Spine Race 2024 - Hebden Bridge to Hawes

For me the race really starts upon leaving Hebden Bridge.  This is a long section of some 62 miles and in my mind if you can get through this, the overwhelming odds are that you will finish.  There was no messing about for me now, the poles were out and will be until the finish.  This was more important than ever - patches of ice by and large could be seen in the day but at night it was impossible.  There was also large sections of deeply rutted path all of which made it easy to turn an ankle in an instant.  This didn't mean that poles prevented it all, but it was just an aid that in some cases made it easier to fall over in a safer way!

This leg for me is about compartmentilisation.  The first is to get to the Lothersdale mini aid station, followed by Malham Tarn, then the final section to Hawes.  The first section to Lothersdale was unremarkable, in the main running (or by now shuffling) where I was able to.  I lost a few places but not to the same extent as in previous years and I was otherwise by myself in the most part.  I arrived at the aid station in Lothersdale where I proceeded to change my head torch batteries only to have a bit of a disaster with the zip from my bag.  Upon opening the zip a bit of plastic bag from some nuts I was carrying got caught in the zip and no amount of cajouling would free it.  The mechanism was jammed solid.  Thankfully some volunteers were on hand and patiently used a pair of scissors and tweezers to gently get the plastic removed.

From Lothersdale I was occasionally with Nicky Spinks and although the trackers may have made it looked like we were together, in practice we were working independently.  Earlier on in this section I was probably a minute or two ahead and then the reverse was true as we headed towards Gargrave.  It was only after this section towards Malham Tarn did we link up a bit more as a cohesive unit, I think it fair to say more out of convenience than as a team.  It certainly helped having an extra pair of eyes for the navigation which often can prove tricky as concentration wanes in the early hours in low lying farmland.  It stayed this way all the way through to Malham and then Malham Tarn, arriving at the latter just before dawn broke at 7.15am.  I couldn't help but frequently compare to last year when it was already much later in the day - about 11am from memory.  At the aid station I got my water bottles defrosted (a recurring theme throughout this race that it stopped really being an issue as it was ever present) and proceeded to try and eat a porridge pot that I rehydrated.  You would think I would be ravenous, but I could only manage half of a relatively small 460k pot.

Me and Nicky left Malham more or less together and I did the majority of the lead on the ascent of Fountains Fell.  There had clearly been a bit more snow up here, but most of it turned to ice and as it coincided with a tricky descent Nicky pulled away and that was the last I was to see of her for quite some time.  Over this section I was also overtaken by another competitor, but unlike last year that was more or less it so I was holding my own.  Pen-y-ghent is more bark than bite and although is a bit of a scramble its relatively short and sharp.  The descent however I hate, more technical icy stuff and I just had to take it slow and steady albeit I was able to shuffle run most of it.

Arrival into Horton.

After Horton another novelty awaited as I've never done the Cam High Road in the daylight before.  It gets a fierce reputation but to be honest I quite like it.  Its definitely a long slog for many miles uphill, but the going is usually firm and you can make decent progress.  It was then just the 6 miles or so descent to Hawes.  I did see competitors not too far ahead of me and it was around this stage that I came into the back of the Challenger South race.  You could usually tell who was in which race as there was a pace differential but it was nice to say hello to people to break the monotony.  A couple of miles before Hawes I came across another competitor who was in the main Spine Race and I used it as an opportunity to pull me along.  I eventually made the pass as we entered Hawes but I was feeling it, felt dehydrated (due to the water bottles frequently icing) and hadn't had much to eat (try eating a protein bar from the freezer!), partly due to lack of water to wash it down.  I'm my own worst enemy sometimes that I become so focused on getting to the checkpoint that its at the expense of everything else and I feinted about 10 metres before entering the high street.  I could feel light headed and then I was on the floor.  It only lasted a couple of seconds and I was back on my way.  I told the volunteers what happened on arrival and there was obvious concern.  There was even a question about my continuing.  I knew what the issue was and was quickly rectified by downing 3 gels and I was fine.  I know the medics have a duty of care so they see it differently, but I knew it wasn't as big a deal.

I arrived into Hawes at 3.55pm, some 6hrs 55mins ahead of last year.  My plan going into the checkpoint was to play it by ear in terms of sleep.  I knew getting in so much earlier meant there was the opportunity to get straight back out, make some progress and perhaps sleep at Keld or Tan Hill (or even beyond).  I think the mini collapse put pay to that idea and in the end I decided to try and grab some sleep.  The problem was that I was deeply tired, but just not the sort of tired that results in sleep.  I probably had a couple of minutes early on, but for little over an hour I just lay there and eventually gave up.  I suspected I was going to pay for this later on as I was no further rested than had I not bothered to lie down in the first place.  I eventually left at 6.20pm, 2hrs 25mins after arriving, so a much shorter stop than last year but I felt that much of the time had been wasted.  I set off from Hawes wondering what the night would bring...


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