Saturday, 16 December 2017



There is no way of getting away from that fact even if you:" only want to finish"

 If "just finishing" is your only aim then you are probably not one of the faster racers and so you may end up as one of the Racers who end up racing the CUT OFF TIMES.

 Cut Off times are often changed with little warning especially towards the end of the race when adverse weather conditions can slow progress across the Cheviot,s down to a crawl.

  The Spine is 7 days of race pressure so you need if possible to build up a cushion of time.

Overall race time = (Average speed X Time making net forward progress)+ Static Time

Net forward Progress = Time taken moving towards the finish  LESS ! Time Moving the wrong Way! 

A conventional attitude to Ultra,s is to break them down into small sections and calculate split times. This well tried race plan formula just won,t work on the Spine. The Weather can double or even treble actual split times. ( Ice Caked shoes don't help)

By all means start with a plan BUT DON,t PLAN ON THE PLAN WORKING!

          Some of the situations you will be faced with unavoidable conditions that  will slow you up but in most situations  you can modify your behaviour to increase  average speed .

         Spine Race  Speed

            There is little point of thinking you can measure Spine Speed in Km/Hr. A better measure is to think about time taken  between  exciting  the  CP,s. (we tend to ignore CP time).
            Think of this as a leg.
             Next thing to consider is how to reduce this time. 
             Conventional thinking  starts with :Just Run Faster!
             Spine Reality has shown that the faster runners don,t always have the faster leg  times .
             Training to run faster will only help you in some aspects. It also is limited by the amount of hours you can afford to invest training for  the race. 
              Elite Spine Runners (Who can run a hilly 100mile ultra in under 24 hrs )  Will focus their efforts on maintaining a high speed over longer periods.(Some such as Eoin Kieth have re-trained the way their body functions as a whole)
              Spine Race Mortal Runners are better advised on concentrating their efforts by a less physical approach to reducing leg time . The good news is you can achieve this by refocusing your race planning on other factors , rather than reducing minute mile pace.

   Race Down Time.

 (The number one way to loose speed appart from getting lost)

             Minimise  Time  Lost At CP,s (Some first timers throw away any gains by squandering time at CP1. By the end of the race they will have learned better.)

           You may have noticed that my definition of a :LEG time was not the time taken to get from one CP to another.  It includes the time taken at the CP 
                        Because you need to and eat sleep , this will be a large chunk of your race time.
                        Cutting wasted  time taken at the CP,s should be the first focus of your attention.
                        The Race leaders will probably not sleep  at all of the CP,s. (CP1 is just a transit stop, CP2 may well be the same as it,s not till CP3 that they will sleep.
                       Many Elite runners have no experience of running over 40 hrs without sleep.
                       Every year  some of the Elite racers they will miss--calculate then crash and burn!
                       How much time you need for sleep and when you should take it varies with each individual runner
              It is generally accepted that two hours of deep sleep will go a long way towards re-setting your brain. Longer than 2 hrs might be better for some but over 4 hrs is probably wasted time.
         : Laying in a bed with your eyes shut but your brain still out there racing is NOT SLEEP.      You will probably be shocked as to how hard it is to sleep at the early checkpoints!
                     Later on in the race sleeping conditions gets easier (except CP5). But most of the field will probably need some sleep at CP1 so give it a try . If sleep does not come make a fast decision to get back on the trail. (note if you can,t sleep at CP1 you may be faced with sleeeping on the hill at some point before Malam.)

                     Your CP Routine

This is mine :
                      Locate CP  door (not always easy)
                      Clean crud off shoes before entering CP (makes re dressing much faster)
                      Take off outside gear  in freezing boot room..
                      Check in (At CP1 you are  given your Drop Bag outside the CP.
                      Locate drying room if any and spread out wet gear.
                      Stash pack with drop bag in vacant space available( This will be a corridor at CP1 with people trampling over you and your bag).
                      Dump hill water and rubbish from pack.
                      Hot drinks and food first session
                     While waiting for food prep for the next leg. Get weather info  Study map of next leg.  Complete battery change. GPS +torch while eating.
                     Re- set GPS for next leg (Gps should be on loop around your neck so you don,t loose it in CP!!!!)
                     Make a plan.
                     Take shower /wash bag from drop bag
                     Shower then repack wash bag.
                     Re-fold/sort, maps 

