Spine HQ  unknown to us , our team had been named - The Trans European Freight Train or TEFT for short.  However on the ground our group was not yet a team.  Thomas and Jin had been together from the start and moved as one unit.  Anna and Brian had paired up several days before and behaved as if they had been married for years.  And then there was me, ‘Billy No Mates’, tagging along.  The group as yet had no real team spirit.

Things were not helped by cultural differences.  If the Germans stopped to eat or change layers we all stopped.  If the Brits did the same the Germans would continue marching off into the distance and the Brits would have to play catch up. Thomas marched at a totally uniform speed both up and down hill. I preferred to avoid sweating by moving slower on the up’s then speeding up on the flat’s and downs . Our dysfunctional group was stretched up to 200meters apart at times!

We marched through Redesdale Forest. A storm was approaching and we heard the sinister sounds of Bombs and Artillery from the military ranges to our East. I felt like a Hobbit approaching the dark realm of Mordor.   Often we had to step back from the dirt road as vast logging trucks sped past taking runs at the ice covered switch back hills. This was real ‘Red Neck country’.

We met the Spine team again at the road through Byrness.  There we topped up our water knowing that for the next 35km we would be on our own in what was essentially a wilderness. Our only hope of shelter were two Mountain Refuge Huts high up in the Cheviots.

Climbing out of Byrness I paused to put on more layers.  When I looked up everyone else had disappeared over the skyline.  I hauled myself up the slope to see Brian and Anna 50 meters ahead with Jin and Thomas 200meters ahead of them .   Neither Thomas nor Jin ever looked back.  This was no longer a joke - we were not acting as a team.

I ran to catch up with Thomas telling him he had to slow down so we could keep together.  Thomas stopped still.  He appeared to have only two speeds, fast relentless march  and; “please hurry up, I am getting cold waiting”!   Fortunately, as we climbed the snow was getting deeper so Thomas, who was breaking the trail, was naturally slowing down.  The group closed up and moved ahead.

At around dusk we reached the First Mountain Refuge Hut.  The wind speed increased and the snow fell more heavily.  Thomas, with his sheer strength, did the bulk of the trail breaking helping the rest of the team following in his tracks.  We started rotating the front runner as with conditions deteriorating no one person could ‘ trail break’ for long. The following team members tramped along head down following the leaders trench.
 We seamlessly slipped from being three teams into one powerful team.  The TEFT was now acting as a well-oiled machine.   I totally forgave Thomas for everything that had annoyed me earlier.

With wind and freezing snow blasting us from our right hand side we clawed our way forward along the Cheviots.  All liquid water in our bottles had frozen solid . The snow got deeper but under the drifts the bogs were not frozen.  Our feet kept being soaked then re frozen. This lead to a build up of compacted snow much as you would roll balls of snow to make a snow man.

For some reason Brian had the worst problems.  Great balls of snow and ice had formed around his lower legs.  As the balls grew, the zips on his leggings were gradually forced up his leg exposing more places for ice to form.  He must have had over 1.5 kg of ice stuck to each leg.  His tracks looked like those of a two-legged elephant! Balls of ice the size of tennis balls formed on the ends of our running poles 

Whenever we passed a solid fence post we kicked out to dislodge some of the ice on our legs.    The navigation was getting more difficult.  GPS batteries were failing in the cold and I was struggling to wipe snow of  my map, let alone read and  re fold it in the wind.  We knew we had to keep close to the fence but the snow drifts and bogs were deeper there so we were forced away only catching glimpses of our ‘hand rail’ .  We kept counting  head torches  checking we were all still there.  If we stopped for a moment  our bodies started to freeze!  The situation was getting gradually worse and we all knew it. We just had each other, no help from outside was possible.
I think we all  had thought of pressing the amber alert button on the tracker but knew that the outside world could do nothing to help us
With the howling wind blasting snow and ice we could only communicate by yelling at each other with heads  touching

Just before The Cheviot at 700 meters the trail swung NW.  Now we had the wind at our backs.  We knew there was a Mountain Refuge Hut about 2km ahead but that would take us at least two hours at the rate we were moving.  To make matters worse our slow lurching pace made the GPS pointer swing randomly through 180 degrees! We needed the compass to stay on line.  

Auchope Cairn appeared just as the GPS batteries failed yet again.  We huddled together and dug out more spare batteries.  Changing batteries was a nightmare.  Thomas had to take his gloves off while trying to keep snow out of the innards of the GPS.  Frostbite was a real danger and we were all chilled when we stood up.

With new batteries installed Thomas promptly started marching back the way we had come. As the GPS had failed before our last waypoint it was indicating that we had to go back up the trail! (to the missed waypoint)   I shouted to Thomas we had to go west and waved my map at him.

Thomas was convinced we had to’ follow the GPS’.  Dramatically he threw back his head and screamed into the night, “ScHIZZEEERRRRR!!!!!”

If Thomas, who I had come to regard as a cross between Robocop and The Terminator, was shaken we really were in trouble!
By now we could hardly see our feet or the person in front so  checking  the glow of head torches behind us  each time the leader was changed became more vital.

My OS map was trashed and did not show the exact location of the hut so I checked with Anna’s  map.(  It was marked but with no grid ref) West it was to relocate the fence. We hoped to god we find the hut soon! (and not miss it in the swirling gloom)

At last a square shape emerged out of the blizzard.  We fell through the door dehydrated, exhausted and incredibly relieved. It had taken us 7 hours to cover the last 10 miles!
 Thomas had some time earlier cut his leg quite badly and keeled over as he went into shock as soon as he sat down!  Brian switched into doctor mode, covering Thomas up in a foil blanket and tending his wound. Anna went outside to collect snow and I got stuck in to melting snow and cooking   Jin just sat still looking stunned. We all knew how close we had come very close  to disaster.

We stripped off our wet clothes, blew up sleeping mats and got out our sleeping bags.  I fished out the Brie cheese from my pack and a body warm jacket potato I had been saving.  We shared them around while the snow melted then made hot drinks and Couscous . We were  shaken ,dehydrated,  but alive and unbeaten.

