My names Howard I’m 33 and abit. 6ft3 , 15st, with 2 kids and I’m from Rochdale. I’m an ultra marathon runner &I like mountains, hills, being outside and eating cakes and biscuits
This is the post excerpt.
My names Howard I’m 33 and abit. 6ft3 , 15st, with 2 kids and I’m from Rochdale. I’m an ultra marathon runner &I like mountains, hills, being outside and eating cakes and biscuits
Well where do I start? I’m howard, I’m 33, I’m 15 stone, 6ft3 , 2 kids, I’m an engineer and I live in Rochdale. I participated in the montane spine challenger last week which for those of you that don’t know or haven’t heard of it or read any of my previous blogs- It’s a 112 mile, self supported, self navigated footrace over the Pennine way. The Pennine way is a national trail that begins in the village of Edale in the Peak District and finishes in a place called Kirk yetholm just over the Scottish Borders but my race ended In a tiny village 112 miles north of edale called hardraw. You have to carry a mandatory kit list of a sleeping bag, tent or bivvy bag, ways and means of producing a pan of hot water I.e jetboil or trangia stove, map & compass, gps unit, knife, snow spikes, snow goggles plus more! I won’t write it all out but you get the picture.
So Friday the 12th of January I got my mandatory kit together into 2 large, red plastic boxes. I didn’t bother packing my bag as I knew I was going to have to crack it open in some way shape or form for kit check. So I just had every item out and on display ready to show the officials. I put the boxes in my car boot and headed to Edale for registration to collect my race number and have my kit checked. It didn’t open until 12noon so I set off from home at 12ish knowing it would take me an hour and fifteen mins to get there. So armed with a rice crispie protein bar, a banana and a bottle of water with some tailwind in I’m cruising down the M60 listening to a pure garage cd…..with a million thoughts going through my head. That many millions of thoughts that i subconsciously followed the satnav and got all the way down the m60, came off at bredbury and had practically got all the way to Edale without realising it! It’s only then that I come to my senses when I drive over a brow and I can see the whole of the “hope valley” open up beneath me- grindslow knoll hit me right in the face! Wow this is beautiful I thought…..and began to pray that the weather stayed exactly like this- it was about 7degrees Celsius, fine, no wind but slightly misty- purrrrfect! (God or somebody must of been listening to me at that moment in time because that’s exactly how it stayed for a majority of my race- apart from the last stretch).
When I arrived at the village hall around 1.30pm the car park was already quite full with a mix of competitors, staff and other Pennine way goers. I could see the big “montane” banner on display tied between 2 trees giving it the professional look I’d expected to see. There was a small crowd congregating at the side of the building and a fire exit opened at the front – so I headed for the fire exit with my 2 red boxes. Plonks them down next to the window as I got through the door and looked up. Straight away I could see Stuart smith taking pictures of people with there numbers and scanning there barcode from their race number onto the tracker system. I loitered there for a second or 2 and nobody noticed me, everybody was busy doing there stuff so I went back to my car for my mobile I don’t know why I did that as I didn’t need it. I think it was more of a nervous thing because I was stood there like a lemon ha. So I went back in- through the fire exit AGAIN and it was the same result as last time . So this time I loitered again for a second and went to the toilet and decided to exit the building again but through the side entrance bumping into Matt and Ellie Green from summit fever media. We had never met before but often like each other’s pictures and comment on them on Instagram so I introduced myself and chatted for a minute and when I turned around after finishing speaking I saw a sign and an arrow on the side door saying “entrance” . Ha I thought so this is why I’d been left hanging- all the time I was stood near the fire exit! Staff would have assumed I’d been sorted out as that was the was the end of the chain in the registration process. DUMMY I thought. So upon leaving Matt and Ellie and walking in the right way this time, on the left I see a registration table and I’m greeted by my friend Anne Marie Lord who is also a runner/ultra runner and an ambassador for team OA like myself. (Feel free to google teamoa.co.uk to see what we are about and our events we put on ranging from ultramarathons such as the “Oldham way ultra” and “the white rose ultra” to choc’athlons, gin’athlons, pie’athlons, king of the hill 5ks/10ks, baby trails for beginner trail runners and everything in between). So I chatted to her for a minute, she asks how I am and if I’m ready etc before passing me onto her friend next to her who checks my I.D (drivers licence) and gives me my tshirt, race number, drop bag tag, spine challenger iron on transfer badge & ice card (in case of emergency ring these numbers. X2 mobile numbers) and gives me the great news of a 100% kit check ha! So the next part of the process is having your picture taken with your race number in front of you stood in front of a huge spine race billboard – this was done by Stuart Smith ( a good friend of mine and an absolute top bloke ) so I gave him a man hug and shook his hand for him to say ” what was that haha” so I shook his hand again with a firmer grip this time and we both just starts laughing. ” I asked you if you was at the spine race and you just said you would be lurking around (his exact words by the way ha) you could of said you would be in Edale Friday haha” I said! It was a nice surprise – it’s always a pleasure to see Stuart so we cracks on with the picture for the live tracker (yes that’s why iv got a cheesy grin on it because he was saying something but I can’t remember exactly what ha) then he scanned my barcode and was about to do my kit check with me until a guy called Tony Clapham arrived and it then became his task. I wasn’t nervous or anything as I’d already met Tony on the training weekend at hebden back in October (another top bloke). So we goes through his check kit tick sheet and it was over and done with in 5 mins – no discrepancies. Apart from Stuart trying to give me a wedgie in the middle of it hahaha! So I’m left in the middle of the hall looking like my kit boxes had exploded – I’d had to open my stove to show it full of meths, pull my sleeping bag, bivvy and mat out and even pull out my first aid kit while he counted my 16 paracetamols , the lot! It was an extensive kit check and fair play to tony for being vigilant because him actually doing this and catching people out could potentially save lives summiseing the individual came into a sticky situation! This race could potentially turn lethal at any point- I always knew this because of a couple of dramas I’d faced out on the recces, but now iv finished the race Iv realised even more how dangerous it is! So I thanked Tony and asked him how he was etc before I think he had to go and check another competitor . So I scooped up my belongings and threw it all into the boxes “I can put all this away again at home” I thought to myself . So I said goodbye to everyone and jumped back in my car and headed out of Edale. ” I must get out of Glossop and back on the M60 before rush hour ” I thought – so I’m a man on a mission heading back towards Manchester. I’m about 30minutes in when it dawned on me that I’d not sat the compulsory race brief that runs every 30mins starting at 2pm. I was absolutely fuming!!!!! – with myself for rushing to get home and forgetting all about this. So I pulled a U turn and starts heading back to Edale. I was really annoyed with myself at this stage as I had loooaaadds to still get on with at home and I’d just wasted more than an hour with this stunt! So back on the village hall car park I am and into the event centre explaining what I’d done- they gave me directions to the peak centre which was a 5 minute walk up the road towards the village centre. I passed a few people enroute which was a good sign to me that one briefing had just finished and another was about to start. I bumped into my friend Will Green who had just finished his brief – I shook his hand and he asked the usual things that everybody’s been asking, “how am I, how do feel” etc before he says “you better crack on the next ones about to start” so I’m just about to leave him and Marcus Scotney comes running down the path so we all had another brief conversation for a minute which resulted in me again having to say “sorry guys gotta go see you tomorrow and good luck” I could see the peak centre from where we was chatting and this is the 1st time I had ever met or seen Marcus in the flesh (i follow, comment and like his strava and Instagram posts) I remember walking away up the path for the brief and thinking to myself “wow I have never met anybody so lean, healthy looking, small (small is the word I’m going to use even though he’s not actually small- but in comparison to me I’m 15stone and 6,3) and more than anything so so so strong – I could just tell by his handshake and the effortless speed he ran at approaching us down the path. He’s literally a running piece of pure muscle. I was very taken back – in a good way, like being in awe at someone. Just as I’m about to go through the door of the peak centre there’s an exile medic with a flat tyre – I asks her if she’s ok, she’s got the car jacked up but looked to be struggling with the nuts on the wheel so I offered to undo the nuts and she told me she’s fine, she’s done them but she’s struggling to find the locking nut to undo the final one. “Oh I’m sorry love I can’t help you there then” and off I goes into the peak centre. “Which way is the briefing please” I asks a young team of medics and they nervously point to a door which they was heading towards. As I peered through the window it was clear to see the briefing had began. “Dammit” I was going to have to politely wait it out for the next one but one of the medics said “shall I go first” ? “Yesssssss” I thought and she slowly opened the door so I crept in with them and found myself a chair quick! Scott Gilmour was stood up giving the race brief and I entered as he was talking about where there would be water on the course provided by mountain rescue at various points- I took a picture on my phone so I could plan on this later – it was good to know exactly where there would be fresh water along the course. After scott had finished a lady from the Pennine way national trust briefed us on what they require from us with regards to closing gates and not scaring animals etc and finally a lady from the exile medics called Nadia finished off the brief by introducing herself and basically just let us all know that we were in safe hands but we had to remember that there resources where limited- they are all medics, doctors, nurses, physios of the highest degree but we had to remember that we were not in hospitals where miraculous operations could be performed even though they would try there best and that the team was small so if we did need treatment please wait patiently and they will see you as soon as they possibly can (and they did do a great job). So with the brief finished I was now power walking back down the road and I managed to catch up with Jen Scotney, who I met a month or so ago before the race on a recce with Will who I’d just coincidentally bumped into before the brief. So I chatted with her on the road back down to the village hall before wishing her good luck and saying “il see you tomorrow”. Registration was in full swing now and the car park was booming. “Let’s get the hell out of here I thought” chomping away on a rice crispie protein bar.
