Friday, 2 January 2015

The Montane Spine Race 2015...'What's the worst that could happen ?' The Mental Approach

So it's just over a week to go until the 4th running of The Montane Spine Race.

This year it's bigger than ever with more competitors in both classes, a greater following in the running / adventure world and social media, and the presence of Summit Fever, who will be making the Official Montane Spine Race adventure film.

All exciting stuff !

For me I'll be on the Start line for a 4th time, but this time it will be the 'Challenger' Start line.
The reasons:
My darling wife Victoria has picked up the pieces of me for the last 3 years at the Finish line of the Spine race, taken me to hospital when needed, and missed out on her annual work Ceilidh dance and party. So I owe it to her to be in a fit condition to attend and dance.
I've completed The Spine Race 3 times, I've seen the event from a competitors perspective, and I want to bring that experience into The Spine Race Support Team.

But I still want to run ! So Challenger for me, then quick snooze at Hawes and back up to help out.

There has been a lot of information given out on blogs and social media about equipment, navigation, pace, tactics etc etc etc.
But from what I've witnessed on the race the BIGGEST factor is what is going on in your head...
It's the Mental side of things.

I've seen runners of all abilities and backgrounds, 'firm' race favourites, strong fast runners, yet unable to deal with the mental side of the event.

So here is my little insight into my mental state with regards to how I've completed the 268 mile
Spine Race 3 times......


Life is basically one big risk assessment. We make decisions minute by minute, hour by hour every day on the risks around us, and how we prioritise and deal with them. Some of us are more adept at this than others.

In my working career I have been involved in Commercial diving, instructing diving, cave/mine diving, ice diving etc. This has exposed me to substantial hazards and risk, and I have developed the ability to stay focussed, calm and to make right decisions.
Along with commercial diving activities I currently design, develop and deliver bespoke emergency training for military, search & rescue and civilian aircrews - basically how to escape from a ditching / crashing aircraft, and underwater escape. So in other words, the absolute worst case scenario.
So what does this have to do with The Montane Spine Race ?
In diving activities, and on some of  The Spine races, I am often heard to say, albeit sometimes jokingly...
 'What's the worst that could happen?'
By this I mean, realistically what is the worst ?
'Death' is the answer, it can't get any worse than that. So if I'm breathing that's a good thing, I'm still alive !
This really comes from training and twitchy moments, in mine and ice diving....

On a training dive a number of years ago, in a flooded Scottish mine system, the dive team member in front of me momentarily lost buoyancy control, kicked up a load of silt and detached the line, ( the line being the only guide back to the entrance of the mine system).
So there I was static, hovering above the floor of a fully flooded mine shaft, in 5 degrees Celsius of water. I could not see my hand in front of my face, the umbilical HID (High Intensity Discharge) torch I had on my wrist, one of 4 torches, could not cut through the Bovril like consistency of the water. My right leg was stuck, the loose 3mm line had enveloped my right leg and trapped me. I was now on my tod. The two other divers were ahead of me somewhere in the system. However I realised that within a few minutes they would become aware I was not with them (unless the team member ahead of me had had a panic attack and the other diver was dealing with that). Basically I was on my own.
So this is the conversation I had with myself.... 
'Am I still breathing?'
'Yes. Good I still have air. I'm not dead yet.'
'How much air?'
'Still well within the rule of thirds' (1/3rd gas in, 1/3rd gas out, 1/3rd emergency gas supply for other team member).
'Time is on my side for now.'
'Is my breathing under control?'
'Yes, it just keeps getting better!'
'Can I move forward?'
'Can I reverse?'
'Can I move upwards?'
'Am I stuck?'
'Is my breathing under control?'
'Do I have visibility?'
'Can I feel the line on my right leg with my gloved hand?'  I slide my hand down my right leg carefully feeling for where the line has trapped me.
Yes I've found it.
'It just keeps getting better!'
I pull the line gently outwards to try to open it away from my leg, it works.
I move forward but I'm still stuck.
'Can I cut the line ?. Absolutely not ! Probable death for me and the other two.'
'Do I have plenty of gas?'
'Yes, good'
I had three more attempts, carefully pulling the line, twisting my right fin and finally I cleared the entangled loose line.
I was then met by the two other divers, who'd retraced the route, one looking suitably chastened behind his face mask. We then followed the complete line and made a safe exit.
From this, what I'm saying to Spine race competitors is...
When you're mentally and physically tired, when your body is hurting, ask yourself, "how bad is it really?" before you throw in the towel.
Are you still breathing? Yes? Well, good. Can you move forward? Yes? So, you can move, you can generate heat, you can keep moving forward to the finish, the next checkpoint, your support, the next tea shop etc.
Can I feed myself? Yes? Good. That means you can keep fuelled, stay alive, keep moving forward, keep mentally focussed and be able to make appropriate decisions.

