Edale, Sunday 9th January 7:55 am
I am standing at the start of the Montane Spine race. Daylight is slowly making its way through the drizzle of this grey morning. I cannot quite believe my attempt of the Spine is actually about to happen. I suspect all of us here today were supposed to do this race last year when it was postponed due to Covid-19 and the recent Omicron variant raised anxieties that it might get cancelled yet again. At times it felt like this day would never come. But here I am, standing in the Derbyshire mud! Any minute now and we are off on a journey along the Pennine Way which we must complete in seven days.
How do I feel?
Excited! I have a lot of experience when it comes to multi-day hiking, bivvying, carrying a heavy backpack and generally looking after myself in cold, dark and wet conditions. I feel confident about this part of the challenge.
Nervous! I am not a fast runner. In races I bring in the rear. The sweep and I are best friends! I know that I do not necessarily HAVE to run the Spine and if I can stick to a fast hiking pace I can get to the end, but I have to travel approximately 40 miles each day with very little rest and I simply have no idea if I can muster that much strength and endurance. I assume the most likely scenario will be that I will time out and miss a cut off somewhere along the route.
Nevertheless, I am here to give it a go, see how far I can get and I am determined to enjoy it no matter what!
It is good fun to scope out the start line and admire the sharp end of the race. What an amazing field of athletes we have: Sabrina Verjee, Anna Troup, Debbie Martin-Consani, Elaine Bisson, Damian Hall, Kim Collinson, Eoin Keith and Eugeni Roselló Solé – all veterans of the Pennine Way and the Spine race. Dot watching will be exciting this year.
We are only 18 women at the start, opposed to I think 132 men. My friend Laura and I hug and affirm each other that we need to brings this home for the girls! I then leave her closer to the sharp end of the pack where she belongs and go to the back where I belong.
The race starts!
Edale to Checkpoint 1: Hebden Hey Scout Centre
This section is all about settling in and finding my rhythm. I know how quickly I need to travel through each section but my only firm plan at the moment is to get to checkpoint 1 and assess the situation. How will I feel at checkpoint 1? Like “I got this, this is what I expected” or “I cannot handle this, I am out!”? We will see. Historically the first people retire from the Spine around the The White House Inn and Hebden Bridge. No shame in that, but I am hoping my own Spine journey will be a bit longer.
I am chatting with a few people around me. There is nervous anticipation. We are all not sure how we will fare on this trip. The conditions are challenging. There is a cold, strong headwind and the snow from the last few days is slowly melting into a slippery, wet slush. Well, that is about what you expect from a Winter Spine, so just take is easy and be careful not to fall!
Near the Snake Pass other runners come my way. This is the Trigger race from Marsden to Edale. Jasmine Paris flies by and shouts an encouraging “Well done!” and disappears in the distance. I smile to myself and take that as a good omen.
Not long after I faceplant into a heather. My left leg tries to step on something that does not exist and disappears down a boggy hole. The weight of my backpack propels me forward and luckily right there is a big heather bush that softens my fall and swallows me whole. This could have been bad but thankfully passes without any injury and probably looked really funny. Unfortunately, no one else is around to benefit from this moment of comic relief.
The first night period starts as I am leaving the Peak District. I am doing exactly the pace I want to, everything is going really well, I am comfortable and basically just chewing up miles.
Traversing the rocks and boulders of Blackstone Edge is difficult. It is foggy and the visibility does not extend beyond a few meters. Little do I know that I will have to negotiate Malham Cove and High Cup Nick in similar conditions and at least here I am not in danger of stepping over an imminent drop anywhere.
I reach Hebden Hey Scout Centre in the small hours. So far so good. I made it to checkpoint 1 and still feel strong and quite alert. I try to be as efficient with my checkpoint routine as I can: charge the head torch, swap wet clothes, change batteries, get something to eat… but somehow I entangle myself in what feels like endless faff. There is a reason why Spine training should include checkpoint routine and I clearly have not practiced that enough.
