Thursday, 21 January 2016

Motivation and the Spine Race - a Cautionary Tale

If you read my last post on these pages you'll know that I pulled out of this year's Spine race at Checkpoint 1, that is almost as soon as it started. I said that my head wasn't in the right place for the trip. I got quite a few sympathetic comments from runners who know me so I was prepared to forget about the Spine and move on.

But I have a wise Scottish friend, a far better runner than me, who follows my progress, stays in touch, and keeps me honest when necessary. His message to me after my withdrawal from the event was a bit more challenging:

"I hope you'll do a full length blog post on the Spine, Andy, when the dust has settled a bit. I've been thinking about you / your Spine race quite a lot. Basically the event seems to come up with what I would expect. Much darkness. Varying degrees of dire weather. Sleep deprivation. Wet feet. Cold. Discomfort. Erratic food / eating times. And much else besides. So I would have expected you too to have anticipated all these things in advance. And to have been prepared for them both physically and "in the head". It doesn't seem to be as cold / challenging weather as last year. But otherwise it is coming up with what all is on the tin (this was before the weather turned cold and snowy later in the race) So I'm surprised, given your form on other big events, that you mentally switched off relatively early in the proceedings. I'm not saying it was wrong to pull out in the circumstances, just that I was surprised."

He's right of course; I shouldn't be allowed to get away without a better explanation of what went wrong. It will probably be good for me and there's even an outside chance it may prevent someone else making the same mistakes as me. So here goes, but be warned, it may be at least a two gin and tonic read.

The Race Entry

For several years, the Spine was a race that I said I would never attempt. Too cold, too dark, and seemingly with very few redeeming features. I read about Gary Morrison and co battling through the snow on the inaugural running and my main thought was "why?". It seemed a bit of a fringe event, remote from the mainstream ultra scene. What changed everything of course was the live tracking. Each January we became glued to the progress of the racers as they made their way across the map on our screens. Facebook played its part with the immediacy of its updates and photos, and the race became much more real to those of us watching. We knew what the weather was like, the state of the competitors, the activities of all the support and safety teams. For most runners who have done a few longish ultras, it must be quite an easy step from getting this involved to feeling "I'd like to be a part of that", and not much further to "I ought to have a go at it".

I had good enough qualifications for the race. Since taking up running about ten years ago I had completed 55 ultras varying from 30 to 200 miles in length. Before that I had spent many years as an Alpinist in Europe and other areas, lots of multi day trips in snowy mountains with my fair share of bad weather, cold bivouacs and finding my way over dangerous ground in the dark. Years of Scottish winter climbing meant I was familiar with the wind, powder, wet snow and chilling aspects of the UK winter climate. I knew I could deal with sleep deprivation, both from my climbing trips and the 6-day, 200 mile Tor des Geants race in Italy, during which I'd got by on a total of about 13 hours. I knew how to navigate.

So I had the "I want to have a go at this" and the "I can do this" boxes ticked. I also felt that although I'm hoping to play this game for a good while yet, at 67 I probably shouldn't procrastinate for too many years on this one. I got my entry form in and was accepted.


I decided that preparation for the race dropped into a number of categories:

1. Drawing on the experience of others

2. Making sure you understand the course

3. Devising your race strategy

4. Getting and testing all the kit you need.

5. Getting fit enough

I read all the blogs I could find and was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with several Spine finishers. On the Dragons Back race I spent almost a day with Mark Rawlinson and quite a bit of time with Steve Hayes and Jonathan Zeffert. I ran the final day of the Ring of Fire with Steve Jefferson, and I also talked to John Vernon who I've known for quite some time. All had a slightly different take on the race; the information I got from them was all valuable but it was clear that there were lots of different strategies - all these guys had found one that worked for them and I needed to find my own.

Before entering the race I had never set foot on the Pennine Way, so I decided to reccie most of the route beforehand. Cheating some would say, rather like looking at the picture on the box when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle, but some of us need all the help we can get. It's good to know the nature what's coming up and when, and of course it makes navigation incomparably easier if you've covered the ground before. Joe Faulkner's "Pennine 39" race in July covered the section from Middleton to Alston on a grey and occasionally misty but nevertheless summer day, but I didn't get around to starting on the rest until late October. I had a fairly fine day for the 30 miles from Malham to Hawes, but all my other days on the course were in some degree of rain and very wet underfoot. I didn't do the 10 miles along Hadrian's Wall from Greenhead as I assumed it would be straightforward and I never got around to the final 27 miles over the Cheviots because our flood difficulties in Keswick soaked up the time and energy. I did the rest.