So on the drive back home my heads thinking of the million and one things that I still need to do. I need to prepare my food/ration packs for each leg and put them in cling film/grip bags and put them in the right places in my drop bag/race bag. I need to make decisions on how I surmise the weather is going to be and how Im going to dress for each leg and what I’m going to potentially have available should the weather sway one way or the other. Ultimately these choices can make or break your race. So my heads all over the show and in a million places on the drive home- and if I’m being genuinely honest I felt really really really stressed- far from the relaxed state I’d envisaged and wanted myself to be in the day before the event. So I’m finally home at about 5.30pm after the 1hr30min drive. Firstly I put my iPhone on aeroplane mode so nothing could distract me then secondly I popped my favourite pre -long race meal into the oven (a meat feast stuffed crust pizza) and delved into chopping up (and eating the home made flapjack I’d made in the morning). Once that’s chopped I’m onto slicing up the huuuggggeee homemade chocolate brownie that Becky Johnson made me! Thanks Bec! Then I’m onto making sandwiches and wraps – chicken sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and jam and peanut butter sandwiches & salmon and avocado wraps. When that was done I began clingfilming it all up and segregating it into race bags as well as eating my pizza- it was gorgeous, pizza is one of my favourite foods and Id banned myself from it prior to the race. Naturally I’m a big lad and I’d lost a stone in weight just for the race. Then I had the most crucial decisions to make- I lined the basic kit choices up which I was obviously taking and which would be in any spiners possession and organised the basics in the appropriate dry bags and then I had to play around and decide which midlayers and items of clothing I was taking with me – which was so hard to do as at that moment in time, as I had a bedroom full of down, primaloft, pertex, goretex, neoshell and event jackets, pants, midlayers and accessories which all varied in weight and did more or less the same job but had pockets in different places, some with hoods and without hoods, some warmer but less breathable than others and vice versa. Each item had its own specific use to me which is why I’d purchased it in the first place but when your trying to combine it all together to use In sequence in a race and each item contradicts itself or has slightly the same uses as a garment you have already packed but will save you should you need it – your head soon becomes a huge cluster fuck. My heads burnt out by this stage. I’m tired and I can feel my face is bright red with stress and it’s about 9pm. 8 hours until my alarm goes off- “I should be in bed now” I thought. My foods still in bags in the kitchen and my kit bags are ready in the bedroom waiting to be combined together to go in final bags labelled “HEBDEN” and “MALHAM” I also had bin liners with different trainers in. A clear plastic bag full of a variety of food and a bin liner with all the other garments in which I’d chose not to use but could potentially be of use when I got to hebden had the weather changed and then I had a finisher bin liner that had my luxurys in. So I finally made my last minute decisions on the food bags- I had to put food back in the cupboards. I’d made it way to complicated, I had ample amounts of food. Better to have food than not have it I suppose plus I could always bin it if not needed. I took the food packs upstairs and put them in the hebden and malham bags along with my clothing choice and correct amount of battery’s and sealed them up. They looked like torpedoes/works of art and weighed a bloody ton
I then tipped out the contents of the red boxes I’d brought back from Edale which was mandatory kit and begin packing it up again ready to go in my race pack- this was easy as I’d done it umpteen times over the past 2/3 months. I’m begging for bed at this point, it’s now about 22.45 “thank god that’s over and done with” I remember thinking looking at my neatly stacked drop bag and racebag. My dropbag was immensely heavy I suspected it was over 20kg but I had no way of proving it so I thought il have to arrive early at Edale and get it checked and amend it accordingly if it’s too heavy. There was no way I could go bed right now I was too stressed. I needed to unwind, so I ran a hot bath and sat in it for 15 mins. Over and over again in my head I went through what I’d just done in the past 5 or so hours. I was happy with it so I took my phone off aeroplane mode and had a look at a few peoples words of encouragement. When out and dried I pampered my feet ready for the morning and realised I’d not fastened my race number to my bag or put the drop bag tag on my bag. “Will I ever get to bed” I wondered? So I sorted them 2 minor problems out. Made sure my gps watch was on charge and I had my clothes for the morning layed out good to go and then most importantly I set my alarm for 5am and triple checked I’d done it right. Then I messaged wane saying pick me up at 6am and not the initial time of 5.45am which we’d discussed earlier. So I checked my alarm one last time- put my phone back on aero plane mode so I couldn’t have anymore distractions and attempted (yes attempted) to get to sleep!
I lied there for like an hour trying to nod off……nothing…..my mind kept delving off into stupid random thoughts. I can’t even tell you what thoughts they were as they weren’t even race specific. But subconsciously my mind was probably going over everything I’d been doing for the last 4 months- food, equipment and hoping the injury to my tibialis anterior tendon which I’d just had 5 weeks of physio on was going to hold out. I was trying to think of nothing to get to sleep and by trying to think of nothing it kinda kept me awake! I think I was that highly excited and nervous combined with agitated and stressed it was near impossible to try and relax and get to sleep. Then I needed a pee. That was like going back to square one again. Then I was hungry….rice crispy protein bar to the rescue. I goes through the night with few more pees and eventually woke up wide awake at about 3.45 and ends up getting out of bed at 4am‘ish as I was getting absolutely no where. I may as well get up and start eating I guess and get ready in a more relaxed manner rather than trying to rush getting ready in 1hour. Im guessing between 11.45pm and 3.45am I got around 2/3 hours sleep. It is what it is I thought as I poured myself a strong coffee out of the cafetière and made myself 2 pieces of jam and peanut butter on toast topped with banana. Mmmmm this tastes so good I thought washing it down with coffee and a mild solution of tailwind. I think I managed to refrain from taking my phone off aeroplane mode too which I’d always planned as I get massively distracted by Instagram and Facebook- 2 minutes can turn into 20 minutes so easily.
In fact I’m lying…..as I’m typing this blog it’s come back to me- I took a peek!! Because I got up an hour earlier than planned I justified it to myself to have a quick nosy on my wall on Facebook and look at some Instagram notifications from posts I’d made on Friday about the race. With this little Ego boost I decided to turn it back on aeroplane mode and start getting ready. My usual ritual haha- Beginning with putting my contact lenses in first and then applying barrier cream wherever I may chaffe ( yes use your imagination) . So after that I washed my hands and cracked on with dressing myself. I’d had to leave my drop bag open last night as the last things I needed to add to that, I couldn’t add until Saturday morning I.e my glasses, contact lenses solution, talc, barrier cream etc as I needed it all. So carefully making sure I added each item into the appropriate bag inside the dropbag as I’d finished with them including my mobile phone charger and gps watch charger. So I sealed my dropbag finally and took it all downstairs- drop bag, race bag and the gear I was starting in, that alone took me 2/3 goes up and down the stairs and I was sweating buckets already ha. I unzipped my merino wool baselayer to vent abit and realised wane was outside. “Right stop fannying now” I let wane know I’d seen him- then got all my gear and chucked it into the back of the “team OA van” before going into my room and kitchen one last time to make sure I’d forgot nothing…Lights were off, door locked, key stashed and “yessssssss” were off to Edale.
Wanes the founder and boss of Team OA – he’d kindly said he would pick me up from Rochdale (bearing in mind he’s from Huddersfield ), drop me at Edale AND be at Hardraw when I finished!!! What an awesome guy and a good friend he is. How could you turn that down!! So there’s me, Wane, his wife Kati and there 2 dogs all in the van enroute to Edale . I can’t remember the exact topics discussed on the way down but I know we was talking about the weather and how optimistic it was looking and the rest of the way I think I just nervously waffled! We arrived at Edale village hall at about 7.15am (45mins before the start) and the 1st thing I did is went to the loo. Then I came back and grabbed my drop bag ASAP and took it to be weighed and taken off my hands as I wasn’t convinced it was under 20kg. I joined the dropbag que and within 2 mins my bag was on the scales and I was right. ….21.5kg approx!!! “Sorry” the 2 baggage handlers said. “It’s ok iv panic packed il go and loose some of it and come back in 5minutes” so off I went back to the van and lost the clear bag of “a variety of food” and a heavy’ish but warm 900g sleeping bag I had packed just in case I wanted to sleep in it at the end and wane wasn’t there. With them items dumped from the bag I went back to the drop bag area, re weighed it and got it to about 19.5kg. Result!! So with that now lifted off my chest I had a little float around the hall- it was way too busy for my liking but I managed 10 minutes in there and managed to speak to Anne Marie and get a cuddle off her and managed to talk to Jeff Mitchell for a minute before I decided on exiting the hall to get my final thoughts together and try the loo one last time! I bumped into Wane and Kati again as I’m loitering outside. Wane takes a last minute pic and I make last minute checks to my pack- are all the zippers up, is everything in the correct pockets in the right place and is it secure and safe?? With all that being good I put the pack on my back and asked myself the final question “right are you ready for this pack to stay on your back apart from the one time you should only need to take it half way off to remove a food pack” with the answer being yes I fastens the Velcro waist belt and clips on the chest strap . I got my pack to about 5kg including food and water. I’m good to go. It’s about 7.55am and people are slowly starting to make there way out of the car park and down to the start line ready for the 8am start. So I joined the slipstream and found myself at the front. That’s where I wanted to be but I didn’t want to be so boldly at the front so I’m some .5 of a metre back. I sees Will Green so we chat for the final 2 minutes while the countdown to 8am begins and before you know it one of the race directors, Phil Hayday Brown is giving one of his epic pre race speeches and I quote it “so there’s about ….ohhhhh 20 seconds to go by my watch. This is the 7th year of this so….do us proud …and have some special moments….. 3, 2, 1 GOOOOOOOO! and at that one moment…in that one second….all my worries, all my fears, all my agitation all the stress and weight which I felt to be carrying on my shoulders in the past few weeks seemed to just…..melt away- and was replaced with a huge feeling of happiness and relief. I was finally at the point of having to think about nothing but run, walk and have fun.
Everybody set off at which I thought was a ridiculously fast pace (bear in mind I’m not fast ha) I looked at my watch and I was doing about 9/10 min per mile pace in the first 100 to 200m or so, slowing down to a 12 mpm (minute per mile) efficient yomp as the tarmac road leading to the start of the Pennine way became a little steeper. As I took a left at the nags head I’m drifting between power walking and yomping whist I opens up my jacket and undo the under arm vents dumping as much hot air as possible. “I mustn’t start sweating” I thought and then I unzipped the zip on my base layer. I couldn’t get any cooler than this now unless I took my jacket off and this was staying on all the way to hebden so that was that I thought. I looked ahead of me and could see 1st place about 80m ahead, I counted back all the body’s until I got to myself and I was “about” 10th so that was my datum, anybody that went past me or I over took I subtracted or added accordingly (These are my head thoughts and in the midst of all this I’m having a full blown conversation with Will ha) “I’m gonna slow down and try not to get roped into anybody else’s pace pal” I said to Will. “No worries mate” and slowly but surely without even knowing it- Wills natural pace and my natural pace set a slowly increasing gap between us. I was back and forth with one or 2 people enroute to Jacobs ladder fluctuating between 10th and 8th I’m guessing. I was passing people on the slight climbs with my long legs and they was over taking me on the slight descents. I have a miniscus injury that I’m really trying to refrain from having an operation on. It flares up whenever I run too fast or go downhill too hard- so I tend to hold back on the descents. When I hit Jacobs ladder I was alone. So I ate half a piece of flapjack whilst moving and began the hike up. Halfway up it I passed 2 people. Just as we came off the ladder but still ascending up towards swines back I said hiya to Damien hall – “alright Damian” I don’t think he had a clue who I was haha and there was somebody else which im sure was Ellie green- my eyes were watering abit so it might not of been Ellie but I’m sure it was. Upon reaching swines back and Edale rocks it was quite claggy so I turned my GPS unit on to allow it to find a signal just in case I needed it to check my position. I followed the natural path through the rocks and before you know it Im jogging past kinder low trig. I looked at my gps unit to see if it had found my location and I bloody tripped up! For a split second I’d taken my eye off the trail and I’d bloody tripped ha. It’s a very tricky, very technical but very, very beautiful trail along the kinder plateau. Lots of Little Rock’s and big rocks sticking up out of the ground, some are secure, some are loose. Foot placement is everything- it takes no prisoners! Uggggh I said as I hit the deck it didn’t hurt so much but what I’d done is when I hit the floor, both knees hit the floor like I was praying or something- I outstretched both hands which cushioned the fall – BUT I’d over extended my feet as I’d gone into the prayer like position and my bum landed on my calfs and over stretched my left tibialis anterior tendon going up from my foot and into my shin. For those of you that have had tendinitis in this area before- which is a very