Monday 4 November 2013

The Spine Challenger - Jan 2013 (Very long!)

The Spine 2013


I’m long overdue writing up this event, to be honest it’s taken me a while to digest what was achieved and the scale of what was overcome during this event and the run up. Having now decided to go back and attempt the 2014 event it seemed like a good time to revisit it. Be warned, this is going to be a long entry.

How it came to my attention

Around October last year my friend James, who is something of a mountaineer/adventurer sent me an article about this event which was essentially his way of daring me to enter this. He knows I like to attempt the often downright stupid and enjoy a challenge and I think that at times he likes to scratch some itches through me. I’m sure if he’d been available he’d have been keen to join in the fun! So I had a look to see what it was all about and to decide if I was up to the challenge, although, those who know me will know that the seed would have already been planted by now.

What is The Spine?

The Spine is described on the event website as “Britain’s most brutal race. The longest, coldest and most demanding mountain marathon in Britain. 268 miles of snow, cold and savage winds. Competitors have 7 days to complete the race”

I devoured the details on the website and upon further reading discovered the was a shorter (what later in the field became known as “The Sprint”) distance –  only 108 miles with a time limit of 60 hours.

The course follows the entire length of the Pennine Way which is a long distance walkers’ route up through the Peak District, Dales and over the border of Scotland. It’s considered a tough route by experienced walkers, who wouldn’t normally tackle anything longer than 20 mile sections in summer weather. So to take on such a huge distance deep in winter is considered pretty crazy! Oh, add to this that it is self-sufficient out on the course carrying full expedition kit (tent, stove, food, sleeping bag amongst other mandatory kit) with the full expectation that at some point you will need so sleep outside.

The sprint version seemed like a more sensible option, whilst it covered a large distance over the same pro-rated time limit it meant that I didn’t need to take so much time off work and was a more achievable completion, less chance of dying and still looked damn hard! Note, this would also be my first Ultra.

Both races started at the same time from the same place in Edale, with only limit places  due to the highly challenging logistics for the team of experienced organisers. Last year only 3 people completed the event (2 completing the full 268 miles and 1 completing the 108 miles).

So there I was, an email confirmation in my inbox stating I was signed up for the spine as well as a training weekend in November.


Between entering and the Training Weekend, “Team Chuckle Bros” had an outing at “The OMM” where we got to use all our expensive light weight kit we’d purchased earlier that year. During the course of the weekend and a hilariously dreadful performance both physically, and navigationally I told Doug that I’d entered this event. Doug being Doug, got race envy and by the end of the weekend was also going to be doing the event so Team Chuckle would be attending, we’re a good team out in the field though and being great friends means we can spot the tell-tale signs of fatigue, food swings, laziness and can usually snap each other out of it, and it sounded like the event would be one that would be safer and more enjoyable as part of a team - plus, he had a super lightweight tent and would save me carrying a bivvy ;-)

The Training Weekend

The training weekend was set up by the organisers to give the competitors (all of whom were exceptionally experienced ultra runners),  some frankly, lifesaving advice. I would say that had I not attended this, I would have either died* or at least would not have got near to the finish. It was designed for people to meet who else was competing, discuss kit, terrain, survival techniques, with highly experienced adventurers and learn as much from them and previous competitors as possible – their aim was to get people round, not like some events where they seem to aim for certain levels of drop outs, the guys genuinely wanted everyone to succeed and give them the correct tools to do so. Physical fitness was down to us, even that though was something the team wanted to be sure of and we had to prove ourselves on this training weekend.

Without giving too much away as the training weekend itself is worthy of its own blog post but it involved a 2 night trip to Hebdon Bridge where we stayed in a scouts hut and had talks on foot care from the amazing team of medics (a frightening insight to blisters, trench foot and ejecting toenails), Talks on Navigation, sleeping systems, clothing, mountain survival, trekking in winter conditions from the awesome team of Phil, Scott, Conrad and John, all of whom have amazing backgrounds of many many years of Mountain and Polar expeditions amongst other achievements I can only dream of! We had to then put to the test all that we had learnt during a physical test – a 48 mile tough off road loop of the Mary Towney Loop, with kit checks along the way, erecting our sleeping systems, checking our stoves. All in all it was a great day out, it put us to the test, and for me, this is the furthest I’d ever have done in one go before and true to form, Team Chuckle Bros lived up to our name rolling through the door last after the team had been unsuccessfully been ringing us after we’d not been spotted since ducking into a pub for chips and a pint about 10 miles from the end. But this late night gave us invaluable practice at night navigation and testing out our cold kit.

*may be an exaggeration


Going home from this satisfied we had all the gear and no idea, were likely to DNF if not die, training commenced – for me, this meant a cheeky off road coastal marathon, followed by 3 weeks over Christmas pissing it up in Thailand, and for Doug a more useful new year spent in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.


All the kit but don’t know shit

The mandatory kit list for this event is pretty huge, and has to be carried at all times for obvious reasons. There were going to be 16 hours of darkness a day, sub zero temperatures, likely ice, snow, wind, rain – we had to be prepared for all eventualities.

Below is the mandatory kit list and what I took (there is a real need for lightweight kit as you need to carry all this whilst running/walking/sleeping), although it isn’t strictly a team event, as Doug and I had said we wouldn’t be leaving each other during the event we were able to share some equipment.


Backpack/Rucksack – 32l OMM pack
Compass/Maps – Silva compass and Harvey maps
GPS – Garmin eTrex 10
Whistle – Part of the OMM Pack (clever buckle with whistle hole)
Knife/Multi-tool etc – Doug took care of this (not saying he’s a tool but….)
Head Torch with Spare batteries – Silva strap on thingy
Waterproof Trousers – OMM Kamleika
Waterproof Jacket with a hood – OMM Cypher
Hat, Gloves and spare socks
Base Layer
Appropriate clothing for mountain/fell running – Salamon Speedcross
Medical Kit – Waterproof medical kit
Survival Bag – emergency bivvy
Sleeping Bag (Extreme Rating) – PHD minimus 600
Roll Mat – thermarest neoair
Tent – Doug carried his Vaude Lizzeard (I think)
Waterproof matches or similar – lighter
Stove with one pan to produce hot water – MSR micro rocket, MSR 0.85l pot
Water Carrying System – 2 Bottles
2 Days rations – freeze dried porridge plus various other snacks and treats
Mobile phone with charger – Samsung s3 mini and a charged power monkey

Optional Equipment

Spare Set of Clothing – spare layers
Suncream  N/A
Vaseline or similar – N/A
Lip Salve – Cocoa butter
Waterproof Map Case – N/A
Gaiters – N/A
Buff or similar – Buff
Hand Warmers – several heat packs
Snow Shoes  - N/A
Snow Spikes – Yaktrax
Bothy Bag  - N/A

As well as this I carried spare gloves, trekking poles and a down jacket which I was given for Christmas and an ipod in case Doug annoyed me there were also Checkpoints where we could have spare kit transported but the checkpoints were mostly a day or so apart.

Anyway, enough of that techy stuff, let’s get on with the race weekend! I’ll remember what I can (what I want to remember) and hopefully you’ll enjoy what is one of my biggest achievements to date.


The Spine Challenger

So, here we are the second  Friday of January in the middle of winter on a train to Edale with a huge kit bag each looking very nervous and under prepared as usual. There were a few other people on the train who were clearly also racing and others we recognised from the training weekend, riding past frost capped peaks and blue skies, we arrived at Edale station which conveniently was 100 yards from the race HQ and start. We walked across and found the organisers setting up and waiting to check our mandatory kit, give us race briefings and final safety info.

We seemed to be some of the first to arrive so we got our kit checked, and a cup of coffee from one of the volunteers and chatted with some of the others as they arrived.

Once we had our kit checked someone kindly gave us a lift with our stuff to the YHA we were staying at the night before the race, so we had the opportunity to dump off some stuff before coming back for the race briefing.

We headed back to race HQ and there were many more people, most of which we recognised from the training weekend and we found our way to an empty seat and enjoyed another very informative talk further putting fear into me that we might die, talks of 100ft mine shafts out on the route, snow forecast, 50 mph winds which were expected. It was suddenly beginning to dawn on me that I was way out of my depth, my comfort zone was somewhere south of Nottingham. After race briefing we collected our numbers, and gave our final contact details for whilst we’re out in the field, some people were taking part in some testing for some research being carried out as part of someone’s masters, so there were people giving blood samples and various things going on (and something I’m banned from disclosing)

Once we were all done, we headed to a local pub for dinner and a couple of pints (in true Team Chuckle Bros style), the YHA was about 2 miles away and being from the south where all things are easy, we expected to be able to ring for a cab – we were laughed out of the pub. We walked back to race HQ sheepishly and managed to get a lift back from one of the volunteers, in time for what wasn’t really an early night in our bunk beds.

