Out of the Comfort Zone – Spine Challenger

11/01/2017

Within anything there can come a time when you wonder “what next”. That can apply to your job, your home, your relationships… we get comfortable where we are, we feel safe… the parameters are pretty much “known”. It can be good to stay here to absorb everything we’ve learnt in life, to enjoy, to rest… but what about if you want “more”… if you want to challenge what you’ve become accustomed to, want to grow… well beyond that “known”… that’s when you go out of your comfort zone.

Change … It’s scary

Out of the comfort zone is not supposed to feel warm and snuggly and known. It’s most likely going to feel uncomfortable, hard… awkward… it’s going to trigger a whole heap of negativity as well. It can trigger self-doubt, anxiety, fear (whether that be emotional, mental, physical)… it makes you question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it… and all of this can mean we can set ourselves up to “fail”… it’s too hard, too scary… the goal might not be achievable… it’s easier to stay where we are… it’s where we feel strong and not weak, safe and not vulnerable…

And so it was that I decided to sign up for another race which would be a challenge. After all, if that’s what clients can do as I sit alongside them as their counsellor on their personal journeys… how can I not challenge myself from time to time, albeit in my own way? Walk my talk as it were… and in this case, it’s going to be quite literally! I’ve run in a bit of heat, and I’ve run (ok there was a lot of walking 😀 ) some long distances over the past few years. It’s been quite a journey. To go out of my “known” zone now, I need to do something I’ve not done before, and aim for something that may not be possible. After all, you can’t know what you don’t know (thank you Tom Jones for that little gem!).

I now find myself facing the very daunting task of setting foot on the start line of The Spine Challenger this weekend – have a look at http://thespinerace.com/msc/.

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For those that haven’t heard of this, it’s the first 108 miles of the Pennine Way, in the UK. In winter. It’s the “smaller” aka baby version of the main “Spine Race” which is the full Pennine Way of 268 miles. Now that’s a crazy race!! This should be sane by comparison right? I don’t do cold. I don’t like being cold. I’m one of the first to get the scarf and gloves out and layer up for the commute to work and one of the last to let them go. To willingly go into a cold race where risks include hypothermia (very common), ice burns on skin and frozen corneas (yep one guy was medically removed from the race for this I believe), where the temperatures are going to drop below freezing, where you could be wading or falling waist deep in snow… and do all that over 108 miles… it sounds pretty terrifying. An attritional hike is how one friend described it. And that’s without the sleep deprivation! You get 60 hours to complete the race, and that sounds way more than enough. It’s not. People DNF on the cut-offs due to the terrain, and the risks already mentioned. I’ve heard for the main Spine Race, one winner didn’t sleep for 2-3 days. How is that even possible?

The stats for Spine Challenger are:

Distance: 172km
Ascent: 5637m
Descent: 5636m
Max elevation: 695m (Pen y Ghent)

There is one checkpoint at 73.9km in. You have to run with a pack with a lot of mandatory equipment, which is due to the safety requirements (I’m dreaming of around 6kg at the moment) – haven’t dared weigh my pack properly because I know it’s likely to be much heavier, and am just praying I can get everything in. I may have to sit on it as I did with my suitcase for the dropbag stuff. I’m not even sure if there are a couple of points for water… the streams are going to come in handy, as is the water filter I rapidly bought – there’s a lot of sheep out on those hills.

Did I mention the route marking? There is none. This is a national trail and you have to navigate, map and compass. Handheld GPS is also required, and often needed due to the fact you could be on a whiteout on some of the “hills” and can’t see the occasional flagstones or “trail path”… or pretty much anything to be honest!

