Thursday, 2 July 2015

Dragon's Tale Revisted

Dragon's Back Race - 2015

So, the DBR is over for another two years and there will be so many different memories and stories from a wide range of people.

Firstly, I'd like to thank Shane, Heather and Tom for amazingly professional delivery of 'The Third Edition' which appeared to be faultless to me.  Backed up by a highly competent team of hand-picked marshals and with the generous title sponsorship of Berghaus, this was a very slick production.

There is no doubt this is a tough race. It's a tough week on everyone; at least we runners get more sleep generally than the event team, who work tirelessly to make the event happen.  Some 'big names' bailed out, some due to injury and some realised mid-week that it wasn't going to happen for them.
I was sad to see to the two 'Jim's, and my Spine mate Mark, all very experienced mountain running men,  choose to stop through 'SMJ' decisions when things weren't going there way.

There are other people to thank as well,  I spent a bit of time with Carol, initially on the Glyders and especially on Crib Goch, but she is much faster runner than me and quickly gets away on the flat. My tent companions whittled down to see me sharing with Damian Hall, Pavel, Jonas and a certain Mr Tobias Mews who were all great entertainment and a source of inspiration in various ways.  ('Stop Faffing'  Tobias...)

I'd also like to congratulate our NAV4 Adventure clients who did so well: Lizzie, Tremayne, Michelle and Richard for completing the full race, and in very good times, along with Louise, Anna, Carlos, Katharine, Wayne for going so well and so far.  I was really pleased to see Braddan complete this year after being so close in 2012.  I actually didn't see much of him all week, as he started early, got to bed early and was wary of any cut-offs.

More Than Just a Race

'More than just a race' is what Angie from Berghaus quoted today; and she should know having been there working all week and running the complete Day Three, the long tough day, in tough conditions. In some ways it's a family affair, although with different branches of the family.  I've been taking my time to catch up with some social-media, and have particularly enjoyed Helene Whittaker's videos, if only to see what else was going on around me during the week.  Helene is very much part of the DBR team, as is Wendy Dodds;  Steve were conspicuous by your absence.

Great Videos and Media Coverage

There are hundreds of photos on the web, and with more surfacing each day.  Helene's video presentations were the highlight of yesterday's media catch up, and before we all become yesterday's chip paper please take a look at a few videos on the dragonsbackrace website

If you only watch two video shorts then please try these those of Jim Mann, Huw and Glen Davies and myself from Day Five   Jim's words are very poignant, and the bit about Glen and Huw Davies is pretty special for me too.    The camera does lie: the twenty or so seconds of me walking up that lane doesn't show how steep it was.  Plus, I would have answered questions with a more lengthy response especially if Helene or some had asked me something interesting. And....I think Ian Corless's camera has a special filter on it to make us look more rugged and knackered than we really are.

'So, Three Dragon's Back Races in 23 Years?'

I was often asked which was best , or which was hardest, or whether this one was tougher than The Spine.  If truth be told I found this one the easiest.  1992 was very daunting and way beyond the physical limits of what any of us had done then.  2012 was hard from an emotional and psychological point of view as it came just a week after the Sting Exped Adventure Race in Scotland. So, I started a bit battered and sore but was fit that year.  This year in 2015 I was far from running or race fit, but had enough mountain miles in my legs from working outdoors, usually with a sizeable sac on.

I'm just not running fit any more.  Someone once described my running as similar to an old 2.0 litre non-turbo Diesel Transit van.  There the ones that look tatty, and you'd never think they would pass an MOT, but they just keep going.  As long as you keep putting the right fuel in they keep going.

Well, if that is so, in DBR 1992 I (think?) I would have been and 'L' reg Transit. That 'L' plate means a lot to me. In 1992 I was just thirty, and coming into my long distance prime (the media hadn't invented the word 'ultra' then, in fact social media was invented!)  But I was surrounded by the great and the good of long distance mountain running;  Stone and Diamantides, Belton and McDermott, Walsh and Clark, Cudahy and Kyle, Wendy and Sue, Turnbull and Jones, someone called Crane, John get the idea.  So, I was the young unknown tea-boy, the fat 'mid-packer' (sic) who survived and came to the fore.  I was just lucky to be born when I was and be invited to take part.

However, in '92 I was also quietly confident. I'd chalked up 3 Bob Graham Rounds, a good handful of hilly '100' milers, dozens of mountain marathons (proper two day jobs, not 26.2 miles of trail)  and so I had miles in the tank, topped off by an eagerness and passion to have specifically made a Soft Option 'Event' running sac.  In other words, well prepared and with eyes wide open.

Enough of memory lane; but when someone asked if I was going to finish 2015, I immediately thought of Sir Steve Redgrave, when he was asked, 'When did you know you had won?' after that amazingly close finish for his fifth gold medal.  'After ten strokes,' said Sir Steve. Now, Sir Steve isn't arrogant, and I hope I'm not, but having started and got through Day One, and baring injury such as befell Ed or Pavel, I was going to finish this jaunt down the wonderful Welsh mountains.  The destination was a certain, just the speed / time and maybe condition I'd finish in being a little unknown.

