When I had committed to do the Frostskade 500 mile race this time last year I was very excited and nervous. This was something new. Something far out of my comfort zone.But I have long wanted to travel to the polar regions so overall the excitement was strongest. Then the 2013 Spine race unfolded and like many other runners I followed it on the internet and was sucked into the adventure. I wanted to run it. Could I do both in 2014? I checked the dates. There was a slim but just-about-enough two week gap between the end of the Spine and the start of Frostskade. If I could drag myself through the Spine and not pick up any long term injuries then I would be good for Frosty. I totally believe the double is possible and I believe that as long as I could deal with the cold climate well, I could do it.
After nearly a year of doubting my own sanity, stage one of my winter adventure had arrived. My nervousness for the Spine was pleasantly overshadowed by Frosty as the spare bed slowly started getting an organised spread of gear in the week leading up to it. I thought I would get everything into my large rucksack but ended up having to take my large wheeled suitcase which was a godsend on the return journey when I was exhausted.
I flew over on the Thursday and had plans to use some of Stu the race medics floor for the night. It was raining and cold when I arrived at Edale, the picturesque and tiny village that is at the southern end of the Pennine Way. I wandered up and down the road for a while looking for any sign of a race. Oh my god! I checked my watch, it was Thursday. I checked my emails. I was a whole day out. The race started on Saturday not Friday. Nothing was happening tonight and more importantly I had nowhere to sleep for the night! What an idiot! There are two pubs and one of those was closed for the week so to get out of the cold wet night I made my way in. It was cosy and the fire crackled. I ordered a pint and asked if they had any free rooms. Surprisingly they had a free one but it wasn’t cheap. I said I would mull it over while I warmed up and dried off supping my ale. Then Andrew Hayes wanders up to the bar and orders a couple of cokes. I say hi and soon enough he has most kindly offered my his spare bed in the room her has in the pub we are in. What a star and thank god for that! I was seriously considering camping out in the already saturated fields.
The next day was a relaxed affair with a steady stream of runners and supporters arriving at the village. Having lived in France for a while now, I hadn’t seen many people from the UK ultra scene much so it was really nice to meet up with old friends and meet some new ones. I had two pub meals during the day making sure I was stocked up for the race which would begin the next morning. There were three briefings due to the size of the village hall and I was on the second. This was thorough, covering all the bases. We were also told about the trackers we would be carrying. They would be a ‘set up and leave’ unit which should have enough power to last the whole week. Time to get to bed.
My mind was now fully on the Spine and away from Frostskade. I was excited and calm. I hadn’t really done anything like this yet, but the experience I did have felt enough to keep me confident. I could do this, but failure was always possible. I would need to keep my wits about me and look after my body if I was going to finish this beast.
I slept well and woke early. It was too early to take advantage of the pubs breakfast, but they had kindly left some cereal and juice on a table for us. Back at the village hall and the place was bustling with activity. I needed to have my bag checked for the obligatory equipment, but was then left waiting for the start. I waited outside where it was a little chilly. I was wearing tights from the off. Not normal for me, but due to the length of this one, I figured shorts would be no use. I put my Montane waterproof jacket on to keep the wind off me. Then a light rain started. Nothing much but it was enough to prompt me to put my Waterproof trousers on. Thankfully the start arrived and we all headed over to the official start line. As I looked ahead up the hills in the direction we would be travelling, the sky looked very dark and angry. I was glad to be wearing all my waterproof kit.
We were finally off. Some people walked and of course some people shot off at a surely unsustainable pace. I loped off at a comfortable speed. The start of these longer races is all about not getting excited and following others paces. Run your own race. I also had to remember that my main aim here was to finish in a somewhat reasonable state so that I would be good for Frostskade. Strictly no racing!
After 1km we turned off the road and were on the Pennine Way official. It was very wet and muddy. This was going to be a real test on the feet. I had decided to wear my Scott Kinabalu T2 shoes which are a very comfortable slipper like shoe with plenty of protection and are not waterproof. I had waterproof shoes in my drop bag, but knew that waterproof shoes are totally useless when it’s this wet as the top lets in water. The issue then is that the water can’t escape, and over time your feet start to rot. Your feet shrivel so much that any pressure on them becomes extremely painful. My feet were almost immediately wet with the Scotts, but the water would drain freely and air could get through keeping my skin fairly healthy.