Kinder Scout – Peak District South 2 North, Ranger Ultras
Photo credit: Peter Owen

A lot of runners who enter this race have either years of running experience or a background of being outdoors, hiking, mountaineering, love the cold etc… so how does a townie with only a few years of running prepare for something they know nothing about? I take you back to the post about accessing your tool box or “kit list” (which can be found here). So in this case it’s:

Physical:
Training – sessions with my coach and following my training schedule that he writes for me
Testing kit – there’s a lot of kit, and then there’s even more. You need to test what you’re going to be using in as similar conditions as possible
Recce – checking the route you will be running, although it could look a lot different depending on the weather conditions

Pyschological:
Goal – you have to know what you’re aiming for and set a realistic goal
Expectations – modifying these as you learn
Self-awareness – know your weaknesses and strengths and how to minimise/utilise to your best advantage

Knowledge:
Past experience – use what you already have as a foundation
Learn – get help where you feel you have weaknesses

Emotional:
Support – ensure you have the right support around you, from those you learn from to those in your inner circle as it were
Positivity – if you’re around people who bring you down, how will that help you? Be around those who encourage, want the best for you
Drive – call it what you will… the human spirit… a yearning… a chest-thumping feeling in the very heart of your self… that call to adventure… it’s what can carry you through some of the dark parts…

My coach has been fantastic with numerous pep talks and encouragement, and he (alongside others) have also reminded me about the positive skills I have from the past (basic navigation and first aid (should the worst happen) from the Army, albeit a few decades ago), just over 3.5 years of running, 3 stage races… numerous other ultras/challenges… I’ve also finished two Centurion Running 100 milers now so it’s only (ha!) another 6ish miles longer than my longest race. I’m also hoping to run this alongside one of my tentmates from the Marathon des Sables (he couldn’t get time off to do the full one, crazy man!). I have the experience of few severe “hills” from a recent race which I didn’t finish: the CCC (more on that in another post).

The Spine Race also hosts a training weekend so I trotted along to the Peak District for that, where I met some really great people for the first time and got the chance to catch up with another MdS tentmate who’s doing the full race. They had various speakers (Richard Lendon in particular stuck in my head – “it’s not a race” complete with pictures of several full Spine Race starts where he’s flying over the start line!) over the weekend, plus the chance to get out on a nearby training loop, and where they test you on a variety of skills (such as bivvying out, distance & timing, the use of your stove – I think I nearly blew mine up – first time I’d used it *oops*). The coordinator for the Spine safety team (Stu Westfield) also hosts races, training, and guides expeditions, see here for his website. His courses includes Spine specific ones. Due to my nervousness and lack of experience especially around navigation, I wanted to attend these, but unfortunately time and travel didn’t allow. However there’s usually a second option, and in this case I booked Stu for a 1-2-1 over two days up in the Peak District. This was very good and I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone considering doing the same. Usually you’d go away after a day of full on navigation and absorb before going back and putting into practice, but I didn’t have that option. So the second day out, the aim was to move and navigate a lot faster. Which it was. Although compared to most, I’m probably still extremely snail-like 😀 But that, combined with Stu’s everlasting patience, meant that I got the train home feeling more confident, and meant some of the more “negative voices” were being drowned out. Every little helps!

Fast forward two weeks, and there was a race to be used as a “training run” – the Peak District South 2 North, which is a 100k self-navigational race over two days. A local running friend who has also signed up for Challenger had highlighted this to me a while back, so I agreed to run the second day (Dark Peak Challenge) with him as it was on most of the route for Challenger. However two days before the race, he had to pull out due to injury, so I trotted off on my own. Daunting was an understatement. It was an utter and complete wake-up call, plus the weather was so bad that they had to abandon the wilderness sections and we followed just the Pennine Way. Over 13 hours to get through less than 29 miles, lack of visibility, waist deep snow in parts, icy rocks, windy, not much to run on and no lovely flagstones in sight. See the picture above for the beginning up on Kinder! There was also lots of falling over, breaking new trail, sliding down parts on my backside for safety and at one point in the dark we got lost and ended up on the edge of what appeared an abyss… looking down into a sheer drop of blackness. I refused to go down for fear of injury and never getting back up! Thanks to the navigation skills of the guys I was with, we ended up contouring round and got to where we needed to be. When I say huge wake-up call, what I really mean is had I done this before signing up to Challenger… I wouldn’t be hitting the start line on Saturday because I would never have signed up for it! So for anyone who wants a “taster” be sure to try Stu’s race first!

