Spine Challenger 2017 – Scary, Sublime and Surreal

23/01/2017

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I wanted a challenge… to be taken out of my comfort zone… and boy did the Montane Spine Challenger do just that! Like most things, a pivotal point in your life can seem very innocuous to start with, and I have a feeling that this race was one for me… the full effects not yet known or even felt. Writing this up a week later, some parts have slipped into the murky depths of memory and some are still very much at the forefront, much like any major event we look forward to, plan and then experience. So how did it go and just what kind of challenge did the event provide?

I travelled up two days beforehand as, given the propensity of our railway system for delays, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late for any kit checks and race briefings, plus I wanted to attend the pre-race Masterclass held by Ranger Ultras. I also had masses of luggage with me. I duly arrived in Castleton where I was staying (a 15 minute drive from Edale), sorted out lots of kit and then my friends arrived. They had originally been coming over just for dinner as a chance to catch up as we live quite some distance from each other, but wanted to see us off over the start line, so changed their plans to stay and do that! A fantastic emotional and mental boost to start with 🙂

Friday morning dawned and once I’d managed to re-arrange and sort most of my stuff which had, as usual, exploded throughout the whole room, we had a wander about and some pre-race celebratory cake. Now I hadn’t realised quite how far Edale was at this point, so a huge thanks to Helen and Len for ferrying me about! We drove over to Edale, they dropped me off for race registration and kit check while they went to check into a different venue for their second night. Here I caught up with with Harriet, Karl and Kate whom I had originally met at the Spine training weekend: Harriet had passed on some extremely helpful tips for kit over the past couple of months so I passed over some homemade cookies for them to have at the halfway point. I had originally thought of leaving a “positive message” for them at Hebden CP1 (Harriet and Kate were running Challenger, while Karl was crewing them) but given how people can react differently on races, changed it to cookies. I figured food is always good! I registered for the race and got my number (276) and then straight to kit check where of course I had to be the one to draw out the lucky dip number for a FULL check. Cue another explosion across the floor. Luckily I’d brought everything with me… plus a few extras!  Then it was back to Castleton to dump the kit off, have a cup of tea and back over to Edale for the race briefing and then the masterclass. That finished, a few steps down the road to the traditional Spine venue of the Ramblers Inn to meet up with everyone and grab some dinner. It’s amazing how quickly the time goes. En route I spied James who had just arrived and let him know where we were. Food, a quick catch up and hello to a few people… it was then back over to Castleton again and time to make sure everything was ready for the big day. The nerves now kicked in. I had already triple-checked everything before I left home. However after chatting to a few people at the pub, I decided to pack my yaktrax instead of Kahtoola spikes as they were supposedly more suitable if Kinder was especially icy or snowy, but I couldn’t get them in. Cue yet another major explosion across the room (I’m sensing a pattern here 🙂 ) as I spent the next hour re-arranging my whole pack and ending up with the sleeping bag, liner & bivvy bag on the outside. This doesn’t sound very “major” but I was concerned given the balance of the pack and that I hadn’t trained with it lopsided in weight. Still… it was the only solution I could find and by midnight I just wanted to go to sleep.

Race morning dawned and on too little sleep (I’d managed about 4-5 hours), it was time to get up, get out the door and over to Edale. Helen and Len were lifesavers once again and the pub (Castle Inn) had very kindly agreed to let them check us out so we were able to leave all our other luggage behind, which they came back and collected for us. The sun was coming up, trackers were placed on the runners… everyone seemed to be smiling… and off we all trotted to the start line.

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Photo by Racing Snakes

Sometimes it’s a good thing you don’t know what lies ahead for you!

The countdown… the cheers… trotting over the start line… James reminding me to not dash off too quickly… when we signed up, we had agreed to run this together. We were tentmates (#117) at the Marathon des Sables so I knew he was solid, someone you could absolutely and utterly trust… that if he said he would stay with you, he would… practical, kind and also generally a very positive person. Basically a great and fun big brother!

It felt good on the way to Jacobs Ladder, although once we hit there, the climb up felt laborious as I’m so slow on hills… but it got done and wasn’t too icy, and then onto Kinder… my stomach dropped… pretty much a white-out… howling stinging wind… head down, goggles on… too much a repeat of the Peak South 2 North race… when we encounter similar circumstances we’ve already experienced it can trigger not just the memories of what has previously happened, but also the mental thoughts… and straight away I was worrying about whether we’d be breaking trail, falling into bogs and encountering waist deep snow.

