Its 6am and I am feeling nauseous, the thought of having anything to eat only makes it worse. I’ve been feeling this way for a while now.

Problem is its only Monday the 6th Jan and The Spine Race is not until Saturday 11th. Is this normal? Have I caught a bug or something, my minds going into overdrive trying to work it out? I tell myself to stop stressing but its not working. It’s the last thing I need. I share my thoughts with my partner Kerry, I just get the look. The, ‘you must be kidding’ look. To be fair all she’s heard for 12 months is Spine this, Spine that, it’s new kit hun, I need it for the Spine. I’ve ate, slept and dreamt THE SPINE. So in 60 hours from 8am on Saturday 11th Jan the Spine Challenge not only comes to an end for me but also for my family and friends.

So I set off on Friday 10th with my mate Ian at the helm in charge of driving the Ultramadness crew, consisting of me, Wayne Singleton & Chris Chadwick to Castleton YHA. Andy Holohan, the fourth of the crew was supposed to be running but had to go to California on business.

Anyway, once in the van and the banter started I soon forget all about my nausea as it was now replaced by waves of excitement and terror. We arrived at Castleton Youth Hostel in good time, walked into the reception area and who should we see standing there Eugeni Rosello` Sole who looks about 12yrs old and can’t weigh more than 8st. Seemed a really nice chap though, he says hello and all that.  

We are first to arrive at the Spine Master class run by Stu Westfield, me with pen and paper to hand, (don’t know why, but thought I might need it always come prepared and all that) This class was invaluable; it was great to get first hand tips and advice from fellow Spiners, like heating jacket potatoes then stuffing them down your clothing to heat your core.!! Ps didn’t need the pen and paper.

This was followed, after a short journey to Edale, by the Spine briefing, which really drummed it home to what we where about to under take in case we didn’t know. Being sat in a room with some well known ultra runners was all a bit surreal.  Being sat in a room with ultra runners who actually finished the Race was even more surreal. The briefing was great, again it drummed it home how difficult and dangerous this race was.

With the briefing over and our kit check out the way, it was time for some food, a pint and a meet up with Di and Maxine the Ultramadness support crew for some words of reassurance. Di & Maxine are just great. Considering we only asked them a few weeks ago, they said yes straight away, dropped everything and came to support us. So after some good conversation & good food we felt reassured (ish) we made our way back to the YHA, threw a bit more banter at each other, until, slowly the silence creeps in, as we all lie in our bunks thinking, thinking about what tomorrow will bring, then sleep comes from nowhere quickly followed by my snoring and the silence is no more (apparently)   

Race Day:

We make our way downstairs to the reception area in the YHA to a gaggle of Spine runners all pacing, shuffling, waiting for there mini bus to take them to the start. Its 7.30 and Maxine and Di arrive bang on time to take us the 20 min journey to Edale. Again more thinking time..!!

We arrive, collect our kit from last night, checked it all over to make sure it was as it should be. Then Scott gives us the weather report. Ladies and gent it looks like you’ve got some cracking weather for the Spine race. Okay people you have sunshine to start with, possible cloudy later on, westerly winds, bit of hail at around 1pm.  Then it’s back outside to Max and Di’s campervan to wait for the start

I look at Wayne, we both look at Chris, the three of us look up to the sky, and then Wayne says “was that rain I just felt” yep sure was, so we put on our waterproof trousers. This was quickly followed by Wayne saying is that sleet coming down, yep and 5 minutes after that it was hail, then snow and that’s how it stayed for the next 3 – 4 hours. In the space of 15 minutes we had gone from a promised of sunshine to full on snow. After a few issues with some runner’s paperwork we set of at 8.21am from a small muddy playing field in Edale. Now, I hadn’t recced any of the route form from Edale up to Cowling. I couldn’t make it when Wayne, Chris and Andy did this section. Sometimes I think that’s a bonus. Working on the premise of what you don’t know won’t kill you. No sooner had we set off than we were at the bottom of Jacobs Ladder, a 596m climb to the top. I had heard lots of talk about Jacobs Ladder, most of it bad, so in my head I compared it Fusegill, a long climb with a few false summits which is part of the Lakeland 100 route in the Lake District. In the end it didn’t really matter what I compared it to as I couldn’t see my hand in front my face, let alone the top because of the snow.  After a few shouts out to Wayne and Chris asking them if they are okay, it was a case of head down get it done. Once up Jacobs Ladder, we were on Kinderlow 663m, following what’s more commonly known as the “Yellow brick road” Basically, there are huge flagstones all along the route. This is brilliant in summer, but in winter they are like mini ice rinks and you’ve got a hundred’s/ thousands to run over in the next 60hrs.  So, with the snow still coming down, winds still blowing in from the west, all we see for the next few hrs is flagstones. You can’t look up to see where you’re going for fear of falling over. We were also told in the Spine masterclass that some of these flagstones have a tendency to flip if you don’t place your feet in the middle of them. So the three of us are going along nicely over Glead Hill getting a good pace going where possible, reminding each other to eat and drink, when all of a sudden boom Chris almost disappears. Whilst running on the flagstone he placed his foot on boggy marshy ground between two stones, and almost sinks up to his waist. After a quick check over making sure he was okay, Chris being from Yorkshire picks him self up, drains the water out of his waterproof trousers, grabs his poles and starts running again. What he couldn’t have known was in a few hrs he would pay the price for that fall. Luckily we had arranged to meet the Ultramadness support crew on the A57 so we didn’t have to far to go before we could rest for a few minutes and get a hot brew down to warm us up.