So overall I had covered around 230 miles of the 270 total involved. I did almost all the distance in daylight because I see no point in reccies in the dark - you could be anywhere and you learn almost nothing that will help you in the event. I ended up with a lot of good memories - I enjoyed all my days out in spite of the conditions I encountered - and a set of maps extensively annotated with a waterproof pen detailing all the key navigational points. My impressions of the Pennine Way after these trips were a bit mixed. The first 70 miles are a bit unprepossessing; dull moors across the Dark Peak, hemmed in by towns and road crossings and punctuated by strings of reservoirs up to the Bronte country, followed by fairly unrelenting agricultural slop as far as Malham. Better country follows over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent, then a high featureless jeep track for almost 15 miles to Hawes. North of here the country gets much wilder. I was impressed with the unheralded Great Shunner Fell (higher than the much better known Pen-y-Ghent), the charm of Upper Swaledale, and the wide lonely moors north of Tan Hill. Middleton to Alston is probably the pick of the route, with the waterfalls of the Upper Tees, the remarkable High Cup and the traverse of Cross Fell and its neighbours. Further north, the farmland and low moors seem more open and attractive than those further south. I would have liked to do the Cheviots, I must go back there sometime. Aside from the layout of the countryside, the overriding impression of the track throughout is that it is just so wet underfoot, sometimes just muddy but often up to knee-deep. We had a particularly wet Autumn, but I can't imagine that it's much different most years.

With this knowledge of the course I was able to decide how I planned to tackle the event. The only place you can guarantee a warm, dry sleep is at the checkpoints. The distance between checkpoints is around 40 miles, except for the stretch between CP1 and CP2 which is 60 miles. Some people plan to sleep between checkpoints, either by taking a tent or by bivvying in accessible shelters - barns, bird hides, public toilets, and so on. Most legs also have pubs and cafes at some point where you can get a hot meal - if they are open when you pass them. I decided that from my reccies I could safely aim for an average 2,5 miles an hour outside of checkpoints which would allow for a reasonable stop at each one. I decided also that I have had enough uncomfortable bivvies over the years so I would plan to sleep only at checkpoints and not stop in between unless I was falling asleep, even on the 60 mile stage. This meant that I would have to stop and sleep at CP1 at Hebden Bridge. This is only 45 miles from the start, but with a 10am start it would still be pretty late when I got there and I would have no problem getting a couple of hours or so. After that I planned to gradually build up at least a 10-12 hour cushion over the time required to finish in the overall cutoff, because looking at previous splits it seemed that almost everyone slows down in the later stages of the race.

Getting my kit together was relatively straightforward as I had most of what was required from my previous activities. The mandatory list is quite comprehensive; as well as the normal bad weather clothing you have to carry at least a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, mat, stove, and two days food. Rucksack weight among the starters seemed to vary from around 6kg to 11kg - mine at the start was 8kg, I guess about typical.

There were only two items of kit that I devoted much time to thinking about. One was which jacket to take. It's very unlikely that you will take your jacket off during the event so you really need one which will not only keep out the weather but really allow any sweat to evaporate during dryer periods. After a lot of deliberation I bought a Paramo; I did all my November/December reccies in it and it performed really well in some pretty nasty weather so I was pleased with the choice. I would also put my bombproof TNF mountain jacket in the drop bag in case we got continuous torrential rain - a bit sweatier but longer to wet out. The other item I thought a lot about was socks. I had used Sealskinz (or the rather better DexShell equivalents) with some success in wet conditions in the past but I doubted their ability to work day after day for 18 hours plus. Eventually they leak from continuous water pressure (just as waterproof/breathable overtrousers will eventually leak if you sit in a stream in them), but they do at least seem to retain warmth. Some people advised going with Drymax, or Merino, or other combinations. I experimented with all sorts on my reccies. Continuous immersion in ankle to shin deep bog for 8 hours or so around Bellingham one day with the temperature just on freezing while wearing non-waterproof socks convinced me that waterproof was the only way to go.