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Photo by Racing Snakes

The first challenge of the race had appeared much earlier than I had expected! Time to acknowledge that, accept it and mentally tell myself it’s just a thought and we don’t know what’s around the corner. The head game for this type of race is vital to finishing. We were trotting behind some others and that was the first mistake… don’t rely on those in front knowing where they’re going! We went about 400m off course, so then had to realise that and make our way back, with most, if not all, having gone past us. Back on track it was push on through until eventually we came to the roadhead at Snakes Pass. Luckily the white-out had eased and the snow wasn’t as deep as the previous race, so whilst we weren’t running as such, the path was easier to be seen and we were a lot quicker than I’d been last time. There were also some crazy people at the roadhead… grinning and waving… cameras in hand… I couldn’t work out who they were to start with until we got nearer… Helen and Len had decided to stop by and cheer us on… another fab boost! A quick top-up of water and off towards Bleaklow. More snow, lots of trudging although others were around so it didn’t seem too isolated. We got up to the top of Bleaklow Head although it looked different due to better weather this time, and once I realised where we were, knew we were on the descent to Torside Reservoir. A good point as we were approaching 16 miles in with Crowden on the other side. Now the descent last time had been very treacherous and technical, with lots of ice on the rocks, so this time I figured I’d try to actually run or shuffle down it. Big mistake number 2! The rocks were not runnable for me, so I opted for the grass at the side… which was very wet… and slippery.  Cue a bit of a scary fall… where I actually somersaulted over a couple of times! Once I’d come to a stop I was a bit winded and couldn’t move for a few minutes. James checked to make sure I was ok but I’m pretty sure I heard a laugh or two once he knew I wasn’t injured! Luckily no major issues and just some aches as a result. Lesson number 2… don’t drop your awareness and get ahead of yourself… pride cometh before a fall, literally!

After checking in with the roadhead safety team, and a whinge about the fall… we also saw Helen and Len here, with Helen carrying a goody bag of snacks in case we needed them and both offering hugs.  How wonderful to have people come all the way out and cheer you en route… the value of emotional support from others cannot be underestimated! It was time to cross over the reservoir, through some woody areas and get a shuffle on towards Wessenden. I remember telling James about seeing some wildlife here on the last race and remembering which turning to take! We then came across Matt and Ellie from Summit Films, who mentioned something along the lines of being 4th lady I think, which was a surprise, and certainly not a position I expected to stay at. I put it to the back of my head, because you don’t want to let anything derail you from your plan. Trying to push and catch others up wouldn’t be good for the main goal here, which was just to achieve a finish. Nothing much stands out in memory now for this part, apart from it being daylight and that much easier to see where we were going compared to the PS2N race and where I had got lost in the dark! We followed the correct route and just before we started the descent towards the A635, saw the most incredible colours of the sunset… absolutely stunning. We paused to take it in… this is part of the reward…

We reached the roadhead and checked in with the safety team, topped up water… 27 miles done… it felt a lot longer. Time to get a shuffle on and get down to the turning. We also met up with Paul Bridge as we shuffled around the reservoir , who I’d run (trudged) part of the PS2N with. Now the memory is rather faded but one thing that stands out is the awesome orange moon! Simply spectactular. Words cannot do it justice, and it was one of the highlights of this event! I remember eventually getting to Standedge I think it was, although I more remember a sign saying Harrop where the safety team were that we had to check in with. I topped up my water and was given a hot coffee and then heard a very familiar northern voice… Matt, another of our tentmates from MdS had driven out with his daughter to come and cheer us on! He’d also brought hot chicken noodle soup and lots of snacks!  What a huge boost at nighttime!! He wouldn’t let the puppy out for a cuddle though 🙂 We spent about 15 minutes here, but as James said, it was well worth it. Having something hot to eat, hugs, chatting… well you don’t want to lose too much time on races with chatting, but at challenges like these, having a friend make the effort to come and see you, bolster you emotionally… it’s priceless. Standing around however can make you cold, and my hands were getting freezing. Just as we were about to set off again, I made the (very wise as it turned out) decision to pause so that James could get my mitts out of my pack before the next leg. We said our goodbyes and turned towards the darkness of the moor.

The first full evening… cold temperatures and no clear path… the moor felt very creepy and I have, thankfully, shelved most of this bit to as far into my distant memory as possible. I think this was where it was wet, wet, wet… boggy ground… basically lots of streams that you tried not to have to walk through else you’d kill your feet. I lost sight of James for a short while (he had to speed up so as not to get cold) and every bit I could see looked the same as the rest. Trying to hop onto bits of grass but sinking into yet more water. Icy parts too so you couldn’t rush too much. As I’m not used to the terrain this meant I slowed down even more. Fear kicked in big time here and I could feel signs of anxiety start to rise: racing heart, dry mouth and the feeling of sheer panic… I felt a complete and utter wuss, and yelled out to James who unfortunately couldn’t hear me. So this was the next mental challenge… how do you cope when you want to dissolve into a heap of fear? Thanking my CBT training I paused, got some sugary snacks out, swilled some water round and took stock of the situation logically. I wasn’t on my own and knew James would be waiting. I had my GPS which I got out and checked… I’d veered a bit too much right… this wasn’t forever and it would end… plus I had all the safety gear I needed in an emergency. Suck it up and get moving! Literally a few minutes later I found some slabs as I moved towards the left! And then shortly afterwards caught up with James. Eventually the horror disappeared in our rear view and we made our way to Stoodley Pike… chatting to other racers as they passed by… I think it was around here (if not before) that the first MRT Challenger passed us even though he’d started 4 hours after us! My apologies to the other runner that was with us at this point but I’ve forgotten who it was… as we came off Stoodley we started to go too far left and had to hack back up to get on track… this was now on the “home run” to Checkpoint 1… the only major one we had in the whole 108 miles where we could access our drop bags, have a change of clothes and also hot food indoors! As for thoughts of running on the lovely descent through Callas Woods… unfortunately that had to be shelved due to the amount of ice underfoot… skidding and sliding instead felt to be the norm. Still we hit the bottom and then started on the up to CP1… only we seemed to get a bit lost, and I didn’t recognise the “main” type of road we were supposed to be on… checking the GPS it seemed we were following a parallel road and finally ended up on the correct one, but a bit further along… a nice little shuffle down to the turning and then carefully going over the very slippery, boggy, muddy route into checkpoint.

