Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Spine Race report 2016

It,s the Monday after my 3rd finish of :The Spine and my body is still in shock.
My feet are making Progress , the left one is now down to size 12.5 but the right is still size 14 . Still a way to go to fit into my now normal size 11.
 Perhaps it,s only me but as I get older my feet seem to be growing. I Strongly suspect that  after every Spine I do my feet never really shrink back to normal.
 Two small blisters are no problem but the Arthritis from the old breaks in my big toes make walking an issue. I am still not fit to be let loose on the world yet . Today has been all about washing ,sorting,eating and checking face book.  

 The first Blog I ever wrote was my 2013 Spine Race Report. After that I sort of got carried away. The same thing applies to anyone who enters the Spine or Challenger. 

             Part of the draw of this race is the absolute certainty that YOU MAY NOT FINISH!

  This may appear strange to a Spine outsider but for me it,s the overcoming of the obstacle's in my path to the finish line that give me the Buzz. It,s all about the journey.
   I do this race for the fun of it,s challenge and that,s my bottom line.

 Having poured so many of my thoughts about the race into The Spine Race Guide there are some out there who perhaps think of me as an expert on the race. This is far from the truth . I am only the one stupid enough to put so many of my thoughts on line then stand back to receive incoming fire! Looking at the race from a lateral thinking viewpoint is the way my head works. This is fairly typical of a Dyslexic and perhaps gives me an edge in a world where Dyslexics are looked down on as just bad spellers or worse still ;'stupid'

       Lining Your Ducks Up ?

 As a Spine Contender The Guide  may give you help in choosing your Ducks and advise on the order in which to line them up .
The actual race is all about how you as a competitor cope with your Ducks being randomly slaughtered!      (interesting to see how google translate copes with that paragraph)

 Back To The Actual Race.
What did I  Tweak on my forth start line for the 2016 Spine race?

Last year I blew my first day by bad prep. Having written a blog on why I was now under pressure to get it right.

Step 1 Drive up from Devon on Thursday so I could relax Friday.Book into Edale YHA Thursday night with the intention of sleeping in my van Friday night somewhere quiet . 
I was determined to sleep well before the race. (As it was I got offered a bed in the Moorland centre on Thursday night which was more sociable). Friday was spent helping set up the race start then ferrying runners from the station to the YHA in my van. Kit Check went smoothly with no major Que,s and old friends were met. 
I got away early friday night and parked up in a quiet spot on the road towards Jacobs Ladder.
Sleep Issue Sorted.

Next issue ---socks
Last year I had leaky sealskins without a Marino sock liner . Not this time , I was trying Dexshell Waterproof socks with a Marino liner and Injini toe sock second liner. 
I like this option as the pace  of day one cause the seeds of blisters which can haunt you and grow for the rest of the race. Three socks gives me maximum blister protection and the option to go down to two pairs as my feet swell.

Shoes.-----taking a risk!

  About 5 weeks earlier I bought a pair of Hoka Speed Goats (size 12 ). The grip on rock was good , the sole not to wide and the cushioning superb.  However there had been whispers that the uppers don,t last. Whats more Michael a German competitor I knew informed me that the soles on a friends pair had split.
My other issue with the Speed Goats is that the sole is continouous from toe to heel so any under foot Gaiter strap would be in continuous contact with the trail. I had already removed the webbing strap from my gaiters as this has proved to host lumps of compacted snow.

Baselayer Change

After reading good reports about the Brynje Thermo string shirts I decided to try one. In normal Spine racing conditions I don,t have a problem with the cold unless my body stops generating heat. I thought that perhaps the string shirt might be a better heat/weight garment. The reality of this shirt was not what I expected.  I have finally discovered a garment that dramatically reduces dampness from sweating under breathable shell layers.  I wore the same string shirt with a long sleeve Solomon base shirt for the whole race and all my layers stayed drier. OK yes I know I stank but If I had known this would work I could have saved 2kg from my drop bag in spare base and mid layers.