Within 10 minutes of climbing, the rain was replaced with sleet that was blowing straight into our faces. Then just as soon as I had realised it was sleeting, it became snow. It was coming down in large sticky flakes that began to settle everywhere. I pulled the cords on my hood tight to leave an opening that was just about large enough to see through. I passed lots of people who hadn’t had tights or waterproof trousers on as the rushed to pull them on over their trainers. I felt happy that I had for once made a sound decision.
Once on the top of Kinder Scout it was remarkably white and the visibility was around 40 metres. A was all alone and slowly made my way along the exposed top. My pace was very slow and steady at this point, and the low visibility giving me the impression of being all alone really helped me to slip into my own natural pace. I was plenty warm enough but certainly not overheating, so was very happy to be in my waterproofs. I wandered when or if indeed if they would come off again. Mark Caldwell eventually caught me up and ran behind me for a while. We were now on the notorious slabs. For those that haven’t been on a National Trail that has been furnished with these slabs, huge lengths of the footpath have had these huge slabs of around one metre wide by two metres long making a foolproof hard path to follow. The advantages are obvious, such as navigation becomes super simple and the ground under foot is hard and fast, though a fair amount was under water due to the amount of rain over the previous few weeks. The reason I say notorious, is because they are very slippery when wet, which is pretty much all the time. I don’t think I fell once on the slabs over the week, but it certainly affects my style. I feel a little more tense as I preempt a possible fall.
We soon crossed the A57. I felt no need to stop so just continued to hold my steady pace. Mark started to pull away a little here. I repeated my mantra ‘I will not race’ in my head as I watched him slowly pull away into the cloud before disappearing.
Soon I began to drop down out of the cloud and with it the snow. I could see some runners up ahead and one behind. The descent was fairly long down to Torside Reservoir and once at the bottom, I called my number out to the crew who were waiting, and continued again without stopping. As I crossed over the reservoir, I stopped running and walked so that I could take on some food and water. My legs felt quite fatigued by this stage but I had been going for a few hours now and I hadn’t really been running a great deal lately so was expecting this. This would pass in a day or two. No need to panic.
I was familiar with the first 70 miles of the Pennine Way as I had run it with Drew Sheffield a few years previously. This is always nice as you know how hard it is and can prepare mentally. Of course, after this I had no real idea so would just have to take it with caution, with should be no problem due to the fact that I wasn’t racing.
The no racing thing was a pleasant change for me. I like to race, and push my body hard, but Frostskade had forced this state on me. The question is, could I really be non-competitive? It is a very natural thing to chase people down who are ahead and to speed up if someone appears behind, but I knew that I can be pretty disciplined when it comes to holding my own pace regardless of those around me. Could I be this disciplined for a week? Probably not completely, but I was confidant I could enough for self preservation for Frostskade. Either way, there was a distinct difference in the amount of pressure I felt on my shoulders. This was good.
I was now climbing again and soon I caught someone very quickly. Surely an injury? Sure enough, he explained that he had fallen on the dreaded slabs and smashed his hip. I wished him my best and continued.
The weather now was overcast but dry. Perfect running weather. I was really enjoying running back in the UK during the winter. Harsh but fun.
The visibility was now pretty good and ahead I could see plenty of runners and ahead further still the A635. There were a number of support crews waiting here. I passed them by and headed straight towards the burger van where a small crowd of runners were already waiting for there orders of tea and sausage and bacon rolls. I too ordered a sausage bap while chatting to a few of the guys. Two of them being Andrew Burton and Charlie Sproson. They shot off before my sausage bap was ready, but I would be seeing them again. Once I had my heavenly bap in my hand, I walked off up the road eating it quickly. It was gone in a flash and I knew that I was perhaps a little too hungry so I opened up a 9bar and ate that too.