Volunteers… the help you get from these wonderful people cannot be appreciated enough… races would not exist with them! At Hebden when they  know you’re approaching, someone will be already waiting outside for you with your drop bag… the rule here is get out of the wind into the entrance, take off your disgustingly wet, boggy, mud covered, stinky shoes (and everyone’s will be!)… put your poles in a corner and then shuffle indoors. Kit bags go into the far end room where they stay! No going into the kitchen… make your way to the racers room on the other side where some very smiley, happy, friendly volunteers offer you hot cups of tea, coffee and juice… profer hot food and make sure there are plenty of snacks. Turnaround time is crucial on a race… as is knowing what will benefit you the most. James went straight in, had food and went to crash. We landed around 0100 hours and agreed to set the alarm for 0430. Remember all those kit explosions… it kinda happened here too 🙂 … instead of sleeping, I chose to have a hot shower and a complete change of kit and was glad I did: I felt a huge boost mentally, physically and emotionally. Time then to grab hot food, several hot drinks and then try for sleep.  As I was so tired, when I tried to sort my kit out ready for getting started on the second leg, I could not think coherently and ending up faffing. Recognising this I figured there was no point wasting more time, so grabbed the spare sleeping from my drop bag and headed to my assigned dorm. Thankfully no snorers!!! Eye mask on, ear plugs in. I managed about 20 minutes sleep before someone’s alarm at 0400 woke me.  I laid there for 10 minutes, debating the benefits of trying to get another 10 minutes sleep but gave up, telling myself I’d had just under 2 hours “rest” even though I hadn’t really slept. I also knew James would be up and ready quickly so got up in order to sort my kit bag out, re-tape my feet and have more hot drinks. We were out the door at 0505 hours.

Now I’m not sure how it happened but we got lost… before we’d even made it out of the climb to the road! Somehow we ended up higher and following a fence and then through a field until we found a road. Checking the GPS and then navigating back, we had gone way too far to the left and had then had to turn back before finally reaching the turn we’d originally taken to descend to the checkpoint. I reckon we lost about half an hour easily here. And it was cold. And raining. Not a great start to the second leg. Off we trotted only to miss the turn back onto the Pennine Way… were we really that tired? Probably!

Another moor… another cold and yucky wet wet wet boggy foggy dreary cold and icy hell… oh how I longed for the warmth of Hebden… I think it was here that we bumped into Paul again… and I think it was on this section that I took my second nasty fall, only this time there was no laughing or as James described it… not so dramatic! There were slabs on and off across this section and most were covered in ice… some moved… a lot were underwater… I stepped on one I thought was there to find it didn’t exist… my right foot plunged straight down into knee-height water, my shoes filling with water (thank god for knee high waterproof socks)… with the result that I slipped and instead of my left foot landing on the next concrete slab, my left knee did, with my whole body falling fully flat! Pain flooded through my leg and I can’t remember the last time I just wanted to sit, cry and give up. Shaking, the lads helped me up and after taking a minute to get my mental state back together, we carried on. I was beginning to really hate the wet moors areas!

However, it was now daytime and that meant energy levels rose a fair bit. Onto Cowling and in and out of the safety team check. I was very happy to see these as they carried some water which we could top up with. I originally expected none to be available so had packed a Sawyer filter to be on the safe side. Well those streams have sheep nearby… can’t be too careful regardless of how much peat there is to filter stuff out of it! We came out of the Cowling point and headed downhill… to another one of the best points in the race! Our lovely friend Mike (who was also an MdS tentmate) had driven over with his wife Zoe to come along and give us a hug. They’d also brought loads of snacks! As James said, it almost felt as if we were supported with a crew. We must have stopped for about 10-15 minutes and by the time we left, our emotional “tanks” had been filled up 🙂 Happy days! Thank you guys!!!

