Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Spine 2015 - Race Report Part 2

Section 4a: Alston Checkpoint - "Eating mainly"

With the promise of some decent sleep, I clambered into my sleeping bag at just after 05:00 and proceeded to wake up at 07:30. I’ve never been a heavy sleeper but that was ridiculous. I decided to get up assuming that I’d soon crash and be able to have a nap. First stop was breakfast followed by chatting to……well, basically everybody! It seemed as though Simon, Paul & I were being seen as heroes due to our ‘search & rescue’ the previous night. I didn’t, and still don’t, see it that way; we were simply helping a fellow competitor as I hope others would do for me. Do unto others as they would do unto you; that is the spirit of ultrarunning.

It soon became clear that we wouldn’t be going anywhere that day. Although it was still relatively calm outside, Storm Rachel was incoming and everyone’s safety was the first priority. This was soon officially confirmed; at the earliest, the race would re-start at 06:00 the following morning.

Logistically this was going to be a nightmare – mainly for the support team. There were around 40 runners at Alston, 1 at Greenhead, and 7-8 at Bellingham. There was just about enough space for everyone at Alston but feeding us was going to be tough. Lunch & dinner were to be served at a fixed time. At this point I’d like to thank all the support team at Alston for making our stay as comfortable as possible. In particular, Leila and Laura in the kitchen worked wonders and just about managed to remain cheerful and calm under the onslaught of 40 endlessly hungry Spiners.

Please sir, I want some more...
I mainly sat around and chatted. It was great to have a chance to get to know so fellow runners, many of whom I wouldn’t have had a chance to meet otherwise. It was good to put faces to Facebook names, although it never ceases to surprise me how many people seem to know my name.

When I wasn’t chatting, I was eating. At one stage I got involved in a doughnut eating competition with Allan Rumbles, Colin Fitzjohn and a couple of others. I was way out of my depth and DNF’ed. Need to put in some serious training.

Just a wafer-thin doughnut...
I was still waiting to crash and burn but felt surprising awake and alert all day. Allan & Colin found a Scalectrix set and managed to get it working.

Other blogs have mentioned that people were getting stir crazy but this wasn’t my experience. Most seemed fairly relaxed about the situation which was completely out of our control anyway. Personally, I was taking the day as a chance to recover, more mentally than physically. A chance to relax the mind after 4 days tough going. It was all part of the journey and yet another unique experience during the Spine.

I took the chance to catch up on emails and was happy to discover that I’d got a place in the UTMB. I decided not to relate the happy news back home – “Hi darling, I’m just away for the week doing the Spine making you worry every waking moment of the day…..oh and I got a place in the UTMB!” Maybe not……

Eventually I ran out of steam and went to bed at 21:30 – so much for having an afternoon nap. The whole day had been truly memorable; real Spine camaraderie.

Section 5: Alston to Bellingham - "On our way again"

I woke at 05:15 and had a panic that we were starting at six. Missing the start of something is one of my perpetual bad dreams but fortunately the re-start was confirmed at 7.

I was quietly apprehensive about the upcoming 20 miles to Greenhead. This was the section during which my 2013 race had very nearly come to an abrupt finish. Also, having recce’d it a few weeks earlier had confirmed it as one of my least favorite parts of the Pennine Way – a 20 mile flattish bog trog. I fortified myself a quiet prayer for strength.

Looking serious
We were soon on our way, a ‘mass start’ for the 40 of us at Alston. Simon and I were keen to continue running our own race but it soon became apparent that the rest had benefitted all. The pace was more akin to the opening day and it was strange to be this far into The Spine and still be a group of 15 or so. Annoyingly, I allowed myself to become aggravated by this – the Spine was meant to be about relative solitude not group running!

The train to Greenhead
Apart from face-planting in a bog, the section passed fairly uneventfully. Funnily enough whilst my face was planted in the aforementioned bog, my phone accidentally managed to call my Mum. She rang back and told me that she hadn’t been able to hear what I was saying (good think as it was probably “damn, shit, bollocks……”) but that I’d sounded like I was in a bog. Funny that……

Simon was finding it tough to get going again and at one stage told me to go ahead. As we approached Greenhead, the pack had finally broken up and a few of us approached the CP together.

