Spine Race - January 2024

276 miles with 11,700m ascent


I've wanted to do the Spine for many years however I was involved with running the Trigger race which has always been on the same day every year. Both races started in the same year and it was only last year that I finally passed over the total organisation of the Trigger race to Woodhead Mountain Rescue. I also watched the Summit Media Fever film at Kendal 2023 https://www.summitfevermedia.com/new-spine-race-film-2022 and that cemented my decision to do the Spine at last.

Training through 2023 didn't really go to plan for a number of reasons and the last one being the sudden death of my lovely three year old dog Joss in November. I didn't want to run for a few weeks after that and I'm glad that I had the Cheviot Goat in December to do as it gave me a focus and put me back on track. I reccied all the route with Joss and Wisp from the M62 to Tan Hill and then the last sections from Tan Hill to Kirk Yetholm with just Wisp, a week after doing the Cheviot Goat.

The week before the Spine I was ready to get going on the race and test everything to Hebden Bridge, which I was considering the warmup. I wasn't sure about wearing waterproof socks as I know my feet swell up but I went with advice and I bought two pairs of Dexshells which I tested on the reccies and they seemed to work ok. The weather was forecasted to get cold and so I had packed lots of layers plus a Russian company BASK thermal polatec leggings and base layer which I bought when Steve was doing www.capetocape.org.uk years ago and when there used to be a UK retailer. I basically got all the layers, hats and gloves that I use for Scottish winter running and had them all at the ready. I started off in the Inov-8 winter tights (no longer made), Inov-8.com Venturelite mid half zip top , Inov-8 Performance Hybrid Jacket with the Venturelite Waterproof jacket in a size 12. I had in my drop bag a size 14 as I wanted a jacket big enough to put on over all the layers I intended to wear later. The insulated jackets that I used were the Inov-8.com Thermoshell and the Alpkit Heiko jacket

I set off in Inov-8 Trailfly G 270 and had a pair of Inov-8 Mudtalon Speed in my dropbag. I used a pair of Leki Neotrail-FX.One-Superlite throughout as I like the molded soft handgrip and the plain strap. I was also using a Garmin GSMAP 66sr for navigation and a Garmin Fenix 7S Pro for time keeping and my own tracking of the race. The pack I used was the new Venturelight 20 ltr pack which I've been testing throughout November and December and should be on sale soon. This was a great pack with enough room for all the kit in the bottom of it, leaving room for my layers on top and food in all the pockets and the back pouch. I'm so pleased that Inov-8 have brought out a great pack for use on long days in the mountains, Ultra events like the Spine and Mountain Marathons. I had the support of Ultra Light Outdoor Gear.co.uk which had helped immensely in getting the three main sleeping items (sleeping bag, sleeping mat and sleeping bag cover / bivvy bag) for a reasonable price and very compact. I was pleased with how everything went into the pack and how it didn't feel too heavy.

Start to CP 1 Hebden Bridge - 46 miles Total 11.46 hours Arrived Sunday 19.46

Setting off I was running and hiking strongly and chatting away to Matt Neale and Mark Potts. The pace seemed ok but it was a lot warmer than I imagined and I had soon taken off the waterproof. I like running across Kinder and was pleased that my pack didn't seem too heavy and I could keep a good pace going without too much effort. The field soon strung out and running down to the Snake I was hoping for water as I had run out. I saw the Trigger supporters and had a nice word with them before filling up my bottles and carrying on. I was keen to get this section done as it only feels like the warm up. I saw the winners of the Trigger race coming down towards the Snake and gave them encouragement and then left their route as we continued up the Pennine Way. The route gets a bit unclear here and I was glad of the GPS even though I have been there many times. Running over the summit of Bleaklow I called a runner back who was heading down White Stones and we went off down the path together. Meeting the Trigger route again after the stream on the Pennine Way at the top of Torside I was calling out to the runners I know and had a great hug from Clare Oliffe. Further down Torside Keith Holmes came up followed by Jim Paxman. At that point I wasn't sure which race I would rather be doing really. I think its Trigger for 2025!

