Tuesday 29 January 2013

The Spine Race is a non stop journey along the full length of the Pennine Way in winter.
Described as Britain's 'Most Brutal Ultra Marathon' however in reality a more apt description would be an 'Expedition of 268 miles along the backbone of the country'.

I had backpacked the route from South to North in 2008 spending 9 days 8 hours including an enforced make and mend day at Horton in September 2008, then North to South during a very hot spell in May 2012 in 8 days 9 hours, and having finished that and learning about this race, I couldn't resist the challenge, and entered. At age 66,  I would be the oldest person to enter by a good number of years.

Many people think I should be taking it easy at my age, but that is the last thing on my mind. Others say I must be mad, however, following a recent MOT, which resulted in showing that all my internal organs were functioning like a fit 30 year old, apart from a long term tendency to be border line Anaemic and an almost perfect lung test with an above normal capacity, if that is being mad, then I am happy to be so!?

I attended a training weekend in November 2012 which included a series of small lectures on navigation, safety etc and a trial race over 47 miles of the Mary Townley Loop of the Pennine Bridleway.

Then it was just trying to stay injury free whilst getting some fitness and a few walks and runs done and waiting for the start on January 12th 2013.

I kind of figured that since my moving times between checkpoints were very similar to last years winners, that maybe I just needed to do the same only with less sleep time, although this would obviously be winter and I was unsure how much that would affect progress. This was something I was about to find out!

I must thank John Bamber for allowing me to use some of his excellent photos in this Blog.

Old Nags Head Start to Checkpoint 1. @ Hebden Bridge.

Click on photos to enlarge.

After a briefing and kit check the previous evening we assembled outside the Old Nags Head in Edale ready for the off at 8am Saturday morning 12th January 2013. We got the go at 0807.

Funnelled straightaway through a gate, the field soon began to stretch out.
Wearing lightweight boots to start I managed to run some flats and downhills to Jacobs Ladder. Up that and onto the Kinder plateau I continued to run where I could, passing people and being passed all the way along the iced up slabs to the Snake Pass summit, where a mobile checkpoint was set up. I took on more water here and was soon on my way once more.

 A frosty Bleaklow was soon passed and the descent to Crowden came where I was surprised to catch up with Jenn Gaskell and her team of Jonnathan Zeffert and Rob Steer. Rob had his music on and a good mood ensued. They left me after a while and for a time I was on my own, before being caught by a young guy named Eamon and Paul who were doing the Spine Challenger finishing at Hawes.
Eamon pushed a bit ahead and Paul and myself went slightly wrong before the M62 footbridge. We quickly got back on course, crossed the bridge and left Eamon there as he had decided to get some hot food on the go. He caught us up again quite quickly. We lost the path after Blackstone Edge in the freezing fog before relocating it and met up with another mobile checkpoint at the White House Hotel. More water and off again.
At this stage it was perfectly acceptable that even though you may find yourself alongside another competitor for a few miles, if they wanted to stop, even briefly then you would carry on rather than wait for them, and vice versa. Later on as more and more dropped out, it became a thing of just getting to the finish within the time limit and many alliances were formed along the way.
Somewhere along the next few miles alongside the reservoirs and heading for Stoodley Pike Eamon and myself became separated from Paul. we found ourselves off the path following a wall, got back on it, passed the Pike and arrived at the road crossing with the town of Hebden Bridge to our right. We began the climb out of the valley and arrived at Checkpoint 1, bang on midnight after 15 hours 53 minutes.
Food was quickly put in front of us and the medics checked on our condition. My feet were fine so didn't need any attention.
Danny Longman, carrying out research on the affects of such exertion like what we were putting ourselves, would be at each CP to take samples from competitors. I didn't initially sign up for the full investigation, if you can call it that, but when he asked me if I would be willing to help him out with some of it, well Danny is such a nice guy, I couldn't refuse. He weighed me and attached some electrodes to my foot and hand. He would do this at most CP during the event, taking a blood sample at one of them. We missed him however at CP5 Bellingham.
I hung about for a couple of hours before deciding I could get any sleep there and left at 0227.

Hebden Bridge CP1. to CP2. Hawes.