A final potential kit item had me thinking for an hour or two. I had read in one of Spine finisher Ian Bowles' blogs a comment along the lines of "We haven't had a year of significant snow yet" with the implication that one would come eventually. I thought of the tedious hours I had spent wading through deep snow in Scotland, and how life had been made so much easier in this stuff by snowshoes. A gang of us had bought cheap pairs for an expedition to Kyrgyzstan nearly fifteen years ago. I searched the loft but the conclusion was that I must have thrown them out, and a quick search on the net showed that you wouldn't get much change out of £100 for a pair these days. I post-rationalised that the chance of use wasn't worth the cost, in any case in the UK the wind tends to scour powder from ridges and only leave it in valleys and depressions, and my drop bag was heavy enough already. Had I got to the Cheviots in the deep snow conditions they had this year this would have come back to me as rather questionable logic!

Getting fit enough for the Spine is no big deal if you are aiming for a 7 day completion. At this pace it is basically a long walk with odd bits of jogging on the downhills, and sometimes on the flats (for example across the miles of artificially laid flagstones across some of the moors) thrown in to use different muscles at times. I was covering about 30 miles on most of the reccie days, at a faster speed than needed for the event, without feeling in any way stressed, so I was fit enough.

I've been through this fairly long preamble mainly to remind myself that I was taking this event seriously and had prepared as well as I felt I could. By the end of December I was good to go.

The Race

I'm going to record my participation in the race in some detail, even though it lasted less than 24 hours. This is mainly for my benefit; I want to be able to look back over it in future and remember how it was, rather than remembering just the upsides which is how our unconscious selective memory tends to work. If you're bored by this but still interested in the motivation issue, then there's a fair bit you can skip now - go to the last section.

I had booked a hotel in Castleton for the Friday night before the start to avoid the high adrenalin scene I expected would be happening in and around Edale. Edale is only about an hour and a half from Chester so I drove over with Jan just after lunch. We checked in at Castleton then I left her in the hotel while I went over to Edale for the registration procedures, which were all pretty relaxed and went quickly. I was soon back for a good meal and an earlyish night. I didn't sleep particularly well but I often don't before big events, brain too active I suppose.

Jan dropped me in the Edale car park just after 9am on the Saturday and headed off for home. No going back now. I dropped my drop bag, had a cup of coffee and chatted briefly to one or two people in the field that I knew; Greg Crowley who I had met in the summer while walking the Dales Way with Jan; Javed Bhatti who I had run a few miles of the White Rose Ultra with late last year; Mark Dalton who I knew from the Hardmoors races. I also ran into Mark Rawlinson who was not running but had come over for the start and said he would probably do a bit of the first day's course just for fun. Before long we were gathered behind the starting arch in, appropriately, a field churned to mud by the Spine Challenger start three hours earlier. It was raining.

I felt none of the nervous excitement that I normally do on the start line of an adventurous race, and it seemed almost an anticlimax as the countdown was done and we were off, the runners at the front running, the majority of us walking steadily out of the field.

I walked up the road towards the traditional start of the Pennine Way with Mark Dalton, chatting about what we had been up to recently and plans for the year ahead. As we neared the start of the track I told him to push on as I expected him to be going a lot faster than me, so he jogged off. We were a fairly continuous crocodile over the gentle first mile or so then the field started to spread out as we hit the first climb (in fact one of the very few real climbs on the Pennine Way - it gains a lot of height over its length but usually on very gentle ascents). The ground on the Kinder plateau was a lot drier than it had been on my reccie, crossing the Down fall was an easy step rather than a wade and the couple of miles of slabs leading to the Snake road were mostly above water level. I chatted to one or two other runners across here as I passed and was passed but none for long. The bouldery and peaty ground here requires concentration so I almost didn't notice that the early rain was passing and the clouds lifting to give us some visibility. For January, it was turning into quite a nice day.

There were marshals at the Snake road which allowed an easy water top-up, then I headed up Bleaklow. Not far up the track a voice hailed me from behind. It was Mark Rawlinson and I spent an enjoyable half hour or so chatting with him as we walked steadily on. Mark wished me well and turned back for the day when we reached the pile of ironmongery on Bleaklow Head. I took a quick bearing because this is a place where you can easily set off in the wrong direction, then loped off downwards. 

