Monday, 2 February 2015


Apologies to people whom I may have walked with over some parts of the route whom I don't mention, there are so many names and remembering with whom, and where we were at the time, is not easy, so please don't take offense I appreciated your company no matter how brief it may have been.
I will add correct  names to any photo's if someone lets me know.


Of course following my success in last years Spine race it was an easy decision on deciding to enter the 2015 race, with intention of doing some good training before hand this time.

Although I had completed the 2014 race whilst suffering Plantar Fasciitis, it did not trouble me during the event. However it came back one week after finishing, then in March it flared up with a vengeance. I went to my GP who referred me to a specialist. I eventually began on the long physio road that one has to encounter before even seeing the consultant himself, to date I still have not seen him.

Thee Podiatrists, three sets of orthotics and a referral for 'shock wave' treatment, with a fast approaching Spine, I was in a quandary of what shoes and insoles to wear. My foot was giving me so much trouble, sensitised across the top and painful beneath the heel and along it's outer edge.

Not much in the way of training this year again, but more than last year including a couple of failed Coast to Coasts but did manage a couple of training sorties with Mick Buin who was down for the Challenger and my mate Malc Christie who I had managed to talk into to doing the Spine, during our clubs Christmas do, after he had had a few. Malc is a fine mountaineer, fell runner, triathlete, and strong hill walker, but his average walk has only been in the region of 16 miles. He did succeed in his Bob Graham round a couple of years ago and a non stopper of 84 miles with myself even more years ago, along the Dales Way, but is a complete novice to Ultra distance events.

At the last minute I decided to wear my Hoka mid boots and take a pair of North face Hedgehogs as a spare.
On the Friday the day before the start, Malcs son Matt collected me from my house and we set off for the rail station heading for Edale. On the train we met a few other Spiners Inc. Al Pepper and James Quigley, chatting that much we completely missed Piccadilly station and it was only when James noticed that we had stopped at Fallowfield that we all bolted for the carriage door. Fortunately we soon caught a train back and made our connection for Edale.

Usual thing, briefing, registration, however it really was a reunion meeting people I already knew and putting faces to Facebook friends whom I not before met, in person. A meal and a couple or three pints of Guinness in the Ramblers then head off for overnight accommodation. For us this meant a couple of mile walk to the Edale YHA.

We found a bunk a piece and tried to get some sleep. I reckon I may have dozed off for an hour, unable to settle due to the common problems of noisy dorms. It turned out Malc had the same issues.
Pav, last years winner had taken the bunk below me. I heard him come into our room later.
The following morning talking to him, i noticed he had by his bunk three cans of carling. Asking him if they were his secret weapon, he didn't seem to understand my meaning. I don't think he did actually put them in his sack though.

We were told that the start had been put back two hours to 11.30am. that did not sit well with most as everyone's race plans were now in tatters and much of the days light would be lost. However one has to remember that safety is paramount and I realised that this must have been a difficult decision by the Spine Team.
 EDALE to HEBDEN HEY. Saturday 10th January - Sunday 11th.
At 11.30am prompt we were finally on our way. Malc and myself had decided to walk the whole way and not run/trot any of it. The first downhill after only a couple of miles we broke into a run, I admit I was the first, but to be honest I had been wondering how long Malc would keep to his decision to not push the pace and go at mine instead. Actually it was me that started the running.

Malc and I share many mountaineering trips including Munro baggin in the worst Winter conditions imaginable and knew we could cope no matter what the weather threw at us. The big problem was going to be on holding him back. He has an easy relaxed gait, on the flat, when ascending and descending. In our group of fell runner baggers, he would leave us standing on the climbs and drop like stone on the rough terrain downhills. I had told him that if he fired off I would just let him go and I didn't want him waiting for me. He said  he would not do that, oh, how many times have I heard that before!? I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn't keep him on the leash for long.

Up on the Kinder Plateau the wind hit for real from our left, buffeting, trying to blow us over. We got a good soaking from the Kinder Downfall being blown back up and back from whence it had come. Across the Snake Pass, Malc stopped to put on his mitts while I proceeded slowly rather stop completely. Roy, Mick Bruins mate came alongside and asked to walk with me for a while. After I told him I was going slow waiting for Malc, he disappeared into the distance.

On reaching Torside reservoir at Crowden I explained that this was where I usually cramp up in my inner thighs. Although I felt no sign of impending cramp as I told, as soon as I had gone two steps up at the end of the dam, bang! both legs gripped in a vice like clamp. I managed to get going stiff legged after a couple of minutes, which was a relief because I normally have to wait, ten. These cramps would come and go most of the way to CP1.