The next morning came round too quickly and we packed up our things, ate some breakfast and waited around for a lift (most of the other racers were staying here too)

Somehow we were in the last group to leave, there seemed to be no more vehicles to get into. We waited a little longer as the final people disappeared. There was no mobile phone signal and the phone in the hostel didn’t work. We waited ten minutes hoping that someone would come to get us, but no one. It was getting close to the start time and we began panicking. We would struggle to walk that far with our huge bags full of our spare kits so walking didn’t seem like a great idea, plus it was pitch black and freezing. After a few more minutes we saw some lights coming back up the drive and the girlfriend of one of the racers had very sweetly come back for us!

After dropping our spare kit off, a quick taping of feet, pulling on of sealskinz socks and final fettling we were ushered to the start, a few hundred meters away outside the house of a very unfriendly woman who last year apparently had hurled abuse at everyone.

A short speech from the race director and we were off on our way up the Pennine Way! The route started with a steady climb up towards Jacobs Ladder – a famous climb up towards Kinder Downfall, the front runners were off at a pace, we were left near the rear huffing and puffing and immediately faffing, pulling out trekking poles.

As we climbed up Jacobs ladder we noticed a quick dip in temperature, the wind was high and the 50 mph speeds which we were promised did not disappoint, the rocks under foot were frosty and slippery so we stopped in a sheltered spot to pull on waterproof trousers and our yaktrax. These made a big difference to the slipping we were experiencing as we climbed higher. After a few miles of this, the field had already spread out considerably and it was clear we were in the trailing group, not that this mattered, we weren’t here to win, we were here for the experience and hopefully the medal!

As we went round kinder downfall the wind was crazy, I was being blown sideways into the hill, thankfully it was into and not off the hill! Forward progress was increasingly difficult and the wind was sucking the air right out of my mouth.

The first stage to Check Point one was about 42 miles, which would be the same scout hut we spent the night in at the training weekend, here we could if we chose take a sleep in the beds there, have some hot food a even a shower if we wanted. For the sprint distance this was the only “proper” checkpoint available to us and hence the only place we could swap any spare kit from our drop bags.

The day was a mixture of big hard climbs up, icy slabs across frozen open windy moors and sometimes tricky navigation and of course that crazy biting wind. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember much specific about this first day but when nightfall came, down came a thick fog and sub-freezing temperatures. The fog made it difficult to see where were we going obviously and the light reflecting of it from our headtorches made it even more difficult.

Navigation was becoming tricky as we couldn’t make out any features, we were among a load of large boulders which made us feel like we were on a moonscape, GPS wasn’t helping much either but eventually we found our way back on track.

The temperature was so cold, we put on our down jackets plus our waterproof ones over the top, yet we were still cold. I could barely feel my fingers, even with 3 pairs of gloves on, what I could feel of them was excruciating pain.

I remembered the heat pads I had in my bag, stopped to pull some out for each of us and gradually we begun to feel the relief from the warmth spreading back into our gloves. Whilst the fog was making it difficult, it made it feel like an epic adventure, I was glad of my team mate at that point, the thought of being out in that fog on my own filled me with fear.

Again I can’t remember much between here and the checkpoint, there were patches along this section that we recognised as parts of the MTL had crossed this section and we felt we should be close to the checkpoint, but as always wishful thinking meant it was further than we thought. Eventually the map drew us to the place we needed to turn off to the scout hut but on our way there hut we had difficulty finding the way and spent a good hour trying to find the way in and eventually picking a very precarious route down the slippery banks and icy rocks to the hut. We were amazed to see people already heading back out onto the next stage looking fresh and keen still. We were so tired, we just wanted to get in and get our heads down for a few hours.

We signed into the checkpoint and had some hot food, we spent far too long faffing around and after probably a couple of hours got our heads down for a sleep. We set the alarms for about 5 so we could have a decent sleep and set out just before first light. The morning proved more faffing and took too long having breakfast before getting back out onto the next stage and saw that most people had been and gone already.

Now until the finish we would be outside, there was a unofficial CP 1.5 which we told was a tent where John Bamber would be with hot water and maybe noodles if we were lucky and most people had made a plan to pitch up tents there for a few hours. Fortunately the use of pubs and shops wasn’t prohibited, as long as they were along the Pennine Way.

We set off again, knowing we weren’t even half way yet but still fairly chipper, having had a nice nap and warmed up nicely. Once more the day was full of big icy climbs, frozen slabs, reminding each other to keep grazing and sipping. Throughout the second day the wind had dropped and the cloud cover had increased. It was still cold but during the day it was much more bearable. It was around lunch time (in normal times) and we could see on the map we were very close to a pub so we decided that we’d stop here briefly to get warm, get a hot drink and a snack. As we made our way down the hill into the small village we began to see snow falling lightly around us. It looked beautiful and put a spring in our step as we trotted down towards the pub. The snow was quite wet at this point so we were keen to get in out of it before we got too wet.

Inside the pub we met about a dozen other racers, including Dan, a guy who was training to climb Everest, who was in a terrible state, unable to walk and waiting for a lift off the course and very disappointed to be retiring from the event. We had to take off our shoes as rightly the landlord didn’t want us traipsing mud through his floors, he kindly let us put all our kit in the back room. We ordered some drinks and crisps and had a sit down by the fire and chatted to the other guys. Most people were in good spirits, a few people were treating blisters. Looking back at some of the other events I’ve done compared to this one, is that the drop out rate on this was much lower than some of the more subscribed events as it seems that people are much more prepared for this sort of thing than say ticking off one of the big events like UTLD. Some of the guys were having full meals but we’d already earmarked a pub further along that we wanted to stop at for hot food (assuming we made it there before the kitchen shut)

 After another slightly too long stop we relayered our clothing and headed back out into the now settling snow. It was settling across the field we were now walking across, and less wet. It was quite exciting and made the adventure seem even more epic!

As the afternoon drew on, the snow thickened and the layer on the floor obliterated the grass and mud and trails beneath it. The good thing about this is that it made navigating a little easier, as you could see foot prints, although some tracks were way off the track so we still kept our eyes on the map and GPS. The snow soon became hard work, as we traipsed through it. Fortunately the sealskin socks were doing a great job at keeping my feet warm and dry. The snow had stopped for now although a couple of inches lay on the ground with drifts forming. It was dark again before long and we knew that we’d have to camp out tonight. We hoped to get to the place in which to camp by 11pm, and with our planned pub stop not far from here we plodded on and found a lovely pub in which to get a hot feed and sit by the amazing open fire. We were cold again and tired, the appeal of just laying down and sleeping there was too much!

We checked our maps whilst we waited for our food and it looked like it wasn’t far to go to get to CP1.5 just at the top of Malham Tarn.

After dragging ourselves away from the lovely warm fire, we had to face the cold again, the snow was falling again lightly as we found our way back on to the Pennine Way. The next few hours were hard, we knew it was only a about 5 miles to go til we could stop and sleep but our bodies and minds were beginning to trick us. Doug was beginning to doubt his navigation and getting frustrated at minor errors. I realised that he was cold and not eating enough despite stopping for food, so I tried to encourage him to eat. We could see lights across the other side of the river but we knew that we definitely needed to be on the side we were on, so it looked as if someone else were having difficulty.

We checked how many lights there were, there were more than one, so we were happy to carry on rather than wait for a solitary light to find their way over. Eventually our two sets of lights converged and we met Annie and Tom, Annie had gotten wet when her drink bottle leaked and was so wearing her emergency bag as a cape to keep warm. I offered her some of my water but she didn’t take any.

Doug and I carried on and took the lead up towards Malham Tarn. I can’t remember at what point it had started hurting but I had a really bad knee, I couldn’t bend my right one, I was intermittently dropping to put it in the snow to freeze it, and the next stage was going to cause big pain. We had a couple of hundred steps up towards another moonscape, I dragged my straightened leg behind me up each individual step wincing every time I swung it up to the next step. As we reached the top we could see  it was a surreal place, of giant snow coloured rocks that could have been sheep to our sleep deprived eyes.  There was no clear route and it wasn’t clear if we were just climbing up in order to go back down again, it seemed unrealistic to think that anyone would be up there waiting for us. I wasn’t convinced we were making progress as we continued through the snow. After a long time wandering round the frozen moon we finally saw the light of John Bambers tent and made our way in to get a hot drink, it was 2am and we had taken much longer than we had hoped to get here.

Outside was bitter, we needed sleep so carrying straight on through was not an option, we had only until 8pm tomorrow evening now to get back, but in our heads we broke it down. To the next big mountain climb was about 6 miles, we would sleep, then get to there. Then from there we’d break it down further but first, sleep.

Setting up the tent wasn’t the most efficient process and it was so cold we were both shivering. We both laid out the tent, then whilst Doug erected it, I started heating water and inflating thermarests. The ground was so frozen Doug was struggling to stick the pegs into the ground. I set up the inside of the tent and made us some hot food whilst Doug bent pegs. He was shivering cold so I forced him into the tent where we ate some porridge and crawled into our sleeping bags fully clothed, still in our down jackets. We set our alarms for 5am with the hope of getting a couple of hours sleep, the sleep we had was dreadful, I kept waking up shivering uncontrollably, and could hear Doug suffering the same. Even with two of us huddled together it was bitter.

