The Montane Spine Challenger

Well the day finally arrived that I’d spent twelve weeks training for or as the wife might say, spending money on. To be fair I had spent a sizeable chunk of my hard earned on getting the lightest weight kit possible although it wouldn’t be just for this race. “What, there’s others like this she says”??.

We travelled up to Edale on the Friday afternoon to attend the race briefing and to go through the kit check. The weather was rough and the forecast was even worse with wind looking like the major problem. On arrival we parked by the race start and would be sleeping in the van. After faffing around a bit I went through kitcheck relatively quickly without problems which was a relief. I saw a few familiar faces. Last years winner and race favourite Marcus Scotney now on his way back home for vegan brownies in prep for the race and looking fitter than ever.

Onto the brief where I met Daniel Hendrickson who I’d raced in the Nomad50 last year. He did the challenger last year and finished 7th. I picked Dans brains a bit for information about the course. After the brief it was down to the ramblers for dinner and a few refreshments. Just fizzy pop for me of course. Then it was Back to the van to finish off the kit and bed down for the night not that I would get much sleep as ever. The wind was howling and the van was rocking, no pleasure been had though ;). It was very cozy…. Thank god we are in here and not doing something daft on the hills I said to lisa…. I think the second word was off anyway…

So to race morning and a knock on the van. The rest of my My support team had arrived. Dale Colclough who coached me through my Bob Graham success and Frank Murphy. Frank runs StokeFit. Along with the wife they would be following me around the course intercepting me at various points on route.

The startline then, the weather was not too bad I thought but just as we lined up….the heavens opened, to accompany already strong winds. Time to Don waterproof.

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Ed Catmur another race favourite lined up beside me in just a T-shirt and some rather eccentric leggings to say the least. He would soon layer up though. Ed has a number of 100 mile wins and mountain marathon titles to his name so has to be a contender. He has run 100 miles in 15:45 hours :/. This race is a different beast though.

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Away we go, Ed and Marcus are off like rockets, I have no intention of going with them and eventually settle into a pack of four runners behind the front two.

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We meandered along the Pennine way from Edale to Jacobs ladder the first climb of the day or even days. It was like a sketch show and we were just having buckets of water tipped over us to make it harder and this was before we got onto the kinder plateau.

The running paused as we climb Jacobs ladder. Then like a scene from saving private Ryan the machine guns opened. Ratatat ratatat on the hood of my waterproof. Then bang, mortar bomb gusts were coming in at 100mph. This was a battle to stay safe and upright. We were all disorientated and I noticed a few taking the wrong path on kinder, back to Edale. Perhaps wouldn’t have been a bad idea. I shouted them back onto the PW line over to kinder down. Which of course in this wind was now kinder up as the waterfall blows back up the entrant. One was Ed catmur who had dropped back from marcus

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The guns intensify as the water slams into you with every gust of wind. Just get across this f****r quickly I thought. Now my race plan was to keep my heartrate at 125 bpm and to stay aerobic for 112 miles. That plan was being carried off kinder scout in the wind somewhere as I could hear my panting behind my buff. I’d been anaerobic for a while now and I knew I’d pay later but this was about the moment in hand, I had to get out of the line of fire.

Next task was to get to snakes pass where there were lots of people waiting and for a while the wind was on my back for once. Longtime friends Sue and Nigel Jeff were waiting. The race is suspended she says and Marcus is out, he has sprained his ankle. I was gutted for Marcus and gutted that the race was suspended. I gave sue a hug and climbed into a waiting van with a log burner manned by race officials. Wait a minute…. I gave sue a hug? She got me into running from my hill walking background. I should of given her a slap ;)…

