Spine Race 2023 - Leg 5 (Alston to Bellingham)

On paper this leg looks to be the easiest.  For the first time I didnt know any of this section, the possible exception being where we follow Hadrians Wall which I have done in the past going the other way.  Early on I hooked up with a French competitor for about an hour, but the pacing was just too hot for me and we drifted apart.  I have to say that although I consider myself a very proficient navigator I found it very challenging here and needing to use the GPS almost constantly.  Despite this, I'd often drift into the wrong path or into a sheep trod and I must have lost loads of time here. 

Just before arriving into Greenhead and hitting Hadrians Wall I met Malcolm who views the daily videos my wife makes.  I couldn't believe he had driven some 20 miles at 1 am in the morning to cheer me on!  I felt really bad explaining that I couldn't really stop and he was very understanding, but it was very much appreciated and I do still owe you that pint!  At Greenhead car park toilets I took the opportunity to have something to eat and a quick rest as well as replenishing my water.  Until now I have forgot to mention the number of times that my water bottles froze.  From Day 2 onwards it started to become a problem and eventually became constant in the latter half of the race.  To begin with I attempted super strength powder mixtures, assuming the salts would lower the freezing point, but all this achieved was an upset tummy and they still froze in any case.  In the end I part mitigated the problem by filling them with half cold and half boiling water but this only bought time (probably an extra hour).

Along Hadrians Wall in the dark I was having huge waves of sleep issues.  Eventually it was starting to result in a slightly staggered walk and I was starting to see things.  This wasn't new, as I had been seeing strange objects earlier on in the race, but they were infrequent or quickly turned back to normal as you got closer to the item in question.  It was no good.  I needed a rest.  For some reason I thought a 4 min stop would be enough on Hadrians Wall itself.  As you would expect it achieved absolutely nothing.  I was starting to hope that for the first time the headtorches behind me would catch me up.  I could always see headtorches behind, sometimes getting quite close, but in the end never near enough.  As it turned out I think quite a few people in my section of the field were all having similar sleep problems and were all having to stop for some sleep.

I eventually turned North off Hadrians Wall and it was here I needed the big guns.  I was carrying some imitation Red Bull for emergency use only.  Only that it had pretty much froze inside the can, but still drinkable albeit was more like a Red Bull slush puppy.  It did nothing.  I needed another sleep.  I found a random rock in the middle of a moor, wiped the snow off it and laid on it for 10 minutes.  I was out like a light.  Those 10 minutes made a huge difference and I felt refreshed (well to a point).

I now hit the diversions through the forest and it was here that I hit a second phase of sleep deprivation (little did I know that further phases were to come).  I was seeing ornamental mallards on the edge of the forest, rocks in the shape of various farm animals, twinkly lights in the trees and so on.  I would describe that first phase of sleep deprivation as seeing the odd thing being not what it should be, but deep down knowing that its because you are sleep deprived.  This next phase you start to see multiple things at the same time being different from reality, and never really having a point when any normalcy returns i.e. seeing unusual things becomes a constant.  You also start to believe they are real, but only disproved once you are on top of the item in question.

Not sure where this was taken, but it led to a Facebook post from the organisers referring to my sighting of ducks in the forest!

Despite all this going on I was finding one of the best defences against the need for sleep was to try and break into a run.  Its slightly a counter-intuitive idea but it worked for me and I went at a cracking pace pretty much all the way to Horneystead Farm.  The hot broth and tea on arrival was a godsend.  Beyond Horneystead, I managed to break into a slow trot, but the earlier pace had gone.  I arrived into Alston at 11.15am and now in a bit of a quandary as to what to do.  Clearly I needed a rest and the amount of sleep deprivation suggested I needed a good block of sleep.  But, if I followed this strategy I'd be setting back out just as it went dark.  In the end I decided that as race position was not important (the positions I list in this blog I had no idea about during the race itself and only know about post event), that its better to finish safely than to put everything at risk.  I therefore asked for a shower (first of the race), then sleep.

After I had eaten (a jacket potato with cheese) and was about to be led to the shower, something changed in me, I'm not sure how or why.  I think it was just an overriding desire to get the race done and to not prolong the agony.  I therefore went for a sleep on a 2 seater Chesterfield sofa with my feet hanging over the edge for just an hour.  I went back out at 2.15pm still not entirely sure considering how sleep deprived I was how much of a bad idea this was going to be.  Still, I told myself I had the potential for a further 30mins at Byrness at CP5.5, and also however long needed at Hut 1 and Hut 2 in the Cheviots.

I arrived into Bellingham in 20th (lost 1 position during the leg) and departed towards the finish in 17th.


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