                      Eat more food.
                      Get medics to look at your feet. then apply medicated talk to dry and avoid athleets foot.
                      Sort gear for next leg into one run bag.Close bags (because someone will  probably shift them while you are asleep
                      Locate bed .change outside,and set alarm on watch, shade torch beam ,creep inside.
                      Get in bed ,insert ear plugs,pull black buff over eyes,stuff spare gear under feet to elevate, put watch and head torch by pillow.
                     Get up taking all gear out of dorm silently.
                     Get dressed   using pre prepared  run bag 
                     Get Medics to rebuild feet or book place in Q before looking for food.
                     Eat any food offered.
                     Repack  Back pack and re-organise drop bag  ready for next CP  (While your brain is fresh)
                     Sort Hill food and try to scrounge extra.
                     Have a dump!
                     Double check drying room and regret not marking all your gear (are they your Omm trousers or someone else,s , they are not where you  hang them before bed!
                     Don,t forget your towel
                     Dress in outer layers.
                     Get out map and double check way back to trail (Without 180 Degree error)
                     Fill water bottles.
                     Decide if its worth delaying for other 'not quite ready' runners.
                     It,s not so shoes , gaiters, gloves on
                     Get outside with your poles this time !
                     Bugger off down the trail.

As for relaxing and chatting you won,t have much  time except while eating.

                    Pre planning how you pack your drop bag will cut wasted time:.
                                   Sub divide hill food packs 
                                   Have a dedicated CP comfort bag(Soap, Towel,Crocks , Talk, toothbrush.)
                                   Tape batteries into the  correct numbers for each devise.
                                   Label each sub bag so you don,t have to spread your  gear about
                                   Make up a drop bag closure check list.(attach to drop bag).

CP5 issues : No dedicated dorm at CP5. Everyone sleeps in an open hall. The hall has large windows with no light tight blinds so even with curtains closed it is light during the day . To fall asleep you need silence but especially during daylight it can be noisy . 

                    Down Time On The Trail.

You can easily loose more time on the trail faffing around than you will gain from running faster.
This is another case of getting really organised.


               Your pack  system can be regarded as a 3 stage transport system:
                        1 gear you will only used if forced to Bivi or cook. 
                        2 Items of clothing that you may wish to use that require removing  back pack.

                        3 clothing , hill food , nav gear ,poles that you can grab without removing pack.

              Items 1 can be buried deep in your pack with the heavy  objects close to your spine.
              Items 2  near the top or back pockets in marked sub dry bags 
              Items 3 at the front of your pack or in front pouch all easily to hand .

           If you have to take your pack off you will loose ground and start to get chilled.

         To reduce down time on trail you need to practise accessing gear  while still walking .

It follows that having more front stowage capacity will allow you to carry out adjustments without stopping. 
                       Having a front pouch will give you a better finishing time!

               If the front pouch is prevented from bouncing  it will give you better posture and balance allowing you to move faster on rough ground especially down hill.
                  The only real downside is that they can make taking off your backpack slower

                Having to take off your pack will:SLOW YOU DOWN
                                                                       COOL YOU DOWN
                                                                       STRESS YOU AS OTHERS PUSH ON

              Preventing Sweating will reduce trail down time.

             We are now back in the choices of kit  selection. At times you will overheat at others you will get cold. 
              Your first line of regulation should be adjustments while still moving. Jacket Ventilation is a good start . The Paramo jackets sometimes come with multiple zips ( If I could afford one I would get one that opens up down the front and with full length under arm zips so you can easily dump heat from your whole torso . A Jacket that operates over a wide heat production range can speed you up by removing the necessity of having to remove your pack .
              Fine adjustments can be achieved by switching Hats .(your hats should be easy to  grab.)
              If you are forced to change your shell layer your replacement layers should be at the top of your main pack.

               Hill Food 

         This should be on the front pack system to encourage you to eat and keep snacking. 
         If possible take items that can be consumed with gloves on,
         If your hill food is not easy to unwrap you will probably tend eat less!
         You need a bin bag for dead wrappers and other detritus.

              Nav Gear .

         Front and central so you will never put off'  'just checking your course'
         GPS tethered to your pack.( Stowed in holster)
         Maps tethered again and tucked in front pockets.

             Glove Storage .

             Get this one sorted and you have just gained 2 hrs off your finish time

             You will take gloves off and on  hundreds  of times during the Race!

     Any seconds  saved will have a large impact on your overall speed .  The problem is mostly about what do you do with gloves once they are off. 
                Your choices are :Clip them to your pack . 
                                             Have a dedicated pouch or deep pocket that they can,t fall out of!
                                             Have them on  short strings permanently attached to your sleeves.
                 Whatever you do it,s worth sewing small loops to them to give you the option of clipping them to your pack.
                                            Practice removing and stowing gloves while walking without looking at the gloves. If you can do the whole thing by feel you will gain ground.

               Clip on Storage .