I decided to stop at the café next door. See food, eat it. As I stood making my way through a hefty slab of cake, Simon popped in and we sat and watched nearly everyone go straight past as we feasted on cake and sandwiches. It was here we decided on a new Spine rule for 2016 – “There will be a 2 hour time penalty for anyone deliberately passing a cake shop without stopping to eat”. I don’t eat cake much so on The Spine I’m going to make the most of it!

Reunited, and refueled, Simon and I left Greenhead and made our way towards Hadrians Wall. We were soon joined by Paul Orton and Johnny Watson, with whom we were to spend the rest of the section.

Making up for the previous 20 miles of drudgery, the 10 miles along the wall are beautiful and steeped in history. It is hard not to be inspired and think of the history as one passes along the ancient remains of forts.

The weather so far had been overcast but otherwise fairly benign given the onslaught of the previous few days. However, it was obvious that rain was coming as dark clouds chased us along the wall.
Heads down as it starts to rain
Dropping off the wall, the heavens opened and we were hit with squally, driving rain which we could see driving up the valley. Spirits and bodies were soon dampened and cold, and we took shelter as we entered Kielder Forest to add layers.

The next 11 miles to Bellingham were thoroughly miserable. The impenetrable bogs through the forests are not much fun at the best of times but in this weather they were infinitely worse. The 4 of us tried to keep spirits up, but my spirits weren’t amenable to being raised. “Are we all having fun?” No, I was not.

I really started to question my reasoning for being out on a cold, wet night in January. Where was the fun in that? I called Jenny for a natter and as usual she gave me motivation.

At once stage we had to ford a stream. After a few minutes searching for a shallow part we gave up and were up over our knees. I was nearly pushed over by the force of the water. This was a day that just kept on giving! On my recce a few weeks earlier, I had crossed this raging torrent without getting even my feet wet.

Eventually, we came towards the Bellingham checkpoint. At least there would be comfortable beds here. Except that, on arrival, we discovered that the previous years comfortable beds had been exchanged for floor space in a communal hall. Any port in a storm!

After changing into dry clothes, we wandered across for food. I still wasn’t feeling very happy but I was soon cheered after hugs from Ali, Amanda and Anna. Having eaten whatever anyone put in front of me, it was time for bed – well time for floor anyway. I found myself a spot under a table which seemed to be relatively quiet and away from the traffic of incoming runners. It was 22:30 and Simon & I were planning to be away by 03:00. I went to sleep knowing there was just 1 section to go. It was there for the taking.

Section 6: Bellingham to Kirk Yetholm – "The perfect finish"

After a reasonable sleep, we were up and raring to go. After a light breakfast of porridge (2 bowls), toast (2 slices), rice pudding (1 tin) and a muffin to go, we were back out into the dark. The rain and stopped and we ascertained that conditions were set fair for the day with no further rain expected until after midnight, and we expected to be long finished by then.

It’s a long, slow, boggy march to Byrness from Bellingham, made even worse in the dark, but we put our heads down and slogged out the miles. The section alongside the forest before Byrness was particularly unpleasant; a boggy grind uphill, then a particularly marshy section to meet the forestry track. Some choice language was exchanged. However, once on the forestry track we made excellent time towards Byrness. We overtook Allan Rumbles, Colin Fitzjohn and Colin Searle all looking very tired having gone straight through Bellingham with no sleep.

A beautiful dawn
At Byrness we stopped at the checkpoint at Forest View Guesthouse and were treated to delicious home made soup, bangers and mash. A second breakfast given that it was just after 09:00! Great service from Colin & Joyce, all completely from the goodness of their hearts.

Soon we were off, steeling ourselves for the climb up into the Cheviots and the final haul across the Cheviots to Kirk Yetholm and the finish. The sun was out, there was only a light breeze and ground conditions were good; it really couldn’t have been any better.

Gradually crossing the imaginatively named hills -  Ravens Knowe, Ogre Hill, Brownhart Law – we made great time to the first mountain rescue point. At various times we met Paul Orton, Ian Bowles and Paul Wilson. Simon and I stopped at the hut for a few moments – Simon to pay homage to his overnight accommodation of the previous year and me to eat a peanut butter and jam sandwich.

As we got higher there were some icy patches. We donned spikes for a while but soon decided to pack them away. Well Simon did; one of mine had fallen off so I didn’t have much choice.

