Friday 12 August 2016

Lakeland 50

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" this is something my old swim coach used to say, which is profound and try to live by. I'm not someone who believes in luck. Weirdly, I was also a fucking awful swimmer, so some might say it's luck that I didn't drown during my triathlon days, I say I worked fucking hard for months at swimming, to still be a fucking awful swimmer (but not drown).

I've been bouncing around like a kid for 2 weeks (and the rest) looking forward to this race. I get like this when I know I've worked hard for something. I'm not just talking running. Anything. That satisfaction you get heading into something knowing that you're really prepared. That you've done all you can to achieve the best you can on the day.

I'd shared some of my goals with friends, one of them being Doug. With his only hill session in the last few months being Snowdon race he wasn't feeling too confident. I tried not to let his doubts rub off on me though. He was throwing around estimates like better than 18 hours but more than 12 he'd be happy. To which I was thinking, "Well, I'm not waiting for you. See you at the finish then punk!"

I know Doug well. We've raced and trained together for years. He was sandbagging of course (this is the man, that told only a few people he was doing an Ironman; until he came home with a medal and an exceptional time!)

I'm not sure he completely believed I'd achieve my goals but he is also pretty competitive when it comes to the two of us. If we're doing a half marathon or a 5k he'll totally disregard his goal pace and run just on my shoulder for a while before overtaking and staying just far enough ahead that I can't quite catch him.

Obviously we're also a fantastic team when it comes to expeditions and mountain marathon team events and are well matched pace wise and know how to look after one another when required.

Two of my oldest and dearest friends; Ellen, Issy and the gorgeous German Shorthaired Pointer, Milton somehow got talked into a "trip to the lakes". I'm pretty sure I told them what we were doing and that they wouldn't see much of us on Saturday but we'd have HEAPS of fun on Friday and Sunday. When the reality  transpired I'm pretty sure they felt they'd been missold PPI. 

Ellen, Issy and Milton were driving up from the West Country and Doug and I from the east, we'd discussed plans and thought we'd all be up there by say 3pm. In time to register, catch up with familiar friends, see off the 100 mile runners and have a jolly old afternoon and evening. 

What actually happened was an 8+ hour journey up the M6 with every other fucker that was deciding on a lovely northern summer break that same Friday. 

We found time to share some banter though.

It was stressful to say the least. Doug and I arrived just in time to see the kids mile race off(they're swift!) sadly we missed the 100 start, which was a shame as we had some friends running. We registered and I got a text from Issy saying they were still 2 hours away. *sob* .


We got our numbers, weighed in (one at a time fatty!) etc then headed off up to the B&B I'd booked us all into. I put the address into Google Maps as I received a tearful call from the girls (well Issy was tearful, Ellen was hysterically laughing in the background). 

They were still 90 mins away. We'd been trying to get hold of the b&b to let the, know we were late. But to no avail. So, stressed that the girls were upset, the B&B may have given our rooms away (had I even indeed got a booking!) and it was getting near to the kitchen shutting time in the pubs. 

Doug and I drove on a bit crabby at each other. Agreed we'd check in, get to the pub and order pizzas to take away for the girls. I tried once more to call the B&B and finally got through. "What booking?"
"Um.... 4 beds and a dog, under Buckingham?"


It's fine. We'll get there and it will all be fine. My battery was on 3%, Doug's was on 0% the car charger had stopped working.

Finally we found the B&B, Doug waited in the car whilst I ran in.

Only to be told, this was not the B&B we had booked. We were in Keswick. The place we should have been was not far from where we had been an hour ago, in Burness, Berwick, Somewhere beginning with fucking "B".

I sloped back to the car to Doug's hopeful face and told him the bad news. He was mad. I tried to make a call. To who? I don't even know. My phone died.

I got the map out of the back of the car and looked up where we should be.

We drove in silence back the entire way we'd come. Doug was seething. I was sheepish. Better to get the nav errors out the way BEFORE the race, right?

I suddenly realised my work phone was in the car and had battery so I waited for signal and tried a number from the CORRECT B&B. I got through eventually. She'd been trying to call us (on our dead mobiles)
I didn't have Issy or Ellen's numbers on this phone so sent them a facebook message to say we'd see them in the pub.

Anyway, long and short. We all managed to check in, and get to the pub for a right jolly old time before they stopped serving. All we could do was laugh about it. (well once we got a pint in front of us)

We ate pizza, caught up on our shitty travels and drank beer then walked back to the B&B to pack kit bags whilst drinking Red Stripe, some more dicking about and get to bed.

The race wasn't an ungodly start so we didn't have to get up too early, but it was too early to get breakfast at the B&B. There was a briefing at 8:30 which we were just in time for. Unfortunately the hall was overflowing (annoyingly supporters were in there taking up space of runners so we couldn't get in) so we fettled with bags, stuck race numbers on, went to the toilet again and again. Doug realised he'd lost his road book (mandatory) so after the race briefing I went in search of a spare. I bumped in to Conrad, from my running club, gave a quick hug and said I'd see him on the bus (I didn't)

Several buses were waiting in the car park to take all 650+ runners to the start at Dalemain. Just about to get on, I saw Richard Leahy. I had no idea he was running today. We'd not seen him since sharing a tent at Dragon's back. We all hugged and greeted each other and caught up on the coach until I felt a bit queasy and had to spend the rest of the journey pretending to sleep.

