Completing the Montane Spine Challenger at first attempt, as a first competitive Ultra.2016 had been a good year, finally managed to summit mont blanc in July, and had signed up for the Montane spine challenger at the start of the year, which is a 108 mile non stop race across the pennines in winter, start date was Jan 14th 2017 so I had in essence a whole year to prepare.Race history was limited going into this, I had only completed one trail marathon in the lake district, and a couple of 10ks, my main events prior to this were mountain marathon type events, mainly the OMM, and Rab mini’s, although I had a lot of mountain and nav experience gained in my time spent in the forces.
Training actually started in august after the family holiday, and didnt go well my first run ending in me damaging my right ankle ligament and could not run for around 6 weeks.This started a cycle of trying to find a more supportive type of footwear away from my speedcross 3 which I had always used, first mistake was to purchase a pair of salomon wings pro which were to narrow and destroyed my feet on several occasions.
So Training in reality actually started around the start of oct, I had a few runs booked in, the OMM was at the end of october, and I also attended the Montane training camp at Hebden Bridge which would be the first checkpoint on the race, we did instructor classes and then a 60k Mary Townley training loop which I DNF’d at 50k due to blisters, met a lot of the other racers for the challenger and full spine, thanks to Lee Bhaghat for running around with me, and this was a great event with a wealth of knowledge passed from the instructors.
Things became real after this and started to move forwards, the decision was made to do a full recce of the route, and most weekends were spent with my father in law driving me to a start point and picking me up at the end, did edale to hebden bridge, hebden bridge to malham, and finally malham to hawes, I found these hard, on my own at night, especially the sections through the neverending fields after Thornton in Craven, footwear had been resolved and I was running in a pair of Inov 8 Roclite 286 GTX, which were fantastic throughout the event. My last big race was the Peak District South 2 North which was organized by spine safety Stu Westfield of Ranger Ultras, this was a 50k race from edale to marsden in november, the week before the race the snow hit hard, but this was going to be a chance to test all my kit, the amount of snow on the kinder plateau was epic, drifts were waist deep, and the slabs were all gone, teamed up with fellow racers, Michelle jane, Ben Tyas and Pete owen and together we battled through kinder and bleaklow, after 9 hrs of this my spirit was broke and I DNF’d again at Torside clough.
Another decision had been made to be supported on this race, and my long suffering friend Ste Mac had agreed to crew for me for the entire race, which was an unselfish act, and something that I will never forget, as this was my first event at this distance I decided to use every bit of help that I could muster to get me over the line, confidence was high going into christmas, and no more big runs were done leading into the event, in fact the longest I had managed was 70k.Myself and ste carried out a driving recce of the route the week before the event and worked out 12 possible CP’s where we could meet up, these were mainly road junctions,and this turned out to be a good decision.
The weekend of the race arrived, and so did the snow and cold temps, managed to secure a room at the YHA in edale thanks to an act of kindness by Paul Craddock, who had to pull out due to an injury, many thanks again paul. Preparation had been massive for this event, and nothing had been left to chance, My full kit list was as follows
- Montane Ultra Tour 22L pack
- OMM Front pouch
- OMM Rotor smock
- MSR pocket rocket, Titanium pot
- Cummulus ultralight 350 -3 rated
- Rab Alpine Bivvy
- Xtherm mat
- Montane prism mitts
- Montane Prism Gloves
- Inov 8 waterproof mitts
- Montane Oryx micro fleece
- Food 3000Kcals
- Spare socks
- Decent first aid kit(with full blister kit)
- Tube of sudacrem
- 0.75cl front bottle
- 1.5cl bladder(never used)
- GPS Garmin 64s(borrowed of simon)
- Phone with viewranger
- Maps, compass.
- 2 Headtorches
- Anker powerbank charger and leads
- Montane Atomic DT waterproof
- Kahtoola micro-spikes
- Montane sabretooth softshell
- Liner gloves form decathlon
- running tights
- liner socks with 2nd layer
- Inov 8 Roclite 268 Gtx boots
- Rab waterproof bottomns
- Alpkit walking pole
In the drop bag in the car was more food, warm kit, spare sleeping bag, jetboil, complete mountain hardshell, spare gaiters, and a foot care bag with towel, sealskinz, roc tape, sudacrem, talc ,having this probably saved my race.
The day of the race came, myself and ste had a good nights sleep, and I felt relaxed which was a good sign, headed over to the village hall had my tracker placed, conditions were good, it was cold but dry, snow on the ground, said my goodbyes to ste, would be next seeing him in around 5 hours, people were watching at home,0800 and it started.