      On your front pack strap attach a Carabina Clip to attach :gloves ,hats .
,traction aids ,  head torch or your mates gloves
. Don,t be tempted to go for a small one ,get a chunky one you can open it  with gloved hands !
. Tape or lash the Carabina to the strap so it can never fall off.

             Annoying bits that fall apart.

             Many adjustment plastic clips on your pack or head torch  are designed for easy factory assembly. This means that the webbing can slip out  of the clip. 
             Take a good look at all buckles and clips . Is there any way of using tape, sewing line or a soldering iron to make them more secure . Most of us have had a head torch strap come loose at some time . `in the middle of the night your head torch may well get dragged off your head and require precious gloves off ,spare torch time to re-adjust it !

             Not Enough Hands 

             What you need to carry in your hands: Running pole (possibly X2 )
                      That makes 6 hands plus a spare for really rough ground (Pen Y Gent)
            Work out a system . ( I usually only carry one pole at a time)
                                             If it,s not in your hand it has to have a dedicated storage place.
                                             Front storage again!
                                             Work out a way to temporarily store poles fast

                                             Making Progress Along The Course

       One question everyone wants to ask is :Do you actually run and for how much of the race?

                          You will get the impression that you walk the hills then jog the flats and down hills.
                           In reality this is only for the first half of day one.
                           Looking at Films about the Spine you will get a false impression :Much of the footage is taken from day one . There is a focus on the leaders who move faster and lets face it we all put on a spurt for the camera. Runners walking don,t make the edit unless they are courageously fighting the elements.
                          I have no idea   what the Elite runners get up to. (most of them had buggered off into the distance before I reached the 1 mile point!). The winner in 2014 won by  actually moving at 20 minute mile pace.

                         The most efficient way to get to the finish line is to move at your natural pace.

                          Your Natural Pace Is. The speed at which you don,t sweat.
                                                                The speed at which you don,t keep tripping up.
                                                                The speed at which your energy use equals food input.
                                                                The speed at which you don,t make nav mistakes.

                7 DAYS is a long time . Most self DNF,s happen over the first two days due to runners not running their own race .
                It,s really hard but just try to take it easy for the first few days. Running short  of energy early in the race will bight you in the ass later on as your CP stops give you very little time to recover.
                Once past CP3 you will have got the hang of things and reserve energy can be used to greater effect.

                             Have  YOU OVERTRAINED  desensitising your body warning lights?

                          This is not about lack of tapering . It,s about ending up so fit  that your body is trained to run to just keep running. This is fine for a 100 mile race where you aim to fall apart just past the finishing line . If you get anywhere near this state on the Spine your body will crash ,fast and with little warning.
                  I am not saying don,t train ,just be aware to keep reserves.
                  If you run short of energy you will move slower and loose heat fast. Adding extra warm cloths will have only limited benefits if your body can,t produce heat. NEXT STEP HYPOTHERMIA.

                     Power Walking.

                    This is probably not the best term for Spine Pace . I prefer the term Efficient Pace Walking. If you can train yourself to walk faster your upper body will move around less and you lill expend less energy for a given pace . 
                    Having a loose fitting back pack wobbling around is another wast of energy.

                     As I Write This Post It,s The end  Of December . You will all be well into putting in the miles to train your body . Most of you will be concentrating on running. 
                     It is well worth experimenting on upping your walking pace . If you have a regular training run : Time yourself over a set distance such as a 1Km leg . Force yourself to walk and try to adjust your walking style to gain speed without breaking into a run. You may well find that changes in posture or leg lift will help.

Upping Your Natural Walking Pace Is More Use On The Spine  Than Training To Run Faster.

                 Running in a Group.

          For some this is the only way to go. 
          Any group of 4 runners or more will tend to loose are always waiting for someone !
          For a smaller group sharing nav duties can help speed.
          Running in deep snow can be faster if you take turns breaking the trail.
          In larger groups someone will almost always be moving at a pace out of their comfort zone.

           I shall discuss Group Psychology in a later post.

             When Should I Not Pause To Sleep At A CP? (and hope to gain time)

               This is a decision most of us will have to face at some time during the race.
 Factors To Consider:  Will I be able to fall asleep?(noisy CP ,s + Adrenalin)
                                     Will I miss a weather window (And end up fighting a storm)
                                     Will I miss good daylight (When I can move faster and nav easier)
                                     What,s the next point I could  possibly sleep in shelter.
                                     Is my sleep system ok for sleeping on the trail?(Tent is far more comfy)
NB carrying a tent in you drop bag will give you more options even if you don,t normally carry it.
                                     Do I have it in me to make it all the way to the next CP?
                                     All these decisions are easier if running solo or in a pair. (Discuss options before you get to the CP.)

