Spine Race 2024 - Bellingham to Kirk Yetholm

I would guess that upon leaving Bellingham total sleep was less than 3hrs 30mins in my first 100 hours of the race.  The plan today was to just get to the finish, but to take power naps as needed along the way.  The day turned out to be really pleasant, very crisp due to the cold but almost spring like when the sun was out.  I found the sweet spot for me was to power nap every 8-9km for 20 minutes.  I just found a suitable area, left my rucksack on my back and lay on the heather, setting my watch to wake me up after 20 minutes.  Bliss.

The second time after about 15 minutes I naturally woke up to find Eoin coming past me.  I didn't feel as refreshed after this second nap so otherwise expected to need one more nap before arriving into Byrness.  As it happened me and Eoin struck up a conversation that lasted a good couple of hours.  I think it helped us both to keep the sleep issues at bay and it felt like we talked about anything and everything.  I recall a lot of discussion centred around our background to running which was very different as well as other random topics that include chafing if I recall correctly!  It really was a very enjoyable part of the race for me as I hope it was for Eoin and it felt like a far more significant part of the race story for me than the 2 or so hours it lasted in reality.

At Byrness there was another random incident.  Another competitor had arrived and was clearly upset about being gluten free and being given vegan food that happened to be gluten free.  His view was that he should have been given food that contained both meat whilst being gluten free.  He then started to swear at the volunteer.  I get where he is coming from but its simply impossible to cater for all diets all the time and I think being offered vegan food is a fair compromise.  Otherwise someone requiring Halal food would need their own menu, same for vegetarian and vegan etc.  Sometimes its just logistically easier to group certain food intolerance's together, but he clearly was not happy about it.  In fairness to him, it later turned out that the vegan menu might have contained Oxo but wasn't clear whether it was the gluten or gluten free version, but he had already swore at the volunteer before this point anyway, but it certainly added further fuel to the fire.  Needless to say the opportunity for me having a power nap here came and went.

Eoin and Rory decided to go for a sleep at Byrness church which is a popular resting point.  I was being rather vague as to whether I would join.  My instinct was to carry on, make what progress I could in the remaining daylight and try to get to Hut 1 and take a nap there but I knew it was going to be a risk.  Once on my feet I felt like there was enough in the tank to continue so on I went.  Next up was the climb onto the Cheviot range; its steep but I find it mentally stimulating.  As I arrived onto the Cheviot range I had about 7 or so miles to Hut 1 and I was hoping to perhaps tag on with someone else to try and keep sleep issues at bay.  There was no-one in sight in either direction, but a mile or so later I came across a competitor in the MRT Challenger North who was sorting some kit out as it turned dark.  I suggested tagging together so waited the 5 or so minutes until she was ready.  It really made the difference and we were a really good team navigating the snowy path to the extent that we caught up two others who were also on the Challenger North and we arrived into Hut 1 at around 8pm.

I can't recall whether or not I had some sleep at Hut 1 but if I did it was just a couple of minutes.  We were then all ready for the next 10 or so miles to Hut 2 then it really is just a relatively small trot to the finish.  Shortly after our departure I could feel another steep wave of sleep deprivation hitting to the point that I made a request for someone to talk to me.  There was an odd silence at my request but one of my fellow competitors talked about the virtues of home schooling and ecology of all things.  This really is the strangeness of the Spine kicking in, but it shook me out of my sleep deprived slumber!

Departure from Hut 1

We had a brief break at what I think was somewhere around Mozie Law.  There was a little bit of faffing going on with the group, but that suited me fine as it gave me an opportunity for a 5 minute kip.  I remember leading the way up the mountain and for what ever reason the four of us slightly detached with me off the front.  It was no conscious decision of mine, it just sort of happened and before I knew it the headlights behind me seemed to be further and further away.  I feel a bit embarrassed about it really as I'd rather have said what I was doing, but I just sort of left them without even saying goodbye.  When the chips were down they picked me back up again, so it was poor form on my part but I hope if reading this they do not think too badly of me and it genuinely was not intentional.

I ran the vast majority of the second half of the section to Hut 2 and for some reason I was agitating myself about defending my race position (not that I had any idea of what race position I was actually in).  I was getting faster and faster to the point that I was taking risks on the final descent from Auchope towards Hut 2.  I had a couple of big falls in this section that were simply caused by going too fast for the snowy conditions.  Again, I cant recall whether I had a quick snooze or not, but I do recall stopping for at least 10 minutes or so.  As I exited Hut 2 I saw Eoin and Rory arrive.  For some reason this agitated my sleep deprived state even further and I made it my mission not to lose any race positions in the final 6 miles or so to the finish.