The officials said we would be credited the time we spent in the van on our overall finish time. I started voicing my opinion. ” I think we need to get going. There’s no point holding us here as we are over the dangerous part for now and we are going to be left on the moors in darkness in the elements if we don’t move. I was shivering now and was wrapping up in blankets and duvets. There won’t be any room in the van for more. I was released after 28 mins. Others runners had gone through while I was putting my layers back on so I’d dropped back in the field. I was annoyed that I’d gone anoerobic and really could have walked to here now from Edale and been in a better state. I eventually worked my way past folk, not intentional to be at the front, just keeping my race pace. I eventually caught Daniel who had got out of the van earlier. Looks like I was leading the race…. 10 miles in. Just another 100 to go then πŸ™‚

I arrived at Torside resovoir which was my first point with my crew. “Trackers all over the place, it’s got you in 15th then 1st” Dale said. I explained what had happened. I scoffed some food and was out on my way after a few minutes.

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Just as I got out Ed came by and we ran together for a while and had a brief chat. I let him go. I had no intention of running at his pace for the race, I was on a different strategy. Just before we were to ascend from torside I saw Ed fall. I caught him and checked he was alright. Bleeding a bit he said but ok. This race was going to be about getting to the end in one piece. Sort of last man standing. Keep eating, keep drinking , keep warm was my mantra. I’d now taken out my running poles. One to help keep me upright and two they are supposed to conserve energy. I’m still debating them.

The next part of the race I hate. It’s all barren moorland which on a nice hot summers day may be lovely…. Today it isn’t. When I reccied the route it wasn’t so in my opinion it’s shit. I just knuckled down and got through it. There were Marshals at wassendon with flapjack and water and were appreciated. I made my way past reservoir after reservoir until I got to Bruns clough where the team were. A bit of paleo cake here and paracetamol I think and good to go then it’s across saddleworth to the M62 bridge. My team intercepted me a few times which was nice and morale boosting. They were Snapping pics as I laboured across the moors into 60 mph winds. It was getting the norm now. I knew I’d added at least 25% energy exertion fighting the wind.

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I could see the M62 mast and then noticed a runner approaching with two patterdales…. There’s only one bloke I know that runs with two patterdales, it was Steve foster who had come out to say hello. I’ve ran with Steve and his dogs on BGR reccies. We ran down to the Mast where the crew had intercepted me. A short slurp and I was away. Steve stopped for a brew and later caught me by the trig on blackedge. My crew would go to the whitehouse pub where I’d scheduled another feed.

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Now the weather demons had returned in the shape of hail storms. Wack, straight in the kisser. Ouch, I put on my goggles and buffed up. It was rough but passed after half hour. On to hebden bridge and the climb out of Calderdale is crap to say the least. Then, when you get to the top you have to go a mile or so out your way to get to the race checkpoint and then back again to the PW. I made a slight nav error here which cost me 5 mins which annoyed me since I’d reccied it. I got to the checkpoint where the filmcrew were filming and the officials were waiting with my drop bag. I forgot I was only the second runner they would have seen for the day and they were all over me which was great. I didn’t go in for warm food as I had that already in the van. I just got on my way. As I worked my way back to the PW I passed daniel. A brief chat and hug and we made our ways in opposite directions. I also passed another runner too. I think it was Lee walker.

It’s night now, my next meet with my team was cowling and boy was this section grim. It was quite scenic on reccies but tonight it was black and the weather demons were out to get me. Just when you think you’re getting a reprieve it unleashes another element upon you. This time it was snow. Not particularly thick and heavy but enough to create whiteout in combination with headtorch and wind. Just get off the moors quickly I kept saying to myself. The descent into cowling is horrible. It’s just a boggy rocky marshy mess. Running ain’t possible, then when I got to the bottom I found myself wandering around somebodies garden trying to find a gate or stile onto the Pennine way. Thankfully I saw dales headtorch. They had been watching the tracker. Phew, that was a low moment in the race. The crew said that Ed had only come through half hour or so and he didn’t look to good and I was catching him. Well I must have looked ok but I felt how Ed had looked 😟

Next stop would be Gargrave. I changed into my Mudclaws because on recce the river was a bog fest. On this section I started my hallucinations, monsters and angels on bridges, quite surreal but at least I had somebody to talk to. I reached Gargrave which is a beautiful town but it was asleep. I crept through it to the awaiting mudfest of the Pennine way through cow trodden fields. I took my fairies and demons with me. Then main obstacles now the weather had tamed a little were gates and stiles……..or lack of them. I just couldn’t find them in the dark especially when flurries of snow blocked the view. I seemed constantly to be climbing fences and walls which I assure you at this stage of the race is not good. I’m making my way to Malham. Another beautiful part of the country. On a different day!!