When I first toed the start line of the Spine Race in 2012 I knew at that point I would finish. There was no question, mentally, of not finishing the race.
In the months leading up to the race I had already developed clear pictures in my mind of finishing the Spine race. I had images of me crossing the finish and running to meet my wife Vicky. I had images of friends, family and work colleagues congratulating me on completing the 268 mile race.
Visualisation is a key element in successfully completing any challenge.
In 2012 I was also doing the Spine race in aid of Help for Heroes. My paltry few days of suffering was nothing compared to what these war heroes have to face, so that was a great motivator.
2012 was a tough year, it was The Spine race 1st edition, never tried before.
A few forums felt completing the full Pennine Way in winter within seven days was impossible. A small group of competitors set off from Edale, into the relative unknown, seventeen in total.  There was no Checkpoint 1.5, it was a full slog from CP1 to CP2, we also went into Horton that 1st year - there was no shortcut from Pen-Y-Ghent to Hawes. Eventually just three of us, Steve Thompson, Mark Caldwell and myself crossed the finish line - all inside seven days. I would say that mental strength got all three of us over the finish line. Being able to stay focussed, respond to situations, make the right judgements and decisions, along with determination and stubbornness was the key to success.

After completing the Spine race 2012 I came back and did it again in 2013. This was mentally tougher. I'd already done it, I also knew how battered I was likely to be by the finish, yet the overwhelming adventure and camaraderie brought me back to it.
2014 was the toughest finish for me, mainly due to going over my right ankle on Day 1. So I had to make a decision, bow out knowing I'd already done it twice or deal with the pain and get stuck into another great Spine race. Easy choice, man-up, suck up the pain, treat it as normal, dis-own my sore ankle and get on with it, and enjoy another great adventure.
That's another mental barrier - pain management. How do you deal with it?
Pain is your brain informing you that there is some physical damage and you should pay heed to it.
I look at pain this way; If I carry on will I suffer long term damage or ill health ? Will this then impact on my life, family, work, responsibilities etc ? If not, then I embrace the pain.

How I manage pain is not for everyone, I am certainly not advising you in anyway.
I suffered very bad feet in 2012, I was given excellent care by the Spine race medical team, Exile Medics, but there was still substantial pain. However I realised that this was only short term pain, the sooner I get to the finish the sooner it will be over. I treated the pain as normal, I mentally disowned my feet and therefore could not feel any pain once up and running.  In 2014 I used the same tactic for my right ankle, and made it across the finish line for a third time.
Another mental tactic I use is breaking the race into small sections, don't think of the whole, think only of the parts, sometimes down to the next 100 metres depending on how you're feeling. Deal with the here and now, not what's coming miles up the route. Reward yourself for small triumphs, being able to get up the next hill, successfully navigating your way to the next summit on Crossfell in zero viz, have a jelly baby, kit kat etc.
Keep eating, religiously. I eat every 15 to 20 minutes on The Spine race. Eating keeps me mentally focused, keeps the furnace inside me burning, keeps me moving and prevents me getting cold. Because I'm fuelled, my mind is clear, I can respond to situations and make appropriate decisions.

Mentally, camaraderie can be good and bad. Good in the sense that a friendly soul travelling some of the way with you can give you a boost, make the miles disappear, and it's someone to share the adventure and experience with.

This is good when you are of an even match in pace and abilities.
The problems can arise when another competitor is going slower. This will in turn slow you down, leaving you more susceptible to potential hypothermia.  Your focus on someone else can lead to you not adequately managing yourself, which could lead to your own demise in the race. This is especially true in the later stages of the Spine race, when your body is already suffering the effects of a multi-day race.
This is why it is important to be self reliant and able to stay mentally focussed on the task in hand.
Another problem a lot of competitors have on The Spine race is making a mistake and beating themselves up over it. Accept it, you will make mistakes, you'll cock up your navigation, you'll follow someone up the wrong path, you'll leave something behind in a checkpoint, etc..
Shit happens, deal with it, it's not the end of the world, go back to the earlier points...
'Am I still breathing?
'Can I still move forward ?'
Well all good then.
One last thing...
Above all else..
YOU signed up for this. You made a conscious decision to take part. You have put in the training hours.
It's a great adventure, go out there and embrace The Spine race, immerse yourself in the environment and enjoy the camaraderie.
You are more than capable of crossing that Finish line, believe in yourself.
Have fun and I'll see you on Saturday 10th January 2015.
Pictures taken by:
John Bamber
Scott Gilmour
Stu Westfield
Richard Lendon
Peter Lewis




Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Dare 2b Spine Race 2013 ( Part 1..return to the Pennines )

It hardly seemed a year since finishing the 2012 Spine race, and here I was again in Edale on a frosty Friday evening.

Throughout 2012 I took it a little easier with my training and ran a few Ultra races, including D33, Kintyre Way race, Roparun and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This I mixed up with some regular hill running and orienteering with my new best friend Monty.
So why was I doing the 268 mile Spine race again ? I should be taken away by the 'men in white coats'...
My reasons?.. Above all for the Adventure!, then secondly to see parts of the Pennine Way I had missed on the previous year due to darkness, and thirdly to become the 1st and only competitor to complete the 268 mile Spine race twice.

Walking into the Edale village hall on the Friday evening I was delighted to see so many familiar faces from the inaugural 2012 Spine race, Scott Gilmour & Phil Hayday-Brown, John Bamber, Conrad Dickinson, Stuart Westfield, and other members of the Spine support team. The 'Band of Brothers' and fellow Spine finishers Steve Thompson and Mark Caldwell were already in the hall, grinning in anticipation.  Also there was Richard Lendon, Brian Mullen and Jonathon Zeffert, Spiners from 2012.

