Thursday, 10 November 2016

Spine Race Report 2015 part 1 and 2

First things first I have to confess I did not run the Whole Spine Race this year. I missed out the bit between the M62 and CP1. I have asked to be classified as : Non Competitive in the Results. In other words I DNF't the 2015 Spine Race.

So what happened on this EPIC 2015 Race?

I shall start just after Christmas . Training had as usual gone to pot . The longest I had run over the previous 3 months was 30 miles. So much for the back to back long runs , my average mileage was about 20 miles per week.
      Being self employed the post Christmas break never really happens. The customers assume you must attend to their needs as they are on holiday . As happens every year I also get sucked into the mayhem that my customers taking boats to London Boat Show create.
      And then there was THE SPINE. Always creeping into my thoughts when I should be working.
      By the first weak of Jan there was a final push to finish a Canoe and deliver it to Stratford on my way to Edale.

     I had decided to drive up early on the Thursday partly to avoid cross winds on the M4/M5 which can be a problem with a 7.5m Canoe on the roof. I picked up Alli ( a volunteer MST ) and James (Challenger) at Exeter and headed north. My plan was to get to Edale early and use my Van for shuttling people around. James had booked a two bed room in Castleton . My original plan had been to sleep in the van to get the maximum undisturbed sleep pre-race but the offer of a proper bed was to tempting to turn down.
       Registration and Kit Check passed in the usual way and it was good to meet up with Spiners from the previous two years.  We retired early to the B and B intent on an early night. Somehow it never happened as both myself and James Packed and Repacked our running packs. Eventually we finished and put the lights out while failing to shut off the rooms radiator. Neither of us were used to a hot stuffy room so we opened the window slightly only to be kept awake most of the night by the wind and a wheelie bin banging about just across the road. James was up at 4.30 ready for his 6.30 start. I had had almost no sleep ( so much for my blog on sleep loading). We drove into Edale where I handed over my van to the Drop Bag transporting team.
       The Challengers set off on time at about 6.30 but I missed the start as predictably it started to rain and I had to dash off to put on my waterproofs.
       By this time the wind was howling in Edale and god knows what it was like on Kinder Scout. Rhumers came that the MST had tried to postpone the race but the majority of the Challengers had already passed the Control point and could not be halted.
        The main race was due to start at 8.30 but due to the strong winds the start was delayed till 11.30.
         One of the keys to my race plan is to start slow but go fast enough to reach the pub refuelling points. A key to this is the White House Inn . Unfortunately by delaying the start by 3 hrs this made the chances of reaching the pub while they still served food unlikely. I set off with this at the back of my mind and found myself pushing  hard.
         The wind on Kinder Scout was severe  ( gusting 50mph) and blowing from my left. To prevent myself being blown over I carried one pole in my right hand using it to stabilise my body so at any one time I had 2 points contacting the ground. Runners all around me were being blown over but I managed to stay upright without falling for several hours.
         Navigation was by memory and watching others. I remembered the most obvious nav traps. I prefer to use map and compass but the wind made holding a map very difficult.
         I was warm and in control. My only niggle was that I had put on toe socks with compression socks over them and Army Surplus waterproof socks on the outside. None of the layers were Marino Wool and as my feet got damp so they began to cool. My Ronhill Running gloves with the pull over pertex flap were ideal for regulating my body temperature. It was interesting to listen to other runners discussing how long it would take to get to CP1 . The general consensus was it should be about 12 hrs.(not a cat in hells chance) .  Having run the race twice before I knew that 16 hrs would be fast for me and 17 hrs would make for a better recovery and speed for day 2.
          At about 2hrs before the M62 bridge I made my big mistake. I was trundling along quite happily by myself over part frozen flagstones when I came across a wooden plank. my right foot skidded of the plank and before I could recover I found my right foot deep in a flooded culvert. I was just about to tip over onto my back into the water so grabbed the plank , teetered and just managed to haul myself back onto my feet . I paused to assess the damage . My upper  body was mostly  dry but my right leg waist  a gloves and both fore arms were soaked.  I was in trouble but not out for the count. I wrung out my gloves and put on my gortex  over mitt,s .  There was very little shelter so changing my top layers would be difficult.