Another tool that was due to be added into my “toolbox” was a recce on course, however the person I was meant to be going with, and who would be driving, dropped out. Extortionate train fares (everyone in the UK would probably nod their heads in agreement at that description)… meant I then had to forgo this, so instead I figured some more nav awareness would be key. Luckily the director of a race I did only a month earlier, and who coincidentally is also on the Spine safety team, lives not too far a distance from me. If you’re in the Essex area you have probably already come across, or heard of, Lindley Chambers of Challenge Running. Lindley came down and helped me to work out how to use my handheld GPS, how to load up the gpx files, and how to plot some of my own basic courses. Highly recommend his tuition, which can be booked via his website. Unfortunately I’ve not had much time to practice with it, but again… every little helps and you have to start somewhere!

And then there’s support: well as I mentioned earlier, I’m planning on doing this challenge with my tentmate from MdS, James (front of picture)… and there will also be two others doing the full Spine (Lee (behind me) and Gwynn (number 501)) so hopefully we will get the chance to catch up pre-race…

329Half of Tent 117, Start Line
Charity stage – 30th Marathon Des Sables 2015
Photo copyright: Michelle Payne

… and The Spine is up North… not too far from where a certain incorrigible person lives, who helped to start me on this whole ultra running lark. Had I not had Helen’s support in Sierra Leone (and encouragement to switch races), who knows whether I’d have moved up to ultras at all! She and her other half are coming down to see us off the start line, and (hopefully) over the finish line. Then there’s all the others who have helped and encouraged along the way, fellow competitors who have emailed and offered advice and help… this race creates a family where everyone wants everyone else to do their best, and do not hesitate to look after each other (and rescue them *eek*) when things get bad!

So now race day approaches rapidly. Reality is kicking in especially when it comes to expectations. Doing the PS2N means I am being very realistic about chasing cut-offs yet again, the wake-up call regarding terrain was much needed however as we are now only days away, there isn’t much more that can be added into the toolbox. The weather is predicted to be snowy, wet, gale force winds, black ice, gnarly, boggy and with plummeting temperatures… aka a nasty start. Winter on the Pennines… why would you expect anything else 😉

For anyone that wants to track some sane (Challenger) and crazy (Full Spine) racers, check out http://spine.opentracking.co.uk/race/ – it starts with the Challenger on Saturday at 0800 hours, and the full Spine on Sunday! I’ve already started carb-loading… or as one friend literally said to me this afternoon when she read my draft post… “Have you ever stopped!”… how rude 😀

When it comes to goals… to challenges…

Dare to dream it, plan it… learn, grow… you never know where one decision may take you… just who you might inspire… who might think that “because she or he can “do it”, so could I”.

Challenger start line… here I come! Please don’t be too cold…

Wishing you a great week ahead 🙂
Michelle


Challenge 3 of 3 – Grand2Grand Ultra – Arrival

22/03/2015

Life has been so hectic that I’ve not really had enough spare time to just sit down and post about the last part of my Triple Continent Challenge.

Last, but by no means least!

GRAND TO GRAND ULTRA
http://www.g2gultra.com

Mostly this was due to the fact that after Madagascar, I had such little time between the two events… 15 days from finish line in Madagascar to start line at the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and that was to include work, flying time as well as a couple of days acclimatisation in Kanab, Utah. So, how to sum up such an Adventure?