I got up at 8.30 after a good nights sleep handed my Van Keys  to the guys borrowing my van for race support. Then I finally finished my Spine  prep.
The problem for any Spine Start is waiting at the start you will get cold but within one hour  Halfway up Jacobs Ladder you will reach maximum heat/work rate for the whole race. This means allowing for packable space in your pack for surplus layers while you climb up to the Kinder Plateau. By the time you reach Kinder Downfall you should have reached a steady rate of energy expenditure and can re adjust your kit. Most of the day this just involved swapping my gortex top for a more breathable Pertex top while the rain held off.
      I tend to sit back on day one and observe the other runners around me. Having written so much about The Spine I often wonder who has read my advise and ignored it or perhaps just not come across my blogs. There were runners out there without poles . If asked the usual response is "I have never used running poles before and did not want to start now" presumably they have never tried running 268miles before with at least 50 through deep snow but this was not seen as significant difference to the normal summer tow path race to justify carrying an extra crippling 150g of poles!
       At one point I was overtaken by a runner with shorts ,trail shoes and short pop socks, he complained that avoiding the puddles was slowing him down . I could only hope that he had Gaiters and longer socks to cope with the imminent  Km,s of mud and slurry coated stones that lay between us and CP1
The conditions were far better than previous years except that the ground was much more sodden than in previous years. My navigation was mainly by memory from previous years plus GPS which I find is easier than a map to use one handed. My plan was to try to reach The White House in time to eat without pushing hard and throwing up. My plan almost worked but by 20.30 I was fighting back waves of nausea. Fortunately I had been steadily eating for the last 10 hours so I had enough nutrition in my system to get me to CP1.  I made it to the White House by 2200 hrs but my gut was not stable enough to consider food . I did manage to drink a pint of Coke and dry my tights in front of the fire.
         Wardrobe Malfunctions can ruin your race :At some stage that day I had inadvertently pulled my waterproof trousers up over my waterproof top with the result that rain on my back had been funnelled down the back of my tights.
Having dried off and got myself ready for the trail I was hit by another wave of nausea and only had enough time to grab an empty pint glass before re filling it with half a pint of Green Coke . I tried my best to disguise what I was up to but had to apologise to a watching couple who had luckily finished eating. It was with some relief that they told me there son was out there racing and they understood.

The final few Km into CP1 was as hard as ever . It,s always hard to let so many people pass you when your legs are  strong but your Gut is shouting 'any faster mate and I will make you Throw!'
     The final descent to CP1 was just as bad as I remembered. I took it really steady so I would arrive in good shape.
          The reception at CP1 is where many first time Spiners get a reality check. The first thing that happens is that you are given your drop bag outside in the dark and rain/snow and told that you have to lug it down several icy steps around the corner to a freezing boot room. There is no one to carry your bag ,no heating in the boot room  and no one to help you to get your shoes off. At least this year the CP staff were keeping most of the mud at bay in the boot room. We had been promised a hose pipe outside the boot for rinsing footwear but no one knew where it was. I was keen to rinse the crud off my shoes and gaiter zips as I know this can save time when re dressing . After much poking about in the dark I eventually found a tap near the door.

  CP1 was relatively calm and quiet. The "QUIET PLEASE ATHLETES SLEEPING " signs have made a real difference to the noise levels. The Showers were hot and the baked potato and chilly went down and stayed down. I re organised my pack and delved into my crammed drop bag cursing my boots and snow shoes which always seemed to be between me and the gear I wanted.
             My plan was for about 5 hrs sleep them back on trail before dawn.

Day Two -------------------------     Bambi on ice!
       We had a light dusting of snow overnight which was acting as an insulator for the saturated wet ground underneath . This made the trail even more slipery . I reeled in about 6 runners over the next couple of hours as the heavy going and some intricate nav played into my hands.  Just before Top Withens I caught up with Stephen Brown he was moving well and we adopted the same pace, starting to share out navigation duties.  Stephen works in the Law ,a subject I know next to nothing about. Over the next few days I learn ed a huge amount about the UK courts system and how it works. The miles flew by and it became evident that we made a good Spine Team. We sorted out the ground rules early on : If our pace,sleep patterns or any other factors put a strain on our individual goals of reaching the finish line then the team would split. At that point in the race on day 2 the team was stronger than two solo runners so we kept together. True we made some minor nav errors due to lack of concentration while chatting but our overall speed was good.