common injury in ultra runners will know the tell tale signs of this injury creeping up on you. “Bastard” I thought! Quickly jumping up before anybody saw me. I looked over my shoulder and there was nobody in sight. Straight away I could feel the niggle coming from my foot into my shin- with some luck it will run off I thought. Abit further up the track I passed Matt Bennett who was just releasing a HUGE drone- it flickered and flashed an assortment of neon colours whilst it booted up and came to life and then hovered up off the ground- that’s the last I saw of it but I could hear it somewhere in the distance following me- it sounded like a swarm of bees! Up ahead of me now I could see the leading group, the fog had cleared up a little bit and they was about 200/300m ahead. I was enjoying the views now- it was stunning! But with one eye haha as the other eye was on the floor looking out for trip hazards! Down goes the other half piece of flapjack too. The wind had picked up a little bit and it was cooler now that we was up on the tops. I zipped up my merino base layer and my coat, looked up and by this time I was at Kinder Downfall and I could see the front runners running back downstream but on the opposite side of the river towards me. They had made a slight error and must have all followed each other and the track that runs parallel with the river and hit a crossing way too far upstream and had to come back down to the edges to get on the Pennine way. I was back with will again but not for long . The clouds would come and go and I’d see the front runners getting further and further into the distance every time the clouds shifted but I was happy with my pace. I was averageing about 14 minutes per mile overall which was always my plan in good weather and my aim was to be in and out of hebden and back on the track by around 8pm! By the way I hadn’t set myself a bad weather pace! The bad weather plan would of simply been “roll with it” ha. So all was going to plan – apart from the niggle in my left foot of course but that wasn’t getting any worse and i didn’t feel any huge amount of pain with it- it was simply a niggle! At around the mill hill area I could see some competitors just leaving the bottom of the steep descent as I was beginning to come down- the bit before you get to the 4 way sign. “Take your time” I thought- these speedcross 4s are ok but not the best on wet slippy rock. I made it to the bottom without skidding or slipping in any way shape or form. I then eats half a piece of Beckys brownie- mmmmm these just melt in your mouth you didn’t even need to chew ha, perfect! I went straight on at the 4 way junction- the one where you can either go left to hayfield or right to snake pass. Then abit further ahead at the stake I took a right turn to follow the Pennine way to the snake pass crossing and somewhere along this section I was passed by Emma Hopkinson, Zoran and Richard and another chap. After they had gone I remember trying to pee and walk at the same time- it didn’t quite work I had to stop for a few seconds. At the road crossing I filled up an empty water bottle out of a water butt provided by mountain rescue, topped it up with tailwind and thanked the guys who were manning the station. “What number are you”? “333….half a devil ” I shouted back over my shoulder as I kept moving. They all started laughing – I think they liked that one. So next is the nice steady climb out of devils dike leading up to bleaklow head. I was averageing 13mpm with a power walk so I kept it at that . I could see nobody in front of me and nobody behind me- which I like as it keeps me going at a more relaxed natural pace. I’m not chasing or being chased in other words. At every mile my watch buzzes and every one so far was below 15mpm apart from the initial climb up Jacobs ladder and onto the plateau but I had gained them few extra minutes back over the distance with keeping it under 15 mpm. I was in good spirits and moving well. I looked at my watch and I worked out I’d not eaten enough food. I was going on 1 item per hour and just lucky dipping into my pocket and eating whatever came out. Ohhhh it just so happened to be a quarter of a piece of a family sized cheesecake this time ha! So I started undressing it and was interrupted by an official showing me a diversion which I’m guessing is between 2 sets of rocks called hern stones and Wane stones ” just follow the little flags mate” he shouted and pointed me off the track with 1 arm and blocking the original route with the other arm. “Cheers pal” so the cheesecakes in 1 hand and the garmin is in the other hand trying to work out where I was just incase I couldn’t see the flags. The land was very mossy, peaty, wet and boggy…..”aaaaaagh” I tripped again. But I saved the cheesecake ha! So I decided to take a massive bite of it resulting in it being half in my mouth, half in my moustache and all over my face! Ha. I’m glad nobody could see me. I wrapped the cling film back over it and put it in my pocket until I got back on good ground again. The terrain was featureless, the flags soon disappeared and it was foggy- about 20m visibility. I’d followed a few flags but hadn’t seen the next one so the quickest, easiest, way to get back on track was with my garmin. As I was getting back on track and still licking cheesecake out of my facial hair ,footsteps appeared in the bogs I was passing through – the other Runner’s had come this way too, so before you know it I’m at the top of bleaklow head and i demolish the rest of the cheesecake before it becomes a mess in my pocket! It’s downhill now through to wild boar grain and then a steady climb coming out of it along a beautiful single track leading along clough edge. The views were amazing …all the cloud had gone now and I could see Torside res and Crowden . On the descent down to torside I could see Richard and Zoran at the bottom. Again I took my time coming down, it was taxing on the quads and I didn’t want to set my knee off with bouncing down too fast or set myself off cramping which has happened to me in the past. When I hit the road at the bottom just before the B road there was a few spectators saying well done and cheering. I was walking fast downhill at 12mpm, I didn’t need to run I was covering good ground…well that was until I saw Andy Connell with a camera just before I got to the mountain rescue checkpoint. “Go on Howard” shouts Andy. “Better run for the camera ” I shouted while jogging past haha. I topped up both my bottles out of mountain rescues water butts and added some tailwind. “Cheers guys, see you later Andy ” and off I go heading towards Crowden. I catch up with Richard and Zoran again and had a little chat with them. Upon hearing there Irish accents I knew who they was or should I say I had a good idea who they was anyway, as I know there friend Taryn. She told me to say hello if I saw them. ” do you guys know anybody called Taryn” ? I chanced asking the question ….afterall there was more than 2 Irish males in the challenger – these 2 could be anybody so I was taking a risk with the question ha. “Yes” they replied “she’s our team mate” . So Richard and Zoran are team mates, Irish adventure racers sponsored by Columbia. So I introduced myself and we chatted a few minutes more before they they broke off. This would go on for quite some time, the back and forth business as we were climbing out of Crowden and along laddow rocks- i bumped into dave Reilly along here aswell taking photos. I think we all stopped though at some point along here to check out the stunning view behind us. I think in an event like this, every so often you do need to stop and just take in the views for a second or 2- it makes it all worthwhile! I remember passing 2 more people just before I started the gradual climb up to the top of blackhill. I’d forgotten where I was position wise so I’m telling myself I’m around about 12th. The huge piece of cheesecake hadn’t left me feeling very hungry but I hoped that by still consuming a little bit of food every 30mins, equalling 1 item per hour this would pay off in the later stages. So on that note I dipped into my pockets and produced another bit of flapjack and a boiled egg. So I tottered off the top of black hill – Richard and Zoran passing me again On the descent. Then there was the little sharp climb after the descent to get up onto the road at wessenden head. At the mountain rescue van i again filled my waters while Richard and Zoran where chilling out eating some food on the grass. I carried on heading up wessenden head road jogging up the tarmac to where the Pennine way begins again. It was a 2 mile decent from here now past the reservoirs , so I gently let gravity take me down without letting it take me too fast – no faster than 12 mpm. To no surprise Richard and Zoran come past again followed by 2 other men who I hadn’t seen before at all in the race. This was before butterfly. I never saw them 2 men again, they was both looking very strong. More flapjack before the climb out from the base of butterfly and up onto blackmoss and between the reservoirs heading towards brun clough, where I was met by ash lomas and his wife and kids on the approach and then by Fiona Dyson, clapping and cheering me on in the car park where mountain rescue had more water which I filled my flasks up with again. I’m guessing it’s around about 3pm ish now as the sun was getting lower in the sky. This was local territory for me now so I felt at home. I was getting low on food in my pockets- the next food pack was stashed at the top of my pack so whilst walking I removed my race pack and took the food pack out of the top and at the same time took my headtorch out and put it on my head ready for the darkness. I shouldn’t have to go in my pack again now until I got to hebden. Passing over standedge and millstone edge, I took the right turn before castleshaw moor and passed over Huddersfield road and on up to white hill and past the trig and hit the A672. There was one competitor eating a hot sandwich from the burger van and talking to his wife/girlfriend- I was tempted to get a burger I must say ha but I managed to refrain . I started looking through the new food pack whilst on the go – I had way too much food on me. I was only about 13 miles from hebden. Straight away I threw the salmon and avocado wrap as I had a vision of getting a bad tummy summiseing the fish hadn’t kept right or whatever. I also threw some of the flapjack as I knew I had a load of it. By the way I threw the food for birds to consume but removed the clingfilm and kept it in my pockets and disposed of it in bins, as and when I passed one. Next was the black stone edge crossing before I got to the whitehouse. I knew at the whitehouse I’d have friends and family there. Definitely my Mum and maybe my kids. Coming down the Roman road I bumps into Gareth hunt and his little girl and Duncan and his wife Fiona. Abit further down I bumps into Paul, selina and Garry bower. Finally I bumped into my Mum, nefa, Bernadette and Martin. I stopped to give my mum a hug as I knew she was worried sick about this whole race. I’d been told off a few people that she was really quite distraught but wasn’t showing it or telling me. When I gave her a hug she gripped me and was trembling- not the kind of tremble where your cold but the kind of tremble I’d only ever got when I’d been in trouble or in a fight- when your scared or something bad is happening ….it felt like pure fear- iv never had a hug off anyone in my whole life and felt that. I honestly felt the fear coming off of her. It knocked me for 10. ” your limping she said” “no I’m not it’s how I look when I’m trying to run efficient” . I must of been running funny to compensate for the niggle in my left foot. I crossed to the mountain rescue checkpoint and they made me a cup of coffee. I thanked everybody for coming out to cheer me before cracking on. As I left everyone I felt really unsettled. Mums fear still surging through my body- I felt upset. Don’t ask me why but I could of cried. Which is strange as in the past iv been quite cold hearted in times of need and iv questioned myself as to why iv not felt sad or not cried at certain things but this ….. This knocked me for 10 and I felt upset for about half an hour. Past the reservoirs I went that would eventually lead me to warland where there was a boggy diversion in place. The headtorch was on now and I skeeted through the bogs and got back onto the Pennine way heading towards stoodley pike. I’d forgotten about Mum for the time being and I was now in a new environment called the dark! Like I said with this section being local I was quite happy just making my way to hebden CP without a map and compass or my GPS it was straight forward, easy navving and I think we was all playing games with each other at this point lowering the dimness on our head torches- I even had my headtorch off a little while and was using a small single LED handheld torch. I found the game playing passed a little bit of time and before I knew it I was at the road crossing in Charlestown. On arriving at the road crossing I was certain that there would of been some kind of official there or some kind of support vehicle but there wasn’t. There wasn’t one needed but I think I assumed there would be because there was somebody there on the training weekend back in October. Next was the gruelling climb out of Charlestown up some oldy worldy cobbles and through some little backstreets- this bit was tricky if you had never done it before I thought, like you had to be on the ball. As I’m climbing I can’t see any headtorches or anything and I’m worrying abit thinking I’d missed something on the race brief, maybe a diversion or something? Nah it can’t be possible I told myself, there would of been signage! So I proceeded with caution and by the time I was at the badger fields I could see Zoran and Richards headtorches which cleared up my doubts about a missed diversion. By the time we hit Colden we was back in a group again and pretty much ran into slack together. Then down the muddy boggy track and into hebden hey scout hut CP1 we was clapped and cheered upon arrival
Here’s a little clip spread out over a few miles of a 30 mile Recce between hebden and gargrave
So before I begin- for those those of you that don’t know or have never heard of the spine race here’s a snippet from the website….
“The Montane® Spine® Challenger is a non-stop, 112 mile race between Edale and Hardraw* with a time limit of 60hrs. This challenging and technical section of the Pennine Way is a physically and psychologically demanding route that demands concentration, good physical fitness, resolve and respect. The Montane® Spine® Challenger is a notoriously difficult event in its own right and should be considered as having a similar degree of difficulty as the longer Montane® Spine® Race.
From appearances alone 60 hours looks like ample time to complete this course. However, appearances can be deceptive. The rugged and very technical nature of this race is mentally taxing, as you have to constantly be aware of foot placement in icy conditions, weather systems, navigation, available daylight and self-management.