Some words and phrases I associate with Grand2Grand or g2g as it’s more commonly known:

amazing
inspiring
iconic
bloody hard
a once in a lifetime experience
growth
change
camaraderie
pain
fun
adventure
challenging
sand
sand
more sand
how far to the next checkpoint
are we there yet
more sand
HEART
SOUL
LOVE
FRIENDSHIP

The premise, 273km from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase, carrying everything you need for the week in a pack on your back. When I signed up I didn’t have much knowledge as to what ultrarunners did… I thought they all did these stage races, so why not do two. How hard could it be? I really must learn not to ask that question in future! The answer is usually: A LOT!

A group of us who had met up previously, gathered at the Airport and celebrated the start of this journey with a few glasses of champagne: not your usual liquid of choice for hydration but it worked just fine at that point 🙂

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Of course, runners adapt when a sudden dash onto the plane is needed and the bottle isn’t empty… (disclaimer: not naming and shaming, but this isn’t my bottle!)…

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On arrival in Kanab, the residents were fantastic: we were not only warmly welcomed but very kindly looked after during the few days we spent there pre-race: a flight over the town (thanks Dave), sports massage (thanks Marilyn) and a visit to a local animal sanctuary – the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Now I missed the animal sanctuary visit and really wish I had been able to get there, probably one of only two regrets I have from the trip but I will definitely be visiting the next time I’m in Kanab because the work they do is absolutely amazing. Check out: http://bestfriends.org/ – they are a leader in the no-kill movement and their sanctuary is one of the USA’s largest animal rescue organisations!!

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Kit and paperwork checks were completed in Kanab with a fab final meal catered and then the next day it was out to the first camp at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Words do not do the land justice. Pictures do not do it justice. The photos I have from that day show me stood at the edge but they just cannot convey the sheer scale, size and feeling of actually being there. The only way to feel it is to go there!

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The feeling of excitement was palpable throughout the camp, from the moment we all arrived in jeeps, to getting our kit organised and space chosen in our tents on that first night, to having a catered last supper right there in the middle of nowhere… absolutely superb!

G2G-071

 

What a view!

And then storm clouds appeared… cue a sudden dash for tents!  Luckily it passed as quickly as it arrived but I did wonder if that was a portent of things to come.  Event, course, safety and medical talks were given and then as it darkened it was time to get some sleep.  Until I realised a group of people had converged amid some squeaks… now I had heard there were creepy crawlies… what I hadn’t expected was a huge furry tarantula!  Actually I felt sorry for the poor thing… there it sat on the sandy ground encircled by huge humans shining their headtorches onto it… until it moved and then I scampered back to my tent promptly… double-checking the base of the tent was secured against entry should it, or its’ friends, decide to invade!

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Finally Stateside… and the adventure was about to begin…

Check back to hear how it went!
Michelle

© March 2015 Michelle Payne


Standing Strong

03/09/2014

standing-strong

Standing Strong

Tell me my friend
how do you stand so strong
when the world is in chaos
when things go wrong?
Where do you find your strength
the courage to hold on?

At what point do you say
that’s enough?
At what point
does life get too rough?

You emblazon the sign of hope
but when is the end reached
on your emotional rope?

At what point do you crack?
When does it become too much?
Why do you not lash back?
Or let go of the hope that you clutch?

I watch
I wonder
I try to exemplify
just what I hear
I see
the example you give
the standards you set store by.

Then one day I see you cry
and instead of asking why
you let your emotions flow
reliving moments
where you felt an emotional blow.

It took quite a while to see
that letting such emotions flow
was a form of maturity.
That not fighting
not blaming
not shaming
can indeed set you free.

For strength and power
is not always aggressive
to be silent and not shout
doesn’t mean you’re submissive.

And eventually, one day
when years may have passed
don’t be surprised
if someone comes up to you and asks…

How do you stand so strong
when your world is in chaos
when things go wrong?
Where do you get your strength?
How do you hold on?

And when this happens
when their world is so dark
when they are losing heart
what wisdom would you then hope
or wish to impart?

Words © August 2014 Michelle Payne
Picture found circulating freely online


SL Marathon 2013 – Update – Running and the Race itself!