            I decided to push on and up my pace to increase heat production. This was a high risk strategy as in every ultra I run I tend to get nausea at about 10 hrs into a run which halts my ability to eat and slows me up . One hour after the bog the nausea hit and I was forced to slow down. Just before the M62 there was a road head checkpoint.  This one was manned by my friend Alli Holland. Alli was talking to every runner passing. This was not just a pleasantry what she was actually doing was assessing the state of every runner.  Despite my mumbling that I was fine but just a bit cold I did not pass her scrutiny. "Ian get in that car and warm up now !" Once in the car and wrapped in a foil blanket I realised just how cold I had become. ( Alli later said I was slurring my words ,staggering and looked like shit! Classic early stage Hypothermia) After a couple of hours in the car warming up and trying not to fall asleep one of the Medics turned up and prescribed : a trip by van to CP1. I managed to sip some coke in the car but threw up as soon as I tasted some hot Ribena .
         I shared the car with two runners who had vision problems ( WIND BLINDNESS). The high winds caused continuous eye watering in many runners . If this goes on long enough the tear ducts can,t cope and the surface of the eye dries out causing blurred vision  which is made much worse if trying to run by torch light. This is easily to prevent with goggles or wrapping a buff near your eyes to block the wind flow. Once your vision is affected it won,t get better until you are out of the wind and close your eyes while sleeping. Most runners had worse problems with their left (upwind more exposed eye).
       Three of us were shipped on to CP1 after picking up other casualties at The White House. The Snow came in hard during the drive and I was happy to be warm and dry. By the time I reached the CP I had warmed up and was eating again. I reported to the medics and was told to eat ,rest and sleep . My fate would be decided later .
       Needless to say I got no sleep and reported for inspection before dawn. Was I allowed to carry on? no one could decide . Medically I was ok and my past track record played in my favour. As far as I was concerned I was happy to carry on classed as " Non Competitive". Did I want to be dropped back at the M62 ---sod that! besides the MST had more important concerns than acting as a taxi service for me. Yes I like to be competitive but just taking part in the event was enough to make me want to carry on.
        I checked out before dawn and armed with new dry top ,gloves and Marino socks I pushed on.
        Guido a Swiss competitor I had raced the previous year started the same time as me and we stayed together. I never thought I would like Guido as he is in many ways the opposite to me . His kit is highly organised. His pace is relentless and totally without pause and he always stops at every CP and rests for a min of 3 hrs no matter how tired he is . I tend to be much less disciplined  and move at constantly changing pace. Guido really resents stopping to take a piss and never hesitates in his navigation, constantly checking and re-checking his GPS . Although other runners passed us, by the end of the day the Swiss Method ensured that they were behind us.      A typical example is transiting  gates .  Moving as a pair we closed any gap before opening the gate and re shutting it . Opening a gate and holding it while waiting for the second runner to catch up never happened.
         We pushed on without any other runners in sight for some time pausing only for a short time at Top Withens to check out the locked Bothy. Ponden passed by with some likely looking spots to Bivvi in for 2016 but it was to early to divert to the cafe at Two Laws for breakfast.
        The pace stayed relentlessly the same until the pub at Lothersdale which was a welcome food stop.  The landlord was doing a roaring trade and had even consented to racers entering his pub with their boots on provided they stayed on the mats he had laid over the carpets. No one really wanted to take off their boots and gaiters as the laces and zips were jammed with mud.
          Onwards again towards Gargrave where we overtook another group of runners while they hesitated with their navigation on the tricky stretch after the canal. Five minutes later we saw them ahead as they had come off the PW and taken the direct road rout into town. Gargrave is where  most runners savour the delights of the local Co op .  I stocked up with food for the coming night and we dropped into the Swan Inn for Steak , Chips and a warm fire. By now it was darker and we pushed on again reeling in other runners who had passed us while we were in the pub  . The run through to Malham was plain sailing with no nav errors and I took over control traversing the technical section above  Malham Cove. Our luck was in  as the wind dropped  we picked our way over the slippery  leg breaking  rocks above the crags.