Speed Kills

So, just like a 23 year old Transit van, the body work is knackered, the paintwork very much past it's best, and the chassis may be a bit twisted, but inside the engine block refuses to die.  No amount of lycra will hold the wing mirrors on and there's no i-pod socket, tinted glass, nor electric windows.
Air condition involves removing layers of clothing.  Thankfully, smart new Berghaus zip neck short sleeved shirts negated the need to be shirtless this time.

Start Day Four - Bed Hair - Photo by Angie and Berghaus 

Any stage race or 'ultra', or expedition requires you to look after yourself, preserve energy and limit body damage.  The evening's recovery is crucial and a skill set within itself; eat, drink, stretch, (self-medical?) eat, drink, sleep, drink, drink, eat, run...repeat.  Pacing yourself is key, and most of us are only racing yourselves not others.  Although some seem intent on following and steal minutes of others.

Route Choice

Fortunately, this transit hasn't got a Satnav to go wrong; but it does have a map, and good solid navigation skills.  It also grow up in Shropshire and spent it's early years roaming around Snowdonia and Mid-Wales, especially. Seriously, I was efficient throughout with my route choice, 'Yes' in some ways from prior knowledge but you still have to navigate, which at times includes slowing down rather than going the wrong way. I made some small errors, everyone does, but often those are because of 'race head' and trying to gain time on people around you.  One was within a mile of the finish following the 'marked route'! (NB- There is no such thing as a marked route )

I was very happy with my navigation and route choice.  Day Two is the awkward one and I took a direct, and consequently lonely line, enjoying some solitude overlooking Tremadog Bay.  I messed up the end of Day Two, getting swallowed up by some runner-eating-boulders and vicious heather which had me travelling a mile in about one hour and subsequently suffering a mild hunger-bonk on the mandatory route run in. Bit of a sad finish to that day.

Overall, I really enjoyed navigating in poor visibility and certainly passed several people in the 'clagg' with slick lines. However my biggest strength is just keeping up a steady pace,  (as seen in the video on Day Five) which makes it surprising easy to pass people at the Support Point, or even at gates, road junctions and hill tops. Indeed, the ability to navigate effectively is a core mountain running skill and so mastering this will enhance your mountain running performance without doubt.  'Yes' - check out our NAV4 Adventure courses for details.

Diesel Fuel

As long as I keep putting the right fluids in, I keep going. Fuel, water and 'oil' in the right places.

I don't have any complicated nutrition and hydration strategy, but I do like food and drink. I drank water all week, with just two quick tea stops.  I eat sandwiches, 9bars, cashew nuts, cheese and tomato cubes, oat cakes and Peanut M&Ms.  I have been using some Mountain Fuel powders before during and after the race, which make up great milk shake based drinks.  I also had a few Bounce Balls and Cliff Bars from previous expeditions but find them hard work at times.  No gels for me  #gelfreerunning

Gear - Less is More

I bought home more food than I eat.  Heather's catering was great - plentiful food and I've no problem with being vegetarian.  But, I did run out of Early Grey tea bags, had the usual cravings for odd foods and missed semi-skimmed milk.

Clothing: I was lucky enough to earn some Berghaus shorts and base layers, along with a Vapourlight Hypertherm Reversible Smock which is really useful for its weight.   These base layers fit me well, have great length neck zips for ventilation, which is an essential for me.  The Vapourlight Hyper smock also kept me dry in tough weather on the Brecon Beacons during Friday.   That was the only time I put a waterproof on.

Overnight Kit needs careful thinking about. Again 'Less is More', and it's about flexibility and thinking through needs, not necessarily wants.  I know many of you kit fanatics will be after details, but as Helene said at the original briefing, 'Its' not about what you wear, or what you eat .....It's in here (inside) what makes a difference.  Naturally, a NAV4 Adventure course will be a source of further knowledge if you need more advice and input.


The Dragon's Back Race has had a successful third edition.  Well Done Shane and team.  Of course, Shane wasn't in charge in 1992, but I reckon it takes any event to get to three years before it's matured and found it's groove, so he's done it early.  What next for 2017, I wonder.

Finally,  I'd like to thank Mr Stuart Smith. I'll single him out from the many hard working Event Team as he quietly gets on and does the do without any fuss or bother.  I always feel safe and sorted when he's on board.

Thanks for all the messages, support and I wish everyone a happy and swift recovery.
See on in Conway in 2017.


NAV4 Adventure

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Taming The Dragon

Ok, it's getting pretty real now.  Last Sunday I was out in Snowdonia with six other 2015 Dragon Race competitors, and it suddenly feels like the race is just around the corner.  Whilst I'm busy prepping myself for the race it was good to spend some time with other DBRacers.

This was a special edition of our 'Mountain Running Skills' course, but based in Wales and aimed solely at Dragon's Back racers.

Choosing to meet at Pen-y-Pass YHA,  we enjoyed one or two 'brews' in the warmth of The Snug as the weather did it's best to discourage us from going outside at all.  After a very wide ranging and interesting discussion on all things 'DBR', mountains, food, trails, compasses maps, amd drybags it was time to get outside.

The plan was to run around to Tryfan and back over the Glyders.   The run out was Ok, but we suffered quite a battering on Tryfan with gusts requiring us to get low down and hold on tight on the scramble up and down the South Ridge.