In all of the previous editions of the race competitors have faced at least one of (if not multiples of ) extreme weather, storm force winds, snow, extreme ice, bogs, fog, hail, mud and almost anything else you can think of!
There is very little hand holding on this race. We expect you to travel with a degree of self-sufficiency and skill which sets this race apart from others. Why? You should never embark on an adventure of this magnitude without the appropriate knowledge and skill to make yourself safe in a time of need. There is nothing more personally reassuring than being secure in your own abilities. That said, we still attach a GPS tracker to you with an emergency button just in case!”
The Pennine Way is a National Trail in England, with a small section in Scotland. The trail runs 267 miles from Edale, in the northern DerbyshirePeak District, north through the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park and ends at Kirk Yetholm, just inside the Scottish border. The path runs along the Pennine hills, sometimes described as the “backbone of England”
“Steeped in history, this National Trail chases along the mountain tops along the rugged backbone of England and offers 268 miles of the finest upland walking in England. A once in a lifetime experience”
So to summarise on that it’s a footrace with a 60 hour time limit….non stop…eat/sleep when you like just so long as you make it to hardraw within 60 hours… in January…it could be rain, snow, sun, extreme winds,ice, bog, fog or all of them…when you get an average of 7/8hours of daylight per day….self navigate useing map,compass & GPS….and you have to carry a mandatory kit I.e sleeping bag, bivvy/tent, stove etc which is going to weigh between 5/10kg depending on how much money you can afford to spend on lightweight kit! You can sleep in designated checkpoints/checkpoint (the challenger only has one which is in hebden approx 50miles in) OR out on the trail somewhere!So this race really is quite like no other!
After doing the spine training weekend last week which was put on by the organisers and consisted of talks and advice from well experienced, past spine race competitors and staff on the Friday evening, followed by a spine race simulation event early doors on Saturday morning (the Mary townley loop 48 miles) I decided that the week after I was going to recce (practise/learn the route) from Edale to Blackstone edge to see how I got on and to test out what kit I already and get used to carrying such a huge pack!
So I packed my bag Saturday afternoon which took me less than an hour, that’s including getting all my kit out, going over it all, packing it all inside drybags/compression sacks and getting it as small as possible. Then packing it in a suitable order in my pack obviously putting my sleeping bag and bivvy at the bottom as the probability of needing this was minimal (then made decisions on the rest of it as to how likely Id need it) i finished with waterproof jacket and my stove at the top of my pack. I’d overpacked here especially with how mild the weather is but I wanted to go as heavy as possible and also be confident that if I wanted to spend a night out on the Pennine way I could quite easily do so without being short of anything. Now my front pack…jeez! What a farce. Iv never had a front pack before and I’d decided to try the raidlight avant (even though my rear pack is an omm one) as it says “fits onto all makes of bags”. So then I spent a further 3 hours trying to fit it as best I could…resulting in me having to go and have a walk downstairs and have a coffee before I blew my top. Anyway that seemed to work as when I came back up stairs within 30mins I’d found a configuration which I was willing to go with. So then I tried to pack what I wanted in it (god knows how big I thought this pack was but it wasn’t all going to go in ha) so I packed all the essentials and tried it all on- I wasn’t convinced I was going to be happy with it on tomorrow but thought I’d best try it. Though I’m sure it connects onto raidlight backpacks a real treat.
KIT: (in bag/pack)
Omm classic 25L pack, raidlight avant front pack, Alpkit pipe dream 400 sleeping bag, alpkit Hunka bivvy, sea to summit drybags, montane prism primaloft jacket, mountain equipment frontier gillet, mountain equipment alpinism gloves, jetboil micromo, north face summit series goretex pro jacket, rab beenie, spare buff, north face etip gloves, north face waterproof cap, kahtoolas, berghaus waterproof pants heavy duty, montane minimums waterproof pants, trail blaze poles, lifestraw, garmin fenix 3 watch, Harvey maps Pennine way south, silva compass, knife, 6 spare batteries, sat map12, petzl myo headtorch, petzl eLite, external power pack, iPhone charger lead, spare cheap phone with credit, cash card, first aid kit, sol bag, £100 cash, 3L of water,1litre bladder, 2 scotch eggs, 5small pieces of homemade flapjack, some sachets of latte, 6racer bars from Aldi (snickers) and 5 pieces of my secret food ha!
WHAT I WORE:
Speedcross 4 trainers, injinji toe socks, under armour boxers, montane cordillera trail tights, icebreaker merino base layer, montane dyno stretch windbreaker, rab buff
So I got up at 5.45am on Sunday. Weighed myself as I do every morning I was 15st 0.8lbs. I then had my usual 2 cups of strong coffee and a banana,nuts and chocolate protein smoothie while being nosy on Instagram for 10mins while I iced my tendon on my left foot (tibialis anterior tendon) Iv had tendonitis the past few weeks (yes I need to rest it but I can’t. I’m going to have to this week though as I can’t shake it off). I then got changed into my kit and weighed my 2 packs before I headed off out the door to catch the 6.45 tram into Manchester. Back pack was 7.8kg and the front pack was 2.9kg. I had put all my essential kit in plus a few unnecessary items for extra weight as I like to train heavy. I’d also filled all the small compartments with 500ml bottles of water.
So I missed the 1st tram at 6.45 and got the 7am one which was fine as the train to edale wasn’t until 8.23am. I felt like a right idiot stood at the tram stop in all my tight clothes and backpacks on making me look like something out of PowerRangers! I started to feel better though the closer I got to Manchester as other runners started getting on the tram. I didn’t know It was the Manchester half marathon today -The attention, stares and giggles soon drifted from the power ranger on the tram to the guy that was running with somebody else’s number with Lauren wrote on it ha! I booked my ticket from picadilly to edale on an app on my phone and got off the tram at exchange square so that I could get another tram to picadilly only to be led to believe that the next tram wasn’t for 20mins – I’d have to walk there now or il be late! Luckily I bumped into Becki Robinson and Dave Harden who were running the half and Becki reassured me to jump on the Etihad campus tram as it passes picadilly and it was due in a minutes time. So off I went and made it to my train in good time. At 8.25 right on schedule I was on my way to Edale. On the train I ate one of my secret cakes and sent a picture to my lady friend in Ireland who reminded me that they was supposed to be for when I was running ha!
I arrived at about 9.15 it was damp and misty. It felt like it was going to rain but it wasn’t cold at all. I changed from my windbreaker into my waterproof jacket before I put my power ranger outfit on – I didn’t want to keep taking it on and off all day as it was a pain so I decided to change now before I set off.
So off I went, following my nose left out of the station and up towards the old nags head pub. Now I know how to navigate useing a map and compass and Iv never used my satmap12 in the 10months that Iv had it! So I thought today would be a good day to use it, test it out and get familiar with it in the daylight and see how long a set of batteries last before I head out on a night Recce in the near future! So I made a mental note (9.45am) that’s what time the gps unit got switched on, got out my cheat sticks (poles) which I haven’t used in over a year, but figured I’d best get used to using them and I made a start on the Pennine way – I’l leave the satmap on all day and keep checking it- see what time the batteries died at.
So it starts off with a mild climb out of edale village following a little track and across an open field full of sheep. The sun was shineing now through the haze and slight fog- hope valley they call it around here. It sounds nice and from the view I could see I could understand why they called it that.
Within a couple of miles and not too much looking at my sat map I’m at the foot of Jacobs ladder, I stopped for a selfie or 10 at the bottom and then slowly started making my way up making good use of the poles, this heavy pack sure makes a hell of a difference! What I’d call an easy climb and one which I’d get up without much effort at all became an effort and I can only begin to imagine what it could possibly be like in January if covered in pure ice- deadly I thought! On the way up I switched off. I tend to do that, it must be my way of dealing with hard work, before you know it your at the top and off you go I can go from thinking of the most random things ever like what I’m going to eat later, to where I’m going on holiday next etc but this time on this particular climb I have pavel paloncys voice going through my head and It’s the bit off the spine race film trailer the bit where he says “if you go to this race, you have to be very clear why you are doing this, what is your goal, what do you want to achieve and so on” and I imagine myself here in January cold and wet with wild wind blowing me all over. I can’t wait! I arrive at the top after a few mins -it’s only a short climb and then I push on to edale rocks where it’s getting abit claggy. Perfect I thought, just how I imagined it.
Again without looking at my gps I followed my nose and stuck on the trail and kept my eye on my compass just generally trying to keep heading in a northerly direction of course I was going to be off at times but nothing to cause alarm bells ringing. I was too hot now so I unzipped the under arm vents on my jacket and pulled my zipper on the front as low as it would go before it hit my chest straps on my pack and ate another secret cake. I got to kinder downfall without any looking at my gps but after I’d crossed the river the technical rocky trail had morphed into one big huge plain of rocky terrain leaving no signs of an obvious trail so I just went forward into a load of heather, looked left and right and saw nothing. Better check the sat map and with a push of a button I could see where I was, I needed to go back to the river run along it to the waterfall and then get back on the Pennine way there and within a minute or 2 I was cruising again. I’d decided I’d try to cover 4mph which is a fast walk or abit of a shuffle. The best way I can describe to you the kind of speed I was moving at is, you know when you cross a main road and there’s a car coming and you misjudge how fast it’s going so you set off and realise your gonna get knocked over so you kind of set off to run but don’t quite run ha that’s what the pace was like. The wind had picked up abit now so I put my hood up and transformed into ninja power ranger. I passed a few guys on the route dressed in shorts and Tshirts – there faces and arms chapped red with the wind and probably because they are over exerting themselves, I could see them smirking as if to say why on earth have you got all that kit on ha almost making me want to run back and grip them and explain why I’m kitted out like this- either that or turn round and shout “your only warm because your a fat bas#%#d” ha!
On my way to mills hill where I knew I’d to take a right turn to take me to snakes pass I was met with a Y junction , the left had a Pennine way look to it (flagstones) but the right turn heads northerly. Hmmmm?? there is a coupe there who I chat to for a minute about paramo jackets and then casually drop in conversation which route is the Pennine way ha- as to save me getting my satmap out! It’s the right turn, the left takes you down to hayfield. So I crack on, eats another secret cake and I’m soon going over snakes pass and up a gradual boggyish climb to bleaklow head which I quite enjoyed. I’d warmed up now and was feeling good the endorphins were flowing but my tendonitis had flared up bad and I was getting a little bit of discomfort between my right glute and hip flexor so that put abit of a dampener on it all. I bet thats from running funny to make it easier on my sore tendon in my left foot I thought! So down Wildboar grain I went eating the last of my secret cakes and into John track well and took some more selfies before running along a beautiful single track down to torside reservoir.
So I got to torside reservoir and crossed the road. Following the finger posts, taking me across the dam and through abit of a short forest trail where I then hit another road I needed to cross to get back onto the Pennine way over to crowden. It was hitting the 4 hour mark now- time for some dinner I thought just below rakes rocks on the way out of crowden. I had a scotch egg, an Aldi snicker, a piece of Lynn kershaws home made chocolate and cranberry flapjack (to die for) and a latte!
I probably spent 30mins there faffing about making snapchats and drinking my brew. I was in no hurry. Next was a climb out of crowden on a single track before hitting more Pennine way paving flags upto the top of black hill where I was rewarded with a top notch view and more flapjack. Not only from the top but on the descent down to wessenden too the views were immense, the pics don’t quite do justice.