Water production was tricky.  We had to keep going back outside into the storm to collect more snow to melt.  Another problem was sheer cold.  To get a decent cooker flame even the winter mix gas canisters had to be warmed up by holding a lit candle under them!  I think we made some re-hydrated meals but I don’t really remember. A solid fuel stove would have been useless. (As it was we used 4 whole gas cylinders)!

There was just enough room on the wooden benches for four.  I elected to sleep on the floor as I had the thickest sleeping mat together with a down bag plus liner and my down jacket. We contacted Race HQ saying we would re-assess our situation in the morning.  I also gave my opinion that there was no way Dave’s team could make it to the second hut. (I later learned they had stopped at the first hut).

We woke up as dawn broke. We were going to finish this race!  Out came the gas fire again for breakfast and making water for our bottles. The sun appeared briefly but was soon replaced by wind and blowing snow.  To get going we had to remove the blocks of ice from our shoes and gaiters. They were all so stiff that it was impossible to get them on.  We did this by bashing them with a snow shovel found in the corner of the hut. The shoes and   Laces had then to be thawed out over the gas burner as they were just lumps of crumbling  ice.( My shoes were only 7 days old and I wondered if bashing them with a shovel and cooking them would nullify their guarantee .) Putting ice filled shoes back on was horrible but at least the spare wool socks helped. I silently thanked the Spine Planners for insisting on a compulsory kit list.
 I had used every item on the list including all my spare fuel and emergency foil blanket. I don,t know how cold it had been during the night but my -15c bag /liner combination plus down jacket and full set of dry base/mid  layers had only just been warm enough whilst I slept.
           We thought the last few miles would be easier but the Spine would not let us off that easily.  We had another steep hill to climb.  Although the blizzard had abated, the ground was now covered in deep snow.  We fell back into the ‘rotating the trail breaker routine.’  The depth of snow could be gauged by the number of wisps of grass protruding from the snows surface.  Snow covered heather seemed to be easier to walk on. We weaved forwards continually used our poles for balance and probing the snow.

  1. In the hollows the deeper snow was an unbroken white sheet.  We had to make detours around the deep snow.   Where a detour was not possible , forward progress on our feet was impossible. We fell to our bellies on the snow, supporting our upper bodies by holding maps and poles flat to the snow surface and crawling forward!  Thomas found the deep snow particularly difficult; he was so large he kept sinking through the surface. There had been jokes on facebook before the race about crawling to the finish line. What had been a joke was now reality. We pushed on down the hill and the going gradually eased. 

  1. The TEFT 2Km from the finish line.

Not long afterwards we spotted two figures in the distance.  The local Mountain Rescue team had been sent up to check if we were okay.  We accompanied them back to their 4WD then headed on towards the finish line.

More figures appeared.  Most of the Spine Team and the medics had come to welcome us and escort us to the finish line.

My first words to Scott, the chief organiser, were, “Scott --------------- you Bastard!”  I did not know weather to laugh or cry as I hugged him.

We were all in tears when we finally reached out and touched the finishing line of the pub wall. I did not even care that the Pennine Way finishing bell had been removed for some unknown reason.

I had just spent the most emotional fantastic and wonderful weak of my life competing in The Spine Race and I would never forget it.

              How do I feel about The Spine Race Looking Back?

       For me, The Spine Race is female.  She will enchant you, frustrate you, and test you to your limits, lifting you up, then smash you down.  You will love her for her beauty and be reduced to tears by her cruelty.  You must never take her for granted and in return she will reward you with all she has to offer.

                                    What state was I in when I finished?
          45 mile Ultra the next day after a little sleep would have been no problem.
          Strangely, the worst damage to my body was a horrendous case of Athlete’s Foot , probably  not helped by my over stressed Immune System. My feet were swollen from insufficient time sleeping horizontally  but  my legs were fine. I did a 14 mile recovery run 4 days later.
           It did however take some time to re-set my apatite to its normal level.
                          The Spine Race In One Word

            My head had got me to the finish line. My body just tagged along.

                                        One thing I know for certain

                          Completing The Spine Race will change you forever!

Spine Race Report 2014

   This is my Race Report from the 2014 Spine Race.  A 268 mile romp up the Pennine Way.
                      (If anyone has food issues best not read this Report!)

       Perhaps I should explain the "Spiderman "reference first .  I am what is known as a Hash House Harrier.  Hashers it is rumoured  , are groups of runners who do not take running seriously enough and spend more time drinking and singing silly songs than worrying about PB's ,spread sheet training plans and the Race Diary.
       Hashers often refer to them self as "Drinkers with a running problem". Once you have been hashing a few times you will be given a hash name.     Mine is "Spiderman " My significant other was named first as" Spider" because of the length of her legs. Spiderman has nothing to do with comic book heroes but but just happened by default.

   What has this to do with the 2014 Spine Race you may ask. The answer is my race both on a physical and mental level was boosted by Hashing and my Spiderman alter ego.

  Many of you will have herd bad things about hashing and avoided it like the Plague . However not all hash groups are the same and my home hash (I run at times with 5 other Hashes ) is called Drake Hash House Harriers.

