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The Spine Race - Recce # Three

in Ultra Running, Winter

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Out on the Pennine Way again last week end, more learnt, more to learn….

This was the section I was looking forward to. The final push to Kirk Yetholm. Everything else for me was endurance, now the fun could start. Why wasn't I excited?

For the last 10 years I have used a Naturopath in Carlisle, called Jan Ford-Batey, she is an amazing lady and has helped me massively through the last 13 years of my life. I went to see Jan before the race last weekend. I haste been training hard this year, focussing 100% on running, we've had a baby, he's 10 months old now, we have 2 kids, live 30 miles away from where we work, 20 from the older kids school… you can see a pattern. Jan explained to me I had to slow down, I was burnt out, I was adrenally stressed. Bugger! I can't slow down right now, I have all this important stuff I need to do. I have the Spine coming up, recce's to finish, Mountain Run to build, Mountain-Lite to keep going, kids to look after, and and and… Wow, even that exhausts me typing it.

Apparently my adrenal glands were going nuts, firing adrenaline all day, I was like a cat on hot bricks, but I didn't see it until she pointed it out. I was talking at 100mph. Jan is a very good witch, like the one from the Wizard of Oz, she is kind and gentle and I trust her every word. She advised me that she needed to switch off my Adrenals & so thats exactly what she did. Whilst I was lying on her treatment table I hadn't noticed the hum of my own body until she turned the adrenals off. Imagine a high speed blender, wining away, this is the sound my body now started to make, like I became conscious of it. It was winning away very fast and all of a sudden the pitch started to drop, I felt my body's resonation slow, at an un-believable rate, and I felt like I was sinking into the treatment table. All of a sudden I could see how stressed my system had been.

Digression over, this is why I wasn't excited. I was knackered & being knackered before you start is not a good place to be.

Andy and I had discussed this, we thought we would set off from Alston and see where we got to. If I couldn't handle it, we would stop, eat, sort ourselves and be happy with what we had done.

Lesson # One in this case has to be flexibility again!

So we were flexible. We started out from Alston around 8am on Friday the 31st Oct. The day was beautiful & we felt ok. Miles passed, valley's rolled by. To be honest, I haven't a clue of any of the names or places we moved through, we just kept plugging away on the trail, following finger posts, checking the map, eating, talking & thinking as you do when your day is long and you have miles to cover. Darkness was soon flexing its muscles over the day and the temperature dropped. We put on more layers and continued on our quest for Belligham. Hadrian's Wall was our last stop as the sunset showed its beauty. The day was great. We made Belligham in around 12 hours, so we were moving average pace of 3mph, or slightly faster.

We stopped in a pub, got some much needed food and a couple of pints to ease the pain and headed out of Belligham to find a camping spot a mile or so up the trail. Which we duly did, set up the GoLite Shangri-La 3, got in our sleeping bags and hit the sack.

A long day, but we made it…. or at least, I made it, with the help of Jan.

We were hoping for a bright sunrise, as the sunset the night before had indicated we might. Not so. The weather was good, but it was overcast. There was a great frost, so Jack had been dancing through the night and mist hung over Belligham, hiding it from view. We were soon on the moors again after packing away our kit and dining our packs (I'll come to my kit later in the blog post), we were moving again with the hope of Kirk Yetholm in our minds. Movement was slower today, but as the day progressed we picked up the pace a little. Our bodies ached today, but we kept moving. I think we were both suffering exhaustion of one type of another, as these recce's and then working weeks, plus the rest of life have been taking there toll on us. What is really hitting home to me is how it will feel day by day on the Spine Race. The Dragons Back was hard, very had and the passage of time will have left it rose coloured in my mind, but we only had day running kit, we were in glorious sunshine most of the week and we were in the mountains proper, which adds to the zest of the general day. What I have noticed about the Spine is, the Pennine Way for me as a route so far has been boring, villages are pleasant, but are un-welcome, wilderness is only available on the moors, but even these are tame with the Yellow Brick Road, but the monotonous pounding of the trail keeps coming at you and your 8kg weight on your back reminds you that you are weak, weak and feeble as it weighs on your body & mind. You grind down and its this grind you have to cope with at the end of every day.

Lesson # Two must therefore be the "Grind". Like a monkey on your back, forever pulling at you and keeping you from running light and free, the Grind reminds you its a long long way.

How to keep the grind at bay then? Meditation, mental games, thinking, not thinking, stopping, starting, breaking the monotony. Talking with Andy, don't talk to him, laugh, cry move, walk, run now, pant, hill, slow, walk, yellow brick road, hoorah for Dorothy again! Where's Toto? He's behind still, bearded lunatic.Keep moving, thinking, not thinking, we've been here before, in our minds at least and on and on it goes. Its a mental game for sure.

We were climbing the final section, entering the first mountain hut. Gearing up, eating and getting cold. The wind sounded like it would take the hut away, but on entering the wilds again, we realised it sounded 10 X worse inside the hut, than it actually was outside the hut. We moved on, 15 miles-ish to go, we were tired, but we kept moving.

Lesson # Three: Keep moving at all costs.

And so we did. Auchope Cairn was made, the darkness had enveloped us, we were moving by head-torch, navigation was easy and we were dropping with our final hill's to get over. Shill was the last, we decided on this occasion to head into the valley of Shill, we might just as well continue along and over White Law in the actual race. Its better running, the ground is softer and its actually shorter.

We made the van. We got changed. We made the pub and we drank a pint. F**k that tastes good. Food was eaten, fire was soaked in. Locals were talked to and we headed to the van to catch much needed sleep. Andy had a bottle of whisky and we were in trouble. Hard graft, lots of miles, aching body and a longing for alcohol lead to half a bottle of whisky polished before sleep.

That was the final section. Now all we have to do is run from OurGrave (Gargrave) to Hawes and the whole Spine is broken down. The final thing after that is The Spine Race, January the 11th to 18th, and stringing it all together.

Lesson # Four: Its going to hurt!

It really is going to hurt. I know this and I'm trying not to think about it, but you just can't help it, its really going to hurt. But its only a week, the Dragon was the same. It hurt, but so what, what are we here for if we can't push ourselves mentally and physically? We need to learn about ourselves and for me, in the extreme's of movement, outdoors, running and walking I will find more out about myself, my reserves and what makes me tick in that one week, than I will in years of life. One week to rule them all, or is that a different line???

Kit used:

Item & BrandWeightCost
Montane Dragon 20386 gramsTBC
Montane Aero Smock - Waterproof278 gramsTBC
Montane Fireball Jacket324 grams£140.00
Montane Fireball Smock280 grams£120.00
Montane Bionic L/S Zip215 grams£65.00
Montane Yukon Beanie25 grams£20.00
Montane Punk Balaclava50 grams£20.00
Buff's x 236 grams each (72g)£12.00
Inov8 Mudclaw 265's minus the insoles600 grams per pair£90.00
Inov8 Pro Soc 2222 grams£12.00
Craft Extreme BaseLayer Bottoms£32.00
Montane Mountain Trail Shorts125 grams£35.00
Haglofs Boxers25 grams£20.00
Montane Minimus Waterproof Pants125 grams£100.00
Montane Aero Smock - Windtop80 grams - not produced anymore
Montane FeatherLite Mountain Cap60 grams£25.00
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