We reached Dalemain and I began to get excited. It was still an hour or so until the off so we had plenty of time to go to the toilet and even get a coffee and shortbread. The 100 racers were coming through their halfway point and about 1000 people were cheering them through. It must have been a great feeling for them (despite being 50 miles into a 100 mile race and having been up running all night!)

Before long we were being called into the starting pen. I bumped into Conrad once more with his friends (more on one of them later). Richard, Doug and I shimmied our way nearer the front of the pen and enjoyed the atmosphere and then before we knew it the countdown begun 10....9....


I shot off. I wanted to make a good start but not blow up. Before long, I could see that I was in the top section of the women, 3rd or 4th place. I tried not to get too exciting. It was only a few hundred meteres into a long day. Calm down Bucks. Even though I knew the route well from Dalemain, there was an added 4 miles round the estate to make the route up to 50 miles and it was far from flat.

I set a good pace for myself. Doug wasn't overtaking yet. After a mile or so Richard came past me, he kept intermittently stopping to fiddle with his calf guards, it later transpired he was getting thistles stuck in them.

The ground was uneven in places, thick grass like running through sand, the odd climb and descent. Before we knew it we were running back through the start area (also the CP area for the 100s) to huge cheers from the supporters and racers feeding and resting. I heard her first, then spotted Jenni in the CP pen (Jenni was doing the 100  miler. I'd been following her progress through the night and she was doing amazing, slowly picking her way up the rankings) I ran to her and gave her a big squeeze, she screamed in my ear and I was off again. Now on the route proper.

Doug had caught up with me about 2 miles ago and we were running together, ticking off milestones already "5% done... that's a park run"

Now out of the crowds I ducked behind a bush to go for a slash, letting Doug go off ahead. Also grateful to a bit of a breather. Not interested in pushing any harder (I already thought maybe I'd gone off a bit quick)

I ran back on, not worrying about catching up with Doug. I knew now I had gone off too hard. I love the section over to Howtown at CP1 and ran merrily in convoy of the 60 or so runners in front of me. I knew I was currently 3rd lady. Running through the single track before Pooley bridge I was grinning. These trails remind me of happy times mountain biking. I ran on through Pooley Bridge where huge crowds were cheering everyone through. I saw Rachel Ball yelling at me as I ran by, who I'd not actually met in real life until today. She was meant to be running but was injured but her partner was running so she was out supporting. I'd been watching her from afar on social media. We are of a similar standard and I had thought she'd be my closest rival and had been looking forward to running with her/against her.

Photo Credit: Rachel Ball

Already, I'd realised I'd forgotten to tape an area of my foot prone to blistering (which I'd told myself on my last recce to not forget to tape up) the inside of my right arch was rubbing. Do I deal with it now or hope it doesn't get any worse? It'll be fine. I'm sure. I don't want to waste 5 minutes so early in the race.

From here we met our first significant climb, on the road. Last time I was here I'd ran the whole way up and even managed getting a good Strava Segment position! I let myself have a walk when I felt I needed it. No point in blowing up too soon. I could see little dots climbing up across the fell to the right of the road and couldn't wait to be up there. Its an odd gradient, from below it looks fairly steep but when you're on it, you can run and run. I could see Doug not far ahead but still I didn't want to push to catch him. I finally reached the top of the road climb having overtaken several people, going past some of the 100 milers, cheering them on the way past. I was back on trail now and grinning once more. I ran on and on knowing the route well. Walking when it climbed steeply briefly, to catch my breath then running on once more. The route plateaued and started to gradually descend. Some mountain bikers were patiently waiting to get past so I pulled over to let them through.

I could see another lady on my shoulder as I started to run on again. I was pushing as hard as was comfortable on the descent and let her go by after a brief fight. She was much better at descending than me, even on this non-technical section.

Now, not far from the Check point, I dared to look at my watch. My pace was way up on any of the training runs at 5:39km/h pace which for this terrain was to me, really good. I rolled into the checkpoint in 1hr 35 having covered 11.5 miles and saw Doug stuffing snacks in his face and leaving the CP.

I grabbed a handful of sweets filled my cup with coke and went straight back out again. Before long I caught up with Doug.

The next section is pretty long through to Mardale Head, probably my least favourite section. A colossal climb up then a plateau (the bit I keep going wrong on) a steep descent down then an unexpectedly technical 6/7 km lakeside run. On paper the lake section looks like it should be easy but it's rough rocks, short steep ups and downs and ankle breaking cambers.

Doug and I were now together, we were feeding off each other's pace. We knew this next few k was going to be more of a hike and took the opportunity to get our heart rates down, get some food in and try not to lost any places.

It was much easier to follow the route with people in front than on my recces and found myself at the top pretty soon.

As we reached the plateau, I could feel my stomach tightening and the unpleasant feeling of needing the toilet (sorry!) I'd taken some shitstop before we started as I'd had a bit of an excited tummy! So that may have taken some of the edge off.

