Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Spine 2013 – Race Report

This promises to be a long read, so before you start I’d suggest getting a nice cup of tea and finding somewhere comfortable to sit!

I’ll try and stick to the facts, and will do a full kit review in a subsequent blog. I also will share some thoughts on why I think I finished in a later blog.

I’d entered the 2nd running of The Spine almost immediately after entries opened. In fact I think I even got Scott Gilmour (race director) to enter on my behalf – I was that keen to secure my place. Two reasons drove me. Firstly, the desire to finish this beast and secondly, I had enjoyed the inaugural event in 2012 so much.

Jenny, my wife, had volunteered to be part of the support team, so we set off together just after lunch on Friday. After a stop off in Hathersage for cash and socks, I took over the driving and drove like an excited lunatic on to Edale. We dumped bags at The Ramblers Inn and went straight over to race registration. It was great to see all the old faces (looking relatively relaxed) along with the new faces (looking distinctly nervous). Kit checked, we made our way back to the pub for a group dinner before the pre-race briefing. It was great to see Steve Thomson and Mark Caldwell again – hadn’t seen either of them since The Spine 2012.

The briefing started at 6.30. There were the usual navigation and safety briefs. John Bamber essentially told us we were going to die; there were some distinctly scared faces by now. I had felt exactly the same last year – I had been petrified in fact.

Then it was back to the pub for an early night, except I messed around with kit, shoes etc (as you do!) I actually managed a reasonable night’s sleep. Jenny had done really well to keep me relatively calm and relaxed leading up to race day – I felt that my mind and body were both in the right place, and I was quietly confident.

Section 1: Edale to Hebden Hey CP1- “And they’re off”

Race day dawned with the prospect of some early cloud but a generally clear day. After dropping our drop bags off, we all made our way up to the start line at the Nag’s Head pub. 

The elderly lady who lives opposite told us we were blocking her driveway (as she did last year). 

We started just after 0800 – I was first to the 1st gate (20m) last year and I made it again! 

Right from the beginning I was walking the uphills, running the flats and downs.

At the top of Jacob’s Ladder we hit some fairly thick cloud. Although we hadn’t actually said so in as many words, it was pretty clear that Gary (Morrison) and I would be tackling The Spine 2013 together. I led us across from Kinder Low to Kinder Downfall, this year on the correct route, not across the bogs! Better conditions under foot and prior knowledge of the route (we only looked at the map twice on the first day) ensured that we made much quicker time. 

After Snake Pass the weather cleared and we had very pleasant conditions.

The miles rolled by. We crossed the M62 just as the light faded. I felt great. Eating and drinking well, feeling strong. Past Stoodley Pike and up to Hebden Hey (CP1), arriving at 2000, at least 2 hours quicker than last year.

Job done.

One of my major strategies this year was NOT to allow myself to think of finishing until the last section. I was treating each section separately, purely as a way to reach the next section. Every time images of finishing popped into my mind, I told them to eff off!

It was great to see Jenny at the CP. She seemed to be very relaxed and really enjoying her role as Assistant Chief-Chef! She made sandwiches for me and then everyone else, and generally mothered us all.

We wanted to get to Hawes (CP2) in good time in order to sleep and leave first thing in the morning, so after a good feed, sorting out kit and food for the next section, and foot dressing (I had one small blister), we hit the road at 2130. A long night was ahead of us.

Section 2: Hebden Hey CP1 to Hawes CP2 – “The snow comes”

Back out on the “Way” we soon caught our good friend Steve Thomson and Gary Warmington. We made good time across the moors and seemed to reach Top Withins remarkably quickly. I still felt remarkably fresh but knew the tiredness would come.

The four of us arrived at Gargrave at 0710; last year we’d got here at lunch-time so progress was really pleasing. Only the Co-op was open, but we were in luck – hot pies and pastries all round and the assistant allowed us to eat them in the shop. As we ate, we warmed up next to the pastry heater. A memorable breakfast.

Then it was on to Malham, I remember an hour of overwhelming sleepiness and having to fight to stay awake. I really hate this feeling but was ready for it, and ploughed on whilst eating lots of sweets. Gary wanted a coffee, so we stopped at a great little cafĂ© just after the visitor’s centre and had a quick drink and a sensational piece of carrot cake each. In this race, it’s so important to listen to your body and just keep on eating and eating. If you see food, eat it. If you think of food, eat some.