        The trail between CP1 and CP 1.5 is mostly unpaved and covers miles of low level hilly farm land. We found ourselves continually slipping over in the slime. Many of the descents were on narrow tracks through fields and you could see footprints spreading out away from the track in vain attempts to find less slippery ground.
         Stephen was having grip issues with his shoes. At one point he fell on his ass on a steep muddy field and carried on sliding and making 3 complete rotations still on his ass! In retrospect we should probably have tried using our traction aids. This would have allowed for a faster pace but this would have been offset by the difficulty in donning and removing the mud caked aids while sitting in the mud.
         By the time we had reached Lowthersdale  we were caked in mud and suspected we would not be let in the Pub! As it was we found the pub seats wrapped in cling film and all the carpets covered.
         Back in 2015 I had Emailed the pub suggesting they put on a set 'meal deal' for the racers. They had partly put this into effect. My suggestion that the price should be either £10 or £15 with soup so no one had to carry coins had been ignored £10.50 it was which slightly irritated most of the runners.
       Our plan was to keep pushing on and make CP1.5 before midnight. Our pace and navigation remained steady but as dusk fell the tricky task of spotting wall crossings became more difficult. The problem with wall crossings after dark is that the lower part is often just stone steps sticking out the wall . When illuminated by your head torch all you see is just a wall. The only give away that this is a crossing is a tiny sprung gate at the top of the wall.

       The small gates are often marked by the Pennine Way Acorn plaques . Unfortunately unlike almost all continental trail marking the Priority of the UK trail marking system appears to be to make the markings  as invisible as possible so as not to deface the countryside. All finger posts are coated in moss none of the markings are made of reflective material. The Spine Race Markings also follow this theme as they are not reflective and for a knackered runner are difficult to spot unless you know where to look for them.

     We made good time considering the slippery mud conditions with only minor nav errors. However every nav error takes time to sort out so in total we probably lost about one hour before reaching CP1.5   I suspect that much of this was due to lack of concentration through talking. There is always a balance between concentration loss and gains from sharing rolls in a partnership which can speed you up.
      For Stephen the worst part of that day was the traverse of the limestone pavement above Malham Cove. My  Hoka Speedgoats could just about cope with the slippery ice coated rock but Stephens Boots just did not have enough grip. (A slip in this area could easily break a leg or arm.) We soon got separated as I was reluctant to pause on this section with the temperature dropping and the ice coating becoming worse by the minute. Once I was over the traverse and into the gully I found a place out of the wind to wait for Stephen. He eventually crawled on all fours off the limestone , It was evident that he was very unnerved by the experience.(At times on the Spine you will find yourself way out of your depth or let down by your gear. If this happens you need to mentally re-group and having another runner with you can speed up this process). We had a bight to eat and pushed on. The last 2Km before CP1.5 is a tricky crossing of rough ground ending in a wade through an icy stream The lights of the CP only appear at the last moment

        My plan was to re-hydrate a meal at CP1.5 then sneak out and sleep at the nearby Bird Hut. I have mentioned the Bird hut in previous Blogs and was rather apprehensive that it would be packed full . "Why the hell was I so stupid to recommend it in my Blog " I was so worried that it would be crammed full that I forgot to make up a re hydrated meal at CP1.5.  We crept through the hut door and to my relief it was not full.  Two bodies were fast asleep in the far corner . They had also  read my whinge about spreading gear about  and packed themselves as tight as possible in the end of the hut.   Stephen and I stripped off our wet gear and tried our best to blow up our sleeping mats as silently as possible. Stephen wanted 5 hours sleep (rather more than I would have chosen) and we muttered about setting alarms for five hours. Unfortunatly each thought the other had set the alarm so we eventually emerged after a 7hr rest. It was incredibly difficult to pack and re-start again and we elected to go back to CP1.5 to make breakfast.

         Looking back we probably spent a total of 9 hours from reaching CP1.5 and eventually re-starting again.   This overshoot of about 4 hours wasted time  was to plague us for the rest of the race.We promptly made a 200m nav error in our haste to make up for lost time.
          The next section of the course over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent went well with no errors
and easy daylight navigation. The Cafe at Horton provided a great Stew deal for the racers which hit the spot and Stephen bought a second hand walking pole to replace the carbon pole he had broken at Malham cove.