I stupidly went off down the Trans Pennine Way for a 50 metres after the road crossing before realising and turning round. That annoyed me and I decided "No more errors" - that I had to concentrate! It was very warm climbing up to Black Hill and I was sweating too much for my liking. I chatted to Samuel Hill before heading off up to the summit of Black Hill which was cold and snowy. Running down to Wessenden I wasn't looking forward to the long flat section of reservoirs and tracks after the M62. I met up with Matt Neale and John Knapp just leaving the cabin on the M62 so tagged onto them. Here I was sad as I remembered the photo of Joss as we headed off on our recce to Gargrave back in October. From now on, until Greenhead, the race became a set of memories of Joss and it seemed a fitting way to remember his companionship and complete the race in his honour as he had helped me so much throughout my preparation.

I ran along the reservoirs (three of them - one after another and very tedious!) letting Matt and John open up a gap as I didn't want to over run too hard this bit. I knew it's all very runnable to Gargrave and it needed pacing. We all headed into Hebden Bridge together and Matt said he was going for his kip so we parted company. The checkpoint was oddly set out and I was told I couldn't eat in the room with my kit so I went into the canteen area as I wanted to get two lots of food - one before repacking and one after. The food was amazing and I soon realised that runners were taking it back to the other room so I did that too. Sorting out my bag I was pleased with how much I had eaten. I was a little worried about my feet as they were hot and the inside of the socks was damp so I took the liner socks off and reapplied lots of talc. I set off in good spirits back up the hill and onwards to the next stop of Lothersdale Tri Club.

Hebden Bridge to Hawes - 67 miles Total 31.22 hours Arrived Monday 15.25

The route heads onto the reverse of the Wadsworth Trog over to Withins barn and I was with Victoria for a lot of this leg. I was feeling lethargic and knew I had to eat more. The stone flags went on a bit but I enjoyed the section downhill after the barn refilling my water at a stream I had clocked on my recce. Running through the fields I heard someone call out and they said "It's Sally" I didn't register and then I saw it was Sally Parkin and her and John had set up a surprise support point with crisps and snacks. I was pleased to see them and they said Lothersdale wasn't far. I was soon descending down to the Tri club stop and in for a welcome cup of tea and a bacon butty. Things were freezing up by now and people were having trouble with their water bottles and shoes laces. The volunteers there were wonderful helping everyone as best as they could. I was running with Lloyd Biddell a lot and we bought some cans at the Tuck shop before Gargrave to replace the water that was frozen in our bottles. We passed through Gargrave and I should have stopped in Malham toilets for a meal as I was feeling depleted but instead I carried on with Lloyd. We caught a runner who was struggling up the climb to Malham steps and we didn't realise that he was a Spine Challenger until we got to the CP 1.5 at Malham Tarn and the Safety Team were sending someone out to him. Here I made up a meal - Expedition foods Apple and custard and I was really glad of something warm to eat. It was just so hard to eat in the cold as once you were all wrapped up it was a faff taking gloves off and undoing the zips to get at your mouth. I was putting my water bottles in my pockets already to try and retain some water in them but once the nozzles were frozen it was really impossible to get them to thaw out.

It was getting light as we left Malham which was nice. The sunrise was stunning and I was looking forward to another day and getting a couple of them under my belt. Climbing Fountains Fell we could see across to Pen Y Ghent and it looked cold with a dusting of snow on top. There was a bitter wind and I was glad of my extra Alpkit jacket and Inov8 mitts. I was worried about my eating still and one the road to the base of Pen Y Ghent I made a conscious effort to eat some food. I enjoyed the climb up Pen Y Ghent and the descent down to Horton. There were a number of supporters in the carpark and they had some water which was nice. I set off up the Cam road in higher spirits. On the recce I liked the Cam road but everyone said how it went on and on - and it does! I could see people in front and when I caught them they were more Spine Challenger South runners. I gave them encouragement as I caught them and handed some coffee beans to one lad who was swaying from side to side and said he was really tired. It was way too cold to be sleeping up there and he was so near the finish.

I headed over the top and gratefully descended into Hawes glad to be getting into the main checkpoint having done a big chunk of the route. I decided to sleep for an hour despite it being daylight and after eating a good bowl of food I went and had a shower, changing into my BASK thermal leggings and top. Then into the ladies room where Victoria was sleeping. I had a good sleep and got up ready for more food. I set off, looking forward to the route to Tan Hill as I liked the climb to Great Shunner Fell. I started off running with Scott Brown but as soon as we climbed it was obvious he was faster than me so I shouted for him to go on ahead. I did enjoy the climb as it's a good long ascent that suits me but it was strange in the dark and the light covering of snow that I didn't recognise the route. I did remember the summit cairn though and touched it in remembrance of Joss.