Making our way past Malham Cove and on to CP 1.5 at Malham Tarn, the weather was still clear but dark snow clouds were moving threateningly in front of us. John Bamber was in great form in his tent – coffee, noodles all round, and a swig from his hip flask (well, it would have been rude not to!) Gary and I decided to change socks and get our feet expertly re-dressed by Olivia. Steve and Gary W left us here – they were both doing the Challenger event.

As we approached Fountain Fell, the snow began to fall heavily. It really is a drag up Fountain Fell, but then is was down the other side (without falling over this year) and on towards Pen-y-Ghent. It was snowing really heavily by now and the scramble up to the top wasn’t a huge amount of fun. It was good to see Conrad et al just off the top. I remember thinking that it wouldn’t be a bundle of laughs for anyone coming up after us that evening.

We bypassed Horton on the new route and then began the long trudge towards Hawes. We were both going well – no repeat of last year and Gary threatening me with his sticks. Nevertheless, this section just goes on and on, culminating in a tricky bit of navigation off the ridge.

We eventually made it to CP2 at Hawes at about 2200 – 38 hours after starting, with no sleep, but at least 7 hours earlier than last year. This was incredibly pleasing and we knew we could get a decent night’s sleep and be off at first light.

Job done.

Jenny and the rest of the support team busied themselves with feeding us - Jenny looked tired and had sensibly decided to stay in a B&B for the night. She reassured me that she was really enjoying herself; it was lovely to see her throwing herself into the race so much. After a hearty feed it was time for bed – well the floor on the stage behind the curtain. 

Stage 3: Hawes CP2 to Middleton CP3 - “Putting last year to bed”

This was the section during which I withdrew last year so today was an important psychological day for me

We left at 0700, probably in joint 3rd place, and it started to snow again. Mick Cooper (eventual 2nd place) soon joined us and the 3 of us climbed Great Shunner Fell as the snow and visibility worsened. Route finding was tricky. This was an unpleasant part of the race and the ascent seemed to take a long time. 

The weather started to clear once the summit was left.

The path was getting icy. Gary slipped over.
R: “Shall we put our Katoohla’s on, Gary?”
G: “Should be Ok”
I slipped over
R: “Shall we put our Katoohla’s on, Gary?”
G: “Not yet”
Gary slipped over.
G: “Let’s put our Katoohla’s on”

Mick elected to push on and we weren’t to see him en route again. 

We reached the bottom of the valley in Thwaite, on to Keld and then began the gradual climb to Tan Hill pub. The views down the valley were sensational – a real winter wonderland. 

Reaching the pub in good time, we stopped for a compulsory feed – soup, roll and chips – and of course warmth. We set off in the light and were able to navigate the next bog section much quicker than last year – surprisingly, posts are more visible in the light! Soon we passed the reservoirs where my race had disintegrated last year. I was surprised how many fine details I could remember  - where I’d put on extra layers, where I’d tried to power walk up a hill. We reached the road where I’d been picked up. Gary shook my hand. We were 135 miles in. I was now in unknown territory but still feeling strong, confident and focussed.

We made our way to CP3 at Middleton, arriving about 2200. Annoyingly the CP wasn’t well signed and we had to wander around the village hunting for a phone signal. The CP was a welcome sight and I was really pleased to get here on foot this year. Jenny, Katie and Aidan awaited. We gouged ourselves on baked potatoes, beans and cheese, followed by beans and cheese on toast. After a bit of an unwind, it was off for a well-earned sleep and a plan to leave at daybreak again.

Job done.

Section 4: Middleton CP3 to Alston CP4 – “Cross Fell”

I knew this was going to be a tough day with the long haul up Teesdale and then the ascent and crossing of the famous Cross Fell. However, Gary and I were still both going well with minimal damage and minimal bad spells so far.

We had planned to leave at 0700 but due to Gary requiring prolonged foot care by Katie and a very necessary conversation about route finding with Scott, we left at 0800. Scott joined us for a few miles, which was very positive, and said they would try and get water for us at the top of Caldron Snout. The day was clear but there were a few inches of snow, so feet were quickly wet again.