I was annoyed as the plateu was a lovely easy run, gradual descent but my tummy was in knots so I had to keep breaking into a hike. I was looking around for somewhere I could relieve myself but it was just open hill tops with people intermittently passing me by as I pulled my pace right back.

By now a few women had overtaken me, but I couldn't do much about it. I knew I'd gone out too hard to start, all I could do was slow down, and get some fuel in before I bonked. I tried to eat some malt loaf (which in training had been amazing) but it just stuck to my mouth and throat and I wretched. This wouldn't do. I had some bloc shots so managed to wash one of those down with water.

Before long the route dropped steeply towards the lake and I spotted in front a familiar slender shape. The long legs, long blonde hair of Jenn Gaskell. I shouted down to her, she didn't seem quite her normal cheery self but was trying her best to be upbeat I could tell. I'd been watching her progress last night too and she was doing amazing in the top 10 of the 100milers. She said she thought I was 8th or 9th lady or something and wished me well and I was gone down the tricky slope towards the lake.

Still I needed the toilet, my tummy hurt so much. Every time I thought I found a good spot, someone came past or I noticed a big drop off the edge of the trail I was bound to fall down.

We'd been going for 2.5 hours now, and I assumed Doug was far ahead. Despite my tummy ache I was having an amazing time. I was making good time, all I had to do was try not to shit myself and not run out of fuel. I wasn't drinking quite enough and the day was warm but not unpleasantly. Lots of people passed me during this section. I was picking my way over the technical rocks, me and another guy were competing for the worst descending award. (I won)

Finally the trail opened up a little and I could see farther ahead and the trail curving round towards CP2 in the distance. I thought I could see Doug too, but couldn't be sure. Around a km from the CP, I could definitely see Doug. He wasn't moving at all well. I became concerned. I was running a little better now and was gradually gaining on him. I caught him just as he entered the check point.

He was in a bad way. He'd bonked. He'd run out of water some time ago (annoyed that I hadn't caught him and shared mine) he'd run out of fuel and felt (and looked) like shit.

I left him getting sandwiches and cup after cup of coke, whilst I finally got to relieve myself as there was a portaloo at the CP. I felt better immediately. Also aware I was a bit low on energy I necked a couple of cups of coke. Checked Doug was OK, offered to stop a while here if he wanted to but he knew I wanted to crack straight on so he stubbornly left with me. I made him take a jam sandwich and took one for myself before thanking the CP staff and setting off up the next big climb.

(it seems to be standard practice to have a big climb after a checkpoint, which is good because you can stuff your face whilst hiking up it, I noticed this when doing Trans Wales MTB race too )

We chatted and Doug explained he'd bonked, totally run out of energy, gone off too fast (much like myself) run out of water and was feeling horribly sick and looking a bit unhappy and worried he might not be able to finish.

I hated seeing him like this, but despite my untrustworthy stomach I felt fairly good myself so didn't want to slow up too much, my legs were strong and mind positive. I led the way up the climb. Doug stopped to heave. I held back with him to rub his back (and hold his hair out of his face) but nothing came. We carried on a bit further. Doug stopping every so often to heave up non-existent bile. He asked if we could stop for 1 minute, so we stopped on a rock, I counted down with my stopwatch a minute, while Doug tried hard to be sick.

We started to move again, I started to push on ahead of him up the hill, stopping now and then to eat and check back he was OK. He saw and would wave me on. I knew he was trying desperately to keep up. He didn't want to be left behind and I didn't really want to leave him behind in this state.  I knew up over the top of the climb was a big descent down, Doug is faster downhill than me so I kept pace knowing he'd catch me.  The descent was tough. It was steep with lots of loose rock. The braking that my reflexes made me do hurt my legs more than the climbs.

The descending was jiggling my insides too much, my tummy was hurting again. I had to stop and find a bush. I found one. Whilst taking care of business Doug came past looking pretty worse for ware not seeing me, I shouted out and told him I'd catch him up.

Once more we were together, my tummy still in knots, Doug trying to force up some of his stomach lining. What a pair.

I knew the route well into Kentmere so felt confident leading the way. Just before Kentmere we bumped in to the legendary David Lee who we have met every year on the Spine sat on a wall cheering people on and taking photos.

Photo Credit: David Lee

We rolled into Kentmere and found Richard who had been there chilling out for about 10 minutes. We necked a smoothie, grabbed some biscuits, refilled water bottles, and were back on our way. My knees were beginning to ache alittle so we took a painkiller each up the next climb.

We were both beginning to feel better now and I was able to describe the next part of the route.  A climb followed by an amazing flowing descent into Troutbeck. My blister was getting pretty sore now so on the next steep descent I decided to stop and tape it up. I was just ahead of Doug at this point having reached the top of the climb ahead of him, and stopped on the side to deal with my ouchie. I shouted once more I'd catch him up. A few minutes later I scurried down the hill to him. We were on a painful rocky river bed. It wanted to be run on, but it hurt your feet so bad so we ran where we could. We reached a corner where I needed a wee. Doug took this opportunity to have one last purge. This one seemed to finally fix him. As we ran the next section in to Ambleside he was finally back to himself. Bouncing along, telling crappy jokes and singing me songs.