5am came and the alarm went off, it was time to break camp, we knew it would be horrific but it had to be done. I heated some more water to make breakfast whilst Doug pulled down bits of tent but left it up enough so we could shelter inside to eat.

When we finally got out of the tent it was miserably cold and packing up took too long again. But we were again on our way, and onto the final (ish) leg! The snow was deeper up here and we had a long slog to get to Pen-Y-Ghent which I was dreading. A huge climb up with scrambling and snow. Not my favourite combo!

As the light changed through from pitch black to purple sky the air once more filled with snow, this time, incredibly hard. Giant flakes coating our hats, sticking to our eyelashes. My hands became unbearably cold again – worse than the first night. The snow was becoming a blizzard and not so fun anymore. It was a long long trek to go, and as we descended down into some farmland the world opened up and  I suddenly felt very exposed. If a car had come at that point and offered us a lift, I would have taken it.

The next couple of hours, I was going through mixed emotions of fear, hunger, tiredness…my knee seemed less sore today so maybe the sleep had helped or maybe the cold was numbing it. The snow was still falling but slowing as we started to ascend a thousand steps up towards Pen-Y- Ghent. We couldn’t see 30 ft above our heads so it was impossible to see how high up the mountain went or how far we had to go.

I was expecting it to just be a bunc of steps up, but looking at our elevation on the GPS we were barely a quarter up. We climbed up and up and up these fucking steps. After a long while the footing changed, and we were beginning to scramble up frightening ridges. I was terrified. One foot wrong and fall a thousand feet to certain death. Still unable to see the top, I was panic breathing and really unhappy to be scrambling up here in the snow. Doug was climbing well and seemed fearless, he encouraged me up and pulled me up where I needed it.

Finally we came to the top and saw the trig point. I was so relieved! Then we saw Conrad and another volunteer waiting just past the top and stopped for a chat with them, we didn’t think we’d make it back in time but they said that it was about 25k to go to the end now, and we were making good time and would make it back – 25k much less than we thought, so with that we ran on down the next hill. Doug told me to stay right behind him, I didn’t question why (it later transpired this was the field of mineshafts I’d been terrified of and he didn’t want me to be alarmed).Fortunately we didn’t fall down one.

We ran on for a couple of miles through the snow, stopped for a couple of minutes as we saw Scott climbing up towards us. He also assured us we could get to the end.


The route was a lot flatter for a while but I was starting to have food swings and wanted to stop and sit down. Doug let us do this for a while. My eyes were funny from the snow. I was tired, and I wanted sleep. By our reckoning it was about 10 miles to go. We knew there was a long boring roman road to come not far from here. What we didn’t envisage was how terrible it would be.

The whole length of this (about 6 miles) I did nothing but bitch. It was terrible, I hated it, it was flat, boring and white.

 What was nice was every now and then, messages were written in the snow by the front runners – words of encouragement. I was slowing though and holding Doug back, he had to urge me on and put up with my tantrums. Finally we were coming to the end of the Roman road and could spot where we needed to turn left. There were some photographers there and they gave us some biscuits and told us that it’s not far now (I know that I’m never to believe anyone when they say this)

We left them and turned off only to thrown into the coldest, harshest head wind I’ve ever experienced. It cut right through us and was hell to walk into. There was no let up for some miles and the light was again beginning to change. In the distance we could see the lights for the village where we would be finishing. Eventually we were sheltered from the wind and started making our way towards the lights, only to have to zig zag our way back the other way. We dropped down into some fields and followed the foot prints across some more fields. We hurried along trying to get back before nightfall so we didn’t have to get our headtorches out.

We must be close now surely! I could almost taste that pint! We left the field and made our way through the village in search of the finish – and there, there were the flags!

We hobbled through the door and into the hall to a few claps. People were being patched up, some were napping and others leaving for the next stage. Except us, we’d finished our race and now we were given the medals to prove it!

I looked at my feet and there was a gold ball size lump of ice stuff to my laces where snow had been gathering throughout the day. We hobbled off and found a B & B to stay at, each had a hot shower a pint and a delicious well earned dinner before passing out.

I’m sorry I’ve missed out details but I’m sure this January I’ll be reminded of the bits I’ve blocked out. Having relived the above, I’m now terrified once more!

Roll on the Spine 2014!






Tuesday 24 September 2013

Hardmoors 60 (and the rest)

I entered this event before I'd even considered the ring of fire and had been quite looking forward to it. I love the opportunity to explore new places and I've never been to Yorkshire where this event is set.

My work colleagues are getting used to my responses when asked what I'm doing at the weekend being slightly out of the norm, but when I replied "just a 100k race this week" it still received the same questions of "why?"

The why for me is that I get to visit amazing places I wouldn't normally go and push myself in ways I wouldn't normally do, with the hope of achieving the (sometimes) impossible.

It has only been 3 weeks since the Ring of Fire and I've been high as a kite since then, although I spent a week hobbling round on a fat cankle which I was concerned may be a stress fracture - fortunately an xray showed up nothing although it still hurt. In these three weeks I've done pretty much nothing in the way of running, but the intention was 2 weeks rest, which I dutifully did, and before finalising transport and accommodation I went for a little spin round my local trail and was surprised at how bouncy I felt! The ankle felt fine, the groin twinged a bit (not like that) but my outer thigh hurt where I'd drunkenly cycled back to the station from the pub and fallen off  then being woken up by the train manager in London after missing my stop. Fail.

Anyhow, back to the race. This one as the name suggests is 60 miles in the north Yorkshire moors, it's worth 2 UTMB points, so it was never going to be an easy 60. Especially with 3500m of ascent and a pretty tight cut off of 16 hours. The route take on part of the Cleveland way which is largely a coastal trail, I knew a few people who were doing it from the Spine Race so was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and catching up on their adventures.

In my brain 60 miles seemed highly manageable after the last race, I mean - I would be starting fresh and I can just stop at the end and that's it. Done. Right?

I arranged my logistics so that as I was in the London office on Friday (and a tad hungover) I would get a train out to Peterborough to rent a car and drive up to Scarborough from there and hence saving about 3 extra hours in the car. Also the added bonus that I could drop in to see Penny and David on the way up and back. I got to P & D's to drop off my valuables that I didn't want to leave in the car overnight and was "talked into" having dinner. If anyone remembers PENNY'S AMAZING CHOCOLATE CAKE from my TR24 report a few years ago, you will maybe be aware how amazing her cooking is. So obviously I couldn't turn it down.

I eventually headed up to Scarborough to find my hostel, half an hour into the drive I realised I'd left my charger in my laptop bag - at P & D's. I looked at the phone - 33% battery - my phone is a guzzler, and the mandatory kit stated that a fully charged phone must be carried. So I stopped off to pick up an in car charger. I arrived at the hostel around 11:30pm to find the doors locked up... hmmm..... I went round the back and saw there was someone inside and pushed the door open. He said the reception fella was in bed so I wasn't really sure what to do. I went upstairs and tried a few doors, until I found one unlocked. Poked my head round the door to find a guy in bed reading with a headtorch on. I explained what had happened and asked if I could pinch one of the bunks, we introduced ourselves - his name was Lawrence and was also doing the race - and getting up at 4am!! Waaaa!

I got myself sorted and settled into a fitful sleep to be awakened at 4, I snoozed until about 4:30 and decided to get up, I had to be at Filey School before 5:40 in order to get the coach to the start at Guisborough.

Packing my kit I soon discovered I'd forgotten my headtorch (another item of mandatory kit) I was wondering if they'd let me start on the assumption that I'd pull out when I got to a check point nearing darkness. I didn't think this would wash. So I hurriedly pack my stuff and set off early in search of a 24 hour garage. What I found was even better - a 24 hour Tescos - perfect - I could buy some breakfast too.

So headtorch and breakfast and a cheeky iced bun for my drop bag later I'm at Filey School and waiting eagerly for the bus where I spot JZ of the Spine fame. We get on the bus and chat about the adventures we've been having, which we're planning. He began trying to convince me that attempting the full spine race would be a great idea! (it's a bad idea) in fact, on my drive up, I decided it's about time I wrote up that experience so I'll do that soon :)

We arrived at the registration, signed on, had kit checked, and before we knew it, it was time to go! I was feeling pretty good and excited to get going, let's see what the day has in store.

JZ, myself and his friend Nigel teamed up and started chatting and running together, almost immediately we hit a climb which took us to Highcliff Nab - I'd read somewhere that the first 3 miles climbs 1000ft - whilst it wasn't totally destroying at this stage it was a harsh start!

We ran along at a fairly decent pace for the first 10 miles, getting a little carried away at the potential finish times. It was too early days to be looking at that yet! Rob (another Spiner) also joined us and the 4 of us trotted along happily for a while, enjoying the nice trails, lots of  steps which came and went seemed so harmless in these early miles. I was being careful to keep grazing and sipping, so I didn't bonk and it was paying off. The weather was amazing! Gorgeous clear skies, a slight breeze and the sun beaming down no us.