Hebden Hey Scout Centre to Checkpoint 1.5: Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre
It is Monday January 10th early in the morning. I try to leave the checkpoint well before the 8 am cut off. I am still so worried that I will run out of time eventually that I decide to not sleep in Hebden and press on to Malham Tarn and Hawes.
The second day is dawning as I round Ponden Reservoir and although the daylight is motivating I struggle to find my stride. I have a weird stop-and-go morning: head torch off, layer off, layer back on, swapping layers around. I start to get frustrated with myself and realise that this is a by-product of being sleep deprived. Promptly I start worrying that it was a mistake not to sleep in Hebden. In short, my mind is not in the game. On top of that I am not overly excited about the whole next section. Here come the rolling hills and muddy fields of the Southern Pennines. With all due respect but this stretch is a little bit dull.
A few home truths emerge:
- I cannot stop eating. This in itself is not a bad thing and better than the alternative of not being able to eat at all. But the way I am burning through my supplies is unreal. As part of the mandatory kit we are required to carry a minimum of 3000 kcal from the start to checkpoint 3, where we then re-supply. When I packed my bars and meals I thought I would never be able to eat my way through all of that food. Well, I am nearly out!
- Hell has broken loose in my shoes! Already! Way to early! I am worried and very disappointed. I invested in several pairs of waterproof socks and have tested them with my shoes. They worked, they were brilliant and part of my genius plan to protect my feet from the wet ground for as long as possible. I was the one that would run the Spine without a single blister! This has not gone according to plan. My feet are swollen, blistered and feel painful in my shoes. Eventually I take one of my socks off completely to give my foot more room. There are bigger shoes and thinner socks in my drop bag in Hawes but that is still a long way away. I guess this is a case of grinning and bearing it.
- I miscalculated my need of sleep and overestimated how quickly I could cover the distance to Hawes. Basically, I had looked at the 108 miles and figured that I had done similar distances before without sleeping. I estimated it might take me 40 hours… maybe 48 hours if I am REALLY slow…to cover that distance and I felt confident I could battle the sleep monsters for that long. It becomes clear that I am going slower than my estimate and that I am looking at potentially 52 hours+ without sleep. I cannot do that! I am anxious about my sleep options and start getting frazzled.
The cherished daylight fades as I reach Gargrave and I beeline to the local shop for more food. At least one problem is solved. Now, what to do about sleep! The mid-section checkpoint at Malham Tarn is not really an option. It is basically just a welfare check, you have access to cold and hot water but you are only allowed to stay for 30 minutes. Not long enough for a proper rest. I remember that a friend mentioned a bird hide just after the checkpoint which runners have used in the past. I have a plan!
The crossing of Malham Cove is frightening. The last time I was here was on a bright, dry summer’s day and the limestone pavement was so much fun. Now it is dark, wet and foggy. I am drowsy yet nervous about the drop somewhere to my right. It takes a lifetime to cross over the Cove as I place every step extremely carefully. The limestone is slippery and the gaps in the pavement look like craters. Is that the edge over there? Better stay more to the left!
Safely on the other side I feel really drained and vulnerable. The sleep deprivation adds an extra twist of drama to the mix. My mind is unravelling fast “I cannot do this! I am too tired! I need to sleep! I give up!” but I manage to keep some control over it “Get to the checkpoint. Get to the hide. You can sleep there. You are fine!”
I do not stay long at the checkpoint, only long enough to hear some of the race drama: Anna Troup has dropped. Kim Collinson has dropped. Sabrina Verjee has dropped. Jeez, what is going on?!
As I get to the hide one runner is just leaving and I have the place to myself. There is heaps of space and it looks like a palace in my tired eyes. I sleep for two hours and wake up feeling like a new person…well, nearly! New enough to venture into the Yorkshire Dales.
Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre to Checkpoint 2: Hawes
It’s Tuesday around 2 am when I leave my bird hide palace and make my way up Fountain Fell. When I settled down to sleep another two runners had just joined me. Now as I am leaving I am stepping over the snoring bodies of about eight other people. It certainly is a good shelter.
