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!

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