cowlingPhoto by Mike Fetherstone

It was then onto Lothersdale where the fabulous Hare & Hounds pub had put plastic sheeting downstairs on their carpet so that Spiners could pop in and get drinks and food if they wanted. They were also kind enough to allow me to use their facilities upstairs. Thanks folks, much appreciated.  We were still with Paul who was being crewed, so we stopped when he met Ste who then very kindly gave us some cuppa soup… before we all pushed on to Gargrave together. Paul had mentioned that there was a fish and chip shop so as we got nearer and nearer, I didn’t eat as much as I should have as I planned on a hot meal there. I remember passing Maxine when we were beside the canal who looked to be in really good spirits, albeit she was having problems with her feet… she had one spare pair of socks but was holding onto them as it was boggy going up to Malham. I had been planning on changing my socks too, but after hearing that, decided to push on and change once we got that far. Anyway, we reached Gargrave to find Helen and Len had come out again. Helen has since said she was really worried about me because I was shaking so much. It had gotten much warmer on the second day, so I didn’t have my insulating layer on. This also meant I had a layer less to protect my shoulders from the pack weight… so much so that I was in agony just walking and they had to help me off with it. We walked around trying to find the fish & chip shop, forgetting it was a Sunday evening and therefore closed! My heart sank. I’d been so looking forward to that. Food is energy and hot food even more so going into night hours when you’re so cold. Anyway, nothing to do but put the insulating layer on, get sorted and get going. We had also decided by this point that we needed to try and get some sleep so would push to Malham and bivvy out before heading for the CP1.5 at Malham Tarn. Now while we had encountered lots of muddy soul sucking squelching mud that was more than ankle deep (the wet conditions and rain had been more than helpful in this regard)… what was to come was absolutely draining. No wonder Maxine hadn’t wanted to change her socks! It was a different version of hell, horror… extremely slow going… how anyone can run in that stuff is beyond me! It felt to take forever… and probably did!

Malham arrived like a beacon of life… Paul directed us to where we could bivvy and be out of the rain… not wanting to waste time, we got our stuff out and settled down to sleep… with a local dog nearby howling. A lot! The rain had soaked through my thermarest so I couldn’t put it inside my bivvy, which I think contributed to a lack of heat. There was a bit of a breeze and it felt really cold, so I got my little hotties hand warmers out of my gloves and stuck them in the sleeping bag with me, wrapping everything up but one small gap to breath through. About two hours later, and after what must have been only 20-40 minutes of sleep max, it was time to get up, have some food and get going again. There were some toilet facilities there with a mirror… I don’t know if it was as a result of side winds during the previous section, or whether it was where the cold had got into the bivvy bag, but my right eye had swelled up very badly… I looked like I’d been punched 😦 … nothing to be done but ignore it.. time to change socks, layers were put on, water was heated (my coleman gas wasn’t brilliant but did work), some rehydrated food eaten and then we were off… homeward bound! We reached the CP1.5 where the lovely John Bamber greeted us and gave us a very welcome hot drink, checking to make sure we were all ok. Two guys came in while we were there, but unfortunately they weren’t going any further. It was lovely and cosy indoors but we needed to crack on… spirits were high as we went through a wooded area… and then it was onto Malham Tarn… climbing, steps… going up, limestone… hard on feet that had already been tenderised like pieces of steak… darkness, fog… I pretty much followed Paul and James for this section… how on earth they made the navigation look so easy is beyond me. Had I been on my own I would have taken ages and been micro-navving with my GPS! Next up was Fountains Fell which seemed to go on forever. Luckily although it was cold, it wasn’t icy enough that I needed my spikes especially as I’d forgotten to swap out my yaktrax for microspikes! And then it was onto the horror of all horrors. I really don’t do heights, have a fear of them… I get physically shaky and nauseous… so I don’t usually climb up mountains! Or big hills! Ladders either if I can help it. I had also wondered what John Bamber meant when he’d asked if I’d been up Pen-y-Ghent before. He must have been either inwardly chuckling or thinking what a daft fool when I said No!