Back at Bwlch Tryfan, it was obvious that conditions would be very challenging on Glyder Fawr  and Glyder Fach, and it was getting colder. Overall, it was a good test of differing shoes and clothing, as well as a reminder that good 'hill-skills', navigation and 'SMJ' is just as important as physical fitness for this or any mountain running event.

Suffice to say we retraced our steps in thick 'clag' and retreated back to The Snug for some more brews, and more race banter.

It was an interesting day.  I'd like to thank all six on this recce / skills course for their input.  We aired many an issue for the DBR race, talked about kit, strategy and tactics, and a lot about us, the runner and how we control our race and emotions.

Remember; 'Day Two is the Toughest'   and then it gets harder.

I'd also like to thank Steve at Pen-y-Pass YHA for his hospitality as well as Berghaus and Shane for staging the Dragon's Back Race for a third time.

NAV4 Adventure offer a number of tuition and coaching sessions.  'MRS' is our one day course, and we have a weekend 'Mountain Running Essentials running twice a year, with the next one on 9-11th October.  Alternatively much of my work is delivered on a 'One-One' or small group basis by arrangement, and includes a full range of running and mountaineering activities. Further details can be found on the NAV4 Adventure website.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Recharging The Batteries

Recharging The Batteries ...

I was back out on The Spine Race route last week with two things in mind.  One reason was to re-visit Hadrian’s Wall  and Wark Forest following the same switch back route of a few weeks ago.
The second reason was I needed an overnight trip, partly to rid myself of Spine RaceBlues, and partly, because I wanted to give Petzl Tikka R/RXP ‘AAA’ Battery pack a proper testing.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I am a big fan of the Petzl Reactive Lighting torches and regularly use a Petzl Nao and Tikka RXP.  I have a spare rechargeable battery for each of these; hence I’ve got 10-12 hours of usable ‘Reactive light’ for each of these torches.  

However, if you've read my Spine Race blogs (Parts One and Two) you’ll know I reverted to a trusty Petzl Myo RXP,  for the six / seven day race. This is because it is ‘AAA’ battery fed, as you can’t expect to find, or rely on finding recharging facilities during a multi-day non-stop race.   But now I’m pleasantly surprised and a proud owner of this nifty piece of (not so cheap, but well worth it) quality plastic.

Petzl Tikka R 3x AAA Battery Pack (E92300)

The Reactive Lighting feature is excellent for Night Navigational trips when you are handling maps and then looking into the distance. The output reduces when you don’t need it, reducing map glare.  It’s rather like having automatic headlights on your car which switch from side, to dip, to full beam without your doing anything.  This is great for when you need to look at a map, as it doesn’t dazzle back at you, and saves power for close up ‘proximity’ work, and consequently is save battery power and  the big power / boost / full beam for when, and only when you need it.

The Reactive Lighting feature, measures and adapts just how much light you need based on what the sensor is measuring so it’s a very economically way of saving battery juice

The ‘Tikka R Battery pack’ simple takes three ‘AAA’ batteries and then slips into the Tikka R or RXP head torches so that you can carry on using the torch once the rechargeable battery has run down.

Tikka RXP and AAA Battery Pack with 3 Lithium batteries

What this means is that you can safely venture forth beyond the reach of plug and USB sockets and power your Tikka on ‘normal’ AAA batteries.  (These could be Alkaline, Lithium, or even rechargeable, of course) but if your are on a multi-day trip you can buy fresh supplies whenever you need them, or simply carry spares.

White rechargeable Battery being removed from the Tikka.

The output from the ‘AAA’ Battery pack is good, and in no way just a low level 'standby' light.  The downside is that you don't get the full Reactive Lighting functionality (nor do you do in the Nao with 2x AA)  You still get three strong beams, of differing spread and output, and apparently delivering about 60% of the lumens that  the rechargeable battery does. 

Hence,  if my Tikka RXP can normally deliver up to 215 lumens, then I estimate that the ‘AAA’s are pushing out around 80 - 120 lumens, which was more than adequate for general use.  It was certainly enough to get me deep into Wark Forest, and keep me writing this from the warmth of my sleeping bag, and other domestic bivi duties.   A proper mid-night navigation test around the forest proved that the output is very good, and leaving the torch on for a burn test gave me at least five hours of output, or the maybe more. 

So, this is a very worthwhile addition to your kit, with or without a second rechargeable battery.

Petzl Torches are very widely available, but this accessory isn't the most sexy bit of kit and retailers may not show it as a stock item, but can order it for you.  Swaledale Outoors stock both the Tikka R and RXP in two different colour options

Product code for the AAA Battery pack is E92300 and the Rechargeable E92200

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Spine Race - Part Two - Gear, Skills and Strategy

Skills, Gear and Strategy

PartOne gave an overview of how The Spine Race. Following on from that, and in response to several questions this blog focuses on the Skills, Gear and strategies I employed during my very memorable week with my friend Mark Rawlinson.

Firstly, even my decision to stay with Mark was a conscious one, as whilst we may have been labelled 'The Odd Couple' we had a partnership that worked, so stuck with it. Mark had better local knowledge of the Southern parts of The Pennine Way than I did, so I was happy to cruise along in his wake, especially as I was recovering from a cold and heavy chest and there was no rush, was there?


