Take a run on the Wild Side
THE SPINE RACE 2012
108.4 miles of the Pennine Way, Edale to Hawes
My Thoughts on the Race
Firstly, and I guess the same as everyone else, I really didn’t know what to expect from this one… I was given the chance to take part in the event at short notice, and I was 50-50 whether to attempt it. I was undecided. I’ve done 100 Milers before – The UTMB, and the Lakeland 100 being the most high profile, but they are summer 100’s. A winter 100 was a different proposition. If I’m honest I don’t like cold weather in very long distance events, it’s not the running, it’s the stopping. If I stop, I freeze. If I freeze, my mind isn’t where it should be…
But, unable to refuse a challenge, I found myself on the start line in Edale, Derbyshire, 09.00hrs, Saturday 14th January. Shivering.
I had my race plan, my strategy. Finalised and engraved into my psyche during the long drive North from Devon. Focus, preparation and ‘real time’ thinking generally come together for me a week or so before the Race, but this was different. I was winging it, relying on instinct. I would run the race in a single stage, stopping only at the first checkpoint, and having a good rest there. It would be my one and only stop, before continuing through the night to a finish around lunchtime on Sunday, Day 2. Well, that was the Plan!
I knew it would be a lonely race. Inaugural events are generally small by number of participants, and many of my fellow competitors would be tackling the longer event, the full 268. This meant they would be slower than me (hopefully), but also that I could be out in front on my own for a very long time. This proved to be the case. After Torside Reservoirs, at around 20 miles, I didn’t see a soul. I arrived at Checkpoint 1, Hebden Bridge (43 miles) on my own. I was there for over an hour (for food, change of clothes, dry shoes, foot maintenance etc) before Mark Caldwell arrived, a ‘Full’ Spine competitor. We chatted for several minutes and said our farewells. I hoped not to see him again! If I did, something would have gone horribly wrong for me.
Checkpoint 1 was to be my only Checkpoint. The next one would be the Finish. Most 100 mile races will have at least 15 checkpoints/ feeding stations. This fact alone puts the difficulty of the Spine into perspective. It’s not a ‘walk in the park’.
I departed the warmth and light of CP 1 at 11.15pm on Saturday night, and that night was excruciatingly long, silent, and frozen. The Trail crossed wild moorland, and Gritstone Edges. Flagstoned paths shone like silver stepping stones through a sea of tussock grass. There was a magic in moving along them. There was no sound, no movement, no breeze, only the alarm call of the Red Grouse, and the sudden disturbance of a darting Snipe. I had it all to myself.
The Spine Team met up with me at 10.30am next morning, on the way to Malham. They gave me hot coffee, and it was great to speak again. I’d almost forgotten how! The day was bright and crystal clear. A pure, cloudless blue sky above me. It raised the spirits, though I still had nearly 40 miles to go. I ran on past Malham Cove, sweat-dripping, surrounded by tourists, and climbed the two limestone monoliths of Fountains Fell and Pen y Ghent as the sun was setting. I could see the lights of Horton in Ribblesdale in the distance. My ‘pointer’ to the finish. The Home Straight. Fifteen miles to go!
Maybe I just didn’t know what to expect, but the terrain and conditions underfoot, the long hours of darkness, 15 LONG HOURS OF DARKNESS.. They all took their toll. Even navigation in some sections proved to be a real test. Brutal is one very apt word for it. The ground shreds your feet, quite literally. I changed to dry shoes and socks at the first checkpoint, but within an hour they were sodden once more. Trench-foot brings on blisters over time, and I had both, even though the Trail was comparatively dry… much of it was frozen solid! In fact we were blessed with the weather; cold (freezing) but clear, bright, and still. It could have been much worse!
I pushed on as fast as I could through the entire Race, but simply couldn’t maintain an average speed of much more than 3-4 mph. It was just too technical, the ground too icy. A heavy 8-9kg pack didn’t help much either! Compulsory kit included sleeping bag, bivvy bag, sleeping mattress, cooking stove and gas. Extra layers of clothing had to be carried, and more food than would normally be the case for a 100 miler. For instance, my pack for the UTMB would be around 2.5- 3kg. It’s more like a Mountain Marathon in terms of pack weight and kit carried.
I had to focus. Running alone, relying on my own decisions regarding navigation, nutrition and hydration. Mistakes would be costly. I made a few little navigation errors, but luckily, I latched onto them before going too far out of my way. Going the wrong way is never good for moral!
The second night.
I had not planned on a second night! But the Trail was rough, technical, rock-strewn, and foot placement became a priority. Mentally it had been a slight knock when I finally admitted to myself that I would be finishing in darkness, a good 6-8 hours behind my pre-Race forecast. But I wanted to finish. To hell with my time! I had to finish. I had planned a sub 30hour race, but I hadn’t planned for the unforgiving nature of the terrain. I felt I could do no more, and I was happy about that, because that’s all I could do.
The Trail had taken its toll. It had taken a part of me, but finally, eventually, I had beaten it. I had the bruises and blisters to show for it. But I had finished. I was euphoric, and I was spent. I had completed the 108 miles in 36 hours and 30minutes, taking First Prize in the process, but no way could I have continued for another 160 miles or so. That would have required another strategy. That would be for another time..
The most brutal race in Britain?
Ultra Distance Runner and Wild Running Guide