Now I have no idea what it looks in the daytime… but in the nighttime all I could see what a dark outline to my left and right, big rocks to be used as some kind of steps going straight up… and drops to either side that would mean you die. Paul went up ahead, and I think there were a couple of others around too… James was very kind and stayed behind me, encouraging me each step of the way like you would a child. At one point it felt so steep I couldn’t even lever myself up on my feet, but ended up with both knees on a slab thinking I was going to throw up. However… what are the options when you get stuck? Go back down, quit and whimper and wait for hours for someone to rescue you… or suck it up, and (very very slowly) follow someone’s direction, someone who you trust so you just keep going? I obviously chose the latter, and eventually got to the top. I’m very glad that James didn’t tell me he’s taken his youngest up there in the daytime… I’d have felt even more of a wimp! I’m also very very glad we didn’t have bad weather… apparently previous Spine editions have had 50mph winds gusting and black ice on the rocks while they’ve scrambled over. Was the horror now over? Nope… now we had to navigate down without falling down the side! By this time it was Monday morning, but we were high up and there was so much fog and mist it still felt like night! Eventually we started on the descent, and at one point we almost got lost again with the lads ending up climbing over a wall… I think it was on this section but my memory could be wrong… and I went back to the road I thought we should take… to see Pavel and Eugenie pass by… they’d set off 24 hours after us and were going to be going all week. Amazing!  Eventually we descended towards Horton… and there was some really good terrain that would normally be runnable… however at this point, on less than an hour’s sleep it was more a stumble. I’ve never really had hallucinations before, but kept thinking I was seeing Spine support crew because there appeared to be a moving blue object… until we almost reached said blue item to find it was a huge wheelie bin 😀 … good job it was then that we came upon the Pen-y-Ghent cafe! Absolute stars… hot bacon, fried egg and ketchup sandwiches and mugs of tea ordered, nothing has ever tasted so good… I also needed to change. I had expected it to be cold going up Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent so had added a pair of RAB polartec powerstretch over my leggings and under my waterproofs. This had meant that although I was warm enough in the night on the climb, for the rest of the time I had over-heated… given the gaiters and shoes were clad in mud too, it was rather a messy change over… luckily the toilet facilities in the car park had running water to wash hands before eating!

Short of a disaster, we knew we had enough time to make it although that didn’t mean loitering. It also didn’t mean going over the wrong bridge which I very nearly did, much to the amusement of Paul and James! More ascent, more fields… and eventually onto the Cam Road. Paul had dropped back a little bit and seemed to be wanting to have a moment to himself, so I hurried to catch James up. We came to the turn off and saw Karl there who said Harriet was about an hour behind. We trundled on, the road seemingly never ending… and saw a runner disappear off towards the muddy hill… we followed but there was no clear path. I then looked back and saw Harriet up above!

We must have been about 1.5 to 2 miles away from the end at this point, so James gave me a verbal kick up the backside and told me to run… have to work for it, we haven’t come this far to let anyone pass by now! Well… to coin a phrase, I pegged it down that hill like I never believed I could. It felt to be a 6.30 min mile pace (although was probably more like 8)… and my sleeping bag stuff had come off from my pack. James re-attached it but once we started running again, it came off again. Nothing for it but to tuck it into the crook of my arm, move my poles into that hand and then try to balance with my other hand as we bounced down the muddy boggy hill, trying not to fall over. I veer between dreading there being video footage of this bit as I probably looked really deranged or wanting to see it in case it looked awesome and I actually was running really fast… anyway, James had so much energy he bounded on ahead, opening up the gates for me so I could run through… and then it was onto the paths… where I saw two figures waving, iphone in hand (eek… I’ll leave you with one guess as to who they were…) before I turned onto the main road and ran up to the hall. Instead of running through a finish line triumphantly with poles aloft, instead was a gasping, red-faced, huddle of a human being hunched over. Realisation suddenly dawning… it was done… James came over and gave me a big hug and I could barely hold the tears back. Such a very surreal and sublime moment…

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54 hours, 12 minutes and 13 seconds 🙂

I broke the Montane Spine Challenger… and 4th lady at that!

As for injuries after such a challenge… no real blisters anywhere, some toenails that will likely come off and a bit of a (temporary I hope) loss of feeling in a couple of toes. All expected effects of the pounding over such a distance and terrain. The only other issue I had on course really was a painful lump from that lopsided pack… the shoulder muscle on one side developed into a swelling a bit bigger than the size of a golf ball… I didn’t even have any DOMS and could walk down stairs easily the day after. Although I think I was slurring my words that evening at dinner due to the sleep deprivation *oops*.

Congratulations to all racers on Spine Challenger, the MRT Challenger and the full Spine Race, especially my other two MdS tentmates, Gwynn and Lee who I dot watched over the rest of the week once I’d left Hawes (and seen Lee into his CP2)! What an epic event (yeah I know… cheesy words… but oh so true).

A huge huge thanks to those who came out to support us en route (Helen, Len, Matt, Lucy, Mike and Zoe) as well the other racers who encouraged at different points, Paul and his support Ste, the Spine Safety Team and all volunteers who looked after us so well. And most especially to James… I certainly could not have done that without you!

A challenge like no other… the only problem now… is what do I do next!

Wishing you all a adventurous week ahead 🙂
Michelle


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


Refuge

07/11/2015

Although I’ve mentioned the charity Refuge briefly on this blog before, this charity does such much needed work that I think it should be highlighted again, and also because the Charity covers the same subject matter that I work with as a volunteer counsellor at a local charity… that of domestic violence and abuse.

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Deliberately hurting, harming and damaging another person shouldn’t happen, but it does. Most people don’t want to acknowledge the existence of such abuse, but it affects so many that every single human being is likely to know at least one person who has experienced a form of it. I mentioned some personal thoughts here when I spoke about choosing this charity to fundraise for with my Triple Continent Challenge.