07/07/2013

So we’d had the project visits, been in Sierra Leone a few days, met new people and made new friends… and the other thing we all had in common was we’d flown over to run!

Now… my original plan had been to train up for and do the half-marathon… given I had done nothing really before but one treadmill run a week, pretty much died after 20 minutes max on said treadmill and had pushed myself to get out of the house and run on my own over several months (also thanks to Niron from ActivatePlus PT, because his personal training also gave me a kick up the ass!)… and I’d managed 12 miles non-stop by this point. Admittedly I had died with the legs refusing to move after that particular run… but I’d trained for it and had a positive mental attitude…

and then I met the mad marathoners on a bus in a Sierra Leone… most specifically the first bad influence… a certain Mr Downey… all 6 foot 3 or 4 of him who I think has been running for decades and has a “can do” attitude (helpful that when you work in the City)… and who it turns out, only lives about 10 minutes away from me… small world!

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Now Kev, remember at this point, I’m using a good photo of you… I do have another I could have used hahaha… anyway… it was at this point, that the words were uttered “well you could change your mind and do the full marathon”… several times… which I then considered. Apparently I then got a bit of a glint in my eye! But he was right. Nothing like a bit of logic. Run the half distance… and walk the rest if necessary. It was “DO-ABLE”. And so the seed was planted… which wasn’t helped by the fact that we all then kept discussing the possibility over the next couple of days!

Now, you’d think you’d need to rest your legs and acclimatise… given this is Sierra Leone, it’s bloody hot… and humid as hell. So the second evening (which must have been after the Bumbuna visit) I ended up going out for a little 2 mile run to see how it felt running in the heat… not on my own… this was with a total marathon nutter who’s been running decades (there were a few in attendance, obviously) who should reach his 30th marathon by the end of …. actually next week if you count Race to the Stones ultra… anyway, our rooms were right opposite each other and Jon was very helpful with advice… oh yes, here he is with said earlier bad influence!

Sierra Leone 2013 094

So that little run went well, nice and slow and able to breathe, but it was early evening… so… we ended up on the Saturday… yes, the day before the Marathon itself, going out at lunchtime in 88 degree heat, high humidity and running a 10km. We took it slow and careful and it was on the road. Very hot. And bearing in mind I had had an injury kick in around week 8 of my training, I felt it.

So that was that. I decided to stick with what I’d trained for, do the half marathon and be a happy bunny if I could complete it. Realistic goals. Even Kev looked a little relieved that night at the pre-race party when I went to get my t-shirt and race number… I definitely heard him mutter the words heat, death and conscience! I also double-checked with the Race Director who also advised against such a plan.

BUT… when you’re surrounded by high achieving types, who love nothing more than a challenge… when a certain Army major who shall remain nameless (ok, recently demobbed but still… yes Chez I mean you… oops) turns round and tells you not to be a pussy even if you were only military admin many decades ago… and THEN you meet another nutter and bad influence… yes Helen, I’m naming and shaming you… who says that they will stay with you, and walk the whole way if necessary, that it would be safe and therefore do-able… what can you do but just go for it!!! 🙂

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Trust me, she may look innocent but she’s not… especially where sambuca, dancing in London and almost missing my train home is concerned… but that’s another story! So anyway, what could I do but check to see if I could change my choice. And I could. So I did. Plan adopted. Run the half, walk the rest if necessary. Stay in group, do not go on own. And try to get an early night.