I progressed through the night at a good pace but upon reaching Top Withins decided to get some sleep in the attached little bothy. Wanting to make use of available daylight as much as possible I set my alarm for a 2.5 hour stop. I awoke after 2 hours needing a pee. I packed away and vacated the bothy in daylight.
After a mile I met Gary resting at a wall, he was wearing knee braces. We walked together for a while until he told me to go ahead just after Ponden Reservoir. Just further up at the road I came across another mobile checkpoint. Again more water and off once more.
Before long I dropped down to Lothersdale and entered the pub there. Mel was there waiting for her husband Justin Roach and another lady who's name escapes me waiting for Tristan Bunn, they were with Dan Hughes the Everest Million man. Apparently Dan had gotten really cold and had bad trouble with his ankle and had called it a day and was waiting to be collected by the Spine team. I ordered a soft drink and a bowl of soup. I then called my mate Malc who said he would park up at Gargrave and walk towards me for a bit of a walk. I left the other in the pub and continued soon coming across Malc coming the other way. He turned and accompanied me the rest of the way to Gargrave. I went to the local Coop to resupply grabbed a warm pastie and headed back to the trail. Malc left me here and went back to his car for the drive home.
Snow was a few inches deep covering the ground and it was still snowing.
The next short section to Malham should have seen me arrive there around 2000hrs, however my GPS batteries failed and I lost the route, ended up going West instead of North, pratted about for ages, headed back East and as I approached a wall saw two headtorches. I clambered over a wall and met up with Justin and Tristan, they had, had enough of the underfoot going and were packing in at Malham where their partners had managed to get B&B. I left them at Malham and continued on with Ian Bowles and Eamon once more.
Past the Cove we searched for the wall along the dry valley. I knew this area well and found the wall in the swirling freezing fog. I knew there were steps at the its end before the switch back to pass above the fossilised waterfall heading for Malham Tarn. However at the wall end all we could see was a huge rock wall and seemingly no way through. We headed back before getting a GPS fix, showing that we were in the right place. I told the other two to wait and I would go back to have another look. I just about made out the edge of a step and realised that this was the start of the steps. The rest had been completely obliterated by snow. I called the others and we arrived at Checkpoint 1.5 set up by John Bamber. It looked more like the North Pole than near Malham Tarn.

Once inside, the police arrived with Gary who I had walked with near Ponden. He was cold and completely exhausted. The medics got him inside a big sleeping bag and fed him hot drinks. Unfortunately his challenge was over, but he was safe and that was the main thing.
I waited while Eamon had his feet seen to, then we set off for Fountain fell, Pen Y Ghent , Cam High Road and Hawes.
Just beyond the Tarn we were passed by the German crew and at a gate, I needed a number. Eamon said he would wait, but I told him to carry on and I would try to catch him up. I never saw him again. I looked across to PYG during the descent after fountains Fell and could see headtorches nearing its summit. How on earth had they got that far ahead, I thought to myself.

On the approach to PYG I met another Lady Spiner. Up over the top, then taking the direct route to meet up with the PW coming out of Horton and beyond we would meet up and separate a number of times, before I found myself alone approaching the mobile checkpoint on Cam High Road. I took a seat inside their vehicle and given hot chocolate. I soon carried on and entered Hawes after travelling through some deep snow en route. As I entered the village I was passed by two other Spiners and wondered where the hell they had suddenly come from. I followed them to Checkpoint 2. This was the finish for the Spine Challengers, however we still had another 160 miles plus to go.
Same thing here, food first, medics checking on feet etc, mine still in good order, again could get get to sleep so collected my tent and was off again after an hour or so, after arriving.

CP2. Hawes to CP3. Middleton in Teesdale.