    Drake Hash as we are known are proudly not your average Hash. Drake Hash runs on Dartmoor at different locations every Monday night at 7.30 pm  come wind , sun , storm , hail, snow, ice, rain, gale and in fact any condition including zero viz fog . One more thing Drake Hash does not do roads (No really, even crossing a road is regarded as a  mortal sin). We don,t do tracks much  either as we run what is known as 10 and on. The last  thing is we don't do the hash songs,or any other ritualistic bollocks in the Pub afterwards. We are pure off trail nutter's!
            About Hashing
   On  the day of the hash the Hare (Hash member laying the trail ) will venture out on the moor carrying about 10 x 1.5 Kg bags of Flour and lay a trail of flour blobs spaced about 10m apart.  The trail may wind for some time over the moor until the Hare decides to lay a Check ( A circle of Flour devised  to hold up the faster runners)
From this circle several alternative trails of white dots are laid only one of which will be the true trail . The false trails will end up with a Cross marked in flour (all must be checked out)
    The object of the hash is to set loose a group of totally mixed paced runners off to follow the trail. The faster Front Running Bastards "FRB's will reach the Check first and set out on the different trails hunting the true path. They  call out how many blobs they have passed as they run . The moor will echo with calls of :on one --on two---on three--on four--until they count up to ten at which point they call out "On On" to call the rest of the mob to follow the true path . Of course some of the FRB's  will be on a false trail which will end in a cross . These runners will call out "On Back!" followed by a string of expletives as they will have to turn back and be guided by the calls of the runners on the main trail. Slower runners will lurk by the Check circle and let the  FRB's do the hard work.  Drake Hash is very vocal as it is regarded as careless to lose a hash member on Dartmoor .There are many other devious ways used to keep the mob together but at the end of the day a good hash is regarded as one where we all arrive back at the car park at the same time with the FRB's knackered having covered twice the mileage as the slowest runner . Incidently several of us run with dogs . The dogs really love hashing as it is about as close to running with their ancestral wolf packs as they will ever get. ( one hashing dog has abandoned her owner and regularly hashes with the mob while her owner waits by the car park)

       So What The Hell Has This To Do With The Spine Race?

      It's simple really : By running with Drake Hash I have trained to run full pelt across bogs, rocks, heather, crags,  and the occasional path in the dark often in shitty foggy  conditions, following an indistinct trail laid by some Devious Bastard who is deliberately trying to get me lost.
    Ask anyone who competed in the Spine Race  they will tell you; that is a pretty good description of the Pennine Way in winter.   The Winter Pennine Way is in my  comfort  zone.
    To do well in the Spine you need instinctive footwork  . Running in daylight even on rough trails won,t give you this ability. The ability to spot the indistinct signs of footprints or the trail also helps enormously. Hashing with Drake is fast, fun and brilliant Spine Training.
    I try to run the first part of the Spine as relaxed as possible separating  my  competitive traits and placing them in a box labelled : Spiderman . SPIDERMAN is only let loose  in the second half of the Race.

    I wrote my  original race report for 2013 about a year ago  (My feb 2013 Blog) , so perhaps I should refer back to it and see what has changed since .
    Training wise this years lead up to the Spine has been a disaster. I am self employed and moved premises in October putting back my work schedule by 4 Weeks. The knock on effect was a secession of 60 to 70 hr weeks  trying to catch up. I moved house on Dec 20 th and this has not helped things .
    The bottom line is that over the last 3months I have averaged about 15 miles running per week. True I crammed in  a 75 mile DNF on the Winter 100 and a good run in the OMM but on the whole my training would have been regarded as inadequate for a 10mile race let alone a conventional Ultra.
     Perhaps this is the crux of the matter.


     What I have done, is write my Guide To The Spin Race, Series Of Blogs
     Writing the Guide forced me to look at what I learnt from 2013 in minute detail. By stripping  away my deep set preconceptions about Ultras and expose the things that really worked for me I have become a better Spine Racer.. However being a lazy disorganised old codger I  often did not follow all my own advice and in most cases regretted my own hypocrisy.
      To sum it all up : I came to the 2014 Spine Race with virtually no fitness running training but a relative  wealth of experience , confidence in my ability to: cope with the trail , run with a pack, navigation, nutrition and the ability to deal with the cold. (my boat shop is totally unheated and I spend long hours working in sub zero conditions over the winter.)
      As for attitude. Yes of course I could do it again (what could be worse than the 2013 Blizzard on the Cheviots).
    My one real worry : Wet feet.
    The one last minute panic  action before setting off to Edale  : Buying three pairs of so called Gortex Waterproof Socks from the Army Surplus Store.

  Before The Kick Off only 268 miles to go.
    The journey up to Edale  was fairly uneventful. I picked up Steve Hays from Bristol Airport and headed north yakking about the coming event until I realised we were actually heading for Cardiff!
Its good to get a Nav error in early but honestly missing a big blue Motorway Sign was a bit of a bummer. 20 miles later we were back on course and some hours later we  rolled  up  at the Peak Centre  Edale ,where I was staying for the night.
         There was a lot of packing and re packing going on and much evidence of calculated food  int akes and high energy, high tec nutrition systems.(the spreadsheet mentality)
      My nutrition for the first couple of days was sorted . 3 Riverford organic Curried Crab Tarts, 3 Riverford Homity Pies, a bunch of Mini Peperami's ,Baby Bell Cheeses and Shot Blocks. That should just about get me to nightfall and the White House Pub on day one provided I remembered to eat between pies!
       Registration was split into 3 groups. We had the usual safety briefings and talks on Hypothermia and Hypoglycemia. This year there was much less talk about the different ways we could all die possibly because John Bamber did not give his little talk on the perils of Sink Holes.
     The evening meal in the Pub was quite subdued and most of us retired early to bed. We tried and mostly failed to sleep partly due to worries about the morning Kit Check and fear of not waking up in time.