After the first main checkpoint, I felt a bit crappy - maybe I'd eaten too much flapjack, JZ, Nigel and I left Rob at the checkpoint as he was with his Mrs so said he'd catch us up.

We then had an almighty steep climb up some steps - not the steps you get in the street, these are giant size steps with uneven spacing between and an extra lip that trips you up if you don't lift your leg quite high enough. These are interspersed with steps carved out of the mud on off camber pieces of ground. I reached the top to see the other two had made got quite far ahead of me; well about 50 meters but that's a fair amount to catch up after a leg burning climb. I let my legs flush out before trotting on to see if I could catch them.

I wasn't feeling too good so I just ran at my own pace for a while, assuming they'd now gone - which was fine. I was thinking perhaps I'd set off a little quick so best to put something back in the tank. The weather was really hotting up and I was really feeling it.

After a couple more ridiculous climbs of steps - the downs were as painful as the ups - I found JZ and Nige at the top waiting for me, I said to them to carry on, and I'd catch them later as I wasn't able to keep up at the moment so they trotted off and I followed behind at a slower pace, slightly glad of less pressure to keep up.

The next 15 or 20 miles were a bit of non descript, I was feeling a bit "can't be assed" and was having thoughts like, I could just do 30 and go home, 30 is enough isn't it? I don't know what got into me, my heart just wasn't really in it. I was feeling a bit of pressure on the pace as the cut offs were pretty tight so there was no time to enjoy the scenery or take photos (which is why there aren't any) I was struggling with the heat too and started to feel burnt so put my cap on to stop a week of peeling forehead!

There was some confusion entering one of the towns so I had to do a map check - which I'd much rather do than wander aimlessly, got back on track and carried on. The route passed over a beach and up a waterfall type thing, which I regret not getting a picture of now as it was stunning!

Heading into Whitby and I'd done about 30 miles now, I was halfway and not in too bad a time - a sub 7 hour 30 over that terrain was good for me. That was a good landmark and started to feel more positive again, I gave myself a slap for having lazy thoughts and told myself off, what is the point in entering events if you can't be assed to finish.

Whitby was a horrid place for a runner, it was crawling with stoppers (stoppers for those who don't know are people who mindlessly stop right in front of you; the types you get in busy London streets) the narrow streets were littered with tourists with dogs on trip wires. I showed that I didn't care by trotting through smiling like a crazy person, not really sure which way I should be heading, until I saw a sign which said "199 steps" - I recalled someone mentioning this. I found them and climbed on up - these weren't so bad after all - they were concrete ones so very much pedestrian friendly.

When I got to the top, I stumbled back across JZ and Nigel who'd found an ice cream van and were tucking into cans of coke and I presume 99 flakes. Nigel had been suffering badly from cramp but we all ran on again towards the next check point which was to be at about 37 miles or so. We were running on fairly well now, and catching people and overtaking, chatting as we went. More sets of steps took as up and down the cliffs, the legs were starting to hurt with them now! Nige was really struggling with cramp and not in the greatest of moods but still carried on, although JZ and I had to force him to run.

We pulled into the checkpoint where there was soup and hot drinks and salt, all had a little sit down, refuelled and then got on our way to the next check point which was just 5 miles away. My legs felt stiff after a few minutes sitting down but it wasn't long before we were climbing again up a monster of a hill into Ravenscar where we picked up a few more runners, Nigel seemed to be getting worse but still, kept going onto the next checkpoint where we topped up our water and snacks for the next stage to Scarborough, which was a long 11 miles.

We set off and before long it became apparent Nigel really wasn't well, he was complaining he felt feverish and his core temperature was too high, I pointed out that he was running, of course it would be high, but he insisted that he doesn't sweat even running in the heat, he was struggling to run at all and before long he'd stopped and puked up what could have been his entire stomach contents.

We let him recover and realised that looking at the miles we had left and the time in which to do it wasn't looking good to make the cut off. The sun would be setting in the next hour so I suggested we ran until the sun set as after dark we'd naturally slow so JZ and I took in turns setting the pace in the front and stopping to wait for Sick Boy to catch up, he really wasn't up for running and I'm sure he wanted to smack us in the face everytime we set off again, but I was impressed by his ability to carry on.

Sick Boy made the decision to pull out at the next checkpoint and that we should run on and leave him. Of course we weren't going to do that to someone in that state, so we slowed the pace down and let him attempt recovery.

The sun set a beautiful sunset and the moon rose beautiful and orange shining with a moustached of clouds reflecting across the sea, I so wanted to take some photos but we had no time. As we were trekking through some spooky woods with yet more steps, I pulled out my trusty Tesco flashlight and was impressed that it was actually pretty decent for ten quid!

There was still a long way to go before the checkpoint at Scarborough and time was getting away, but Nige wasn't in any state to run. So we walked on and got caught up by another trailing group. We all teamed up for a while, one of the was intermittently heaving up his guts so I skipped past him so I didn't run through a pile. The guy who took the lead of the group set a crazy fast marching pace, but miraculously Sick Boy was able to keep up, whilst I had to keep running to keep up! It was a bit of an annoying pace, I'd rather have just run, not runrunrunrunrunrun......walk....runrunrunrunrunrun......walk but we were making better progress now.

We were getting closer to scarborough now and the CP list said it was at 51 miles in, we'd done 50 now so it must be close, we walked along a twisty trail  and all of a sudden the hills filled with the sound of horror... the sound of a man being attacked by a wild boar and falling from a cliff, the sound of a man falling and yelling for help!

We all stopped dead, to see the kerfuffle, one of the group was on the floor yelling "Cramp! Cramp! push my toes back!" a couple of the guys helped him

I immediately got the giggles - I know I shouldn't have but the drama that went on was a bit excessive. At first I'd thought he'd fallen into the thistle bushes he was near which would have been painful! I tried to urge Nige on past - they were blocking the whole trail and we were running out of time. Once more the world filled with terror and screaming, and the man seemed to have been electrocuted into a stiff horizontal state and again I just couldn't help my giggles.

I don't know what had gotten into me, I think I'd been getting grumpy upto this point but we then all carried on and the group split as some of them met up with support crews as we dropped into Scarborough. We could see far in the distance round the cliffs that we had  a long way to go to the checked point, the current mileage said we should be there and inside the cut off but reality was we had 3 miles to go and 25 mins to get there. I joked that if we could do 8 min miles we'd make it, JZ reckoned we could, Nige didn't want to run on the tarmac so we just trudged our way there, he was still talking about pulling out here.

I was getting grumpy about the mileage being wrong and probably missing the cut off, we finally made it there (54 miles in case you wondered!) and although we were outside the cut off they said we could carry on. It was only 9 more miles to the end and I said to Nige that he should do it, it was silly to pull out now and we could walk it back in.

The next 3 hours, I'd like to erase from my memory.
I was an utter misery. The hills were insanely hard to get up, the steps were making my face contort, the incorrect mileage was pissing me off, I stomped behind like a spoiled teenager, huffing and puffing, grumbling every time new steps appeared. A couple of miles up was a pointless part of trail which was a whole load of steps down to the cliff edge along the coastal path a couple of hundred yards then back up another set off steps to find ourselves only 100m down the road we'd left to go down! (there was a marshal there checking that people didn't cheat here)

I was walking along, seeing things which weren't there, I was so tired that I was sleep walking, I just wanted to be in, off this stupid trail and in my sleeping bag. But no, the trail went on and on and on. I could see Filey in the distance but we'd gone past it!

I checked the mileage - we'd done 61 miles, we should be finished by now, but the trail went on. I moaned to myself, the guys were ahead of me still, probably wanting to slap me in the moody face!
We did what felt like more pointless detours searching for a self clipping check point which we never found, and ambled along. I hadn't eaten since Scarborough but was too tired to and it wasn't far now, I didn't need to. Getting more angry that we still weren't back and we'd done 63 miles now I stamped my feet like a brat!

Eventually we came to the golf course and Nige said it was just  up there where those lights are and then a right turn and we're home. I could see the lights but as we walked they weren't getting any closer. It took forever to get there all the time my grumbling mardy face stuck in a big old frown.

We finally came up to the lights and turned up the road to the school, every step was an effort, I was sure I'd never been this tired before. The finish was past the car park and round the other side of the school, I had the car key with me, I wasn't going to go in, then come back to the car. No way was I walking any further since checking the mileage and just being shy of 65 miles! I stopped at the car and got my sleeping bag and a few bits walked to the school hall with the guys in a daze and walked into see Jon and anyone who was awake cheering us back. We received our finishers tshirts, and were offered food and coffee. I wasn't sure what I wanted, I don't think I wanted anything. Just sleep.
I went and had a quick tramps wash and crawled into my sleeping bag.