I had now travelled around105 miles and had, had only 2 hours sleep, I felt mentally rather than physically tired.
The initial ascent along the track up Great Shunner Fell after passing through Hardraw was straight forward enough in the dark of the night, that was until the massive snowdrifts were met. This is a simple Fell to negotiate in Summer with slabs covering much of the PW route straight up and over it's summit. But now in the dark the route was difficult with much meandering around drifts then trying to get back on the line. I reached what seemed to be a small cove and stopped briefly. Looking into the cove I saw something move and was surprised to see a lady dressed in robes with a section of to wrapped round her head. She was lay down and turned to face me and waved. Then I realised that she was surrounded by 20 to 30 friends and they were all having a whale of a time as though partying. They were there as clear as anything and I watched them for a time before switching my headtorches direction back to the ground to proceed. As I got a bit closer to where the party was, I raised my headtorch to find that the figures were in fact snow covered boulders!? I was hallucinating in the extreme!
Finally I found some slabs with just a light snow covering that I was more or less able to follow.
About a mile from Thwaite and still on the track I had my second weird experience. Walking at a good pace with no intention of taking a break or even stopping, suddenly I woke up to find myself doubled over facing the ground staring into my own reflection in a puddle! Confused I carried on walking, but after 100 metres or so realised that I was reascending Great Shunner Fell. I spun round and continued to Thwaite.
I ascended the side of the hill leading to Keld. At the top of the ascent I stopped and sat down on a small wall. I think I was about to nod off when I was surprised by two headtorches, it was Brian Mullen and Annabel Gates. "I thought it was you" said Brian and enquired as to my well being. I tagged along with them for a while, having to repeatedly assure Brian that I was okay but just very tired. They were moving swiftly.
We dropped down before Keld for the uphill trail to Tan Hill. I had decided that if I was very tired there I would pitch up for a few hours. Brian and Annabel went off into the distance.

I came across a sign stating that Tan Hill was just two miles ahead. Somehow I got on  wrong track and ended up at a road. I knew that this road must lead to The Tan Hill Pub so all I had to do was follow it, which I did for about three miles and ended up at the bottom of the hill at a road junction. I don't remember stopping along the road but realised that I now only had one walking pole. Not only that but there was a sign pointing in the opposite direction saying four and three quarter Miles to Tan Hill. I then thought what an idiot, what's going on. Ive walked the PW twice before and Ive called in at the Tan Hill Pub on other occasions with my wife while out on a drive, and I know that it is situated at the top of the hill, so what was I thinking in walking all that way downhill!??
I walked back up the hill and saw something in the road ahead, it was my Goretex mitts. I didn't realise they were missing. I picked them up and continued on. The pub was closed but as I passed by a voice called out my name. It was Jenn Gaskell, I headed over and followed her in through the side door. She was with Ian Bowles, they had spent the night there in the bar area on two long leather couches. The guy there offered to do me some breakfast, but I told him I was going to leave with Jenn and Ian. Ian warned me that they would be moving fast, I told him that I could do that, and we exited the door. I was over the stile first and just ploughed onwards. I soon opened up a gap on them, but stopped at a bridge on the track. They went past and I followed soon after.
A short time later I had my second wake up episode, when I awoke to find myself stood upright, only this time I was totally confused. I didn't know where I was, what I was doing and didn't know I was taking part in this event. I simply followed the footprints in the snow ahead of me. It was a good fifteen minutes before it slowly dawned on me what I was doing, and I repeated to myself a few time 'The Spine Race','The Spine Race', to sort if reassert it into my brain. Eventually I reached the Middleton CP3.
I remembered from my military training that after three days of sleep deprivation the human body starts to shut down. It was now almost three and a half days in which I had only had two hours sleep and my experiences were because my body was doing just that, shutting down. It was doing so, automatically and I had no control.
I had some food and the medics came over to ask how I was. My feet were still good, so I told them I was just really tired otherwise ok. Whether someone had said something to them or whether they had overheard me telling others about my weird experiences, I don't know, but the next thing, I was being told they were holding me back until I had, had a least six hours sleep. I didn't argue because I knew they right. I went into a wonderful six hours slumber. I spent a total of almost eight hours there at CP3.

CP3. Middleton to CP4 Alston.

It was from about this point that we getting a better idea of things happening in the race at the front. We knew the two Spannish guys had a good lead, and that Garry Morrison and Richard Lendon were hot on their heels along with a couple of others. We tried to translate all that in terms of how many hours they were ahead of us, but it was confusing.

Annie Garcia had left the CP3 an hour or so before myself, Russ Swift and Rob Steer. The three of us made good progress in the dark alongside the  river Tees, and caught Annie up. We decided that we would stay with her for the ascent over Cross Fell. We negotiated the icy rocks of Cauldron Snout and came across the photographers from 'Summit Fever Photography' at High Cup Nick. 

