Monday, 23 January 2012

The Spine Race Epic Adventure !! ( Part 1 )

Pre race day

Kit checked, bags packed, unpacked, re-packed, weight cut down as much as possible.... this had been going on for several weeks, much to the irritation of my long suffering wife Vicky. Now Thursday 12th January had arrived and I was getting a lift with Mark Caldwell, fellow competitor, to Edale.
It turned out to be a Scottish contingency road trip, 4 x runners in a campervan, Mark Caldwell, Ben Hunter. Andrew Collister and myself. In Girvan we fuelled on fish & chips, I had an exploding coke bottle episode in the chipper and we picked up Mark's dad, Dougie, then it was off at full speed, literally, to Edale.
After a comfy night in the campervan in an obscure Asda car park, it was off to Spine Race HQ in the village hall of Edale.
There we met Scott Gilmour, Phil Hayday-Brown, the rest of the expert team and some fellow competitors.
Just after 6.00pm we all sat down to a series of presentations inc, navigation, weather, hypothermia, hypoglycaemia etc and most notably areas of the route to watch out for - a series of pot holes as deep as 140 feet, lying alongside the route and not fenced off. Disused mine shafts, sink holes, precipices.....etc etc etc. It was at this point that most competitors sphincters were starting to get tighter....... and the enormity of the task ahead was realised.....!

Spine trophies

Race briefing

So after all the up-beat good news we then fired up our stoves and each competitor received a full kit check to ensure we were packing all the required kit.
Then it was back to the Ramblers Inn and off to bed to sleep.........zzzzz

Race Day 14.01.2012  ( Day 1; Start to Checkpoint 1.....43 miles )

I managed a decent nights sleep, got a decent breakfast inside me, picked up my race pack and headed to the Start with Richard Lendon. It was a beautiful sunny, frosty day, not a cloud in the sky.
After a photo call with all 17 fellow competitors, a little after 9.00am we Started. The race was on !!

Race start line

It was quite amusing at the Start. It was an uphill start and a fair few competitiors took off as if it was a 10K, I stuck to my plan on pacing myself along with Mark Caldwell, 268 miles over rough terrain is a long, long way, where a lot can go wrong.
I settled into a steady pace, heading up out of Edale and onto Jacobs Ladder, the first decent ascent. The field was already starting to string out.
Then it was up onto the plateau of Kinder Scout, a sea of peat hags, basically giant man-traps. This is where I made a navigational error and basically turned myself around trying to exit a deep peat hag.
Fortunately I realised my mistake early and got back on track with a little bit of relocation, catching up with the field. We ran over the spectacular Kinder Downforce, which was frozen solid, then onto paved pathways across the peat bogs. Paving stones in normal conditions would have been great, but this day they were covered in sheet ice, making going very treacherous. numerous runners took some heavy falls. I witnessed Sharon Gaytor, fellow Elite competitor, take a nasty fall onto her side at this point. I was later to find out that, unfortunately, Sharon had retired at 25 miles due to repeated falls and taking quite a beating with the conditions.

Me on Kinder Scout

The field of runners by now had thinned out. Mark Brooks ( 100 mile Challenger competitor ) had taken an early lead,  and was now 30 mins ahead, closely followed by Mark Caldwell, ( Elite competitor ).
I settled into my rhythm, running closely with Steve Thomson, Richard Lendon and Andrew Collister.
Gradually night fell. We were forming a close group, the banter was great. Richard is priceless, a hilarious guy to be around. He's always talking and is an authority on where every pub, cafe, tea room along the entire Pennine Way can be found. He had ringed them all on his maps ! As we neared a pub he kept dropping hints of his need for salt & vinegar crisps, Steve and I closed our ears and we continued into the night.
Temperatures were dropping, it had been below freezing during the daytime, but now it was dropping to around -6, and in the wind it felt even colder. On this race you can't afford to stand still or you run the risk of starting to shut down.

'Twas a cold and frosty night.......
The cold along with the dark can start to make thought processes slow, the Pennine Way was proving to be badly signed, harder than expected to navigate, with parts of the route becoming very obscure over peat moorlands, very easy to get lost. My orienteering skills helped along with occassional gps use.We made a slight nav error at Standedge costing ourselves around 15 minutes, however later we caught up with Mark Caldwell and Andrew Collister who'd had a similar event. Later we crossed over the M62, a significant indication as to how far we had already travelled.
At this stage my feet felt good, I was warm, energy levels were high and I was alert, all good.

