After the giggles had finished over my race number (69) it was down to business, route planning, logistics or in short… final flapping
My support very kindly drove me Edale for the start – I chose to sleep in my own bed the day before race and travel down from Leeds, I figured many DNF (did not finish) racers failed to complete because they were so exhausted, those extra few hours sleep in my own bed may help… (as it happened they didn’t)
Upon arrival at the race HQ, Spine fever soon sets in and the nerves start, as a newbie first timer I felt aware that there were many who knew of each other and friendships were renewed.
After a fairly slick registration I collected my “69” race number, had my photo taken (for Mountain Rescue should I require their services) and had my race equipment checked. Thankfully I didn’t require my full gear checking and escaped with having to show 3 items that sat somewhere near the top of my 10 kilo pack..
And then I spied… a 5 kilo pack… whaaat?!?! how do they get all the mandatory stuff down to 5 kilos – turns out the racers go super super light on everything and carry next to nothing by way of weight, good for them and well done on managing to do so, I thought I had scraped every ounce off my pack weight…
After eyeing up everyone elses gear (it happens a lot I am told) I made my way to the start line.
The start line looked just as it should, like a start line.. with snow… it was cold but adrenaline was pumping and in no time at all we were being counted down… 10, 9, 8. 7 etc.. and then we were off – everyone set off at a crazy pace… well, when I say everyone I meant those at the front who took off like startled gazelles… and amongst those Gazelles was I with my 10 kilo pack who wanted to stay with the sloths… but found myself running through Edale riddled with Spine fever joy..
Andddddd…. relax….. eventually I found myself walking at rapid pace my feet wading through water due to the torrential rain.. now, do I slip my waterproof pants on or rely upon my windproof walking trousers.. first mistake… I stuck with the windproof pants.. it didn’t stop raining…. for 30 hours
Onwards through mud up the snowy and very wet and muddy Kinder scout I pushed on at a pace that I found ideal, it was quick that I knew but I felt comfortable although my feet were very cold I felt secure knowing my sealskinz waterproof socks were up to the mark
Did I just say that?
Mmmm.. about the sealskinz… they work well as long as the top of the sock is above the top of the water I would have to cross .. as it happens the water went up to my nether regions, the socks didn’t… the water then went into my socks and couldn’t escape cue very cold numb feet…
It took me just over 5 hours to get to Snake pass a distance of approx 10 miles which had me in the first 3rd and well placed, more importantly feeling strong and energetic, good start
And then my feet walmed up… and expanded… and the nerve endings on my Metatarsals decided to let me know that they weren’t happy… the Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes that I had succesfully used many times were too tight, the cold had numbed my feet and I couldn’t feel the damage being done to the upper parts of my feet, that is until they warmed up, my right foot was now in agony and it was a pain I hadn’t known before. I cursed myself, how could this happen? I am so meticulous with my gear and yet here we are the event I had been looking forward to all year and now this?!? unreal… what to do… painkillers were in my pocket just in case and they were sprung into action.. they worked too.. but by now the constant cold and driving rain had left my left leg shaking and now going into cold cramp, seriously?!? what the hell was I doing I am better than this come on Phil get this gripped, by now my pace had deteriorated and I found myself in the tail end of the group, utterly disgruntled I found my support guy Dave and changed my shoes slipping from my Salomons into a pair of Hokas ahhh that felt better and off I went again, flying past tail enders I raced up the hills and then… struggled going down.. it was now a case of getting through day one, hitting CP 1 at Hebden Bridge and recovering as I was going along, just keep popping the painkillers…
CP 1 at Hebden Bridge came and went, the steep descent into the checkpoint was uncomfortable as the front part of my feet were being cruelly tested, I didn’t stay long, zapped back up the hill and found Dave and his support vehicle, sleep arrived quickly… after 3 seconds (which is what it felt like) I was off again sleepily dragging myself up the road and heading towards Ponden Reservoir and eventually to the M62 bridge.
By now I had lost track of my timings and was content with tagging at the rear knowing I could only grow stronger and that I wasn’t being tested other than the discomfort in my right foot…….
By the time I got to the M62 Pennine way bridge I had a fantastic collection of supporters out to wish me well, thank you so much, all racers will tell you how much it means to them to see a friendly face – and even more so if that freindly face has a steak pie (thanks Andy) or a bag full of stuff to choose from (Thanks Kirsty/Rob) and words of encouragement (Sharon/Dave L / Chris S etc etc)
I passed Gargrave in what appeared to be no time at all and was now on home turf so to speak – I know this region very well and felt very happy knowing I was on my way to the Hawes checkpoint, I felt good and strong, no route issues and making progress…
And then I hit the mud / swamp fields between Gargrave and Malham, it was dark it was thick low lying cloud / fog and raining each step was painful not just in my right foot now but both, both in same area too, to counter the effects of downhill pain in my right foot I had been using my left leg more, now it was a case of battling on and driving through..
I wasn’t the only one, I passed another racer who was going painfully slow, he told me he was finishing at Malham which was some 5 kilometres away, he was to have a torrid time, I walked with him for a while but the pace was too slow and I started getting very cold so left him and pressed on (I informed safety upon reaching Malham)
Malham was dark as I made my way through it, my support was happy to hear me say ” cracking on” as I didn’t stop, as I approached Malham Cove I passed two German racers who had chosen to bivvy on the trail, I had no idea why they would bivvy on the trail when they weren’t too far from the checkpoint at Malham Tarn field centre but hey ho, up the steps I was so familar with, I tried counting them but exhaustion was having none of it and after around 17, 18, 19 I lost count and just chose to smash them out…
I’ve been up and down those steps so many times but never before with so little sleep and having just covered sixty miles in all kinds of weather they suddenly felt bigger and more of them than anytime… upon getting to the top I then had the task of crossing the clints n grykes the famous limestone paving, visibility was down to the hand in front of my face and for lesser experienced trekkers I would say do not even go there due to the terrifying 300 feet drop just to the right, I knew to stay to my left and follow a natural limestone handrail that would take me to the the northerly trail and eventually Malham tarn.