We ran through Ambleside full of beans and huge crowds, Once more Richard was there having been chilling for a while. A quick stop to refuel and we were back on our way. We walked for a while whilst we ate, and back up yes another hill before getting on to open moors.

I knew this next 15 miles was largely runnable. A couple of big climbs interspersed with lovely flat trails. Up the next climb, Richard joined us, and we all chatted. I led the way as I knew the route from memory, and we happily ran together through Chapelstile, finding a few minutes to play on a swing, before heading back on to the moor and a short sharp climb up followed by a wonderful piece of singletrack to a mandatory unmanned checkpoint (so you don't cheat and take the road)

We stumbled across a swing and I couldn't resist a little play (and also a sit down)

From here we were only a few km from the last CP. I had been watching my clock. I knew we could get in, in under 11 hours. But we had to push. I suggested this to Doug but he didn't want to entertain it. I knew on a good day I could do the last section in 45 minutes. So even if we left ourselves an hour we could do it.

We hit the final CP with 1:05 to spare to get that sub 11. We had a quick snack, and got back on with it.

It's a brutal finish, straight up a set of steps. The you climb up nearly 300m over the next 1.5 miles. I was watching my watch. The light had faded and we had our headtorches on. Mine immedeiatly flashed that the batteries were dying. I didn't want to stop to change them and waste time. I'd just manage with what light was left and the dim setting from my headlamp.

The descent is equally horrible off the summit and I picked my way carefully down in the half light trying not to get too left behind. Back off the rocks and on the final steep descent, I let myself go, catching up with Doug and both of us catching Richard.

I knew now we'd be under 11 hours for sure. (unless anyone face planted now) My headtorch was slipping so I carried it in my hand. We ran hard into Coniston euphoria beginning to fill us.

Round the corner from the finish, I could hear cheering and above all of that the loudest screaming!!! I saw some commotion to my left and heard then saw Issy and Ellen screaming and jumping around and vaguely gave them a hug as they ran into the finish with us screaming with joy and bouncing around like women possessed!!

We ran through the finish, dibbed out and received more hugs and screaming and the BEST EVER FINISH to a race!

We were ecstatic. We'd done well. We knew we had. We weren't ashamed to admit it.

What an incredible support team. What a team Doug and Richard were. I ended up 9th female and we were all in the top 100 out of 672 runners.

Team work makes the Dream work! Photo credit: Richard Leahy

After the race we headed back to the B&B, drank a couple of bottles of fizz and the girls filled me in on the day they'd had...

Incredibly happy runners

They'd had a wonderful day, walking around the lakes with Milton, Waiting at Ambleside check point, just missing out on seeing us through, but having the fortune of glimpsing "a really hot Viking looking guy, blonde, blue eyes and an incredible moustache and beard"  this ended up in a several day search on social media for him #findviking.

We found him, and it ended up being Conrad's mate.

They'd been in the pub,

chatting to the winners,

and Milton had been getting all the attention - hardly surprising - look at that beaut!

The next day we had a nice walk around Ambleside, refuelled and enjoyed the sunshine.

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. If you discount the travel issues. (the girls ended up getting home via an AA van.... )

What an adventure, what a support team, what a result!

Could I have improved on this time? I don't think so. Had I gone off slower, I may not have got tummy probs for a while, maybe I still would have. Maybe that saved the race for me as I was forced to slow down. Really, I don't feel like I would have done anything differently. On the day, it all came together, we were blessed with perfect running conditions to boot!

Can't wait for the entries for next year to open!

Monday 1 August 2016

Life after The Spine.

It's fair to say The Spine took it's toll on various aspects of my life. Not to say it's all been bad and knowing I've not got to go back to tackle it again is a great feeling but also somehow bittersweet. I've got January to look forward to doing Cross Country and normal stuff!

I've had a pretty good year so far, After the spine, Robbie and I agreed we'd work on shorter stuff through the spring and early summer and not rush back into things too hard and let my body and mind recover. I had some shorter event targets in mind, and with work becoming increasingly challenging and time consuming I felt it was time to put other things before running and focus on quality training.

I bounced back surprisingly well, with a win at the Might Contain Nuts 10 mile trail race in March, followed the next day by a birthday 10k road race with some friends where I placed well. I've been desperately trying to get my park run below 20 minutes too which is becoming a bit embarrassing now! I'm 11 seconds off, but determined to get there by the end of the summer.

I had a crack at a Vertical KM whilst I was at it!
May was a great training month with a trip to the lakes (more on that later) and an amazing week in
Morzine running up and down the trails there, Robbie also talked me into a hellish 15k mountain race whilst I was out there. It was so hard. It climbed 1000m and pissed down with rain. That and being at a decent altitude to make me breath extra hard - Of course him and Nats both own the mountains round those parts and both bagged podium spots. It was nice to see Robbie and Nats though and experience a proper mountain race.