The going was slow and very wet under foot, but steadily I was having to refold my map as I progressed along it. I checked my watch and realised that soon enough I would be entering the first of the long dark winter nights. My Petzl went on just before I passed over the footbridge that spans the M62. I looked down at the cars as the sped past wondering where their journeys were taking them and how different mine was. I was happy not to be in a car but out in the wild winter, fending for myself. I really love being out in the wild in the elements that batter you and constantly remind you how vulnerable you are on the one hand but also just how much you can deal with when managed correctly.
Next up was the crossing of the A58. By this stage I had joined back up with Mark and also a Portugese chap. Thge clag over blackstone edge was super thick and even though the trail was well worn it was difficult to follow. We soon found our way down to Broad Head Drain and followed it all the way to the road. There is a pub here where a cp was set up in the car park. I gratefully accepted some coffee here and some mince pies. Mark was going straight into the pub to refuel. I repeated my mantra and also reminded myself of the length of this thing before following his lead.
Inside it was warm and cosy. I sat at the bar and ordered a coffee and a plate of chips, before prepping myself for the next section. I put on another thermal top. I wasn’t cold really but had noticed a slight drop in my temperature. Better to manage these things in a comfortable environment if available than out in the dark, cold, windy night. There were a few support crews in the pub waiting for their runners to come through. We chatted and they told us how well the trackers were working. They asked what our numbers were and said they had been following us on their phones.
The trackers really added a strange dimension to the event. When all alone in the dark on the trail, there was a chance that some staff and friends, family, supporters or in fact anyone who has an internet connection, could be watching your little dot on the screen as it slowly wanders along the trail. People would know when you stop for a minute, slow, speed up, stop to sleep etc. Usually in overnight events, no-one really knows exactly where you are. This seemed quite surreal to me at times. Especially when lost or confused.
I was glad for the pub stop and was eager to continue. Mark and I left together. We passed the unseen reservoirs in the darkness. The first cp was getting closer. I had no real plan other than wanting to reach this point at a minimum in one go. Even this plan was open though as my level of fatigue, ground and the weather were all contributing factors. By the time I had reached the final climb that would take me to Hebden Bridge, Mark and I were separated again. The climb is steep and muddy which had me sliding around in my Scott shoes. As I walked I ate another 9Bar. My mind now shifted to the cp as I imagined a bustling building with my dropbag, warmth and hot food.
A short jog down the road once at the top of the hill and then a slimy fairly steep descent down to the cp. All I could think as I dropped further and further down was that I would have to come back up this.
The cp was glorious. I picked up my bag before heading over to the main block, slid off my sopping wet, caked in mud shoes. then headed in. I packed a couple of Ginsters pasties into my bag and topped up my 9Bar supplies. Then popped into the dining area where I was treated to a delicious hot meal with plenty of tea. I was feeling pretty good overall and was happy with my progress. Some people were stopping here to have a sleep before moving on. The next section was around 100km to the next cp, making it by far the furthest. I decided to push on and take a chunk out of it before camping. It was here that I saw Andrew and Charlie again. They had come in before me and had the same plan. They left just before me, but I soon caught them up.
After a little bit of leap-frogging, we ended up being a trio. The company was good as we worked away into the small hours. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and the prospect of bivvying didn’t seem fantastic. Thankfully Charlie informed me that he had a three man tent and that I was welcome to share with them if I wanted. We traveled a further two or three hours before the tiredness took control and demanded to sleep. Within half an hour we were all cosy in the teepee style tent. I was lovely and warm but apparently on waking I discovered that Andrew and Charlie were a little chilly due to their roll mats not keeping the adequately off the ground. We ate some food and packed up ready to move rather smartish, encouraged by the cold. It was just about starting to get light so we would maximise our use of daylight hours. Perfect!
The sky grew slowly brighter as the new day, day 2, dawned. The colours which appeared and changed as we watched the sun slowly creep up were just stunning. They put a spring in my stride. I hoped that I would be fortunate to get a light show when I was in Scandinavia.
Our next target was Gargrave. This was not a cp, but there was a shop here and a cafe which we would most certainly be using. The company was good but the going was a bit of a slog. In hindsight I think this was down to our sleep being not quite enough. On the last stretch the land is low but very exposed and the wind was in our faces. I was feeling cold and was not generating much warmth. Come on Gargrave!