Exhaustion washed over me before I got there, I simply had to sit down and take a few minutes, the rain wasn’t heavy but it would drench me if I stayed there for long so I chose to pull my hood over my face and simply lie down curling up as tight as I could..
I closed my eyes, then opened them..
I had been asleep for 10 minutes
wow.. ok, let’s go..
The rain had eased its way through my clothing and I felt damp and very cold I had to pick up the pace or get more warm gear on.. I chose to push the pace and eventually arrived at Malham Tarn Field centre, what I did and what I should have done are two different things but in hindsight it wouldn’t have mattered.
What I did was to have 3 hours sleep. What I should have done was pushed on. It wouldn’t matter, my race was about to end anyway I just didn’t know it..
After I set off down the road from the field centre I made my way to Fountains Fell, my tracker reported strong going, a good pace and what appeared to be no issues, the pain in my feet had stopped (painkillers were working) and my legs felt very strong – I psychologically high fived myself as I reached Fountains Fell which for me was an important milestone, smash this out and get to Hawes.
Hawes is a key checkpoint, it’s as if the worst is over and the trails are better, easier in some way – less bogs (although there is a peach of one from Tan Hill) and the northern bit of the route…
I just had to get to Hawes, Fountains Fell is not my favorite place, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed going over this peak in any weather.. how come it hasn’t been mined into the history books, it has false summits and appears to go on forever… at least it was only hazy cloud I was walking through and fine rain, going up was not an issue and all the problems I had experienced earlier had appeared to settle, I passed the summit and started the descent.
It was going to be a long descent.
Each step I took had my foot sliding to the front of my shoe and against the by now battered and badly bruised metatarsals, those long ish bones that go from the toes to the bottom of the legs.. yes those ones.. they were badly bruised and going down hill was not for them, my right foot was in agony and as such I once more place more weight on my left leg, it had worked so far and would get me down safely right?
My left knee was by now screaming at me that it had decided enough was enough and I had to fight the urge to sit down get my cooking stuff out and make a brew, put my feet up and call in the support.. I have no idea how long it took me to get down from Fountains Fell but by the time I had reached the road I knew it was game over, the pain in my feet was intense and now so was my left knee, strapping up, painkillers had little if any effect and it was now a case of safely getting to Horton and calling it a day.
I chose to have one last go
A determined push up Pen Y Ghent, a peak I knew intimately having guided groups of trekkers over it hundreds of times, as I got closer to the scramble I was crawling along at such a slow pace it made no sense to add further damage to my battered feet and painful left knee and chose to call it a day, this time it was my final decision and I took a left, followed the trail down towards Brackenbottom, after 600 metres of tippy toeing down hill I flopped on the side of the fell in the rain, and typed out a message to my incredibe support wingman Dave Barnes, as I typed it warm wet stuff found it’s way rolling down my face, was I crying? what the.. my hands were shaking too.. hey hang on a moment this isnt on… but yes, it was true.. I was crying, I actually had tears flowing down my face, I had since my first encounter with the foot issues added over seventy miles in 30 hours or so and my body was telling me it was time to let it go.. I wasn’t expecting this reaction…
As I got closer to Dave, who by now had found me – the tears lasted a few more seconds and rationality took over, my man up kicked in and I was suddenly sitting with two little superstar dogs on my lap, Badger and Bella – the feeling was intense joy, relief, exhaustion and also utter frustration that something so daft as a lacing issue could stop me… and yet that is exactly what happened.
We pulled into Horton, met a Mountain Rescue guy and informed him that I was to self retire, and then grabbed the most delicious bacon butty from the Pen Y Ghent Cafe..and a brew… oh the Great British Brew!!!!!!! almost as good as the legendary Military Egg Banjo (Google it)
Anyway…… Game over.
I was a DNF. I had no intention of being one but here I was… a DNF
I should have been on the trail still, miles north from here..
Could have should have yada yada..
Despite not getting to Hawes, I quickly weighed up the reality of my result, it happens, get over it, rebuild, reboot, re-do and re-enter…..
A few months after retiring from the Spine race I finally managed to get my feet X rayed as the injury wasn’t healing in the way bad bruising should… it turned out that the injury was not bruising but a fracture of the metatarsal in both feet! I injured myself on the summit of the very first peak that I covered which was Kinder Scout, around the 5 mile point and then dragged my sorry frame another seventy seven miles (yes it was painful) but I truthfully thought it was nothing more than badly bruised upper part of my foot – 6 months later I now have a bone spur that has grown over the broken bone and still not fully healed – something as simple as a lacing issue caused me so much discomfort and worse for me, to carry the DNF tag something I shall rectify when I feel able.
And that is exactly what I will do.
Here is what I aim to do to be ready for my next Spine attempt:
Aim to do a Yorkshire 3 Peaks double double ie 4 times round in 48 hours
Ensure that I have my shoes / spares well worn in and use elesticated lacing!!!
Stick with the previous plan as it was fine, I was fit enough and knew the route.
Push on from Hebden and aim to rest at Ponden (56 miles from the start) then no rest at all until Hawes (just over 100 miles)
The Spine is tough, no one and I mean no one will say anything other than that but it is doable as so many have proven, it’s the little things that catch a racer out, a wrong turn, a gentle slip, a blister that didn’t get treated, eating the wrong food.. there are so many things that can DNF a racer..
And that is what makes it so exciting.
See you again next year for Spine 2018.