                If you do miss a CP sleep you will probably gain ground on others but there is always a price to pay. The Tent option is probably best  only if you have taken the time to practise putting it up and down in a hurry. (from past experience I believe it,s faster to put up a tent then sort yourself out rather than trying to juggle  food /sleep /changing cloths from a bivvi bag.

                         Risk And Reward Strategy

       Your pre Spine Planning is all about the Risk and Reward Balance.
       The most basic  approach is to equate speed with reducing pack weight.
       Podium runners plan never to sleep out on the trail . Their main strategy is to run there way out of trouble so they try to shed as much pack weight as possible.
       A runner moving at speed will be slowed by a heavy pack more than a tail end plodder like me.
       Carrying less gear  reduces  your options for very little increase in speed.
       For a front runner a light pack can be a significant factor but for the tail- ender light  pack weight is less significant than the ability to sleep out on the trail. 
        The extra 500g of tent over bivy bag weight is a significant  factor for the elite.
        If you can afford the cost and drop bag extra weight then having the choice between tent and bivy bag in your gear at each CP is worth considering. 
What never get,s mentioned in blog,s is that it,s not unheard of for a front runner to end up begging for extra food and warm layers. It,s not always possible to run your way out of trouble . 
The relatively mild weather conditions for the first 5 days of the last 4 spine years has allowed several runners to get away with a high risk strategy. If we do get heavy snow early in the 2018 race then I predict that several potential podium runners will DNF due to lack of spare food and gear.

         Having used a tent on two years I believe it gained me time . However being a fairly large old bugger I am less effected by weight. One situation  are where a tent really pays is if you are running in a pair. Sharing duties so one brews up while the other puts up the tent is mutually beneficial time wise . Most tents are 2 man and once inside a tent offers better head protection so you will probably fall asleep faster and get better overall quality sleep.
         The other issue in well below zero temps is that your shoes will probably not be frozen solid when you wake. 

        THIS IS MY ROUGH 2017  PACKING PLAN for TENT/BIVI choice.

      Start to CP1 :            16hrs with 3hrstop at CP1 ----------------carry bivy bag(2hrs sleep max)
      CP1 to Maham Tarn : 4 hr stop in bird hut ---------------carry bivy bag
      Malham to CP2 :     Non stop still with bivy bag.
      CP2 food +shower then back on trail at dusk------------carry tent short sleep Tan hill possibly
      Tent stop to Middleton  : no stop still with tent.+emergency foil bag.
      Middleton(shower short sleep): swap tent for Bivi bag then non stop to Alston.
      Alston (shower +sleep time adjusted to daylight /weather conditions.
      Alston to Bellingham : non stop with Bivi Bag.
      Bellingham (3hrs sleep)
       Bellingham to finish : Short power knapp,s at Cheviot Huts ----Carrying Bivi Bag. 

You will have noticed that I give no split times after CP1. This is because I will be running at my own pace( modified by trail conditions). Sticking to a rigid plan may well not be feasible.

             SUPPORTED  TEAM  STRATEGY(mountain rescue teams)

       Check before race to see if you are allowed to sleep in MR support vans.
      You will  probably all have back up teams with Vans . This opens up several options.
       Tent will never be used as the support van is your tent.
       Hill food can be kept to a minimum as extra is always ready at the next road head.
       You need to know when  and where to expect to meet your support crew. This should be discussed each time you get back on the trail ,so you can plan accordingly
       Clothing can be added or shed at road heads according to weather /pace/demand.
       CP waiting times can be cut as support team will pamper you!(hot food/meals ready and pre booked
       Hopefully this will give a level playing field for all teams .

           Ways for a team to  move faster.

          One of the key factors is to leave individual ego,s at home. Team Speed is what matters .
          Talk this over together and with the support team.
         One member  of the team will always be slower (THEY HAVE TO ADMIT THIS!!!)
         The miss match can be sorted by getting the faster runner to carry a greater proportion of the pack weight.
          Support team can re-assess individual pace at each road head. Training together should have revealed  pace differences before the start line. 
           Train to always keep moving fore ward and  focus on trying to avoid ever stopping.

          Once running pace is evened out then the next thing is forming the best nav team . This is usually one on map and another on GPS. 
          Next thing is to reduce stopping time . I covered this earlier in my blog but teams can help each other in other ways.
          Stowing Poles   Any action taken with the hands may involve having to put down or stow a pole. Your partner can take your pole and either carry it or better still stow it in your pack. 
                                    Having a team partner gives you access to the back of your pack.
Your team partner needs to know the location and  contents of every external pocket and pouch in your pack. With this information they can get things out for you without either of you stopping.