On we marched, re-catching the 2 Pauls and Ian. Just before Windy Gyle, Paul Orton moved ahead slightly, cut a corner and proceeded to go southwards down ‘The Street”. I tried to alert him but to no avail as he was out of earshot. I hoped he would realize his mistake before arriving back in Byrness.

At one stage, the remaining 4 of us briefly missed a turning but soon realized, avoiding major mishaps. In groups, in general, either everyone navigates which take longer, or no one navigates which potentially takes even longer!

Simon and I pushed on ahead with me leading. I realized my legs were feeling great and I had loads in the tank. I wanted that finish line badly. On the last big climb before diverting away from The Cheviot, I asked Simon if I was going too hard. He replied that he was “bordering on anaerobic”. Good!

As we made our down towards the second mountain refuge hut, in the last of the day’s light, we marveled over the day. The weather had been virtually perfect. The Cheviots in January could not have treated us any better. It had been another Spine day to remember.

We were feeling great and had no plans to stop at the huts. Poking our heads inside the hut, we were greeted by Tom Jones and a couple of medics. Tom asked me if I wanted a brew or something hot to eat.

“No thanks, Tom. I just want to see my Jenny”

I did, however, ceremonially eat the slice of chocolate biscuit cake that I had carried since Tan Hill. And it was good.

Head torches on, we powered up and over The Schill with minimal fuss. It was all downhill from here.

The remaining few miles seemed to take an age. We chatted about the adventure we’d shared for the last few days. We’d had very few down moments and had helped each other through those.  The companionship had been invaluable.

Passing Burnhead farm we were having a ball. We thought it would be a good idea to run around in circles or charge 200m off track just to entertain the tracker watchers.

The final stretch of road was very icy and we both had spectacular falls. I had visions of crawling across the line with fracture femur.

As we entered Kirk Yetholm, I saw Jenny who was shouting encouragement. Simon started a comedy sprint finish. We must have looked crazy as we sprinted across the green after 267.9 miles, but we didn’t care. We touched the wall of the Border Hotel together, and it was over. We had finished.

There was no sense of relief, no sense of great emotional release. No tears. Just tremendous happiness.

Jenny and I had a prolonged hug, and I then proceeded to hug anyone nearby. Scott presented us with our medals – the second finishers medal for us both. 

After a few moments outside with Jenny and doing photos, I went into pub. I heard someone say “Here he is” and there was a big cheer as I entered the warmth. I love the Spine family. Someone topped up my free half for finishing into a pint. It tasted great.

After soaking up the atmosphere for a bit, I was dispatched to our room for a bath. I took my beer with me!

Fish and chips have never tasted better. Even better was my bonus portion of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. Needs must! It was great to see several others finish through the evening, each getting a winner’s reception. 


And that was the Spine 2015. Another unique race; another great race. I can honestly say that, with the exception of a couple of short spells, I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s race. I was physically and mentally strong throughout, and fairly much stuck to my plan.

Thanks again to Jenny who goes beyond the call of duty in supporting me in all my escapades. I think she spent most of the week glued to the trackers, concerned for my well being.

Thanks to all concerned with The Spine 2015, there are far too many to mention. Thanks to everyone whose path I crossed; you all helped in your own way.

The Spine is a unique race. It takes you on a rollercoaster of a ride; your physical and mental well-being are stretched in every imaginable direction. One moment you feel as if you can’t take another step; you don’t want to take another step. You question your reasoning, your sanity. The next you may be filled with energy, feeling as though nothing can stop you. You look around, breath in the fresh air and realize you are incredibly lucky to have such experiences. I find some of these moments truly spiritual. It is one big adventure and that is why I keep coming back

Paul Orton summed it up perfectly in his blog.

“For the last two days of the race, I could not imagine doing this race again. In fact I was slightly bemused by the people who had come back 2, 3 and 4 times. Now, a few weeks later, I know that come January 2016 I will feel a great sense of missing-out, if I am not on the start line. The Spine Race is a great adventure. The organisers, racers and volunteers form a community that is unique to this type of event.”

The Spine has a large gravity field; once you are pulled in, it’s hard to escape!

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Spine 2015 - Race Report Part 1

Not entirely sure where to start this one. Does it start in December 2011 when I first heard about this mad new event called The Spine? Or last November when I finally decided to enter this year’s event? Or on the start line itself?