Apart from short sections of slabs, the first 25 miles of the route is typical gritstone and peat moorland terrain; any path developed by passage of feet quickly becomes a mixture of rocks and boulders with peat in between, and unless the weather is exceptionally dry the peat will be in the form of mud. It's difficult to get much of a rhythm going on this sort of ground, almost every pace has to be judged individually and when you land in the peat a certain amount of sliding is likely. It's generally quite hard work. Life gets easier after the A635 is crossed at Wessenden, with good firm tracks and slabs at times, but the bouldery moorland keeps reappearing in two or three mile sections, notably on Castleshaw Moor, Blackstone Edge, and again before Stoodley Pike.

I overtook a couple of runners on the way down from Bleaklow to Torside, where there was another marshal and another water top-up opportunity. From there it is a steady pull up again to the moor above Laddow rocks. The track along the top of Laddow is a winding singletrack, rocky and slippery so I was hoping to get along it before dark. I just about made it, switching the torch on at the descent to the flattish area by the top end of Crowden Brook. It's difficult to avoid a fairly continuous shin-deep squelch here as the route crosses the stream several times, but it wasn't a lot worse in the dark than in my day-time reccie. A gentle climb on occasional slabs up to Black Hill follows. I could see the lights of one or two runners ahead and behind but they soon disappeared as we moved into an area of quite thick mist. The track was easy enough to follow here though. The knowledge from the reccies was very helpful; I'm normally fairly competent at remembering routes, and I only needed to take a quick look at map or GPS about three times all the way from the start to CP1. I was slightly concerned descending Black Hill because on my reccie the crossing of the stream at Dean Clough had been quite exciting even in daylight, but this evening the water was a good foot lower so no problem at all. There was another marshal at the A635, which was great. I had topped up with water from a fast stream on Laddow and put a chlorine tablet in it, but it was pretty brown and I was glad to swap it for a much cleaner-looking bottleful. I was carrying two half litre bottles on my front pack and needed to refill them fairly often as I tend to drink a half litre every couple of hours. I had another half litre in my backpack but I was saving that for cooking supper.

But by now it was raining heavily and a nippy westerly wind had sprung up, so I wanted to push on from the exposed road crossing without delay. The next section was much easier, good tracks across to Standedge apart from a muddy but short down and up to cross a valley at one point. Standedge is another fairly bleak road crossing, but the marshals there had set up a tent, and invited me in for a cup of tea - brilliant! With the rain hammering down on the canvas I took the opportunity to put on an extra layer; up until then I had just had a vest under my Paramo jacket, but the wind and rain had just started cooling me down. With a thin fleece as well I carried on feeling much more toasty.

After another couple of wet, muddy moor crossings I was approaching the bridge over the M62. My torch seemed to be fading quite rapidly after only 4 or 5 hours which was a bit concerning. I later remembered that the batteries in this torch were not new, but I needed to do something about it now. There were several vehicles in the little car park by the radio mast, and a Mountain Rescue guy in one of them kindly shone me a light while I dug out my other torch. I asked him if he had any water; he hadn't but he offered me a Mars Bar which I gratefully accepted. I carried on over the motorway then onto the mud and boulders of Blackstone Edge.

I had been grazing on snackfood fairly regularly since the start - I later worked out that I took in around 3000 calories between Edale and CP1 - but when it's cold, wet and dark there is a big psychological boost in stopping for a hot meal. Before the race I had thought quite a bit about how to manage this on day one. Once past CP1, opportunities become much better, in the form of pubs and cafes but also sheltered places to cook - barns, bothies, bus shelters, toilets and so on. But from the start in Edale there is no shelter at all, unless you go quite a long way off route, until you reach the White House pub on the A58 which is about 35 miles in. In early years when the race started at 8am, most competitors could get to the pub in time for a meal but nowadays with the 10am start it's beyond the comfortable reach of many, me included. I had decided that if the weather was bad I would get to the pub at around 10pm, go in and have a coffee and a warm then find somewhere sheltered in the lee of the buildings to make up a meal. I had plenty of freeze-dried meals that you just have to pour hot water on then wait a few minutes before eating. But when I arrived at the car park next to the pub the Mountain Rescue guys were there in force and immediately offered hot drinks. I gratefully accepted, then asked if I could have some hot water to make up a meal. They invited me inside their ambulance and I spent a wonderful fifteen minutes drinking tea and eating curry in the warm and dry. They were checking people through the road crossing and I asked how much longer they expected to be out there. I was surprised to learn that they were still waiting for at least twenty more runners after me.