Gargrave was actually the stopping point of the run I had done previously and therefore the limit of my knowledge. Once over the bridge we headed straight for the little tea shop. It was very busy inside and very warm, but we found a table and straight away ordered a pot of tea for three. Gary Morrison and Richard Lendon were sat opposite finishing off a full english breakfast. These two had a wealth of Spine experience between them. I too ordered a fry up and demolished it in seconds. I had warmed up quickly and was happy with how my body was operating. Andrew too had warmed up quick, but Charlie was struggling with heat regulation feeling cold all the time. He wanted to hold back with some of his clothing so that he had something more to put on later in the night when the temperature would no doubt drop again, but I told him to put on everything if needs be. Don’t get cold waiting.
After a rejuvenating hour in the cafe we headed back out but before anything we stopped by the Coop and stocked up on some food. There was still a long way to go on this next section and to help break this up there would be an intermediate cp, 1.5, just before Malham Tarn. This would be in a large tent. Before this though we had the short but steep climb that took us up the side of the dramatic Malham Cove. My Petzl was once again on by the time I had reached the top. The clag had also descended again, which gave a surreal feeling as I hopped cautiously over the lunar landscape on the top.
The wind had picked up again and we were back to hood up, head down progress. The road crossing came and the oasis of cp 1.5 soon enough appeared out of the cloud. We squeezed in and then started faffing a bit. I had a coffee and was eager to continue. Our group had grown from 3 to 5 or maybe 6 by this stage. There was the first signs of rain when we left. This could be interesting.
It was now time to head up into the highland. First up, the long climb up Fountains Fell. I enjoyed this climb, sticking either at the front or near the front of large group. Once over the top it was onto the rather dicey, very icey descent. I couldn’t step on any rock as they had a hard verglas over the top making them lethal, so instead hunting out any snowy areas. The group was starting to break up here. Conditions were challenging but fun. Once down from Fountains Fell, we had a short road section before heading straight back up again. This time up the mighty Pen-Y-Ghent. The group was now very strung out, but I couldn’t hang around waiting. I was warm enough but needed to keep moving. The last section of light scrambling at the top was fun and soon enough I was on the top in very strong winds. I wanted to get down quickly to get out of this exposure.
Near the bottom of the descent there is a path I needed to take to cut off a few km’s going to Horton in Ribblesdale. We were of course allowed. I didn’t fancy missing it and getting in some extra time. Thankfully I found it and continued. I soon joined back up with the main path. The footing was often deep water and the wind and rain were invigorating to say the least. I now was with my Portugese friend. I stopped for a second and straight away he stopped and asked me to help him. His hands were cold and he was struggling getting his bag open to get a warmer jacket out. I helped him with his bag then with his zip. We moved on.
I then saw a light approach us ahead. A supporter maybe? They held the gate open for us, I thanked them then as we started running again, he asked if either of us was Neil. I responded positively but rather confused. Who on Earth could this be? It was my friend Matt Neale. I had first met Matt a few years back at the Trans Gran Canaria, and had raced together at the Fellsman. Matt lives local and works for the National Parks. He know the hills well! Matt was a blessing. We chatted away which of course chipped away at the Km’s and took my mind away from the foul conditions. We were now on a short section of road and Matt informed me that his car was parked close by so would be saying goodbye. We were then confronted with two runners ahead who appeared to be stationary. Once there I saw that is was Richard Lendon and Jacqueline Cooper. Richard looked very disoriented and cold. He wanted to stop there. Jacqueline had found him confused and was looking after him and in the process getting cold. Matt took Richard into his car to warm up and I walked with Jacqueline for a while as we made our way along the West cam road trail. We were getting severely battered from our left side by a cold wind which cut right through. Once I was happy that Jacqueline was warm I slowly moved on, hoping that we would find shelter from the terrible wind shortly down the trail.
I soon found my way onto a trail that had dropped down to early and had to cut straight back up a steep section of hill to intercept the correct trail. Once there I bumped back into Jacqueline again explaining my error and with such a short distance remaining to Hawes, the next cp, we stayed together. Jacquelines husband then met us and ran with us down the final section through incredibly boggy fields but thankfully out of the screaming wind to the town of Hawes.