Past White Holme reservoir and Chelburn Moor we pushed heading for Stoodley Pike, a rather ostentatious victorian memorial, that never seemed to get closer. Eventually we passed it and headed on into Hebden Bridge, crossed the road and up a steep hill over fields to Colden, and down to Checkpoint 1 at 23.14hrs. 
I'd made it to Checkpoint 1 - one part completed only 225 miles to go !!!
Richard and Steve asked when I intended to leave the Checkpoint, and if we should sleep. I opted for a 1 hour power nap after a plate of baked tattie, beans and cheese. However I could only lie and close my eyes, my body and mind were in race mode, I couldn't sleep.

Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2  ( 62 miles )

Richard Lendon
Steve, Richard and I left together at 02.30 hrs feeling awake and refreshed, and in good spirits. Now we were in for a long haul, to Hawes.
From Hebden Bridge we headed over Heptonstall Moor, Wadsworth Moor, and Oakworth Moor. I maintained good contact with the map and we made good time. Conversation rolled along, along with the constant miles.
I was constantly grazing, keeping energy levels at optimum, however as we neared Gargrave I could feel myself tiring. I needed more than my snacks to fuel up.
Having listened to Richard talking about all the different coffee shops for the last 30 odd hours, Steve and I relented. We stopped at the White Cottage Coffee Shop in Gargrave.
It was the best thing we did.
Fortunatley the owners kindly let us in. Steve, Richard and I resembled post apocalyptic road warriors crossed with Mr Gay UK, thanks to being caked in mud and wearing lycra !! We were also eminating a bit of a whiff.
We absolutely stuffed ourselves, much to the amusement of the owners and fellow diners. We basically sampled the entire menu !! Boy it was good.
Eventually we all rolled outside with stuffed bellys and great spirits. We were ready to race once more!!
Quickly we moved towards Malham, and the spectacular sight of Malham Cove as daylight faded.
On the way up I was asked numerous times by tourists why we were going up when everyone was coming down. When I explained we were in a race all the way to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, they were a little bit astonished ( under statement ). Basically they thought we were all bonkers !!
On past Malham, over moorland, the trail becoming difficult to navigate. The wind was now getting up, chilling me down to the bone. I added another layer and maintained grazing from my snack bag.
Eventually we neared Pen-y-ghent. A large mountain, steep sided and very exposed. As I looked towards the summit I noticed a headtorch, it was Mark Caldwell, about 1 hour ahead.
Richard was slowing, Steve and I pushed him on. The track was completely covered in ice, making going very treacherous. We couldn't afford to slow down or we'd start to lose heat. Steve was excellent at force marching the pace on.
On the other side of Pen-y-ghent lies Horton in Ribblesdale, where there is a pub. We all checked our watches, 21.20hrs, and we were on the wrong side of the mountain. Could we make to Horton before last orders??? The race was now really on!!
We scrambled up the sheer face of Pen-y-ghent, blasted over the top and ran down the other side.
At 22.25hrs we made it to the pub, hoorah !!!
On arrival at the pub we asked for 3 x large mugs of coffee, to which the landlord explained the kitchen was shut, everything cleaned and switched off. So I asked if he could just boil a kettle for hot water. This wasn't possible due to some lame excuse. Not exactly great customer service !!
In the end we drank coke and ate crisps.
Still we got warmed up, and after 45 minutes hit the trail again.
I pushed on, trying to up the pace along with Steve, conversation flowed and we were making good time.
Around an hour later Richard started to slow, complaining of cold. He'd added a layer but was still a little cold. I pushed on more, and explained to Richard we were only 6 miles from Hawes.
BIG LIE !! But it worked, for a while. Richard picked up the pace.
The best bit of deceit on my part came when Richard spotted a sign stating 4 miles after I had told him there were only 2 miles to go. I explained the sign was actually in Kilometres ( BIG LIE number 2 ) much to Steve's amusement.
Eventually Richard twigged and started to slow, feeling cold. He said he needed to sit down for a while. I told him if he sat down I would stab him in a testicle with one of my running sticks !! It did the trick and after some very tricky navigation we all made it to Hawes ( Checkpoint 2 ) 105 miles covered in total. Only 163 miles to go.


  1. magic mate, informative, funny i can picture it almost perfectly,
    more more more!!!

  2. I showed my interest early on when this race was first announced, I'm glad that's as far as I went!!!

    Great reading so far.

    Am I tempted yet? Never say never!

    Well done

    Dave D

  3. Great post Gary, looking forward to part 2.
    Part 2 of my blog will be posted next Monday - stand by for some Greg's Hut pics!