Teesdale was gorgeous with Low Force and High Force. I then had 1-2 hours of overwhelming tiredness; I just wanted to sit down and go to sleep. Fortunately this passed before we reached a singularly unpleasant boulder field where several expletives rang out. The valley widened out and reminded me of something one might see in North America. 

We then reached the spectacular Cauldron Snout. Scott met us at the bottom and we positively bounded to the top with our spikes on. Stu Westfield was on hand at the top and greeted us with water and a big bag of chocolate. A Boost seemed appropriate and I stored away a couple of others!

Then started the long haul up to High Cup Nick. It was a glorious afternoon with a blue sky and strong sun. Reaching the top as the sun began to set,  we were treated to glorious views. One of the real high points – High Cup Nick really is spectacular and well worth a visit.

We wandered down into the lovely village of Dufton and entered the homely Stag Inn just after 1700. Apparently they didn’t actually open until 1730 and the chef had gone for his break. Nevertheless, they served us with a hot cafetiere of coffee and called the chef back. We essentially took over the pub with our kit and as we waited for our food I had a 15 minute power nap – I was still feeling well physically but beginning to feel very sleepy.

There then followed the most amazing steak pie and chips followed by an equally amazing slab of Dime Bar cake and custard, whilst we readied ourselves for Cross Fell. 

The locals were suitably bemused by us and thought us “slightly” mad for going up there on the coldest night of the year.

We reluctantly left the warmth, and after an interesting bit of navigation, re-joined the Pennine Way. The night was clear and on the long, steady ascent of Green Fell (790m), it was beginning to get very cold. Great Dun Fell followed then Little Dun Fell. After some tricky route finding, we started up Cross Fell, the high point of the Pennine Way at 893m. I was in awe of the completely clear night, the stars and the clarity of the air. I felt very lucky to be up here on such a night – despite the cold and the wind, it was a special moment.

We reached the cairn on Cross Fell
G: “Welcome to Cross Fell, Rich”
R: “Is that the top?”
G: “Yes”
R: “So why are we still going up?”
We reached another cairn
G: “Welcome to Cross Fell, again, Rich”
R: “Is that the top?”
G: “Yes”
R: “So why are we still going up?”
We reached the summit cairn
G: “Welcome to Cross Fell, again, Rich”
R: “Whatever…..”

The sanctity of Greg’s Hut now beckoned. I had looked forward to seeing this landmark for some time. I was beginning to get a bit cold but still feeling OK. John and Paul Shorrock were there to welcome us. John served up his standard fare – coffee and noodles – and well received it was too. I was continually falling asleep by now.

We stayed at the hut for at least 1.5 hours, which on hindsight was a mistake. Although I felt warm, my engine had cooled down. On leaving, I quickly became cold and despite getting up to 8 layers and wearing my expedition mitts for the first time, I never warmed up on the long descent to Garrigill then Alston. I was falling a sleep on my feet and despite continually eating, beginning to shut down. I walked most of the way 100m behind Gary, with him continually turning round to see if I was OK. However, I strangely wasn’t too concerned at this stage. I was making forward progress, feeling mentally strong, nearing the CP, and with absolutely no intention of stopping.

After a very long few hours we arrived at the Alston CP at about 0600. Had a quick feed (on hindsight not enough) and pretty much went straight to bed.

Job done.

This had felt like the key section to me. After this section, there was only one section left before we reached the last section – if you follow my drift. This was theoretically correct but very wrong in practice as I was to find out. I was still not allowing myself to think of the finish. I was beginning to feel tired but I thought I had the majority cracked. Bad mistake.

Section 5: Alston CP4 to Bellingham CP5 (via Greenhead) – “Disintegration, regrouping, and onward”

Woke after 3 hours of sleep, which was not as much as I’d expected. I was feeling pretty tired, and the whole thing was beginning to get hard. Jenny and I had a precious 10 minutes on the sofa. We were both beginning to feel emotionally tired – I had been totally immersed in the event and fully focussed for 4 days, and Jenny had been rushing around helping everyone and worrying about me. A few tears were shed but it was a precious few minutes for us both. 