I've been enjoying some track racing, 10k trail races and some club champs events and am loving the endorphins you get from the short fast events. I even won a 3000m race in Abu Dhabi round the F1 track which was an incredible experience!

Two weeks ago, I took part in the Snowdon Race, which I bloody love!

Look how happy I look!
10 miles straight up 1000m of Snowdon and straight back down. Again, I placed well in a very competitive field of international fell runners and really felt like I've improved my hill work (Up as well as down) and felt really confident, I felt a bit bad as this is kind of Chris' race which I've jumped on the back of and he's much more of a fell runner than me, and I snuck over the finish line just under a minute ahead, with Doug sneaking in the same time in front of me. The following day Doug and I spent the day hiking about Snowdonia.

My 2nd goal race of the year however has been Lakeland 50. I've been looking forward to this for months. I don't normally approve of reccying courses. It feels a bit like cheating. But I had some serious goals in mind so wanted to prepare myself by knowing the terrain, learning the route and preparing my legs for those 3000 odd meters of ascent and dare I say it, be competitive.

Over Easter Doug and I took a trip to the lake district with the intention of reccying most of the route over two days. This didn't go well. Neither of us took a map or a GPS with the route loaded on to it. All we had was a printed out road book. After 16k of hills in the pissing rain, we found ourselves lost, on top of the wrong hill with a handful of disintegrated papier machet. We abandoned the recce and spent several hours trying to find our way back to our B&B to drink beer.

Before I went to Morzine, I headed up to the Lakes once more, alone this time and got hold of the correct map, road book and took a compass! ON the Saturday I ran/hiked the 28 miles from Dalemain to Ambleside, briefly going wrong but righting myself and getting on towards Kentmere. Somewhere between Mardale Head and Kentmere, I took the most ridiculous wrong turn. I don't even know what I was thinking. I turned off the route and scrambled up a gnarly mountain. After 2 hours scrabbling about, I finally dragged myself through some shrubbery into a farm where I begged for some fresh water as I'd run out hours before in 28 degree heat.

The rest of the recce to Ambleside was uneventful and I rolled into the backpackers hostel, showered and went to get myself a beer and food. The next day, I drove to Coniston, dropped off my car, got the bus back and ran the 16 or so miles Coniston. This part of the route is really runnable on the whole. A few big climbs naturally but I was surprised to arrive in such good time.

I went home feeling positive. I'd heard terrifying things about this course. But it all felt pretty manageable. Don't get me wrong, there are some big long hikes where it's not possible to run but it was a pretty runnable route compared to the likes of say the Dragon's Back which I'd been expecting it to be more like. I tentatively suggested my goal to Robbie (a 10 hour something time limit). There. It was out there.

Four weeks ago I went back to recce once more. To fine tune the bits where I'd gone wrong, having done plenty of hill training, I also wanted to see if I could actually run up any of the hills now. To my surprise I could! (well the ones early on when I was fresh anyway) I had a fantastic time, apart from taking the wrong fork up over High/Low cop and being in the rain, couldn't be arsed to get my map out, then later to find I'd lost my compass and descended into the wrong valley and continued to go round and round and up and down the same hill twice. (I clocked an extra 10k in this detour!)

The rest of the trip back to Ambleside was spot on, and the weather was kind beyond that. Even with the detour I got back in a decent time. The next day, once more I made my way to Coniston. I really enjoyed myself, the weather was perfect, I was loving scampering over the last few km in the sunshine, and knowing I had to catch the bus back to get my car I had to put my foot down a bit.

Driving home, thinking about the times I'd take over the sections, I felt it was well within me to get a sub 12 hour race, the dream was to get 10 something. So I set myself a few options. Some  which I'd share with others;

To complete in less than half the time allowed (i.e. under 12 hours)
To complete in between 10 and 12 hours.
My quiet target - 10 something and a top 10 ladies position.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

The Spine Race 2016 - the finale

We left Bellingham into the cold. It wasn't as cold as it had seemed last night when we were exhausted and needing sleep. Although by now we were always needing sleep. i was beginning to panic we wouldn't get back in time. My panic manifested itself in a bossy, sergeant major, marching, yelling directions, telling people to keep moving. I was soon put in my place by Zoe, who gave me a talking to and quite right too! That would have been a long day for everyone had I carried on like that!

The next section was a bastard. Truly. It wasn't particularly hilly which was nice. What it was however was miles and miles of moors with hideous deep snow. Energy sapping, high stepping snow that I hated. It was hours of it. I sulked my way through it like an angry teenager. There was a diversion after I believe 3 days of hiking through it to avoid the "deep snow". Feck knows how bad it was through the next bit!

This section saw my first hallucinations. From here the race got weird. I can't even confirm if what I'm going to write is real or if the events actually happened.
Hiking along through not quite so deep snow now towards the forest, still night, I was becoming mesmerised by the glitter off the snow from my head torch. The only other time I'd felt this way was in Amsterdam several years ago after eating magic mushrooms.
I saw things in the trees. Faces that probably weren't there. People that shouldn't be there. Things that gave me a fright, things that made me giggle. I was walking along with my eyes shut, wondering if I could sleep walk. I stopped and shut my eyes, I could sleep standing up. I was totally incapable of navigating, I was just following behind Doug like a told off child.