Fountain Fell is not a very technical or difficult climb but navigation can be tricky in the dark. It is still quite foggy and visibility is poor. I am more concerned about the scrambling ascent of Pen-y-ghent. That climb is fun in the daylight but I am not so sure about it in these conditions. I need not worry because as I reach the foot of Pen-y-ghent there is a diversion in place. Race HQ must have decided conditions were too bad for an ascent. Rather than going over I have to take the low level route to Horton in Ribblesdale which is part of the Yorkshire Three Peaks loop.
Leaving Horton behind I start the long, long climb up to the Cam Road that eventually leads me to Hawes. This stretch can be excruciating. You walk for hours and Hawes never seems to get any closer. For some reason today I do not mind so much. Maybe that has to do with walking into the most glorious dawn and having fantastic views of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent. Maybe it is because in the twilight my hallucinations have just gone wild and offer a certain amount of entertainment. Everything moves! All the rocks whizz around me and my brain is convinced they are dogs. I am walking through a sea of dogs and I am perfectly happy.
I finally reach Hawes at lunch time. My pace means that I reach checkpoints during the day and that I lose valuable daylight hours to sleep. However, I do get better rest in the checkpoints and I am comfortable enough moving through the dark, so I simply accept that I will be a creature of the night for the next few days.
Hawes to Checkpoint 3: Middleton in Teesdale
I had a great rest! Shower, food, sleep, food, more food. There are not many runners here with me and the checkpoint feels relatively relaxed. As I ready myself to start the next section it becomes obvious that I am about to entangle myself once more in unnecessary faff and one volunteer ushers me gently on and out of the door. The volunteers are absolute masters in managing us.
I am teaming up with Tony to tackle the next big climb which is Great Shunner Fell. It is Tuesday and the evening is cold and crisp. The stars are brilliant and Tony and I keep marvelling how beautiful the night is as we climb. The ascent of Great Shunner Fell takes a while but eventually we get to the top and start our decent. It gets tricky from here. There is still snow on the ground and the stone slaps are frozen over and treacherous. We are slipping all over the place and it takes a lot of concentration to get off the mountain safely. On the other side in Thwaite I am amazed how much energy the descent has required and I start feeling sleepy again.
Somewhere above Swaledale, between Thwaite and Keld, a minor tragedy occurs. My pole gets stuck in a hole and I do not notice it early enough to retrieve it. I keep on walking and *SNAP* the pole breaks. A moment of panic ensues. Tony is in shock “What are you going to do?”. The sleep deprived, dramatic part of my brain thinks “That’s it. I cannot do the Spine with just one pole.”, while the more rational part thinks “I just keep going, maybe I can find a good stick somewhere”.
Another Spine runner passes us, greets and disappears into the night. I am intrigued. I have no idea who that is! By now we have all settled into our own individual paces and you have a fairly good idea who is just ahead of you and who is just behind since we all meet up in checkpoints and sometimes travel together. But every now and again you get someone sneaking through, who does not stop and does not talk and disappears like a phantom into the night.
Tony and I decide to be inspired by our phantom and push the last few miles to the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England. It is now the small hours of Wednesday and I am in need of another nap. At Tan Hill we hear another race shocker: Damian Hall has dropped. It is humbling to reflect that so many of the top athletes had to retire by now and plodding, old me is still in the race. It is also an important reminder how quickly fortunes can turn and how every fall and every mistake can potentially be race ending.
Harriet and Karl, the coolest couple of the Pennine Way, reach Tan Hill and give us a master class in power napping. I am in awe of these two. Not only are they really nice people but they seem completely in control of their race. They nap for 15 minutes, have some food and sort out some kit. Then they are out of the door and on their way again.
Tony is taking a longer rest and I decide to try and catch up with Harriet and Karl who have already started the slog across Sleightholme Moor, one of the soggiest sections of the Pennine Way. I catch up with them just after the boggy crossing and the three of us march towards Middleton as the sun rises on our fourth day.