There was no euphoria this time, but I am pleased that I found the drive in me to push through even when I felt like utter shit. I wouldn't have got through the last few miles without JZ and Nigel with the dodgy navigation, so massive thanks to them and up until that bad patch we'd been having a great time together - as for the Spine? I don't think so.....

For going back for another Hardmoors 60? Definitely not, thousands of steps left me a broken girl!

The organisation of the event though was excellent and as always with these types of events the marshals are amazing!

For me next - a bit of a rest as I've done a lot of big events this year so a week off, a house move, a holiday in the Caribbean and then start a new training plan when my batteries are recharged :-)

Thursday 5 September 2013

The Ring O' Fire - 135 mile Coastal Ultra Marathon

Another weekend, another adventure in the hills. This time in the form of a multi stage ultra marathon, called "The Ring O' Fire" - the name stands out for itself! It's a single lap of the Island of Anglesey - some 135 miles and 13,000 ft of ascent.

I was lucky enough to get a late entry to this event 3 weeks before the event. Since the UTSW I've been bitterly disappointed with myself but it has also given me a bit of a kick up the arse. So with the event entered I did a bit of training, given I didn't have long before a taper I put in a couple of solid weeks before picking up a very painful groin injury. With a week's rest, some panic physio and a shit-tonne of stretching and strength training in the gym, I was feeling less sore and excited to get to the start.

The schedule of the event was as follows:

Friday: 1pm Start of a 35 mile section with a 3 check points with cut offs final cut off of midnight
Saturday: 6am start for a 65 mile stage and final cut off time of 4am
Sunday: 6am Start for a final 35 mile stage with a final cut of 5:30pm

On first look the cut offs look like you could walk it. But add in to this, coastal paths, big hills, steps, majority off road and sleep deprivation and it's not so generous after all and looking at the results from last year only half the field finished.

My friend Doug was also entered for the event so we arranged to meet up on the Thursday night, get some food and have a pre race catch up. We'd previously teamed up for the OMM and The Spine as well as a couple of Adventure races so had implied that we'd try and stick together. My race plan was to do a goodish time on Day 1, and get through day 2 and 3 without too much injury. After a few beers a pizza and a check of the maps we got our heads down for an early night.

Friday morning came too soon and we were up, repacking kit bags, drop bags, ate some breakfast and headed off to the race registration. Having arrived after dark last night I hadn't got a look at any scenery and straight away I was stunned by the views of the sea. The weather was pleasant and forecast for the weekend was good and I was excited to get started!

Registration was from 11am but it had been revealed a few days earlier that we'd be getting a very special send off - by Prince William no less so we arrived a bit earlier to ensure we got to park. There were several paparazzo knocking around who were obviously there for us!


We had our kit taken up to the registration area by the organisers and we made our way up to sign on and pick up our numbers. I was handed a t-shirt with a cute message on (nice touch) and some complimentary 3Bars and number 014.

Before long we were treated to not only Prince William but also Kate Middleton walking up to meet and greet a select few - she looked amazing - even if she hadn't given birth only weeks ago! I was desperate for a pee but wasn't sure if it was a bit inappropriate to drop my shorts and take a slash in a bush behind the royals! More to the point, I didn't want to get papped with my pants down or snipered! In any case, I only had 5 mins til the off so I ran down a lane and did my business.

Soon we were under starters orders (in the form of Prince William) and the bell was rung, and Jonny Cash played out "it burns burns burns!" and oh it would burn!

To the Race!

Day 1:
As mentioned my plan was to do a reasonable time this day and Doug planned to try to keep up (not that I'm much quicker than him) due to the volume of people trying to get through one kissing gate the start was fairly slow to begin with but once we spread out we set off at a comfortable 10 min/mile pace with amazing views to the left of the sea as we rose up and down the single track trails then looped onto a short section of road, only to be nearly hit by the royals in their Range Rovers! That would have been a good tale to tell!

The route was following coastal walk signs which was largely well sign posted which was odd as along the road section everyone was going straight on but the sign turned right and up over a bridge. I wanted to follow the masses but Doug was adamant that the trail went over the bridge since he'd walked round there yesterday. I went along begrudged still not believing that everyone else would go the wrong way!?

When we popped out of the train station and found ourselves back on the track and ahead of people who were ahead of us, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and put him back in charge of nav!

The first check point was about 10 miles in and we got there in a fairly good time, feel good I made a sprint for the check point. Doug followed suit and we crossed the line together (I think I was a bit ahead!)

The day went by in a blur of gorgeous hidden bays, and stunning views, I couldn't stop grinning,

taking pictures when I saw a nice view and larking about. I was feeling strong and wanted to jog and jog along the lovely single track but there was still a long way to go! My injury felt fine - I'd put a good deal of rock tape on it but it felt fine. I taped up a hot spot on one of my feet from my new trainers (always do an event in a pair of shoes you've never worn!)

My main pain was in my shoulders from running with my pack (again a new piece of kit) the check points came and went - the marshals were the best I've ever met at an event cheering and whooping relentlessly. The supporters of runners were equally supporting to the rest of the field.

We kept making targets of getting to certain points and miles in certain times, each time sprinting into the checkpoint to the amusement of the marshals. achieving the targets made me feel pretty good.

The sun begun to set during the final miles the most gorgeous view across the sea. The final 3rd of the route got a bit hilly and more like the coastal paths I'm familiar with - not quite like the pain of UTSW or the Jurassic Coast but up and down and challenging enough to make the legs burn burn burn!

The last few miles went on and on, I could see the lights in the distance for the village we were heading for, but it never seemed to arrive. We hit tarmac for a while - it must be soon before hitting trails again and decided to walk the last few miles in, flush out the legs a bit and since we couldn't see well and the ground was rooty under foot it was a wise decision and knowing we'd be back in time for a pizza dinner at the local Italian was a welcome feeling! We were overtaken by "the likely lads" (3 guys we'd been yo-yo-ing with all day) probably glad to finally get away from our inane chatter and singing.

We made our way back into the final check point following some signed which had been put out to help us back and save using the map, with a half assed sprint and big smiles to a fab welcome committee of the marshals - how they kept their energy up all day is amazing!

The accommodation for the night was a sport centre, the fast guys had been back hours, had showers, eaten and were already asleep on the floor! We laid out our sleepy bags, had showers (the best shower ever!) and walked the half km to the pizza restaurant, had a cheeky half and a pizza found ourselves falling asleep and made our way back, compression tights on and bed down for the night. It wasn't the best nights sleep but it was the most we'd have for a while!

Day 2:
4:45 came and it was time to get up, normally after a race the normal thing to do is rest, even after a half marathon I don't normally want to do anything, but after 35 miles running round the coast, instead of hobble around in a pair of slippers the best thing to do is go out on little sleep and embark on another 65 mile adventure!

The first stage was just under 12 miles and it was a pretty hilly start. Starting off gently, tentatively testing the legs and surprised at how they felt - OK they were stiff but nothing like I expected - they wanted to run.
The sun was coming up and looking like another nice day, I'd got pretty sun burnt yesterday but still, better than getting hypothermia again! Another welcoming arrival at the check point and we were back on our way, keeping to the normal plan of walking the up hills and trotting the flats and downs.

The views just didn't get boring, the day drew on, and we were still in the race. We were clearly some of the back runners but it didn't matter, what mattered was finishing, others were pulling out at each check point but we were holding strong, slow but strong. There was some really shitty sections of pebble beaches to run across along the course of the weekend which was probably some of the worst parts of the route.  Coming into the the penultimate check point the sun was beginning to go down so we had a little sit down with the lovely marshals who gave us some glow sticks for a night rave and put on an extra layer and headlamps on and checked the maps. We'd sort of decided that we'd walk most of the night section unless it was particularly easy going but we were both getting tired, Dougs' feet weren't in great condition (they'd not healed since Lakeland100 only 4 weeks ago) and the skin was threatening to shed again.

The next section was a long one, the short ones are nice because you can visualise them better but with about 12 miles on this one it was going to be a slog, especially in the dark but the going was fairly flat. we rounded a corner and upon us was a section of river to cross with giant stepping stones about 4ft high! it was fun hopping from one to another in the dark :-)   Wwith a small navigational error ending us in the woods for a while eventually got ourselves to the final check point were Bing the organiser a big group of marshals and a vat of Soup was waiting! It was much needed as the temperature had dropped and we were moving pretty slowly now. 

 A big group of competitors turned up behind us, they'd previously been ahead but had got lost so ended up behind. They flew in and out of the check point whilst we enjoyed the soup and chatter.

After outstaying our welcome we set off on the final 6 miles, soon catching up and overtaking the other group. We took charge of navigation, and found our way back along the route, through  fields and sandy tracks. I was feeling quite spritely again (I had taken a gel shortly before and they turn me into a different person) so this didn't go down well with Doug and the others whilst I was bouncing next to them limping and hopping (there were quite a few injuries in the field)

Two of the group set off in front as we hit the dreaded sand dunes and by this point Doug was in a
real state with his feet. It was terrible to watch him wince and limp on every footfall as the blisters worsened. The next 2 miles across the sand dunes were the darkest time. It was grim. It was way past bed time and nearly 2am, my ankle had got really sore and every time I place my left foot a sharp hot pain shot up my shin and top of foot. I tried to encourage Doug on, it was heartbreaking but the going was so slow and the sand so deep and hard to get across it took forever!