When I got to Wessenden head I knew where I was, I’d ran along here a few times doing some of team OAs events – the white rose ultra and king of the hill so I plodded down past the reservoirs until I saw a fingerpost taking me off to the left upto Marsden moor. It was abit of a drop to a stream and then a climb out up onto the tops again taking me past blackmoss reservoir. The sun was starting to set and abit of fatigue was kicking in now. I’d only done about 25 miles! Then I remembered why I’m tired- Iv more or less done 1 ultra a week for a whole month (Ben Nevis 75mile, NAV4 mountain running essentials weekend 30miles in all, spine Weekend: Mary townley 48mile and then this which was going to be 35 Mile. I’m overdoing it I thought.
I’d been out of water for quite some time now! And you might not believe me when I say this -but food I can go without ha but water…once I’m out of that I fall to pieces. I start to become distracted, uncomfortable and desperate- hellbent on anything to try and get some. Almost making a decision to go off course and try and find a farm or house where I could ask for a refill. I came to the conclusion that I’d no choice but to use my life straw. At Brun clough reservoir I stopped and took my pack off and got my lifestraw out of the back- took my knife from the front pack and chopped the top of one of the 4 empty plastic 500ml bottles I had to make a reservoir. I dipped it in the pond and filled it -holding it upto the light (it was nearly dark now ) but I could see the water was a tinge of yellow/green but clearish….here goes I thought and I sucked the life out of the life straw ha. It tasted completely fine and I could feel myself turning back from red to amber to green like a traffic light as I began to feel hydrated and refreshed again. I ate my last piece of flapjack too ha. Feeling brand new but wondering wether or not I’d be in hospital tonight after drinking that I put on my headtorch and my pack and headed off up to millstone edge and along part of the Oldham way eating my last scotch egg. It was dark now and I hit another road crossing near saddleworth. I made a snapchat of the sign only to get a reply off my friend Lauren “come for a brew” ha! I nearly wrote back bring me some water please ha!
I knew where I was but I’d never been here on foot before. So I started on the climb upto the top of whitehill just sticking to the trail. It would of been quite hard to go wrong but I had my gps in my hand as a precaution- I’d not been lost once allday and I sure didn’t intend on it now. On the descent to the A672 crossing after whitehill my left foot had gotten lazy- well actually, not lazy I just tried to not use it and by doing this I kept catching it on rocks, screaming out in pain every so often as i did it, overstretching the tendon. Not being able to see as much in the dark didn’t help matters. I was thirsty again so I got the cut empty bottle and lifestraw out of my front pack and filled it with pond water, i necked half a litre (1.5 litres of pond water in total now) I could see the M62 now it looked nice in the dark. I switched my phone off aeroplane mode to make a snapchat of the motorway as I ran across it on the bridge and received a message off lynn saying she was already at the whitehouse. I looked at my gps and the battery had gone (7.45pm ish). No need to faff and change them as this was local territory for me.
One last climb I thought and then a technical crossing of blackstone edge in the dark which is basically a track that leads to a plain/maze of little boulders with lots of little paths leading through them that all come out on the other side- some paths are easier than others but in this light you had no way of seeing -it was just a case of keep pressing ahead. My petzl myo began to flash it blinked about 4 times ! I guess that means the batteries are low. I turned it onto the lowest light setting I was only 3k max from the whitehouse. I caught my foot a few more times on the rocks at blackstone edge -one which led to nearly bringing a tear to my eye and much curseing. I kept getting distracted by the green eyes of the sheep in the pitch black and I could of sworn I heard somebody whistle! Not a wolf whistle but the kind that a man would give to a dog to get its attention. I didn’t really give it much thought there and then but when I got home later I was abit spooked out ha! I got to the gate at the roman road/aiggin stone and chucked a left and kept my eyes peeled on the right for the turning which keeps me on the Pennine way and takes me to the whitehouse where my lift was waiting! I stopped halfway down the roman road to take a pic of Rochdale at night ….and a selfie…and ate an Aldi snicker ha
I could see the whitehouse now. I was hoping lynn (my landlady) was in the pub so I could buy a pint of cold Coca Cola- I’d been dreaming about it since near Wessenden but I’d had to make do with pond water!! I popped out onto the road and started jogging faster now up towards the pub I could imagine it’s taste in my mouth. Just as I stopped my watch about 8.15pm (35miles) and was about to go in a horn beeped and I turned round and lynn was already in the car…ah well, I’d be glad to get home! Upon returning home the 1st thing I did was weigh myself
I’d lost 7lb!! I’m assuming that was all water weight so I cracked on with hydrating. I had a litre of coconut water, half a litre of normal water and a banana, nuts and chocolate protein smoothie. Uploaded my run to strava, made a hot chocolate and then went and got in the shower. After that I had a look through all my pics and videos and iced my tendon, it was warm and sore! After an hour or so I had some rice, mackerel and edamame beans and drank plenty more water- I was asleep by 10pm! When I woke up today I felt like the Pennine way had chewed me up and spat me back out again! My tendons sore and I have a new slight pain in my left knee. My feet were abit sore when I first got up and my neck and shoulders- wow ha! That pack was really heavy I suppose. Next recce will be from blackstone edge to malham over night! Setting off from the whitehouse at roughly the same time as I plan to on the day. No running at all now until I get over these niggles. Hope you enjoyed the read!
So here goes!
My first ever go at a blog/race report! First il start by telling you a little bit about my running background. I started running about 3 years ago -mainly on roads and abit of off-road on my local trails. Nothing major distance wise to begin with, but my runs varied from 3-4 miles upto about 8-9 miles. I didn’t know about average pace and how many minutes per mile I ran at. I just used to put a warm heavy tracksuit on with my headphones in and run wherever my legs took me. I was into bodybuilding and lifting weights and weighed about 16stone, so I ran to condition my body basically- little did I know that subconsciously I was getting hooked on long distance running.
Eventually there came a weekend where I thought “right I’m gonna take a backpack with some food and drink in and head off out on the fells and see how far I can run” and I think after that, that’s where my love for off-road running started! 5 and a half hours later, having covered 25 miles I was back at home absoloutly nakered but feeling like I’d achieved something….that was it…I was hooked! A man who I work with called Mark Heaney encouraged me to join a local running club, Royton Road Runners.
I did a few park runs and then I then went on to entering and finishing the dent half marathon, the asics Manchester marathon, the Liverpool rock and roll marathon, brooks snowdonia marathon and then I got introduced to something called an “ultra marathon” off my friend Dave H. Daves one of the fittest blokes Iv met, he’s competed for team GB in triathlons and cycling events and won a few ultras including a 3 day event in Borneo! So under Daves wing I entered NAV4s TdeH (tour de Helvellyn) a hard winter ultra, 38 miles with 2000m+ of elevation in December! It’s a self nav course, I set off in the dark and would of been coming home in the dark but I DNF’d ….and that hurt!
About a week later when I’d finished sulking I had booked myself on the next NAV4 event which was in April 4 months later- LM42 (lakes mountain 42) it’s 4miles longer and more elevation- I knew I could do it, I’d just had a really bad day on the TdeH (I’d overdosed on tramadol for knee pain and it made me so dizzy and sick I couldn’t carry on ha- lesson learnt!) I finished LM42 and about a month later I went travelling around Asia for 6months. Whilst travelling around Asia and not being able to run around on the Asian fells and mountains a great deal because it was too hot for me to run! I decided that upon my return to the UK I would feed my hunger & book on a “few” ultras!
I tried to book them so they ran in some kind of logical sequence e.g I had a 2-3month gap inbetween each ultra and that each race was slightly longer than the next…. I ended up going with the “white rose ultra 30 Mile”, the “tour de Helvellyn 38 miler” (unfinished business), the “Oldham way ultra 40 Mile”, the “Calderdale way ultra 50mile” and then finally the “salomon Ben Nevis ultra 120k” and here I am pretty much bang on 12 months later writing a race report on my 5th race in the 12 month period and “supposed” final ultra for the year 😉 The “Salomon Ben Nevis Ultra” ! Described by the organisers as and I quote ” The salomon Ben Nevis ultra journey includes remote runnable tracks, technical single track, airy trackless ridges and some connecting remote mountain roads. Truly this course is for the boldest all-round ultra runners. In keeping with the ethos of the salomon skyline Scotland races this route is very challenging with considerable height gain, great variability in the terrain , multiple river crossings and an airy traverse of one of scotlands most famous ridges the carn mor dearg arête leading to the summit of Ben Nevis. It is almost certainly the uks toughest 100km+ ultra route” and it certainly lived upto the description! So….back to the report.
Friday: The morning before the race….
“What time is it” I thought to myself as I leaned out of bed and picked up my phone from the bedside table. Only one eye open I sees 8.20am and a few instagram notifications. Sigh – another 40mins left yet until my alarms due. Go back to sleep I thought. 2mins pass by and I’m thinking I need a wee, so I gets up and goes the bathroom and jumps straight back in bed. Heads buried in the pillows and I’m trying not to think about looking at what those Instagram notifications were… Another 2 mins go by and I thought sack it, too much excitement going on in my head to be able to go back to sleep- I felt refreshed and relaxed anyway so I decided to get up and immediately grabbed 1 of the 2 sis energy bars I had next to my bed for breakfast. Not the best breakfast in the world but for the past few weeks Iv been trying to simulate race day and get my body into a routine of what I’d be doing on the day. I wanted something light, easy to digest, no hassle and convenient seen as though id be away from home and these did the job perfect. So then I went onto making myself a few coffees, a banana and protein smoothie and double checking my bags, triple checking my bags and then checking them a little bit more! Before loading them into the boot of my car and setting off up to my mate Dave’s house who was also running it. By 10.30am we was locked, loaded and on our way to kinlochleven!
In the 6hour drive there I consumed: 1protein flapjack, another sis energy bar, 1 apple, a granola and yogurt pot, 1 snicker, 1 serving of white pasta with tuna, 500ml mix of mountain fuel extreme energy drink, 1l of water and an Aldi isotonic energy drink!
Friday: Registration ….