I don't know what it is about head lights and long races, but I have form in this area.  Last year I was convinced that I was being chased (next competitor was 4 hours behind) so I have no idea whats going on in my head.  I guess the competitive instinct is just too strong to resist and the desire to have a good solid finish.  Anyway, I had already descended the The Schil and made the turn for Kirk Yetholm where I slipped on a huge area of black ice.  I had by far my biggest fall of the whole race here, to the extent that my head torch came off my head and  the batteries came out of the casing.  In the end I had to find my spare head torch, to then locate my main head torch, then locate some new AAA batteries, as for some reason the impact was so bad they wouldn't work.

It was then the last 3 or so miles to the finish, much of which were along a minor road.  It didn't stop me continuing to be agitated about being caught and I kept winding the pace up bit by bit.  Totally ridiculous really, but in the end I finished in 19th place (14th male) in a time of 114 hours 58 minutes.  This includes the additional 2hrs 20 mins held at Dufton.  By comparison I finished last year in 118 hrs 47 minutes.

I was pleased with the execution of the race and although at one time it was looking feasible to finish in around 105 hours, the reality was that as soon as the snow came down the conditions made it impossible, also compounded by the time held in Dufton itself.


The attrition on the kit this year was pretty immense - the ice spikes were wrecked.  My waterproof bottoms and leggings have multiple holes due to the falls.  My waterproof jacket is with 99% certainty a write off.  I have dents in my titanium mug due to the falls.  I have also managed to lose the SD card in my GPS that contains Ordnance Survey mapping.  It must have fell out somehow when doing a battery swap.

As for me, there are numerous bruises due to the falls.  I asked the doctor at the finish to take a look at my lower left leg.  I was worried that with all the falls there might be a fracture as it was just one big swollen mess with various purples and other colours dotted about.  Having now had several days rest I think all will be ok, but was simply down to numerous falls that effectively resulted in all of the lower leg swelling.  I've again lost sensation in the tip of my biggest finger in both hands.  This is better than last year where every finger was affected and to a much worse extent.  I put this down to using hand warmers extensively inside my gloves and it made the world of difference.  As for the rest of me my lips and tongue once again feel like they have been scraped by sandpaper.  I have also suffered from some minor chafing in the nether regions.  I am also just about finished with the night sweats, which is a weird phenomena that only seems to occur in very long ultras and I know that I'm not the only one who gets this, but all the same its actually very unpleasant.  I think it just goes to show the level of physical strain the body has endured.  Finally, I'm pretty sure I had some sort of infection post race too as there has been lots of coughing and a blocked nose.  My poor body hasn't known which way to turn as a result and I felt even more off colour in the first 72 hours post race.  To give a good example my resting HR leading up to the race was 38 which is already high by my historical standards.  When I have a cold (or more recently Covid) it rises to about 44 (so about 15% higher).  The first couple of days post Spine it was 57 although is gradually coming back to something near normal.

Cottage.  Armed with a chicken sandwich.

In terms of sleep, I gave the body the bare minimum it needed and no more.  I did bump into Eoin at the finish - I had just nodded off, he woke me by tapping me on the shoulder to say well done, it was all in good humour!  I did ask what he thought of me not joining him in the church at Byrness for a power nap, he admitted that he thought it was nuts but it worked out all right in the end.

To give an idea of the level of sleep deprivation going on...  After I had finished I went to the cottage we had hired to have a shower.  It has a lovely granite surface with the sort of imperfections that you get in granite surfaces.  I was saying to my wife, look this is really high quality stuff that you might see in London or New York where the squiggles are actually names in very italicised writing.  At that very moment my wife knew not to argue the point...  As you can see from the picture below its just a normal granite surface.  Its amazing what the mind sees when its only had about 4 hours sleep in 115 hours of racing.

The granite walls, apparently with lots of names caused the mottled effect.

The immediate plan is to rest up but other than that I have no idea whether or not I'll do any further ultras.  I have the seeds of an idea for a race in November, but my inclination is that if I do anything until then it will be either on the road or just train for fitness.  Lets see.


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