Malc as usual opening up gaps on every ascent, but I must admit was holding back, I mean it can be hard to go slower than your natural pace. After Standstead two other guys were with us, and they with Malc were stretching me. I was and had been for some time, going at a faster pace than I was comfortable with. This increased the cramps and my legs began to feel dead. I decided that I would not chase the pace any longer and slowed to my own survival stride. I also began stuffing my face with food. Feeling totally relaxed now, I was surprised how quickly the feeling of strength had returned to my legs and before I knew it I was just behind the others once more. I though, they had dramatically slowed or I had speeded up. Not wanting to slow I went past the other two and then Malc stepped to one side to look back for me. I think I surprised him being there and nipped in front of him. Feeling strong now I strode away, mile after mile passed, I was feeling so good. Malc then began saying the pace was a bit fast. Well you have to take the advantage when you can, as many who have walked with Malc will tell.

Nipped in the White House just before midnight where they agreed to sell us a pint of Coke and some crisps. Out again gale force winds hit, this time with a mix of Hail/Snow blown violently horizontally across our path. Our headtorches reflecting every white particle made it difficult to make out the ground, but we just had to battle through it. Approaching Stoodley Pike another guy caught us up but said it had been hard work, saying that we were 'machines', a compliment I guess. At the Pike we briefly stopped. The other guy opened up his sack only for the wind to grab his loose kit and proceeded to scatter various items across the moor. We chased after them and managed to retrieve some of them but other bits were gone.
Down through Charlesworth, then the nasty little ascents before the even nastier descent through the muddy woods to CP1, at Hebden Hey.

Inside the porch like structure there, many muddy shoes, boots and gaiters littered the floor. Our drop bags were brought and Joe Faulkner who was racing himself, kindle took my drop bag through for me, Cheers Joe! Malc for once looked absolutely awful and couldn't manage his bag on his own, so we both carried it through.

He got his food first then me, mine I was ravenous. Chatting to other people, Malc didn't look good and was struggling to eat as he was so tired. Then he disappeared. I eventually found a bunk and settled to try and get some sleep. We had decided to stay for the maximum of time we could allow around 8.5 hours. Again due to noisy neighbors I may have got around an hours cat nap. I found a rejuvenated Malc in the canteen. Whilst getting ready to go, I was informed that we had a visitor, it was Adam from our club and Chris, both of whom had joined me for a couple of miles during last years Spine. It was great to see them, and much banter ensued.
CP1.  HEBDEN HEY to HAWES. Sunday 11th January - Monday 12th.
We headed out from CP1 around 11.15am to get back onto the route, descending the track to Gorple Lower reservoir, I could see a group of three people waving at us, getting closer I recognised they were friends Karl and Sue with Malcs wife Andrea. Total surprise they had judged our position by following the live trackers that each competitor has to carry attached to the rucsack strap on the shoulder.
Now as a bunch of seven we walked to where they had parked their cars at Clough Foot. This where we said farewell then it was just the two of us again as we turned abruptly right along the road for Walshaw Dean reservoirs.

Approaching the second reservoir we spotted a Spine racer who had gone wrong and was walking along the dam away from the route. We tried several times to shout and even used my whistle but he didn't hear. As we followed the drain I looked back and saw that he was now following some distance back. Top Withins ruin was reached and I was surprised to find that the little attached bothy that I had slept in during my first Spine was padlocked. good job we didn't go for that option I thought.
Just before Ponden another Challenger racer, Tim De Vriendt, approached and asked if we had a phone signal -we hadn't. He had hurt his knee and said he would ask at one of the few houses there if he could wait in a shed for assistance to arrive. We told him that we would alert the team at the next mobile CP which is usually just before we leave the road for Oakworth Moor. However on reaching there there was no one about, we were a bit concerned but satisfied ourselves that Tim would be able to get assistance from one of the householders at his location.
Over the slippery slabs, through Cowling, we arrived in Lothersdale. Straight to the pub and with strategically laid carpet pieces, we were directed to the Pool room. Soup, roll and a coffee later, we exited and made our way through Thornton in Craven, East Marton and the canal, through the cattle trodden muddy fields and arrived in Gargrave too late for the COOP shop to be open but found temporary refuge in a pub.

Two Challengers were also there, they had stopped saying that they had totally underestimated the race. We ordered pints of Coke and the landlord brought over a tray full of sandwiches left over from a function. Much appreciated. The local were totally bemused by what we were doing. I told them there was nothing wrong with enjoying yourself!