I stepped out of the van to find that although the wind was still chilly, the rain had pretty well stopped. I pushed on along a very easy track beside a string of reservoirs. The easy going was short-lived though as I was soon into the boulders and mud again for the mile or two up to Stoodley Pike monument. I caught up two or three other runners here and we all huddled in the shelter of the tower for a bit to eat and drink. The descent from Stoodley Pike was very tedious. Unavoidably muddy ground on a significant downhill slope meant a lot of sliding around and slow going. Over half way down the slop gave way to a better track which led down to the river and road crossing in Calderdale. 

I remembered the climb up the other side as being steep in places - a lot of it was on a good cobbled track but it also had its share of slippery mud. I got a bit ahead of the group near the top; I knew there was a right turn into a field coming up but I didn't concentrate hard enough and missed it, which cost me an extra couple of hundred yards to get back on track. The route here goes up and over a hill on grassy fields. These again were very slippery, more of a barely controlled slide down the other side. We had caught up another group of runners and everyone was having a hard time on the descent. At least I remembered the slight jag to the left just before the final road and avoided all the tangling with cottage gardens that I had done on my reccie. Once on the road, the Spine diverts from the Pennine way for a mile down to CP1 at Hebden Hey. As we jogged down the road we were passed by runners leaving the checkpoint who were back on their way up, though some of these were Spine Challenger runners who had started earlier from Edale. The final few hundred yards down to the CP were down a very slippery mud and rock path. I doubt if I managed better than one mile and hour down here. The only consolation was that the lights behind weren't going any faster.

I eventually reached CP1 seventeen hours and twenty-five minutes after leaving Edale. At the start of the day I thought I might manage 16 hours but I'm sure the additional time was down to the slow going through the mud. I had heard tales of CP1 being a crowded and chaotic place, but when I got there it was working just fine.

There was an outside tap where I could wash the majority of the mud off my trousers and shoes, and a porch where you could leave your dirtier stuff. The first person I saw as I unpacked my drop bag was Greg, just getting ready to leave after two and a half hours sleep and looking strong. I had a shower and cleaned my feet. They were fine. The socks had obviously started leaking at some point but my feet were never cold and I had no blisters or hot spots. I then had a big bowl of chilli and several cups of tea then went up to a bunkroom for some sleep.

Without setting an alarm, I woke up after a couple of hours or so feeling OK. I went downstairs and had some porridge, It was still dark but looking outside I could see that it had snowed while I was asleep. I started packing my rucksack ready for the next stage, but halfway through this exercise a thought came powerfully into my head. I was doing this event and I was doing OK, but I just wasn't enjoying it. I wasn't excited about it in any way. And I was going to go on not enjoying it for another six days.

Hang on, I thought, don't make any quick decisions you'll regret. I hung around unsure. I went back to bed for a while, mulling it over. I don't drop out of races unless I simply can't, or unless someone says I can't, go any further. I couldn't put my finger on what the problem was. I wasn't bothered by the cold, or the dark, or the snow and rain. I was just overwhelmed by the sheer tediousness of making progress. 

After a couple of hours I felt no differently. By now it was 8.30am and I had to be out by 10.00 if I was continuing. I handed in my tracker and went home.

Understanding what happened.

As I write this it's now 10 days since I left the race at Checkpoint 1 and I think I've had long enough to gather and marshal my thoughts on what happened.

Since I started participating in ultras I've completed 55 and pulled out of 7. Early failures were mainly due to an inability to get my eating and drinking right, but with experience I now know how to manage this. In the last three or four years I have only had to stop in events where for one reason or another I wasn't going fast enough to beat the cutoffs. Yet in the Spine, a race that I believed (and still believe) that I was quite capable of completing, I simply gave up when I was in good shape and had plenty of time in hand.

I think I have to resort to one or two little anecdotes to explain what happened.