    6.15 am Race Day.
     Stuffed down a Cornish  Pasty and a Scotch Egg for breakfast. Slung my 20 Kg  (+ a bit) drop bag into my White Van together with several other 20 Kg (+ a bit )drop bags.
     Back in December I had hatched a plan to con the Race Organisers into borrowing my White Van for use as a drop bag transporter so it would end up at the finish line. Somehow they fell for it leaving me with no option but to get to the finish line to retrieve my Van! (Burning Bridges Motivation).
     Kit Checks went surprisingly smoothly and when everyone had finally handed in their homework paperwork we shuffled out to the car park.
      The forecast was: dry and bright so it promptly started to rain.
                                                                                   Everyone put on their waterproofs.
                                                                The sun came out.
                                                                                    Several of us took of our waterproofs.
                                                                 2 Min's to go it rained again.
                                                                                     Mass panic putting gear back on again.
                                 By now several of us had waterproof tops on but no waterproof leggings! Still The Spine Waits for no man or woman, so we were off.
          You guessed it the rainy drizzle  started to turn to Wet Snow as we tackled Jacobs Ladder on the way up to Kinder Scout. There was much hurried changing behind walls and in barns before we were all sorted out.
         I took it real slow for the first couple of miles. Once on the top of the Plateau the Snow came down heavier and we sloshed through a couple of inches of slush . Luckily there was not much wind compared to last year and the temp was above freezing so it was easy to keep warm.
         I soon realised I had Kit issues . This year i had decided to run  with a front pouch to hold maps and food. I had only really tested this a couple of times with very little weight in the pouch. Unfortunately the top clip attachments fastened to my shoulder straps with Velcro . The Velcro was not up to the job and kept coming un-fastened so the pouch kept falling down in front of my bollocks like an unwieldy sporran! Like most of the runners at this point I was reluctant to stop so tried carrying the pouch in one hand like a man bag. This look has never really suited me  besides the bag clashed with my eyes . I was eventually forced to stop and use the electrical tape  to bind the Velcro fastenings together. Front pouch sorted.
        The ground was wet and fairly slippery so I had been using one pole at times to maintain speed and confidence in my footing. There is a wide misconception that poles are used to propel you up hills. Not only that but the "Nordic Walking Slimming Lobby" has put it out that the use of poles will burn more calories. As this data can be put in a spreadsheet it has been leaped upon by Spine Candidates looking for a scientific approach to conquering The Spine. Some folks have even calculated how many extra calories they will need to complete the Spine if using Poles. Perhaps this was the reason why some runners had no poles at all.
       In all fairness the poles were only really useful on day one of this years Spine. Last year getting to the finish line would have been impossible without them. No poles =Guaranteed DNF.
       Just prior to this years race I had designed a "Running pole Scabbard" in the form of a 75cm long plastic tube with a belled out top end . This tube was slung between the lower back of my pack and my right shoulder strap.  I was able to instantly stow an unwanted pole in the scabbard and then retrieve it when wanted by reaching over my shoulder and drawing it out Ninja Turtle Style. The whole thing made me look a bit of a prat but worked remarkably well. Last years prolonged snow running meant we were constantly having to put poles down either to navigate or clamber over obstacles. With the scabbard this would not have been a hindrance to pace.

      I had spent several days of the Spine last year running with Jenn  Gaskell. We had met again the night before the race and discussed race tactics . There was one golden rule: Don,t start racing till after Alston.  Jenn had overtaken me early on climbing up to Kinder Scout. She had two obvious rivals for the Crown of first lady : Mimi Anderson and Debbie Brupbacher . One other runner was also bound to be a threat : Ann Green , probably one of the steadiest runners I know. Ann was  going to keep moving at her own pace and would in my opinion finish ,whatever the Spine Threw at her. 
      Debbie passed me at Mill Hill where she took some photographs . She said she did this regularly to remind herself to slow down. That's one trick I had not thought of! Debbie looked strong and very organised. I new little about her but discovered she was into adventure racing which I knew would help   her cope with the problem solving aspects of The Spine. 
       Debbie soon pushed on out of sight and I encountered several other runners before descending towards  Topside Reservoir revelling in the sight of the sun touched snowy slopes on the hills around me .   God how I love running in places as spectacular as this!  No sooner had this thought struck me and my concentration wavered than I found my self flying through the air and landing on my neck in the wet grass. Luckily my pack had broken my fall.  I knew exactly what had happened ( It says it in the Land rover adverts ) One of the most slippery surfaces you can encounter is :Wet Grass. All around me were the signs of other Spine Racers Skidding and hitting the deck. All this and only 10m away from a nice solid gravel track. 
       I have described the above incident to illustrate how quickly you can come unstuck on The Spine. It is as if The Spine tests you every now and then to make certain  that you are paying attention to what she is teaching you.

       Conditions underfoot were just plain hard work. I had opted on day one to wear Salomon Gortex running boots with Gaiters. These had worked fine so far in keeping my feet dry . The Injini toe socks with Compression socks over the top were ok but the uppers of the boots were not really comfortable . I had stopped twice to inspect my feet and apart from a slight bruising of my ankle bone all was well.
       Mimi Anderson and a bunch of others ran with me from just past the M62 bridge and we safely negotiated the really miserable maze of boulders and bog around Blackstone Edge. Mimi seemed to know the guys she was running with really well so we said little to each other.
        By now I had realised I was running over paced again and was beginning to get my usual 40 mile nausea feeling.  The White House Pub loomed out of the gloom and I bolted inside for a feed up. First stop the toilets and true to form as soon as a stopped moving and bent over I threw up in the loo. This made me feel much better and I ordered food. One minute later and I bolted back to the loo for a second hurl. There on the toilet room floor was my GPS that I had dropped while taking off my pack in the previous urgent visit.   The food arrived and all I could do was stare at it. Gradually more Spiners came in and generally lowered the tone of the place. The pub was fairly packed with diners but the room I was in was gradually filling up with Hungry Racers. The German/Swiss contingent took a table just across from me and promptly took their shoes and socks off to inspect a particularly nasty rash of blisters . This action had not gone un noticed by the rest of the diners and shortly the Land Lady arrived to point out that British Diners are not happy about being exposed to reeking torn up feet while they are eating. The guys were rather surprised by this fact but put their shoes back on anyway. I can only thank the Land Lady for not banning the lot of us from the pub. I managed to force down a few chips and steak and kidney pie then pushed on into the night.
         The final push up the hill towards CP1 is a nightmare. There are some angles of climb that my body just does not like. I knew I was short of food but then again I could not keep anything down. Luckily I remembered the rout into the CP from last year. My plan was to get in ,drink Coke to reduce the nausea and avoid the Medics. I feared I had gone my usual shade of imminent death white and would be threatened with being pulled from the race yet again. Knowing the rout in enabled me to slow to a nausea reducing crawl so when I eventually arrived I felt much better.
        Checkpoint Routine : Boots and waterproofs off. Locate Drop bag. Take out CP maintenance bag with washing drying sleeping kit. Shower feed . Sort next legs kit , feed ,drink ,feed then search for a bed . 
       I had hoped that the Dorms would be more organised this year. In my opinion the dorms should be for sleeping in only. -------No kit sorting 
                                         No lights on 
                                         No talking
                                         No one enters unless ready to grab a bed and sleep.
                                         Anyone waking up gets dressed outside silently.
      At CP1 the reverse was true . Someone said that all kit sorting and packs should be taken into the Dorm. The result was that it was next to impossible to sleep.  I stuck it out for about 4hrs then gave up and wandered off to see what was for breakfast. Fed watered and having my feet checked over I decided to switch to my Salomon XT Wings with Army Surplus Socks and Mariano Blend socks underneath. My £9.50 socks proved to be 100% waterproof for the rest of the race!