After some banter it was down to the business of registration, kit checks, and the drinking of copious amounts of hot, sweet tea before the pre-race lectures began.  The legendary John Bamber entertained many of us with tales of the depths of the pot holes.  Some of the other competitors however were turning rather pale as John went into terrifying detail!
This year it was great to see so many more runners taking part, especially from overseas. The Spine is going global ! I managed to chat to a few of the new 'Spiners', some of whom I had met previously on the 'Mary Townley Loop' training weekend in November 2012.
I wondered as I looked around the room at the assembled runners as to whether they realised the enormity of the challenge they were about to take on.

So now down to my kit.....

I've been asked on many occassions for the exact kit list I used on the 268 mile Spine race, and also how much it weighed.
I've refined my kit over a number of years, mainly through competing in Mountain Marathons, not just the Spine race. I use an OMM 25 litre backpack with OMM chest pouch. Every essential I need during a race is at hand: food, water, compass, maps, gps, medical supplies, gloves, hat etc. I know where every piece of kit is, so when the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan and a race becomes a matter of survival, I can have it at hand within seconds. Knowing your kit inside out and the configuration of the kit is key to maximising your ability to finish a race such as the Spine.

For those that don't know, my background is Diving. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have dived in many enviroments, including under ice in the Arctic, cave and mine, wrecks, zero visibility etc. I configure my running equipment as I do my dive equipment. Everything is streamlined, has a use and I can locate it in seconds by touch alone.

The total weight of all my mandatory kit plus a few extras - inc food - was 4.6 Kg plus 1.5 litres of water, so 6.1 Kg in total for the Start of the Spine race. Throughout the race I added extra kit as needed, consequently the weight increased to around 7.5 Kg. As I stated before it has taken me a while to refine my kit, but it is MY Kit, ie it works for me but may not necessarily work for other runners.
For a sleeping system I use a Snugpack synthetic sleeping bag with a RAB silk liner, and an Alpkit Bivvi bag. I use synthetic bag as opposed to a down bag as synthetic material will still keep you warm when damp / wet.
One of the big problems this year was water bottles freezing solid. I used a 1.5 litre insulated bladder with a braided hose filled with just over a litre of water, plus a 500ml bottle for use with gathering water or mixing electrolytes etc. Having the bladder enured I could remain hydrated during the race.

Saturday 12th January 2013...Race Day.

Race day had arrived! I made my way down to the Edale village hall to hand in my drop bag. After my breakfast of porridge and a few cups of hot sweet tea, I was ready for the Start. I noted quite a few anxious faces on the way to the Start line.

08.15 hrs and we're off !

And yes it looks like we're in a 10K race !!
As I forecast this year, some of the runners tore off, trying to mix it with the 2 x Spaniards, Joel and Eugeni, who happen to be both seasoned elite mountain runners and high placed finishers of the 208 mile Tor Des Geants. I knew with the inexperienced runners charging off to the front it would only be a matter of time before the wheels would come off and their attempt at completing the Spine race would be over.
I settled into a sustainable pace with Richard Lendon, the mantra being, march the uphill, jog / run the flat and run the downhills where conditions allowed. After all there are 268 miles to go before I get a nice cold pint.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Mix it up.. the new Salomon XR Mission trail shoes

Salomon XR Mission

It's been over a month since the Staff at ' Run 4 It ' in Aberdeen gave me these great new trail shoes from Salomon to test out. In that time I've been busy giving them many an outing from my front door to a range of different trails.

This is Salomon's latest ' road to trail' shoe following on from the XR Crossmax.

Straight out of the box they are an eye catching shoe, but these are not just about looks, they are purpose designed from the ground up to cope with all manner of terrain surfaces.

These running shoes are ideal for runners who may step out of their front door and hit the road to the nearest trail, combining enough cushioning for road surfaces, and, a ' close to the ground' feel and grippy enough sole to cope with the demands of trail running.
These shoes are also ideal for runners who are looking to start venturing into the  trail running enviroment.

First Impressions

The XR Mission is a lightweight shoe. The upper is made from the same ripstop nylon found on most of the Salomon range. The 'toe box' area is roomy and comfortable, with the toes being protected by a tough TPU outer across the front of the shoe. The sensifit kevlar single pull lacing system makes for a quick, adjustable and secure fitting, along with the 'sensi-flex' upper keeping the foot stable in the shoe. Ideal for changes in terrain and surface.
The mid-sole of the XR Mission is a one piece moulded EVA made up with two composites which Salomon names as 'Light-Weight Muscle'. This provides very effective cushioning, giving a lot of comfort and responsiveness on harder surfaces, such as road or hard packed trail.
The outsole is extremely effective giving grip on a wide range of surfaces.
Salomon uses a directional Contagrip pattern, chevrons facing forward on the forefoot and backwards on the heel area. There is also a raised Contragrip HA carbon rubber section under the ball of the foot. This gives excellent traction and durability on road, and especially wet road surfaces.