Straight forward through to Malham reached around 2am, up the cove steps, round the back up by the fossilised waterfall and round the tarn battling strong side winds and rain to CP1.5. A bite to eat inside, told we couldn't sleep there, so bivvied in the RSPB observatory hut a little further along the track in the woods.
There were three people already inside, so very quietly we sorted our bivvies out and tried to get some sleep. We awoke to find the others had gone. Realising that we had forgotten to notify our position, we went back to the CP. There we were informed that there had been a four hour hold due to high wind on Fountains Fell. We were also told that Pen y Ghent was out and to turn left before the steps and descend directly into Horton where the cafe would be open.

To be honest, both Malc and myself have experienced some wild times on the Scottish mountains in winter and felt that we would have coped ok, and actually enjoy these hard condition challenges. As they say in the song "It's got to be bad, to be good!"

Anyway over Fountains Fell without incident and down to the cafe in Horton in Ribblesdale. Another bowl of soup and some chips that were there all alone on the next table (someones leftovers).
Leaving there I needed to visit the Loo. Malc said he would carry on 'slowly' (Hm, I thought). I was nine minutes, Malc was nowhere in sight. I pushed as hard as I could to catch up, eventually I spotted him in full easy going flow, but for a while I was making no further impression on the distance between us. he looked back a couple of times and as I was eye balls out to catch him, he did slow. I wanted to give him a bollocking, but saw the funny side and could only laugh.

On the Cam High road we could see two guys ahead, they turned and saw us and seemed to put one in to avoid us catching them. We passed a group of Challengers and eventually caught the other two up. It was Alan Cormack and Micheal Stevenson. They went ahead again when we paused to get our headtorches. After you turn off the track onto the flanks of Dodd Fell, we caught them again. It was well dark now. I nav'd the tricky route down to the lane leading to Hawes. We saw two runners headtorches approaching, they nearly went straight past, it was Ian Williams and Chris Lane from our club. Cheers guys. They joined us for the remainder of the route to CP2 in Hawes. Ian told me that at one point after Horton Malc and I were a full Kilometer apart, that's what that trip to the loo cost me in distance!

Food down, get drop bag and sort stuff out. Malc needed foot care and one of my toes was rather sore so I too took advantage and Doctor Fi, one of the medics. She did a splendid job on my little blister and one beneath my toe nail. Malc took a breather lying down trying to get a nap whilst I chatted to other people coming and going, including Al Pepper who had succeeded in his Challenger. Well done Al, the big one next year!?

                                                MALC at HAWES with FEET TAPED.

                                                CP2. HAWES with COLIN FITZJOHN.

                                              ME TUCKING INTO PASTA IN HAWES.

 HAWES to THWAITE! Monday 12th January to Tuesday 13th.
We didn't stay too long maybe 3 hours or so, then set out once more into the dark at 10pm.
Malcs feet had been bothering him for some time and he changed into his boots, which he initially said were better, although that didn't last long. He had purchased a pair of North face Hedgehog shoes for the race. These are the shoes that I finished the Spine in last year and have worn them on many multi day trips. However I always get at least one full size bigger than my norm. I told him about this, so I was surprised when he informed that he gotten his normal size. His feet had expanded, hence his problem, describing it as though his feet were in a vice.

The long trudge up Gt. Shunner Fell and the slippery long descent, through a mixture of high winds, hails, sleet and snow, then the horrible stony track leading to the road and Thwaite. Feeling strong, we passed a safety car in the village, where Tim De Vriendt, the guy whom we had seen near Ponden and who was now helping out after stopping, approached to check on our well being. Ok, we said and carried on through the following fields. Two other guys appeared and after a slight nav error, I took the lead and led up the steep grassy hillside to the gate at the top, whereupon I doubled up with an exploding chest.

I hadn't said anything to Malc the last couple of days about my chest problem, hoping it would improve. However on every major exertion since the start, in particular the ascents, my breathing had become increasingly worse and this feeling of fullness in my chest had been really bothering me, to the extent that for the previous 24 hours it had been passing through my head that I really need to get it checked out. The only open clue I had been giving was the inability to hide the worsening hacking cough.

In my mind now was that I was going to struggle the next few miles and not knowing if there was a CP or safety car at Tan Hill, I knew from bitter past experience that if I were to go down in the following terrain, then we would both be at risk, not just myself, plus anyone who had to come to my aid. I knew this was the time to make an awful decision.