       Day TWO 7am

      Back on the trail again before dawn and I was about one hour ahead of last years times . I was better fed and provisioned for this next leg. I knew however that I had to try to eat much more. By the last day of the Spine I needed to be eating at least treble what I normally consume in a day and achieving this degree of gluttony takes dedication and practise. The old Grizzly Bear needed to prepare for winter. My next target was the Mega  All day Breakfast at the Cafe just west of Pondon Reservoir.
     I had discovered this place last year when one of the group I was running with was forced to pull out and need a warm place to stay while waiting to be retrieved by Spine Control. The Cafe adds about 1km to the route but comes at a good time to re-fuel in a warm and totally surreal atmosphere . The Cafe or terrace dining area is on the third floor of a really weird furniture emporium. Signs outside speak of Massive Sale Reductions . The whole building is filled with : go on you know you really want to buy something Muzak and you have to fight your way to the cafe through a series of rooms resembling Victoriana stage sets.
     My visit was slightly marred by being beaten to the food ordering desk by about 20 cyclists. The massed Cyclists caused what I imagined to be a Victorian cook to have a fit of the vapours and delay the appearance of my food. What did eventually appear was worth the wait. This cafe is frequented by Spine Marshals manning the Pondon road crossing walk through checking point.
     Pushing on from  Pondon the course passes over a high Moor before plunging once more into farmland. Through Cowling to Lothersdale and another charming little pub.  Here the Landlord was having a hard time as he had not been warned of the coming of over 100 hungry racers . However he was coping well and the food was excellent.
     It was around this tine that I got disturbing news of Jenn. Evidently the first three ladies were fighting for the lead with about 35meters separating all three. A head to head race was bound to end in disaster this early in the race! Somewhat dispirited I pushed on and soon hooked up with a fellow 2013 Spine Vet  Annie. 
    Annie is a bubbly spanish  ball of fun. She positively giggles  along the trail in a very Spanish sort of way. Slight of frame with a large pack she knows far more about wilderness running than she thinks she does. Annie has also taken the time to recce most of the Pennine way.
     Dark was falling when we neared  the small town of Gargrave along side the canal. We left the canal and trotted south for about 200m . HANG ON SOUTH! that was wrong we were heading back to Edale. We corrected our direction and hurried on in the correct direction missing the PW sign at the side of the track. Someone was yelling at us back down the trail. We could see the light but had no idea what they were on about. we turned back to help the runner in distress only to discover Eddie a Spanish runner had been trying to tell us we were going the wrong way! Joining forces  we tried and failed to follow the trail across farmland. There was  no actual discernible trail and we  were soon lost or rather off trail by perhaps 30meters which is the same thing if there is a wood ,barbed wire and a ditch between you and where you think you should be . The only positive aspect is that I recognised several features where I had got lost in the same place last year. Only one thing for it , push on in the vague direction where I knew we should be . Several fences and walls later we were back on trail .
        Eddie had been muttering to himself in Spanish . He was not a Happy Bunny as he had been left behind by the two runners he had been with and felt abandoned . The rain increased as we finally trudged into Gargrave and headed for the CO OP pie counter. I was in for a shock Some Bastard Had Eat All The Pies!
         I guess that serves me wright for mentioning the Co op in my Blogs on The Spine.
         It was time for house keeping . I had lost my map case and needed to protect my paper OS maps from the rain. I found a roll of freezer bags that would do the trick and had an argument with the shop assistant who could not understand that I only wanted one bag from the roll of 50 after paying for all 50. This strange behaviour was only made worse by Annie standing next to the till and dressing up in black bin bags. Annie appeared to have an inexhaustible supply of plastic bags in her pack but no transparent bags.
          There is a long up hill haul out of Gargrave up to open moor land . Annie knew the route but somehow we missed the turning off the track again. Referring to the map we located a bridle path back towards the PW.  We were moving well as we descended back down  towards the river . The rain was coming down even heavier so every step was in several inches of water. I navigated with Annie giving advice from memories of her recce's.  I love to navigate but as it was to wet to wear my Specs I was nearly blind and could not spot the styles and gates in front of us. Annie kept pace about 5m behind me which I found frustrating as I needed her eyes and night vision for the finer path finding needed to make good progress.
         Last year most of the runners stayed at CP1.5 Malham Tarn but I knew that the ground was flat and boggy around the checkpoint. Malham Tarn is also at quite a high altitude so as we approached Malam Village I kept a look out for a place to camp. The best areas around Malham were  dangerously near the river so we pushed on towards Malham Cove where we found an area of short sloaping grass just off the trail. -------  8 pm .Tent up as fast as I could in the rain then Annie in the Tent first ,me second  after a trip down to the beck for water . I brewed up the evening meals in a dry Tent. we had managed the wet outer garments off then into dry sleeping bags remarkably well considering we had not practised together. 3 Hrs sleep and  I can confirm that Annie snores like the best of us!
         Tent down and push on through the maze that is Malham Cove with Dave Lee, at great speed  then Malham Tarn and CP 1.5.
         CP 1.5 was a sea of mud inside a large tent. not a good camping spot. Annie stayed at CP 1.5 to warm up and I pushed on with Dave Lee.
         Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent were relatively free of snow and we made good time on through to the long straight track of Cam High Road.
         At the top of Cam High Road the trail swings left down into Haws. A large White Mobile Home was parked at the junction. This vehicle was used by the support crew for one of the runners and kept turning up in unexpected places (Like Dr Who's Tardis) usually in the middle of the night. After several days I was becoming quite paranoid about about this van. Inside was an oasis of calm for one runner ,but not me the outsider.  Charlie Sharp shot past us  at great speed , leaving me with the feeling that he reminded me of someone.
          Dave and I stopped only briefly at Haws (CP2) . I replenished my supply of Pies at the butchers.
          Visibility was low as we climbed Shunner Fell, missing the trail again and having to head out cross country through peat hags to regain the trail. Shunner fell was cold and  windy with a wet partly paved trail. Near the summit I came upon a broken running pole . Somewhere ahead a runner with no morals had decided that a broken pole was a thing to be dumped to decrease the weight they had to carry "Sod The Environment For I Am Worth It!" It's this sort of attitude that really incenses me! I carried the incriminating red pole with me to the next CP and handed it in  (I hope the runner with one red pole was disqualified! or DNF't).
          Descending towards Thwaite  we were passed by the German /Swiss gang of Thomas Michael and Guido ,moving like the clappers considering how icy the flagstones were. Dave advised letting them go as it was not worth breaking our necks trying to keep up . Ten minutes later he was proved right as Michael had skidded and badly twisted his foot.
           The contouring path between Thwaite and Keld was as tricky as I remembered from 2013. boulders ,mud, steep slopes and tricky navigation. We had been on the go for 24  hours and were falling asleep on our feet. Beyond Keld the trail climbs and we knew we needed sleep before climbing onto the exposed slopes of Tan Hill.  All the barns and sheep folds we passed were shut so we decided to Bivi on a bank above the trail protected by a stunted tree. Rain was still pattering down so I used my running poles ,tape and Pertex top to build a rain deflector so I could get into by bag and keep things dry. The system worked but I could not sleep due to Dave's snoring and other passing runners asking if we were ok.. Two hours later I was woken by Dave who had given up trying to sleep because of the rain and my snoring. Dave had been unable to wake me and was about to head off alone.
          It is almost impossible to know how much sleep you actually get on the spine as you can't monitor yourself.
          On again playing catch up with Dave . Tan Hill Pub was closed but hot drinks were available in the pub porch. Dave stayed for a while and I pushed on alone for 100m before turning back to retrieve my over mitts which I had left in the porch.
          The Bogs past Tan Hill  were shrouded in fog making night  navigation a nightmare. I frequently found myself off trail ploughing a furrow through virgin bog. The main trail kept disappearing and it was impossible to tell if it had disappeared to left or right. On the plus side the bogs were easy for me to run in as they cushioned my bruised feet.  I overhauled several of the runners who had passed me at the Keld Bivi.  After dawn broke the trail on to Middleton (CP3) passed surprisingly fast.