         Not long afterwards we came to CP1.5 I did not know what to expect in the way of shelter but it proved to be a large room with tables and chairs manned by the ever cheerful  John Bamber. We checked in and out saying that we would Bivvi in the woods just past the CP. This was not strictly true as I had a plan which involved luxury accommodation.  The previous year I had noticed a sign just past the CP saying : Bird Hut. On investigation this proved to be a weather tight hut with tables and chairs. I planned to sleep there in 2015 but expected it might be full as Spiners doing a Recce of the course should have found the hut prior to this years race.
          We quietly opened the door to find the hut occupied by Joe Faukner and Mark Rawlinson.  The two of them where in their sleeping bags at either end of the hut with all their kit draped over chairs and benches. There was no where to put down another sleeping bag without moving some of their kit.  It was instantly obvious that we were not exactly welcome, they were trying to sleep and our arriving and faffing about caused friction. Guido had his head bitten off when he offered to move some of their gear then I made things much worse by firing up my Pocket Rocket to make some food.  "For f---s sake there is a f----ing kitchen next door !!!" came an exasperated voice. My brain was so addled that I actually looked for one attached to the hut before realising that he was referring to CP 1.5.  Fair point I thought and settled into my bag food less listening to the wind howling outside. Anyone Bivvying outside was in a far worst state than me.
          Mark and Joe departed a few hours later before Guido and I got up and cooked breakfast. I think there was another runner on the floor when we finally left the hut.
          The next part of the course winds over Fountains Fell. As my natural pace is slightly faster than Guido,s I fell in behind him so as to not drag him along over-paced. This method works well as we were together at all the gates and the tail runner can cross check the navigation. It was apparent that the grip on Guido,s shoes was worse than mine . I virtually never lost my footing but Guido often fell which gradually takes it,s toll on physical and emotional energy levels. At one point he hit the deck coating his GPS in mud. The Swiss marching method never paused and at the next puddle Guido towed his hand and GPS through a puddle without pausing to rinse the mud. During this manoeuvre I walked beside him supporting the tip of his running pole while he wiped his gloves. We were making good progress.
           Fountains Fell was windy as hell !! Guido just ahead was getting regularly knocked off his feet and visibly tiring . We swapped places with me acting as a wind break and Guido tight behind in my wind shadow. I slowed right down as the ground fell away down wind and the descending  path was covered with boulders. Walking down hill on rough ground is always slower in adverse conditions.
          At last we were off the fell and climbing up the track towards Pen -y-gent. We were met by the MST huddled in a Land rover at the track junction. The rout over Pen-y-gent had been closed as the 100mph winds on the tops made the mountain un_cross able. A low level path to Horton was to be taken  and a member of the MST escorted us to the turn off . I unlatched the small hunting gate to the left. Nothing happened it appeared to be still caught. Further inspection while being blasted by the wind revealed that it was the wind holding it shut. I heaved with all my might holding it open and was almost shot backwards through the opening. Guido followed me through and we both descended down a rocky path straight into the wind holding our bodies at 45 degrees to the vertical to stay on our feet. I have never in my life been in such strong winds and was glad when we eventually got off the exposed ground and onto the road to Horton.
          The Cafe at Horton was a hive of activity and had been serving food all last night. Unknown to us the race had been halted for a while due to the winds exceeding 70mph and many runner had been held at Horton and Malam (This was probably when we had been crossing Fountains Fell). No choice here for food ,it had to be the Full English Breakfast. Guido who has raced in many countries and organises a long Ultra in Switzerland told me that;"  No way would this race have been held in any other country in these conditions! "   " YOU BRITISH ARE ABSOLUTELY CRAZY!"
          After about an hours pause we pushed on to Haws fastening all the gates which the group of runners ahead of us had left un latched. The Cam road was windy as expected but at least the footing was good.  We hauled in another group of runners just before descending into Haws.
            I should mention a bit about our pace . As I was no longer an active competitor I was able to mentally take a better look at every ones pace and what I observed surprised me . I have talked in the past about : walking the hills , jogging the flats and down hills.  The reality is that this only happens on day one and even then slippery trails ,ice and rocks prevents running on most of the down hills . I doubt I jogged more than 20 % of the time on day one and walked the 95% of the time on every day except the last. (you won,t get this impression from most of the runners blogs as it feels that you are moving faster than that and it,s the bits you Jog that stick in your head).
          Haws was full of bodies ,kit bags , noise and celebrating Challengers.