The Runs

My first outing in the Salomon XR Missions was 12 miles along the old Deeside railway / Deeside Way from Drumoak to Duthie Park. I usually run the Deeside Way in road shoes so initially the Salomon XR Mission felt slightly harsher, less flexible, but after a few hundred metres I got into my rhythm and the miles slipped by effortlessly. For a 'hybrid' shoe there's good cushioning for harder surfaces. Wet and muddy patches on the trail were a breeze as the XR Missions gripped securely.

The next few outings were to Countesswells Woods, Rotten O'Gairn and Foggieton, where I ran constant hill reps along varying terrain, often very wet and muddy. Although not an out & out trail shoe like, for example, the Salomon Speedcross 3, the Salomon XR Mission coped extremely well with the varying terrain.

Next outing was to Lochnagar along with a few other Ultra runners. Having just recovered from a cold I opted for a 12 to 13 mile loop from Loch Muick car park, past the bothy, then up the staircase past Meikle Pap and onto to the clifftops, then to the summit. A short munch from my 'nosebag' then a long run down to Glas Alt Shiel past the waterfall and along the shores of Loch Muick to the car park. The Salomon XR Missions did a great job over the rocky terrain, the Contagrip HA on the sole giving plenty of traction on the rock, both uphill and downhill. Even though the shoe has plenty of cushioning I still got a good feel of the ground whilst running, giving a lot of confidence when moving fast. The outsole has a 'tendon' running along it from heel to forefoot, acting as an energy return system, flexing as energy is applied then quickly rebounding. You certainly feel a 'spring' over broken terrain as it flexes.

Latest outing has been to Dunnotar Castle, just south of Stonehaven, to the 'infamous' steps, apparently 272 of them, for some 'stair reps'. Great for building up the legs, stamina and endurance. And building up an appetite for a visit to a tea room later.
Again the Salomon XR Mission performed well with plenty of grip.

The Verdict

I am certainly impressed by the Salomon XR Mission trail shoe. It has been billed by many as a short to middle distance trail / road running shoe. So far my longest run in them has been 13 miles, very comfortable, no chaffing or blistering, so I'm going to push them further in the next coming months.

For someone looking for a multi-purpose shoe, parkland, trail runs, some road use, then the Salomon XR Mission is as good as it gets.
Up to now I've used road shoes for mainly road, and Salomon Speedcross for off road and Ultras, now with the Salomon XR Mission I have a trail shoe that sits between the two, and can perform well on and off road.

Happy running

I give the Salomon XR Mission...... 9/10

Friday, 17 February 2012

A future running partner?

The 'Lord and Master' away in Nigeria on business this week, so it falls to the Mrs to muse a few 'ings'.

The Morrison household is in a collective state of baited breath this week with the exciting news that we are expecting a bundle of joy in a few weeks time.  Before our families faint/choke/knit with the shock of this announcement, I must point out that our new family edition comes with four legs, a tail and the cutest little face you've ever seen. 

Monty, the Springer spaniel, is only 5 weeks old at the moment, so will not be ready for collection for another 3 weeks, but nevertheless Chez Morrison is already in turmoil with preparations for his arrival.  Gary is excitedly planning training runs in his head for when the pup is old enough to join him on his woodland jaunts. The puppy socialisation group is booked, the vet is on standby, the pet insurance is purchased, and the cat is thinking of taking an extended holiday in destinations unknown.

I'll keep you posted with future cannine capers, but in the meantime here's Monty at 4 weeks old.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Spine Race Epic Adventure.......( The Final installment )

( Photos to be posted later....)

So I rested up well at Alston ( Checkpoint 4 ), taking full advantage of the comfy beds, hot showers and copious cups of tea. Steve and I were interviewed by BBC Radio Newcastle shortly after we'd had our feet dressed. So all my swear words were momentarily out of my system.
Time was getting on so Steve and I readied ourselves for the nightshift and 40+ miles to Bellingham.
I headed out into a drizzly, windy evening. My feet were so painful, every step felt as if nails were being driven into my feet and that I was walking on broken glass. I embraced the pain by stamping my feet several times hard onto the tarmac street in Alston, within a few moments I'd transcended the pain. I was on a mission to get this race finished.
Through the wind and drizzle, Steve and I pushed on, making good time past Hartleyburn Common and on towards Greenhead.
In full flow........ picture courtesy of John Bamber

Greenhead was a significant landmark, as that  meant I was now on the Pennine Way North map.

On this day Steve and I chatted about what was going to happen in the closing stages of the race, by now we were both confident of a finish, we were both happy to keep pushing on through the pain.
My main goal all along was to finish, but now it looked possible that a first place finish in the Elite class was possible. By now in the race the only Elite class competitors left were Mark Caldwell and myself. Steve had originally signed up for the 100 mile ( 108 mile ) Challenger class, but felt so good he decided to carry on for the full 268 miles ! This essentially meant Steve wasn't in any official class.

Having gone through a lot together, and having got on so well during the race Steve and I decided if we had a substantial enough lead over the other competitors, we would cross the finish line together in Kirk Yetholm. The only way that would change was if Mark appeared on the horizon, then it would basically be everyone for themself in a race to cross the finish line.

So on we pushed, passing Thirlwall Castle and up onto Hadrians Wall.