So, what 'skills' did we have?

1) The ability to navigate simply, and quickly using map and compass. I don't use a GPS although Mark does and it used a huge amount of batteries but did check where I was once or thrice!!!

2) The ability to keep moving at a steady pace without any faff and wasted time. 'Time stood stationary means you are going backwards in real terms'
Good simple Navigation pays dividends.   And keep the Country Code...please.

3) The skill of looking after yourself, clothing and gear. ie, not losing a map, glove or sanity due to wind rain and poor viz.

4) The skill of looking after feet, head and stomach in equal measure. (which is most important I wonder?) and each other.

5) And, after all, the ability to keep walking and jogging, where, appropriate at a steady 3 mph...

6) The ability to layer up and keep warm and keep moving, venting when necessary.

7) The acknowledgement that this event is not about running ability for the majority of us.

Why do I have these Skills – My Background 

  • 40! years of multi-day hiking, back-packing, 'long distance walking, 'Ultra running, mountain marathons and adventure races. Yes, I started when I was a teenager and I'm still only Mid-fifties. Honest
  • Winter hill-walking experience – gives you the ability to navigate in poor viz, with gloves on, in the dark, and without loosing the ability to eat, and look after yourself.
  • Finally, the ability to look after self and gear in checkpoints. I'm often quite amazed at how inefficient people are at the checkpoints. It's as if they arrive through the door and their brains become mush! To be fair some of this is due to the body shutting down and the gaggle of volunteers taking over and at times, simply 'being in your face' ….
  • I'm sorry if that sounds rude or selfish, but what I really need from a Checkpoint is just a bit of space, a tap, my drop bag, a toilet and a bit of personal space...


This is a simple gear list.
I itemise this and name items by brand /model so as to illustrate the type and robustness of the gear I was using. 'Other brands are available ….but I have chosen based upon some considerable experience.

Footwear – La Sportiva Raptor trail shoes.
An excellent and very much under valued shoe. It has good mid-sole protection, stability and reasonable grip on all surfaces ) apart from the bottomless mud when nothing grips ...even Mircrospikes!)

It might be worthy noting that I have probably used about seven or eight pairs of these over the past few years, (Lakeland 100's, Dragon's Back Race, Terrex Sting and ITERA) and that in it's self means the shoe works for me, in other words my feet are used to them and vice a versa.

I also used a pair of 'Salomon Ultra GTX Mid' for the last two days – a low cut Gore-tex boot, so as to have happy cosy hot feet. My feet were constantly wet for the first four days, but without being cold and no blisters suffered. By Day Five it was nice to have a change of footwear.

Socks – Inov-8 Mudsoc High – Mid-weight Merino wool / lyrca sock. Brilliant feet. Four pairs used. One pair of Smartwool PHD used on Cheviot's last stage.

Gaiters – an old pair of Lowe alpine full length gaiter used along with the Salomon boots for complete protection. Used for the last two days.

Leg wear – Lowe Alpine Power Stretch tights, with a pair of Smart wool ¾ tights underneath was my preferred option. This gives a very cosy and warm, and wind resistant combination.
I do not like wearing over trousers unless it really is raining. However, given the conditions I had to start off in overtrousers so just had the Powerstretch tights without the Smartwool for the first few days. Plus HH windproof briefs, of course.

I was OK on both Crossfell and The Cheviots without overtroursers. Being old school, over-trousers to me are to be avoided, they cause drag and condensation which probably leads to the increased risk of chaff-age!

Upper Base Layer – Helly Hansen Lifa. The tried and tested and very reliable thermal wicking base layer. For much of the year I prefer a zip neck for ventilation, but the crew neck under a mid layer works OK for winter. I used two Lifa tops all week, Yes, I just changed once.

Mid- layer – very important – this gives you the foundation of warmth. Early on it was a Haglofs stem top; latterly, a Haglogs micro fleece gilet (close fitting, long, with high neck and a very crucial zipped chest pocket for spare batteries)

Outer layer – the excellent Montane Krypton jacket. This is a shell micro-fleece jacket. It is highly wind-proof has two good pockets and a tiny sleeve pocket – for your toothbrush and yet more spare batteries. I've  used one of these for all my work and adventures for the past few years.

Spare Layers – Montane Fireball Smock and Lifa baselayers

Waterproofs – Montane Direct Ascent Jacket. A long lengthed, basic 'walking jacket' Two simple massive pockets and an excellent hood. Long enough to cover your 'bits'.  I choose this over my existing Montane Supefly XT, or Further Faster Neo jacket due to it's cut and features, or anything lighter.

Mark and myself pondering the book sale upon arrival at Hawes
Over trousers – Montane Superfly – Mid-weight O/Ts with ¾ venting zips. Over-trousers and zips got used constantly for the first three days.  These O/Ts might have been a bit heavy but the didn't fail and fit and perform very well. My Montane Minimus over-trousers that I carry for lightweight mountain adventures don't have long zips, wouldn't have been able to vent as well, or be removed as easily and, to be honest, wouldn't have lasted a week of chaffage and abuse.