When people talk to me about domestic abuse, they often have the misguided and wrong belief that it only occurs when a person physically hurts another, such as punching and kicking, black eyes, broken limbs or, a bit further down the scale, torture or murder.

No.

Yes the physical abuse happens. Way too often. But domestic abuse isn’t just this.  Yes, it often does include physical violence, but what about sexual abuse… the partner who has been “conditioned” to never say no to sex? Who is shared with that partner’s friends… pimped? Or worse?

What about financial abuse? All money taken away, no financial support given, not allowed to get a job which could gain the victim some financial freedom?

What about emotional abuse?

Psychological abuse?

Where the victim ends up not knowing what to think, believe?

Where they are repetitively told… conditioned… to believe that they are worth less… worth nothing… that they deserve the treatment they get, that they create it because if it wasn’t for them not doing some thing “right” (such as dinner not on the table at a set time, the cat or dog making too much noise, towels not in a straight line, the children not being quiet, the weather… raining outside… the list is endless!) the abuse wouldn’t happen. It’s not about what someone isn’t doing…

Manipulation, fear and intimidation that is created to maintain control and power.

And this happens across all cultures, all societies, genders, sexuality, income levels, types of relationship, ages.

Just because there are no bruises, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. In the UK the stats are around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who experience domestic abuse and/or violence. Horrifying numbers. And people don’t speak up, don’t speak out. It’s seen as shameful and weak to have somehow gotten into such a situation in the first place, let alone put up with it for whatever reason (threats of death, children being snatched, taken into care, pets being hurt, being stalked, hunted, not able to survive, no money, no help, no support, no friends, no family, no home, no job)…

Two women a week are murdered by their partner or ex partner, three women a week will kill themselves because they feel they have no other way out from the hell that they are living.

There is help, but it takes a huge amount of courage to take that step forward… a leap of faith… because to everyone else that abuser may be a charmer, wonderful, kind even… because no-one else knows what goes on behind closed doors… because you might not be believed…

and this is where Refuge (in the UK) can help.  They have a helpline which is available 24/7, 7 days a week. They have refuges so someone daring to reach out and escape will not be homeless on the street.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of domestic abuse and/or violence, please get in touch with them.  The Helpline number is: 0808 2000 247.

If you want to know more about domestic abuse, the work that Refuge do, fundraise for them, volunteer with them, or if you need help from them, then please visit their website by clicking here.

Have a great Friday and weekend folks, and perhaps give a hug to someone who needs one!
Michelle

© 2015 Michelle Payne


HARP – Southend’s Homeless Charity, Running and Christmas Meals

30/10/2015

As the nights now draw in and the the colder, darker and wetter weather kicks up another notch, it’s perhaps rather timely that the next Charity I wanted to add to the list on this site, and one that I had a leaflet to hand about, was HARP.

The Charity

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HARP is an action-based charity that is located and works in the town where I live, Southend. It aims to help the local homeless by providing essential services and emergency housing and works with people on a long-term basis so that they can hopefully get off the streets and rebuild their lives. They have two charity shops, offer emergency services including a drop-in centre for advice, hot meals and washing facilities and also offer supported accommodation. When someone is feeling hungry, alone, vulnerable… when they have no home and no shelter… when they feel lost and have no hope… HARP is there to help.

From their website, the services they offer:

  1. Emergency Services at the Bradbury Centre: advice, support, a hot meal, help in finding emergency accommodation
  2. Acorn Housing – a supported housing scheme for single people;
  3. HARP Restart – supports ex-offenders who are receiving treatment for substance misuse with not just hostel accommodation but rehabilition programmes;
  4. Learning for Life – provides accommodation and life skills to support those who have difficulty maintaining a tenancy, including support for the long-term homeless who often have very complex needs.

They do amazing, and staggering, work. From their website, the following facts:

  • HARP provided 3,900 food parcels and night packs in 2013, and over 4,500 in 2014/2015;
  • HARP’s volunteers are crucial to keeping the charity afloat. We have approximately 60 volunteers across our sites including our charity retail shops in London Road and Hamlet Court Road (both in Westcliff), including kitchens which are all run by volunteers,
  • All food donated to HARP is used in food parcels, night packs and for meals at The Bradbury Centre, the emergency hostel and our other specialist hostel;

As with any charity, help from the general public is vital to their ongoing work. There are many ways to help, from donating money, donating goods, fundraising and volunteering by donating time.

The Running

And for those runners who visit here, please note that they also have a local annual run… Harp24! This is a 24 hour race for either relay teams or solo runners, of 4.2 mile cross-country loops , and which raises a lot of money for the charity… so the more entrants, the more money it generates to help the charity provide the above services within the Community. The first of these races was in 2012 and it has grown in size every year since… over 300 runners for 2015! I had the pleasure of participating last year as a solo runner, one of only two idiots who ran with a weighted pack… and what a fantastic party atmosphere it had… friendly competition, camping, friends, families, children playing… unfortunately it clashed with my 8in8 marathon challenge this year so I couldn’t go.