We continued down to Dufton where we again met Jenn, she was in floods of tears. We all gave her a hug. Apparently she had gotten really cold on that last section and on reaching Dufton with Ian, the pair had managed to get some sleep in Jenns parents car. She had been held back by the medics until her core temperature returned to normal. Shortly she was off for the ascent of Cross fell.
The four of us went to the pub to get some food. I called my mate Malc again as he had mentioned coming up again for a  walk, however I was surprised when he answered and said that he was approaching Cross Fell. Obviously there had been a mix up as I wasn't expecting him until tomorrow. Fed and watered we carried on for our own ascent of the Fell. I met Malc coming back down, he turned around and accompanied us a good way back up, before leaving us to descend back to his car in Dufton.
Along the track and before the start of the climb we could see two people descending the track ahead. It was Jenn with her mum, who had decided to walk with her a while, Apparently Jenns progress had been painfully slow and she realised that she was not going to make Cross Fell. Her journey was over and she was distraught. We did our best to comfort her, and I told her that she had many years of activity ahead her and that this was just a slip up. We carried on.
Eventually we reached the access road leading to Great Dun Fell and it's Golfball comms station. It was Arctic up there. Jenns situation seemed to get to Annie and she started to panic about being too cold. She told me she was going to take her top off at the summit and change a layer. I 'sugested' that, that would 'not be wise' and that she could do that when we reached Greggs Hut Bothy that had been set up as an intermediate CP. She agreed and on we went.
Russ had got some distance ahead of us and Rob had dropped off behind a short way as we went over Little Dunn  Fell and the approach to the Cross Fell ascent. Annie went a short distance in front and I could see her struggling with something, then I found her walking pole and sleeping bag cover on the ground in the snow. I picked them up and hurried to her. She was cold and trying to wrap her sleeping bag round her. I helped thread it through the shoulder straps of her sack. I went ahead as she dropped back for Rob. Climbing Cross fell, Russ had disappeared over the top and was no longer in view. Every so often I turned around to shine my torch towards the other two to show them the line to take. Up and over the summit we arrived at Greggs Hut. I noticed that Russ was not there. Where was he?
I informed Paul, who took details of his attire, last time seen and where etc and then called HQ for a unit to come up the track to assist. However about twenty minutes later Russ turned up having made a nav error which he had to rectify.

 After being fed, watered and looked after by Paul, John Bamber, Stewart and Exile medics we left for the long track down to Garrigil. Russ and I stretched away down this part and left Annie and Rob some distance behind, At Garrigil, Russ decided to carry on walking, not wanting to stop, so I waited for the others. I waited and waited and began to reascend the track when finally I spotted their headtorches coming down. Rob, clearly in a lot of pain was hardly putting one foot in front of the other, and Annie moving much slower than she wanted was becoming cold again.
I asked Rob if he was continuing beyond Alston, to which he replied that he wasn't. I put it to him that in that case, what was the point of struggling on to there, he may as well get pitched up here in Garrigil. He agreed. We couldn't get a phone signal, so I knocked on a house door and explained the situation to the young couple there. They let me use there phone to call for Rob to be collected. he insisted that we didn't wait so we left him near the pub to await his transport.
Annie and myself swiftly carried on to the Alston CP after doing a tour of the town centre after over shooting the Youth Hostel and having to retrace our steps.
Usual routine followed got as much food down as possible replenished water bottles, or should I say added to the ice, as they had been virtually totally frozen for days. At least I could drink some ice crush, unlike those with only a bladder system who's feed tubes were frozen solid.
A few hours sleep, then prepared to move on.

CP4. Alston to CP5 Belligham.

Now the team of three became the ARD team, Annie, Russ & Dave.
This section between Alston and Greenhead is often regarded as quite boring by may PW walkers but I have always found it interesting enough.
There was markedly less snow than of late along the route here. Through green field across moor, crossing a couple of road including the busy A69 we arrived at Greenhead and headed for the Youth Hostel that we heard had been opened for Richard some time earlier. Russ's parent were already there to greet us and once inside they provided us with hot Pasties and Pie and a hot drink, all of which was greatly appreciated.
Soon we off again to tackle the Hadrians Wall section of around 12 miles as far as Rapishaw Gap.
Up and down, up and down we went, and then I came across a Sealskins cap on the path, which was now once again snow covered Russ said that Ian Bowles had, had a similar cap. I placed inside my jacket pocket.