Head – A ubiquitous Buff, as well as the Montane Krypton hood of course. A second Buff as a spare and a Montane Powerstretch Beanie for if it got nasty (which went on only once on the cold trudge to Bellingham.)

Glasses  -  I had some sport cycling glasses with a 2.5 bi-focal inset which protected my eyesight well against wind. I now struggle with my eyesight and some map work., especially at night with OS 1;25k maps, but I used Harvey 1:40 maps and these are much clearer.

Gloves – Two pairs of light thermal gloves, one being fingerless, with a pair of Terra Nova Tuff bags as over mitts when needed. I had Montane Extreme Mitts in my sac throughout for emergencies but never used them.

Poles – Black Diamond FL Distance (Alloy) pole. Has 20cm adjustment, and I bent one during a big falling slide on Hadrian's Wall, but it didn't break and performed very well. I have since bent it back OK.

Head torch – Trusty and reliable and perfectly adequate Petzl Myo RXP. With copious Lithium AA batteries. Regular readers will know that I really like the Petzl Nao and Tikka RXP reactive torches, but for a week long race, when charging facilities aren't available then a AA feed head torch makes sense. I also had a Petzl e+Lite as back up in my First Aid/Safety kit.
* I've since learnt that the AAA battery adaptor is now available for the Tikka RXP, so that will be on my list for next time. Reactive lighting really works for night navigation.

Rab – Vapour-rise Guide Jacket - Carried from Bellingham and worn for second part of The Cheviot. I had toyed with the idea of a Montane Extreme Smock, but could not find one in Large Blue and the Rab vents better, I think?
Still no over- trousers worn, and a Montane Fireball spare in the sac, along with Lifa base layer.

Rucsac – Osprey Talon 33. Perhaps a bit heavy and over specced and would have preferred to do the first day or two with my faithful Inov-8 25litre Racepac, but ditched that just before the start and went straight for the heavy weight gear, including bypassing Montane Minimus pants, and lighter kit all round etc. This was because of the weather conditions at right from the start, and the chance that we might be shipped off from Snake Pass and holed up in Glossop or somewhere.

With hindsight, my trusty KIMM-Lite 30 was probably the ideal choice.

Whatever the mountain or trail event – you should always be self-reliant and have the gear to get your self out of the poo back to base, and may be even home by public transport – think cash, cards, and being in civvy street.

Mug – a big simple GSI Lexan Mug – great for brews wherever, on the road, Checkpoints, and even cafes.   Mugs give you a bigger brew, and saves times and effort for checkpoint staff, and no washing up of course.

Regular readers will be glad to know that I have now found by faithful opaque green one, which was hiding in the shed ….so my mojo is back.

Spork – Titanium – cos it does not break, although it is heavier than the plastic ones.

Stove – Jetboil – obviously.

Sleeping Bag – Rab Top Bag

Bivvi Bag - Alpkit Hukka

Sleeping mat – 3mm foam – c.150 x 45 cm. Lives in the front of my sac, folded in four – down the inside of the outerside , and not the back. Helps keep sac stable and protects from weather a bit too. Also a Wickes HD Rubble plastic bag is an essential sac liner.

Gear in Drop Bag / Spares / Essentials

Drop Bag - Ortieb Rackpack XL - Yellow - easy to see, bombproof ..simple.

Feet Up ... Brilliant Drop Bag
  • A second light sleeping bag -Rab 300; both may have gone with me on the hill if needed.
  • Another piece of 3mm for Cps – foot mat / floor covering
  • Montane Prism Jacket and Trousers - excellent bit of exped AR kit.
  • Terra Nova Laser Tent – gives options for camping, but not considered once paired up with Mark.
  • A threequarter length Thermarest Prolite 3. Goes inside the Top Bag neatly.
  • Crocs! 'nuff said....we haven't go time to go into foot care in this blog....

Food – copious amounts of 9Bars, Nairns Oat Cakes, , cashew nuts, tomatoes, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, olives, carrots, and other savoury stuff. Tins of sardines in sauce, Cous-Cous, frozen pizza slices, bananas and the occasional Naked Cocoa bars..

Cheese Prep - at Tour de Helvellyn

No chocolate, gels, energy drinks or stuff like that. I did carry a few jelly babies for the emergencies.

We ate good meals at Gargrave cafe, Horton Cafe, Dufton Stag Inn, Greenhead Cafe. Max stay 1 hour each, apart from Horton which was a two and half hour time out.

I bought back well over half my food in my drop bag, along with more spare Winter wear gear, spare Rab Vapour-rise, Montane Powerstretch Shirt, 'winter soft shell gloves' Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap etc.


The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines Strategy as;
1 'The Art of War' …..or 3. 'a plan of action or policy...'

MST Planning at Alston?

Firstly, You must believe that you will probably get to the end, given your skills and ability. Such things as The Spine is 30% Physical, 30% Mental and 30% Emotional plus another 10% of grunt or something.

Having a plan is good; for example, my basic calculation was along the lines of six, 45 mile days, at an average of 3mph. Now 3mph is a very good average to maintain over such a distance, which further computes into 'just' fifteen hour 'running days' and so hence nine hour over-nights. Easy, eh?