Descending down I needed the loo and some water so looked for suitable spots for both. Once done I was happier and pleased that everything was working ok. My feet though were not happy with this long descent and once again I worried about them. They seemed swollen and sore. I ran through the village and started the climb up the other side to Tan Hill. I didn't visit the cafe in Keld as it's a little out of the way. Maybe one day when I return to the area. I kept expecting people to catch me and one time I did see lights behind me but no-one caught me. The Inn showed up very welcoming and I was glad of somewhere warm to shelter for a while. I bought some soup and a tea and decided just to have a quick rest on the heated floor. While I was laid down Victoria came in and she had been the lights behind me but had gone wrong ending up coming up the road to the Tan Hill Inn. She was very cold and had decided to DNF. Lloyd came in and went out again and I followed him off down the frozen bogs. It was really amazing that these bogs were dry. They were hard under our feet and although it was nice not to have wet soggy bogs to run on the hard ground was very unforgiving. Again even though I had reccied it I didn't remember it all across to the A66. The A66 feels like a proper marker - now you are really in the north! On the recce the next section had been wild and exposed but it was actually quite benign in comparison. I hopped into the bothy to get some food out and then continued on. I was looking forward to some noodles and tea at the Clove Barn tuck shop. Running down to it I passed the Safety team which was reassuring.

At 2am in the morning the Tuck shop wasn't manned. And the water pipes had frozen up. There was a watering can with water for the kettle but that had frozen up too. I found some bottled water and used that as all the taps were frozen. I made up the noodles and a cup of tea with sugar, and sat next to the black cat in the deck chair eating my noodles. They were delicious. I took some macaroons and left a donation as I was so glad of this food in the middle of a cold frozen night. I ran off in better spirits towards daylight and Middleton.  My feet complained bitterly about the descent to Middleton and I decided that I had to do something about them at Langdon YHA. I ended up walking down the descent because running was too painful. I didn't know what I should do with them though. As I plodded along the valley I thought I should try changing my socks to non waterproof ones and then I decided that if I was going to do that, then why didn't I do it there and then as I was carrying spare socks (a compulsory kit requirement). So I sat on a stile and changed my socks. Oh the relief was immense! My poor feet were red and blotchy - the start of the heat rash I know I get. Putting my thin Inov-8 socks on and then my TrailFlys back on I carried on. It was a strange sensation and I knew my feet weren't quite right but I was hoping that a couple of hours out of my shoes at the checkpoint would dry them out. I decided to use my Mudtalons on the next section with drymax socks. The other thing that was really concerning me was my lack of energy so I decided that I needed to eat more in the checkpoints to make up for it being too cold to eat properly on the route. I made a target of "Three bowls of Something in every checkpoint" and to make up an Expedition food meals in between checkpoints when hot water was available. So heading into Langdon YHA I had a new plan and a new lease of life. Finishing had become much more do-able.

I asked for food straight away and took my shoes off. The food was delicious and I asked for a pudding of some sort. They did me a banana with custard which was just what I needed. I slept in a two bed dorm on my own really well for an hour and then had a full breakfast although now my mouth was sore and I couldn't eat the bacon. The snow had started to fall when I arrived and now it was thick and swirling with a gusty wind. I didn't mind as I knew with all my layers I would be warm. I packed the Inov-8 Thermoshell and wore the larger Venturelite jacket as well as my Buffalo mitts. My feet had dried out well and I set off in Drymax socks and the Mudtalons.

Langdon YHA to Alston 33 miles Total 71.38 Arrived Wednesday 07.38 (Spent 3 hours "Held at Dufton". I was told 2.30 hours would be deducted from my time).