Fairly late on in the Tor des Geants in 2012, I think on day 5, when the field was getting really strung out, I was running with a French guy who I had kept company with for the past 12 hours or so. At around midnight we came upon a small mountain refuge and went in for a warm by the fire and some soup. My companion said he would stay and get an hour's sleep, but I was still well awake and thought I would push on for another couple of hours. Be careful if you go on alone, said the guardienne. The path is very exposed for the next few kilometers and a fall could be fatal. I went out into the night, and once I had gone maybe fifteen minutes the lights of the refuge faded away behind. There was no moon but a million stars overhead. It was a chilly night, well below freezing and with a chill wind. For the two or three hours it took to reach the next refuge, another little one still high in the mountains, I saw no other runners' lights, either ahead or behind. And yet as I wound my way carefully along the narrow path clinging to the side of the mountains, I felt that there was no place in the world I would rather have been.

When I was new to ultras, my first longish one was the West Highland Way. At 95 miles it was at least 40 miles further than I had gone before. When it came to the race there was something definitely wrong. I never found out exactly what it was but I was really struggling from 20 miles onwards. I felt exhausted and nauseous was unable to eat and drink more than sips and nibbles. But I really wanted to finish my first "proper" ultra so I toughed it out for another 24 hours or so, hating every step but getting to the finish eventually.

For most of my twenties and thirties I spent a lot of my leisure time climbing mountains. I climbed for many seasons with one particular partner and we were a good team. With ambition, a reasonable degree of competence and a lot of persistence we got up routes that were respectable undertakings back then. It wasn't without risk or discomfort. We dodged stones and ice, played games with seracs, shivered away 8 hour nights tied to ledges watching the stars go across the sky, led out more than enough pitches where a fall would have been unthinkable, and had one or two narrow escapes. I don't acclimatise quickly and often had headaches and feelings of continual nausea at higher altitudes. But the feeling of achievement after a successful ascent was always worth the game we were playing. Then one afternoon we went up to the Trident hut to attempt a climb called the Central Pillar of Freney on the south side of Mont Blanc .Go quickly on the approach said hut guardian, the couloir is not in good condition, three climbers were killed by stonefall there last night. Later that evening we headed for the foot of the face. The ground all around was a mess of stone and ice fall debris and I just felt the enterprise was unjustifiable. We found a sheltered place to bivvy and the following day climbed out via the Route Major on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc, a still classic but much easier and safer route than our original gameplan. After that day, although I continued climbing and still do occasionally, I nearly always chose routes that could be enjoyed for their intrinsic pleasure, and which had much less objective danger. Pleasure had replaced achievement as my main driving force in the activity.

What I'm coming round to after all this rambling is this:

1. We engage in activities that sometimes involve a bit of discomfort, but we do this because we get a lot of pleasure out of them. We often get pleasure in situations that some people might find difficult to understand.

2. We put up with periods that are no fun, either because (a) we believe that they won't last too long, or (b) because we have an overall achievement goal that makes it worthwhile.

3. The balance that we see as personally right for us between pleasure and achievement may vary from event to event, or it may change during our career in the activity in question. 

So I'm pretty clear now what went wrong with my Spine race. If I'm totally honest, the reason that I entered is that I thought it would be a good adventure, a winter trip up the Pennine Way with a team of people helping you to stay safe and a warm place to sleep every 40 miles or so. I never thought about the finish, I just assumed it would come along to round off the week. I'm not sure why I found the only day's participation that I managed so tedious; maybe having spent nearly 100 hours on the Pennine Way in the previous two months had taken the edge off the adventure, maybe not. But when it became clear to me that it was just going to be a chore all the way then I was never going to finish. That wasn't my main reason for going and I simply didn't want it enough.

Would I go again? Well, I'm wary enough never to say never, but I think it's unlikely. Not next year for sure, too soon after the bad experience. But I do find a score to be settled a powerful motivator. Perhaps the Spine Challenger Race (the first 100 miles of the PW) would be logical for next year, but it's not the best part of the route, the Pennine Way doesn't really get attractive until Malham; a winter trip along a route like the West Highland Way is maybe more appealing. So I guess at the moment I would say that while the Spine is a great concept and a well-organised event, and I certainly respect and admire anyone who can see it through to the end, it's probably not for me.