I dozed in and out of awareness of Zoe and Doug around me. Doug getting irritated by my slow movement. Zoe was struggling too now. She wanted to sing. We were hanging behind singing something, I can't remember what now.

We caught up with Doug, or more accurately he waited for us. Zoe wanted to sing again. No, she wanted Doug to sing. Doug started singing "the amazing horse" I joined in, in a drunken slur. I don't think Zoe knew this song.

I was aware that Esteve the Spanish racer who didn't speak much English was with us. We sung a round of frere Jacques, and some song about a caterpillar that my tired brain was unable to repeat the lyrics back. The sparkles in the air holding me in a trance. The sun was beginning to rise once more. I was so tired. What day it was I couldn't tell you. I was moaning. Why aren't we at byrness yet? Can I sleep? Looking for anywhere to curl up in a ball and sleep for just five minutes. I handed round pro plus.

Doug, let me sleep, just here for 2 minutes?
Why wouldn't he let me sleep? I'd be so much better if I could sleep.

We slowly trudged on. Doug and Zoe had held back doing something, maybe fussing with gaitors which had clogged up with giants snow balls. I knew I had a couple of minutes On them. I kept looking out for snow holes. Trees I could duck behind. Grab just 90 seconds sleep. That's all I needed. Esteve was somewhere in the distance, escaping our increasing idiocy.
I took my bag off and sat on it, closed my eyes and was immediately asleep. I woke to Doug looking angry. He was right, it wasn't safe to stop in the freezing cold. It wasn't fair on the rest of the group.

It was daytime now. I needed to wake up. I ran. Actually ran. It was the only thing I could think of to wake myself up. I stopped to strip off some layers, during which time Doug passed me. He tried to wait but I told him to carry on and I'd run to catch up. The gradient was declining slightly making my amble much less arduous. I ran to catch him. He was hiking hard. Knowing we were only a few km from Byrness and a nap and a feed and a hot drink! Entering kielder forest I brightened up further. I had fond memories of mountain biking in kielder. We had dropped Zoe a little way back but we knew she'd catch us shortly, the nav was straight forward, the sun was up and the only way I could keep awake was to jog.

By the time we'd regrouped, Zoe was in a chipper mood too, moving briskly, banging off clumps of snow from boots and poles. The sun was shining and it was once more a gorgeous alpine day. Reaching Byrness we bumped in to Ronnie once more. He was full of spirit and excitement. Partly at the excitement of seeing us still in the race but also to deliver some news.

News was that over the Cheviots the snow was knee deep and waste deep in places, people were travelling a max on 1.5 mph though the section, the last 28 miles taking over 20 hours! He was urging us to press on, not stop too long and get the fuck on with it.

I didn't really believe him. Although having coming through what we had through the night, I can't imagine it would be worse than that.

We went into the forest view b&b where there was a great set up, sofas, medics, beds should we need them, hot food. We took advantage of most of it. I slept on s sofa, had some coffee, a pile of mince and mash, got to use a proper toilet. Whilst there it got pretty busy so when we felt we'd had enough to of a break we decided to push on.

We almost instantly climbed up out of the forest onto the Cheviots. The Cheviots were the final legend of the spine race. Again, they filled me with fear. Stories of spines gone by had nearly taken men to the grave (or something) on paper it was a long long section with two mountain refuge huts breaking it up. We had expected to take 15 hours to cross to the finish. With the new estimate of 20 hours I'd thought that we could get a nap in at hut 1 at the least.

Once up onto the Cheviots we looked back at a spectacular view across the snow and onto s perfect sky. Once more wishing I had a camera but taking a mental image.

Once more, we tried to work as a team on the navigation, it wasn't too tricky to be fair. We cross referenced the summits, partly for our satisfaction that we weren't just following footsteps. The snow wasn't that bad here, mostly ankle deep, the sun on our backs, what was Ronnie on about?? I felt like we were making great progress. The air was really cold though and a breeze was whipping up. Someone back at the cp had warned against breath inning in the cold air as you could get hypothermia from it, so to breath through our buffs. This I was doing but still the cold was biting at my chest.

We'd dropped down into a valley and Doug needed to stop to de-ice his boots. I confidently led the way off. Fifteen or so minutes later, dougs caught up with us and it transpired I had no idea where I was going. Doug went off back to the gate he'd stopped at, and retraced the correct route. I didn't know what was going on. Should we be following?

Once more I found myself following dougs heels. We finally saw a pennine way sign and I felt better about our location. The sun was beginning to lose its shine. A misty cloud cover forming, it would be night again in a few hours. we seemed to be striding out well now Into the cold. Seeing footprints now and then to confirm we were heading in the right direction or at least the direction of other lost folk.

I begun to feel a bit weird. I had a really strong sense of de ja vu. I knew I'd never been up here before but it all felt so familiar. The trail looked familiar, striding out with Zoe with me. It was very strange. It as very cold now, so I was marching back and forth while maps and Gps were being checked by Doug and Zoe. I wasn't capable of reading a map at the moment. I was so cold. We plodded on, my de ja vu becoming more and more surreal. This entire situation was now playing back like a movie I'd once watched.