Finally we came to the end, crossed and bridge and went back on ourselves. We couldn't see the guys who were behind us so assumed they'd dropped far back in the slog and gloom. We limped and hobbled the last few hundred meters to the village hall we were to sleep in to the smiley face of a marshal outside and Q giving us a double high five. There were several people still up and eating pasta that had been put on - including the guys who were supposedly behind us on the dunes! I was pretty pissed off the next day to find out they'd skipped them and taken the easy route claiming to have "bailed" but still starting Day 3!? Well, they're only cheating themselves hey ;-)

The shoes came straight off to get some pressure of the feet, Doug was in a bad state and I was worried. I set our stuff out whilst he inspected his damaged feet, we didn't even get out of our kit, it wasn't long before we had to be up again so any sleep is good!

Doug wanted to get up to pop his blisters but I insisted that sleep at this stage was more important. I fell asleep pretty quick but had funny hallucinations of bugs scuttling towards my head and my legs waking me up with spasms.

Almost as soon as I closed my eyes I was awoken by "IT BURNS BURNS BURNS, JUST LIKE A RING OF FIRRREEEE!" played at volume into the room and Q bouncing around like a kid on red bull! There was a small part of me not wanting to carry on, my ankle was agony and first instincts were that Doug wouldn't make it today with his feet in the condition they were in.

We made a plan to ensure that we at least started and would go from there check point to check point. The plan was Doug to pop his blisters, we'd tape his feet, and he'd use my trekking poles, and drugs all round. Lots of drugs!

I went and got changed, came back and found him patching up his feet, I cut strips of tape and helped where I could, passed drugs around, packed sleeping bags away, taped up my ankle and got ourselves motivated for one final push.

I wasn't hungry for breakfast so we just had a few cheddars crackers and gathered outside with the remaining runnners. It was cooler this morning and the fatigue was set in, although I did feel so much better for just an hour or so sleep. We set off for the final stage - somehow the front guys still running fast!

The plan was in action, get to the check points inside the cut offs. I was very surprised at my ankle now I had taped it and compression tights on, Dougs feet seemed less horrendous and although we weren't moving fast we weren't at the back. The first check point was about 7 miles in and we knew breakfast was there waiting - in the form of bacon butties - I'm a vegetarian but I really fancied a bacon butty so when we reached the checkpoint (complete with a half hearted sprint) we boshed the most delicious bacon sarnies!

 With 20 mins banked at this check point we carried on to the next, another 7 mile stage, we weren't in the best shape, Doug's feet and ankle were giving grief, my ankle was intermittently giving me big issues. Yesterday I'd been pissing like a race horse - I'm talking every 20 mins what seemed like a good half a pint, and today was turning into a similar story. I wasn't over drinking so I didn't really get it.

We reached the 2nd check point with 15 mins banked, telling us we'd slowed down further. A few guys we'd been yo-yo'ing with to this point retired here, We took a bit of time to do some foot admin before carrying on.

The next section was another bastard pebble beach. Something I noticed was that there were a lot of people skipping these hard sections in favour of the road, whilst it's clever to use the map to their advantage it's not really in keeping with the spirit of the race to cut corners.

For this section we had to do a prove we'd gone to a Bay slightly off the course rip a page out of a book that was left there and bring it back, (it would be an easy cheat to knock off a few miles) we made our way to the bay and came to a lush opening on to the beach, I felt like a pirate!

After some larking on the beach some more pics and long walk along the seafront we realised that we still had a long way to go before the next check point and time wasn't on our side.

Knowing how bad Doug's feet and shin were (I could tell by the swearing and faces he was pulling) that he wasn't up for running but eventually I said that if we wanted to get to the check point in time and hence continue to the finish then we had to dig deep for the next few miles and really push on. It didn't receive a great response initially but before I knew what was happening he was off!

We ran, proper ran up the hills, down the hills, along on and on and on. I was so impressed with the turn of foot. I knew the pain was bad, my leg gave way a few times but I managed it as best as I could.

We carried on like this for a few miles until a steep incline, I caught up with Doug who was like a man possessed! He said he'd taken 2 packs of bloc shots ! no wonder he was blasting along!

After a brief walk, we were back running again until we met the tarmac. There was no way we were going to run on this, the pain was too much so we marched on, knowing the check point must be soon.

Doug was so amazing that section, I knew that that had got us to the check point when we finally made it there with 20 mins spare.

I insisted we take 10 mins to get our shoes off, get some food in, drug up and prepare for the last 10 miles.

We'd done an epic 125 miles so far and had the last bit in sight. We could do this!

Saying good bye to the lovely marshals and hoping the last time we'd see them would be at the finish line.

We weren't in great shape, I was really worried about Doug as he seemed to be bonking so I slipped him percy pigs for the next couple of miles.

Looking at the map was a bit depressing, it went right round the edge of the coast in a zig zag fashion. We plodded on, taking it in turns in having food swings. Lots of walkers on the trails knew what we were doing and gave words of encouragement and knowing we had less than 10k to go should have been a positive. We wound along the coast round the fields of heather taking in the breath taking views

The map gave hope looking like we'd be at the finish soon. it looked like about 6k, but we had to go "around" the mountain. Climbing up to a little stone hut it looked like we just had to climb up and over, then down and right and we'd be home and dry. We had time to kill and we'd still be back in good time!

We were sadly mistaken. We plodded up over the "top" only to find that we had to go along more trail towards the mountain. Looking at the map we decided that it was just to the lip of the next ridge then right....

It was not.

We reached the top to see the trail go down then up again, then up some more and disappear to the ridge of the actual mountain!

OK, we can do this!

We plodded on. Time was a ticking.... and fast running out!

The trail seemed to be dipping and I was convinced that just round the next corner would be the finish. But the trail took a dip to the left, and went waaaaay out to a point on the far left. I thought I recognised a building below and got excited and shouted to Doug who was limping badly down the big steps only to be told that "um... no, we have to go back up and over"


At this point, we had only 15 minutes to get back in the allotted time not to DNF and we had no idea how many twists and turns and extra climbs would appear! We started to panic a bit so again we had to dig deep, pain schmain, we hadn't come this far to not finish.

Adrenaline kicked in and we ran and ran, up and down, steps and rocks came and went and checking my watch , seeing the minutes pass by. We can do this!!

We rounded another corner and there! we saw it ! the finish shute! it was still about 500meters to go but the end was right there! We had so little time, we ran hard down the final decent, we saw a couple of marshals running up the mountain to meet us - screaming and whopping at us. We sprinted past, we could see the finish post and hear the cheering of the organisers willing us to finish. I looked at my watch - one minute to go. we sprinted head to head towards the finish.

Crossing the line was the most euphoric end to a race I've ever had! It was the most amazing feeling! It was such a dramatic and exciting end to a race and the relief was fantastic knowing how close it had come to not finishing.

We accepted our medals and the marshals and organisers seemed genuinely impressed at our comedy timing.

We don't enter races under "Team Chuckle Bros" for nuthin! ;-)

What an amazing event, I don't think I've grinned so much during a race before and I'd recommend it to anyone!

Saturday 29 June 2013

UTSW 2013

Wow! Has it been that long since I wrote one of these?

It's not to say I've not been doing things, I've just not been sharing my adventures.

My latest adventure was a trip to sunny cornwall to tackle Ultra Trail South West - a 100 mile trail ultra marathon. Although I'd done the Spine Challenge (a story for another day) I felt this was my first proper ultra.

I don't recall why I entered it, I think it was because it was dubbed "UK's toughtest Ultra marathon" but I think other events would have you think differently.

To give a brief overview of my training, after the Spine, I felt awesome, so started running again that week. (not far but far enough to break me for a couple of months. I wasn't injured, I just felt shit. Totally lost my mojo and couldn't be arsed. So I didn't. I made half arsed attempts at doing long runs, me and Doug went out on intentional 20 milers, only to come back after 12 miles and go to the pub.

It was 3 weeks before the event and I realised I'd done a total of 3 longish runs (longish if you're training for a marathon maybe) the saving grace was that 3 weeks before the event myself, Doug and Bud had gone out to Wales to attempt the Welsh 3000's (again a story for another day) so a full day on our feet had put some good miles in the bank and some big hills too.

Unfortunately I took a week to recover from this, then the following two weeks, I felt terrible with weird appetite loss and strange feelings in my guts. So I continued my training plan (of doing nothing) The Wednesday before the race I ran 4.5k to my mums house, arrived feeling awful! Chest hurt, legs empty. What the hell was I thinking going to this event? I was going to die after 10 miles!

I knew the event would be tough, it is extremely hilly, it starts in the evening and with 36 hours to complete the race there's a good chance of having 2 nights out there.