Started at a canter in the pack, and soon arrived at the first climb jacobs ladder, conditions on top were brutal, white out, with driving snow, found myself in the middle of the pack and by the time had crossed the downfall was on my own, noticed a lot of people making nav errors, on these first sections, local knowledge was already paying off, crossed snake pass and got to the first CP at torside clough bang on 5hours, met ste, quick brew, refill water, and changed out of long gaiters to short running ones now that the worst of the snow should have passed, 10 mins later back out, felt strong and got across black hill in around 31/2 hrs, another quick checkpoint at Wessenden head, then into the night, I was on my own for most of these sections sitting middle of the pack, reached standedge around 1800, the CP’s were all quick in and outs, eat, drink, and then go, had passed a few runners on the routes, and was happy with my times being in advance of cutoffs, kit was working well, and the sabretooth was a good choice.
Next checkpoint was M62 bridge, was starting to tire now, and a burger van was a welcome sight, another problem developing was chafing in the worst possible place, so acted quick, taking the sudacrem from the drop bag and applying everywhere at all CP’s until the end of the race, this was a race saver for sure.
The next section was over Blackstone edge, this was a low point and took a long time in the thick mist, I was starting to slow down having been going for around 13hrs, had to dig deep on there, saw ste at the whitehouse, but carried straight on to Hebden Bridge, tagged along with some other racers, and made Hebden around 0100, I was starting to feel real exhaustion walked right past ste’s car and cursed him:) because couldnt find him, walked down the horrendous path to the CP1 checked in, then straight back up the hill, found ste, eat a pot noodle then boots off, changed socks, reapplyed cream to feet, these routines meant me finishing the race without a single blister.
Decided on 90mins sleep, which I got, Ste woke me around 0300, it was raining heavy outside and I had to fight the demons telling me to quit, put my now wet boots back on and changed into my hardshell, and set off, next section was over withens moss to ponden res, the slabs were covered in ice, took 5 mins to put on my microspikes and flew over the slabs to ponden where I met ste.My feet were soaking wet now, and starting to ache, another good decision by ste, was to change into sealskinz for the rest of the race, instead of changing footwear.Set off from ponden feeling refreshed and having made it through the first night unscathed, I had slowed by this point and now was walking rather than running. I knew that if I reached malham by nightfall I would finish the race.
The next sections were all quick and a bit of a blur, but I started to feel strong again and started to move up the field, got to lothersdale around 1400, and was eaing really well, but in hindsight not enough proper food, too many sugary snacks, rather than expedition type food, met up with Michelle, who I knew from the training camp. and the 50k, and we decided to team up for the night sections, along with James Penson.These sections were hard field after field of thick clay mud, eventually reached gargreave, to find the chippy was shut, so had a Real Turmat chicken korma, this was amazing and really cheered me up.
We decided on a finishing strategy, which was to push through to malham, bivvy at the vistor centre, 90mins sleep and then attack fountains fell, and Pen Y Ghent in the early hours to reach Horton by daybreak, this strategy worked but nearly broke me, energy levels were low, and only 90mins sleep in nearly 48hrs was starting to take its toll, reached malham at 2100, straight to bed, then eat, charged headtorchs and set off for 0030, the hallunications started after CP1.5 where we had stopped for 15mins for a brew off John Bamber and Paul Shorrock, started to imagine food on the floor and kept bending down to pick up the assorted vegetables I was seeing, Fountains fell went on for ever, carried on through next CP without stopping, to attack Pen Y Ghent, this was my lowest moment, my legs would not move and I had to physically punch them to get feeling back in, started to cry, and just wanted to sit down, I rang my wife at this point, which must of worried the hell out of her.Eventually reached Horton around 0800 for a bacon buttie, the cafe was like a war zone, bodies everywhere, and as I looked around my confidence grew, we had 12hrs to cover the final 15miles.
Took the last section really slow, michelle and James went on ahead, and I had my Spine moment on the Cam High Road, chemical Brothers came into my head- Brothers going to work it out, ending up screaming the words as I drew into the finish, my right hip had gone so I was limping, could not run the last section, and was delighted to see ste meet me on the outskirts of Hawes with his camera.
Got to the finish in 54hrs and 40mins, to be greeted with applause, I was in a state of shell shock and the true impact would not be felt until days later. 32 people dropped out and I finished 44 out of 93 starters. To anyone thinking of doing this event, just be prepeared for the impact it will have on your life, and family, its amazing.You will be joining the spine family.