CP2! Phew, that was exciting. Hawes was the end of the shorter challenger race so many people would be finishing here. I suspected that the foul conditions would end some races early too. As I painfully pulled off my drenched, mud covered shoes, I noticed Andrew and Charlie sat looking very comfortable. We spoke and I learnt that they had decided to drop not long after I lost them. A real shame.
I now needed to eat plenty and try to get some sleep. I had a bag explosion as I absent-mindedly tryed to sort my self out. I ate two plates of hot food and copious amounts of tea and coffee. I watched as a slow drip of runners entered the hall, usually commenting on the atrocious conditions. The medics and doctors were being kept very busy with cleaning peoples feet, dealing with blisters and dressing them to hopefully make them last for the next 150 odd miles. I took a handful of peanuts from the table grabbed my sleeping bag and mat and found a spot among the dropbags to settle down for a rest for a few hours. It was pretty noisy, as there was so much going on in one large room, but I think I dozed off for a little while.
On waking I cleaned my feet off which I obviously should have done before sleep, then had them dressed by the Dr as I had some sore spots which I was a little concerned about, then I slowly packed up and was saying my goodbyes as I pushed open the doors and felt the cold wind blow against me once again.
I was soon climbing the long ascent up Great Shunner Fell. I had great visibility here and felt all alone as I couldn’t see another soul. What a great way to start the day. The day was a long and productive day spent all alone. The weather was blowy and fresh but as long as I kept moving I was fine. During today’s leg I would be passing the Tan Hill pub and I had every intention of stopping there for a while and getting some hot food in me. I arrived without seeing anyone in front or behind. I am not a religious man but I had been praying that the bar was still doing food and sure enough I was told by the lovely barmaid that if I ordered quick I would just about make it. I ordered some soup and sausage and chips. I’m not sure why I ordered the soup. Panic buying I guess. I had my bag checked here to check I had some obligatory kit from some of the race crew. I was probably in here close to an hour. Once I had finished my food, I made my way back out. The next few miles were through marshland where the water table was at around ankle depth for the whole way. Not too pleasant!
Navigation was pretty straightforward during the daylight hours, but as soon as darkness fell a little more concentration was needed as there were large sections of open moorland where the path was barely visible and it was easy to find yourself following sheep trods. All went well though and I felt good, but just near the end the clag came down and visibility became just a few metres and I needed to negotiate my way through a section of fields with many dry stone walls. I got a bit lost as I clambered over wall after wall, finally making it out the other end and back on course. A quick jog through the sleepy town and I had arrived at CP 3.
All was quiet at the CP. I sat and ate a load of hot food. before finding a shower and making myself feel just a little bit like a normal human being, then trying to sleep on a bunk. I was struggling to get any quality sleep for some reason. Maybe my mind was just too wired to relax. I was resting for around 5 hours a day, of which 3 where spent horizontal. Just not enough for my mind to rest and give me adequate sleep. My shin had been a bit sore today as I felt the beginnings of anterior tibialis tendinitis setting in. I hadn’t suffered badly from this for a long time. Hopefully it wouldn’t progress too much else it would be crippling, bringing me to a desperately painful and slow lurch. I would just have to go careful on it.
Once awake, I prepped my kit and stepped back out to battle on. Todays section started off following the river. It was a bit chilly today. I was moving quite well and was following some footprints that seemed fresher and fresher. Was I about to catch someone? Then I saw two people in the distance. I gained on them very quickly. They were obviously going through a rough patch. I soon recognised Andy Mouncey and Simon Beasley. Andy didn’t look in great shape and I noticed he had on full winter mittens. He must really be feeling the cold. I wished them luck as I passed them on a section demanded scrambling over large boulders.
I next was confronted by a rather lively Cauldon Snout waterfall. The ‘trail’ takes you up the side of it on an exciting little scramble then over a footbridge over it before continuing. Following this was some moorland with fairly deep snow and a big drop in visibility. Once the clag lifted just about enough to see the incredible dramatic High Cup Nick. The trail now took me down for a long time. During this descent my shin began to deteriorate a bit more. I hobbled a little. I couldn’t wait to get on an ascent!
