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…

Friday, January 06, 2017

The Spine 2017 v6: Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?

So here we go again; it’s Spine time.

This year will be the 6th running of an event that I have part of since it’s very inception. From humble beginnings to one of the iconic races on the British Ultra calendar. From 19 runners, like rabbits in the headlights, to 220 entrants, with access to endless information, blogs and advice. From 5 simple checkpoints to 5 well-oiled feeding/sleeping/drying machines plus 4 or 5 “half-checkpoints”.

The first running of the event changed my whole outlook on running. Standing on the start line, we really didn’t know what to expect. We had totally unrealistic expectations of times between checkpoints; of what the Pennine Way in January could throw at us. Only 8 (from memory) of the 19 starters left CP1 at Hebden Hey. I eventually went home with a drive to explore, not just to race but to truly get out there and explore. I no longer go training; I go out and play. If I meet someone on the fells they will often ask what I am training for. I tell them that I’m not training for anything; I’m out playing!

So why do I keep coming back? Why do I still want to stand on that start line for the 6th time? Jenny has said that she’s resigned to the fact that I will keep on doing the Spine until the day I die!

I really can’t answer that question easily.

I love the Spine.

I hate the Spine.

There’s the Spine “family”, the camaraderie, the challenge, the warmth of the checkpoints, the cake, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. But there’s also the dark, the pain, the cold, the wet, the extreme anguish. There will be moments of virtual rapture and moments of total and utter despair.

Part of the challenge for me is that it’s in winter. I don’t winter well, to put it mildly. I suffer from really bad Seasonal Affective Disorder. The short days and often endless grey skies do not make Richard a happy boy. Add to the mix a spoonful of depression and you get the picture. The Spine for me is one big mental challenge.

However, whatever the outcome it gives me a boost every year. I always stay for the whole week; hopefully culminating with a run into Kirk Yetholm but if I’m out of the “race” then I join the support team which I always enjoy. It’s great to help others through to the end.

This year, there's the added challenge of knowing that Jenny flies to Minneapolis for 5 weeks on the Saturday of the event. After dropping me in Edale, I probably won't see her for the best part of 6 weeks which is not good. I will have to fight the desire to go home.

Finishing the Spine - the only time Jenny will kiss me when I have a beard!

Speaking honestly, there’s also my run of starts. If I don’t start, then obviously the run is broken. There is a certain thing about having started every one. It’s my claim to fame! Just a little boy at heart!

By the way, physically I’m in great shape. My training (or playing) has gone really well. For absolutely no scientific reason I always have a big 8 week block leading up to the Spine followed by 2 weeks just ticking over before the Spine.

My blocks over the last 6 years are as below:

Total Miles
Total Time
Total Ascent (m)
Average miles/wk
Average time/wk
Average ascent/wk

Solidly consistent mileage for the last 3 years but living in the Lakes has made a considerable difference to the climbing. I’m feeling strong and was recently described as looking “lean and mean”!

One reason I come back is the belief, the knowledge, that I have a really good Spine inside me. My body is more than capable of it. More so this year than ever.

So body is good.

But that really is just the foundation.

I’ve always said that, unless injured, my body will not let me down. My head just has to keep telling it to go forwards and it will. The key is keeping the head in gear. I do not always have ownership of that key.

As I’ve said previously, you really have to want the Spine or it will tear you apart. The good bits will be good, but the bad bits will be very bad. The kind of bad that last for hours and makes you doubt every last bit of your ability. The kind of bad that just drains your soul. It’s how you deal with the bad that really matters

The real key to the Spine is the mental one and one that I intend to harness this year.

Anyway, statistically I always finish in odd years so 2017 is a banker. If only!!

I love the Spine.

I hate the Spine.

But I always come back.

And someone has to do the stupid sprint start!