We arrived in kinlochleven at 5pm just in time for the opening of registration but first we decided to check in our apartment- Yes! That’s right! apartment ha! I didn’t actually know we was in an apartment until enroute as Dave said he would sort the accommodation out a few months ago when I mentioned it and I’d not given it much thought since. Id had visions of a guest house or typical B & B style accommodation. So when we pulled up outside this appartment I was well impressed, it was a 1 minute walk from the race village which was perfect and inside it had a living room with a Tv, DVD player, fully decked out kitchen, a king size bed and a double sofa bed! Oh and a posh coffee machine! Result!! Not bad at all for £40 each per night. I quickly dumped my bags in my room (while eating another protein flapjack), took my ready packed race vest and headed to registration. I was a little excited now, I could hear the house music coming from the speakers as soon as we got out the door and within seconds could see the salomon flags in the distance and the finish line. The mamores VK race was in full swing now and every so often competitors would come running past as it was a staggered start. This race was basically a vertical kilometre of elevation over as short a distance as possible, I can’t exactly remember what one of the runners told me on the day but it was a 1000m of vert over either 3k or 5k of distance so you can Imagine the steepness! It was simple – get to the top as fast as you can! Registration was quick and easy, a quick show of the mandatory kit items and photographic I.d gave you a stamp on the hand to show you had passed kit check , then to another table to be given a briefing sheet, a waterproof map and your number, then onto another table to get your dibber fastened around your wrist and gps tracker fitted onto your pack and then onto the last table where you received your Tshirt , car window sticker and a tattoo/transfer with the course profile on it and some helpful information like cut off times at each of the cps (which really came in handy during the race). With being too busy looking around at the other runners trying to see if I recognised anybody I didn’t realise that the guy right infront of me was only Donald Campbell ha! I didn’t realise until I got halfway through registration. Now fully registered we decided to dump the race vests back in the appartment and have a look around the race village, I put my bag on my bed and organised my documents and realised I’d lost my race number! Panic set in a little bit and I thought what happens if there funny and don’t let me start?! On the brief sheet it clearly states race number must be worn at all times! So I pegged it back out the door hoping the wind hadn’t blown it too far. Amazingly I found it in some long grass, phew! So with that sorted I had a little look around the shops and treated myself to some new shorts from the Ellis brigham pop up shop. I got some more salomon advanced skin shorts which Id already brought to run in but there worn out and there’s holes in the crotch! They was £120 in the salomon pop up shop and £56 in Ellis brighams! I do love a good deal! Ha. It was now about 6.30pm, we decided on grabbing a few pizzas from the local co op seen as though we had use of a kitchen! Then headed back to the apartment to relax…well not before going through my race pack one more time and having a last minute effort to try and ditch anything I didn’t really need. My pack weighed approx 8kg it contained gloves, hat, waterproof jacket and pants, headtorch with spare battery’s, a whistle, a technical midlayer, a spare rab merino baselayer, 10 packs of cliff shotblocks, 4x caffeine gels, 8x electrolyte gels, a tube of electrolyte tabs, 2x protein flapjacks, 2x pork pies, some beef jerky, 8pickled gherkins , 18 salt tablets, a packet of diocalm instants and 4x 500ml soft flasks. 2 of them to be used initially all the time giving me 1litre minimum capacity and the other 2 were spares incase I kept running out of water between cps so I could potentially carry 2l maximum if needed? The 2 spares were pre loaded with mountain fuel and all the air squished out of them ready to just add water. The aid stations with water were 25 miles apart and I didn’t want a repeat of what happened at the Calderdale way ultra- me keep running out of water before cps. I knew there was going to be plenty of burns and river crossings to fill up from inbetween cps but not knowing how the weather was going to be and how much the rivers would be up due to heavy rain I didn’t know if the rivers where going to be raging torrents of brown, muddy, undrinkable water or some of the clearest, purest water sources I could ever drink from! Anyways I ditched 4 of the 8 electrolyte gels, packed it all in my vest again, ate the other half of my tuna and pasta and banged my double pepperoni pizza in the oven and watched some shit Friday night Tv while googling the met office weather report for Ben Nevis summit tomorrow- it was saying a possibility of snow! I pondered on that thought for abit wondering if I should change my omm kamleika jacket to my goretex north face jacket which was slightly heavier in weight- I decided to stick with the kamleika as I’m prone to overheating -I’d put my extra mid layer on underneath it if I ever got too cold which was a montane dyno stretch jacket- it’s a top piece of kit. I felt good, I felt ready. Come 9pm it was time for bed, I set my alarm for 2.45am and by 10pm I was fast asleep Z z z z z
Saturday: Judgement Day….
I woke up and a wave of excitement went through my body, “is it time yet” I thought? I checked my phone, 2.15am. “Wow” I thought that’s pretty good for me! I expected it to be about 12.30 as I normally wake up multiple times the night before a race and can never get back to sleep. I tried to go back to sleep but I knew there was no chance of that happening my mind was way to active so I went on my phone and chatted to a few lads I know that were off to Ibiza, they had just posted the standard pre Ibiza airport picture only a few mins ago on Facebook so I knew they was up “have a good time lads” I put and they replied and the subject of my race popped up and how far I was running and one of them was like ” are you alright you, like do you need help” they must think I’m crazy haha! Maybe I am I thought?! I lied there thinking just resting with my eyes shut until my alarm went off and before you know it there it went – the standard apple iPhone alarm tone. I sprung out of bed, knocked the alarm off, switched the lamp on and began unwrapping number 1 of 2 sis energy bars. I was grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat. The moment I’d been waiting for, for months on end was finally here! It’s boom time! I had an hour to get ready and I have abit of a routine! I like to have about 2 strong coffees first before I do anything and when I can feel the caffeine surging through my veins, I go have a wash and brush my teeth and put my contact lenses in and then apply a huge amount of sudocrem to my sack and crack – sorry but I may aswell just say it how it is ha! Then I put my kit on: injinji toe socks, under armour boxers (as I find they never chaffe me), my new twin skin shorts and a brand new, pristine, white compression top…. my shoes I’d gone with the hoka speedgoat2s, a rab buff and a petzl headtorch. I was ready, it was 3.40am giving us 5mins to walk to the rendezvous where we got on the coach to take us to the start in fort Agustus at 6am sharp. On my way out the door I made a drink of mountain fuels extreme energy fuel to sip on the coach for the 2 hours before the start. It was a nice fresh morning. Abit chilly but you would expect that in Scotland I suppose. The main thing was it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t too cold. I managed to stick with wearing no jacket. The coach set off at about 4.15am and took about 1hr 20 to get to fort Agustus dropping us off outside some public toilets some 5minute walk away from the start. The toilets were heated so I made the most of the 20 minutes I had left in there keeping warm and managed a quick chat with Micheal Jones, winner of this years Lakeland 100. At 5.55am I left the luxury of the nice warm toilets where I’d been stretching my quads, hams and glutes and started to make my way to the line with a slow jog – pretty much how I’d be running the whole day! When I got to the masses at the start I was looking at everybody’s packs and guessing what they had in them- some where the tiniest I’d ever seen and it made me wonder how they had passed kit check ha. I suppose mine would be tiny I thought, if I didn’t have all the nutrition in it. It amazes me at how little some people can run so far on. A lot of people were worried and talking about making cut offs. I was trying not to think too much about them I was being optimistic and kept telling myself it’s simple, just get to the Nevis range cp (approx 50 miles in) before 5.30pm. If I could cover on average 5 miles per hour for 10 hours that would get me there in 10 hours leaving me 1.5 hours ahead of the cut off meaning I’d then have 5 hours to get up and over Ben Nevis and down to glen Nevis cp before the 9pm cut off. “Piece of piss” I thought….pfffft I didn’t know about them bogs yet ha. So at 6.03ish off we all went into the dark, headtorches on- it was cool seeing all the headlights in a line in front and behind me. The first 12miles were hard compacted trails, relatively flat and very runnable with really gradual climbs. Not my cup of tea…everybody ran off and left me haha I can’t run fast and especially on flat. I remember saying to myself “don’t get sucked into anybody else’s pace, you need to run your own race” so sticking with that I was rangeing from 9 min miles to 12min miles. I tried making a go pro video of a deer but the stupid thing crashed and never let me do anything it just froze and then eventually ran out of battery! Brilliant I thought- no ridge running videos on this race now. I’d drank 500ml of water at this point and saw a fresh water opportunity so just to be safe I topped myself back up so I had a full 1 litre on me to last me to cp2. Just before cp1 about 9 miles in I put my earphones in as my hip flexors and hams weren’t feeling very good they were stiff as hell and hurting! I put a random mix on and pressed play….Justin beibers voice came booming out “what do u mean…whooaahhh, when u nod your head yes but u wanna say noooo what do u meannnnn” ffs! I dibbed in at cp 1 at about 13miles it was a bothy I can’t remember the proper name. For those that don’t know what a bothy is it’s like a little refuge Hut out in the wild, they have them dotted all over Scotland and I think there might be a few in England too? The next 12 miles or so was a drastic change in terrain the hard compacted trail had gone and here was the start of “the bogs” and the river crossings. I was in the zone now, the headphones came off and wrapped up in my pack as the hip flexors and hamstrings were feeling better. The pace had slowed right down to 12s and 13 min miles, it was near impossible to run with speed of any sort now especially with the footwear I had on and the last thing I wanted to do was slip, causing me to over extend and involuntarily tense up everywhere potentially sparking off an episode of the dreaded cramps I usually suffer with during long distance events. So I took my time and began picking a few people off. The bogs were good fun I thought. 1 minute you was hopping along covering good ground and the next you was calf deep in pure swamp- sometimes even waist deep. I got to 1 bog and there was a few people congregating at it and 1 lady weighing it up, I said “go on youl be right” before jumping in it myself and disappearing in it upto my waist screeching “shiiitttt” as my pure white base layer went from white to pure brown in an instant ha! Everybody laughed! There was a few river crossings aswell which people were pussy footing around at – thigh deep. I thought “your never going to get across dry so why just stand there looking at it” I passed a few more people ploughing through the rivers. The Justin beiber song was well and truly stuck in my head now and I was feeling good- it was showing too as I couldn’t stop singing “what do u mean woahhhhh” at the top of my voice ha some people couldn’t understand why I was so happy as they looked like they were having the worse time of there lives! Cheer up I thought! Some people I’d say “hi” to as I passed them and they didn’t even acknowledge me, how rude ha! After a while I caught up with Dave, I knew something wasnt right as Daves a more experienced stronger runner than I am. “Are u ok mate” ? I shouted . He told me his knee wasn’t right but he’s ok so I ran with him a minute before pushing onto cp2 the first cp with water and food. Cp2 was overcrowded and I couldn’t feel my fingers- it wasn’t extremely cold but cold enough to make me not feel them. I think it was abit of the cold along with the way I was holding them while running so struggling like mad I managed to take my pack off and screw the lids off my bottles, add some electrolyte tabs to them and do abit of rearranging, I put my mobile and my headtorch in the main compartment at the back instead of in the pockets at the front as it was hard work getting at my shotblocks every 30mins with all the junk on top of them. I also filled one of the mountain fuel loaded bottles up to sip inbetween this section to last me to the Nevis range cp. I put my pack back on as it was getting cold without it and it was raining abit. I swigged 2 cups of Coca Cola, ate a piece of cake, a piece of flapjack and a cheese and pickle sandwich (all small bite size pieces of course) and a protein flapjack before setting off on the next leg walking while I finished eating my food. I wasted far too much time at that cp I thought. I think about 7min in total when I should of been in and out in 2mins maximum. If I was to suggest anything for next years event I’d suggest an area/table for runners to lay there packs down whilst they organised themselves and at least one extra water bowser as I had to queue for about 2 mins to use the one and only. Leaving cp2 I was back on hard compacted ground- I thought I could claw back abit of lost time- ha wrong again! After leaving cp2 you ran back up alongside the river you came down but on the opposite side, you could see the other runners coming down into the checkpoint and Dave shouted me and put his thumb up ” how is it I yelled” he pulled the face and wiggled