After a breakfast of 4 sachets of porridge and copious amounts of honey, I went upstairs to sort out my kit whilst listening to some psych-up music courtesy of AC/DC. I had a read of my "positivity crib sheet" - I had printed out some words of encouragement from friends and a poem that seemed appropriate, and was carrying this is my rucksack.

After more food and dressing of feet, Gary and I left about 1500. I was feeling much more rested and positive again, but was somewhat reluctant to leave Jenny and the haven of the CP.

We made reasonable progress initially but navigation became tricky through endless bogs. Even Gary was getting frustrated at the terrain and poor progress, “I’ve had enough of this” – or words to that effect!

I was starting to really feel the cold. I was well layered up and still eating regularly but despite this, I could feel my energy levels dropping and my drive to continue diminishing rapidly. I was dropping well behind Gary and he was having to constantly check on my progress. I tried to call Jenny but couldn’t get through. By now I’d quite frankly had enough of this stupid race and was fighting a losing battle with mind and body. I could hear Gary speaking to Scott – he was obviously worried about me. I was initially a little annoyed (and paranoid) but Gary was doing exactly the right thing – alerting the team to a struggling competitor. He decided to get us onto the road for the few miles to Greenhead – later he told me this was to get me closer to support to avoid the complete meltdown of 2012.

Just before Greenhead, I was ready to quit. Jenny finally got a signal and rang. I burst into tears; she burst into tears.
R: “I can’t do it. I’ve had enough but I can’t fail again, I don’t want to let everyone down”
J: “You’re not a failure darling, you are the bravest person I know”

I spoke to Katie, one of the great team of doctors and as I joined the main road into Greenhead, I saw Gary had stopped by a parked car. My rescue team, my way out of this torture – it was decision time.

Naomi and Joe Faulkner were in the car. I hadn’t really met these two during the race but I probably owe them a good part of my eventual finish. Naomi assessed me as I warmed up, and Joe made me hot Ribena, soup and wraps, and some amazing homemade flapjack. I began to feel better. Options were to withdraw, carry on as planned to Bellingham (still 23 miles away) or stop the night at the YHA in Greenhead, which Conrad had kindly arranged to be opened up for us all as a possible resting point, and leave again in the morning.

I decided (or was I persuaded?) that the sensible option would be to rest at Greenhead, get a good night’s sleep and see how I felt in the morning.

Little did I know that, unless medically necessary, they’d been under strict instructions to not let me withdraw!!

I walked the remaining mile into Greenhead where Gary was already resting. I knew Jenny was rushing over from CP5 in Bellingham. Joe continues to feed me and made fantastic scrambled eggs. Gary decided to carry on alone, which was absolutely the right thing to do – he would be able to progress much quicker now. I was sad to see him go but felt I was getting back on course. It was now approaching midnight.

Gary apologised later on the race about contacting Scott – he felt guilty about ringing in without my knowledge. Gary, you did exactly the right thing – thanks!

Jenny arrived, assessed the situation very quickly (the YHA was very cold) and ran over to the Greenhead Hotel. She procured a room just as the landlord was closing up. Once in situ, I had a quick bath, ate some more and quickly fell asleep.

I woke feeling rested and ready to go onward. Jenny had left a message at the YHA for Paul Dickens and Russ Ladkin, who I knew planned to sleep at YHA, to call in the morning. Paul rang and told me they were planning to leave at 8 and that they were happy for me to tag along.

Then followed an entertaining half hour as Jenny ran around finding breakfast and bread for sandwiches. Fortunately, the breakfast things were out – I had 4 portions of Alpen with milk, which she’d had to sneak into the kitchen and search in the dark for, and even a round of toast with butter and jam. She said it was a quest to feed me and send me on my way. What an incredible lady – she was more psyched up than me, and I owe so much to her.

At 0800, the 3 of us set off for Hadrian’s Wall and CP5 Bellingham. I said  goodbye to Jenny - she had to go home for the night but would come back up for the finish. 

I felt really good.  More than anything this was due to being away from the race for a few hours, which had given me a chance to relax and regroup mentally. I was going to finish this baby.