Screen shot from the excellent website ....

So that's the plan ….but making it happen is far from straight forward. The Spine has unevenly spaced Checkpoints of varying quality and so the immediate issue of where (and when to?) to sleep arise.
There is oodles of stuff on the forum about tents versus bivis, and what is scary is the number of people who are asking which one to do, when they have never bivvied at all, which in itself is a skill.

So ...your strategy must encompass your skills.

I'll also throw in again a couple of lines regarding, 'Adventure' – 'Uncertainty of Outcome, Realistic Objective .. and Good Companionship' (this I learnt from Colin Mortlock,  way back in 1984 when he came to talk to us at as a staff group at Outward Bound Ullswater.

  • 'Uncertainty of Outcome' - it's going to happen ….weather, injury....'holds' during the race. 
  • 'Realistic Outcome' – you have a good chance of succeeding, but it's not a 'given'. But you must have the component skills to give it a go.
  • 'Good Companionship' – It does help, disagreements can happen, a few sharp words are excusable. But all good adventures need companionship, even if you are Solo  you need to be 'at one' with your own company. ...more in a different blog, perhaps.

Back to Strategy  / Planning / Adaptability ....

Considering options at Hawes ...'Listening skills' are crucial at CPs
So … a 45 mile day should take us to Hebden Hey, arriving around midnight given the 9.30am start. With the start delayed due windy weather by 2 hours this knocks us back, and when combined with the plan of not actually sleeping at CP1 Hebden due to the confines of space and noise … hmmn.

So, 'Night Two' would crop up around the 90 mile mark, somewhere north of Horton and on the way to Hawes. I had scoped out one or two camp / bivi spots along here, but the weather and delayed start made us re-visit this. In reality we ended up sleeping early at Malham due to weather and then played catch up with a long, 25 hour day to Middleton, to put us back on schedule. After that we had two short days to Dufton and the Alston, with the race being suspended and our decision making no longer totally our own, but we still with a strategy. flexible

Key Strategy '- look after feet, stomach and head...


I like food and Eat nothing else. Good simple food, is it a skill or strategy?

I was equipped to graze my way up The Pennine Way for six or seven days, without the need for cafe, pub or shop stops, and only treated these as a bonus.  I didn't eat much hot food provided at Checkpoints but prefer to stash myself away in a corner with my drop bag and fend for myself.  (Food for thought for the race format?)

Is its still open?  'YES!' Gargrave Cafe...31 hours into the Spine, apparently..

Cafe strategy or discipline needs to be slick too. The clock doesn't stop, so you need to be efficient, just like a trialthlete in transition. It's not about rushing, or demanding quick service. Leave your ego and 'race-head' outside and just make the most of your one hour (maximum) break. Be very polite to the cafe staff, thank and tip them appropriately, and do some good PR for your fellows. Not all 'runners' will be as good as you, will they.

So that's more than enough for one blog; I don't want to bore you.

My I suggest that if you want to know more, you come on one of our NAV4 Adventure courses, or book a 'One-One' day tuition day or two for yourself or small group.  Mid-week days are increasingly popular and a very worthwhile investment for any hill, mountain or running adventure.

Many thanks,


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Spine Race 2015 - Part One

Ok, was it Brutal?  Yes in parts, but equally it was beautiful, bountiful and, at times, boring.

Let's get this straight;  I've worked on The Spine for the past two years, in 2013 I went to Middleton-in Tees for 24 hours and stayed another five days becoming a crucial role in a crazy, risky and very ambitious adventure.  For 2014 I was contracted to provide safety cover, but ended up providing all manner of things way and beyond my original brief.   

In 2015 I decided to 'run'.  Why?  Because, I always say that taking part is usually easier than working the full length of an event, plus I had been bitten by The Spine bug and could do very well.  It suits my skillset; long distance expedition skills, in winter in remote places. And, 'Yes' it many ways it was easier taking part. It was certainly simpler.  Just get myself to the start and then the end with a few days in between, look after mind body and soles (feet) and the rest all falls into place.

So, after much training and coaching of others I'm at Edale and firend and good egg Mark Rawlinson is asking my thoughts on strategy.  Well, 'Go steady, really steady to Hebden CP1, take an hours TLC break and push on towards Hawes and CP2.  Sleep somewhere on the second night, where ever that might be  and take it from there.'

Spine Challenger Start - 0630-ish

Day One - Two

What actually happened is that the winds gave us battering on Day One and progress was slow and harsh due to this and the wet saturated ground.  Hebden Hey CP1 was the bun fight as I expected, with no where to sit and sort stuff out, and no hope of sleep.  From my expedition adventure racing experience I'm very happy to go 36-40 hours without sleep (I simply can't sleep on the first night) and so on we went.

I've known Mark for several years, ever since he took part in our Great Lakeland 3 Day event, and latterly at The Dragon's Back race in 2012.  It wasn't my intention to stick with Mark throughout the week, but we spent a very amicable first day together, with me tapping into Mark's superior local knowledge in the first few miles.  By Day Two we had formed a partnership and it became evident that we would spend a few days together and ultimately get each other to the finish.