        We made good time climbing back up to Cam fell. The trail is good and fast. The chalky limestone ground meant that surplus rain water drained from the ground minimising the mud. The Cam road goes on for miles and we hauled in a few more runners including one female runner who was desperate for sleep having not slept at CP1.5 as the alarm had been ringing all night (She looked totally wasted so we reported her condition to race control once we had a phone signal). Dusk fell towards the end of the track and we found ourselves descending down the track. I had not checked the GPS for a while and we soon realised we had overshot a turning by 400m. Several sets of  head torches were following us .
                      "The head torch in front is lost" one of my pre-race tips .
 We had a choice , push on and short cut the trail with an easy road run to CP2 or do the SPINE RACE! For me there will always be no choice. I had to back track otherwise I would feel bad about the whole race. It,s a matter of pride and an ethos of doing the race properly! We turned and trudged back the 400m up hill . We passed the runners following us who made their own decisions pushing on down.
        CP2 was in a new location this year but was surprisingly easy to find. The YHA was bright and airy but the Vegetable Pie hardly touched my apatite. Portions were rationed but the CP staff managed to produce some extra food to help with the next leg. It appeared that at some point an alarm had gone off waking runners trying to sleep.
          The whole sleep issue was gradually rising up every ones worry list.
           We stayed just long enough to feed and wash then pushed back into the night passed the now closed Fish and chip shop and headed up Shunner fell.

             Shunner fell is probably the first serious navigation test for the full Spiners. The trail starts on a wide track which half way up the fell bears left  pulling unsuspecting racers off the Pennine way. Every year racers make long detours before realising they are off track. The actual Pennine way carries on up the fell in a maze of indistinct sheep tracks and false summits. Any snow cover tends to build up in this area obliterating signs of the trail.
               We navigated up the fell using a combination of memory and GPS. Head torches were scattered all over the moor as competitors tried to find signs of the trail. Overhauling other runners raised our mood as we summit ed then found the snow covered slab path which leads you NE then E down towards  Thwaite. We were tired but feeling ok . Climbing up through farmland above Thwaite it,s easy to loose the trail amongst a complex of small sheds and stone wall . I like to check out future sleeping bolt holes on the course and managed to locate a dry barn that Dave Lee had previously found . The barn was small and  dry but had half a dead sheep in one corner. (not a good dorm for the squeamish).
               Once up the hill the path contours around the hill before plunging back down towards Keld. In past years this part of the trail has been incredibly slippery and muddy but for some reason it felt better this year. Once you cross the bridge the trail disappears again into a confusing choice of tracks which twist and turn straining your  tired navigation brain untill you locate the track up Stonesdale Moor towards Tan Hill .
                This is one point of the course where any mental lift you may have gained at CP2 will have drained away. The track goes on for miles with no view of any  real summit. You know that Tan Hill Pub is out there somewhere but it refuses to appear . There are very few distinct features just a long upwards drag .

                A big thanks to The Tan Hill Pub  landlord  for opening  the bar room room all night providing chips and hot drinks . Again we did not stop for long as I had planned to push hard to Middleton and claw back some of the time we had lost oversleeping at Cp 1.5.