I decided that the village at the bottom, Dufton, looked potentially large enough to have a cafe or pub where I could get some food. I took a detour which ended up with me running around in circles getting a little frustrated and finally giving up and cursing myself for wasting so much time and energy. Then when I was back on course again, I saw Tom Jones set up with his van as a intermediate cp. Excellent! Andrew Burton was also there with plenty of food treats. What a star. Andrew said that he would follow as long as life would allow and I would see him at the occasional road crossing.
While I was here stuffing food into my mouth, Andy Mouncey approached Tom and told him that he was done. I knew how much Andy had put into this and this touched me. He wished me luck and I pushed on alone. The climb up to Cross Fell would take around 5 hours and would take us right back up above the snow line in the darkness. As I climbed the weather broke down and the snow got deeper and deeper. Then it got dark and visibility dropped. The GPS was being checked regularly with a cross reference of the map. My head torch was necessary but also a hindrance as it just lit up the snow and spindrift as it swirled violently in my face. I noticed a light approaching from behind. It didn’t take long for it to catch me. It was Simon who had been with Andy. We stuck together for the company and the added safety. Once at the top of Cross Fell, we dropped down for a short distance and then suddenly you come to a bothy, Gregs hut. Inside were john and Phil who plied us with countless hot drinks and noodles. It was a real haven from the ferocious wind and snow which was painfully blown into our faces. It was soon time to leave though.
Once back out there I instantly begun to shiver. I started to run and didn’t stop so as to generate some heat to counter the cutting wind. Warmth eventually came but it seemed to take forever to drop low enough so as the wind would no longer be so strong. We then followed another boggy section near a river and finally with a bit of unplanned bush whacking, we spilled out onto the road just down from the next CP.
My shin was really sore now, and once my shoe was off I noticed a large amount of swelling on my ankle. What had certainly not helped was that I had been wearing Skins compression tights (only because they were the only tights I own) which had prevented swelling on the skin they covered but directly below my ankle had swelled like a balloon. I couldn’t use these tights anymore. I really needed something loose. Thankfully Mark Hines was there to the rescue and gave me two pairs of thermal tights that were not too tight around the ankle. Perfect! Well not a lot I could do other than keep it up when possible. I showered again and had a meal before collapsing in a bunk for a couple of hours.
Simon and I both woke at the same time and decided to start together. Our pacing seemed fairly evenly matched and the company was great for passing the time and taking my mind off the pain. Within a few hours we saw Andrews van and soon were greeted with a smile through his long whispy beard. I know I’ve mentioned it in previous posts but I can’t emphasize enough just how positive it is to see a familiar face when deep into a big event. The daylight hours were spent following the South Tyne river, never being further than two km’s from it. Our progress was slow but solid.
Just as the darkness began to fall yet again, we hit the A69 and decided to take a slight detour to visit the pub in Greenhead. It would be great if we could stop for a big plate of hot food, before we set off into what would end up being a very long, very hard night for us both. Thankfully they were open and serving food. As a bonus the open fire was roaring away too! I ordered sausage, egg and chips (?) swiftly followed by a massive chunk of very tasty cheesecake. These pub and cafe stops are priceless when you are covering such distances. The energy and boost to moral are worth their weight in gold. We left feeling ready to take on whatever the night could throw at us… we thought.
We left Greenhead in the dark and were immediately on Hadrians Wall. The wall was not as easy to follow as I thought it may be, but we made our way along, stopping regularly to check we were on track still. The wind was blowing but for once the going under foot wasn’t continuously deep water! We were both excited to be at Hadrians Wall which was a first for both of us, but it was a shame that we couldn’t really see it properly. An excuse to return I think! Once we had finished snaking our way East along the Wall, it was time to turn left and head North into Scotland.
Immediately we passed through farmland that was very muddy, then as we were tiring more and more, we entered the forest. This seemed to drag on as anything does when you are this tired. Our speed was poor but we kept moving. Just before we left the forest with one short lane section remaining, we hit the mud. Now, I thought I had seen it all, but this was just hideous. Super deep, sticky and at the same time slippery, the going was slow to say the least. I was thoroughly exhausted by this point and the foot sucking mud was challenging at this point in the day to say the least. Once out of the lane feeling drained, I thought it would ease off but it continued for another section before thankfully giving way to some more solid footing. My ankle was very sore still and I pushed on trying not to worry about whether it would hold up long enough for me to do the last section.