Not my bet angle but good use of a Benie to cut out the light.
 In the past I would have pushed straight on only stopping one hour to eat. This time in my non racing capacity I was willing to try the Swiss Method . Food , change of clothing 3 hrs  sleeping then push on. I got no sleep but then again I remembered the previous year when Dave Lee and myself were forced to Bivvi in the rain before Tan hill due to lack of sleep. Dusk fell as we departed Haws. No other runners lights could be seen as we toiled up Shunner fell . We missed the junction half way up the fell but having done the same thing last year I was looking for the junction and as soon as the path levelled out Knew we were wrong. We cut right and up though a maize  of sink holes till we regained the PW. The temperature was dropping as we reached the top and the flagstones were dotted with random patches of ice which were hard to spot. As we reached the descent I asked Guido to pass me my poles . Shit I had left them in my drop bag at CP2. I borrowed a pole from Guido as progress would have been dangerous without one.
          Guido was gradually slowing down and the Icy slabs were freaking him out. I kept finding myself in front which made things worse so I let him go in front. We have both done the Spine before and were familiar with the issues of running in teams. We were big boys and knew that if we stopped working well together working  then the faster runner would have to shoot the slower runner and feed him  to the Huskies!  Guido was now complaining that his head was not right and things were not good. The final descent from Shunner fell is wet and slippy making things even worse for Guido.

            At about 10pm that night I shot Guido .

            There was no ceremony or argument we both knew how this worked . As there were no hungry Huskies  I bundled Guido,s lifeless body into a waiting MST car at Thwaite and pushed on. 20 minutes later I considered shooting myself as I struggled along the  endless contouring muddy track before Keld.  I was back solo again and having to move my navigation up a level to hold things together . I guess my pace was faster without Guido and  I was surprised to realise that I was not that sleepy.
         Tan hill passed Then   onwards  making short work of the bogs on Washfold Rigg. I had a sort of plan : keep moving all the way to Middleton. If the wheels started to come off there was always the shooters shelter hut just 2 km past the A66 to sleep in . As it was I just poked my head into the shelter to see if it was unlocked . I passed several runners at the hut and powered on over Cotherstone Moor where the path becomes very indistinct. I was met at the road held by a cheerful Tom Jones now in his MST roll.
         The next 10 km past quickly appart from the last climb up Harter Fell which always seems unfair as I know the  road to Middleton is almost level. There was snow on the ground and the sun was shining which allowed me to indulge in one of my favourite Spine Pastimes : Snow tracking , trying to work out the order of the runners ahead of me and who was dragging their feet.
         I stocked up with pies at  Middleton then  passed  Joe and Mark  heading out. On checking in I was informed of the 10pm Cow Green cut off and the new  diversion avoiding the Flooding and icy boulders at Cauldron Snout.  I was in for a short sleep and plenty of food. Just before heading out i found the new shortcut was not on my map. I was given the new GPS waypoints but could not work out how to put them into my GPS. A helper in the room offered to put them in for me . 20 mins later he had only managed to put 2 in the unit and declared our present location was 600m out! I was rapidly loosing confidence in his ability to use my Garmin. After another 20 mins I was climbing up the walls . I wanted my GPS back preferably without anything he had put in . (in all fairness he was only trying to help and I was in no condition to do any better). 
        40 mins later I was sprinting through Middleton with a now much tighter 10pm cut off in my mind. I promptly got lost trying to locate the path alongside the River Tees . I found myself wading through deep flooded fields and climbing stone walls and barbed wire. Eventually I found the path and made good progress.  The MST appeared at the start of the diversion which was marked with a few arrows and glow sticks. Fortunately the snow halted on the field sections as the glow sticks marking the trail were so far apart as to be invisible in low viz. I also noticed that the Cows eyes were the same colour as the glow sticks but the cows tended to wander about. Once through the field system it was back onto a long snow covered road. The wind and snow was in my face and without a map and any idea of how far I had to go  the slog on to Cow Green felt like it lasted for ages and was all up hill. Things were not helped by the Chorus of Bob Dylan,s 'Shelter from the storm' endlessly playing in my head.
           Cow Green checkpoint was a large camper van, warm with hot drinks and the news that the Dufton /Cross Fell route had been closed and we were being diverted again west to Alston. This time the MST re programmed my GPS and gave me instructions. I would be OFF MAP for all this section and that makes me nervous as the OS 1:50,000 scale map on my GPS is difficult to read when under pressure.
         Back out onto the trail again and into the teeth of a snow storm. My Kit was working well ,I was warm and dry , my eyes were protected and I had plenty of food. The wind slowed me up but the path was good until the last part when it descended off the road onto a rutted snow covered nightmare of a track . At least I had footprints to follow where they were not covered by fresh snow which helped my mood. The muddy path eventually turned onto a road which was a short lived relief . At one point I hit a patch of sheet ice scidded for two meters down the hill then hit the deck backwards with some force. This is typical of what the race throws at you . Just as you relax ---Wham! Falling will always cost you a huge amount in energy at many levels . The grip of your shoes can make or break you on The Spine Race. As a general rule I prefer good grip on rock which is what my Solomon XT Wings gives me . Shoes like Solomon Speedcross are better in mud but it,s hard falls on rock that can put you out of the race.
         This year I remembered the rout to CP4 and was relieved to arrive and get a shower and well earned sleep. The race was to change again as much as the tone of part 2 of this blog.