   Middleton About 150 miles done.
          My CP routine was getting more slick and I was pleased to be able to wolf down two main meals  and a slice of Cheese /ham on toast that had landed Cheese side down on the Kitchen floor. My eating habits were getting more disgusting by the day which bode well for my energy levels towards the end of the race .  The sleeping was less of a success as it was still daylight and one of the Checkpoint Marshals (on normal 24 hr clock) kept bursting into the dorm telling jokes and sitting on runners trying to sleep.  Eventually a gruff : "Can you keep the noise down please!" did the trick. I think I may have got perhaps 2 hrs sleep before waking ,stuffing down another main meal, breakfast ,toast and snacks then back through Middleton via the Chip Shop to the trail.
           Happily munching a bag of chips with double salt I headed along the  fast trail beside the river and waterfalls towards Cauldron Snout. This was an area I had by passed last year but I had visited it during the summer in 2013.  By now it was dark so it was difficult to stay on trail as the path is covered in large boulders for long stretches for the 2km before Cauldron Snout itself. This are is best negotiated using hands and feet together and takes ages to pass. The rocks were ice free this year which made it safer than last year. Finally I reached Cauldron Snout itself where the trail is a steep scramble close to roaring waters. I became aware that my pack felt strange . I wanted to push on but decided to take a look.    I had not fastened the top clips properly at CP3 , the whole top section had become un zipped
leaving my dry bag with all my gear about to fall out and roll into the river . I had come within seconds of a disaster which would have put me out of the race!
          The next section of the trail rises slowly up to High Cup Nick.  I dowsed my torch to look back for following runner's. I calculated the next two lights were about 20 mins behind me. Time to push a little harder so the following runners would not  have the advantage of hanging on my navigating. Spidermans  Competitive nature was starting to  make his presence felt.
          There was a few inches of snow at High Cup Nick making the crossing of the melt water stream in the hanging valley tricky.  Tracks went off in all directions as runners tried different lines . At this point the two following runners caught me up. Guido and Thomas.  To our left was a sheer drop into an invisible abysses  I was glad the wind and ice was not so bad.   The trail down to Dufton is long and straight turning into slippery grass and mud as we lost altitude. I let the Swiss/German pair push ahead.
           I was greeted at Dufton at 3am  by a Marshal saying that Conditions on Cross Fell were severe and my race clock  had been stopped till 7am when we would be teamed up for the next section. Good news for me as I could sleep in the Buss Shelter . Thomas and Guido had already  set up camp in the ladies toilets.
           7.30 am and the A Team Heads For Cross Fell.