Thursday came and went, and I left work to head to Newquay. After some issues with trains I ended up at my hotel by taxi (courtesy of First Great Western) and views of beautiful sunsets and cliffs. I'd forgotten how gorgeous it is down there. When we were younger we used to have lads weekends down there and mainly we were paraletic so don't really remember much about it.

I had a mooch about town, popped to asda to get snacks for the race (my personal choice is cheese sarnies with humous) have some dinner and a couple of beers and head back for an early night.

I woke up on Friday feeling fairly sleepy and headed to the pool for a dip and a jacuzzi before forcing down an enormous breakfast. I had loads of time before I needed to head to registration (15 mins on the bus away) so had a wander round town and looked at the shops, had a coffee, sent some postcards. Whilst waiting for the bus I was chatting to a couple of local men, smoking jazz cigarettes (them not me). They asked where I was heading with a giant bag on my back, and I explained what I was doing. They thought I was nuts but were pretty impressed and offered some motivational speak, which actually helped as I was feeling pretty worried about it. I'd done one of the coastal series just before Christmas last year, so I knew how hard these coastal paths can be.

I got to registration to a long slow moving queue to have kit checked and pick up race numbers. I could see no other women in the queue - don't get me wrong, it was nice spending the time chatting to men but where were all the women!? I saw a couple eventually but they looked super fit and fast and I felt like a big fatty. Race briefing followed "many of you won't finish" , then we went outside to wait for our bus to take us to the start in Polruan... we waited in the blazing sun - wow, what a great weekend to be at the seaside! We waited and waited.... then waited some more. Then were told that our bus wasn't coming. But they'd arranged another bus to collect us. The race was due to start at 6pm, the bus turned up at 6.15pm. The driver didn't know where he was going, luckily one of the other competitors did!

We arrived at the start, time for another quick pee (I'd been pissing like a race horse all day!) 19:30 with the start delayed we were finally off on our long adventure back to Watergate Bay.

I felt like I was going at quite a good pace to begin with, I wasn't feeling like I was at the back, I certainly wasn't at the front. The trail was quite untechnical and not too steep (yet), a nice single track that I longed to bring my mountain bike along. Soon enough we were climbing steeply and everyone was walking.

My strategy was to walk the hills and run where it was flat/downhill. I'm not very good at technical descents though so much of the steep downs involved walking/flailing. I was finding myself with people who'd I'd expected to do much bettter (some guy who was bragging about MDS)

I got to CP1 about 12 miles in and it occured to me I'd not eaten anything. Bearing in mind I'd been going for about two and half hours so far, this wasn't good. I tried to eat some choc raisins but immediatly my tummy cramped up. I'd been drinking plenty and Dawn's pre race pep talk of drinking lots was in my head - her repeating "are you sipping?" but I'd forgotten the "are you grazing?" Doug and I had been asking each other all round the Spine. I filled up on some electrolytes at the CP and tried to eat some jelly babies. It was a struggle. Shit, what now? I'm susceptable to food swings if I don't eat on a normal day never mind when trying to run 100 - I took a packet of Clif blocs as these are pretty good and thought at least I can suck them if I can't eat them.

It had started to rain and it was dark now, so head torch and water proofs went on and trekking poles came out. I always thought poles were a cheat but they're brilliant. The next stage was rooty and wet and if not for the rain would have been a lovely bit of trail. But it rained, and rained and rained. I found myself knee deep in bog and getting hauled out by some guy. I came through a gate where the sign was pointing straight on, but it looked like I could turn left, right or go into the woods further. I went back to the sign to check the direction, definitely straight on. So I went into the woods. It didn't feel right as there was no clear path through so I followed what looked like the path and eventually came out about 100 yards up the track I'd have been on had I turned right. It still didn't feel right but I carried on farther in search of a direction marker. It was annoying that they hadn't given us maps as I had compass and gps to help get me on the right track. I couldn't see a sign, so I decided to head back in the other direction. I could see headlights and was glad to see about 8 other people also confused about where to go. One of the guys (who later turned out to be John) and I went back the way I came with the view to shout back if we saw a sign. Eventually after about 500m there we saw a reflective sign pointing ahead. We shouted for everyone else to join us and carried on, I stayed with this group until the next check point, they were strictly running the downs/flats, walking anything even slightly up. This was great as upto here, I'd been on my own for some time and they were pulling me along at a much better pace. I was quite moany though, I told them I was having bets with myself when I would pull out of the race. This received a bit of a telling off "with that attitude you won't get far!" that told me, and I tried harder to be positive.

It was still raining when we saw the flags marking CP2 and outside was an absolute LEGEND having a cigarette he'd left in his drop bag. I told him I thought that was quite brilliant, not that I'd be joining him though.

We'd all been looking forward to getting a hot cup of something at the CP as we'd been told that this was a food station so there'd be more to choose from and hot drinks/soup, so we were a bit disappointed with the table of coke, malt loaf and bananas. I was feeling pretty low from lack of food so I tried to eat some malt loaf which wasn't too hard to stomach, had a can of coke (I can't remember the last time i drank full fat coke, I'm guessing circa 1990) and poured one into my bottle for later. I decided that I'd leave the sandwiches I brought in my drop bag as I didn't envisage being able to eat them, and I could always get them at CP7 (50 miles from here!)

I left the CP with Debbie and John and we travelled together for a few hours, chatting and keeping each other going. My aim had been to get to CP's inside the cut off times of the original timings (before we started 90 mins late) and I was an hour inside that at each so far, so was feeling quite good about progress - only 80 miles to go.... :-/

This section contained quite a lot of road which whilst it churned out the miles quickly wasn't great on the feet with XC shoes on, the 3 of us continued on, occassionally meeting another person, I felt like I was slowing them down so when we were joined by Laura it gave them an excuse to move on a bit, I chatted and walk/ran with Laura a while, but when running I was faster and soon found myself alone again. CP3 soon came - again not much to offer, I had a packet of crisps, which the salt was amazing, refilled my camelbak and attempted to get a bit warm and dry. My sealskinz gloves were soaked through and my fingers were all trenchy so left them off a bit to air. I was chatting to another girl who'd arrived. It was 3am and she was struggling to comprehend that we'd only come 30 miles.

I said, "well, the sun will be starting to rise in an hour or so, then we'll be nearly at CP4 then CP5 and we'll be half way, then it's not too far to CP7 and we can get clean dry clothes and then it's home sailing if we get to CP7"

This sentence had a good effect on me and I started feeling better about finishing. I left CP3 alone, had to go back to collect my forgotten poles, this section was set to be tough, it went across Bodmin Moor and up over Brown Willy *snigger* this had caused lots of jokes throughout the night, "Off to mount Brown willy and I'm so wet" the course took a right on to an open moor, straight into a terrible head wind, that combined with the rain was pretty unpleasant. I trudged onwards and the mist started thickening, soon I was deep in the moor jumping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass to avoid going balls deep in bogs that were likely to be hiding there. I saw two headlights ahead stopped, I thought maybe they were lost, but I got there and they said they saw me on my own and thought they'd wait so I didnt get lost in the mist on my own.

There was no clear sign of where to go, so we just held a straight bearing and hoped for the best. The wind and rain was battering us around, my face was a picture of misery! The light around us was starting to change and I realised the sun rising!! This was a great thing, I said good morning to the guys and on we went, the course then took us to the left towards the great mound of "Brown Willy" it was vast, and the route up was hard, again with no clear path, giant steps were required to get up each tuft of grass or rock. A group of about 8 guys appeared behind us after long, they'd been lost on the moor for some time, so fully appreciated the guys who'd waiting for me. After a long annoying climb, we reached the top. The event organisers had told us that they'd left a note at the top which we had to report back (as proof that we'd not just gone round the hill) but I could see no note! I'd been hoping it would be something amusing but alas, so back down the hill we went and across more open moorland. The next few miles was pretty miserable, despite it now being light and the rain less persistent and threatening to stop it was a trudge, the wind was howling in our faces, after another stretch of wet moor in the distance I could just about make out the endurancelife flag marking CP4 and hot drinks and shelter! yay! But it was still a good 2 miles into the wind across now an airfield. Finally I got to the CP and was very disappointed that it was a horse trailer with a lady boiling water in a jetboil and a tray of jelly babies. It was less than satisfactory but I accepted a soup, which I then gave away. I was talking about pulling out again but once more some of the northern lads I had been with during the night told me to man up and that I'd been whinging about giving up at mile 8. That told me! I took some more bloc shots and started on again. I stopped for a wee and the northern lads over took me, I caught up with them and we stuck together for several miles until we reached a town, where they each spent 20p on some local toilets, one had been holding it in for 20 miles! ouch! There was a shop here so we got some supplies (more coke for me, pies and coffee for them) the 60 mile event was starting not far from here so were expecting to see people fly past at any moment. We had a decent break, I was wanting to get started but thought it would be better to stick with them. We set off again and we soon back on the coastal paths - we'd made it across the country back to the north coast! The terrain changed immediately from the nice wet trails to painfully steep up and down of steps, technical features but the most amazing views of the cliffs and out to sea. I didn't see the guys from here on.