After another 15-minute power nap in the Deep Dale shelter I suddenly lose patience with myself and decide I need to pick up the pace for the last stretch to Middleton. While Harriet and Karl stick to their plan and do not seem to get perturbed by anything I am much more reactionary to my changing emotional states and frustrations. I race to checkpoint 3 and consequently feel completely drained.
Middleton to Checkpoint 4: Alston
I did not get a very good rest. I may be too exhausted to get meaningful sleep and my mind is playing tricks on me that are still making me anxious. Checkpoint 3 is a little over the halfway mark of the route. Part of me is delighted that I got this far. Over half way! The other part is stressing out that I have to cover about the same distance again. I am feeling really tired and I still keep telling myself that I am too slow.
It is Wednesday afternoon as I set out into Teesdale. This is one of my favourite sections of the Pennine Way and the evening is clear and not too cold. Pretty ideal conditions really and yet I cannot settle into my own rhythm properly.
Tony is leaving the checkpoint just ahead of me. He and Shaun teamed up and both are setting a stiff pace which I am trying to match for a while. Gradually I have to accept defeat, this is too fast for me and I am blowing up important resources. I fall back and mope about how useless I am.
Harriet and Karl catch up with me and sense that not all is right in my world. Harriet gives me a prep talk how I need to trust myself, stick to my pace and that I will be fine. We walk together for a bit and chat and I start to relax again. When Harriet and Karl stop for a little coffee break I keep moving and Harriet sends me on my way with the remark “I can tell you found your stride again!” She is right, I have settled back into a pace that suits me and I feel happy.
It is a wonderful night in Teesdale as I scramble over the boulders of Falcon Clints and up Cauldron Snout. High Cup Nick in the moonlight will be spectacular! Hello Cumbria!
There is no chance of the nick in moonlight! The conditions change on the higher parts of the fell. There is a strong, icy headwind and fog is closing in. Naturally it would be foggy just as I am heading for a cliff!
I am nervous about this place in the dark. When I volunteered on the Spine Safety Team in 2020 one runner lost their way and got trapped in one of the steep gullies, requiring Mountain Rescue to come out. Like at Malham Cove I slow down to a cautious walk assessing every step. Where is the trail and where is the gully? I literally cannot see anything beyond a couple of metres ahead of me and descending seems to take forever but eventually I reach a little sheep pen that I recognise and I know that I am close to the road that leads down to Dufton and…more importantly… that I am not anywhere near the cliffs anymore.
There is a welfare checkpoint at Dufton Village Hall. Similar to Malham Tarn you have access to water but are only allowed to stay for 30 minutes. I storm into the village hall like I am on a mission! WHAT SORT OF RACE IS THIS? THIS IS NOT SAFE! YOU COULD GET US ALL KILLED UP THERE! Of course, I do not say any of this. I probably utter something more like “Oh my God, this was so scary! I cannot do Cross Fell! I am terrified!” I need to eat! And sleep! It feels like the Spine changed from “race” to “survival challenge” and I am not sure I am ok with that. The checkpoint volunteers are relaxed and firm. I have 30 minutes in the hall or if that is not enough, they can recommend a lovely public toilet just down the road. I rehydrate a meal and head to the toilet to bivvy for a couple of hours.
After a warm meal and a nap I am able to think about my situation a bit more rationally. Cross Fell can be an uncomfortable place at the best of times. You can come off it the wrong way if you get lost but my navigation has been good so far and I do not think there are any sheer drops. At least not along the main route. It is now Thursday early hours and by the time I reach the top there will be some daylight and that will make everything less scary. I have managed Malham Cove and High Cup Nick, I can tackle Cross Fell also!
Good company makes the ascent less scary. Tony is here as are Harriet and Karl. I ask Harriet how she found navigating High Cup Nick and her eyes open in terror “That was awful!” I am glad I am not the only one who feels like that.
We climb higher and it gets foggy, cold and very windy but as expected we gradually get more daylight. The early morning light is battling its way through the thick fog and tinges everything in a yellowish/ sepia tone. With the backdrop of the Great Dunn Fell radar station it feels like I stepped into a scene from Blade Runner. I am getting cold though. I am wearing all my layers and I am still cold, so I want to make sure that I keep pressing on and get to Greg’s Hut as quickly as possible.
