Monday, February 06, 2017

Not The Spine Race Report - Part 2: The Desolation of Richard

Part 2: The Desolation of Richard

The trip to Edale went smoothly. Changing trains at Manchester, there were plenty of Spiners on the platform, instantly recognisable by rucksacks and expressions of apprehension and anxiety verging on fear. I started chatting to a couple of guys running the Challenger. “You’re Richard Lendon, aren’t you?”. I think I prefer anonymity.

Arriving in Edale, I positioned myself right by the doors and made a direct line for the Village Hall, arriving before the pack. Registration and kit inspection were calmly negotiated and I avoided the full kit-check top raffle prize that I had won the previous year. I picked up my “resupplies” (= items I’d forgotten at home) from media mogul, author, runner, legend and all round good bloke, Damian Hall – a watch and some double expresso gels.

I dropped my bags at the B&B, and headed for the Ramblers where I had a very enjoyable dinner with Karl and Harriet Shields, and their friend Kate. Harriet and Kate were doing the Challenger with Karl in support.

I was feeling relaxed and excited; ready to play.

Heading back to my room it was time to pack my bag properly and sort out food for the trip, which I managed to do with surprisingly minimal fuss. I was in bed by 22:30 and quickly asleep.

I woke feeling as though I’d had a good night’s sleep.

I checked my watch…23:55. WTF!

I couldn’t get back to sleep. I wasn’t feeling particularly anxious or nervous, but I felt like my heart was racing. I dozed back to sleep about 03:00 but woke at 04:00, and that was my night’s “sleep” done. Not ideal.

Dressed, breakfasted and packed, I headed down to the Village Hall. I nattered my way across the room; so many people to say hello to. Having collected my tracker and dropped my drop-bag, I found a quiet corner. Best to avoid all the nervous energy being expended in the room.

Then it was off outside for the start. I was quietly focussed. I had my game face on; I fancied my chances of going really well.

Gary Marlow and Benjamin Tyas asked where the end of the sprint was. I pointed at some arbitrary point “over there”; remember, it’s not a race! Cheekily they tried to race me off the start. They are claiming bragging rights but the “start” finishes when I decide it does, and I most definitely won!

This is serious stuff!
The "Blur"
For the first time in the Spine/Spine Challenger there was snow on the ground at the start. Heading towards and up Jacob’s Ladder, it began to snow steadily. However, it felt much warmer than forecast. 

As we passed Kinder Low, I was in a group of 4-5 at the front – Dominic Layfield from the USA (eventual winner), Wouter Huitzing from Netherlands (an experienced adventure racer but had never raced an ultra before), Dan Shrimpton (from Sheffield if I remember correctly) and Silver Eensaar (Estonian and another experienced adventure racer). There were another 4 -5 runners 100 meters further back. There was a decent amount of snow on the ground on the plateau which made going much slower than in previous years. Running towards Snake Pass, it was still snowing steadily – that kind of wet snow that’s not very pleasant. So much for the clear, sunny skies forecast. I led the race over Snake Pass.

Approaching Snake Pass
I stopped for a brief de-layering as I was sweltering having dressed for the forecast sub-zero temperatures. Quickly back with the pack, we headed up Bleaklow which was looking particularly bleak. There was a lot more snow and there was no visible path so it was a matter of picking an up channel. Someone’s GPS said we were on the path but we weren’t. Hitting the top, the cloud began to clear and I spied blue skies.

There was significant drifting heading down from Bleaklow. The correct line was hard to follow and I seemed to spend more time in the snow that on top of it. Stopped enjoying myself and began to drift away from the other four as I floundered around on my backside. I then had a most impressive fall through a drift, face-planting and breaking one of my (virtually brand new) poles. B*llocks….and that’s the polite version.

I lost focus for a bit and struggled to get into any kind of decent rhythm on the rest of the descent. I was overtaken by the following pack and then needed to stop to visit the local facilities. Why is there never a bush when you need one? I reached Torside Reservoir in 8 or 9th position but only a couple of minute behind.

Passing straight through, I could only see one other runner on the dam wall. I must have lost more time than I thought. On the other side of the reservoir, I passed Dominic who was sorting out some kit. I then passed a spectator who informed me that I was the first runner through. That was strange. Had everyone else spontaneously combusted? Gone wrong somewhere?

Note the empty left hand!
Given this, I decided to try and push on a bit. I know the Challenger route like the back of my hand and I wanted to use that to my advantage as much as possible. I also wanted to use my strength to my advantage on the last decent hill of the day. However, higher up, I was forging my way through fresh snow and the going was not conducive to getting away. Also, when you are used to having two poles, having only one is off putting and unbalancing. On hindsight, I should have stowed the other one. 

Halfway up Black Hill I was caught by Dominic, Eensaar, Dan and Wouter. Chatter recommenced. Apparently, everyone had stopped either with their support teams or to refill water at the Mountain Rescue tent. The 5 of us made our collective way up and over towards Wessenden Head, which I always find a positive marker point on the first stage.

About a mile before Wessenden Head, my legs began to feel really tired; surprisingly tired. I’d been running well within myself and had been eating regularly, so I wasn’t concerned. Caroline McCann had generously offered to be on hand with re-provisions – my go-to peanut butter (crunchy) and jam (raspberry) sandwich, and also some flapjack. And most appreciated they were too. I headed off.

Just round the corner, were my Mum and Dad. They had offered to come and offer moral support but I thought probably wouldn’t be around until Gargrave/Malham in the morning. Mum had brought enough food to feed a small army. Not wanting to be rude, I availed myself of a pork pie (eaten), flapjack and a Snickers (stowed!). Asked to be taken home; was ignored.

Heading down past the reservoirs, the 5 of us were within 200 metres of each other. My pace was good but my legs still didn’t feel right. Ascending the short, sharp incline on the other side of the valley my leg disintegrated. I had no energy, no strength at all. This is a part of the race I normally enjoy as the Pennine Way heads towards the M62. But not this year. My legs had completely gone, my pace dropped right off and it all turned into a bit of a trudge.

Mum & Dad were at the next road crossing. Despite some emergency chocolate, I was truly in the doldrums. Was given appropriate moral support and dispatched. Begrudgingly I trudged on.

For the next few miles, I was making progressively slower progress. I just had no energy at all. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. I was miserable and realistically I knew my race was over. This was definitely post-viral and wasn’t going to improve.

At the next road crossing one of the support teams – I think it was Dominic’s – offered me a spare set of poles. How incredibly generous. This is what the Spine is all about. Everyone helping everyone else. Thanks.

At the road before the M62, I spotted, in no particular order, my Mum & Dad (Dad’s silly hat is recognisable at a fair distance), Jon O'Connell (in an equally silly hat) and a burger van. Calmly, I told M & D that I was withdrawing. They tried to persuade me to keep on going; that it would come around. Except I knew it wouldn’t. I had never felt this bad this early in the race. The last 2 hours had been a trudge and every little incline had been a real effort. I couldn’t face another 24 hours of this and knew that it would quite probably make me unwell again.

Long lost brothers!
I asked Jon to remove my tracker.

Race over. 8 hours. 32 miles.

What a waste…

Mum & Dad took me to Hebden Hey to pick up my drop bag and dropped me at Hebden Bridge Station to get the train home.

I felt so guilty for dragging my parents out for such a pathetic attempt. They told me not be stupid.

I felt so guilty for so many other reasons.

So disappointed.

To be continued...