                  The Bogs of Slightholme Moor have a fierce reputation . The trail is often indistinct especially in the dark. You will have no doubt read that the path is marked by a line of white posts.
HOWEVER ! what no one tells you is that this is a Grouse Shooting Moor and the game keepers put small trays of grit out for the Grouse to help them feed . Each tray is marked by a white pole and they are everywhere!  In the dark you can,t tell the difference between a trail marker and a Grouse Pole.  Navigation by map and compass is near impossible in this area in the dark. You need your GPS and the ability to  the track footprints of previous runners who passed that way in daylight. Despite your best efforts you inevitably end up crossing drainage channels and trudging along small tracks just parallel to the main trail.
                With the coming of dawn things got much  easier . CP3 is one of the quieter CP,s except for the fact that the dorms are arranged on the corridor between the boot room and the food/reception area. After a bight to eat and a shower we settled down to sleep only to be woken by some one greeting an incoming runner by Whooping and Cheering loudly as their friend came through the do
                We stocked up with pies at the Butchers in the town before re-crossing the river and re-joining the PW by the Cattle Market. For the fourth Spine in a row I  somehow went off track within 500m and ended up climbing a wall and wire fence to regain the trail!  Later on following the deviation of the PW away from the river above High Force  we made another wrong turn by ignoring a big yellow sign saying FOOTPATH. Our befuddled brains rejected this turn as it did not mention the PW so we ended up staggering in circles among some gorse bushes  loosing  another 20mins(from the snow tracks we were not the only ones to make this error).
                Due to icy conditions a course diversion had been put in place to avoid Cauldron Snout. 
                This was the same diversion as the previous year and involves a tedious road slog.  Once past Cow Green Reservoir our pace picked up again along the long haul to High Cup Nick. I don,t know why but this section of the trail appears different every year causing  me  to constantly cross check my navigation.
             The descent to Dufton  was once again very slippery and it was with relief that we entered the outskirts of Dufton. We were greeted by a Race Marshal who informed us that conditions on Cross Fell were bad and we should wait in the village hall and set off at dawn .
               This information could have a major impact on the race. ! What we needed to know was if the race had been officially paused until dawn (allowing us free sleep time) or was this just advice? Not knowing  the  location Village Hall "it,s a small village it will be easy to find" was not what I wanted to hear! I rudely shot off down the road in search of the hall and hopefully someone who knew the actual information. Sure enough the Hall was not easy to find in the dark (one competitor spent 20mins looking for it ). No one inside had any idea of the exact race instructions.  Most of the runners in front of us were crashed out on the floor.
                  I reverted to my default setting 'If in doubt eat' .  Time to eat one of my 800kcal Expedition food rations ,after all what could possibly go wrong?  
                 Another Duck was about to get slaughtered!
Instructions : Open Bag , Take out small drying sachet and discard, fill with boiling water to line 5 , stir and weight 5 -8 mins ---------SIMPLES!
                 Guess what ,if you are tired enough it ,s possible to open out the bag  far enough to fit double the required amount of water and still not go over line 5 ( I thought it seemed rather a lot of water). Still no matter I now had Sweet and Sower Soup . Ok it would be thin but taste OK. 
                WRONG AGAIN ----It tasted disgusting and coated the inside of my mouth a thin desiccating powdery layer!  Now I was hungry ,had destroyed my main meal and my mouth tasted like the inside of a Budgies cage .  Plan B search the Kitchens! No luck there only empty biscuit tins and empty boxes of cuppa soup.

             While I was failing to replenish my energy reserves Stephen had grabbed some sleep. I left him for a while then decided it was time to push on . Being advised to restart at dawn made no sense as it would take us about 3 hours to reach the high ground and bad conditions . We set off  before dawn and sure enough only encountered deeper snow as dawn broke.  
        This year the path leading  into Alston CP had been changed We had been informed: it would be well marked. As a cynical old bastard with 4 Spine Races I knew what in reality  to expect : 'It would be well marked for an alert runner in  broad daylight'! If you are knackered and it,s dark and foggy you will have real problems.
        All this occurred to me as we Climbed above the deep snow line. I upped the pace as the snow got deeper. Deep snow and Bogs is where I gain ground. Without realising it at first I was pulling ahead of Stephen. I stopped to wait for him but his progress appeared painfully slow and I soon felt my body rapidly start to cool.  Decision point : Do I run back 200m and ask  him to hurry up or do I push on ? At our present pace we would not make CP4 by dusk and could wast ages looking for the CP. On top of that I would find moving at Stephens Pace a real strain. I chose to  selfishly push on "sorry about that Stephen I still feel guilty".
        Cross Fell lived up to it,s reputation as the wind and a flurry of mist and snow made progress slow. The Descent to Gregs Hut became interesting as the trail was obscured by deep snowdrifts forcing me to make my own line but keeping low to avoid the sink holes above the hut.
        Gregs hut was brilliant yet again Hot Drinks and Noodles before pushing on down the track trying to keep the runners in front in sight.
         The next section of the trail can be tricky to navigate but yet again I was in daylight so made no errors. I passed last years turn off to CP4 and followed the diversion signs until they ran out as I had predicted. It was just starting to get dark and the signs were not reflective so it took a leap of faith to follow the vague direction where the last one  had pointed without being able to see the next sign. Eventually after climbing a fence I came upon a road I recognised and trudged up hill to the CP.
           Food shower and bed ,falling asleep before Stephen arrived at  the CP. 
           I woke and set off before midnight just after   A Japanese Spine Runner with little English . Within the first 500m I put him right as he was about to head off back towards Cross Fell. His pace was faster than mine but his  nnavigation was a bit shaky  so I kept catching him up each time he made a mistake.  It was dark and misty as we played cat and mouse . Eventually we decided without talking about it to team up. The trail out of Alston wanders through some very indistinct paths up boggy parts of the fells Even with constant GPS monitering it can be tricky to see the trail on the ground especially in the dark and heavy mist. It made sense for us to work together with my navigation and his superior night vision (I had to ditch my specs as they kept fogging up.) Despite this cooperation progress was slow and I started to wonder I I would have been better starting later and getting more sleep.

