Friday, January 06, 2017

The Spine 2017 v6: Why, Oh Why, Oh Why?

So here we go again; it’s Spine time.

This year will be the 6th running of an event that I have part of since it’s very inception. From humble beginnings to one of the iconic races on the British Ultra calendar. From 19 runners, like rabbits in the headlights, to 220 entrants, with access to endless information, blogs and advice. From 5 simple checkpoints to 5 well-oiled feeding/sleeping/drying machines plus 4 or 5 “half-checkpoints”.

The first running of the event changed my whole outlook on running. Standing on the start line, we really didn’t know what to expect. We had totally unrealistic expectations of times between checkpoints; of what the Pennine Way in January could throw at us. Only 8 (from memory) of the 19 starters left CP1 at Hebden Hey. I eventually went home with a drive to explore, not just to race but to truly get out there and explore. I no longer go training; I go out and play. If I meet someone on the fells they will often ask what I am training for. I tell them that I’m not training for anything; I’m out playing!

So why do I keep coming back? Why do I still want to stand on that start line for the 6th time? Jenny has said that she’s resigned to the fact that I will keep on doing the Spine until the day I die!

I really can’t answer that question easily.

I love the Spine.

I hate the Spine.

There’s the Spine “family”, the camaraderie, the challenge, the warmth of the checkpoints, the cake, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets. But there’s also the dark, the pain, the cold, the wet, the extreme anguish. There will be moments of virtual rapture and moments of total and utter despair.

Part of the challenge for me is that it’s in winter. I don’t winter well, to put it mildly. I suffer from really bad Seasonal Affective Disorder. The short days and often endless grey skies do not make Richard a happy boy. Add to the mix a spoonful of depression and you get the picture. The Spine for me is one big mental challenge.

However, whatever the outcome it gives me a boost every year. I always stay for the whole week; hopefully culminating with a run into Kirk Yetholm but if I’m out of the “race” then I join the support team which I always enjoy. It’s great to help others through to the end.

This year, there's the added challenge of knowing that Jenny flies to Minneapolis for 5 weeks on the Saturday of the event. After dropping me in Edale, I probably won't see her for the best part of 6 weeks which is not good. I will have to fight the desire to go home.

Finishing the Spine - the only time Jenny will kiss me when I have a beard!

Speaking honestly, there’s also my run of starts. If I don’t start, then obviously the run is broken. There is a certain thing about having started every one. It’s my claim to fame! Just a little boy at heart!

By the way, physically I’m in great shape. My training (or playing) has gone really well. For absolutely no scientific reason I always have a big 8 week block leading up to the Spine followed by 2 weeks just ticking over before the Spine.

My blocks over the last 6 years are as below:

Total Miles
Total Time
Total Ascent (m)
Average miles/wk
Average time/wk
Average ascent/wk

Solidly consistent mileage for the last 3 years but living in the Lakes has made a considerable difference to the climbing. I’m feeling strong and was recently described as looking “lean and mean”!

One reason I come back is the belief, the knowledge, that I have a really good Spine inside me. My body is more than capable of it. More so this year than ever.

So body is good.

But that really is just the foundation.

I’ve always said that, unless injured, my body will not let me down. My head just has to keep telling it to go forwards and it will. The key is keeping the head in gear. I do not always have ownership of that key.

As I’ve said previously, you really have to want the Spine or it will tear you apart. The good bits will be good, but the bad bits will be very bad. The kind of bad that last for hours and makes you doubt every last bit of your ability. The kind of bad that just drains your soul. It’s how you deal with the bad that really matters

The real key to the Spine is the mental one and one that I intend to harness this year.

Anyway, statistically I always finish in odd years so 2017 is a banker. If only!!

I love the Spine.

I hate the Spine.

But I always come back.

And someone has to do the stupid sprint start!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Viking Way Ultra 2016

So...147 miles through Lincolnshire and Leicestershire...Hull to Oakham…DNF in 2012, finish in 2014.

I’m not really sure why I entered this again.

