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!