I spent some of the morning reading through a few of the Facebook messages of encouragement. I was simply stunned by the level of support and depth of feeling. This gave me renewed strength and was truly inspirational. Thanks to all.

Paul and Russ were good company, and they were crossing the ground quicker than Gary and I had been. We made good progress along Hadrian’s Wall – must pay a more leisurely visit some time – and arrived at Bellingham at 1500.

Job done….just!

Section 6: Bellingham CP5 to Kirk Yeltholm – “The Cheviots await”

We had a very quick turn around, eating and packing all kit for the final section, whilst listening to AC/DC courtesy of Stu Westfield,and left at 1630. The plan was to get to Byrness and bed down for the night ready to smash the final 28 miles across the Cheviots in the morning, hopefully avoiding the heavy afternoon snow forecasted as much as possible.

Paul’s wife kindly arranged accommodation for us. Apparently everything in Byrness was closed for winter but someone had agreed to open up their guesthouse, provide us with a bed and hot soup when we arrived.

The trail to Byrness involved plenty of bog hopping and trudging through forests. It quickly became clear that Russ was struggling. He’d not managed to keep much down all day and was now beginning to have significant abdominal pain. By the time we reached the forest before Byrness it was obvious that he was shutting down and unable to continue. Paul got him into the woods and into his bivvy bag whilst I rang Phil. The support team arrived after about 30 minutes. Paul suggested I push on to Byrness as the owner of our accommodation was waiting up for us.

I arrived at Forest View Walkers Inn just after midnight and Paul followed 40 minutes later. It was lovely and warm, and Joyce, the owner, made us extremely welcome. Having taken our wet kit into the drying room, she fed us on superb chicken soups, crusty bread rolls (I had 4) and jam sponge. Just what the doctor ordered! She told us to help ourselves from the honesty cupboard in the morning, and let ourselves out! I heartily recommend Forest View for anyone looking to walk the Pennine Way.

After a comfortable night’s sleep, a shower (!) and breakfast we left at 0700. The skies were clear and we had 28 miles across The Cheviots to the finish. Just a marathon! Having done my best to not think about the finish, today visions of finishing would drive me. I was feeling good. I was well fed, carrying plenty of food and I knew that physically I had plenty in the tank. I needed to keep warm and anything else was out of my control.

We were treated to a stunning sunrise and made excellent time to the first mountain rescue hut arriving at just after 1000. We reported in to Race HQ, and after a quick sandwich and some chocolate it was off again on the long traverse to the second mountain rescue hut.

Conditions began to toughen – strong almost ferocious winds, either wading across partially frozen bogs or through several inches of snow. Snow clouds were beginning to look threatening but we made relentless progress, crossing briefly into Scotland. Windy Gyle lived up to its name. I wasn’t looking at my watch at all; we were just concentrating on continually going forwards, each step closer to the finish.

As we approached the second mountain rescue hut, the cloud dropped and we were suddenly hit with blizzard-like conditions. A tough climb through knee-deep snow to the high point of the day at 743m seemed to take forever, but I knew this was the last significant climb, and we quickly made our way down to the shelter of the second mountain rescue hut arriving at 1530. We checked in to HQ again, I signed the guest book and we treated ourselves to some more sandwiches and chocolate. My water bottles were completely frozen and Paul kindly gave me a mug of lemon squash.

Nothing could stop me finishing now. 

As we left the hut and approached the final climb of The Schil, the sun broke through. I told Paul that after a magical sunrise, we were now going to get a magical sunset. The clouds dropped and the blizzard started again. It was almost as if the lord of Cheviots was saying, “You may have made it through this time, but you ain’t getting that sunset!”

Coming down from The Schil, suddenly a red-coated figure approached us from behind. It was Gary! He was suffering from frost-nip/early frost bite in his fingers and was keeping lower to stay out of the wind. He was looking drawn and said he hadn’t seen anyone for 24 hours. He was moving slower than Paul and I, so I told Paul to go on ahead. Earlier in the day Paul had asked me what I would do if we caught Gary, and I had said that I knew exactly what I would do and would not, could not, finish ahead of him.

After Paul left, we had a big hug; brothers in arms reunited. Gary was quite emotional and said how pleased he was to see me. He said he was just about to fulfill his 2 goals – to become the first person to finish The Spine twice and to see me to the finish. I was really touched – a true friend. It was great to be finishing together.