          Running In A Group, Transiting Gates.

           It may appear trivial but you will wast a huge amount of time waiting holding gates open.
           Try to arrive at gates together even if the tail runner has to put on a spurt to catch up. 
           The faster runner opens the gate and closes it while the slower pushes onward without pausing.(this is another example of taking speed strain off the slower team member)
           The slowest runner never shuts the gate as they will fall further behind.

              KEEP TALKING
            Each team member must be aware of the condition of the other . with this information you can make decisions earlier and for the benefit of the team as a whole.

              Speed In Snow

        Snow shoes may help for deep snow (Perhaps we  will find out in 2018)
        Team running can share workload.

        SNOW BALLING is a new experience for most novice Spine Racers. It occurs at temps of around 0c . At much lower temps the dry powder snow tends not to stick to legs and shoes.

    It is not unusual to find yourself with 1Kg of snow attached to your feet (so much for weight saving gear.) 

         HOW SNOW BALLS FORM:It starts with a seed of wet snow. If this is crushed against half melted snow you will get an extra layer forming (the same as rolling snow to make a snowman.)
                                                          Snow balls forming on shoes are also mixed up with mud and grass . This can make them as tough as  reinforced concrete!!!
                                                          Your best defence is to prevent them forming.
                                                           Small fibres of fluff on your laces wet out and start the seeding.
                                                           Use a lighter to burn off any fibres and tape lace ends with plastic electrical tape to stop them flapping about.
The photo,s above show snowballing on the frayed uppers.                                                      Replace frayed under foot gaiter straps with new water repellent straps.

           Overall Speed In Bad Conditions.

            You will always move slower at night. This would be ok if the slower pace led to less energy use . The problem is that the reduced speed is due to low light contrast leading to a decrease in walking/running  efficiency. 
            Unless we get  cold dry air conditions ,you can expect mist /fog at night. This makes path finding slower ( Visual signs of the trail) and also foot placement difficult.
             We are all familiar  with the concept of technical trail surfaces . At night any surface can be regarded as more technical. And so slower to negotiate.
.              Good lighting will help but head torches have a major flaw.
                Your head torch is close to your eyes so you can,t see the  shadows cast by objects on the trail. This effect is more pronounced in misty snowy conditions. 
               By carrying a torch low down in your hand you can see the ground more clearly and move with more confidence. (this is one reason I carry two torches . I turn the head torch beam to min power and turn up the power on my hand torch)

               You will sometimes need to follow tracks in mud or snow and holding the torch low down will greatly assist in  tracking.

              Speed In Bog Or Deep Snow.

          You have to accept the fact that at times you will be forced to slow up . Trying to maintain pace over the ground if your feet are dragged down will just sap your energy . Your pace should be governed by moving efficiently even if this means slowing up.
          At any point on the course you have to take the long view . Energy saved is never lost . 
          By moving efficiently early in the race you will find it,s actually possible to speed up over the latter stages of the race.

Stopping On The Course.

In  a normal ultra  your heart rate is elevated much of the time and stopping for a short break can rejuvenate your pace 
Your Heart Rate on the Spine will usually  be much lower so stopping gives you very little benefit. Stopping means reducing heat production and having to take extra actions to keep warm.
You should expect to keep moving except for pub stops and pausing in shelter to sort out kit.
Appart from in 2017, temperatures during the race have made stopping in the open for a rest a shortcut towards hypothermia.


Most of us will have foot problems . 
It is possible to run a 100 mile race with bad blisters by just toughing it out.
268 miles is a whole different matter . Foot infections can lead to the Medics DNF ing You!

It Takes the Medics a long time to dress a bad foot problem and this is all down time.

Dressing feet is not a medical priority. If the medics are called away on an emergency then it will be up to you to sort out your own feet!
Even if you carry on ,by day 4 blisters will decimate efficient walking technique.
Prevention of blisters is better than treatment (There Is No Cure Except Time Not Running)

Most blister problems start on DAY ONE  If you take really good care of feet before CP1 you will have much less trouble later.

On Day One when runners are caught up in the  fast pace  they tend to ignore any pain or hot spots . Fast pace is also a trigger for blister formation.
Over my past 4 Spine my feet have had few problems . There is nothing special about my actual feet. 
I Belive my lack of problems is due mostly to always wearing a minimum of two pairs of socks (3 with the waterproof socks) I use Injini Toe Socks on day one .
I Check my feet regularly and coat them with "Burts Bees Hand Balm " which reduces the wrinkling from the damp. My Shoes are large enough not to crush my toes together and I carry 3 sizes in my drop bag.







No comments:

Post a Comment