I’m not really sure what got me to the start-line.

And I’m really, really not sure how I got to the finish line.

I can’t remember if I entered this before or after my disappointing withdrawal from this year’s Spine, but either way, my running since January has been a bit erratic. I certainly haven’t been that enthusiastic about it on some days. Since moving up to the Lakes, my mileage has taken a bit of a dent mainly due to the change in terrain – even my shortest runs generate several hundred metres of ascent. I think this has been making me more physically tired which hasn't helped. Having said that, I am absolutely loving living in the Lake District; I feel very lucky.

Anyway, I spent the few days before the race wondering why I was doing it again…and really not wanting to do it again. I nearly pulled out. However, somehow I found myself on the highway to Hull once more. It was good to see Mark C again and some of the usual suspects – Karl Shields, Javed Bhatti, Andy “Viking Chief” Horsley, Riccardo Giussani, Ben Davies, as well as the annual meat wagon chauffeur, Peter Foxall.

I could tell my mood wasn’t the best and I’m sure I was oozing negativity much of the evening – apologies to anyone affected!

At least the fire alarm didn’t go off this year!

This year's victims!

Standing on the start line, I honestly thought my chances of finishing were minimal. This is not the optimal mindset for starting an event of 147 miles. However, I felt I had to cover at least 30 miles to justify my large dinner and breakfast so off we all set.

Straight off the start line I found myself chatting with Jamie Hauxwell, and this would continue for the next 36 hours.

Very quickly, and as expected, Mike Raffan went off the front. Just as quickly, my calves felt like lead, so I decided it wasn’t a day to be chasing. I dug in and waited for the rest of me to catch up with my calves, and for everything to hurt.

Mike reappeared having taken a wrong turning then disappeared over the horizon again. Jamie and I were comfortable, or uncomfortable in my case, in 2nd place with several others just behind.

I quickly realized that Jamie could nearly talk as much me which takes some doing. The miles rolled by as we nattered away. ice cream?!
Mike reappeared again in Barnetby and ran with us to CP1 where there was Mark’s typical spread of 9Bars, homebrand fruitcake, sweeties and a few gels. Mike was having problems with his navigation and sensibly decided to stick with us. I know the route pretty well from here through to CP7 at 113miles.

Arriving together at Tealby CP2, I’d done my compulsory 30 miles but thought it would be rude not to do at least 50 so off we went towards Fulletby. The early morning drizzle had now cleared and we had a very pleasant afternoon rolling through Lincolnshire.

Mike decided he couldn’t take the continual and fascinating discourse, so headed off. Jamie and I stopped for a quick refuel at the village shop in Donnington on Bain and were briefly caught by the next 2 runners.

Approaching the 50-mile mark at Fulletby CP3, I became aware of an increasingly sore spot on my big toe. Shoe and sock off, shock horror, I saw a decent blister. I never get blisters!! Fortunately, our drop bags were here so I was able to administer first aid.

I was sort of partially enjoying myself now. My calves were still not very happy, but we had covered 50 miles. The company was good and the miles were rolling by, so off we went.

The next section through Horncastle and Woodall Spa passed uneventfully, and we reached CP4 at Stixwould. We were both still moving comfortably and at a decent pace. As it became dark, it became noticeably colder. Leggings and base layers on, we carried on along the long and winding path towards Lincoln.

I started to get quite tired and also a bit chilly. I felt myself becoming demoralized. My Mum rang up to check on my well-being, and I ascertained that she was happy to pick me up from Lincoln if required. I was beginning to feel that it would be required. Never a good whisperer, Jamie had overheard the conversation and encouraged me to see how I felt at Lincoln rather than make decisions now. At some stage we were overtaken by the eventual winner, Jim Rogers, who was moving along very nicely

Nearing CP5, just before Lincoln at 81 miles, I was convinced I was going to pull out. Mum rang me to find out my plans. Sod it…I might as well carry on to the next drop bag access point at 97 miles. I was told not to expect any further offer of collection until after 10am the next morning. We said hello to Ronnie Staton and were quickly through the checkpoint.

