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.http://drakeh3.org/
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!
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.
THE SPINE IS NOT A CONVENTIONAL ULTRA!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.