What a tough route it is along the wall, especially when the ground is muddy and claggy. The going becomes really heavy, every stride your muscles ache with the extra effort of extracting yourself from the clinging mud.
Once north of the wall it doesn't get any better with the route disappearing through farmers fields knee deep in mud and slop.
It was in this section that Andrew Collister was retired. He was struggling to make steady progress due to excruciatingly painfull trench foot. Steve and I were lucky to avoid this, but it is a very real prospect for those considering the full distance Spine race.
Andrew Collister, age 21, put in a remarkable effort to go that distance. He would have still kept going but the race organisers retired him due to his trench foot. No doubt he'll be back to complete the full distance sometime in the future.

Andrew Collister receiving the Open trophy from Phil Hayday-Brown for a galant effort.

Daylight was breaking as Steve and I crossed the deep bogs of Ridley Common and Greenlee Lough. Our feet had been  soaked for around a constant 12 hours in non-stop bogs and mud, some bogs immersing us up to almost waist  level.

The rugged beauty of the by Scott Gilmour

We escaped the rain and wind in a forest near Haughton Common, and there we had a more substantial bite to eat.
For fuelling I had been eating something every 15 minutes since leaving Alston, keeping my fuelling at an optimum. This far into the race it is very easy for the wheels to come off, by not eating enough, over exerting yourself, or not protecting yourself well enough from the elements. Or a combination of the aforementioned.

As the daylight improved the sun came out, and the previous night's drudge and torture faded away. My spirits lifted and I had a renewed energy. Steve and I made great speed and progress through the beautiful Northumbrian scenery and down into Bellingham.

We'd made it !! Checkpoint 5 ( Bellingham )  Over 226 miles covered, just a mere 42 miles to go !!

We fell into Bellingham checkpoint. We'd been promised by Becky Wood some of her 'special' pasta and we were starving. We were also in need of VERY urgent foot care.

Shortly after arriving I was handed a mobile phone by Scott gilmour and told BBC Radio Scotland will call me and give me an interview over the phone. I was struggling to keep my eyes open when the phone rang. I did my best to answer the questions, not sure how incoherent I was, but I do remember the presenter saying I was in the lead and now on the home straight. I remember answering... ' Aye...a 42 mile home straight over the Cheviots !!!!'
I had my feet attended for an hour, lancing, draining, squeezing etc etc, lots of food to eat and a sleep for a couple of hours. When I awoke I witnessed Steve being carried out of the door and to a local GP to have his feet checked. It looked as if there was the start of an infection.
Steve reappeared , again being carried, pretty amusing, all was good, he was ok to carry on.

As Steve and I were preparing to leave, Mark Caldwell appeared. He was looking pretty good, but like Steve and I, his feet were suffering. We shared some good banter, then departed.

Mark Caldwell...a great character and a great competitor.

Again Steve and I were on the nightshift, but now only 42 more miles.
My feet were shot, but I was past caring, I was capable of handling the pain, and now I could practically smell the Finish.
The weather was turning for the worst. Large snowflakes were falling, we'd been told there was snow lying on the high ground and getting deeper. The one advantage with this being it would cool my feet and take away some of the pain.

I pressed on, ramping up the speed of pace. I was determined not to be overtaken by Mark.

We headed up the Pennine Way through the falling snow, eventually making it into the expansive Redesdale Forest. Once inside the forest out of the wind we stopped, removed a couple of layers, had a more substantial bite to eat them ploughed on, literally.
Inside the forest with big snowflakes falling, it was magical, more fairytale than reality.

I crossed through Byrness, then up the steep climb to the top of Byrness Hill. Now above the tree line we were once again on top of the exposed fells.
Snow continued to fall, getting deeper, now I had to really concentrate on navigation. What was painfully obvious was that Steve and I were blazing a trail, if  Mark trusted our navigation, all he had to do was follow our steps.  He could essentially move faster.

At this point I noticed a headtorch not far behind us through the falling snow. Steve turned to look and saw the same light. Mark had caught us up.
I thought he must have followed us right out the door at Bellingham without stopping.
Still, the headtorch behind us disappeared at a point where we took the Pennine Way along the top of a small crag, I thought Mark must have gone along the base of the crag and overtaken us.
Steve and I pressed on, we were following the Pennine Way route, but there were no footprints in the snow, no tracks, where had Mark gone?
An hour further on still no tracks. I must have been seeing things, so for that matter must have Steve !!
Mark had obviously not overtaken us, the light must have someone or something else !!!

Daylight started to dawn, Steve and I were making good progress, moving fast. We'd passed Chew Green, our last available water collection point for 27 miles, a stream. From now on the only water would be in a bog, not drinkable.
We headed up onto the Cheviots, Wedder Hill, bypassing the mountain refuge hut at Yearning Saddle, without stopping.  Up and down the route went, bogs, snow, sheet ice, wind, basically miserable. Yet the scenery is dramatic, wild and unspoilt.
We crested Windy Gyle, a significant landmark, we were well on our way to the finish, approx 11 to 12 miles only to go !! Less than a half marathon !  With every step I felt stronger, my pace increasing all the time.

Steve and I chatted away.

Then turning around to admire the view, I spotted 2 figures cresting the summit of Windy Gyle.
Instantly I thought it was Mark Caldwell with someone from the Spine team, encouraging him on.