I really enjoyed Bronteland in the dawn, but the section of undulating farm land to Malham is tedious and very slippery.  The only highlight was an impromptu coffee at The Lothersdale pub on Sunday morning.  We pushed on through in Churchillian conditions, with a 'steady go slow mission' to Malham Visitor Centre.  John Bamber was working his magic at CP1.5 and everyone looked suitably wrecked,  We managed a comfortable bivvi in the woods nearby and returned for a early morning brew with John Bamber before battling over Fountains Fell. On the shoulder of Fountains we headed into some terrible conditions; head down, hood up, goggles steaming up and ...hey-ho your batteries fail in your head torch. Wtf!!! I'm not changing them here.

Pen-yGhent was easy due to the re-route, although I'm not sure that Mr. Portuguese who couldn't find the trail would agree.  We were held at Horton Cafe for 2:40hr, so enjoyed a good feed on a veggie breakfast and a catch up with some 'out of the bubble' stuff.  The current assessment is that we are cruising.... and in good form.  Steady to Hawes CP2.  Bit of a battering on the last stretch of high moor from strong cross winds, which make you tense and stiffen the muscles.  CP 2 - an another one hour's TLC break. 'Crocs' on, socks washed, food eaten and out the door.  Sleeping in CPs' is a no-no as there is too much activity and noise.

One Hour TLC at Hawes CP2

Great Shunner Fell - an excellent peak

I had a great time on Shunner Fell; Mark is climbing well, we had blue sky and even a slight tail wind. Life was good. We had a surprise visit by Dave and Ruth, having driven from their Shap home after some dot watching, catching us up on Gt Shunner, which was very welcome.  And then Rich from Swaledale Outdoors who makes us laugh and takes us off route momentarily, such is his prowess as a local guide and navigator!  Seriously, we noted a re-occurring theme that when a visitor / supporter appeared on the trail it often took away your focus, Indeed, we habitually observed a supported runner often going off route and losing copious amounts of time and time and energy during 'support interface'.  

Onward; the section to Tan Hill was good, but afterwards it deteriorates into tedious moor land, with intricate navigation. By this stage, we had teamed up with Julie Garner who had some hand written route notes (but not by herself, I think?) and so with Mark monitoring his GPS, Julie's notes and myself keeping in touch with map and compass we made good progress finishing with a 25 hour day from Malham to Mid-Tees, despite some horrendous sleep monsters from me.

CP3 Middleton-in Teesdale 

CP 3 Middleton-in-Tees is a much better checkpoint with plenty of space, bunk rooms and showers etc.  There are no Spine Challengers, of course as there race has finished at Hawes. The race had been held here until 3.00am, which is just when we arrived.  Why it was held I'm not sure, it can't of been weather related, but must only have been that the race was getting to strung out.  So .... we take a six hour break in race time whilst others head out on the trail

The trip up the Rive Tees is a delight.  The riverside paths are good, the scenery excellent and the weather quite becalmed..  High Force was impressive with a full body of water and I particularly remember quarry activity across the river, a solid reminder of man's interaction with this wonderful environment.

We had been told of a 10.00 pm cut-off at Cow Green reservoir but we were about eight hours ahead of this and so the FULL course was our option.  The traverse over the Pennine watershed through to High Cup Nick is bleak and feels remote and we completed this just as it became dark and with a short lived, but very threatening snow squall coming straight at us.   The navigation isn't difficult but the small footpaths become obscure and you need to ford the river or find the big foot bridge over the Maize Beck.   ( By the way, you can sample this leg during our new NAV4 Adventure event - Pennine 39 - Sat 18th July )


A steady descent took us down to Dufton CP 3.5 being run by John Bamber and Paul Shorrocks.  Here we had a bit of a dilemna; push one over 'the mighty Crossfell' during the night, or stop here for and an extend rest.  Having considered all the options over fish and chips in the Stag Inn, the obvious personal and professional decisions was to rest up and tackle Crossfell early next morning.  So, after a peaceful, spacious night in Dufton Village Hall, we left a note for JB and at 6.30am started up the Crossfell massif.  Conditions were Ok on the ascent and even along the summit ridge the winds were moderate, the views quite awe inspiring and we were moving well.  It would be rude to pass by Greg's Hut without stopping for a brew, and then onward down to Garrigill were 'Mr.I.A.M MST'  bluntly told us we could get bused to Alston CP4 , or ... WTF!

We walked the last few miles to the Alston CP , along the river and up the last little hill.  Alston CP (the Adventure Centre NOT YHA) was rammed full with cabin fevered Spine racers, including those on the Short course who hadn't made the cut-off at Cow Green.  NB; talking later with Jim Tinnion I was very impressed that he could have made this cut-off but made a sound mountaineering decision not to push it out too far.

To be brief, the impeding storm was brewing for later that evening, but we were very surprised that we weren't allowed to carry on down the Tyne riverside to our intended next stop at Greenhead YHA,  So another long halt, this time with an official time out, of some 17 hours.  The racing snakes had gorged themselves on all the food, the place is a tip and everyone's brain dead.  Bizarrely, I can't sleep due to our restful evening at Dufton so at 2.00am I found that the centre WiFi is working Ok, so I acknowledge some emails as the whole Spine Family snore it's way through Storm Racheal.