We slowly made our way down the valley and were met by our escort to the finish - John Bamber, Paul Shorrock and Mist. It was great to see them and they looked equally pleased to see us – all one big family on The Spine.

R: “Paul, how far is it to the finish?”
P: “About 20 minutes”

R: “Oh……I thought it was less than that”
P: “Richard, you’ve managed 267 miles, I think you can manage another one”
Fair point.

In his blog, Paul writes, “……last years joint winner Gary Morrison accompanied by Richard Lendon – Richard had been forced to withdraw in 2012 due to hypothermia, but for him this wasn’t settling a score, it was more like completing a long journey of self-discovery”. Spot on, Paul.

The lights of Kirk Yeltholm came into view – a wonderful sight. Emotions swelled up as did pride. I saw Jenny, almost in tears, then Jessica, my daughter, gave them both a quick kiss, and then they ran with us for a few metres which is a memory I will never forget. 

Getting quite emotional writing this!

We ran the last few metres to The Border Hotel, the end of the Pennine Way, touched the wall and it was over. It was 1730, I had finished The Spine in joint 5th place, 6 days 9.5 hours. And in time for tea! 


A tearful embrace with Jenny, hugs all round with the entire team. I soaked in the moment, trying to absorb it forever. I was relieved, happy, grateful and so, so proud. It was an unforgettable few moments and I am so grateful that Jenny and Jessica were there to share it, as well as Ian who was chauffeuring. 

Into the pub and more congratulations, especially from the 2 Catalans, Eugeni (Spine 2013 winner) and Joel, great athletes and really great guys. They are elite moutain runners, having finished 10th and 16th respectively in the 330km Tor de Geants. They consider The Spine to be the hardest race they have ever done.

A quick bath, then back down to bar feeling incredibly fresh. Half pint and certificate courtesy of the landlord.  Chatted then ate with Gary and Vicky; a superb supper of fish and chips followed by sticky toffee pudding with extra sauce and extra ice cream.

In the morning, I had a hearty full Scottish breakfast and we went off to the Spine HQ aka the farmhouse to receive our medals. Then it was some sad farewells and we drove home.


I can’t thank everyone in person, But thanks to everyone who supported me and sent me messages of encouragement before, during and after the event. I was overwhelmed by some of the comments and I am so grateful to everyone.

To Jenny: What can I say? You were brilliant. You are brilliant. I simply couldn’t have done it without you. It was wonderful to share the week and my finish with you

To Gary:  I could not wish for a better running buddy. It was such a pleasure to run together, and ultimately to finish with you. You are a tough, tough man. PTL – why not?!

To Scott and Phil: Great concept, great race, great camaraderie, great guys.

To all the Spine team: Just thanks, thanks for everything.


The Spine changed me last year, and part of me was worried that it couldn't ever be the same, that it was a one off. But this year was even better, not just because I finished, but also because I really lived. For 6+ days I was at one with nature and with myself. Life was simple, beauty was all around, the air was fresh and my senses were really heightened. I was alive.

I still find it hard to believe that I travelled 268 miles by foot, in the winter, in less than 6.5 days – over 40 miles per day. I am in total awe at the strength of the human body and mind, particularly when they are in the same place and working as one. Mine diverged for a few hours on Wednesday night when it felt as though my race was disintegrating, but I have never felt so alive, so at peace and so as one with the world as I did all of last Friday - the day I finished The Spine.

The Spine truly is an epic event. It sucks you in, drains everything you have - physically, mentally and spiritually. Just when you think it's broken you, you find a new level of strength that you didn't know existed. I feel very lucky to have been involved twice, and I will be back again 2014, either running (ouch) or as part of the support team.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Spine "positivity crib sheet"