The smell of tea and coffee out of the support van must have drifted on the wind, because when we got there, there was another runner sat on the camper van bumper drinking a brew and tucking in to nibbles, which was fine. So after a hot drink, nibbles and change of gloves to Montane Extreme Mitts, Prism gloves were soaked, we set off. The next section wasn’t too bad, all things considered and seemed to pass without too many incidents. I think we all fell a few times.  We meet up with a friend of ours Paul Brant on Devils Dyke on the way over to Torside Reservoir. Paul was doing the race the second year running. So three became four and the next few hours were spent chatting away about why we run these things and life in general. During this section we play leapfrog with other runners & pass some hill walkers.

Around by Bleaklow Head we were caught up by a youngish guy doing the race. It became obvious very quickly that something wasn’t right with him, he was coughing for England. Not just a tickle but a real “from the lung cough” We asked him on several occasions if he was okay, which he replied yes ish. Later on route he confessed to just getting over a cold. To us he sounded like he still had what ever it was and it was more than a cold. On the plus side we kept a good pace, always keeping up wind of him and it stayed this way for a few hrs. When we came off the fells to the CP I mentioned the marshal that the guys behind wasn’t in good shape. Next thing we new he’d retired and we where at Torside Reservoir.

I couldn’t remember if Torside Reservoir was an agreed meeting point with our support crew. Like Chris and Wayne I hoped it was. I remember telling Paul a few hrs earlier that they would be there which put a smile on his face. Like us he was gagging for a brew. Imagine his disappointment when we came off the fells and we couldn’t see them. Paul was gutted, we were all gutted. To cheer us up we were met by a rather jolly Mr Jonathon Fletcher though, all snug in his -32 down parka. So it was hand shakes all round, and a quick double check just to make sure Max and Di weren’t hiding somewhere and off we go.

You can’t really miss a big white camper van, can you….? Well apparently so, Max and Di were there, somewhere, but we missed them.    

 We all got some energy bars and water down our necks and off we go again at a good pace. No long after crossing reservoir Paul said he want to slow it down a little as he knew what’s coming. That can only mean one thing to me, hills. Regards hills, I take the view that the sooner you’re up the better. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t run up them, but I would rather just get them out of the way so its head down and get it done. I can remember Chris feeling slightly nauseous going up the climbs and Wayne talking to him about anything to take try and help him take his mind of things. It must have worked as Chris did a grand job and got to the top stomach intact. By this point we were all focussed on getting to the A635, just before Wessenden head.

When we came of the fell on to the main road a guy came over and asked if we had seen a young lad on the fell dressed in horse riding clothing, similar to what he was wearing. He went on to say the lad was following the hounds and had lost contact with the others. When we said “no we’ve not seen anybody” you could see a real concern on his face. The light was fading fast and we had had head torches on for the last hour or so. I hope the lad turned up safe and sound.

I’m sure I remember a marshal telling us that a group of Druids, dressed in cloaks with no shoes on had also taken to the fells a few miles away. Apparently this came over the radio from a fellow marshal who couldn’t believe his eyes, so took some pictures to prove it.   