After a dismal DNF in last year’s event, I swore that I would never take part in the full Spine again. However, coming into November, I was in great shape, feeling really strong and the Spine was calling me again. A few emails later, and helped by some subtle persuasive tactics by Damian Hall, I was in again. This would be my 4th start and it absolutely had to be my 2nd finish; failure was not an option.

In the 8 weeks leading up to The Spine, I trained harder than I ever have previously, spending as much time as possible in the hills (primarily the Peak District). For the first time I recce’d parts of the course – Marsden through to Hawes, and Dufton to Bellingham. I averaged 75 miles/week with around 2300m of ascent. I was fit and uninjured. I was feeling incredibly positive and in just the right place mentally. I had no excuses.

Jenny and I arrived in Edale on Friday afternoon in time to dump our stuff at the B&B before heading off to the briefing. It was great to see so many old friends again. The Spine really is an extended family. I felt relaxed and amongst friends but there were many anxious looking faces nervously glancing around.

After the obligatory kit check, it was off for dinner at The Ramblers with Damian and Gary (Morrison). With his unrivalled 3/3 Spine finishes, Gary had decided to enter the Challenger this year. Pavel joined us but wasn’t eating until he got back to the youth hostel. He was on his third beer; perhaps he knows something we don’t!

Following a reasonable night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we headed for the start line, only to find out that the start had been delayed for 2 hours until 11.30. The wind had been picking up through the night and was by now as strong as I had ever encountered in Edale. Goodness knows what the tops would be like.

This was my first mental test. I didn’t stress. I didn’t dwell upon all the new variables associated with starting 2 hours later. I didn’t hang around and discuss the delay to death. Jenny & I went back to the B&B and watched TV for 2 hours – I have never watched an entire cookery show before!

Back to the start for a second time, the wind had eased slightly. Standing on the start-line I considered the task ahead but tried to only think of today’s section to Hebden Hey. Considering the whole is too mind-bogglingly massive. One step at a time, one section at a time.

I had a plan and this year I was going to stick to it:
  1. Move quicker than previously but….
  2. Ensure enough rest and better sleep
  3. Keep myself adequately fueled at all times
  4. Layer up and down more efficiently
Section 1: Edale to Hebden Hey CP1- “Leading the way”

All set.....
First important task was to negotiate my traditional sprint start without pulling a hamstring or falling flat on my face. Hitting the road, I had a sizeable lead. Now I just had to hang on for the last 267.5 miles!

And they're off.....
Pavel and Eugeni surged ahead and promptly took a wrong turning up to where the race briefing had been held. Damian & I led up to the official start point of the Pennine Way. Heading towards Jacobs Ladder, Pavel, Eugeni & Eoin Keith were 100m ahead of Damian and myself. I didn’t feel that I was going too fast but there was no one else within 400m. The wind was howling down Jacobs Ladder and once on top, the wind was savage; stronger than I have ever experienced on Kinder.

Approaching Kinder Downfall, we were met by an amazing spectacle. Kinder Downfall was in fact Kinder Upfall – the wind was blowing the water back up again. Simply a staggering sight.

Kinder Upfall
We were now running straight into the wind which made progress really tough. Damian took great pleasure in announcing that a certain part of his anatomy was cold. I declined to offer assistance.

Approaching Snake Pass Damian & I had lost sight of the leading 3 runners. Turning around we saw them a couple of minutes back. They had got confused in all the excitement at Kinder Downfall and headed off in the wrong direction. Damian & I gloriously led the Spine race over Snake Pass.

This then set the scene for the next few hours, with the 5 of us essentially running together. As I have now become used to, I was losing time on the downs but gaining it back on the ups. Up and over Bleaklow, then down to Torside. The wind still ferocious, Damian’s bits still cold.

I enjoyed running with Eugeni carrying on our own version of Spanglish from last year! Just before Waseenden Head, Eugeni had a nasty fall, badly hurting his knee. He was to carry on manfully but was forced to retire at Hawes with a ligamental injury.

Damian had ceased to mention his icy extremity. I assumed it had either warmed up or fallen off!

At Wassenden Head, there was the welcome sight of Jenny with cup of tea and doughnut in hand. Heading down towards the reservoirs it was time to don headtorches as the 5 of us headed into the night.

Coming along Standedge, the other 4 led by Damian missed the turning and started to head towards Oldham on the imaginatively named Oldham Way. I called them back and suggested that Damian should get himself a decent guidebook!

