Monday, February 06, 2017

Not The Spine Race Report - Part 2: The Desolation of Richard

Part 2: The Desolation of Richard

The trip to Edale went smoothly. Changing trains at Manchester, there were plenty of Spiners on the platform, instantly recognisable by rucksacks and expressions of apprehension and anxiety verging on fear. I started chatting to a couple of guys running the Challenger. “You’re Richard Lendon, aren’t you?”. I think I prefer anonymity.

Arriving in Edale, I positioned myself right by the doors and made a direct line for the Village Hall, arriving before the pack. Registration and kit inspection were calmly negotiated and I avoided the full kit-check top raffle prize that I had won the previous year. I picked up my “resupplies” (= items I’d forgotten at home) from media mogul, author, runner, legend and all round good bloke, Damian Hall – a watch and some double expresso gels.

I dropped my bags at the B&B, and headed for the Ramblers where I had a very enjoyable dinner with Karl and Harriet Shields, and their friend Kate. Harriet and Kate were doing the Challenger with Karl in support.

I was feeling relaxed and excited; ready to play.

Heading back to my room it was time to pack my bag properly and sort out food for the trip, which I managed to do with surprisingly minimal fuss. I was in bed by 22:30 and quickly asleep.

I woke feeling as though I’d had a good night’s sleep.

I checked my watch…23:55. WTF!

I couldn’t get back to sleep. I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious or nervous, but I felt like my heart was racing. I dozed back to sleep about 03:00 but woke at 04:00, and that was my night’s “sleep” done. Not ideal.

Dressed, breakfasted and packed, I headed down to the Village Hall. I nattered my way across the room; so many people to say hello to. Having collected my tracker and dropped my drop-bag, I found a quiet corner. Best to avoid all the nervous energy being expended in the room.

Then it was off outside for the start. I was quietly focussed. I had my game face on; I fancied my chances of going really well.

Gary Marlow and Benjamin Tyas asked where the end of the sprint was. I pointed at some arbitrary point “over there”; remember, it’s not a race! Cheekily they tried to race me off the start. They are claiming bragging rights but the “start” finishes when I decide it does, and I most definitely won!

This is serious stuff!
The "Blur"
For the first time in the Spine/Spine Challenger there was snow on the ground at the start. Heading towards and up Jacob’s Ladder, it began to snow steadily. However, it felt much warmer than forecast. 

As we passed Kinder Low, I was in a group of 4-5 at the front – Dominic Layfield from the USA (eventual winner), Wouter Huitzing from Netherlands (an experienced adventure racer but had never raced an ultra before), Dan Shrimpton (from Sheffield if I remember correctly) and Silver Eensaar (Estonian and another experienced adventure racer). There were another 4 -5 runners 100 meters further back. There was a decent amount of snow on the ground on the plateau which made going much slower than in previous years. Running towards Snake Pass, it was still snowing steadily – that kind of wet snow that’s not very pleasant. So much for the clear, sunny skies forecast. I led the race over Snake Pass.

Approaching Snake Pass
I stopped for a brief de-layering as I was sweltering having dressed for the forecast sub-zero temperatures. Quickly back with the pack, we headed up Bleaklow which was looking particularly bleak. There was a lot more snow and there was no visible path so it was a matter of picking an up channel. Someone’s GPS said we were on the path but we weren’t. Hitting the top, the cloud began to clear and I spied blue skies.

There was significant drifting heading down from Bleaklow. The correct line was hard to follow and I seemed to spend more time in the snow that on top of it. Stopped enjoying myself and began to drift away from the other four as I floundered around on my backside. I then had a most impressive fall through a drift, face-planting and breaking one of my (virtually brand new) poles. B*llocks….and that’s the polite version.

I lost focus for a bit and struggled to get into any kind of decent rhythm on the rest of the descent. I was overtaken by the following pack and then needed to stop to visit the local facilities. Why is there never a bush when you need one? I reached Torside Reservoir in 8 or 9th position but only a couple of minute behind.

Passing straight through, I could only see one other runner on the dam wall. I must have lost more time than I thought. On the other side of the reservoir, I passed Dominic who was sorting out some kit. I then passed a spectator who informed me that I was the first runner through. That was strange. Had everyone else spontaneously combusted? Gone wrong somewhere?

Note the empty left hand!
Given this, I decided to try and push on a bit. I know the Challenger route like the back of my hand and I wanted to use that to my advantage as much as possible. I also wanted to use my strength to my advantage on the last decent hill of the day. However, higher up, I was forging my way through fresh snow and the going was not conducive to getting away. Also, when you are used to having two poles, having only one is off putting and unbalancing. On hindsight, I should have stowed the other one. 

Halfway up Black Hill I was caught by Dominic, Eensaar, Dan and Wouter. Chatter recommenced. Apparently, everyone had stopped either with their support teams or to refill water at the Mountain Rescue tent. The 5 of us made our collective way up and over towards Wessenden Head, which I always find a positive marker point on the first stage.

About a mile before Wessenden Head, my legs began to feel really tired; surprisingly tired. I’d been running well within myself and had been eating regularly, so I wasn’t concerned. Caroline McCann had generously offered to be on hand with re-provisions – my go-to peanut butter (crunchy) and jam (raspberry) sandwich, and also some flapjack. And most appreciated they were too. I headed off.

