Sunday, 29 January 2017

Spine and Challenger 2017 Review

First the confession : Due to a hacking cough and bad chest I pulled out of the 2017 Spine and joined the Race Support Staff. I know only to well how the Spine kicks the shit out of your Immune System. If I had tried to tough it out I may well have ended up with Pneumonia . It was an easy decision to make and one I don't regret.
     By not actually racing I got a good insight into how the race went that was not clouded by runners blinkers.  Having scribed several Blogs on the Spine I know how easy it is to loose your objectivity about the race . This is one reason why anyone reading race reports needs to read between the lines . There are some great insights to be gleaned but  often the emphasis can be warped by hindsight. The other thing 2018 Spine Candidates need to consider is that the Race changes every year . The weather  is the dominant factor every year. Insights from one year particularly on kit may not be applicable the next year.

   The 2017 Races 

2017 Challenger 

     This year reading the Challenger and Spine  reports you may be led to think the runners were on different courses.
      The Challengers started the race during the end of a cold spell . This meant the runners started in snow.  On talking to SST members monitoring the course this was fairly light but any snow especially at night always gets described as a "Blizzard"!   Richard Lendon  one of the front runners described the snow on Kinder as the worst in 6 years . This made trail finding especially for the front runners particularly difficult. 
        The snow did however have a major effect on runners navigation. With the trail partly obscured runners tended to follow the trail as in any trail rather than get stuck in and navigate. As soon as one runner went astray others followed . At times over 20 runners were off track and searching for the Pennine way. 
         I suspect that the number of Nav errors was partly due to the fact that Full Spine Racers tend to take navigating more seriously. As they were 24 hrs later starting they were not around for Challenger runners to follow unlike in previous years.
         Quote of the day after one team made a 90 degree 4km detour was "O we forgot to turn on our GPS"!
         Trail conditions turned from snow to melted snow then slop during the second day. 
         From Fountains Fell to Haws the trail is mostly hard packed trail with a slippery final descent into Haws for the last 2km .

         All in all the Challengers had the easiest time over the first 110 miles as they avoided the melt water fuelled deep stream crossings on the first part of the course.

2017 Spine Race 

       With the 24 hr delayed start conditions early in the day were warming up fast but still with icy patches . The snow cover melted fast leading to large volumes of runs off water that gradually built up . The lead runners had no real problems crossing the melt water streams but tail ender's were faced with dangerous torrents leading to runners moving up and down streams searching for safe crossing points . Several runners took falls while wading waist deep  in the streams leading to several DNF's due to impending Hypothermia.
         Almost everyone got wet feet early in the race which led to blister problems which would plague runners for the rest of the race.

       Soggy ground became a feature for the rest of the race . This was especially a problem on the low level farmers fields were erosion by runner feel caused issues with the land owners .

      Just how bad the bogs were is a much debated point . Anyone who raced in 2014 can remember how bad the floods and bogs were .  That year we had almost continual heavy rain and so bogs were not the racers main concern. 
      In 2017 the weather turned so mild that some  runners ended up wearing only T shirts at times . The warm weather and lack of long periods of rain concentrated runners concerns on the foot and bog issues rather than the usual misery of driving rain. Fog was a significant issue at times especially low cloud on high ground.

      Overall finishing times were well down on previous years. Bivvying out on the trail was much easier this year without the worry of rain or severe cold. Cold weather saps energy far more than warm so runners got less tired than in previous years . Another factor that may have effected overall race times ws the opening up of more reliable food and sleeping stops such as in Dufton . Some Spine Vets described 2017 as an easier year but in truth it is never EASY!

    Future Spines  The Supported V unsupported ELEPHANT NOW IN THE ROOM.

    Most of the spine Vets will tell you that with the added CP's and better known sleeping bolt holes the Spine Race is getting softer. Having said that it is still one brutal race especially for Unsupported Runners . 
     The Spine Male and Female winners this year were Supported and the impact of a well drilled support team has now been recognised by most runners .
      The winners still won and within the race rules and deserve their rewards . 
     Just how much of an advantage you can gain from a support team is difficult to quantify . One supported runner reckoned it cut his race time by 12 hrs . Many of the 2017 supported runners including Tom  have said they intend to  come back in 2018 and run unsupported so they can compete on an even playing field with the majority of the runners .  
       What is not appreciated is the impact of supported runners vans and motor homes on the race logistics . Several times  CP' parking and access was blocked for short periods by these vehicles . If the roads had been icy or snow covered then racer emergency cover would have been compromised .
       My personal view on how this issue could be alleviated  would  be to create two race classes 

     ELITE and SUPPORTED . The results could be displayed separately and different awards given for each class. Most Corporate Sponsored runners would feel obliged to enter the Elite class and so run by the same rules as Pavel  Eugeni and Eoin.  The Supported class would cater for runners uncertain if they could tackle the Spine Unaided . This division would drastically reduce the number of supporters vehicles and avoid what could be a melt down of future Spine Races due to road  congestion.

      The definition of Elite status would  need to be strictly defined . Such things as hot drinks from friends could be allowed but no hot food or any to be consumed away from the road head would be allowed . No Elite runner would be allowed to enter any support vehicle or take or dump gear  and all Elite runners would have to have a highly visible fluorescent band on their packs so they can be identified and policed by other runners and race staff.
     OK I admit that the supported runners thing really annoys me but I feel the time has now come for all racers in one class to have the same rules . We are not allowed to stay in B@Bs but as things stand a Motor Home mobile B@B stocked with hot food on demand and a potential  unlimited  supply of dry footwear and warm bed is allowed for some fortunate runners .
      If I was serious about breaking the over 60's course record then getting my wife to support me with a camper van would be a no brainer . As it is I am a bit of an old school Grumpy Old Man and somehow I would feel that I was not really doing the real Spine Race . If I do break Dave Lees record then I want to do so using the same rules that applied to Dave.
      So next year hopefully I will be back racing unsupported  and my van will still be hauling Drop Bags .

        I welcome any feedback especially on my Elite Class proposal. Perhaps I am misjudging the situation . How do all you Supported runners feel and how much of an advantage do you think support gave you in 2017 if any?

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