We were told of a diversion because Caldrons Snout was too icy and it didn't look too bad on the map but in reality it was just a road for a very long time round and back to the dam. There were a number of Safety team members on route and it was nice to say a cheery word to them. I was wrapped up warm using the hoods on the BASK base layer plus the inov8 Performance jacket to keep my head, face and neck warm. I also had the inov-8 waterproof leggings over the BASK leggings! I could tackle anything - and it was a good thing!! After the dam is a long section of tracks but now I was tired of flat hiking and jogging. Getting to Birkdale shooting lodge I found shelter out of the wind and put my microspikes on. It was about 4pm and I was hoping I could get a fair way up to High Cup Nick before dark. As soon as I left the track and went into the river valley the path just disappeared completely under snow. There had been some footprints but the wind had filled them in and so it was really just a case of floundering and guessing where the path would have gone. The wind was blowing directly down the valley against me. I was really surprised how much snow there was at such a low level. I couldn't eat as I was battling the wind and using my poles to stay upright so I decided to get to the bridge and shelter behind the pillar over the river. to eat some food and get my head torch out. I did this glad of a rest out of the wind and then carried on up the valley. It soon got dark and I went up into clag so with my head torch on my head it was impossible to make out the contours. I just kept going uphill, finding the odd footprint and using the gps. Having reccied it I knew there was a plateau with mole hills and then we needed to find the path that dropped us to the basin above High Cup Nick. It was just taking forever but on the summit plateau the wind had blown the snow and I saw a mole hill poking out. I was watching the GPS really carefully as I couldn't really remember what the terrain was like either side of the path but I didn't want to slide downhill at all. I slithered down to the stream/river/boggy area and tried to get across. There was a layer of partly frozen snow / ice over the river and I went through it at one point which was cold and wet.

Then I needed to find the path which goes around the edge, contours and then drops on what might have been an old cart track. The gpx track had me too low and I kept climbing higher, not remembering any climb on my reccies. I knew there was a higher path which had more cairns on it rather than the PW / GPX track and I was trying to find that as I hoped it was clearer. By now I had taken the head torch off my head and was holding it. Then I had the Garmin 66Sr in the other hand and I was carrying my poles as well. It was all rather cumbersome and I wasn't happy at all. Not cold though but just tired of floundering and searching for any semblance of the path and footprints. Everytime I thought I was on something it only lasted a few metres before I was back in the rocks. I couldn't wait to start descending and get out of this mess. Eventually the path descended properly onto the fields and a tractor had been up. Running down in my spikes was painful so I stopped and took them off. But actually the spikes gave me protection from the hard frozen ruts and I should have kept them on longer.

Descending into Dufton I was going to have my Expedition foods meal and as much tea as possible at the checkpoint before heading up Cross Fell. As I got into the hall I was told that I was being grouped to go over Cross Fell and there was Scott waiting for me and AAnother as we needed to be a three. That sounded a good plan. I got my meal out and the supporters made it up while I had tea. I took my shoes off as my feet had got damp. This was the worry with the Drymax in that my feet would get wet.

There was lots of discussions between the supporters as to what was happening as two Spine Challenger runners had been found on Cross Fell by Spine runners and were being walked off. The Safety team rang and I asked to speak to me and I described High Cup Nick and that it was pretty awful up there. The decision was then made by the safety team to hold the race. So basically as runners got to a checkpoint they had to stay there. We asked whether this time would be deducted from our overall time and were told that it would be. I can see the difficulty in working all this out but with technology nowadays it should be possible to see when people got to the checkpoints and work out a basic formula to deduct a fair amount of time. I was "Held" for 3 hours but would have only stayed 30 minutes. Next to arrive was After a couple of hours Elaine Bisson, Eoin Keith and Rory Campbell came in. Mark Potts, Andrew Abu Muharib, Lloyd and Marco Constani also came in. Mark and someone I can't remember had helped the Chellenger runner off Cross Fell and then they had got a lift down to Dufton. We all settled down not knowing when we might be restarted. But all hoping that we would be restarted. Apparently the weather was getting better. The checkpoint staff were great and found us some food to eat like pizza, freeze dried meals and some cake as we only had what we were carrying and they didn't have food for the runners being a mid point checkpoint. It was decided at 10.30pm that we could start at 11pm and so we all packed up and got ready. Eoin asked me if I wanted to go with them and I agreed as it was much nicer to be in a group than on my own.