Fab race reports available online from a variety of clubs, including one from Flyers Southend which can be read here and one from Rochford Running Club which can be found here, you might even spot me in one of their 2014 photos!

So for those of you who fancy a challenge, why not keep an eye out for next year’s event… enter a team or go solo, run for fun or use it as training for an ultra or stage race… and for the seriously crazy (or normal, depending upon your perspective 😉 ), how about going for a 100+ mileage and becoming a centurion?

And so to the last part of this post’s title…

Christmas Meals!

It’s a little while off, but at the beginning of December, HARP will hopefully be kicking off their yearly Christmas Meals campaign/appeal again, which I participated in last year. I know that there are many appeals at this time of year, but imagine being on the streets with absolutely nothing, which is awful enough during any day… but at Christmas when homes light up with their decorations, trees and families gathering… when wherever you go, you hear about people’s plans for eating, drinking, having fun… belonging, being cared about, being loved, being wanted… what about those who don’t have food or a roof over their heads, those who don’t have any of this, have no-one? HARP aims to provide all who turn up a christmas meal at their Centre and these are funded entirely by donation. A donation doesn’t just provide a meal though… it also gives people access to the Charity’s full range of services which in turn can then ripple out to create new beginnings for them. So, for those who are interested, this is a heads up to please keep an eye out for when that appeal happens.

And lastly,  for those that would like to help this fantastic Charity in any of the ways listed above, please click here for their website and here for their Facebook page, where you can find further information on doing just that.

Wishing you all a wonderful Friday and week ahead 🙂
Michelle


Slow Dance

08/04/2015

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Slow Dance

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round,
or listened to rain slapping the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight,
or gazed at the sun fading into the night?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Do you run through each day on the fly,
when you ask “How are you?”, do you hear the reply?

When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow,
and in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch, let a friendship die,
’cause you never had time to call and say hi?

You better slow down, don’t dance so fast,
time is short, the music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
you miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life isn’t a race, so take it slower,
hear the music before your song is over.

~~ David L. Weatherford ~~
Posted with permission
http://www.davidlweatherford.com/
(Picture found circulating freely online)


Challenge 2 of 3 – Done!

18/09/2014

I don’t have a lot of time tonight as at the time of drafting this, it’s only a matter of hours before I’m off to the airport… time to get to the States for the next part of my challenge, so a brief update really.

Racing the Planet / 4 Deserts – Roving Race – 250 km across Madagascar

WOW!

If you had to sum up a whole experience into one word, that is what springs to mind when I think of what I’ve just done.  Followed by silence as I think of how to adequately describe what has been just an absolutely amazing time in my life.

It was not easy and I think that overall, it was a good job I had no experience to base my expectations on, because if I’d known quite how tough it would be, how ill I would feel in parts, and some of the mental challenges, then I may not have been so quick to sign up.  That being said, I think it went really well for my first stage run… and yes, I finished it.

One thing I really liked was the comms/cyber tent package… it meant that not only could you read emails from people who wanted to send you support and to let you know they were thinking about you, but I also had a blog, so folks back home could not only see updates from Racing the Planet/4deserts, but also get to have a brief snapshot of what you were experiencing.  We didn’t have access to it after the end of Stage 5, so if anyone has sent emails that I haven’t acknowledged, my apologies.  They will be sent to us once the admin staff get a moment to catch their breath.  If anyone hasn’t read them, wants to, or wants to read my thoughts during the stages, as well as an extra one I added last week once I was back in the country, please go visit this page, and click on my surname:

http://www.4deserts.com/beyond/madagascar/blogs

It wasn’t all running… on some of the terrain that was not possible… there was walking, a bit of climbing, wading through rivers, trying not to get stuck in mud and rice fields, fall off log bridges, and hopping around on the spot when stung by some kind of buzzy thing… there were tears, laughter, a lot of smiling… there were falls, injuries, sickness… there was walking and star gazing through the night, fantastic awesome scenery, there were blisters… my god how many blisters… nearly everyone I think had some and by the end of the week as everyone went to get hot water for drinks and dinner, it seemed as if everyone was hobbling.

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But over and above that, I believe there are two things which make these events what they are… one being the individual’s drive to challenge themselves, to not give up, to achieve… to battle whatever dark moments they have, to enjoy the lighter ones and then often reaching out to others to help them do the same… and the main one, quite simply, the people.  Because it’s the people you meet, how you get on, that create the whole experience: both the individual aspects and the collective: your tent mates, the people you talk to a little bit, the people you talk to a lot, those you help and those who help you… an experience like this, it seems to strip everything away… all the materiality, the day to day aspects of life that often we allow to pile on top of us until what we truly want, who we truly want or crave to be, gets swallowed whole by responsibility, belief patterns, expectations of the self and others, by the necessities of the life that we have created. On an experience like this, we can strip that away and see who we truly are… it allows us time to be reflective and face our fears, our worries, our demons… it gives us space to think, to feel… to just be.  Is it like that for others? I don’t know… these are just my thoughts as I type… I’m sure there will be many more once I actually take time to “stop”, let everything assimilate and review the whole journey I’ve been on.

