Spine Race 2024 - Alston to Bellingham

This is a section that I struggled with last year as to begin with there are lots of farmland with twists and turns, followed by moorland containing false paths and sheep trods.  What a difference doing this section in the daytime makes; what is vague at night becomes blindingly obvious during the day.  I had about 5 hours of daylight to make as much progress as possible.  In the early part of the day it was sunny and all felt good.  That was until more ice hidden underneath the snow and further trips and falls.  I must have fallen over only twice in all of the Spine Race in 2023, but at this point along it must have been at least 20 times.  I was coming to the conclusion that the shin splints that were developing on my way to CP3 at Langdon Beck (that ultimately led to my demise in 2022), were in fact impact injuries on my lower leg from all the falls.  I needed to keep an eye on it as there was clear swelling but in terms of pain it was manageable.  I was however careful not to alert the medical team as it looked worse than it was in reality - there was nothing they could have done in any case.


At about 4pm I decided to do the prudent thing and put on some extra mid-layers as I could feel the chill in the air and an extra cold night on its way.  As I did so, my outer shell jacket zip broke.  It was that 'oh shit' moment (apologies for the language) where the initial reaction is that's my race over.  As soon as I looked at the zip there was no way it was ever going to do back up again and I certainly didn't want to let my fingers get exposed for too long as it was already well below zero with the wind chill.  Something in me just kicked in though - it was at least dry for the time being which was in my favour.  I soon found my foil blanket and I figured that if now wasn't a time to use it then when is?  I sort of stuffed it along the front of my chest to create a wind barrier.  I then found an Iceland shopping bag and then stuffed that towards the top of my jacket near my neck.  I then used the straps from my rucksack and GoPro to tightly seal the jacket as much as possible.  The end result was actually warmer than had my zip not broken in the first place.  I knew though that it only bought me time as if it snowed or rained then it would have been a different proposition.  Not for the first time in this race, I looked like a complete wally, especially as the plastic bag kept slipping from my torso!

I was in a quandry as to what to do - do I inform the organisers?  I had the situation under control so didn't feel the need and I'll speak to anyone from the Safety Team that I bump into as and when it occurred.  As it happened I encountered no one all the way to Greenhead so my makeshift fix lasted best part of 4 hours.  At Greenhead I popped to the loos and managed to actually make a one time repair to the zip of my jacket so all was well again ready for the night shift.

The first section of Hadrians Wall came and went, but the second half came at the same time as another huge wave of sleep deprivation hit.  I resorted to singing nursery rhymes, particular favourites seemed to be 'Wind the Bobbin Up' and 'Chick Chick Chick Chicken, Lay a Little Egg for Me'.  I then changed the words from the Italian Job to singing it as the 'Sleep Deprivation Society'.  I must have sung these three songs a hundred times or more but it never really helped.  As I turned off the wall to go North it was getting worse and worse.  I lay once on a rock for 5 minutes and against a dry stone wall for a further 10 minutes where I instantly fell asleep.  It would provide momentary respite, but I was too far gone, I needed proper sleep.  As I entered the forests I was desperately wishing the oasis of Horneysteads with its outbuildings and warm broth that I could see in the distance would be closer.  In the dark it always feels like its just a mile away but never gets any closer.  I was now at the point of constantly falling asleep on my feet, bam - my eyes would shut and I would stagger a few paces before momentarily waking, bam - and again, bam - again.  No matter what I tried there was nothing I could do to stop this.  I was staggering all over the place like I was drunk.  Amongst all this I had overtaken two competitors at the back of the Northern Challenger who were having difficulties with the navigation.  Despite my slow progress I knew they were having their own troubles so I called Race Control to see whether they would like me to help.  Somewhat selfishly I was kind of relieved when they said I should just continue and they would keep an eye out as I really was not in the right state to provide any meaningful assistance.  I rocked into Horneystead Farm at about 3.20am.

I was offered the chance to sleep in the bed they have set up in the barn.  In the end I fell asleep there for an hour, was gently woken and asked to be left for another 15 minutes.  Crikey, having sleep there was never in my plans but I needed it and then some.  I left at 4.45am and arrived into Bellingham around 7am without further drama.

I'll be honest I'm not a huge fan of Bellingham and having now had a sleep a couple of hours earlier with day light about to break I decided to roll the dice and just get in and out as soon as possible and deal with any sleep situations as they arise.  I was in the checkpoint for only about 45 minutes in total which is pretty crazy when you think about all of the troubles I'd had overnight.  In the end I'd managed to leapfrog Eoin, Elaine and Nicky, but I said a quick hello upon my departure as they were getting ready to leave themselves and said that I might see them out on the course as I planned to take some further naps during the day.


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