Dark of night came once more and we exited the wall at the gap and prepared for some wet feet across some boggy ground ahead. Fortunately it was all frozen solid and we were able to walk over it without problems. We made a couple of simple navigation errors over the following miles once clear of the forests, but finally emerged onto the road leading to Bellingham. A car came alongside and slowed. We could see that it Joe Faulkner from the Spine team. They thought us overdue and he had come out to look for us. We were ok and walking well, so off he went and we continued to walk to the final checkpoint CP5 Bellingham.
We all been tired along this section and as we were well within time to finish were looking forward to around at least six hours sleep.
However once inside, I spotted Ian and repatriated him with his cap, he was ever so grateful. Stewart came over and explained that the weather forecast was for a storm to arrive, some of the group ahead of us had been held back to form a group of five and were set to leave at 0500. Stewart told us we had to ready to go at 0600, it was now around 0430, so after getting some food and sorting our packs for the last stage, I was left with about 40 minutes to get some sleep. This after 40 miles from Alston. This was our only chance of perhaps getting across the Cheviot hills before the worst of the storm struck.

CP5. Bellingham to Finish Kirk Yetholm.

Stewart walked us back onto the route and told us that another cut off of 1300 had been implemented at Byrness. That meant we now had around six and a half hours to make the 12 or so miles. Easy enough so long as we didn't make any major nav errors, but the snow covered ground would slow things down some.
We fell into the trap of following the footprints in the snow, which led us to a road, but at the wrong place. GPS fix and all we had to do was walk up the road to where we should have crossed it, problem sorted.
Before too long we were in Kielder Forest and marching down the Forest road. Just after the visitor block we met Paul Shorrock of the Spine Team who had come out to walk us in to the mobile CP at Byrness.
We were well inside the 1300 cut off.
Water bottles filled, hot drink etc, some photo's and we set off for the final 28 mile leg over the Cheviots.
Doubling back after a small; nav error, we started to ascend the steep incline. We decided to move and climb slowly, so as to conserve as much energy as possible after our ever so brief rest at Bellingham.

The weather was good and clear and we hoped that, we may after all, escape the forthcoming storm.
Up on the broad ridge the wind began to pick up and after a short squall Annie said "That wasn't so bad". I could see the reaching skies becoming darker and darker with moody cloud, and replied that there was more to come. Shortly afterwards it was dark and the wind picked up again with more force this time. My GPS battery failed, as I had not had chance to give it a full charge at the last CP, on top of that my reading glasses were missing. I was now working on memory of the route, with the occasional reference to my blurred map.
Problems arose where the route swings away from the fence and became obliterated by snow drifts. Combines with the dark and now in storm and some blizzard, it was almost impossible to keep on course. I asked Annie to switch on her GPS and we followed for some time before I thought that things weren't quite right. I asked Annie where we were and asked to look at her GPS. Somehow we had turned a full circle and were further back than previously. I took the GPS, which I struggled with at first as I was unfamiliar with this make. The pointer seemed to dart about all over the place. this was most frustrating for all of us, but I was determined to get the hang of it. Russ then commented that the weather had us beaten and that we should get under a survival bothy shelter and call it in to the Spine Team. I was unsure we would manage to get a signal, but one thing my experience shouted loud and clear in my head is that we must get to the 1st refuge hut. To just get under a thin plastic shelter there out in the open would be certain disaster, and as long as you can still put one foot in front of the other, it is always best to keep on going until better shelter is reached. If we had stopped there, we would be lucky to have survived, more than an hour.
Now having managed to get a steady direction reading from the GPS, we needed a handrail and the fence was the perfect one. I turned my body to head in a direction that would mean we would intercept the fence. Ploughing through long snow filled grass was hard work with the wind howling around, but I knew this was the best option of finding the hut. Some grumblings from behind, which I could well understand, as I was leading people who didn't know my capabilities. It was different to my usual accompanied mountain walking, with experienced people, who put their complete trust in the lead walker as a matter of, not only necessity, but having confidence in doing so. I was with Annie whom I had only met for the first time this last week, and Russ who I had met at the training event, how could they have that same confidence. I decided that I would just keep going and hoped that they would follow.
Then, there it was, the fence directly in front of us. I said right, we just follow the fence and it will lead us to the hut. Russ was in front now with Annie a short distance behind and me following. Where the fence turned abruptly left, Russ carried straight on, so I shouted him back. Annie now in front. After some time and I'm counting down the distance, going off the GPS, she thought she could see an outline of the hut in the dark. "Is that the house" she shouted. I told her I couldn't see what she was seeing, but further on I too could see it without doubt. I said "There it is, the hut".
Annie leaped into the air with delight. We force open the door and piled inside. Annie said something like "We survived, we survived". Russ sat down, looked up at me and said "I owe you a drink".