Rich you will do it this time!! You are more then capable. 
Remember all those hours of training. All the pain all the sweat the tears.
You have completed it. Just realise it now!
It's yours for the taking !!!! KICK IT'S ARSE!!!!!!!
Rich it's the truth !!
Respect the challenge. Stay safe.
Live in the moment. Deal with the moment.
Enjoy the ride before you know it you will have completed it!!
You know what it takes. You have what it takes. You've come back for more.
Looking forward to seeing your Facebook status saying you have completed it mate
Richard, The Spine has your name written all over it and by the look of all your training and successes in recent months it will be amazing. Good running, you are going to rock this race.
JUST DO IT, Rich. Remember, pain is only temporary, pride is forever.
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
And the realist adjusts the sails.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Spine 2013 - a few after thoughts

Spine (noun)
  1. The spinal or vertebral column; backbone.
  2. A ridge, as of ground or rock.
  3. Something, as a quality or trait, that constitutes a principal strength; resolution; stamina; backbone
  4. Britain’s most brutal race; the longest, coldest and most demanding mountain marathon in Britain; 268 miles of ice, snow, cold and savage winds.
The Spine 2013 was an epic and indeed brutal event. I cannot describe how it felt to finish – relieved, happy, so very proud, grateful, sheer joy. All the more so after a DNF in last year’s inaugural event at 135 miles with severe hypothermia.
For me, this wasn’t just unfinished business; it was an unfinished journey, and a journey I had to complete for so many reasons, for so many people. Very early on in the race, I realized that for me this was a pilgrimage – a journey I had to undertake, give in to, and finish.
Britain's most brutal race? Absolutely.
If you are considering entering this, please do not underestimate it. Don't read the info and think that looks good, that looks fun. Trust me, it is brutal and will take you to places physically & mentally that you haven't been to before. This is not just a long ultra, not just 268 miles. It's 6/7 days of continuous effort and concentration - managing sleep, food, the cold, your feet, trying not to lose focus but trying to make the right decisions, feeling so miserable, wanting to go home. It is tough and many will pull out in the first 2 days.
Not that I'm trying to put anyone off - I'm purely trying to add some realism. This is a great race, is great fun, and is one big adventure.
But if you do enter and are brave enough to stand on that start line, you will experience camaraderie, team spirit, a true feeling of adventure, being at one with nature, episodes of complete bliss. And believe me, the joy of finishing is unparalleled in my sporting life. I love this race; it sucks you in, takes everything you have but gives back everything you could wish for. I am a better person for undertaking and completing the journey. Happiness is the road....
My wife, Jenny, who is not a runner, does not get running, was part of the support team. She loved it, and will be part of the support team next year. She now gets running, gets why I do it. To have her there with me was so special.
I am part of The Spine family - I will be back next year either competing or in the support team. I would not miss it for the world.
Thanks to all who played a part, however small, in getting me to that finish line. I cannot possibly name everyone but you know who you are.

Just a few yards to go - with my best friend & eternal support, Jenny, and my best running buddy, Gary Morrison

Race report to follow.....

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Spine awaits.....

So, it’s just about time for The Spine, “Britain’s most brutal race”, The Pennine Way, 268 miles

The race starts at 0800 on Saturday morning. Jenny and I are driving over to Edale on Friday afternoon for all the briefings etc, and then our last night of comfort at the Rambler’s Inn. It’s great that Jenny is coming along as part of the support team. She is under strict instructions to NOT let me drop out unless I have bone showing, and she has told me that she will NOT be taking me home when she has to leave on Thursday. Bless! She has told me not to worry about her and I have told her not to interfere with my race plans! I think she will find it a lot easier this year, knowing exactly where I am, and her support will be invaluable to me. I hope she may understand the ultrarunner’s mind a little more!?

All my kit is in various piles (aka heaps) on the spare bed. My race kit and rucksack is all sorted – very happy with a rucksack weight of less than 5kg without food and water. Spare kit will just get chucked in my drop bag!

I’m getting progressively more nervous and excited as the week goes by. Scared too, but not as scared as I was last year – that would be difficult. I’m more aware of how the race will pan out so able to plan a little better. I’m also far more aware of the physical challenges and, probably more importantly, the mental challenges that next week will bring. Naivety and stubbornness got me a long way last year but this year I am physically and mentally far better prepared.

I am in a good place physically and, again more importantly I think, mentally.

I am feeling strong. I am feeling positive.

I will finish.

