Monday, November 18, 2013

The Spine 2014 Training Weekend

The Spine training weekend was held recently, and this should have been my blog of that. I had been really looking forward to catching up with old friends and my adopted family, and making new acquaintances.

Unfortunately, due to a rather large mental implosion on my trip to Hebden, I didn’t make it as such! Apologies!! For a small donation to charity, I will relate the details of my sorry journey and how to waste an entire day of one’s life. And a lot of petrol.

I had been looking forward to giving a short presentation on my experiences of The Spine but it wasn’t to be. However, I thought it might be beneficial to reproduce the presentation here. The presentation itself was mainly pictures only (the rest being in my head) so please excuse any ramblings!

I hope this is helpful or informative to some.

My experience:

2012: Entered The Spine v1 with no real idea what to expect or what I was doing. I DNF’d at 135 miles with significant hypothermia

2013: Entered The Spine v2 thinking I knew what to expect (I still didn’t). Finisher

2014: Entered The Spine v3. I still don’t know what to really expect.

Top tip No. 1: The Spine is not a race.

Who's that prat on the right??
It is an event, an adventure, a mini-expedition. It is many things but the last of those is a race.

There are only a very few who are actually capable of winning this event. If you go into it thinking of winning you will probably not finish.

The Pennine Way in January does not respect reputation. Big names have and will take a tumble. Competitors previously unknown to most will shine.

Last year, several people were in pieces at the first checkpoint (Hebden Hey). They had essentially gone off at 40mile race pace and their races were effectively over.

To give some perspective, I have run a flat, fast, trail 40 miles in the summer in just over 5:30. The first 43 mile stage of The Spine took me 14:30 in 2012, 12:30 this year.

Top tip No. 2: Do not think of the finish; go checkpoint to checkpoint.

Is that Gary or myself asking?!?!
Do not worry about the exact location of Greg's Hut until you are on that section. This question was given a lot of air time at the race briefing but only a small percentage of the starters got anywhere near it


This top tip is never truer than in The Spine. My advice is to treat each section purely as means of getting to the next section. Spend Day 1 concentrating on getting to CP1, day 2 on getting to CP2 and so on.

Do not think or plan too far ahead. Stay in today. How you feel, weather conditions, where you think you will get to at any given time will change. Don’t plan for how long you will stay at Greg’s Hut or CP4 until you get closer because you have no idea how much time you will need……and take that time.

Top tip No. 3a: If you see food, eat it

I had one these too - it was bigger than my head!
Mmmmmmm.....

Top tip No. 3b: If you think of food, eat some

Breakfast in Gargrave Co-op. Truly a highlight of my entire ultra-career .
You need food for fuel. You need food for warmth. You need food to survive. End of.

One of my major learning points has been how much the role of eating plays in keeping  you warm, especially if you are a slighter build. Pie & chips vs. Merino. Discuss.

By all means have a dietary plan, but my advice is to eat as much as you can when you can. In the second half of the event, you body will be breaking down and calorific requirements escalate exponentially. If you don’t eat enough, your body will simply shut down.

When you think you’ve had enough, have some more!

Top tip No.4: It will be cold. It may be f@cking cold. You must keep warm.

This is my layering system from last year. 


It's not a biblical list, and I don't post it as such; it's purely what worked for me. Later in the race, you will really begin to feel the cold and may need more layers than you thought possible; as you can see I went up to 9 last year. Be ready!

Fewer thick layers vs more thinner layers? Work out what works for you.

Be prepared to layer up and down, and don’t leave it to late.

Always keep alert to how you feeling. Things can change very quickly so pay continual attention to your personal dashboard.

Which brings us to:

Top tip No. 5: Manage sleep. Make sound decisions

Not really looking at my best!
You will get very tired, physically and mentally. One of the hardest factors in The Spine is dealing with this whilst still making correct decisions.

What do I eat? Where and when? Where shall I sleep? How long for? Do I need to put on more layers? Do I shelter? Do I rest? Do I push on? Where am I? Which way do I go?

Get any of these wrong and your smoothly running race will quickly disintegrate into a DNF or worse.

Stay alert, listen to your body, be honest with yourself, make the correct decision for you.

Top tip No. 6: Look after your feet – you’ll miss them when they’re gone!



Easy one. Deal with blisters and hot spots quickly and early. The medically team are superb. An hour spent sorting out feet early on will pay huge dividends later in the event, and may be the difference between a medal and a DNF.

Top tip No. 7: It will be dark……. a lot. How are you going to manage this?


We can probably expect around 9hrs of light each day. That leaves 15hrs of darkness. That’s a lot.

It can be miserable. It can be lonely. It can be scary. Great progress through the day will suddenly slow right down. Spirits will drop and then rise again with the onset of dawn.

Recce’s go out the window. Those nice posts across bogs can’t be seen.

But it’s out of our control and can’t be changed. Just be aware and really consider the implications. At best, embrace it. Sorted!

Top tip No. 8: You will have good and bad times. Manage them.

Exhausted at Alston
Not having fun on Great Shunner Fell

Sunrise over the Cheviots 

The Spine.....bringing people together!



















This is reproduced with kind permission from my blog of the 2013 event:

I was starting to really feel the cold. I could feel my energy levels dropping and my drive to continue diminishing rapidly. 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. 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”

The medical team arrived, my rescue team, my way out of this torture – it was decision time”

You will have bad times. Deal with them.

But......you will have great times. You will make friends and feel part of a family. You will see things that make you gasp in wonder, that make you glad to be alive. Moments when you appreciate life at its simplest. Relish, enjoy and absorb the good.

Top tip No. 9: Do it on your own………or with someone else

Not really a tip. Whether by choice or circumstance, you will either be on your own or with others. Clever aren’t I?

My anecdotal observations are that you will generally cover the ground a bit quicker on your own. “Running your own race” and all that stuff. However, two heads can be better than one, and the power of companionship should never be underestimated, especially over an event of this time and distance.

Top tip No. 10: Finish! 

Because you’re worth it!


Need more incentive - they make this at the finish





















Finally, and again with kind permission from myself:

“Please do not underestimate it ……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.

But …..this is a great race, is great fun, and is one big adventure. 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 hope this may have been helpful to someone, somewhere.

See you all in January. I will actually get to the start this time.

Oh….. and to the finish.


1 comment:

Stella Schmitt said... [Reply to comment]

Very interesting journey. Go on with your blog. Stella

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