Having been refused time off work to run The Spine Race as I did in 2015, I settled on the 108 mile ‘fun run’ for this year. The Spine Race is a 268 mile non-stop foot race covering the length of The Pennine Way in winter. The Pennine Way starts in Edale in The Peak district and finishes on Kirk Yetholm, just over the Scottish border. I was the first women to cross the finish line in 2015 and I was coming back to have a crack at The Spine Challenger. I couldn’t wait. The Challenger starts in Edale and finishes in Hawes. I didn’t take my preparation quite as seriously as I did for the previous year. I had all the kit, I knew the route, I knew what the weather could do, I knew what to expect. I did worry a bit about my fitness in the lead up to the race. I had been on a particularly heavy rota and hadn’t got in as many long runs as I would have liked. But I convinced myself that preparing for The Spine Race is more about what you have done in the last 5 years than the last 5 months.
Matt and I arrived in Edale the day before the race for the briefing and kit check and all I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep for a week. I had just finished a week of night shifts and had only had a quick nap after finishing work that morning. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of running anywhere, I just wanted to sleep.
The next morning I was slightly more refreshed and ready to go. On Saturday 9th January at 7am I stood on the start line with Matt. Matt had never run a 100 miler before and we didn’t really know how he’d cope. Although we run together a lot and are pretty evenly matched most of the time, this was new territory for him. I know how strong he is and never doubted his physical or mental capacity to do really well but he has had lots of problems with injuries and which joint is going to play up you can never predict! We had not planned to run together for the whole race, but we had not planned not to either. We would just see how we felt. If I was having a bad day, then I didn’t want Matt to wait for me. After all, it was a race!
The first 10 hours or so of the race were quite uneventful. Matt and I ran at a comfortable pace. We talked, ate and gradually ticked off the miles. There were showers but in general the visibility was good and the weather kind. We arrived at the first checkpoint at Hebden Bridge at around 5pm, shortly after the lead man Tom Hollins. We weren’t quite as efficient in our sock changing and eating as Tom, but managed to have a jacket potato, put on dry socks, change base layers, put on some bigger shoes, change headtorch batteries, refill water bottles etc. in about half an hour.
We set out again and begun the night that I thought would never end. The leg from Hebden Bridge to Malham Tarn is relatively low compared to the rest of the route but incredibly wet underfoot. We had a night of torrential rain and energy sapping sodden farmland and bog. We were counting down the hours until it would get light … 12hrs to go … 10hrs to go. The night went on forever. I started to get really sleepy at around 2am. I was surprised at this as I can usually do one sleepless night without a problem but I guess it was all cumulative from the sleep deprived week I had had in the lead up to the race. I wished I had taken the necessary precautions for tiredness – more caffeine! I had one red bull and a few expresso energy gels but this was hardly more milligrams of caffeine than what is in my average daily intake of coffee. Physically I wasn’t finding it easy either, but I wasn’t worried about this and knew it would pass. Matt in the meantime seemed to be finding it easy.
It was only after the race that I recalled bumping into a man on this section (I’m not sure who), in a bog (I’m not sure where or when) in the darkness who gave us a swig of tea from his thermos and a slice of Christmas cake. It was almost like I had dreamt it but as Matt remembers too it must have happened! Thank you whoever that was!
We reached check point 1.5 at Malham Tarn in the early hours on Sunday morning to be greeted by John Bamber and his follow volunteers. We attempted (unsuccessfully) to get some warm food down us then promptly set off again for Fountains Fell, Pen y Ghent and the finish. The weather suddenly changed dramatically from rain to strong winds and blizzard. It was getting wild! I was so excited - this was what The Spine race was all about. We paused in a barn just below Fountains Fell to put on most of the gear we had, including goggles, and set off up the fell. There is no distinguishable trail and fumbling with the map and GPS in heavily gloved hands was a battle. There is something magical about being in the worst weather imaginable but feeling protected by your gear, warm and in charge. This is how it started, but unfortunately it didn’t last. I started to get cold. Really cold. We crossed Fountains fell then dropped down to the road. I was really concerned about how cold I was. I wasn’t sure that this was something I could recover from. I was never this cold in last year’s race. If there was any way I could have stopped at this point I probably would have. I needed to get warm but we were in the middle of nowhere. The only way that this might possibly be achievable to to keep running. So we did. It started getting light as we climbed Pen y Ghent, the highest point in the race. It was a beautiful morning and I was starting to feel human again and I was glad we had had some ‘proper’ weather.
We passed through Horton-in-Ribblesdale and into to final stretch to Hawes. We were moving slowly but were content that we were going to finish and in a reasonable time. We experienced the only type of weather we hadn’t had whilst on the High Cam Road – hailstones the size of marbles. This was exceedingly painful and we were both crying out in pain. This race gives you everything. Every type of weather, every terrain, every physical feeling, every emotion.
We arrived at the finish in Hawes at 1:18pm on Sunday, 30h18m after we started. Apparently I had broken the female record by 12 hrs. I was so happy to have run the whole way with Matt and so pleased for him to have done so well in his first 100 miler.