Approaching White House Pub, I was aware of playing ‘keep up’ with the other 4 runners and decided to back off a bit. The Spine can’t be won on the first day, but it can certainly be lost. Jenny was here and it would be the last time I would see her until Kirk Yetholm, so I took 10 minutes to refuel and have a love.

I made good time to CP1 at Hebden Hey, meeting Pavel coming up the road from the CP, then Damian and Eugeni just leaving the CP.

It had taken me 11 hours from Edale – my previous best was 12.5 hours, but I felt really strong. However, I was feeling a bit sleepy and made a tactical decision to have a quick sleep. Unfortunately, the CP was really noisy and I forgot that I had packed some earplugs – 2 hours lying down translated into only 45 minutes sleep.

Section 2: Hebden Hey CP1- Hawes CP2 “Solitude, Reunion, Fear”

The next 26 miles to Gargrave was possibly the lowest section of the race for me. I didn’t see another competitor at all. I invariably train on my own and love the solitude of the open hills but for whatever reason I found this section really tough mentally. I didn’t want to be here and I didn’t need to be here – I began plotting my escape route along with some solid excuses. Jenny texted me to let me know that my parents were coming up to Gargrave and/or Malham to see me – even better a lift home!

I called Jenny:
R: I’m fed up and I’m not having any fun
J: You are going to finish, aren’t you?
R: I’ll do my best
J: No, you ARE going to finish, aren’t you? Because I’m not picking you up until next Friday in Kirk Yetholm!
R: Yes, I’m going to finish

Sunrise made life seem a little rosier but I really wasn’t having much fun. Approaching Gargrave, I was looking forward to a couple of pastries from the Co-op, but decided to pop into the Dalesman café and see if anyone was there. By some incredible chance, who was there but Gary, just preparing to leave.

Crossing the road to the Co-op I was nearly run over by some doddery pensioners who then had the nerve to hoot me! Hi Mum & Dad! Mum gave me some pocket money for my lunch and I then got told off for spending it all!

Leaving Gargrave with Gary, I was fueled up, my enthusiasm was back and I was on my way again. Even some heavy rain on the way to Malham failed to dampen my spirits.
Entering Malham, Gary & I made our annual pilgrimage to the Malham cake shop, where my parents had taken up residence. In a departure from previous years, I declined the carrot cake and had a plate of chips, followed by a Bakewell slice. And very good it was too. Simon Beasley then joined us – a fellow cake aficionado. Mum was trying to force feed me, with moral support from my Dad. It was great to see them, and they seemed to enjoy the Spine experience!

Gary, Simon & I headed out with full bellies. Stopping briefly at Malham Tarn CP1.5 we learnt that we were being diverted down to Horton just short of Pen-y-Ghent due to severe wind conditions.

It's raining and I don't care!
We made short shrift of Fountain Fell. Doing this in the light during a recce made it far easier to visualize the route even in the dark. We were soon on our way down towards Horton. Fortunately I knew the detour well, having often ascended in that direction from Horton. We were fed well at Pen-y-Ghent café with beef stew and dumplings. I discovered HP sauce – the Spiner’s condiment of choice. It was also good to see Mark Caldwell, this year guesting on the Mountain Safety Team.

Now it was the long 15 mile drag to Hawes. This section always seems to last forever during the Spine but is surprisingly easy on a recce in the light. With what was essentially a tailwind we made good time. With the temperature beginning to drop noticeable, we turned northwards towards Hawes and were immediately met by a savage crosswind.

I’ve spent many long days in the hills of Great Britain but I have never encountered wind like this. Poles had to planted into the hill for each step. Often we had to face into the hill with both poles planted whilst a particularly ferocious gust passed. One mile must have taken the best part of an hour. There was no conversation; it was each man for himself. I was as scared as I’ve ever been on the hills, and probably the first time that I have felt genuinely scared during the Spine.

Eventually we descended sufficiently to be out of the worst of the wind. We had missed a right turn and had come down too low; hardly surprising as survival had been the priority. We navigated our way back on track and eventually down to Hawes and CP2 arriving at 03:30. We heard that many were being held at Malham Tarn due to the wind, and that those at Hawes were being held until 08:00.

Simon and I had already decided to continue together as we seemed to be travelling at the same speed and have the same view on cake stops and adequate rest. We decided to try and get 3-4 hours sleep and leave by 10:00.