We huddled for a short time under a Bothy Shelter and Annie rolled out her foil blanket. Then we all got into our own sleeping bags etc and Russ called the Spine team. No signal so he called 999 and got through, quickly explaining the situation and requesting 'Mountain Rescue'. He kept losing the call due to intermittent signal. The police began sending text messages instead. They told us that Rescue was not going to be available tonight, and after we told them that we had sufficient food, water and were warm, they said they would contact us, am. Russ managed to give them my mobile number as an alternative.
What we didn't know, was that the Spine Team seeing, via the live tracker placed on Russ's sack, that we had managed to reach the hut, and knowing further progress was impossible, had withdrawn us from the race and requested the assistance of the Mountain Rescue team too.
We then got as much sleep as we could after sharing hot drinks and food and even a pot to pee in.
We placed out empty sacks at door base to try and stop the spindrift from being blown in.
As we had a tracker attached to Russ's sack we knew that the Spine team would know our location.
What we didn't realise at the time was that by placing the sack upside down at the door which eventually became covered by spindrift, the signal was lost.
Early morning the howling wind had settled, I received a text message from the Northumberland police, requesting an update on our intentions. I managed to get a good signal whilst standing on the bench and phoned them back. They told me that Mountain Rescue had been deployed and were on their way up to us, but first their priority was the other group who had been without shelter all night. Well my face must have said it all, because Annie asked what was the matter and when I told them, she sort of screamed, NOoooo!
We knew, that if that was the case, then they were surely dead. Our hearts sunk. Fortunately we had no time to dwell on it. My phone rung, it was my wife. "Oh no" I said as I was struggling to control my emotions after being told about the other group. I thought she had heard something down the grapevine about our predicament, as she doesn't usually call me, I call her. I asked her what she had heard. "Nothing" she said "what do you mean". I told her and reassured her that we were safe and awaiting the Mountain Rescue team. Just then I could hear footsteps fast approaching and the team leader burst through the door "Good morning, anyone for soup". I told my wife I'd call once at KY.
I immediately asked about the other group, but they didn't know anything about them. This was a good sign, I thought. It transpired that they had made it to the second hut, and spent the night there, before, being able to break out and make it to the finish. Good on them!
What a cheery bunch of people around eight of them and two ladies in the team. They wrapped Annie in a Buffalo jacket and gave her a pair of socks. I lent Russ a pair of dry socks. They gave us hot drinks, gave me some Hot Pot, asked about our well being. We got packed and ready and followed them outside.

The trail they had forged to get up to us must have been extremely hard work in the deep snow up to waist level in places. Spirits were high with these amazing people and we chatted all the way down to their lead vehicle at Buchrig Farm.

 From there they took us to local desolate village hall where we were met by Phil of the Spine. More drinks, biscuits etc, the banter was good, then we eventually thanked them and left to make our way in Phils vehicle to KY. I mentioned to Phil that something was wrong with some of my fingers and especially my thumb, they were numb and hard at the tip and some skin had split just behind the nail. This had been getting worse for the last couple of days. He had a look and told me it was Frost Nip. Early stage Frostbite! He added that I need to keep them warm, so I put them down, you know where!?
I grabbed my drop bag from the self catering unit, just managed to congratulate Eugenie on his win, and off to the Border Hotel to meet up with the others.
We got a big cheer as we entered and I turned round to see Annie being filmed as she came in through the door. She was in tears, saying that this wasn't about speed, it was about 'survival'.