Greg’s Hut is an absolute highlight of the Spine race! It is a moment of respite. You know the highest point of the route is just behind you, the way to Alston is not complicated from here and most importantly the legend John Bamber serves you his famous noodles! Making it to Greg’s Hut feels like a huge achievement! As I leave the bothy one volunteer sends me on my way with the words “it’s all about making memories!” It certainly is, and this has been a good one!
I reach Alston in the early afternoon with a sense of accomplishment. This was a very tough day and I feel I did well. I reached a limit and was scared, I controlled my panic and worked through my problem trusting my skills and equipment. Whatever happens next in this race and even if I do not get to the end, this lesson has been huge. Harriet sees me in the checkpoint and calls out “I only just met you, but I am so proud of you”. I do feel quite proud of myself but getting this far is also thanks to Harriet for keeping me in the right head space when I struggled. Part of Spine success is to be able to learn from your peers and I am lucky to have people like Harriet and Karl to teach me.
Alston to Checkpoint 5: Bellingham
I get a decent rest in Alston and set off refreshed once again walking into the evening and the night. In this section we face one of the two major course alterations. The recent storm Arwen wreaked havoc in Northumberland and some forests along the Pennine Way are closed. Rather than leaving Hadrian’s Wall at Rapishaw Gap and cutting across Houghton Common we are continuing along the wall for a few more miles and follow an alternative route to Bellingham. This makes this section a bit longer than in previous races but of course this is to make up for the second major route change: a bus shuttle from Bellingham to Cottonshopeburnfoot!
But I have to get to Hadrian’s Wall first which takes several hours hiking through the Northumberland dark. It is mainly fields and a few boggy moors. I have fallen in-between groups of runners again and do not see any other lights travelling ahead or behind me. On Blenkinsopp Common I stop and do a 360° turn. Not only is there no evidence of any other runner, there are no lights whatsoever. Pitch black darkness all around me. It’s eerie and awesome at the same time and I never actually experienced anything like this.
I reach Walltown in the early hours of Friday. Some male runners have locked themselves in the female toilets for undisturbed rest. Well, that is just rude! I bivvy out behind the toilet block which is ok but comes with a bit of a cold draft. After a two hour nap I get up to tackle the wall. I do not feel very rested but it has to do and it will be light soon.
I welcome the undulating terrain of Hadrian’s Wall as it gives my brain something to think about but I soon get too drowsy to be stimulated. Phil catches me up and I am happy for a bit of company but he presses on and leaves me behind. I am definitely struggling, everything seems extra difficult.
The diversion along the wall soon flattens out and stretches out endlessly before me. What have the Romans ever done for us? Other than build long, straight, boring roads that go on forever? I desperately try to find some sort of entertainment in my head, some song, but my ideas have dried up. Then I see a figure coming towards me. It’s my friend Tim, who is volunteering with the Safety Team. We walk and chat for a short stretch, it is so nice to see a friendly face and it definitely revives me! Then Tim is off again to the support the next runner.
I get back on to familiar territory around Horneystead Farm. This place is famous for its trail magic, both amongst Pennine Way walkers and Spine runners but I do not stop. I am fed up and want to get to Bellingham as quickly as possible. It is getting dark and I estimate that I still have a few hours on my feet. This section needs to be over soon!
Near Bellingham I am greeted by cheers and a big hug. It’s my friend’s mother who is waiting for me on the hill above town! My friend’s family are farmers who live close to Bellingham. Heading to town I catch up with Dan, Fred and James and one says “We just met your mum on the hill”. I feel the need to clarify “She is not my mum, she is my friend’s mum”. But really, it feels like my mum by proxy. Reaching the checkpoint I am so relieved to finally get there that I do not even notice that my friend’s sister is waiting for me until a volunteer says “Someone’s here to see you!” This is the best end to a really tough and long section. It feels like family, like coming home and it gives me a massive boost.