Part Two Of My Race Report
                                            Can get a bit surreal in places but once you have covered over 150miles with very little sleep then 'surreal becomes normal.
          Alston CP was packed when I arrived . I sat down and disrobed near the entrance. The hot air and bustle takes the wind out of you when you arrive at some CP,s. Nici bossed me around and dispatched me towards the Kitchen while she gathered up my strewn belongings. My drop bag got as far as just across from CP Mission control and that's where it stayed.  First thing food then shower then sleep.
        I found a bed upstairs in a dorm called Cauldron Snout, climbed into my bag and found myself sweating in the stifling dorm heat. I got up and opened the window a crack. The wind was really howling outside but at least a little fresh air came in .
          Time for sleep.  Just as I was dowsing off someones alarm went off.  All the  occupants  of the dorm ignored it hoping the owner would switch it off.  It soon stopped  but not long afterwards Beep Beep again. No owner around!  This time I got up and inspected the pile of kit on the opposite bunk. It was somewhere about ---- The alarm stopped . the little bastard had detected me coming and shut off again. 30 mins later and with adrenalin pumping through my body I was ready to pounce!  Beep Beep Beep -- got the little bugger! A Samsung shock proof phone just like mine( it was playing dead hoping I would go away).  I grabbed it and took it outside into the corridor. I have never used the alarm setting so did not know how to make it shut up. Still it was outside now and in plain view should it,s owner pass by . Back to bed then 30 Min's and beep beep beep again. Its surprising just how loud an alarm is when you are listening for it! By now I was starting to wonder just how shock proof the little bastard was! One last chance and it would be a one way trip to the toilet . Luckily its owner turned up just in  time saving it from a watery grave.
        I gave up trying to sleep and wandered down to the dining area. Everyone was wondering what would happen next. The race had been stopped and the race mentality had been put on hold. This lead to some unusual displacement behaviour. All the time more runners were arriving at the CP.
          As we could no longer overtake other runners on the course some competitors had resorted to dropping glasses and cups on the flood in order to destroy the feet of the competition! (this is evidently one of the first signs of Cabin Fever!)  The Medics had set up a defencive camp under the stairs ready to fend off runners if things started to  get really out of hand.
         More food then back to mission control. Everyone was going a bit stir crazy. The chief medic had put  Del Boy the  Pelican mascot into intensive care. Del Boy now had kinisio tape on each of his blistered  feet , a bandage on his wing and somehow she had made a miniature  plasma drip to sort out hydration problems!
         We then got the news that the race had been halted indefinitely as heavy snow had been forecast. There would be an update later that day. Only one thing for it ---start eating in earnest.  The Kitchen staff were doing a great job under horrendous pressure . It was like a mass rehearsal for Oliver Twist with runners appearing at the serving hatch every few seconds with empty bowls saying : "Can I have some more please".  With the unexpected build up of runners provisions would soon run out and we could expect a rapid descent into Cannibalism!
         Nici the omnipresent Mission Controller had a plan . A daring raid  along snow covered icy roads on the nearest Morrisons. Once assured that we would not starve I retreated to bed again . This time I slept in my bag liner with the bag on top. The window was shut again so we all played a game of : Share the Respiratory Coughing Virus.  News reached the dorm that we had to be ready for a 6.30 am mass restart. I finally fell fast asleep.
           5.30 and up and get ready. gathering up lost kit and now dry wet kit from various radiators proved interesting. The lace on my shoe had frayed so I replaced it with my last spare nylon chord. The consensus was that the day would start fairly well (In Spine Weather Terms) then go down hill at around dusk . The phrase " Go down hill " was always rather worrying during The Spine Race.
          All outside and we were off . (several headed off the wrong way within the first Km) I was surprised how the main pack stayed together for some hours. Granted there were a few who broke away in front.  I found myself running with Richard Lendon. Richard kept muttering that most of the pack were running over pace trying to keep up with the good navigators. The whole idea of someone trailing on an others coat tails really bugged him!  This was not what the second half of the Spine should feel like. There were far to many runners in sight.  By Greenhead some hours later we were a little more spaced out. We crossed the main road and turned right down an old road to the YHA and a new compulsory CP. A quick toilet stop and an offer of black Coffe ( Which I can,t Stand)  and I was off again back up the road.  I did consider a Pub stop but decided to push on. Some runners had cut the corner shaving about 1km off the course which was a bit annoying.  I trundled over the edge of  golf course  trying not to trash the ground and headed on along Hadrians wall. losing my way at the start among the Car Parks.