The next few miles were a real struggle, I could barely place one foot in front of the other the gradient was sapping any remaining energy I had, I'd decided, that at the next CP I was going home....the front runners from the 60 were beginning to pass me now, looking annoyingly fresh but each one of them gave me a big well done and showed they were genuinely impressed that I was on the 100 and still going. (I didn't feel like I was going) climbing over numerous styles was taking its toll too and descending the slippery steps was slow going. CP5 took forever to get to, I wasn't having fun now, I was at dropping point, I had no energy and just wanted to stop.

I finally popped out to find a tent with the CP, the weather was nice now, lovely sunshine drying off my damp clothes warming my face. I said to the marshall, I'm probably pulling out here but I'm going to have a sit down for a few minutes and decide. I sat down and they made me a hot chocolate and handed me some biscuits. I turned my phone on to send some updates back home and received some nice messages from friends.

Tim and an American guy I'd been running with at some point yesterday appeared and were in great spirits, asked me how I was, and I said I'm probably pulling out. They said "noooo!" and Tim asked if I'd been eating.... erm... not really. Quite a lot of people had pulled out already so I felt compelled to join them especially after the last painfully slow 5 miles, I couldn't do another 50 like that!

The guys said they were going to get some chips in the town just down the other side of the cliff and I should join them. It sounded like a good idea, I know from experience that as soon as i get good food in me, I'm a different person. I told them I'd see them down there and took a few more minutes before singing to them "wooooooahhhh! we're half way there!"

I felt much better again from the hot drink and motivating chatter so I packed my stuff back up and went on. I found myself running again - wow! After about 2 miles, I dropped down into the town and coming down off the cliff I could see the others, and a group of their supporters all eating bacon butties and chips and cheering as they saw me.

I felt so much better, I ordered some chips and a can of coke and sat down to eat. The others left before me, but their support crew stayed and chatted to me.

I decided to get my ipod out for a while now, ate half the chips and carried on once more. I was feeling so much better and ran much of this next stage feeling pretty fucking amazing singing along to Erasure. I was visualising finishing now, crossing the line, the satisfaction of completing my first ultra marathon. Yeah! I could do this! It was going to be a late finish (or early hours of the morning) but that didn't matter, I came here to do this and I could do it! Someone had told me this was the hardest section with 1000m of ascent but after that it was much easier. Come on Anna man up!

CP6 came in no time, I was still feeling good but thought I'd take a sit down for a few minutes and chatted to some others who were there. I asked if there was any coke, but was told no, but there was a shop down the road. I had a few sweets and carried on again. my legs were a bit stiff from running quite hard, then sitting down and then going again. So I walked a bit to find the shop and bought a bottle of coke. My energy was dipping again so tried to knock back some nuts.

The wind was still high and in my face and the clouds were returning, despite my face being a bit sunburnt now. If I could just get to the next CP I'd have access to my drop bag and I could sort my feet out with new tape (they were starting to blister in places now) and change into some fresh dry clothes and get some proper food again. After about 5 miles of yo yoing between different runners I had to stop to take a look at my feet and get some sugar in me. I was struggling again but continued to tell myself it was nearly time for fresh clothes and hot food! My feet were bleeding in places I'd not taped them and two toenails had blood behind them - that's two more missing toenails I'll have. I took off my wet socks which were under my sealskinz and just put the skinz back on then carried on slowly up and down the relentless cliffs. It's crazy that you'll climb 150m up, back down the other side and only cover about 400m horizontally! the progress was painfully slow but when I remembered to look, the views stunning.

Coming towards Rock which was were the next CP would be I lost the way a little and got some directions from a local, he pointed out on the other side of the cliffs where I was heading, to go round the beach (the tide was in so had to take the long route) and up there, left, round up, right....he thought I was bonkers when I told him what I was doing. I hadn't seen any other runners for a while so wasn't convinced I was on the right track. I dropped down on to the beach at new polzeath and wanted to dive in to the sea to cool my feet. I saw a sign which said "Rock - 3 miles" this disheartened me a bit as the guy had made out that it was really close. The rain had started again and the wind was worse than ever. There were no runners around now and I wasn't sure where to go as the signs had stopped. I carried on where the man had suggested but I wasn't convinced. I started to feel strange, the rain was pouring down again and the wind was cutting through me despite my expensive and very good jacket.

I took a left up a ravine, I think I knew this was a mistake but the weird feeling got weirder. I was so cold and shivering. I felt confused and disorientated. I was walking aimlessly and didn't really know where I was going. I tried to get my phone GPS to tell me where Rock was but the screen got wet and I couldn't do a thing with it. I was so cold, and I started talking to myself "why didnt they give maps?" and having imaginary conversations when I got to CP7. I knew I was going the wrong way but I felt really confused and was crying and didn't know where to go or what to do. I was in a field and started trying to find my way back towards the beach I'd been at over an hour earlier (only half a mile back) I just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other, crying/talking to myself.

I finally got back on the path I'd turned off incorrectly and waited trying to decide which way to go, when two american ladies doing the 60 appeared, both sodden too. I asked for help, they weren't sure the way either so asked a local who said "go to Baymer Bay, turn somewhere in the car park, go... then..." I had zoned out, I hoped I could just stick with the ladies and get back to CP7. I knew from the Spine training weekend I was showing signs of Hypothermia, I was trying to keep a straight head but I kept zoning out and getting more confused. The ladies stayed with me a while but I was barely moving so they carried on. Once they were out of sight I felt even more confused and alone, I'd not listened to the directions properly. I reached Baymer Bay and in the far distance to the right I could see someone traipsing up a massive cliff, this broke me, I thought that was where I had to get to for the CP. I was shivering uncontrollably, there was noone around and I couldn't see where I was to go. I saw some toilets and went inside to get shelter from the elements a while, the wind was brutal. Once inside I broke down and cried some more I didn't know what to do, my brain wouldn't function and I couldn't stop shivering. I got my phone and GPS out and took my grid and spent about 15 mins trying to text the emergency no we'd been given so they could hopefully come and get me. The medic rang me and said I was only about 300m from the CP, could I get there. I knew I couldn't, I'd end up walking round and round the wrong area for ages. He said he's send someone for me.

I took off my shoes and climbed into my emergency bag. I sat in the corner shivering and zoning in and out until the door opened and in came a gorgeous bloke who jumped down and gave me a hug and introduced himself as Damien.

He checked me over and ran back to his car, I felt relieved I wasn't on my own but so so cold. I knew I wasn't too far into the danger zone as I'd functioned enough to send a text and crawl into my bag but I still felt awful. Damien came back with a big pile of clothes and apologised but he'd been instructed to get me out of my clothes and into some dry ones. Ordinarily a handsome bloke trying to get me naked would have been excellent but the situation was a bit different, we joked about this a little through chattering teeth. He threw layers of dry clothes over my damp skin and had to help me out of my bottoms as they were soaked and stuck to me. Finally layered in all his clothes he bundled me into the car which was set to furnace temperature. My sunburnt face burned whilst my finger tips had no blood in and my core was failing to warm up very fast.

It took about 10 mins to get to CP7 so I think 300m was a bit of an under statement but I think Damien was getting a bit lost whilst we chatted in the car.

We arrived at CP7 and Tim, the medic helped me out and checked me over, made me drink a cup of tea (I don't like tea) found my kit bag and when I was less shivery got me to change into my own clothes, I gave Damien his back appolising if they were soiled.

Tim said he'd drive me to where I was staying I'd not booked anywhere to stay Saturday night, but all my stuff had been transported to CP7 so I could go wherever. He tried to get me a place in Rock but ended up suggesting I stayed at his friends B & B in Mawgan Porth so rang them and arranged it for me and insisted we went to the chippy on the way as he was starving and I should eat. We waited until I was feeling warmer an hour or so later and said my thankyous and we left.

Tim was lovely, we chatted easily and he told me about his new baby, I was still not fully warm but my fingers had blood in now. We stopped for chips and Tim came back with the biggest box of chips I'd ever seen! I didn't have much of an appetite so only managed about 10 of them which didn't even dent the amount that there was.

He checked me into the B & B which was the most beautiful place I've ever stayed in, run by a couple decorated nicely with amazing food locally sourced and fresh and even had an "honesty bar" which unfortunately I just couldn't face. Seavista - if you're ever in the area

I had a hot bath and rolled into bed. I thought I'd sleep for a day but I woke at 5am. I took some more painkillers ad ibruprofen as my legs were stiff.

Now reflecting back, I'm really disappointed that i didnt finish, and started the week quite upset about this fact, a mere 70 miles isn't what I set out to do and I knew that if I'd got to CP7 I'd have finished - it would have been a long night but I'd have made it. But Hypothermia beat me this time, and I'm looking forward to going back next year to try again.

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This latest blog will be hopefully following my transwales experience. Enjoy with me :-)