           Having run through the 2013 Cheviot Blizzard with Thomas I was delighted to be teamed up with him again for the traverse of Cross Fell . Thomas is an immensly  powerfull athlete and one you can utterly depend on if faced with the prospect of 2m snow drifts and high winds on high remote passes. We discussed our tactics : Go real slow as we gained altitude so we had plenty in reserve for the exposed ground on the tops.
            As it turned out the temp had risen greatly since the night and most of the snow had melted. We made good progress despite the low cloud base. The wind peaked at about 30 mph gusts on Cross Fell .The descent towards Gregs Hut was a little more difficult as any flagstones we encountered were covered i a layer of melting ice . We made better progress by running in the boggy heather besides the flags.

             Gregs Hut.

              We had made such good progress that we arrived at the hut before the fire had been stoked up by John Bamber to cook our Noodles.   I was impatient to push on and bolted down my half cooked noodles before trotting off  down the rutted track towards Garrgill.
              Spiderman  wanted to loose Guido and Thomas before Alston.
               The Green Dragon Pub in Garrgill was boarded up and closed ( Possibly due to  complaints about  wild animals in the bar made to the public health dept by a distraught Couple in Jan 2013?) .
The village shop /post office was open. Just behind the peeling paint door I was greeted by a 1950's decor shop. I bought two slices of egg and ham pie and expected to be asked for my ration coupons. Later I was to regret not buying a few tins of Spam and Corned Beef while I was there.
              CP 4 was in a different location from last year but I was assured it would be well signed . The Spine CP signs pointed up a track which promptly divided in two then divided again . So much for signage! I got out my map and navigated towards the CP. My phone rang: It was Jenn who had dropped out and was monitoring my tracker on line. " You are going the wrong way she said!" SHIT I turned around and took another turning to the west only to find myself standing on a Golf Course . The tracker updating was delayed and Jenn could no longer tell which direction I was going in . SOD IT I am going back to my first choice of route and rely on my own navigation. I had been correct in the first place and delayed  by 10 Min's ,  I fell through the CP door. I later learnt that the GPS way point track to the CP had been wrong leading any runner relying on GPS on a Wild  Goose Chase.
               This time there were  only two of us in the Dorm . I crept silently in and lay on the top bunk for a good 3 hrs sleep. One hour later : Bang the light one foot from my head was switched on as the other runner needed  the light to noisily  prepare his pack for the next leg. I was absolutely furious it was so unnecessary. There were very few runners in the CP and it would have been so easy for him to get ready outside or at least quietly by torch light! The damage was done so I grumped back to the Food area to stuff myself for the next leg as the other runner departed the CP.

             Alston to Bellingham

            6pm .---Leaving CP4  the PW passes to the west of Alston. In retrospect I should have gone into Alston to shop for more food. As it was  I pushed on gradually speeding up determined to pass the runner who had woken me . The trail meanders up Westward onto the sides of the moor and high boggy ground. Soon I spotted lights . Two runners were wandering about among steep banks in the dark . They called out" don,t follow us " and who is that. " Spideman  I replied and put on a spurt of speed to loose them in my wake. I Don't know who they were and rather regretted my juvenile behaviour but I was now switching into race mode hoping to pick off more runners.
          The last high level moorland bog section before Hadrian's wall was Wain Rigg. This is a flat bleak godforsaken place which I was glad to get over with despite making good speed bog trotting.
          The dawn  revealed Hadrian's wall a spectacular high level undulating ridge run. The landscape there is full of history and haunted by imagined  Ghosts . I was running short of real food and had neglected to fill my water bottles. No water was available on the wall so I was running dry. In the far distance I could see lights up on Wain Rig.
             I took out my phone and read various texts from friends following my tracker on line. Mark Brooks had just sent one so I phoned him to get an update of the positions of runners around me .  Mark said I was moving faster than the other runners around me and should catch perhaps 5 more before Bellingham if I kept up the same pace. One runner not far in front had just overshot the turning north away from the wall. While talking I tripped on a mole hill and a sharp pain shot up from my Achilles / calf area. I stopped  then hobbled slowly forward. I was terrified of doing serious damage to my Achilles . As I am self employed several weeks off work is not an option for me .  I panicked and  phoned the Race  Medics to ask that one could meet me at the next  road head. I crawled forward unable to run and now acutely aware of my dehydration and hunger. For the first time since starting The Spine I was worried. Very slowly my Achilles   eased up and I could hobble a bit faster.
            On reaching the Road head some time later I was moving much better. There was no sign of the medics but 500m later they phoned to say they could see me and did I wish to turn back? I was feeling much better and a little foolish. We agreed that I would phone again if it got worse. I also learnt that there were no more road monitoring posts before Bellingham and no water available. Asking about water I was advised to get some from a shop?!!. As far as I was aware the next shop was in Bellingham. I made no comment. A bottle of mucky bog water would have to do for now.

         North of the wall the trail goes into Kielder Forest. This is an area where I got terribly frustrated last year and I was on my guard. The path was much easier to follow this time. I was getting regular reports on other runners from Mark . I was overhauling David Dixon and a group of 3 including Debbie . John Duggan who I had passed at Hadrian's Wall was just behind me . I caught up and passed David then was caught by John who was moving really well.
          The wooded sections of the trail turned into long knee deep muddy rutted rides hemmed in by trees slowing progress into a drunken stagger. We crossed a road and met a runners support crew who said Debbie was just ahead and close to tears because of the mud . Just past the road and the trail got considerably worse. Thank God it was daylight as this section would be near impossible in the dark. The mud cleared and we breathed a sigh of relief only to be Knocked back again by the PW's next vicious twist.  Some form of massive Log Extraction Vehicle had produced ruts 1.5m deep. The central part of the trail was laced with brashings protruding from the silt. All I could do was laugh, weeping just would not help.
          Out of the woods and back onto farm land down to the impassable ford I had encountered last year. This time I was able to spot the footbridge 100m upstream. The path then climbs up to the aptly named : SHITLINGTON HALL where last year the GPS way point had been in the middle of a massive Dung Heap!    I had slowed right down by now having eaten everything readily available in my pack. It was with a sigh of relief that John and I reached the Bellingham CP.