            I was now moving with several other runners, fighting the increasing wind as we pushed eastwards . As the wind was from behind and from our right hand side we had to take special care on the descents.  At one point My map came out of it,s case and flew through the air only to alight half way down a crag and sit there laughing at me ! " Sod you OS map I have Mr Harvey in my drop bag " my brain shouted. The pace kept on at a steady rate and runner,s came and went, By the time dusk came the wind was howling again and freezing horizontal rain set in . This weather persisted all the way to Bellingham wearing down the less strong runners and spreading the field still further.
           Considering everything I was in good shape . My only kit niggle was the cuff mitt joint at my wrists . My Dry bag mitts kept the water out but the cuff adjustment was cumbersome and it was difficult to get a watertight seal. The result was that as I tend to move with my hands in a low position water was draining from my sleeve into my Mitts.
          By the time I had passed through the forest and reached Shitlington I was looking for shelter so I could sort myself out. I knew that there was some pace near a Falconry centre that catered for pennine walkers but not exactly where it was . Then I came upon a sign saying :SPINE PITSTOP . I was near, but in the dark did not know which building it was and if it would be open . I pushed on reaching a long road and re-aranged my glove system. A few minutes later i discovered I had dropped one of my waterproof mitts. This was a typical Spine Dilema faced by many runners : You have dropped a piece of kit , you don,t know exactly where , It,s pitch black, your kit is black, Its so windy it may have blown far from the trail.  What do you do?--------   In the event I back tracked for 50 m then gave up looking. Now I was really pissed off with the relentless wind and rain , for the first time all week I was feeling low. Still I was not far from Bellingham so I pushed on holding one hand inside my Gortex Shell rather like a wet Napoleon Bonaparte.
        Just before Shitlington Crags I came to a swollen stream . I searched up and down stream looking for a better crossing point before plunging into the icy ,fast flowing water  It came to way above my knees and could be safely categorised as dangerous especially as there was a wire fence just below it. If I had been a lighter build I may have been in trouble .  Still I survived and made a mental note to tell any MST of it,s danger. ( it is part of a runners responsibility to keep the MST informed of any possible dangerous areas of the trail. It is then up to them to take any  additional  action.)
          Not far now till Bellingham and the trail passed through some farms then through some ones Patio before rejoining a road. It was on said patio that I slipped and nearly fell again narrowly avoiding becoming an : " Unexpected item in the Patio area!" Grinning inanely to myself i eat up the final miles to CP5  pushing hard to stay warm and promptly overshot the CP . For some reason I was looking out for signs to an adventure centre and motored straight passed the Montane Banners outside the campsite. I phoned Mission Control and Nici , bless her directed me back the 500m to the CP.
          CP 5 the campsite is not organised the way a tired runner want,s it. There was no indication of which door to enter so after a false start I was sent to the Sleeping/ Wet kit off area.  we had to strip off wet kit as silently as possible then paddle across a wet car park carrying wet kit over to Mission Control and the feeding area. Once there it was outside again for the Toilets and drying room.  The drying room was packed with wet kit. It could have been much worse but many runners gave up trying to locate it and carried on with wet kit. I found a drying frame under the massed garments and perched it on top of a washing machine. At least I had all my kit well marked and together . I could count at least 6 pairs of OMM black over trousers.  Sorting out what  belonged  to who would be a nightmare as each incoming runner shifted gear around looking for dry space.
          At least the food was good . Again the cooks were churning it out and still smiling. Did they ever actually sleep I wondered?  My Plan was 3 hrs sleep and push on but before I got into my bag Keri arrived with my lost Mitt.
          It,s not unusual for Gloves, poles and hats to get to the finish line independently from their original owners. I had found another glove just before the forest and reunited it with it,s owner.
          Up again early for the next leg. My feet had swelled another 1/2 size so I swapped  up  to a size 12 shoe(Having starting the race in size 11,s) I was able to donate my spare lace from my size 11.5,s to a runner who,s Solomon lace had broken.
          I soon fell  in the company with Paul Orton our pace was well matched and it was good to have company . Paul was getting wound up by the slow boggy progress and wind . he tried re-folding his map which fought back and completely lost his temper. I was looking forward to the forest tracks before Byrness but first we had to get there . The ground was far more boggy than I remembered from last year. The navigation was going well and we were soon overtaking other runners including Joao a Portuguese runner with a permanent smile .