Is it Thusday?

Off again just after 7.00 am on Thursday?  Steady, steady, strong progress to Greenhead YHA and along Hadrian's Wall in an increasingly wet and windy evening.  I enjoyed the Wall, but Mark was really starting to suffer with shin / ankle pain predominately on the descents.  The section after The Wall is tough; boggy with tricky navigation and it's a long haul to Bellingham. A surprise visit from Andrew Burton deep in Wark forest gave us a bit of a laugh and brief respite, arriving at Bellingham at around 1.00am?

By now this was becoming a stage race; Each CP is busy and full with blown out racers and staff.  Little space 'at the Inn' for us but I find plenty of room under a table at the back of the hall, take a buffet of cheese, nuts, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs to bed and grab a few hours sleep.

I was really pleased to see Mike Stevenson here, looking Ok, but sadly with his feet in a bad way.  Mike has been on two or three courses and recces with me and is a fast learner and strong minded athlete. I wondered if he would be setting off with Mark and myself next morning, but at this stage it is really important to move at your own pace.  True to his ability, Mike stayed ahead of us until the very last Mountain Refuge were he needed to take three - fours proper sleep before the last 10km to the finish.  Well Done Mike - You have really impressed me.

CP 5 Bellingham - Feet Up, Sleeping, slight soreness on ankle.

The Beginning of The End

Setting off from Bellingham, we had the company of Jim Tinnion. I was good to have a three way dynamic for a while, even if it meant re-negotaiting the terms of engagement but for a while the three of us moved well together. Jim had his partner Zoe supporting him, so at one of the road crossing he elected to drop back and travel at his own speed after a short rest.

Mark and Myself, were definitely on a mission, now, I was keen to force the pace, and as the sun came out on the descent to Bryness I push the pace on as a means of combating sleepy eyelids. Mark responded and remained 400-500 metres behind me for a while arriving at Bryness just as I was getting served at the surreal Forest View Lodge with soup, the vegetarian option.

Bryness Fettling...

I was still keen to  push on, as there is no point it sitting and dwell on soreness or lethergy, we were out quickly and efficiently.  Another surprise visitor, in the form of John Allen who had driven out from work in his lunch break,  and climbed strongly with us up to Bryness Hill. This was really the start of the end; 25+ miles along the summit ridge and the Border between England and Scotland.  

The End is Near

I'm sure we both intended to enjoy this. We got well established on the high ridge and most of the way to Mountain Hut One before dark.  The ground was surprisingly frozen and whilst Mark kept his Microspikes on continuously, I had mine on and off depending  upon snow cover as to snag your spikes on the turf caused quite a bit of discomfort to ankle and knee.  We made good strong progress; enjoy a bit of banter with MST team at the hut and push on again.  Layered up, including a RAB Guide Vapour-rise as a fourth layer, it was an indication of how cold and high wind chill was. Granted I still wasn't wearing over trousers, but being old school I try and manage without as they definitely create drag and increase chaffage in delicate regions.  We were both going strongly and navigating well. Mark remained steady on the climbs but was suffering on the descents. The final large descent of Auchope Cairn, with Hedge Hole beyond appeared very intimidating in the dark, with steep neve snow disappearing to our right.  Hugging the fence line leftwards we were now heading for Mountain Hut Two, and I pushed the pace out and searching for the best line in the snow.

Then, just as I was looking at the map, for the exact location of the Hut, and wrestling with glasses and head torch, I got a call from Stu Westfield The Mountain Safety Team Co-ordinator.  He was phoning asking us to call in at the hut and check out the condition of competitor No 68, ?  a certain Mike Stevenson!!!  A few minutes alter I was in the hut to find Mike fully kitted up in his sleeping and bivi bag, and being well looked after by Alan McCormack a fellow runner.  There were two other 'Spiners' there and very quickly the MST Team from Hut one arrived headed up by Ali Holland.  I know of Ali from years ago, a very strong and competent Adventure race and skilled outdoor person.  Mike just needed to sleep, he hadn't lost his sense of humour so we left him in Ali's capable hands and push on as a four.

From here it is just about 10km more or less down hill to the finish.  There is one last sod of a climb over The Schil and then what felt like a nicely graded and firm under foot descent. Unfortunately, Mark was really suffering by know; down hills are the most painful and he coped brilliantly with the amounting pain and culmination of this adventure.

Really good to see StuS and StuW at the end where's the tea!

Finally, at this stage I'd like to thank Mark Rawlinson for a very interesting and rewarding week, and I'm very proud that we got to the end together an in relatively good shape.

Grabbing a few ZZ's in the car before breakfast at The Excellent Border Hotel.

There are a few other 'thank-you's due as well, not least due to Stu Smith and Stu Westerfield for their sterling work on the MST and to Scott and Phil for having a made idea to race the Pennine Way in Winter.

A second, 'Part Two' blog will appear shortly and cover additional issues such as clothing and gear, skills and thoughts about how to tackle the Spine.  If you have any questions or feedback then let me know by email  and I'll try and answer them.... 

See you at Lakes Mountain 42 and Pennine 39 out on the fells, or at a NAV4 Adventure course soon?

Joe Faulkner