his hand which means he wasnt sure! “Im gonna crack on i shouted” and he gave me the thumbs up. Within 2 mins a little orange flag pulled us off and back onto another boggy, swampy, marshy section! At this point I remembered pre race i said I’d take a caffeine gel so I slowly consumed that over 1km. It was uphill to begin with for about 8 miles following some old rusty fence posts with several river crossings over a meandering river. I over took quite a few people on this section, it must have been the caffeine gel kicking in. I kept looking over my back and there was just one guy that’s all about a minute behind me. Eventually I lost him and went into autopilot mode before coming back to my senses and realised I’d not seen a little orange flag for a few minutes. I stopped dead in my tracks , my heart sank! Fuck. I couldn’t see any orange flags , I spent a minute looking 180 degrees infront of me for an orange flag in the distance- they hardly stood out at the best of times as they were covered in mud and the rainy drizzle impaired my vision abit . I was on a trodden path so I was just about to back track the way I come from until I came back to an orange flag – when somebody shouted…it was the guy who was behind me! I turned round and he was waving his arms and pointing across the river to the missing, sneaky bastard, orange flag ha! I gave him 2 thumbs up and ran down to the river and continued on up the slippery ascent soon catching up with the fella and thanking him for shouting me . The going was really slow on this section even on the downhills- it was like marshland and swamp. My average pace was about 13/14 mins per mile on the ascent and about 12 on the descent down to cp3. I was still passing people at this point and I’d even began to pass people that started in the 1st wave at 5am- this really upped my morale and confidence. I looked over my shoulder just before I came into cp3 at a major road crossing and there was not a soul in sight, good stuff I thought. Cp 3 was a warm welcome. Some claps and words of encouragement from the staff were much appreciated. One chap told me that there was about 20k of solid ground now from this point and to fill my water bottles up from the stream near the farm at the bottom of the road if I was low and I was. I’d gone from needing 3/4 of a litre to 1.5 litres inbetween cps now. So at the river I filled my bottles up and took a minute to stretch off various muscles. More than anything now my lower back was acheing. On all the climbs I was walking doubled over to try and stretch it off whilst moving . I could also feel my calves pulsing abit as thought they could cramp up so I got a pork pie and some beef jerky out and a pickled gherkin- hopefully that will sort it out I thought. Protein & salt . So like the guy said the next section leading to the Nevis range cp 4 was very runnable, I put my earphones in again and pressed play and “feels” by Calvin Harris came on, better than Justin beiber I thought to myself! So for the next mile I thought I was Pharell Williams- I was almost skipping. Everything had just clicked into place now and I felt settled- the best Iv ever felt in an ultra race even. The next track to come on was “unbelievable” by biggy smalls (if u know it you know it) I felt mint! I’d stuck to my nutrition plan religiously, 2 shotblocks every half hour, 1 salt tablet on the hour every hour and 1 sis electrolyte gel every 4th hour instead of 2 shot blocks, a sis caffeine gel at cp2 and cp4? Leaving me with 2 spare for times in need and 2 mountain fuel drinks to sip on. 1 after cp2 and one after cp4. I had no stomach probs, no sickness and no cramps just focused on what I had to do. I passed a few more people along a beautiful forest trail And was back on 10/11 min miles now and over the 40 mile mark . The music was getting irritating now for some reason, I couldn’t hear myself think so I pulled the plug on it half way through notorious B.I.Gs greatest hits, it was good to listen too at 1st, perfect for the pace and then I felt like I needed a break from it so I went live on Facebook instead but couldn’t manage staying on for too long as reception was poor so I put my phone away and plodded on until I got to the Nevis range, cp4 were I got an even better reception than cp3! There was quite a big crowd gathered here. All cheering and shouting and ringing cowbells….big cheesy grin alert ha! The staff here were really helpful, immediately asking if I’d like my bottles refilling – “yes please” so I handed them my 3 empty bottles one containing my last drink of mountain fuel while I had a few cups of Coke and some more cake and flapjack and composed myself for what lay ahead. I put my headtorch back on and pulled my last protein bar out ready to eat it. I was 1hr 20 ahead of the cut off. Yeh man I thought. There was only one other runner in the cp when I came in and he was sat down looking grim, I’d said hello to him and he said hi back but he was going through one of them low points I think. I was just putting my pack back on I’d literally been in there 2/3mins when everybody started clapping and cheering again and I saw a flood of about 8 runners coming into the checkpoint and they was moving fast! Shit, time to go! 4 of us set off at about the same time, a couple about my age and an older chap who later tells me he’s 51. “I bet you didn’t expect to see us again” he said haha! I can’t remember his name or if he even told me his name but he was a nice bloke, he told me he’d done the cape wrath ultra so we chatted about that for a few mins while I ate my last protein bar and it suddenly started to get cold and seen as though we were at the beginning of the climb up Ben Nevis I thought it sure isn’t gonna be getting any warmer. The other couple who was a few metres infront also felt cold as they were putting jackets on too. I stopped for a minute whilst trying to get my kamleika smock on over my body including my pack- I was struggling as it was tapered at the bottom and I almost cramped up in my stomach trying to stretch my arm over my shoulder to pull it over my race pack. I stopped at that point, consumed another caffeine gel and carried on walking… looking like a teenager making a poor effort on Halloween with his jacket pulled up over his head so you could only see his face and his arms dangling out the sides!! “Trick or treeaaaat” I jogged to catch the bloke up who I was chatting to and asked him if he could please pull my jacket over my bag. The ground was getting steeper now and the forest was opening up so you had full view of the Ben- it was awesome! Then the sun came out! Bloody typical I thought just after I’d put my coat on- this combined with the road changing from a gradual climb to a steep one had me sweating my tits off! I caught up with the other couple and we got chatting for 10 mins, they were lovely people, the lad had recently done Lakeland 100 this year and the pair together had ran transgrancanaria also this year. I was amazed at how much they had done and was now doing this- especially the guy having only done Lakeland 100 not so long ago. Strong runners I thought as they began to leave me on the swampy boggy ascent upto the carn mor dearg arête…at this point I had really slowed down, it was the 1st time I’d felt any fatigue at all during the race. Ah well it had to happen at some point I thought and looked at my watch…53 miles, this was the furthest I’d ever gone on foot now. “Keep going howard you still want it” I was saying to myself so I just kept moving, slowly but surely 1 foot infront of the other. I’d only ever been up Ben Nevis once and it was from the other side, a typical mountain trail type route, solid rock steps. So before the event I’d imagined the route we’d take would be similar to that and those I’d trained on- Helvellyn, scafell and snowdon. Hard, sharp, solid rock but how wrong I was , this was soggy, wet, muddy, grassy, sloppy shit, “pure shit” I remember saying live on Facebook ha. The couple were about a hundred metres infront of me now, the guy not far behind me and 2 guys that I passed way back before the Nevis range cp were now over taking me! Jeez how do they do that I thought. I stopped to admire the view, gobble a few shot bloks and take a few photos (and sort my head out) the view was immense! The sun shining off Loch eil made it look silver in colour and sun rays where shining through the clouds giving an awesome photo! Then It started to rain and the wind picked up. 1 of the 2 guys had stopped just before cp 5- I think he’d burnt himself out so I slowly passed him and the couple had also stopped. I seen them rooting around in there bags- probably for gloves as my fingers were numbing up again. I pressed on determined to make it to the start of the arête. I could see a little pop up tent in the distance and as the ground levelled out abit I began to feel ten times better. I broke out into a yomp and climbed up some rocks and dibbed in at the control point which was pushed outside through a little opening in the pop up tent and I could hear cheers and words of encouragement coming from inside. I thanked them for there time and for giving up there whole Saturday to spend it freezing there arses off in a little tent on the cmd arête! What a view this was too it reminded me of a huge dragons back. I could see two figures about half way along and within 5 minutes I’d caught them up, it was 2 ladies. The technical stuff is one of my stronger points, especially the ridges they don’t phase me at all. I was loving it- no Justin beiber this time though! I tried to go live on Facebook once again and was disappointed when my battery went! It had probably done me a favour doing that -Crack on I thought, nows not the time to be pissing about on Facebook so I carried on making good progress over the ridge and caught up to another man at the end of the arête but upon trying to pass him safely and without slowing him down I lost my footing once or twice and nearly fell backwards- it wasn’t life threatening it just would of hurt like hell on the sharp jagged rocks. He asked if I was ok and I said “yeh thanks I was just trying to pass you without hindering you, you go ahead mate” I said and I let him crack on. I’d gone from feeling on top of the world coming over the arête to feeling like death at the end of it on the final steep ascent to Ben Nevis summit. The rocks were all loose and moved when I stepped on them, I stopped for a few seconds as I felt dizzy and light headed i kept feeling like this with every few steps I took. I looked up and saw a photographer, “great” I thought! I wonder how many pictures he’s got of me nearly crying! So I forced a brave smile and pretended to be happy while he took a few pics. Great stuff he said keep going. “Thank you” is all I managed to say. I felt terrible now and I was talking to myself “I still want it, I still want it, I still want it” mumbling away when I heard this giggling- there was 2 women chilling in the rocks having a rest ha! “I’m not a nutter I promise” I said to them ha. On I went. I started to get really really cold and I couldn’t feel my hands at all now. It was a scramble up the last 100m to the summit and I felt like I was putting my hands on pure blocks of ice as I was clambering up. The guy who I was close to before was now about 50m ahead of me, he was making good progress and I was loosing sight of him and I’d also lost sight of the orange flags too, I was slightly off course. Fuck! In an ideal world all I needed to do was put my gloves on and have a minute but to do that I’d have to stop, take my coat off, take my vest off, pull my dry bag out of my race pack, and pull the mid layer out to get to the gloves right at the bottom and then re pack it all and put my jacket and pack on and all that would of took me a few minutes – Id of probably perished before I did all that, I was in a loose/loose situation! School boy error and one il never make again! I wouldn’t of been able to do all that anyway because I couldn’t feel my fingers, they wouldn’t of moved! It was bitter cold and the wind was cutting through me like a knife while thinking about it! All sorts of shit went through my head…I felt dizzy again…what happens if I need help? The sos button on the trackers had been disabled and my battery had died on my phone. I took a few deep breaths and looked at the altimeter on my watch it said 1250m and I know Ben Nevis is 1300 and something metres high so I just kept going up knowing i was only 50-100m off the summit. I kept moving up slowly 1 foot in front of the other and in 5mins I’d made it to the top and was rewarded with a sunset and a half! It was beautiful! I could see the silhouette of the trig point now standing out against the orange sky and 2 human beings stood next to it! Thank god for that I thought and broke out into abit of a jog to warm up and holding my hands under my armpits now I didn’t need them to scramble up the rock face. I could feel the heat transferring into them from under my arms. The wind had stopped now on the summit which I thought was strange and it was eerily quiet- then I noticed little traces of ice which still remained from when it snowed the other day. I reached cp 6 at Ben Nevis trig with about an hour and a half left to make it to the bottom before the cut off. The 2 cp staff were nice and cheery and asked if I was ok – I was about to tell them how I felt back there but decided to swerve that one and replied with ” yes I’m good thanks” I dibbed in and they said Youv made it up just in time for a perfect sunset and so I had it was gorgeous!! It was proper dropping low in the sky now which prompted me to get going! Right I’m gonna keep moving I’m getting cold I said! They wished me good luck and off I went. It was getting darker by the minute now and the track was littered with loose rocks of all shapes and sizes, better concentrate I thought! All I need now is to crookle or trip and it’s game over. I was catching back up with the guy who I could see just before the summit, he’d slowed down. A few minutes later I was right behind him and he stopped to let me past. I asked him if he was ok and he said yeh fine he was just taking his time. “No probs, take care” I said and carried on. It was time for the headtorch to come back on now I think! It was quite dark and I was struggling to see the rocks so on it went and it was like getting a new pair of eyes! A few minutes passed and I could hear movement behind me and saw a headtorch gaining on me. Jeez there giving it some I thought and a lady came hurtleing