         Joao had the misfortune to have all his race kit mislaid by the airline on his flight to the uk. A call was sent out and he was swamped with offers of kit . Fortunately he was re-united with his own kit just before the race and somehow managed to keep smiling through the whole process. Early in the race Joao managed to rip his over trousers which were then blown apart by the wind . Someone donated a spare pair which he also managed to destroy. By the time Paul and I overhauled him at Brownrigg Head he was on his third pair. This time the  donator  had studied his past form and loaned  him a pair of Bright orange hi viz  workman's indestructible  trousers which he was delighted with. We passed him and asked it he was there to repair the boggy trail .
         Ahead now was the forest track . It was just up the last hill , easy really. Like hell it was ! the trail disintegrated  into a boggy muddy root strewn mire hemmed in on all sides by conifers. There was no escape , the Spine was laughing at us . Paul tripped on a submerged root , fell in the mud and completely lost his rag again !  Somehow I just kept on my feet and we stumbled onto solid ground.
         The path to Byrness was  fast and easy we were passed and re passed several runners including Keri and her partner , New Zealand  runners who hated running in cold conditions and was as determined to never do the Spine again, as she was to finish the  Spine Race.

. We had a pit stop at the Forest View Lodge in Byrness where the owners dished up plates of soup ,  bangers and mash and tea. This they did for free for what must have been over 100 runners and support staff. If you plan do do a recce for the 2016 race this is the place to stay ( They also will drop you off at different points on the PW).         Richard Lendon has set up a JUST GIVING page in aid of their favourite charity as they have refused payment  for their magnificent hospitality ! I re-uinited the lost glove with it,s owner. 
          Once we had climbed out of Byreness and out into the open hills of the Cheviot,s the sun came out and the views were breath taking. There was a dusting of snow on the ground but it was crusted in ice . The ruts in the trail and slabs were coated in compacted snow and bounded by tussock grass making progress a little slow. I had mentioned to Paul that I like to increase my pace on this last leg so we could well split up . As it was Paul pulled ahead then stopped to put on his Yack Tracks.  Despite previous years heavy snow I had never used my Yack Tracks and regarded them as a bit of a gimmick. However minutes later Paul shot past me shouting" these are brilliant" . I dug into the bottom of my pack where I kept my Yack Tracks and put them on . He was right they were brilliant! I was now able to move fast on the flat compacted icy snow and sheet ice covering the slabs. True they took a bit of getting used to but they also worked on grass and contrary to my pre-conceptions you did not have to keep taking them on and off. It also helped that my XT Wings have a sole that splays outwards at the sides ,perfect for keeping the Yack Tracks in place . At one point one side came loose so I took it off and could move even faster  with traction on one foot and a little forethought on foot placement.
              The Ice gradually thinned out and I took  the Yack Tracks  off now thoroughly converted . Interestingly Richard Lendon tried a less solid type of traction aid which fell off soon after he put them on .
              Talking of Richard , he was there again fretting about other peoples navigation and winding himself up . While this was going on Paul overtook us just past Hut one and with the bit between his teeth promptly marched on fast and Lemming like south down a path called The Street. Richard tried to shout to him but he was to far away and moving fast 180 degrees away from Kirk Yetholm. (It is incredibly easy to pick up speed on the wrong path and finally  destroy your racing spirit).
              The rest of us pushed on with Richard and Simon taking the lead. I was finding the slabs, , increasing wind and dropping temperature hard work and resolved to move at my own ( Non Competitive ) pace . All I wanted to do was reach Hut Two by dusk as I knew how hard nights on the Cheviots can be .  The wind and wind chill factor was rising all the time. i rounded the corner at West Cairn Hill and passed Auchape Cairn. Just past the cairn was a snow field with deep footprints but I soon discovered that the surface was frozen and one slip would have meant sliding down into Hen Hole!
 This was seriously dangerous ground and that was in daylight . On arrival at the second MR hut I passed this information on to Tom Jones and his team who were heading on to Hut one Of all the places on the whole of the Pennine Way Hut two is special . This is  a Hut that probably saved my life during the 2013 Spine Race and I offered up a prayer of thanks as I departed the Hut.
              By now dusk was falling and it was possible to see the lights of the runners behind me . Although  I was not officially racing I still did not want anyone to overtake me just before the finish line . Up the Schil then down towards the road the lights appeared to be closing in . I started to play silly buggers. I would put my hand over my head torch and spin around to gauge if the light was closing the gap. On climbing the final hill I turned my beam right down then eventually off so as not to give my follower a target to chase. On cresting the hill it was full beam again and a sprint to the line . My third but not official finish of the Spine Race .  A small welcome party came out of the Pub to greet me. The welcome Drink and food at the pub was as better than usual. In previous years my electrolyte balance had been all wrong so my taste buds malfunctioned.
           . I always intend to greet the runners following me in but somehow I never have the energy. The atmosphere is a bit strange as the Spine Finishers are mixed in with the normal pub crowd. Just occasionally runners can reach the pub with no one to greet them till they get through the door. Staying awake in the warm Pub is not easy.
            Finishers were still arriving many hours later having spent a chilly night out on the Cheviots. Most of the earlier finishers retired to the Village Hall just up the road where the atmosphere was one of  pleasure ,relief and an understanding of how each other was feeling. Even if you had never come across another runner on the Course the shared experience makes them part of your Spine Family.
           We each had faced our own trials both external and internal and non one would be ever the same again.