Bellingham to the finish: Kirk Yetholm
Bellingham checkpoint is nuts! It feels busy and a bit chaotic. It is Friday early evening and the checkpoint cut off is midnight. By midnight we must all have left. Ideally us runners want to maximise on sleep before tackling the Cheviots. However, the shuttle transfer is also straight out of Bellingham and the checkpoint staff is realising that they cannot shuttle everyone at the same time. Everyone sleeping until 11 and leaving shortly before midnight simply won’t do. The result is some hectic negotiations between volunteers and runners trying to manage the situation.
I try to be unimpressed and catch a bit of sleep. Opposed to other checkpoints there are no beds at Bellingham and we all sleep on our mats in a big hall. I am told the hall is cold but I actually find the temperature ideal, much better than a draughty toilet block for sure, and I catch a few hours decent sleep.
I get up around 10 pm to avoid the big rush and see a medic. By now my feet are giving me so much grief I hope having them wrapped up one more time will see me through to the end. There is nothing out of the usual, I have blisters, my feet are fatigued and feel generally just very achy and swollen but I do not have any infections and that is a great relief.
Not long after I am sitting in the shuttle and suddenly feel really sleepy again. Did I rest enough? I love the Cheviots with all my heart, it is possibly my favourite part of the whole Pennine Way and at the same time I worry so much something might go wrong now and that I do not make it to the end. Maybe I miscalculated my level of exhaustion. I would not be the first Spine runner collapsing in the Cheviots and having to be rescued.
I take strength and courage in the fact that my friend Laura finished her Spine race around the time I reached Bellingham. She has been ahead of me for about one full day so I never saw her during the race but I kept a keen eye on her progress whenever I had a chance and especially when I heard “another woman dropped”, anxiously made sure that it was not her. I am so pleased for my friend and so proud of her and remember “We need to bring his home for the girls!” No collapsing allowed in the Cheviots!
I get dropped in a layby near Cottonshopeburnfoot and follow a road which eventually will connect me again with the Pennine Way. It is another really beautiful night, the moon is nearly full and bright. I can see there is an inversion. This is actually rather unpleasant as I have to walk through the low hanging cloud and I am getting very cold but once up on the hill the view is stunning.
The sleep monsters catch up with me a few miles before I reach Hut 1. I feel how I am starting to sleep while I walk and try to focus hard to get to the hut. I fall into pace with James, Fred and Dan, the guys I caught up just before Bellingham, and we decide to stick together during the night for safety. These three work as a team so well that they stayed together during the race and are now thickly bonded. They say they only met along the route but it seems like they have been best friends forever. It is quite special and really fun to watch their dynamic.
We reach Hut 1 and it is already a cosy affair inside. It looks like a chicken coop with runners lined up along the benches nodding away. We nap for about an hour, maybe a little longer, but after a while we all stir again and the volunteers give us a gentle hint. Another group of runners is approaching, more space will be needed. We may want to think about shuffling on.
It is Saturday morning as we make our way up Lamb Hill and along the border fence. Dawn is glorious. It is a really clear morning and the orange rays of the rising sun spread over the Cheviots. I have a clear view of Windy Gyle ahead of me and The Schil to my left. Still such a long way to go! I decide to get a wiggle on and leave my three amigos behind.
Eventually I reach Hut 2. I am 7 miles from Kirk Yetholm. So close and yet so far. Time for a quick meal. I am still continuously hungry and getting sleepy again. I have given all I had. A bit of macaroni cheese needs to provide a last small bout of energy. The Schil ahead is the last climb, the rest is a long descent to the finish.
Going downhill is so painful on the feet and I slip into a serious moping mood again. It seems like I am covering only one mile per hour. I have a vision of me crawling over the finish line whining about how much my feet hurt. Do other people conclude the Spine race with more grace?
I glance behind me and spot Jane hopping down the hill like a young gazelle. Jane has been another inspiration in my orbit, but much more like a phantom. She appeared in checkpoints but I never saw her on the trail much. Spotting her so close behind me lights the necessary fire in me to take this race to the finish in style. I am currently the sixth female, not that it means anything at all, but I am quite attached to my sixth place and unwilling to give it up without a fight. Besides, who likes to be overtaken on the last couple of miles before the finish?!