After a couple of hours sleep (4 actually, that was better than some got) and with full marathon race number pinned on… it was time to get on the coaches, get to the start line and see just how my legs would cope. There was an absolutely fantastic atmosphere there… loads of local people also turned up to participate, especially in the 5K race… likely helped by the fact that the President of Sierra Leone was also running it… and before you knew it, we had assembled, the President had opened the race and it was time to start! Here’s a few of the crazy participants before we lined up at the start…

Sierra Leone 2013 082

I was good. I stuck with the mad Geordie (aka Helen) and her group… until Paul decided (very wisely due to injuries) to stick with his half marathon plan and took the turning (I think around mile 6) and then Helen (yes, see earlier photo above) wanted to stop to take some photos of the kids who had high-5’d us… she said she’d catch me up so off I trotted alone (and trust me, trotting was the pace I adopted)… yes yes, I know I was supposed to stay with the Group, but I didn’t want to stop…

and from then on in it was a case of maintain pace and chat to people as either I reached them, or they passed me… but mainly I was running on my own… stop shaking your head Helen… you know you’ve forgiven me ;)… we were lucky that it was a bit cooler due to the early start and it wasn’t too hilly at that point… there were also lots of local people encouraging us in the early stages… and then we hit the quieter village back roads… or hills… the word “undulating” has taken on a whole new meaning… and by mile 11 I had to adopt a walk/trot tactic… power walk up those undulations and jog down… trust me, the energy expended trying to run up them would have killed me quicker than the heat!… and so I plodded on, finally reaching the turn back point and then the half marathon point just under my hoped for time of 2 hours 30.

Now that felt amazing, and when my runkeeper app kicked in and I knew I’d achieved it, it was quite an emotional moment! Anything hereafter would be a bonus… just needed to keep going… especially as it got hotter and the trail became narrower and more uneven… there was only one point I realised quite how serious everyone’s concerns were, and that’s when I saw one guy go down with heatstroke. They got him out and he’s ok, but I guess I hadn’t really been aware of just how dangerous high temps and humidity can be… so if anyone considers doing what I did, get some expert advice first and follow it *ahem*!

Now I’m not sure what everyone means by “hitting the wall” but I do know my quads kicked in around mile 20… not surprising given the problems I’d had since week 8 of training, but I was actually pleased… that’s not as crazy as it sounds. You see I’d also been running in custom orthotics, which had helped create the leg problems, and then the moldable orthotics I got, got fried so I was actually running in trainers that were only two weeks old with minimum mileage used, and brand new orthotics I bought and moulded the day before I flew out to Africa. Not exactly the best marathon plan in the world huh! So, the quad pain meant the orthotics were working properly and my legs/hips were actually balanced as I ran (trotted)… anyway, I pushed on and was still trotting & walking at the end and even managed a little sprint for the last 50 metres… well it felt like a sprint, thankfully I have seen no photo or video evidence to prove it was more like a slow motion pace! And looking at my timing splits afterwards… my overall average pace per mile had only dropped by 1 minute (for a newbie, I thought that was great) which included the extra walking!

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All in all, I finished the marathon with a time of 5 hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds … certainly didn’t feel like eating afterwards (but didn’t throw up)… and the legs were walking very woodenly until I got back to the hotel and had a shower. The next day, yep like a few people I had a couple of nasty-ish blisters, black toenails and one which came off… I ached a bit… but to be honest I’d had worse from a hard karate session… which showed that I’d listened to my body properly, adopted the right tactics for me and had taken it carefully and not pushed too much, especially given my lack of running experience. I did find it hard to rein back at the beginning when a lot of people raced off, but to me safety is key.

I loved it… and since I trained for the half… there just happened to be a half marathon two weeks later in the town I live… what could I do but go for it! So in the space of two weeks, I’d done a full marathon in Africa, a half marathon in Essex and a 5k in Essex… all personal bests obviously… with more to come… but you’ll have to venture back to read about those… especially a new challenge I’m creating with one of the mad marathoners I’ve mentioned previously.

If something is do-able then why not go ahead and challenge yourself, because life is just too short to do anything other than live it to the full… appreciate what you have, enjoy what you have… and if you are not in that situation, then it is down to you to change it, no-one else. The responsibility for your life, is yours alone. What can you do with yours and just what can you inspire others to achieve through your actions?

Links:

Street Child

Sierra Leone Marathon 2013

© 2013 Michelle Payne


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