Doug was beginning to act strange. Whether this was just in my mind or reality. He was really tired. I suggested that we take a decent break at the first hut, have a half hour sleep. I as expecting a lovely warm hut like Gregs hut. I thought we could get our sleeping bags out and have a hot meal and good sleep. Doug was falling asleep on his feet. I was really starting to worry about him. I told Zoe such. He was acting strange. We were right by the rufuge hut all of a sudden. I stopped for a pee and let the others carry on in.

When inside, the hut wasn't quite what I expected. The floor was wet. It was full of racers, mark and al were in there boiling up water and making ration packs and noodles for those in need.

I was so worried about doug. He needed sleep before we carried on. I tried to tuck up in to sleep while I prepared hot water and got food going. I made a hot water bottle out of my sigg bottle. Doug may have closed his eyes for s minute.

People started to leave. Suddenly I knew the ending of the movie I'd been watching, Zoe was going to leave us. We were going to get lost out in the snow. We'd miss the cut off. I was panicking. I was struggling to read a map. I could barely concentrate. My brain was making up fictional endings to a story that I thought I'd lived through before. Apparently the next bit of the route was the worst hit by snow drifts. This was the bit that would take forever to get through. It was dark again, it was of course night time again.

I was so worried about this bit. I knew what would happen. Of course I'd seen it in my memory. I asked mark for advice in the nav for this bit, he said, just keep following the fence, he went through it. Head to the fence. Following the fence. Get to there and follow the fence. Just follow the fence.

How hard can it be? How did I get so lost last time I was thinking?

Doug was so tired, he wasn't ready to go, but I rushed him out. Forced him to put more layers on than he wanted. But you're cold Doug.its so cold out there. We can't stop when we're out because Zoe will leave us and we'll be lost.

Mark ushered the three of us to the fence where we dutifully followed it. It was funny, to one side of the fence was England, the other Scotland. How funny, I thought. We starte off at a steady pace. My legs felt fine. I just wanted us all safe together.

Heading up towards windy gyle was the most horrific wind. Blowing straight from Scotland, it was already below freezing but apparently with the wind it was minus 15. I remembered this part of the route from my dream. I couldn't remember when I'd been here though. Maybe it was with penny and David. But it must have been daylight.

We could see lights ahead of us, which we were slowly catching up with. It was so cold. We were constantly checking on each other. Anna are you ok? Doug are you ok? Zoe are you ok? Doug leading Keeping the pace steady so everyone could remain close. The wind was biting. The hill went on forever. We weren't even at windy gyle yet. I felt like I was in labrynth. Tricked into taking a wrong turn somewhere, waiting to fall into the bog of eternal stench.

The snow was getting deep again. My de ja vu just wouldn't go away. We caught up with the the others now. I had feelings of being on the Southdown way by Eastbourne. Except it wasn't sunny. The snow was creating a strange light around us. We plodded on, mingling with the group we'd caught up with who were all behaving weird. Everyone was acting like when you're drunk and trying to hide it from your parents. No one really wanted to take control of the direction we were taking. So Doug pushed on passed. We bumped in to javed who was acting weird. He was just stood still and said he'd lost his food somewhere. Could we give him some food. I searched in my bag and pulled out some malt load to share with him. I saw a bag of food in my bag. Oh no! I stole javeds food! Of course I hadn't but my brain convinced me I had. It was some food that Ronnie had given me earlier that day/week/month. The rest of the group caught up and he asked them for food too, Colin said he'd lost his food too. This was weird.

We pushed on once more, moving as a detached group of maybe 8 of us. The snow was so deep. Every step was a high step followed by falling somewhere between knee and waist deep snow. There were no tracks. We can't be going the right way. The fence was still on our left. We were moving really weirdly. Doug and luke had taken control and were taking it in turns to blaze a trail through the snow. We'd been moving for hours. Javed said we had about 5k to go before the 2nd hut. This made me whimper. It had taken us so long to get to here.

I was confused. I voiced this. I didn't understand what was going on. I knew I was in trouble. I felt we all were. We were all acting weird. With the exception of luke and Doug who were just ploughing through the snow. Doug was getting infuriated with me, he said to stick with him and keep moving. I kept saying I was confused, why is all this snow here. Why would this be in the race. Was this a new part of the race, a twist to make it impossible?

I fell in a massive deep hole and couldn't get out. Zoe tried pulling me out, but it felt like she was laid on me pushing me in deeper. I started laughing. Uncontrollable laughter. I couldn't get out. Doug was getting impatient. I crawled out of my snow hole.

By now I can only describe how I was feeling as being stoned. Not the good stoned your get from a cheeky drag. The awful paranoid stoned you get. Why was everyone acting weird? Why didn't this bit of race end? Why could t we reach the road from here?

I could see lights ahead of the mountain rescue teams in the road. Only to get there and it be nothing but snow. We were physically hauling ourself along the fence like a tug of war. Through the snow drifts. It was exhausting.