I’ve always considered Hawes as a critical point in the Spine. The event really starts here. Reach Hawes in decent shape and you’re really in the mix.

The few hours rest at Hebden Hey had definitely made a difference in keeping the sleep demons at bay through this long section.

Section 3: Hawes CP2  - Middleton CP3 “Consolidation”

Having remembered my earplugs this time, I had a solid few hours sleep and woke feeling relatively refreshed.

We left on schedule in about 12th place. I had reached Hebden Hey in 5th place and had not been overtaken by anyone on course – I had ‘lost’ places either in checkpoints or cake shops. I was running my own race, and not wanting to short change myself on sleep or fuel. See food, eat it.

I have to admit that I very nearly left my headtorch at Hawes. Fortunately a last minute visit to the powder room gave me a chance to mentally run through all my kit, and remember that I’d left my headtorch charging.

Coming out of Hawes, the road was completely flooded. Fortunately a friendly local had told us to divert round the sports field which avoided an early morning swim. As we climbed Great Shunner Fell we were again met by exceptionally strong winds making progress tricky at times. Running through Thwaite, we were met by a couple of friendly support team faces. Apparently we were the only people that they’d seen smiling. We were just enjoying the journey.

After a couple of navigational embarrassments requiring some off-piste work, we were soon passing Keld and on our way to the haven that is Tan Hill. The stretch up to the pub always seems to take longer than expected; perhaps it is the promise of a hearty meal and warmth that awaits.

We reached Tan Hill in the last remnants of daylight. Not one to miss a chance, I ordered soup, chips, a bacon butty, and the obligatory hot chocolate. I am sad to report that I couldn’t manage it all and half the chips were donated to worthy causes. I spotted a delicious looking chocolate slice as we were about to leave and added it to my emergency rucksack supplies.

Feeling energized, we left Tan Hill and made good time across the dreaded bogs which weren’t actually that bad this year. Chatting away and in good spirits we were soon passing under the A66 and on our way to Middleton. This section requires careful navigation to avoid unnecessary grief and I’m happy to relate that we were pretty much spot on. We spent a few moments with headtorches off gazing at the stars on a cloudless night – with minimal light pollution the night sky was spectacular.

We passed one of my major psychological landmarks, the green-doored barn where I’d been forced to pull out in Spine v1 2012, and pushed on to Middleton, arriving at the checkpoint at 01:00. We were happy with our day’s progress, having pushed fairly hard without any major issues and kept ourselves fuelled well.

After a very therapeutic hot shower, we were well fed (as we were throughout the race). My Mum texted me to say well done and that they could go to sleep know that I was in. I replied back that I was 49 and they didn’t need to wait up for me.

Again the leaders had been held due to weather. Apparently the area leading to and around Cauldron Snout was extremely icy, and a detour was being recce’d and marked. Our plan was to have around 4 hours sleep and leave between 8-9am. There was no rush, and mental rest is just as important as physical rest. I think it’s important to have mental debrief and relax on arrival at checkpoints before attempting sleep, and similarly take a little time re-order one’s thoughts before leaving again.

Never neglect a few creature comforts during the Spine – a few minutes spent relaxing can save hours later.

Section 4: Middleton CP3 – Alston CP4 “Smashing it, Search & Rescue”

Again, we left the CP pretty much on schedule. This section, especially up and over Cross Fell, demands respect and I was suitably apprehensive especially given the wind conditions so far. The route had been detoured to avoid the ice around Cauldron Snout.

We made good time up the valley and had our first encounter with ‘Carlisle Man’ aka Paul Wilson. After a navigational detour through a sheep dip, we successfully found our way onto the detour.

As we climbed the road up to Cow Green Reservoir, the wind was increasing and the temperature decreasing rapidly. I definitely needed to layer up at the top and tried to find some shelter behind a rock. Fortunately we spotted a camper van which turned out to be inhabited by one of the MST teams. Happy days! Taking refuge from the cold, we could layer up in luxury conditions whilst being treated to Dundee cake. After some friendly banter with Mark Caldwell and others we were off again, spirits refreshed.

Ever seen the film 'Deliverance'?
Happiness is a piece of cake!
Brief moments in the Spine make a world of difference. The 10 minutes spent in the van stopped us getting cold and bolstered Simon’s and my spirit and energy. Reinvigorated we made great time towards High Cup Nick and on to Dufton. There was snow on the ground and the sun was out; it was a truly memorable Spine afternoon. 