Atop that little rise the other two guys swiftly passed through. Malc went to continue, but I beckoned him back and explained the problem, saying that I was going back to the safety car as I though there had been a medic sat in there. I knew that he didn't know the route and this was going to be somewhat of a shock for him, because I had given him no earlier indication that I may have to stop. I had been doing the majority of the nav, and although he is a good navigator, I told him to get after those other two and briefly explained that the route bent round to the left. That was it, he went on and I turned around. He later told me, it was a shock, as he set off after the other two who had just passed, he thought to himself, "I'm on my own now!"

Walking back to the car, I realised that I was about to complain of a developing cough and chest discomfort. I am 68 years, what option am I giving them, with that lot, they are going to stop me for sure. This was most frustrating as Ive never in over 50 years of competitive events dnf'd, my legs were strong and I had been going well, however, by the time I reached the car I had resigned myself to it.

It wasn't a medic in the car it was Amanda Crozier one of the Spines super volunteers! She went to the pay phone to ask for a medic, whilst Tim proceeded to make me a brew. I gave him my pot, stove and gas cannister. He must have slightly cross threaded it whilst attaching the stove, for after he ignited it the whole thing was a mass of flames. Somehow he managed to extinguish them, the stove, pot and cannister survived with just a slightly melted stove knob. Eventually Dr Fi and Jonathan Zeffert turned up and after a brief chat, broke the news that I was expecting. I thanked her for doing such a good job on my toe, then she called for an ambulance in order to check out my heart. The ambulance turned up with all it's testing equipment and after twenty minutes or so, I got the all clear, everything was fine and in good working order. however I was now very cold and shivering. Dr Fi accompanied by Johnathan Zeffert drove me first to Hawes, then Myself and Guido, another former Spine finisher who had thrown in the towel at Thwaite were transported to Middleton in Teesdale to be repatriated with our drop bags.

I had some food and a shower and got changed. The TV crew were filming for the BBC's 'Inside Out' program and after interviewing Joe Faulkner it was my turn. Having almost finished, we had to do it again as there was some condensation on the large camera lens, so had to switch to a smaller one.
All too soon we were told to be ready for the lift to Bishop Aukland  rail station.

During the journey I asked Guido why he called it a day at Thwaite. Guido is such a good strong Ultra runner, I thought he must have picked up an injury, although he was walking well. He explained that the descent off Gt. Shunner fell had finished him off mentally, saying that he had no inner strength left. I think many fell victim to this. The wind more than anything was so strength sapping, with the legs and body doing overtime just to remain upright, never mind move at speed.

We went our separate ways once in Manchester, Guido going to the airport for his flight back home to Switzerland and myself to Chorley, Lancs.

I hadn't had time to phone my wife Pat, so she got a surprise when I walked in. I got my kit sorted and had a very good sleep that night. Rested up the following day, then contacted Scott to see about returning to help out.

He told me that would be great, so early Thursday morning in my car, I headed back to the race. I drove in to the CP4 at Alston. All racers who had been held there had gone, but Stuart Westfield and his dad Peter Lowton were there and so I was placed on MST 6 (Mountain Safety Team) and told to meet Rich Vincent at a road head. En route I received a text telling me to go straight to Byrness. In the way I called in at Bellingham and had a word and a brew with Tom Jones. Rich, Tom and Myself became MST6.
At Byrness I met Rich and once again Joyce and Colin of the Forest View. I had stayed with them during my North to South PW some years earlier. Pav and Eoin... had already gone through. Six racers arrived more or less together and immediately set about making something to eat added to by a very welcome Bollonaise and mash provide by Hosts Joyce and Colin. Not hanging about they quickly got ready and left for the final section across the Cheviots. Another racer arrived on his own bit with his support. Same thing food etc then off and away. We left there in convoy to Kirk Yetholm and the finish.

With everything that and happened over the last few days since the start and things still happening, one loses all track of time. As I had told Malc, forget about days, nights, breakfast time etc. it all blends into one, just think about making as much progress as you can, grabbing some sleep when you can and fueling the engine constantly.

At KY it was a pleasure to see Eoin... come into the finish shortly followed by last years winner Pav. After the time credits had been included, it meant that Pav was in fact the winner once more by around 3 hours or so. Later on I had a good chat with him, and I was surprise to discover that he was not in a fact a heavily sponsored professional but worked as a translator, only getting a bit of kit from sponsors. That makes him even more remarkable in my eyes, mind you is a bit of a man mountain.