            Dawn came about 2 hrs out from Greenhead and we headed into town for breakfast and what felt like the slowest cafe  service   I have ever had.  Once on the trail I like to push on and deeply resent any delays to progress. This can be very relevant especially if it causes you to be on the trail in the dark at the end of a long leg.
             What happened next was the one thing I never expected to encounter on the Pennine Way.


               This one involved a flock of sheep. ....... As you pass from Greenhead onto the first section of Hadrians wall you cross a small bridge over a river . As we approached the bridge I became aware of two men and a dog herding a flock of sheep along the path on the other side of the river . Just below the bridge there is a ford . One of the men shouted over asking us to keep still and quiet so they could get the sheep to cross the ford . Needless to say the sheep were having none of it . Plan B involved leading one sheep over the bridge with man and dog pushing from behind. There were sheep men and dogs everywhere while we peeked around the corner of a building trying not to spook the sheep. After about 10 mins we had had enough and during a lull while some of the sheep crossed the bridge we made a break for it and forded the river . I never knew if the sheep eventually did get across.  
 We passed Tom Jones at one of the car parks and my Japanese friend stopped for coffe while I pushed on. 
      Hadrians wall was covered in snow so I put on my Yak Tracks and set to on the switch back ride that is the Hadrians Wall section of the Pennine Way. I soon became aware of another runner making good progress overtaking me on the flat military road which runs along the sout side of the wall.
      Just prior to the race the Wall Authorities had insisted we take this rout to avoid damaging the wall but after having the Spine Race explained to them they had relented and given permission fo the Race to follow the original Rout. Unfortunately the GPS files had already been sent out.  During the Final Race Brief the change back to the original rout had been explained and new GPS files issued .
     Somehow several of the Racers were ignoring these new instructions and taking the low level flat road and footpath track. On the map the distance looks the same but on the ground Hadrians Wall is a series of short steep vicious  climbs and descents . The difference in time for the two routs is probably over one hours running. It really hurts being overhauled by a runner short cutting but it,s not part of my mentality to shortcut. ( I later spoke to that runner who was aware of what he was doing but felt it was OK as he had seen other runners tracks who had done the same!)

           Once I left the wall I ran mostly with no other runners in sight until dark when I could occasionally glimpse the distant flash of a head torch.  I found the self service Spine Pit Stop near Shitlington which was a relief as I had ran short of food  . Arm Chairs . tea,coffee , soft drinks, cuppa soup and crisps all with an honesty box what more could a knackered Spine Racer wish for.

           Bellingham appeared without further mishap where I rather disgraced myself by being grumpy about the small portions of food . The CP staff were doing there best but whoever had planned the Menes had never run a long ultra . Richard Lendon who was  helping out at the CP said he was positively embarrassed about what and how much they were allowed to serve. The food was not a patch on  all the previous years.

            Not long after I reached the CP ,Stephen rolled in . He was in fairly good shape but   wanted a good  long sleep.  The forecast was for snow on the Cheviots and the open ground just north of the CP.  I knew from past experience how hard the next leg would be especially a night traverse of the Cheviot ridge.  I persuaded Stephen to set off earlier with me rather than have a longer sleep. The cut off times for Bryness looked ok but I knew that snow cover would destroy our pace. 

           While we were preparing for sleep I witnessed one runner lying on her back with her feet in the air trying to reduce her foot swelling so she could get her shoes back on . I had now changed up another size to 12.5 shoes which is a long way from my normal size 11.  It,s easy to underestimate how bad foot swelling can get on the Spine.

            I have mentioned before that I have  running Snow Shoes in my Drop Bag perhaps now was the time to carry  them ? The consensus's of the CP staff was that the previous runners had cut a trench in the snow and I would not need them.   I decided to not carry them. 