Before I finish this blog I would like to congratulate several individuals who received awards.

          Firstly Scott and Stew for Keeping the whole show on the road. Scott deserves an extra award for devising a time score correction algorithm so complex it is now used as part of the GCHQ code section entrance exam. ( but then you only wanted to finish and were not worried about your time right?)

         Paul Orton  wins the Spine flight of the Lemming navigation award having just beat Roberto Rovelli  on Km lost ( I think it was Roberto who failed twice to see the signed diversion to Horton)

         Sukhee Parf wins the Combined : Lost in Translation, Balls of Steel, Ignorance is Bliss . Award for failing to understand the MST instructions and crossing Pen-y-ghent in winds way over 70mph then shortcutting ,missing out Horton and arriving at Haws looking a bit wind blown.

         The RSPCA have awarded  Tim Laney 3 points on his fell runners licence for a full speed collision with a Cow! ( The runner claimed in court that he thought the Cow was just another hallucination . The Cow who cannot be named for legal reasons denied being dressed at the time  in : A pink Tutu , Unicorn Horn Tiara and spangly red nail varnish. .I may just have added the bit about the Tiara. 

        Joao Colaco wins the contract from Byrness District Council to upgrade a 20 Km section of The Pennine Way.

       Mark Rawlinson  wins the Grumpy Bird Hut Troll  award.

         I win the MSR inconsiderate use of a 'Pocket Rocket" award. (I had considered asking Mark to present the Trophy until it dawned on me that he may have his own ideas on where to shove it!)

         The " Let,t trash the reputation of the Spine Race Award" is awarded to the runner/runners who passed through a field of horses just before Malam then exited the field leaving the gate to the road wide open. This award is to be presented by the irate or rather livid farmer who then spent most of Sunday night (at the gate) confronting every runner who subsequently passed!

        Darren Hunt is to be congratulated for passing his Degree in Herding Cats. And his excellent thesis on: the MST ,  Unpredictable runners and a 268mile, 7 day mountain rescue operation.

         The catering staff win the  How Do The Do That Without Sleeping Award.

         The Medics win a life time supply of Kinesio Tape.

          Chief Medic Anna has been awarded a GMC Merit award for her pioneering work saving the life of  Del Boy , the Pelican. ( He is Physically recovering well but has been diagnosed with PTSD : 'Post Traumatic Spine Disorder.' He is now in therapy and should have recovered by Jan 2016.)
                                                Photo by Nici of trauma victim.

         Nici , Assistant Scary Lady and all the unseen helpers win a HUGE HUG from all the Runners.

         Pavel for demonstrating yet again that it is possible to reach CP3 without sleep then go on to win again. (Just how near is Transylvania to Czechoslovakia?).

       Finally I should say thanks from me for another brilliant race .
           Once again I should add :  I will be Back  . 

     But remember: What goes on The Spine , Goes On Facebook!

        So watch out I may be taking notes! 


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