I was still confused. Doug force fed be as much food as he could get in me. He shouted at me. I whined. I can't do it. Can we pitch the tent?

"No! The only way out of this is to keep moving. Were our best hope at getting out of this"

The others were still drunk. I was stoned. Doug was focused. The bottoms of my feet were freezing. Is it possible to get frost bite out here? I wondered.

For hours I was trying to remember Zoe's name. I knew it had three letter and begin with z but I couldn't for the life of me remember her name. It was crazy. Of course I knew it but I couldn't get it to come to me.

Why weren't we getting anywhere?

At some point Doug stopped, gave me a talking to. He was freezing. He told me he was so cold. His boots had frozen with snow and ice and he was properly frightened we werent getting out of this, that I need to focus, stay with him and keep moving to keep warm.

Seeing him like this sobered me up slightly, I started panic hiking. Doug, luke and I got a march on. We marched for days. My confusion didn't go away, I still didn't understand what was going on but I trusted Doug to follow him. I looked down and saw I'd lost my map. I have no idea when or where. I checked my pocket where I keep my gps, it was open, and empty. Great.,lost that too. Just stick with Doug. he'll keep me safe.

We got near the top where we were to make a turn or something and group had all dispersed. Zoe wasn't with us anymore, Dan was with us, some people were going to camp. Colin wanted to ring hq and collect us. Doug and I both queried what they'd do. There's no way down here with a vehicle. We'd be dead and frozen before we were found.

It was so cold. My feet were burning for the ice on them. Hell only knows what dougs felt like. I felt guilty for dawdling so much. Dan and Doug worked on finding the route to the refuge hut.

I thought the refuge hut was a different one to what we were trying to get to and that we were out of the race now. I didn't know how we'd get from here to the proper refuge hut.

Doug had run off down a hill and was shouting for Dan and I to follow. My feet were so sore but adrenaline let me run hard down through the snow chasing after Doug. He saw a flashing light of someone st the hut. I wondered if someone was always at the hut or if they'd known we were out there.... I still thought we were somewhere far from the race route left to freeze on the mountain somewhere. We reached the bottom and someone told us it was about a km to the hut we kept going going going. Eventually we were in the hut, it was warm and snow free. I thought the race was over for us. We'd gone too far off course to correct it in this deep snow.

When the realisation came that we were still, in the race I was happy. But where was the lady who we were running with? Why couldn't I remember her name? We should wait for her. What if she doesn't make it down?

I sat down. I just wanted to sleep. Doug was keen to carry straight on. Can we sleep a while?

Pretty quickly I was bundled into a foil bag, along with hot water bottles, a medic was force feeding me hot food, I just wanted to sleep. Why won't you let me sleep?

I have vague recollection of drifting in and out of sleep over the next few hours, being fed hot things, Doug trying to make me lie down. Doug refusing to go to sleep so he could keep an eye on me. I was given some glucose at some point which seemed to act like adrenaline. Very quickly I sobered up, what time is it? 3am. Shit we need to get back by 10, I looked up to see that Zoe was in another corner of the Hut also in a bag. Thankful she had made it down safely.

I asked the medic could we go? She said not for a couple of hours. during this time, I guess I slept some more, people came and went in varying states of disrepair. Dougs feet and ankles were still frozen up. I urge him to sleep. He refused. I felt he was disappointed. People had overtaken whilst I was being pathetic. We ended up being held there for 5 hours. We could have been back by now.

We were told the last 7 miles was taking 5 hours. Which meant we need to get moving. Zoe was awake now, and we had an escort of tom waiting to take us to the finish.

I'd been stopped too long. My feet were so sore. The night had destroyed them. They'd also swollen so I had to loosen my shoes off. Which meant that the snow kept pulling them off. I hobbled painfully outside.

Zoe and Doug were moving well and clearly keen to be back. I just couldn't walk. It was so painful. I knew the longer I went the more comfortable it would become, but it hurt so bad.

The next 7 miles were excruciating. Doug and Zoe waited patiently for me. Zoe and I knew we were joint First Lady, and had made a gentle woman's agreement almost as soon as we'd joined forces that we'd finish together, for one of us to run off now would have been a dick move but she was well within her right to at that moment as it's the only time we'd really been a significantly different pace.

The last few miles went on forever. Although it was no longer night time, for a change. The snow gave way to treacherous ice. Every time I stood on it my feet flew from beneath me. Three time landing me flat on my ass.

We knew we would finish now. It s just a matter of putting one foot in front of another. Doug and Zoe were so patient with me this last few hours. Ronnie caught up with us as we were coming through the final few hundred meters, so happy for us, I could barely raise a smile. I was so exhausted and the ice was pissing me off.

We could see the pub now. Scott was there waiting for us. The three of us reached the pub and with a 3...2...1 we all touched the wall at the same time.

It's the only race I've finished she I've actually felt euphoric. I'm sure I didn't look it, but I'd taken quite a battering.

What a race, what a week. What an amazing achievement that I'm so proud of. I couldn't have done it without Doug by my side. Until those last 10 or so miles, I'd never doubted us. But it goes to show how quickly things can turn bad.

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