Scott shook my hand and said that it was a CNF (could not finish) rather than DNF (did not finish).
Under better conditions we would have finished with around 6 to 8 hours to spare, however I don't think any of our team of three had even thought about not getting to the finish a mere 17 miles away, at all since entering that refuge hut. Other priorities took over. I wasn't even upset, just a little disappointed when I thought about it later.
I went through to the gents and got changed, came out and ordered a pint of Guinness.
I looked around and could see most of the members of the other group that had been ahead of us on the Cheviots, it was good to see them. Ian was at the bar and he told that his cap had made all the difference and that he been right on the very edge that night. He also mentioned the concern that his group had had for us further back. They probably wondered where we were during the storm, as we wondered the same thing about them.

I only had a couple of hours to get to Berwick upon Tweed and my first class seat on the train, home. I was told that East coast train services had been badly affected by the weather, so I booked a room in the hotel.

Mikey who was doing some video filming of the race and who kept popping up at various points, was doing interviews in the dining room. It was my turn and it felt a bit strange, trying to gather my thoughts, but I responded to his questions the best I coud at the time. Going through it, I came to the part when the police had given us the info about the other group having been without shelter all night, and us thinking they must be dead. I was taken by surprise, when the emotion of that moment, suddenly came back and I was unable speak for a couple of minutes, then the next word came out high pitched and I held back once more trying to get myself back together. With a cough and wipe of the eyes I continued and got through it.
Speaking to Annie later about her interview, she told me that she had cried, "so did I" I responded and we both laughed.

A bit later I went to my room, showered, got changed again and came down for a meal and a few drinks with the guys who were there.
At some stage I was sat at the same table as Joe Faulkner and he told me that he and Stewart had attempted to reach us during the night in the storm. This was at a time when the Mountain Rescue was held back due to conditions. I was gobsmacked to say the least and felt very humble, I couldn't believe it. I told Annie later and she too was equally shocked, she shouted her thanks over to Joe.
All too soon, I was knacked and needed a sleep. Russ left with parents and I said my goodbyes and retired to my room.

The following morning I had breakfast with Annie, then we waited around for our lift off Mikey the film man. He was giving Annie a lift all the way down to London, I think, and me as far as Newcastle rail station. Phil accompanied us in his vehicle carrying our bags.
They dropped me in Newcastle and I arrived home early evening.

Things I got right:-
I took layers but wore my Buffalo Shirt for the entire journey, adding my Goretex Jacket for the colder and nighttime periods. For the last section I added a Merino Wool base layer beneath the Buffalo shirt. This was a mistake, as it seemed to prevent the shirt from working properly, although I was still comfortable.
So many people had got caught out and became too cold, however with my system I had never been cold at any time, apart from my fingers.
I wore lightweight boots from the start, with the intention of changing to shoes from half way. With snow on the ground I decided to continue all the way in my boots. Although they caused rubbing on my ankles and instep, meaning that I had to tie the laces off at shoe level, my feet never required attention from the medics.
I pre-taped and pre Compeeded my feet, which as usual worked very well.

Things I got wrong:-
Not getting enough sleep at CP1 and 2. The time I saved evaporated to nothing due to my worsening extreme tired condition.
Somehow, despite carrying a spare GPS battery, both ended up going flat.
Losing a walking Pole, a pair of gloves, a single glove and my reading glasses.

 After Thoughts.
Our small team of three, only 17 miles from the finish with 13.5 hours to go to the time limit, would have easily made it with time to spare. The weather got in the way and we were beaten by nature. Beaten but unbowed, because we know we had it licked.
However with the drama on the Cheviots, it is easy to think that this is what the event all boiled down to whereas it was about the entire journey. Every day was different, different walking partners for most of it , much of it alone. The camaraderie at checkpoints and along the route. The whole thing.

In all 55 years of competitive events, personal athletic and team challenges, that I have taken part in this Spine Race stands out as the best thing ever I participated in.
The organisation, the Spine Team, Exile Medics,  and everyone involved in the running of the event are absolutely top class and it has been an absolute pleasure to be their company.
The team share an awareness of each individuals quest to reach the finish with an encouragement towards that end, whilst safety above everything else is their main priority.
An experience every adventurer, experienced Mountain and Trail walker, Fell and Ultra runner, should not miss.
Thank you Scott and Phil and the entire Spine Team.

Dave Lee (Number 27. 2013)

If anyone I have mentioned in this blog is offended by anything or is aware of any factual errors, please let me know via the comments or otherwise, and I will amend/delete as appropriate.