I actually start running…well, hobbling…despite the exhaustion, despite the pain in my feet. Jane is not going to pass me, not now! And I always say I am not competitive!
I reach the tarmac road into Kirk Yethom and hobble on. Jane is not in sight. I pace up the last little hill before the end and hobble down the other side. Coming around the bend I can see the finish arc, the village green and the Border Hotel before me. I made it! It is Saturday January 15th just after 3 pm and I made it. I am finishing the Spine!
I step through the arc. “To the Wall” everyone keeps shouting and I hobble on across the green and the car park to the wall of the Border Hotel, the end of the Pennine Way. I touch the wall, rest my head against it and start crying. What a relief! It is done! I have done it!
There are people. Handshakes! Congratulations! I get my medal. I am totally overwhelmed and find myself reminded of the famous scene in Harry Potter: “You’re a Spine legend, Wiebke!” “But I am just…Wiebke!”
I wait at the finish to see Jane come in. John Bamber is there and we chat a little. He asks what is was like coming over Cross Fell. “Because people got to Greg’s Hut and they did not look exhausted or tired. They looked terrified!” Yes! That is because it was frickin’ terrifying!
The body knows when the task is completed. I sit in the Border Hotel, my feet soaking in a warm foot bath, volunteers handing me plates with delicious food and I just keep staring into space not quite comprehending what I have just achieved. Everything is seizing up and my body is telling me in no uncertain terms that it won’t be moving for a while. Luckily, I was able to book a room in the hotel and I do not need to go far before I collapse into a soft, warm bed.
A week or so later
It has been nearly two weeks since I finished. Recovery is going well and I feel generally fine. I slept so much. Basically, whenever I sat down anywhere, I nodded off. I ate loads too, especially fresh food which I was missing during the event. I do not need to see any more macaroni cheese for a while!
I had lost the feeling of my toes in both feet. The left foot recovered quickly. The right foot took a while longer and the feeling just came back a couple of days ago. My left ankle was threatening with tendonitis but that is getting better and my left Achilles is a little swollen. All in all, I think I made it out of the Spine relatively unscathed.
The mind is still blown. Before the race I reckoned that if conditions were in my favour I had a chance, but this whole experience went so much better than I expected and I catch myself with a stupid, big grin on my face thinking “I completed the Spine race”!
The Spine might be a race quite suited for runners like me. We are not fast but strong and able to chip away at the miles bit by bit. Of course the bus shuttle shortened the route by about 10 miles and made my finishing time a lot faster than what I would have achieved otherwise. I think the stretch from Bellingham to Byrness would have added another 8 hours easily. Would I have gotten to the end during a week of driving rain, snow and high winds? Anyone’s guess. I personally think probably not, but I was also told not to underestimate myself.
Would I do it again? No! Don’t get me wrong. It is a great race, it was an amazing experience and I have learned so much during this week. But my main objective was to try and find out if I could do it and I did. This is my Spine journey finished and I can move on to new adventures. I hear the Fisherfield and Knoydart have fabulous bogs!
Should you do it? Of course, if you want to!
If you are a slow runner and you always wanted to try the Spine but thought you were not good enough, maybe this report will give you a bit inspiration. If I can do it, so can you! Because we never stand on a podium or setting records we tend to tell ourselves that we are not good enough. Worse, we tell ourselves we are not good, period. We think these big challenges are not for us. But we have a place in this game just like all the other runners. Claim it!
I could write so much more about preparation, training and kit but this is already a huge report. If you are interested in the Spine and want to give it a go, please chat to me and I help you as best as I can. I am certainly not an expert but I am happy to support your attempt in any way I can. I recommend volunteering at the event. In 2020 I volunteered in the Safety Team. I learned a ton about the race and made invaluable friendships. All of that helped me during my own attempt. Besides, as a volunteer you get a discounted entry fee which certainly helps!