             This is one decision that I have mixed feeling about. Firstly when in use on the  snow conditions we encountered  I think they would have cut several hours off my race time . However  I would not have been able to stay with Stephen till the finish line . Carrying them on my back would not have been easy ,not from the point of view of weight (about 1200g) but more of the affect of the balance of my pack. I have never had the opportunity to use them (it does not snow much in Devon) . Would they have taken the abuse of uneven ground and how mush time would I have taken putting them on and off ? 
           On balance sticking with Stephen to the finish line was a big deal for  me . His company was worth more to me than a better race time.

           The Last Leg!

Some things in life are hard , some are very hard and then there was my last night of the2016 Spine!
       It all started fairly well . Authorised diversions off the trail to avoid deep snow . Good navigation and pace ok where the snow was not too deep. The woodland sections were fast and we made reasonable time .
   Just 1km short of Bryness the path was blocked by a fallen tree we tried to climb over it but failed so I tried to scramble up the bank where I encountered a Spine Direction Sign. I shouted to Stephen but he was convinced the sign was another  hallucination . It took some effort to convince him it was real.  The food at the Forrest lodge was superb although I could have consumed double . It was crowded in the dining area stuffed with Marshals and Medics. Both Stephen and I were now suffering from bad sleep deprivation and I was desperate for a short sleep . Stephen fell asleep in his chair but I need to be horizontal to fall asleep and there was practically no room.
      We were getting hustled to push on as the previous runners pace over the Cheviots was very slow .The cutoff times had been altered . I carefully bound up my laces and any loose parts of shoe to stop ice balls sticking to my feet only to be ordered by the Medics to have a compulsory foot inspection.

       We now knew we were the tail enders as all the following runners were to be timed out despite being within the cut off times issued to them at the previous CP. For them this would be a nasty shock but the snow on the Cheviots had made their chances of finishing the race in time impossible. As it was Both Stephen and I would have to push hard to have any chance of finishing in time.

           We shot out of Bryness and up onto the cheviot ridge pushing hard fuelled on sausage and mash. Progress to the first hut was good and we reached it by dusk to find Mark  another Spine Vet manning it as a roving Marshal. Mark is the sort of guy you want on your side , a man of few words but hard as nails and quite capable of dragging and racer down off the hill to safety weather they like it or not. One other racer occupied the hut and he left 10mins before us .  Few words were spoken as we were all too knackered .

             Flying Pram Toys!

           What happened next is surprisingly common at the end of the Spine and probably seldom encountered on other Ultra Races. It comes under the heading of irrational behaviour where the  extream lack of sleep ,cold exhaustion and raw fear turns a normal runner into a Two Year Old Throwing A Tantrum
We left mark at the hut and set off into the dark in deep snow with multiple tracks . The wind has risen and it was well below zero (My water bottles had frozen up ) after about 200m from the hut we found a map case and compass on the trail. Stephen stuffed it into his pack and we pushed on . 30 mins later  my hands were freezing so when my Phone rang I ignored it . It rang again. "If that is some bastard  asking if I have PPI I will kill 'him I shouted . The phone rang again and Stephen answered it for me . 
      It was race control. The runner we had met at the hut was 500m from us due south and heading the wrong way completely off track!  Stephen was instructed to chase him down and I was to stay put holding my torch  as a beacon so they could home back in on me once the runner was found .
     Stephen headed off lurching and falling in waist deep snow and heather and falling into gullies . He was having difficulty holding a bearing and made little progress. Meanwhile I was starting to freeze. (Dave Lee has reported temps of -15c that night!) I tested the snow to see if I could build a wind break but it just crumbled. I resorted to running and jumping on the spot but I was tiring  and cooling fast . Then I saw the flash of a head torch , turning my torch onto boost mode I started flashing it on and off . The light disappeared then appeared again , however it started to get brighter . I managed to call Stephen back. The other runner was now coming towards us and eventually arrived asking what we wanted . We explained our instructions from race control which did not go down well. We were then accused of ruining his race and getting him disqualified for the first nav error he had made on the whole race!  Then Stephen mentioned the map case and compass to which the response was "Did you steal it from me at that last Hut?" Things were starting to turn nasty ,  We set off again as a group ,Stephen on GPS and me mainly leading following tracks in the snow . The front runner of a group tires fast when moving in deep snow so me and Stephen took turns leading. At some stage I asked the other runner to run point which he did and immediately started veering off line following god knows what on his GPS. Another row ensued .Stephen,s Mitts had filled with snow during the rescue and had now melted soaking the liner . The solution was to turn them inside out so the water re-froze then shake off the ice crystals.  Meanwhile he was trouble trying to keep his hands warm . Stephen explained this to our friend "Take my F------G GLOVES THEN!" our friend shouted . He then accused Stephen of following him earlier in the  race and not knowing how to navigate!  That was enough the guy was given a choice : follow our navigation method   or stay at the back . He stayed at the back and nothing more was said for the rest of the race.
       Several hours later and still on track we were in a bad way. I was so sleepy that if I shut my eyes even for a fraction of a second I fell over . I had all my layers on but my hands were freezing . Dehydration had set in as all water had frozen . Our feet fell through the snow crust every third step so we kept falling and getting up again . We were following the fence line with me mostly leading taking about 40 paces then squatting on the fence to get our breath back.  
'The snow looked so soft and inviting all I wanted to do was lay down in it and fall asleep!' The urge was almost overpowering Just 5 mins rest can,t harm?