If anyone is reading this who has not done the event but is perhaps contemplating an entry, my main (and only) piece of advice would be that you need to be very clear about why you are entering, what you want to get out of it, and what you are prepared to put up with if it doesn't work out quite the way you planned.  I'll just leave you with a couple of quotes that probably sum up what is required for a successful completion.

"The Spine Race is not about speed but about managing resources, pain and boredom" (Mark Rawlinson, finisher 2015)

"I have never wanted anything more" (Anna Buckingham, finisher 2016)

Postscript (31 January)

Yesterday I ran as sweeper on one of the "official" Lakeland 100 reccies, a job that I've done a few times over the past year or so. It was a night outing from Ambleside to Coniston. Two or three miles from the end, just after the steep little uphill out of Tilberthwaite, four of us who were together took a short breather and switched off our lights to enjoy the darkness for a few minutes. It was an uplifting experience, one that I never got on the Spine. But it must be there somewhere so I put in an application for next year's Challenger  -  all I need to do now is learn to love those muddy brown moors. If I get a place, I will get to the finish.


an said...

Have you thought about posting a link to this on one of the Spine facebook pages? I think it'd be a really useful read for anyone interested in the Spine.

John Kynaston said...

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Andy.

I must admit I'm still a little confused as to why you stopped as you had prepared so thoroughly and were going well. Maybe the fact that you didn't want it enough was the key thing.

Anyway recover well and I'll see you at the Hardmoors 55!

Andy Cole said...

Thanks John. You'll guess whose comment it was that prompted the post. He since commented "I think I'm seeing your Spine experience in book terms. Imagine someone suggests a particular book to you. You've heard of the author, have enjoyed that author's previous books, and this suggestion all looks good. You buy the book and start tucking in. But for whatever reason you can't get into this book. You lose interest. But the book is relatively short, only 250 pages, so you grin and bear it and get through the whole thing. But if the book is actually 800 pages you're going to be daunted by the prospect of grinding through it, so you pull the plug." Pretty close.

h4rsx said...

A great read Andy, thanks for sharing your very mindful insights of the race.

You have to be true to yourself and you was. You have a wealth of experience from a lifetime in the hills and mountains to draw on not to mention the number of ultras that have gone before.

That wealth of knowledge gives you a greater knowledge of your motivation for anything you embark upon.

We enter these races to enjoy them ultimately and I take my hat off to you for making the right decision for you. I've absolutely no doubt you would have gone on to finish, but only should you have wanted to.

Many of us mere mortals wouldn't have such a luxury of that choice. :)

Keith Hughes said...

Great read Andy and really interesting to hear your reasons for pulling out.. If you don't want it then why bother.. Great effort and look forward to seeing you later this year ..

Stan Bland said...

A very honest commentary on your outing; respect for toeing the line.I can empathise to a degree especially now that I have years behind me. If I am not enjoying the countryside, views or experience then I tend to stop. Life is short enough not to be enjoying what is, after all, a recreation. Some will disagree, you must go on unless physically incapable and that is fine for them. No longer for me. A question for you, do you think that motivation decreases when you have no need to prove to yourself that you can do the distance? You clearly thought you could.

dogrunner said...

An interesting read Andy. I have been in your situation in other races and DNF;t If the race is not working for you especially one as long as the Spine then beating yourself up is just not worth it. One thing you did not mention is forming any bonds with other runners on the trail. In practice this tends to happen from day two onwards . The bonds may be tempory but they can transform your mood. Another aspect of the 2016 Spine that I feel is quite significant was the lack of Moonlight. Moonlight can have a massive effect on you especially for anyone normally at home in the Mountains. Good luck in 2017. Ian Bowles

flanker said...

Thanks Andy. A great write up.
And I know exactly where you are coming from. I had a place last year but pulled out early autumn when I realised that it didn't excite me. While the idea of the prep, putting together the kit, doing the planning interested me, the idea of spending a week ploughing slowly through mud did nothing for me at all. I enjoy running ultras for the journey, not the finish, and I just couldn't see the fun in the journey (especially if it was wet).
I've always felt slightly guilty about that decision, wondering if I just wimped out. Hearing someone else express it helps rationalise my choice. Thanks.