            Bellingham To The Finish.
          I needed a fast turn round at this CP and a good sound sleep. The food was plentiful and varied . Joe Faulkner offered to go shopping for me in Bellingham as I was worried that the Shop would be closed before I set off again. This time I was determined not to be disturbed.  There were two beds in the room ,one already occupied. I wrote a sign saying: Dorm full until 9.30 and stuck it to the door. No one came in and I woke at 8.30 and pushed back out onto the trail leap frogging past the runners who had got to the CP before me.
        Spidrman  the racer was now in full charge and I upped the pace again on the trail towards Byrness my support followers were now giving me regular updates. I had passed several runners at the CP but I was short on sleep and Guido and Thomas were on my tail. By the time I got to Byrness I was falling asleep on my feet due to my gamble of a short sleep at CP5. I sat in the Marshals car at Byrness and napped for about one hour.
          The PW route was impassable just past  the road head and I was given directions for the alternative route through the woods . My brain could not take in such complex directions and I found myself on a path below and parallel to the path I wanted. My path soon vanished into a maze of Brashings and i was forced to head up hill through the Brashings back to the correct path. Two lights behind me heralded the approach of Guido and Thomas.  The Swiss /german pair passed me as we reached the start of the Cheviots. I had been doing some calculations and had worked out that once our 3hr stoppage time was taken into account they could overtake the two runners ahead of us on corrected time . I urged them on but I don't think they understood the situation.  It was misty and cold on the boggy Cheviots so i started to speed up again . I passed a sign to Windy Gyle then came across the old Roman Fort high on the Ridge .  All around me I felt the presence of the Roman Centurians urging me on . I took little diversions to run over the earthworks soaking up energy radiating from the place.  This was it.  I was going to run down the German / Swiss team . Whooping with Joy Spiderman was now in full race mode! I was now moving at a comfortable Marathon Speed . The text's from my supporters kept coming letting me know I was gaining again. Thomas and Guido appeared out of the mist appearing to almost stand still. Now I was really flying . My supporters had been working out the time splits and new that I could get to 7th then 6th place if I kept the pressure up. I was full of energy due to my massive food consumption . The only limit to my speed was the bruising to my feet.
         First one Refuge hut was passed then Windy Gyle . I had run out of water again but expected water at the run through CP at the second hut . I wolfed down a whole 200g Salami which made me even more dehydrated. Up ahead i could see the second  Hut  but no one was in sight.
                             No matter they must be hiding my hyperactive brain said.
                             No one outside   and no one in the hut .
                             My world collapsed  and I sank to my knees and cried . ( mentally flipping from Spiderman to an overtired 3 year old at the end of a long car journey) I wanted water and cheering on .
                                 After a good talking to myself and a pathetic moan to Mark over the phone I walked on up over the last big hill : The Schil. My phone text system had somehow changed into minute writing so I could only read the first few words of each text . My GPS had also go on the blink so I was back to fighting with a soggy map. Gradually I got my shit back together  and headed towards the finish line. My mate Del was giving me updates on Guido and Thomas and I knew I was ahead by time  of the two runners ahead of me . Bar accidents I would come 6th. I got a text saying Charlie was at Auchope Cairn and wondered where he had came from . I was not worried as he was still a long way behind.
         I reached the final road stretch 1k from the finish and tried to read a text from Jenn . It said : "RUUUUNNNNNN!!!!! CHARLIE"    I could not read the rest of the text so ignored it. 5 minutes later as i was re arranging my pack i spotted a fast runner on the road behind me . He was moving far to fast to be a Spine Racer. As he closed I realised I was wrong ( So that's what Jenns Text had ment).
           Charlie swept up and helped me put my pack back on . He offered to run with me but it was instantly obvious that he was way faster than me . His feet were so mashed up that he could only run really fast or stand still. As he pulled ahead i suddenly twigged  what he looked like . It had been bugging me ever since he shot by me earlier in the race . Charlie had a rectangular  massive back pack with a loose flapping yellow cover . Charlie was the spitting image of Buzz Lightyear! He did not actually call out "Too Infinity And Beyond " as he shot up the last hill as full tilt but in my mind he did.
           200m from the Finish, Scott one of the Race Founders came to congratulate me on my second  Spine Finish and together we sprinted to the Pub and finish line for the second time.

             Final thoughts 

          I had finished the Spine For a second time by applying a mind (and pies ) over fitness strategy. I can safely say I enjoyed almost every minute of the Race . I paced myself well and never pushed my body to the edge of its limits. True I had some luck with my feet and the fluke of using Army Surplus Socks .( My  thanks to : SMITH 232 who previously owned them) My Stoppage time at Dufton also boosted my ranking in the results, but at the end of the day I feel that my performance goes to show how a 15 mile a weak seaming tail ender  can mix it with highly trained 150 mile per weak  Sponsored Runners if he uses his head.
           The Spine is a Beautiful Beast and a great leveller.

          Later that night the rest of the runners came in . All had their own stories and the ones at the back had the a rough time on the last night.   The Village hall where most of us ended up was filled with strong emotions . Several people could be seen quietly weeping with their heads in their hands . This race touches people in different ways. I felt privileged to be part of it and just a little bit guilty for enjoying it so much.

          THE DNF
           I have to confess later on the drive back home I had my first DNF of 2014. The course was a flat  100m long concrete overpass . The finish line the Burger King on the other side of the motorway. I DNF't which just goes to show that you do actually need to train for some events.

         And yes Spiderman will return in 2015.

 If you are contemplating entering the Spine Race then you may find My Guide to the Spine Race Useful . I am now up to part 8 of the guide and still writing! Not all I write of will be applicable to you as an individual runner but hopefully The Guide will give you some insights into aspects of the Spine you may not  have considered.
 Your experience as a 100 mile runner may not be enough.
 Good luck and  hopefully see you at the finish line.