A glorious day
Happy days!
As we dropped down towards Dufton the skies suddenly darkened and we were engulfed in a blizzard. No sooner had we considered head torches than the snow stopped and the sun came out again. A really bizarre microclimate and we got down to Dufton in the last remnants of daylight.

Due to incoming weather, John Bamber & Paul Shorrock had been forced to move their noodle bar from Greg’s Hut to Dufton Village Hall. We were treated to some very super noodles and various other goodies all with silver service of course. The piece de resistance was a fine glass of wine which had a peculiar aftertaste (and taste in general!) After some consideration on the pallet we were able to determine that it was coke mixed with hot water. A definite taste experience.

Check out the waitress!
Can I recommend  a bottle of the '69 Chateau.......
The 40 minutes in Dufton was well spent as we left on our journey over Cross Fell in good spirits and ready to tackle what is probably the most testing part of the Spine.

We climbed steadily re-overtaking Paul Wilson who had paused only briefly in Dufton. Onto the plateau, snow was obscuring the path making navigation less straightforward. The temperature had dropped quite rapidly but the wind was really quite benign for Cross Fell. We layered up at the foot of Great Dun Fell.

A gorgeous night
Restaurant closed!
We made great time over to Cross Fell and were soon descending towards Greg’s Hut. We briefly popped in to pay our respects. Both our water supplies had frozen – this was despite my tubing being insulted. Ellie and Matt of Summit Fever Media were a couple of kilometres down the trail armed with chocolate and some water. After a quick interview mainly relating to the Ribblesdale Land Rover, we were off again. We were in great spirits, chatting away. We had absolutely smashed this stage and had made tremendous time from Dufton. We were expecting to be to the checkpoint by around 01:00 which would enable us to leave at daybreak again.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry…..

My phone rang. It was probably my Mum asking me how I was so I ignored it – it was too cold to take gloves off to answer it. However, something told me to just check – it had been Stu Westfield. I rang back. Apparently a fellow competitor had lost their glasses, strayed off trail just beyond Greg’s Hut and was now in their bivvy. Stu asked Simon and I to go back up trail, pick up Paul Wilson who was a couple of kilometres further up. The three of us were to locate and guide the runner back onto the trail, and then escort down. 

After 5 seconds of doom and gloom, I went into leadership/medical mode. I told Simon the happy news and we started back up towards Cross Fell. Reconvening with Matt and Ellie, they were able to drive us up trail a little in the Ribblesdale Land Rover where we met Paul. The three of us headed up on foot and located the runner about 400m off trail. On assessment, physical condition seemed OK and we quickly made our way back on to the Pennine Way and back down to Matt and Ellie and the Ribblesdale Land Rover.

I called Stu who informed me that as the runner had initiated an emergency call, he/she was out of the race and that Matt & Ellie would drive him/her down. There was a further discussion between Stu, then Scott and the runner. I told Paul to continue down as he was obviously getting cold. Simon and I waited with the Land Rover for 30 minutes whilst the situation was resolved.

Whilst, we had absolutely no hesitation in going to help a fellow competitor, as we assumed others would for us, this 30 minutes was frustrating as we felt obliged to wait but were now getting tired and cold ourselves.

Eventually we were on our way. It felt like an eternity before we got back to where we had been. We trudged down to Garrigill, both beginning to feel very tired. Eating regularly but with no water, we re-overtook Paul who was looking very tired.  We then met the South Korean runner, Sukhee Park, who was going very slowly.

After what now seemed a very long day, we reached the checkpoint at 03:30. Instead of feeling great and in good spirits, we were both very tired, very cold and somewhat downcast. Initially, I wasn’t in the mood for conversation but there is only so long one can ignore Nici Griffin for! Abuse was soon flowing.

Food made the situation much better and banter was quickly restored. We were informed that the whole race was being halted due to Storm Rachel and forecast winds up to 110mph on the tops – no one would be leaving in the morning. Many of the runners behind us had been diverted around High Cup Nick, Dufton and Cross Fell.

With the promise of some decent sleep, I clambered into my sleeping bag at just after 05:00

The next day was one of the most memorable ever in the Spine and we didn’t even go outside!

To be continued….