I turned to Steve and said, ' that's it.. the race is ON, let's move !!'
I started running, pushing the pace, ignoring my screaming feet. Steve gathered himself up and started running.

Here we were sprinting for a Finish line 10 miles away, with trashed feet, aching muscles and  heavy backpacks, having covered 258 miles over the last 5 days !!!  If people could have seen us we would probably at that point looked more like geriatric zombies trying to catch a meal !
Mark Caldwell may have been labelled the 'Aberdeen Android', I was now becoming the 'Paranoid Android' !!

Having covered around 2 miles at this ridiculous pace, Steve announced that he had seen 2 walkers on Windy Gyle, I then remembered I had seen them too. Yet again there was no Mark Caldwell chasing us down !! Doh !!!
Unknown to Steve and myself, Mark had unfortunately slipped and fallen crossing a stream.And was now drying off his kit before he could continue.

Still realising it wasn't Mark in the distance I pushed on. Now I just wanted to finish.
My wife Vicky was waiting at the Finish. Friends and family had been sending me messages via Facebook, I'd read some of them at Checkpoints, and they had really spurred me on.

The last few miles to Kirk Yetholm I ran a fair bit, the downhills, the flats, the pain had subsided, I was totally elated, I knew I was finishing.

Pushing the pace... photo by John Bamber
It's a great route dropping down towards Kirk Yetholm, seeing the grassy track descend off the fells into the glen, knowing that you have broken the Spine. That within a few minutes you're going to cross the Finish line after a truly Epic Adventure.

As Steve and I neared Kirk Yetholm in the distance we could see blue flashing lights and a small group of people at a farm. I commented to Steve that there must be an incident of some kind. As we got closer it became apparent it was a welcoming party for us.

A great reception from Borders Mountain Rescue
The Borders Mountain Rescue team had turned out and gave Steve and I a 'blues & twos' escort into Kirk Yetholm to the Finish line. It is the most memorable race finish I have ever had, and ever likely to have.

The final push to the Finish !!!

Steve and I mustered up a sprint of sorts, and in perfect unison we crossed the finish line together, setting a new offical Winter Pennine Way record / time of 152 hours and 2 minutes.

I was congratulated by the whole of the Spine Team, locals, Steves family, and most importantly, my wife, Vicky.
Then to celebrate I downed the pint of Guiness handed to me at the finish.
The best pint ever !!

A Welcome reward !!!....picture courtesy of John Bamber

Later on that evening Mark Caldwell crossed the Finish line in a time of 158 hours and 55 minutes. Only the three of us completed the distance of what is a truly brutal, epic ultra-marathon.

Mark Caldwell on the final few metres to the Finish

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Spine Race Epic Adventure !! ( Part 3 )

Checkpoint 3 ( Middleton-in-Teesdale ) to Checkpoint 4 ( Alston ) approx 44 miles

After a 2 hour power snooze I woke refreshed. I packed down some porridge and plenty of tea. The Checkpoint staff were amazing, nothing was too much trouble.
Whilst I was asleep my feet had dried out, and were now ready to be dressed / taped for their next 44 mile onslaught.
Even with the intense pain in my feet I felt really good. I had come through 3 tough sections of the race and now I felt I would definately finish.
Steve & I heading towards Sayer Hill

Steve and I left Checkpoint 3 together in joint lead after a good rest, in decent physical shape. Now our sights were set on Alston ( Checkpoint 4 ) approx 44 miles away. Between us and Alston lay the infamous Cross Fell, the highest point of the race, and notorious for it's own treacherous weather system.

It was a cold, clear day with a biting wind. Scott Gilmour ran along with us for a while out of Middleton-in-Teesdale.
Me, wrapped up against the elements.

As we headed past High Force towards Sayer Hill, we could here shells firing on the ranges further away on the moors to our left. At any time I was expecting a tank to come rolling over the horizon.
Soon we came to Falcon Clints, and beneath it an iced up slippery boulder field we had to clamber over. I stopped to do a little blister management on a new hotspot. Steve took the opportunity to film the event on a minature handycam given to him by Scott, to get some raw footage in the field. I haven't seen the results of this yet, I doubt hollywood will be calling Steve and I soon for our film making skills !
We still had plenty of daylight and rounding a corner the raging cascade of Cauldron Snout came into view.

Cauldron Snout

I arrived at the bottom of Cauldron Snout. It was raging. Along side the boiling outflow was basically a cliff you had to ascend using various handholds / footholds. Which conveniently were covered in a nice slick film of ice, making passage precarious.
Eventually Steve and I reached the top, much to our relief, and pressed on towards Dufton Fell.

Now with all the mileage I had covered, sore, blistered, leaking feet was not the only problem. My lubrication of certain delicate areas was proving insufficient, and chafing was becoming the issue.
Basically I could have fried an egg on my bum cheeks !! A possible new survival technique !! Not that Steve would have thanked me for it !!
So out with industrial strength Sudocrem, and a little short term relief. Fortunately nipples, back and shoulders were all fine, no chafing.