Just round the corner, were my Mum and Dad. They had offered to come and offer moral support but I thought probably wouldn’t be around until Gargrave/Malham in the morning. Mum had brought enough food to feed a small army. Not wanting to be rude, I availed myself of a pork pie (eaten), flapjack and a Snickers (stowed!). Asked to be taken home; was ignored.

Heading down past the reservoirs, the 5 of us were within 200 metres of each other. My pace was good but my legs still didn’t feel right. Ascending the short, sharp incline on the other side of the valley my leg disintegrated. I had no energy, no strength at all. This is a part of the race I normally enjoy as the Pennine Way heads towards the M62. But not this year. My legs had completely gone, my pace dropped right off and it all turned into a bit of a trudge.

Mum & Dad were at the next road crossing. Despite some emergency chocolate, I was truly in the doldrums. Was given appropriate moral support and dispatched. Begrudgingly I trudged on.

For the next few miles, I was making progressively slower progress. I just had no energy at all. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. I was miserable and realistically I knew my race was over. This was definitely post-viral and wasn’t going to improve.

At the next road crossing one of the support teams – I think it was Dominic’s – offered me a spare set of poles. How incredibly generous. This is what the Spine is all about. Everyone helping everyone else. Thanks.

At the road before the M62, I spotted, in no particular order, my Mum & Dad (Dad’s silly hat is recognisable at a fair distance), Jon O'Connell (in an equally silly hat) and a burger van. Calmly, I told M & D that I was withdrawing. They tried to persuade me to keep on going; that it would come around. Except I knew it wouldn’t. I had never felt this bad this early in the race. The last 2 hours had been a trudge and every little incline had been a real effort. I couldn’t face another 24 hours of this and knew that it would quite probably make me unwell again.

Long lost brothers!
I asked Jon to remove my tracker.

Race over. 8 hours. 32 miles.

What a waste…

Mum & Dad took me to Hebden Hey to pick up my drop bag and dropped me at Hebden Bridge Station to get the train home.

I felt so guilty for dragging my parents out for such a pathetic attempt. They told me not be stupid.

I felt so guilty for so many other reasons.

So disappointed.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Not The Spine Race Report - Part 1: An Unexpected Journey

If a small book like The Hobbit can be made into 3 films, then my paltry 8 hrs on the Spine course this year can be spread over 3 parts.

So here goes

Part 1: An Unexpected Journey

When I wrote my last blog on the Friday before the race, I was feeling really good. My training done, I was feeling fit, strong and mentally prepared. I had a plan. I was ready to really have a go at the Spine, to perform as I know I can. Secretly, I had hopes of a top 5 finish.

I went for a short run later that day and was relatively slow having done little that week but I didn’t think much of it.

The next morning, I woke with a sore throat and some vague cold symptoms. I wasn’t too bothered as I tend to get over these things pretty quickly. I was a bit worse on Sunday and felt tired.  Jenny came back from her cruise to Dubai with a filthy cold and we made a tactical decision for me to sleep in the spare room. I didn’t want to catch hers as well and I didn’t want her to catch mine, bearing in mind her impending trip to Minneapolis.

I seemed to be on the mend on Monday. Jenny was worse and spent the day in bed.

On Tuesday, I drove over to Newcastle for work. I felt dreadful; full of cold and absolutely wiped out. I had to leave late morning as I wasn’t capable of anything. Doubt started setting in. “Surely not the week before the Spine. Surely I can’t the miss the race”. I cancelled my trip to London on Wednesday but felt no better. I was really doubting whether I’d be OK for the weekend.

Would I be OK for The Challenger? Would it be possible to change? But that that would mean a day’s less recovery… but I couldn’t miss the race entirely… could I?

Thursday, I woke feeling great. Completely better. Brilliant. I messaged Scott, “Just to confirm that I’m better and will be on the start line of the Spine on Sunday”. I opened my secret Spine kit box and packed my kit. It didn’t take too long – I’ve got my Spine kit fairly well sorted. Food was left for Friday. I felt so pleased and really positive.

I woke on Friday with all kind of negative thoughts and doubts. Was it sensible to do a week long event straight after a viral illness? Did I really want to be out for a week? Was it fair on Jenny – she was still poorly and there was lots to do the following week on our barn renovation and then she was off to Minneapolis for 5 weeks on Saturday. Shouldn’t I be at home with my lovely wife? Shouldn’t I be at home to take her to the airport?

By 10am, I was in a mess; so confused and unable to make a decision. I didn’t want to miss the whole and if I did the Challenger I would be back by sometime on Sunday/Monday; but would it be possible to swap into the Challenger? A quick message to Scott confirmed that it could be done. Of course, I had no accommodation for Friday night so it would be on the floor at the Field Centre in Edale.

At 11am, Jenny asked me what I was going to do. I didn’t know. I was totally indecisive, unable to think straight. Eventually Jenny made the call – I was doing the Challenger. 

I now had an hour to sort out my food supplies before leaving to catch the train to Edale. I just threw everything into a bag; I would sort it out later. All this concentrated the mind and I knew it was the correct decision… even if I hadn’t actually made it. I was getting excited about the prospects of racing the Challenger.

On the way to the station, I rang up my B&B and cancelled my room for Saturday night. Amazingly they had a free single room that night and even better wouldn’t charge me for it. Brilliant – I’d have space to sort “my stuff” and a bed to sleep in.

Jenny dropped me at Oxenholme and I was off on my unexpected Friday journey to run the Spine Challenger.

Part 2 coming soon…