                                                           EOIN KEITH FINISHES

                                                                     PAV FINISHES.


                                                             IN THE BORDER HOTEL.

Later on our MST6 set off to sweep up to the 2nd refuge hut and back a distance of around 14 miles. We soon saw five headtorch light heading our way, it was the group we had met at Byrness, which included the first lady Beth Pascall, awesome! All was good with them and they carried on past in high spirits towards the finish. As we climbed, I though it odd that we were ascending ever steepening grassy ground and knew it wasn't right. Tom provided a quick GPS reading and sure enough we had strayed off route which was easily solved with a compass bearing and back on route once more. No more errors after that. Climbing steadily but awkwardly in the gale force wind, we used the border fence to assist us on the ascent of the through the snow to the summit of the Schill. Down and along we spotted a headtorch over to our left which seemed to be heading in our direction. Was it our next man Number 62 that we been told to look out for, should we head over that way to meet whoever it was? We decided to stay with our plan to go directly to Refuge Hut 2. This proved a good decision, for upon entering we found that our man was in residence, but preparing to leave. We checked he was ok then told him we would have a brew and be following up behind him, back to KY.
                                            2ND MOUNTAIN REFUGE HUT (CHEVIOTS)

                                    ASSISTING  KEVIN PERRY  IN THE AUCHOPE HUT.

                                       TOM JONES & RICH VINCENT during the sweep.

                                       TOM JONES & MYSELF returning from the sweep.

We arrived back in KY at around 2am, made something to eat and found a spot on the hall floor and got a few hours sleep.

We were due to go back up to the hut on second sweep, but I declined as I had had again had chest problems ascending the Schill. It seemed that was I fine on the flat but any exertion caused my chest to restrict and set off a coughing fit. Instead I agreed to help Fiona set up the finishers hall.
Then it was back to the Border Hotel to eagerly await the remaining finishers come in.

In they came one after the other, there would be a number of them close together then a pause and someone else, and so it went on. All finishing to a hero's welcome with much cheering, hugs and some tears. I took many photographs.

Of course I was awaiting Malcs finish and kept checking his position on the Tracker. I looked and he was with two other about a mile from the finish as I went through the room, checking again on the way back. Panic! the Tracker had updated and he was only about 200 metres away. I rushed through grabbing my camera and immediately saw three head torches coming down the lane. I rushed up the green towards them and started my camera on video mode, following alongside them, Malc with James Quigley and Andrew Brown, as they finished and touched the Hotel wall.
I congratulated all three and led them into the bar.

                              MALC, JAMES & ANDREWS FINISH - KIRK YETHOLM.

                                                  MALC CHRISTIE touches the finish wall.

                                                          MALC, ANDREW & JAMES

                                                     MALC CHRISTIE & JAMES QUIGLEY

                                               SUKHEE PARK & LAWRENCE ECCLES.

                                                                 JAVED BHATTI

                                                 RICHARD LENDON &SIMON BEASLEY.

                                                                   PAUL WILSON

                                                                   IAN BOWLES.

                                                                    KERI DEVINE.

                                                         MALC & BEN TAYLOR

                                                                      DAVE DIXON

I told him he could have any drink he wanted, he scanned the beers, then said, "it can only be that one, 'Blizzard'!" That pretty much says it all.

Eventually several pints later we were transported to the hall in Town Yetholm, There was not much room at the Inn, most of the floor space taken, so as Malc settled down inside, I opted for my car and had a restless few hours sleep, waking twice when I set off the motion sensors on my alarm.

                                                            IN THE FINISHERS HALL

                                                                FINiSHERS HALL

                                                   BODIES AMONgST THE GEAR

Many goodbyes and thanks made, we set off driving back home arriving early evening.
I felt Malc had a lot to take in, but knowing him I felt sure he had been bitten good and proper by this bug known as Ultra Running and in particular the Spine Race!

After thoughts:
Gale force winds were a big factor in this years race affecting the start time, several en forced holds making it more like staged race rather than a non stopper and accounted for numerous retirements. Myself, I was just unfortunate to start with an already incubating chest bug which has come to the fore since returning home, two weeks later and I am still not clear of it.

Last night Malc and myself did a race de brief at a local pub. Attended by numerous club colleagues and friends. Michael Stevenson another Spine finisher came too and contributed to what everyone said was an interesting evening.

I cannot end without thanking Scott, Phil and the entire team including the wonderful volunteers
Next year? I've never liked unfinished business!