I am extremely glad I jumped into this, and that Madagascar was a starting point for me… what a wonderful adventure to start with! The memories it has given me, the experience for what I am thinking of potentially doing in the future… but mainly, the amazing people I’ve met and become friends with and who I hope will be in my life for a long time to come, and not forgetting the overall memories that I am left with. If anyone is considering doing something like this, then I would say absolutely, go for it, without a shadow of a doubt.

Now, it’s time to get psyched up and ready for Grand to Grand! 273km from the Grand Canyon up to the Grand Staircase. The feet are still somewhat painful… the shoulders are still bruised, and the pack this time seems even heavier… I blame the increase in my blister kit rather than sweets in my daily rations 😉

And once again a reminder… that I am also trying to raise funds and awareness for the UK charity Refuge… who help people get out of domestic abusive / violence relationships and to safety. If you would like to share on social media, with friends, with family… my charity page link is: http://www.justgiving.com/michelle-payne4.

Wishing you all a great week ahead.
Michelle

© September 2014 Michelle Payne


If You Want to Change the World, Love a Woman

17/09/2014

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If You Want to Change the World, Love a Woman

If you want to change the world… love a woman-really love her.
Find the one who calls to your soul, who doesn’t make sense.
Throw away your check list and put your ear to her heart and listen.
Hear the names, the prayers, the songs of every living thing-
every winged one, every furry and scaled one,
every underground and underwater one, every green and flowering one,
every not yet born and dying one…
Hear their melancholy praises back to the One who gave them life.
If you haven’t heard your own name yet, you haven’t listened long enough.
If your eyes aren’t filled with tears, if you aren’t bowing at her feet,
you haven’t ever grieved having almost lost her.

If you want to change the world… love a woman-one woman
beyond yourself, beyond desire and reason,
beyond your male preferences for youth, beauty and variety
and all your superficial concepts of freedom.
We have given ourselves so many choices
we have forgotten that true liberation
comes from standing in the middle of the soul’s fire
and burning through our resistance to Love.
There is only one Goddess.
Look into Her eyes and see-really see
if she is the one to bring the axe to your head.
If not, walk away. Right now.
Don’t waste time “trying.”
Know that your decision has nothing to do with her
because ultimately it’s not with who,
but when we choose to surrender.

If you want to change the world… love a woman.
Love her for life-beyond your fear of death,
beyond your fear of being manipulated
by the Mother inside your head.
Don’t tell her you’re willing to die for her.
Say you’re willing to LIVE with her,
plant trees with her and watch them grow.
Be her hero by telling her how beautiful she is in her vulnerable majesty,
by helping her to remember every day that she IS Goddess
through your adoration and devotion.

If you want to change the world… love a woman
in all her faces, through all her seasons
and she will heal you of your schizophrenia-
your double-mindedness and half-heartedness
which keeps your Spirit and body separate-
which keeps you alone and always looking outside your Self
for something to make your life worth living.
There will always be another woman.
Soon the new shiny one will become the old dull one
and you’ll grow restless again, trading in women like cars,
trading in the Goddess for the latest object of your desire.
Man doesn’t need any more choices.
What man needs is Woman, the Way of the Feminine,
of Patience and Compassion, non-seeking, non-doing,
of breathing in one place and sinking deep intertwining roots
strong enough to hold the Earth together
while she shakes off the cement and steel from her skin.

If you want to change the world… love a woman, just one woman.
Love and protect her as if she is the last holy vessel.
Love her through her fear of abandonment
which she has been holding for all of humanity.
No, the wound is not hers to heal alone.
No, she is not weak in her codependence.

If you want to change the world… love a woman
all the way through
until she believes you,
until her instincts, her visions, her voice, her art, her passion,
her wildness have returned to her-
until she is a force of love more powerful
than all the political media demons who seek to devalue and destroy her.

If you want to change the world,
lay down your causes, your guns and protest signs.
Lay down your inner war, your righteous anger
and love a woman…
beyond all of your striving for greatness,
beyond your tenacious quest for enlightenment.
The holy grail stands before you
if you would only take her in your arms
and let go of searching for something beyond this intimacy.
What if peace is a dream which can only be re-membered
through the heart of Woman?
What if a man’s love for Woman, the Way of the Feminine
is the key to opening Her heart?

If you want to change the world…love a woman
to the depths of your shadow,
to the highest reaches of your Being,
back to the Garden where you first met her,
to the gateway of the rainbow realm
where you walk through together as Light as One,
to the point of no return,
to the ends and the beginning of a new Earth.

by Lisa Citore
Picture found circulating freely online


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