I nearly missed the crew here as they were on the pub car park off the PW luckily dale spotted me. It was an important stop because I wanted to layer up for fountains fell and Pen-y-Ghent . I knew It would be rough. Frank doused me with pills and changed the batteries. They also changed my socks which was eventful because my feet were covered in cowshit. My team had played a blinder. They are being sleep deprived too. They also have to deal with a grumpy Janson now.

I make my way to Malham tarn through another snow storm which made the journey over the limestone ankle snap traps even more interesting….not.

I got to checkpoint 1.5. It was lovely and warm in here and despite just being fed and watered I excepted a cup of coffee off the very welcoming race official. Accompanied by his collie. He informed me Ed was just in and looked good… What’s changed there then from my teams report. I felt terrible. I bid him farewell and made my way into a full winter land now. It was white over but I could follow Eds footsteps through the snow. I broke into a steady trot and slipped catching my already bruised knee that I’d done a week earlier. Damn, I could feel it swelling. It was never going to stop me but would definitely slow me on this mountain section.

When I eventually got to pen y Ghent off fountains fell I’d changed to speed marching which was still quite painful but different. The crew were on the road and told me I was 4km behind Ed and about 10km in front of the next man. I jumped out and made my way up PYG. Mountain rescue were there and told me not to go over the top and diverted me another way. I hadn’t the energy to argue. This would be the new race route. The wind was hurricane force across the tops again. Down into Horton where the crew were at the cafe. This would be the last time I saw them before hawes so I had a feed and layered up.

I was now run/walking slowly but it slowed even more as my knee was really stiff. It was practically a death march. On reaching the top of cam fell, a horrible climb with 100 miles in your legs, the weather that opened the race had returned for my finish. In fact is was worse. I couldn’t stay on my feet, the wind just kept coming and coming. I now fell and twisted my other knee, this was a fcuking joke. Give me a chance I screamed. It was saving private Ryan again. This time the closing scene. I’m firing pot shots with a pistol at a tank!! That tank knocked me off my feet, threw me into a ditch and when I got up my waterproofs were around my ankles. Wtf!! This is Satan having a laugh I thought. On my descent I’m slipping time and time again. I’ve got my granny spikes in my pack. Why don’t you put then on my angel says….because you cannot be bothered says the demon. I went with the demon unfortunately. Anyway, I could see Hawes. This was soon to be over. What a relief to get into town. Could I find the checkpoint and finish, no!! I even went into the creamery and asked a man who was covered head to foot in health and safety food hygiene gear. No wonder he looked blank. Here was a bloke covered in cowshit amongst stuff standing in an immaculate food prep area. Anyway I saw lisa waving at the bottom of the street. It was done. Relief and elation.

I was welcomed and cheered in. After all this I just realised I’d finished 2nd in this race. Ed was there and looked like he’d been out for a 5k jog. He opened up nearly a two hour gap on me in that last section. Amazing and well done to him.

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I want to thank my team. My wife Lisa, Dale Colclough and Frank Murphy. They were brilliant and it helped me immensely. Thank you to Scott Gilmour and the spine team and volunteers and also to Montane for making this happen. They are still out there now on the full foot race. The weather is not relenting either so hats off to them.

So a few weeks rest before I resume training again with L100 my main goal. I always say a 100 mile race is not in your muscles, it’s in your bones. You need to rest……..don’t mind if I do…….I’ll just sit here for a few days with my Hobbit feet as Marcus calls the post 100 mile spoils

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