Simon and I were very fatigued now and were traipsing along like a couple of zombies. Our nav went a bit crazy now as our judgments became a little cloudy. The cp couldn’t come quick enough now. Finally the warm glow of Bellingham appeared over the hill and after what seemed like an eternity we reached CP5, the final CP!
We ate a tonne of food here that Richard Lendon handed to us and then sat chatting in a sleepy haze for too long as our brains weren’t engaging. Finally I showered and got horizontal again. Sleep didn’t really happen again and soon we were both up and prepping for the final push. When passing through town we popped into the Coop to buy some supplies and then were off. we were passing over open moorland where we were very exposed to the strong, cold winds. I was comfortable as long as we kept moving. We were eating regularly as energy levels were adequate but we needed to be vigilant.
We now headed into more forest and the ground was again boggy. It was nothing like the night before, but was still challenging. This didn’t last long though and soon we were gifted some decent trail. This lasted a long while and took us all the way to Byrness. Here we were again met by our savior Andrew. He sorted us out with a hot drink and pushed us back on the trail with a freeze dried meal stuffed down Simons jacket full of hot water, doubling up as a hot water bottle until it was ready to eat. There was a slight diversion ahead that kept us away from an especially boggy section, and as we climbed, we shared the hot meal. Well. I say shared. Simon couldn’t eat to much, so I had the majority. The climb was taking us onto the final test that lay between us and the finish, the Cheviots.
It was dark, and as seemed to be the norm now, very windy with minimal visibility. The path pretty much follows a low fence that is the border between England and Scotland. As I looked at what remained of the course I groaned as, even though on a normal day this would be just a few short hours, at this stage in the race feeling as exhausted as we did and with me not wanting to race at all, this would be a very long night.
Once we arrived at the first mountain refuge hut, we barged our way in and appreciated the shelter from the wind. We thought it was about 20km from here. We boiled up some water and rehydrated two meals, both in silence with heads nodding to and fro as we battled to stay awake. Just as we both stood up and threw our packs back on preparing to get battered by the dark night again, I noticed a mileage chart on the wall. According to that we were over 30 kms from the end! That was it, I told Simon that I was going to get my sleeping bag out and get an hours sleep as I was too tired to be productive, and it would be foolish and for me to not take advantage of this shelter. Simon agreed and within minutes we were wrapped up and warm with an alarm set for 1 hour.
We rose with foggy heady and before we had a chance to think about it we were back out in the night. I was glad for the rest and felt like we would be good for the end now. We plodded on till daylight enabled us to lose our head torches for the final time. A sharp left turn and a quick visit to the other mountain hut and we were back on our way. A nice little climb over the Schill and that was it! The rest was just the home straight now. Well, I say the home straight, but I knew we were going to finish now and with that all effort fell away. I came here to finish in as decent shape as possible, so there was no need to beast myself to the line. My shin was bad anyway, and made running not impossible, but not exactly great.
Finishing was great, and the fact you finish at a pub is even better! It is tradition that everyone that completes the Pennine Way gets a pint on the pub, so before I knew what was happening a pint was sat in front of me as I sat in front of the open fire with rosy cheeks and a grin on my face. This was shortly followed with a hot meal. Ah bliss.
So, even though I was most certainly really enjoying the moment, part of my mind was wandering forward two weeks to the start of part two of my winter challenge, Frostskade. I was tired and sore but knew that two weeks recovery is a huge amount when fit. Especially as I wasn’t planning to be working at any high level and just content on getting around.
I would like to thank everyone who helped make the Spine such a wonderful event. A really great challenge that has superb support and this just improves as it progresses as many of the runners that unfortunately have to pull out decide to follow and support where they can. I of course must thank My superb ‘support’, Andy Burton. Great stuff.
Now, time for the Arctic…
For those that are considering the Spine and want to read up more on others experiences, I have collated others blogs. Please contact me if I have missed any out. I have just stuck to 2014. I think that’s enough to be getting on with!
Damian Hall (the Telegraph)
Nick Van Mead