Out of the Comfort Zone – Spine Challenger


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/.


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:

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

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

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

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 🙂


12 Life Lessons I Learned from my Cat



12 Life Lessons I Learned From My Cat

1. Pounce on opportunity. He who hesitates, misses catching the passing lizard.

2. Patience. Infinite patience.

3. Concentration. A cat studying an opportunity just beyond his grasp is the epitome of focused attention. He doesn’t even blink as he tunes out all distractions. His body is completely still except for his wildly twitching tail releasing his nervous energy.

4. Nothing is worth disturbing your beauty sleep.

5. Catnap. Even a few moments of shut-eye is refreshing.

6. If you’re happy, purr. Show your appreciation by letting people know that you like what they do.

7. Do cat stretches – and other yoga poses, and try Qigong. Especially as we age, gentle stretching is one of the best things we can do for our bodies.

8. Wrestle with your best friend. She likes it when you’re playful.

9. Eat when you’re hungry and not by the clock.

10. Ask for what you want. If you are lovable and patient, you will probably get it.

11. You can’t have everything you want. If you put your claws where they don’t belong, you’re going to get spanked.

12. Revel in life’s simple pleasures. A ball of string is magic. Catnip is heavenly.

~~ Origin: Unknown ~~

Affirmation of the Week




Life. For the majority of us it can seem to be somewhat of a treadmill even though, these days, we have more appliances and services to help us get things done. There never seems to be enough time in the day, and often it seems to be slipping through our fingers like slivers of water. I don’t know about anyone else who visits here, but I know that I have a never-ending list of things that need to be done, which of course never gets fully completed and which could then lead to me getting stressed. When that happens, I know it’s time take some deep breaths 🙂

I know that when I feel rushed, I have the potential to get stressed. Likewise when I don’t get enough sleep or when it feels as if I haven’t had chance all week to just sit and be. Stress of course, to some degree, is good. It keeps us alert, helps to keep us motivated and pushes us to not be lazy. But of course there are also many downsides to stress, including health, attitude and behaviour to others… however I’m not going to focus on those aspects because that’s not what this affirmation is about.

One by-product of me getting stressed is my temper! Just like anyone else, I can get more than a little fiery. In fact I have been known to blow up a furnace in the past and when that happened, watch out to anyone who got in my way! Thankfully the ignition button has slowed down a lot over the years, life, experience, understanding and taking responsibility has tempered it and also removed a lot of the trigger buttons.

I would ask… what do you think when you see someone get stressed and fired up? When you see them lose their temper? When a man or woman gets so angry, so riled up or so upset that they start ranting and raving? If it’s a stranger or someone you don’t know very well… doesn’t that just make you want to back away, doesn’t it make you look at them in a different way than if they had been talking in a calm and rational manner? What about if it’s someone close to you? Their ranting then would probably affect you differently, but does it affect how you see them, think about them, feel about them at that point in time?

What about if the person losing their temper is you? How do you think you’re coming across at that time?

What about if you see someone acting in a calm and dignified manner? Dealing with something that is obviously awkward or even painful, but they are dealing with it in a quiet and considered way? When I see people doing that, I used to think, I wish I reacted that way. I wish I was that way. And over the years this is something I’ve definitely tried to incorporate into my life, and think I’ve rather successfully become!

You know what, at the end of the day we can be calm, if we want to be. Because it’s a choice. Our reactions can be changed, automatic defence mechanisms unlearned, new responses learned. If we choose to do so. And if we really really wanted to be able to do so, we can be calm, to be able to think about our responses before flying off the handle, to speak in a careful manner so as not to hurt someone else because really, aren’t we just subconsciously (thereby automatically) lashing out… and aren’t those “reactions” due to something we perceive as negative such as rejection, fear of failure, hurt, expectation, attachment or ultimately a lack of self worth, belief and esteem? If we choose to be a more loving and kind person overall who considers, feels and therefore behaves in a calm manner, then surely we should be able to (eventually) become such?

Questions for this week are:

How calm a person do you believe you are?
When do you fly off the handle?
Why do you fly off the handle?
What small step can you take to calmness?
What benefit will calmness bring to your life?
How will your calmness benefit others around you?

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead ♥

Image origin: Unknown

© 2012 Michelle Payne


Affirmation of the Week



Tiredness… it’s something I battle, will push through, work through… because there never seems enough time in the day to get everything done so I am making a conscious choice this week to get more sleep!

But why should this be a gift? I’ve often thought about this on the way to work while I doze on the train… why should sleep be a gift? It’s something we do every day, it’s absolutely necessary in order that we can live… so how and why should we phrase it as a gift?

I think that in today’s society which is so fast-paced, technology aware, everything has to be now, now now… instant gratification, instant communications, instant information… this all leads to to stress and pressure, and sleep is one of the first things to go when we have deadlines to meet.

I also figure that potentially part of this may even go back to childhood… I presume I wasn’t the only one… but I remember being sent to bed as a punishment, being allowed to stay up late as a treat… retreating to the bedroom to read a book so as not to get into trouble… and this kinda makes me think now that sleep ended up falling into the subconscious territory of “bad”, of a place to be avoided. Anyone else agree?

Yet I need my sleep, love my sleep, hate getting up early in the morning… each week I *intend* to get into a regular routine of going to bed at a certain time so as to get at least 7 hours sleep (I generally need 8 per night but on weekends can sleep for longer)… but does this actually happen? Heck, no! Why not? Well each evening there is always one little job that needs doing, one email that needs reading… nothing actually that can’t wait until the next day… yet I do these things at the expense of sleep by postponing it.

Sleep… so many benefits… here are a few:

improved concentration
memory formation
repairing damage done to the body’s cells during the day
keeps your heart healthy
may prevent cancer
reduces stress
reduces inflammation
makes you more alert
bolsters memory
helps to lose weight
makes you smarter
reduces risk for depression
it makes you a nicer person

I found this site (among many others) through Google, in case anyone wants to look up more information:


I have to say not only do I agree with the above list but can also identify with the nicer person one *grin*, lack of sleep makes for a very grumpy person… so this week I WILL achieve this, I choose to achieve this… and hopefully some of these benefits won’t be too far behind!

Anyone else joining in?

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead ♥

© 2012 Michelle Payne

Picture by Josephine Wall


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