As Jayne has already mentioned, Jamsin Paris is a badass and I almost feel bad celebrating my success on the recent Spine Challenger race which is the ‘fun run’ version of the epic 268 mile race along the Pennine Way. However, this race had a little more at stake for me than normal having DNF’d my last two races, so I’m still proud of what I have achieved. I really needed a win to prove to myself that I’m actually a competent runner and overcome a tough couple of years suffering with mental health issues.
Training had gone well and with a relocation to the Lake District, I had a great playground to get back to peak fitness as well as some great ‘hill’ training.
My race started with an unexpected drama in that my goggles weren’t accepted during the kit check despite protecting my eyesight from gravel storms waiting for chinook helicopters to land next to me. This isn’t me having a dig at the safety team as they do a fantastic job and are just looking out for my well-being but it’s funny that a £10 pair from Amazon are seen as more protective. This meant I had to source some quickly as didn’t have anything else to offer. Luckily a member of the safety team kindly lent me his and managed to check in without further delays. The Spine Challenger requires an extensive kit list to ensure you’re prepared for the inevitable winter weather which is synonymous with this race (although we got off very lightly this year). This meant my pack weighed just over 12kg including water and only a Paramo jacket as anything extra on top of the compulsory kit list. I’ve written a separate review of the kit here.
Race day came and the nervous chatter and laughter was rife as everyone did their final kit checks before heading to the start line. All I had in my head was how much I NEEDED to complete this race which didn’t help with the inevitable pre-race nervous poo.
I was running with Jayne and our goal was simple – complete the race and try and enjoy it, if that was possible. Before we knew it, our first ascent awaited, Jacob’s Ladder. We were in good spirits with mountain rescue teams and other volunteers providing well timed morale with hot brews and cakes along the route as the miles just seemed to fly by, even when we were getting blown off our feet heading up to Stoodley Pike. Some runners were even commenting on how they just ‘crawled’ to avoid the wind! This was probably the first testing part of the race so far but we were soon at the pike itself along with a few other runners taking refuge from the wind in a huddle like formation. In spite of this morale was still relatively high especially as we were descending into Hebden giving us the warm fuzzy feeling of reaching CP1. That morale soon faded. Once down, we were met with some more cheeky ascents, fields and tiny stiles to overcome before you even reached the long road that leads to the final descent down the muddy track to CP1. There was a distinct lack of conversation during these miles. I was also dry heaving at this point as my stomach took a turn for the worst and we were further delayed by taking a short detour in to someone’s back garden! However, we eventually made it to the Scout Centre and an instant feeling of warmth.
We made a plan to stay here for 4 hours with a 2-hour sleep sandwiched in. The CP was great, especially the kitchen staff who filled our bellies with great food. Sleep was hard due to the constant turnover of runners coming in and out so ear plugs would have been a treat here. Our initial plan was to push straight through CP1, but after listening to some experienced vets of the race, we decided against it and we were both so glad we did. Even that short time gave a new lease of life to the legs and our morale. We set off into the darkness once more with our next milestone around 40 miles away at CP 1.5.
It wasn’t long before my stomach failed me again. There’s obviously something amiss with my race nutrition as I was suffering with stomach cramps and sickness every few miles or so which really fucked with my head. The daytime was a bit of a blur until we reached a co-op. Yes, a fucking Co-op. McCoy’s crisps were devoured in seconds and a pre-packed sandwich had never tasted so epic. The route to Malham followed through a lot of fields and really dragged as we hit the town and looked on in envy at people hitting the pubs for a nice Sunday roast, including some of the runners! We needed to hit CP 1.5 before we could rest and as darkness set in, Malham Cove and the seemingly everlasting route around Malham Tarn again chipped away at morale. CP 1.5 finally arrived but you’re only allowed to stay here for 30 minutes so it was another quick kit change, get some scoff and get back on the route with around 28 miles to go with no more Cps along the way. I was in a pretty bad way by this point so Jayne thankfully took the lead and I switched off as I just stared down at her feet and followed along until we reached the diversion at Pen-y-Ghent and descended into the village below and a quick pit stop in a café that stayed open for the race. I struggled to eat but managed a few mouthfuls of beans on toast and just wanted to get back on the route, especially with around 18 miles until the finish.
The final stretch began with the long slog up Cam road to the top of Cam Fell. Jayne was in need of a pick me up, So I whacked on some Greatest Showman soundtrack to help pick our heads back up. Another age passed of dark silence with only the noise of our footsteps filling the void before a man appeared waving banana bread. He was my saviour.
Another (a bit of a theme here) long slog of me following Jayne’s footsteps and we began our descent into Hardraw. I needed to navigate now, so switched back on and got us down through the boggy ground whilst willing the lights of the town to get closer. They never did. All that was left were dome fields, a few back streets and one epic poo and the finish was in sight.
Whilst I suffered with my stomach a lot, there was never a point in my head where I wanted to quit or thought we wouldn’t finish. It was nice to feel like that again and complete my first 100-mile race in 46 hours and 47 minutes placing 25thmale with over 40 men dropping out, I was very proud of that finish.
I want to say a huge thank you to the organisers of the race for a great experience. An even bigger thank you to the mountain rescue teams, volunteers and random farmers who gave us much welcome food and smiles. You guys helped more than you realise. I also want to thank Jayne for being an epic running partner and getting me through the dark times without question.
I’ll leave you with my final thought, never underestimate the mystic powers of cold beans and sausage ration packs……….