past me. We said hello and she said something like she was worried about not making the cut off, I was struggling to hear her with my buff and my torch strap over my ears so I didn’t say much back I just sped up and let her pace me. The next few miles we really ramped it up or so it felt like we did! We was running down technical’ish steep rocky trails in the dark with 60 miles in our legs we were probably only moving at 11/12 mins per mile ha but the rate at which our legs were turning over due to the technicality made you feel like you was moving fast if that makes sense? I looked behind me and up- I could see all the other runners starting to descend Ben Nevis too now-little specks of white in the night with there bright white headtorch lights on, I could also see people in the valley below us too! It looked mint! I was out of water now but I estimated we was only 2-3miles away from glen Nevis cp now so every time we crossed a stream I quickly grabbed a handful of water and sucked it up out of my hand rather than stop and fill my bottle. We passed another guy on the way down who was limping he said he crookled on a loose rock a minute ago and was walking it off he said he was okay and he was- as he joined us. All 3 of us were clock watching now we had 20 mins left till cut off and we could see the lights of the village below us where the cp was- it seemed so close but didn’t seem to be getting closer. Eventually we could hear a cowbell and screams of support from people shouting in some runners that must have been only a minute or so infront of us . This made all 3 of us speed up and put on a cracking sprint into the checkpoint. There was about 4-5 people already lurking about in there when us 3 arrived making it chokka! Hurry up guys your getting close to the cut off I heard somebody say- “Shit” I thought how out is my watch to theres?? I had it that I had around 9mins to spare. I started looking for the control point to dib in and they wouldn’t let us until on our way out and we had finished at the aid station. So they filled my waters for me super quick, while I had a cup of Coke and asked me if I wanted any food I said “yeh please just any butty” the guy rammed 2 buttys in my hand and started leading me towards the dib point ha almost pushing me out of the glen Nevis cp- not in a bad way just for my own benefit to keep me going and give me as much time as possible, “well done young man” he said keep it up your doing great! I stuck my dibber into the box heard it beep twice and off I went into the night. I was on my own now….apart from my 2 jam and cheese buttys! It was pitch black and I was on a Tarmac road. I couldn’t work out if I was the 1st one out of the cp that was there or if id been dawdleing while eating my sandwiches. Ewww I felt bloated now and began burping up Coca Cola mixed with jam and cheese sandwich. I opted on fast walking for a further minute whilst I tried to keep the food I’d just wolfed down inside me. I turned my torch brightness setting down to minimum now- the last thing I wanted was to run out of power and have to stop and change battery’s on my torch- that would be catastrophic. So upon doing that the tiny orange flags now got darker and even harder to see. You had to be proper on the ball if you didn’t want to miss any but that was easier said than done when you’d been running for more than 15 hours! I set off into a jog again and soon enough I spotted a headtorch in the distance and sped up a little bit more. Then I started going up hill so it turned into spurts of a jog and then a fast walk until I caught them up, it was a lady. We chatted for abit – she told me that back at the checkpoint they told her it was 12 miles left until kinlochleven. I looked at my watch I was on 63 miles and it sounded about right. We walked for abit before hitting a sign for the west highland way. “Yesss the final stretch” I thought! This was enough to set me off into a slow run again. The end is near …or so I thought! I caught upto another lady and none of us spoke, I didn’t have any spare energy left to talk or raise my voice to start a conversation and I’m assuming that’s the way she felt too. I felt grumpy. The ground had turned from hard compacted track to a horrible loose gravel now with loads of big stones in it that I kept tripping on .My mind drifted off and I remembered seeing a gpx file for the course online one day before the race and I’m sure it was abit short of 75mile. I think I remember it being about 73ish so now like an idiot I’m telling myself it’s only 4miles away to the finish when I get to cp8 lundavera and not 6. I was counting down the miles now abit too much and doing a lot of clock watching and time seemed to be forever dragging on. I was hitting abit of a low too – forever looking at the blacker than black horizon looking for signs of kinlochleven or even cp8! Nothing! I slowed to a walk now and the lady I was with kept on pushing, a minute later the guy who had crookled coming down Ben Nevis passed me in really good spirits full of beans. I said “I’m really sorry pal I’m not being rude I am listening too you but Iv not got any energy to shout back to speak to you” he laughed and said “it’s fine pal I get you” his movements made me start running again so I was trailing behind him and it dawned on me I’d not ate anything for about an hour and a half -no shots or gels so I pulled out an electrolyte gel. A few mins later I felt slightly better and in the distance I could see a flashing yellow triangle. It had to be lundavra cp! “Come to daddy” I mumbled to myself and sped up abit. We caught back upto what I thought was the lady that wasn’t speaking but when we passed I realised it wasn’t her it was a man who I’d not seen before he must of been struggling. “Run with me if you like” I said to him and he just shook his head and carried on walking -he’d had enough I thought and I totally understood him so I plodded on to the checkpoint it was a road crossing. I stopped to dib in said thanks to the Marshall and then carried on but walking- I was still on a low! Only 4 miles now I kept telling myself. My watch was on 69. I was adamant the course was 73 miles long and not 75! Even my transfer on my arm said finish 118km. I kept switching from running to walking for the next few miles desperately searching for streetlights! Where the hell are they I thought?! The west highland way is beautiful I bet, in the day light! But not right now it wasn’t! It had calf deep streams crossing it every 2 minutes and the ground was all loose and energy sapping with big jagged rocks sticking out of it determined to trip me up! My watch finally hit 73 mile and all I could still see is pitch black. I’d been holding back on a caffeine gel the last 2 miles because I knew I wanted to sleep when I got in but when I realised kinlochleven wasn’t coming anytime soon I thought sack it I’m having it! Within minutes I was doing 10/11 min miles again – oh yess the caffeine was well and truly kicking in surging through my body bringing me to life again and I caught up with the guy who crookled and passed him and then I caught the lady up who doesn’t speak and I passed her too! Howard’s back, back again I starts singing in my head and before I know it I’m on 74 miles and still no sign of lights. I carried on for another minute or so and then I seen it – a single yellow streetlight and it didn’t look to far away! Yesssss I was buzzing, I sped up a little bit, but the light had gone . I didn’t care, that was enough, that was all I needed to see. It had given me a new lease of life. It was still pitch black though so I looked over my shoulder and it was all good- No headtorches behind me. My watch hit 75 miles and I grinned a little bit . I’d of been disappointed if I had to finish the run on 73 or 74 .something miles. The pain had gone now, I was back on a high and I could see all the lights of kinlochleven village and it wasn’t as close as I thought. I snarled out loud as I nearly tripped up- it was a really tricky little winding path full of stepping stones- fresh wet footprints on them meaning somebody isn’t too far ahead of me! I hit the tarmac road at the bottom and chucked a left. I looked over my shoulder again and still no signs of anybody else- I didn’t slow down though, I sped up again, I wanted this over and done with. I looked at my watch I was on 75.5 miles doing 9 mins per mile and I had about 10mins left to finish within the 18hr cut off! I couldn’t see any flags so I followed my nose through the streets of kinlochleven, it was a ghost town at this time of night. I was running ever so slightly up hill and the 9 mpm pace was tough. I could see some people on the pavement about 100 yards ahead of me in shorts and down jackets, they looked like finishers – at least I’m going the right way I though! Where is this bloody finish?! The people clapped me and pointed behind them and I could see the ice centre now and a man waving at me in a yellow salomon jacket! Get in!!! I crossed the line in 17 hr 55! The feeling was immense! The guy shook my hand and congratulated me and put my medal on- cheesy grin came out again and they passed me a cup of water- it disappeared in a breath! Would you like another? “Yes please” I inhaled the next one and stood there for a few seconds bent over with my hands on my knees stretching out my back – it was acheing really bad! More than my legs! They cut my tracker and dibber off and printed off my sportident result. I read 26 out of 33!! Wowwww I thought …. out of 100 starters only 33 had made it with only 5 mins left till cut off! I wonder how many more will make it? The “out of 33” bit had thrown me off track a little. I thought it could only be that 7 more runners had come in before me but had set off on the 5am wave but had finished in a slower overall time placing me infront of them? Or that sportident had calculated there was only 7 more runners left in the game? I don’t know? I heard more cheers as another man came running in before the cut off. “Well done” I said and shook his hand. It was the man who had crookled I think. “Go and get yourself some hot food and drink” the official said handing me a blue token. He didn’t need to tell me twice! So off I shuffled to the bar only to be met with some steps. I made it up them ok and walked into the room and seen a few familiar faces including the 51 year old I was with earlier on and the guy out of the couple going up Ben Nevis. They must have timed out I thought? How did you get on” I asked? “I timed out before glen Nevis cp” he said. “Awww gutted” I said. We shook hands and I congratulated him on still getting that far. I ordered veg curry as that was all that was left. I felt abit let down. I thought there would be abit of a spread on, some pizza and some hot soup or something . You didn’t come here for the food I told myself and tucked into my veg curry and rice with a pitta bread. I couldn’t eat it I felt sick. Another runner came in it was the lady out of couple. Everybody congratulated her and she sat down and started getting changed. I thought maybe I should do the same as I was sat there in wet clothes. I couldn’t be arsed. I’m only 2 mins from home il stay as I am. I pushed my food away from and let out a sigh as the sicky feeling was getting worse. I need to go. I said goodbye to everyone and shuffled out the door. It was freezing outside, my teeth were chattering. I felt like turning back to the pub and going changing into my fresh base later and clean mid layer. I carried on. “Man up your only 1 min away from home” I thought . There was loads of scree in my shoes I couldn’t wait to get them off. I wonder how Dave is I thought? I bet he’s in the big bed- we said the 1st one back gets the king size bed ha. I had it on Friday night Dave insisted on having the couch bed – i was hardly going to argue with that. I got through the door and to my surprise he was on the sofa bed!!! I startled him but within a second he asked “How did u get on” “finished” (more cheesy grins) he shook my hand “well done pal” I asked him what happened with him and he showed me his knee it was massive , it had really ballooned up! “Shitttt” I said and asked how far he got. He made it to cp3 and pulled the plug on it. I took my bog ridden kit off, made a protein shake, downed half a litre of water and got in the shower it felt like heaven! I didn’t wanna get out! I put my compression pants on and got in bed wearing my medal! Gimp! Ha! Put my phone on charge and uploaded my run on strava as you do and admired it! Then thanked everyone on social media for the support and well wishes. It was 2am now. Best go sleep. I went to the fridge and got my other 2 pork pies out and 2 bottles of Aldi isotonic sports drink. The sickness had gone now so I ate the pies, put my phone on silent and went to sleep feeling nakerd but content! I didn’t sleep too well, I never do after long distance races. I can’t describe it. The legs ache and twitch through the night. I think I woke up at about 4am for a pee and got back in bed….I was hungry too so I got back outta bed and rummaged around in my bag for a protein flapjack, I ate this and nodded off again.
Sunday: Day of rest
We were both up and hobbling about by 8am. Abuseing the posh coffee machine. Daves knee was massive and all I had to whinge about was a sore back ha. We agreed on getting a full Scottish somewhere on Loch Lomond so I packed my bag and off we went. What a glorious day! The air was crisp, fresh and pure. I was sad to be going home, but it was my sons birthday and I’d promised him I’d be back. So we set off down to Loch Lomond stopping every 2 mins to take pics as we drove through glencoe. What an amazing place. We found a nice little cafe at Loch Lomond and got a full Scottish each- I had extra toast with mine. It sorted me right out. I was still on cloud 9 though.
So there you have it, my 1st race report/blog. Hope you like it and you can get past the spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. I’d recommend this race to anybody it was exactly what it said- its not for softy trail runners. A bit pricey though but if you can afford it do it. It was the 1st salomon Ben Nevis Ultra so I’m sure there will be improvements made on next years race. I hope they don’t change the cut offs too much though, ultra racing isn’t meant to be easy and I think a mass start is a must next year.
Right that’s enough from me now, i hope you enjoyed it? I’m going to enjoy the rest of my holiday now and think about my next race “the montane spine challenger” Thanks for reading….