Steve and I moved on quickly towards High Cup Nick, a spectacular ring of cliffs that drop hundreds of feet to the valley below. We got there in complete darkness skirting the upper ring of cliffs, where a few feet to the left of the path it plunges straight down. This was reminiscent of my run on the 208 mile Tor Des Geants in Italy.
Once off the tops I quickly descended, running down to the village of Dufton. I was feeling really strong with over 150 miles covered.  Steve was pressed but managed to keep up with me.

We pulled into the Stag Inn, where the barmaid put together a bacon & egg toastie, chips and beans, along with fresh coffee. This was greatly appreciated, as on a Tuesday evening they don't serve food. The locals couldn't believe we had been up on the fells, and that we were running to Scotland.
I met Dougie, Mark Caldwells dad, who was waiting for Mark, so he could get a sleep in the campervan.
Steve and I pressed on.
The weather was closing in, the wind getting up. We had our biggest challenge now facing us.
A string of high tops and ridges that goes on for miles and notoriously dangerous.
Great Dun Fell ( 848 metres ), Little Dun Fell ( 842 metres ) and finally Cross Fell ( 893 metres )
The other danger is that in some areas there are sink holes and pits.

Steve and I marched on submerged in darkness and the escalating winds. We quickly ascended up to the south eastern top of Great Dun. As we reached the top visibility plummeted to 1 metre and winds were now reaching 60 to 70 miles per hour. It was terrrible conditions.
I shouted to Steve over the screeching wind for us to stay side by side. We hunkered down beneath the man-made rock pillar cairn of Great Dun, whilst I took a precise compass bearing. Steve had GPS, but it was vague at times. I paced counted on a bearing, and bang we hit the pathway. Then quickly lost it again in the poor visibility and also due to the obscurity of the path. Another bearing and I picked it up again. We moved on slowly bent double against the screaming wind. We were taking a serious battering, but we kept eating through this, and importantly kept moving in the severe cold.
We reached Little Dun Fell by walking straight into the cairn on the summit ! I was pleased with my navigation. We huddled down behind the cairn out of the wind and celebrated our little triumph with a piece of Richard Lendon's Mum's homemade fruit cake ! Fantastic.
Now it was time for the big one, once more into the breech !!
We stepped out into the howling maelstrom, navigating onto the path. However the path was lethal, great swathes of ice covered the paths. They were impassable. We had to leave the path and go around which meant navigatinf to relocate the path again. We did this repeatedly and again, BANG !! we walked straight into the Cross Fell summit cairn.
Steve and I were on a high, we'd accurately navigated in the dark, in 60 to 70 mph winds when we couldn't see our hands in front of our faces !
We quickly crossed the tops and started our descent. A little further on we stumbled into Greg's Hut.
A little safe bothy on the side of Cross Fell.
John Bamber and Paul Shorrock from the Spine Team had set up a base there for runners to seek some respite from the conditions.
John and Paul gave Steve and I a big welcome. John fixed us some piping hot coffee and some noodles. I huddled close to the stove for warmth whilst John and Paul took some photos.
We chatted for a while and then headed back out to push on to Garrigill.
John and Paul did a great job establishing a base in Greg's Hut.

Back into the elements, the weather was changing. It was now lashing, horizontal, freezing cold rain. An absolutely evil night to be out. Still I felt good, had some nice hot coffee and noodles inside me.
We cracked on, descending quickly to Garrigill, making excellent time.
I could practically smell Checkpoint 4 despite it being 7 miles away. Now we were mostly on the flat, just some fields ansd riverside pathways to negotiate, we'd done the hardest part......or so we thought.
The path descended into a sea of mud, knee deep in places. It really started to sap our strength. The path also disappeared through fields of mud and slop. It was becoming frustrating, so near to Alston yet such slow going.
Eventually we broke out of it and arrived at Checkpoint 4, the Youth Hostel at Alston. Hoorah !!!

I was cold, wet and tired.
Phil Hayday-Brown, Becky and Anna met us, and quickly got Steve and I into the drying room to discard some of our wet outer layers. Then it was copious amounts of food, HOT SHOWERS, such luxury and importantly sleep, in a proper bed !!!

I'd made it to Checkpoint 4 !! Over 180 miles covered, only 88 to go. I was definately going to finish this. The Spines back was breaking !!

to be continued......

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Spine Race Epic Adventure !! ( Part 2 )

Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 ( 33 miles )