I know it sounds like exaggeration but I was only holding it together by fear and trying to channel all my resources into forward motion . Physically my body was doing well but lack of sleep was the real danger. Adrenalin works well but at some point I would crash. Once you leave hut 1 there is no plaice to bail out till possible help at hut 2 ,a 5 hr slog!
       We turned the corner towards the second hut where we knew we would find hot drinks ,shelter and rest. Lights appeared from the darkness The local Mountain Rescue Group turned out to guide us in they would have hot drinks. ------ Actually no ---- I winged a bit ,then threw my toys out of the pram! I had decided that there should be a flashing light on the hut to guide runners in .Where was the light ? Why was there no light ? I am ashamed to say that I winged all the way to the Hut . Quite how the MRT resisted throwing me down Hen Hole to shut me up I will never Know 
                       GUYS I AM SORRY FOR MY BEHAVIOUR.
The second hut was like a scene out of Casualty but by torch light . The place was packed with worried medics and bodies in exposure bags . There was one case of extreme hypothermia . Our group of three were all assessed for damage especially signs of hypothermia. We were asked hard questions like our names and where we were . I was diagnosed as Grumpy but not worthy of medical attention. Much to my disgust I was not allowed to lay down as I might disturb the medical cases. Stephen fell asleep sitting up. Some of the runners shed their exposure bags and headed on out . We were told we had to go now or we would not make the finish cutoff. I refused to go as I knew 10 mins sleep at this stage was worth one hours  walking pace. Without some sleep I would not make the finish line. With sleep I would make it with time to spare. 

 The last 6 miles to the finish were a bit of a blur . The sight of a Helicopter landing near us and flashing blue lights was rather unnerving but was filed in the' ask about it later part of my brain'.. We did make it with time to spare I even remembered to look out for the Sheet Ice on the road 500m from the finish over which we tottered.  
     The finish is always a bit weird ; a mixture of relief joy and sadness. There is always a small reception party to greet you outside the pub and hand over the medals. You then lurch inside to be faced with a typical busy pub atmosphere where the majority of the drinkers have nothing to do with the race and no comprehension of what you have just been through . I recollect  someone mentioning finishers T Shirts but it may have been an illusion (I never did get one that year). Stephen sat down on the sofa and fell asleep within seconds before he could take his coat off.

My self with smile not connected to brain function.
Stephen fast asleep halfway through picking his nose!

He was to be woken up 30 mins later by his Father In Law (who Stephen completely failed to recognise) who had driven up to take him home . I managed my Free 1/2 pint of beer and asked where my van was so I could dump my pack . Someone handed me my van keys so I could drive to the village hall where the other tail ender's were hanging out. Driving was way beyond  my ability for some time.

         The village hall was littered with kit and bodies  muttering about the lack of a shower.  I was less than delighted to learn that we were all about to be chucked into the cold and snow as the Spine booking finished at midday.   Fortunately  Peter Gold came to my rescue and offered me a shower and sleep at his hotel room.  Peter you are a life saver .

         I think  I spent the next night sleeping in my van before driving home but to be honest I can,t really remember .  
         It takes a long time to wind down post Spine and 2016 was the worst fallout I have experienced .I was physically and mentally recked for some time . Digestive system, sleep patterns, massive foot swelling,no energy , insatiable hunger combined with spells of no appetite then all capped of with a serious chest infection.

         Will I do the Spine again? Possibly but no hasty decisions for now.


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