Friday, April 19, 2013

MdS Vs Spine: which is tougher?

So MdS vs Spine. Which one is harder?

This was a question that I was asked regularly during last week’s MdS. I also realised that I am the only person in the world to have finished both (a small claim to fame!) so the only person in a position to compare! Is it really possible to compare?

150 miles in 5 stages over 6 days vs 260 miles within 7 days? Which one’s tougher?

Well, that’s actually far tougher to answer than you might think. I propose to look at some of the different factors.

The MdS is not designed to be tough to finish. The cut offs for the shorter stages was 10-11 hours; I completed them all in less than 5 hours. Completion rate is over 90%. The challenge is a personal one; how far is one prepared to push oneself?
On the other hand, completing the Pennine Way (260+ miles) in 7 days is a challenge unto itself.

Winner: The Spine

Comment: However, is toughness all about the ability to finish. Would the world’s toughest ultra be one in which no one finished – ever. Or, taking it to its extreme, an ultra with a high mortality rate? Running especially ultra-running is, to me, about personal challenge. It’s about adventure. About exploring the limits, pushing the envelope. A race can be as hard or easy as you choose to make it. A 100 miler in 24 hours is easy for some people but racing it, pushing oneself to the limit; that’s tough. Yes, the MdS is easy to finish for a well-prepared ultra runner but to race it, push oneself; well, that is the challenge.

Physical effort
The MdS is a running race. The 2nd day (jebels/mountains) and, in particular, the “long day” of the MdS are without doubt the hardest 2 days of running I have ever done. I finished the long day of 50 miles in tears, a wreck. Temperatures of over 50C for hour after hour; moments of utter pain & anguish. It was brutal. It was savage. I left a lot of myself out there that day.
The Spine is primarily a long walk with some running. A true challenge but I never felt my body would fail me. I didn’t feel the limiting factor was a physical one.

Winner: MdS

Mental effort
This is where I feel the major difference is.
The MdS requires focus and concentration especially regarding hydration and salt intake. However, I was only actually running for just under 30 hours in 6 days. There was plenty of ‘down time’. Plenty of time to relax both physically and mentally. Plenty of time to soak up and enjoy the experience and the camaraderie
The Spine is a massive mental effort. The clock is always ticking. Food, water, temperature, sleep and navigation all need constant focus, constant concentration. There is minimal time to relax. One small mistake could trigger the start of the downhill spiral to a DNF. My concentration broke on day 5, my mind started to doubt my ability to continue and I so nearly gave up. I can’t over-emphasise the mental strength required to complete the Spine.

Winner: The Spine

Very hard to compare but the MdS is probably more variable with soft sand, hard & sharp rocks, dried lakes. Probably more feet trashed in the MdS.

Winner: MdS (just)

How can you compare hot vs cold, sand vs snow, jebel vs fell? Both events ensure competitors meet the extremes.

Winner: A tie

Food & water
For the MdS, food has to be carried for 6 days, 12000 calories minimum. For me this weighed 3.3kg; not many were lighter. I didn’t put enough thought into type and variety of food and after 1 day was starving. I had to trawl/beg for extra food. Good planning is essential; there are no shops in the Sahara. Water is rationed. If you want more, it's a 30 minute time penalty.
During the Spine, food is essential not just for energy but also for warmth. Get it wrong and hypothermia is a real possibility. However, you can stop at shops, eat at pubs and there really is no limit to food at the CP’s. Just remember to eat when you see food, and eat when you think of food! Water is really a problem.

Winner: MdS

Pack weight
I started the MdS with a touch over 6.5kg plus water. This got lighter every day as I ate my food.
For the Spine, I started at around 5.4kg plus water. This tended to get heavier as I required more clothes further up the course, and added items such as Kahtoola microspikes.

Winner: A tie

The X factor
Both events give total escapism – a week totally removed from “normal” existence. Both make you appreciate the simple things in life, the bare necessities – food, water, shelter and companionship. Both have a family spirit, a real sense of camaraderie, of all being in the same boat – albeit a smaller Spine boat!
I enjoyed both events; both ticked all the boxes for me.
The MdS is a massive logistic exercise but the camaraderie amongst both competitors and helpers is amazing. The spirit engendered in the bivouac and even more within one’s tent is hard to describe – a truly shared experience. As a run, it’s head down and the experience is more about the camaraderie. Watching others finish at the end of stage 5 was wonderful. Inspirational.
I love the Spine and am part of the small Spine family. The Spine is total immersion. As a slower paced race, there is far more chance to take in the moment, appreciate the view, live the dream. You live the Spine.

Winner: The Spine (just)

So overall, which event is tougher? Is it really possible to compare? Both are classic events but totally different in so many ways. The Spine is harder to finish but both push the body and spirit to the limit.
Would I do either again? Yes to both. Will I do either again? I’ve entered the Spine again next year. The MdS is cost prohibitive and means a week totally away and mainly out of contact for that week.

And the winner is?
The Spine.
No, MdS.
Oh I don’t know; ask me again next week!


Mike Dobson-Hornett said... [Reply to comment]

Hi Richard, Many congrats to the man who owns both those medals. As a Yorkshireman who walked the Pennine Way 34 years ago, then it's my native heath and now I trot around ultra distances in my dotage, it would mean more to me personally to have a Spine medal. However, the MdS is as different as Frost from Fire and so I suppose it has to mean enough to get the same measure of achievement. Sure it's hot, thats what deserts are, however you can also confirm from hard experience, the debilitating effect of super chilling on performance from your Spine completion. Is it possible to differentiate between the level of intensity? can there be a definite answer? perhaps not ...

Richard Lendon said... [Reply to comment]

The answer is as you say......not :)

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