Friday, January 04, 2013

2012 – The Forgotten Races

I ran several races through the middle of the year that I didn’t get round to writing about mainly due to my poor state of mind. Although I kept on running whilst I was unwell, my training was totally erratic and I had a few niggly injuries. On hindsight, I was probably running more out of habit – I was continually tired and had totally lost my sense of enjoyment.

In April I ran in The Viking Way Ultra – 147 miles from The Humber to Oakham. I felt I was well prepared for this both physically and mentally. I pulled out at 113 miles for whatever reason and initially was pleased to have got that far – it was my longest ever continual run. However, the more I mulled it over, the more I became disappointed with myself for giving in/giving up. Physically, this run took me a while to recover from – mentally even longer. A great race though – well organised by Mark Cockbain, and can’t wait to give it another go.

At the end of May, I ran in the Dukeries 40. Organised by Roger & Maria Lawton-Spence, this was a lovely run in and around Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. Although, only 40 minutes away from home, I had never really explored the area – beautiful, typically English countryside. The race took place on probably the only hot day of the summer and I had a really good run finishing 2nd. A really fun, local event that I would really recommend, especially for those just starting their ultra-running careers. Roger & Maria are a lovely couple, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting them at several races since.

I really found it hard to motivate myself to do much through the summer and the dismal weather didn't help. I had a place in The Lakeland 100 at the end of July but had done minimal training for this and wasn’t sure whether to bother at all. Jenny persuaded me that I would only regret it if I didn’t even go, and that failure would be not starting rather than not finishing. 

I felt totally lethargic right from the start and wanted to pull out at every checkpoint. To make matters worse, after drinking a couple of bottles of the supplied energy drink, I began vomiting for England.

I sat contemplating life for 45 minutes at Braithwaite CP where I met Sam Robson who'd injured his ankle. Sam had some great runs in 2012, including being one of the 2 finishers in the Piece of String fun run. Eventually, I thought ‘sod it’ and left the CP with a group of runners including Jon Steele. Jon is a great guy and I have the upmost respect for anyone who can ran 50 ultras in a year. Carrying on, I began to think I might even finish but had a bad spell leading up to Dalemain and withdrew at the 58 miles point. I wasn’t really disappointed by this – I had got further than I thought I would, and I had started with no real expectation of finishing. Without doubt, The Lakeland 100 is a great event. Mass camping at the start, superbly organised and amazing support at every village passed through and every checkpoint – I will be back! I have a place for this year’s event but may have to put it off until next year due to other commitments.

In August, I had a thoroughly therapeutic holiday with Jenny and our 4 children. Running consisted of laps around our cruise ship. The combination of sun, relaxation and escape served to get my mojo back! I had a great time.

Having reassessed my goals and general outlook on life, I ran the High Peaks 40 Challenge in September. I had run this in 2011 and really enjoyed it. I ran this race with no pressure – I decided to go out and just enjoy the day – and I did. I ran the last 15 miles with Max Dillon and we had a great laugh – I’m sure we will meet up again. This run was the turning point for me – enjoyment had returned, not just to running but to all facets of my life.

In October, I ran two 50 mile race on consecutive Saturdays, firstly as training for The Spine and secondly to see if I could! I entered the Round Rotherham on the day. Again, I decided to take it relatively easily and enjoy myself. I enjoyed the route more than expected – it’s very variable through countryside, villages, urban areas and old industrial areas. It was very muddy! I was pleased to finish in just over 8 hours in 14th place (or so!).

The following Saturday, I ran in the Dusk til Dawn ultra. Starting and finished in Castleton in the Peak District, the premise of the race was that it started at dusk and you had to finish the 50 miles before dawn. I’d entered this when it was first advertised as it was something a bit different. My legs felt surprisingly good and I was really pleased to finish in 5th place. Another new and very well organised event. A lot of fun too.

And that fills in the gaps! My next outing was the Spine training run

Having been on the verge of pulling out of this year’s Spine and MdS, I am now hitting the New Year with total enthusiasm and am ready to take on both challenges head on.

My initial goals for 2013:
  • Continue to enjoy my running and just enjoy life
  • Be positive, do good and keep a smile on my face
  • Finish The Spine (and I will because I’ve now written it down)
  • Top 50 MdS
……and then we’ll see!

Happy New Year!!