So we'd made it to Hawes, Checkpoint 2.
Once in we started getting a picture of the attrition taking place on the race behind us. Several runners had withdrawn through various injuries and one runner with hypothermia. Now there were only 10 left in the race.
I was pretty dog tired, ready for plenty of food and a few hours sleep. I also needed to get my feet checked out. The harsh mix of terrain, frozen rough ground, rock, deep bog, mud and stream crossings were all having an effect on my now throbbing feet.
I removed my shoes and socks to reveal some pretty impressive blisters and a few raw spots. I'd been doing my best to treat any early signs of hotspots, but this terrain was mashing my feet.
Now was my introduction to the 'feet team', Anna, Becky and Dan. Here on in I developed a love / hate relationship with them for the rest of the race.
Whilst I had my fill of a really tasty Muligatawny soup Anna got to work draining blisters, squeezing my right big toe to remove the fluid & pressure building behind my nail. To say the air was blue is putting it mildly !
If you are reading this and have a desire to take part in the 268 mile Spine race, at some point you will need to embrace and deal with the pain in your feet !
Trust me, in the picture above I'm not laughing !!
Once my feet were dealt with and I'd had my fill of soup, noodles, bread, tea etc, I settled down to 2 hours of blissful sleep. I'd been on the go for 41 hours without sleep.
Surprisingly I awoke refreshed. I waddled penguin-like to Becky who then dressed my feet, taping up some of the damaged areas.
I re-stocked my race pack from my drop bag, then along with Steve and Richard, departed Checkpoint 2 for Middleton-in-Teasdale, Checkpoint 3.
Our stomachs were full, we were well rested, our spirits high and we were on a mission to Finish !
We had overtaken Mark Caldwell without realising, the previous night.
Mark had decided to Bivi down on the trail somewhere between Horton and Hawes. I was now ahead of Mark.
However if I wanted to win the Elite class there was no letting up.
Mark Caldwell is an incredibly driven, determined athlete, with a wealth of mountain experience.  He just keeps going and going and going, no matter what the pain, he'll push through it.

Mark Caldwell

Steve, Richard and myself headed out of Hawes and up over Shunner Fell ( 716 metres ). The day was beautiful, a cloudless sky, bright sun but extremely cold. The route up over Shunner was very icey. Whole sections of the route were virtually impassable. We had to take detours around the ice onto peat bogs. The moorland was desolate but had a beauty to it, an untouched landscape. After Thwaite we passsed by Arn Gill Scar with gaping cave entrances, and onto Keld.
Still the banter between us all rolled on. I looked back often into the darkness to see if I could spot Mark's headtorch, but it seemed we were well ahead.

From Keld we crossed over Stonesdale Moor, conversation was dropping off, we were all starting to feel the biting cold. Richard then broke the silence with  a random 10 questions at Steve and myself. This took our thoughts away from the cold for a while.
Our next aim was Tan Hill Inn situated 520 metres above sea level.
On arrival we burst through the door into a lovely warm bar. I asked for food, to which Sarah the barmaid replied they were shut. I was totally downcast. Then everyone in the bar started laughing.
We then feasted on the best ever homemade Mushroom soup, huge chips and giant mugs of coffee. Fantastic !!
We were asked as to why we were out on such a god forsaken night on the Pennine Way. We explained we were in a race to Scotland, not just for ourselves, but also to raise money for charity.
So on hearing this the Tan Hill Inn gave us free food and coffee, and a customer donated money to the Help for Heroes charity. This restored our faith in the human race. A great bunch of people.

We headed off into the night and onto the peat bogs. It was bitterly cold but the Tan Hill Inn had warmed us up. 17 miles to go and we would be at Checkpoint 3.

The temperature was around -10, and in the wind it reduced further. Steve and I were feeling great. Eating regularly, keeping our furnaces stoked we marched on. Richard was starting to succumb to the cold.
Further on the route became obscure, difficult to navigate. This slowed us down and the cold started to affect Richard more. I kept urging Richard to eat, I asked him if he had another layer to add. He did, but couldn't make up his mind if he wanted to put it on or not.
The pace was slowing and the cold was now starting to affect Steve and I.
Richard was becoming increasingly confused, his speech started to slur. He was slipping into Hypothermia.
Richard made the decision enough was enough, his race was run after 135 miles. He wasn't warming up. Richard's core temperature had probably been dropping over the last 2 days.

So at Blackton Reservoir he decided to call for rescue.
Richard turned on his reception !
So Steve switched on his reception !!
So I tried my phone, turned it on, reception !!!

By this time Richard had taken off his pack and there was some relief that it was all now over. Errr....
not quite. Richard asked what we were going to do, I replied, 'put your pack on and we're going a further 1.5 Km across the fields to a road-head' Richard was not happy, Steve and I chased him up and off we went.
Fortunately 1 Km further on I managed to get some phone signal, so I phoned the Spine team with the grid reference. Steve and I sat with Richard until he was collected.
Part of me was sorry to see Richard go part of me relieved.
Richard is a great guy, spend any time in his company and he'll brighten your day. However in his hypothermic condition he was slowing Steve and I down, to the point that we could also become victims to Hypothermia.
Richard Lendon retiring from the Spine race at 135 miles is no failure. Prior to the race, the furthest Richard had ever run was 50 miles in favourable conditions. On the Spine race he covered 135 miles of the most brutal, gnarly unforgiving terrain imaginable in extreme cold weather conditions.
This is an impressive feat, and I expect Richard will be back toeing the Start line in 2013.

With Richard now safely in the hands of the Spine team, Steve and I cracked on.
We upped the pace considerably, I now meant business, I had a lead to maintain.
Navigation was spot on and we flew through the next 5 Km to Middleton-in-Teesdale. Ironically the last 5 Km since Richard had been picked up were the easiest of the entire section.
On reaching Checkpoint 3 we met Richard, who was now in great spirits and back to cracking jokes. A brilliant guy !!

Feet were the order of the day again, more lancing, draining, squeezing, swearing etc etc. Then huge feed followed by a pleasant 2 hour sleep, Perfick !!!

To be continued.......