Now im not known for my navigation skills so prior to the event the Ultramadness crew did some navigation training with Charlie Sproson from http://www.mountainrun.co.uk which proved invaluable. After leaving the marshals on the A635 we caught up with a few other runners, and we are all heading towards Wassenden Reservoir. Just after Wassenden Reservoir the track splits in two and before I know it I can see Wayne, Chris and the others trotting off up what I think is the wrong track.  After a quick double check of the map I shout them all back telling them they are going the wrong way. A guy called Tom gets his GPS out and reads out the coordinates, checks them on the map and it turned out they were all heading to Marsden. Team work puts us back on track and more importantly back together as we make our way round Black Moss, over Dinner Stone towards the M62. Off we set with about 2 miles to go until we meet our support crew, and I am getting desperate for a brew and some hot food. The miles pass without incident. On reflection we all went quiet. Not much talking or banter. I think we all felt the same and wanted off this fell. I remember looking over to my left and seeing Manchester all lit up with the light of the M62 snaking off into the distance. A view I would never see again, well not this year anyway. Off in the distance I can hear some dogs barking, probably miles away, but they seemed pretty close to me. We had been running for about 14 hrs now and the mind starts to play tricks on you, especially at night on unfamiliar ground. With the lure of the M62 lights in the distance we plough on to meet Max & Di on the A672. On arrival the support crew are there along with a mini bus used by the race Doctor. 30 miles down about 15 to go to Hebden Bridge

Now what happened next happened so fast it was scary. I remember seeing Max & Di’s camper van, doors open kettle on, nibbles out ready for any takers. Next thing Wayne’s sat in the back of it looking at his boots, looking up at Chris and me with out saying speaking, not really knowing what he’s doing.

It turns out his feet are freezing; he is freezing, shivering for England and he has a vacant look on his face. Next thing I see is Max is taking his boots off his and Di is drying his feet ready for clean socks to go on. By this point Wayne is going down hill fast, still shivering he puts on several layers of clothing including his big Rab insulated jacket.  Next thing he asks to speak to the race medic who was treating some other runners had requested her attention. So she climbs in the back of the camper van, the doors close and Wayne has a one to one consultation with a medic on the A672. In no time at all she gives her diagnosis, “early on set of hypothermia due to de-hydration”. Hot sugar water was prescribed followed by “you aren’t going anywhere until I say so”. So with this in mind Max gets the kettle on again but not only for Wayne but for those also diagnosed with the same symptoms in the Doctors vehicle. It turned out that about 6 to 8 runners withdrew here, all for various reasons. Some of them because their feet were in bits & some because something just wasn’t right. For all concerned this was a tough, but sensible decision to make. One of the guys that withdrew was Tom who shared his GPS coordinates with us at Wassenden Reservoir. Toms was a really nice guy who we first met at the Spine Master class. Here he shared his experiences of previous years with the group offering tips that he leant the hard way.  

Wayne is still drinking hot sugar water whilst shivering in the back of the camper. Chris and I get a brew inside us followed by some food & Max and Di are worried. After a while I get in camper, the heat hits me as it’s nice and toasty compared to outside. I speak to Wayne to see how he doing, not good mate came the reply, I’m freezing. I can see the concern on his face which is pale, ghost like. I leave him to it and Chris and I jump in the Doctors vehicle to keep warm as the front seats of the camper have been taken by Tom and co

After some time the Doctor check’s on him again. Keep drink the sugar water Wayne you still aren’t going anywhere she says. Times ticking on by this point, I think about an hours past by already, it seems like 5 minutes. Now I can only guess at what must have been going through Wayne mind at this point but I should imagine it was something like.

  • ·         Wish I was in California with Holohan.
  • ·         Will I be shivering for the rest of my life?
  • ·         I’ve put too much in to quit.
  • ·         Do I stay and get warm as per doctors orders – but I don’t know how long this will take.
  • ·         Glyn and Chris will be getting cold waiting for me.
  • ·         If I get warm, can I make it to Hebden Bridge with out putting myself or others in danger
  • ·         Do I withdraw and let the guys carry on.              

Not a decision I would like to make. After climbing into the camper to see how he was doing things it was obvious that things hadn’t changed that much. It had been over an hour and Wayne had said that it could take forever to get warm and didn’t want to hold Chris and me up any longer, so had decided to withdraw from the event. I can see the disappointment in his face, along side the, not fear, but a real understanding that he came close it to it and the potential dangers involved.

Like Chris I’m gutted when he tells me, but I feel I can’t show it for that would put additional pressure on him when he doesn’t need it. As much as I want him to get up and come with us he can’t. Inside I want him to tell the doctor that he’s fine, ready to go, but that’s selfish of me. He’d trained so hard and sacrificed so much, but I have to respect his decision. Now, my feet are like blocks of ice, I’m stamping the ground, shuffling around trying to keep them warm. I debate changing my wet socks and boots to get some of that fast towel action off Di to dry my feet but decide against it in the hope that once I get going they will warn up. So we say are good bye’s to a shivering Wayne with Max and Di saying they will take care of him, and off we go heading out to cross the M62 to the amusement of the traffic using it.

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