The trek to the next CP always feels like a long one and so it was this time. I was getting cold and slowing down. I was also struggling to stay awake. Fortunately, navigation wasn’t much of an issue so we were able to keep going at a ‘reasonable’ speed. I was very much aware that I was probably slowing Jamie down but he seemed happy to stay together. Conversation is always good.

Coming towards Wellingore CP6, I absolutely was going to withdraw. I was tired and cold and fed up. My legs were hurting and I was, quite frankly, pleased to have got this far. I calmly reached the CP, changed shoes and socks, put on a warmer base layer, added an insulation layer and some thicker gloves, had one of Mark’s luxury Pot Noodles (the real McCoy!) and headed off into the remainder of the night with Jamie.

The heavy rain I’d been waiting for all night had never really materialized and we’d just been having light to moderate drizzle. There were also only a couple of hours to dawn which felt really good. However, I was still making hard work of it and feeling very sleepy. Jamie’s company was invaluable and really kept me moving forward. As expected, the light of dawn, gave us a real boost as did the expectation of the forecast bright sunny and, more importantly, dry day

CP7 at Foston (113 miles) saw my withdrawal from the first Viking Way Ultra and this has always felt like a critical point in the race. However, I was waking up and starting to feel positive about finishing! Sometimes it takes 100+miles to feel positive…this ultra-running business is a bit unpredictable, and the mind is a funny old place.

We were caught and overtaken by Karl Doy who covering the ground very well.

The 18 miles to the next CP at Sewstern are fairly mindless and involve approximately 1 turn – 18 miles dead straight south. In 2014, I had had a fairly torrid time on this stage, virtually walking the entire distance. Fortunately, there was no such repeat, and I was actually able to run quite nicely. A double expresso gel had worked wonders.

My rise in spirits unfortunately coincided with Jamie’s lessening spirits. He had somehow hurt his knee/leg and was beginning to struggle to run very much. We had long before decided we would see this out together and I was happy that it was now my turn to provide moral support.

Eventually we reached Sewstern, a great little checkpoint. Fruit loaf with lashings of jam was a real treat, and the chocolate rice krispies slipped down very nicely…all 27 of them. Many thanks to Lynn and David Baker who seem to own this checkpoint. It was also good to see Mum and Dad – they enjoying watching me stuff my face.

Only 16 miles to go. I was going to finish. I knew it.

Just out of the CP, we encountered the worst section of mud all day. Jamie took the direct route and quite literally ploughed straight through. I tried to avoid the worst of it but it was a pointless exercise. “What the f@ck!” was my continual mantra for a few minutes as I slid around, carrying half of Leicestershire on my shoes.

Jamie was now obviously in a lot of discomfort and was really struggling to run at all. I was actually feeling remarkable fresh and when we did run, was feeling pretty good. We plodded over the next few few miles of farmland. I was glued to the map as the last thing we needed now was a navigational error.

Reaching Whitwell and CP9, there was just 6 miles to go. We could smell the finish. I could sense both of our moods lighten. We safely navigated our way round Rutland Water and onto the main road towards Oakham. Jamie was getting paranoid about being caught and was continually checking behind us. I told him not to waste his energy and then found myself doing it!

As we entered the town itself, I could feel myself relaxing and a big smile developing. And then it was over. Joint 4th in approximately 36:15 hours. No mayor this year so we had to make do with Mark presenting us with our superbly large medals and equally large (on me) T shirts.

Never a moment’s doubt…

Thanks to Mark Cockbain for another pure and simple event. A runner’s event and a real challenge. Thanks to Lindley and Maxine who manned the checkpoints all weekend, and all the other people who gave freely of their time to help us along the way.

Particular thanks to Jamie who put up with me for every single step of the way – a brave man! It was a real pleasure running with you.

And thanks to Jenny for tolerating me the rest of the time…not any easy task.

After the Spine, it was nice to actually finish one… as Jenny pointed out!

I now have 2 of these :)