We set off down the road at a right pace and I was struggling to keep up! I had all my clothes on and didn't like to get too hot plus I was trying to keep my feet dry so avoiding all the wet bogs and mud. I persevered and the pace slowed slightly when we got to the steep climb so I tucked in at the back and kept quiet. Rory was quite a chatterbox and Elaine was asking me questions but I was trying to keep up and not overheat so I wasn't very talkative! The climb went on forever and I stopped to put the microspikes on at one point, glad of their traction in the snow. The snow had now partly frozen so it was that tiring slow, breaking through sometimes and holding sometimes snow. Eoin was amazing with the nav and I was glad just to be able to keep my head down and follow the train. Somewhere along there we bumped into Andrew who tagged on to our group. We went alongside the fence by the golf balls on Great Dun Fell and dropped down before climbing up again. Passing Cross Fell I was looking forward to Gregs Hut and the famous noodles. The descent seemed to go on forever until we found the contouring track that led us to the hut. Getting in there we sat and awaited the noodles. John Bamber was asleep which was a shame as we were all looking forward to meeting him. The noodles and the hot chocolate were amazing! I put on my Inov-8 Thermoshell over my Alpkit jacket as it was cold outside and I didn't see the point of carrying kit and not wearing it. Elaine did the same and when we set off we were both ok. It's very exposed on the track leading from Gregs Hut and although you try to move fast the ground with snow was just too slow. It was a long long descent into Garrigil where there were no angels to meet us.

Along the valley to Alston we went and a diversion round a closed bridge had us losing our sense of humour as the path was not used and difficult to follow through a mirage of tiny overgrown fields with fallen trees. We were all keen to get to Alston for a proper rest. At last we found the YHA and piled in!! The staff were amazing and food was quickly ordered. I changed my mind from Lasagna to baked potato and tucked in! Then I had banana and custard again and loads and loads of tea. It was decided to have two hours sleep and Eoin and Rory disappeared. We should have decided a time to get up instead of "two hours" as me and Elaine then couldn't remember when this was decided and so when we went to sleep I set the alarm for 10am, not wanting to make them late. I was getting my head torches ready for the next leg and realised that my Battery pack hadn't charged the last head torch batteries from Langdon to Alston. This was confusing and I fiddled with the pack and the batteries but to no avail. I had batteries for the next leg but I needed some charging for the final leg from Bellingham. I was lent a plug as I hadn't brought any with me and I used the USB chargers but it was quite a worry. I also charged my watch and my GPS unit just to top them up. Both Garmin devices are amazing on battery - especially the GSMAP 66sr and having done the Tor des Glaciers with the same GPS I knew the battery would last a week.

Elaine and I slept well but I learnt that Elaine doesn't like waking up! The alarm went off and I stopped it. I looked over to Elaine and she glowered at me and turned over. I lay for a few minutes then decided that I had to get up so quietly started to. Elaine sighed and also got up and we silently went down to the canteen area. There was no sign of Eoin and Rory so we ordered food - rice pudding for me (delicious) and started getting our stuff ready. I wanted a medic to look at my little toe as I had taped it a couple of times but it was getting worse. I've never had blisters so I'm not an expert. Eoin and Rory appeared and we all got ready to depart with Eoin seeing the medic and then I did but she wouldn't treat my blister so I asked Elaine to as I couldn't reach. Elaine did a marvelous job! I changed my shoes back to the TrailFlys as they are a size 7 and I knew the next section would be in the valleys and also it was getting warmer. Now I was glad that I had invested in a few pairs of the Drymax socks so I could change at every checkpoint. I was using the medicated talc too and overall my feet were pretty good.

Alston to Bellingham 40 miles Total time 71.38 hours Arrived Thursday 05.10

As we were leaving the sun was out and it promised to be a nicer, warmer day. We had a long way to go along the valley with the road, then Hadrians Wall and then the tedious, uninspiring section from the end of Hadrians wall to Horneystead farm. Even on the recce I hated this section and I was pretty fresh then!

We were in good spirits though and there were supporters along the way, all of whom loved Eoin! He really was the star of the party everywhere we went! I was slightly sad on this section as it was the last section that I reccied with Joss alive - he got as far as Greenhead and then didn't do Greenhead to the finish with me. So I was remembering him a lot and saying goodbye. Some supporters had food for us and I had a bag of crisps that were amazing. The sun was shining and Eoin and Rory were singing! I even had a rendition of Eoin's Marilyn Munroe birthday song which was pretty surreal!!

Just before Greenhead we walked up to the famous Rasta John's house https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pshJsbqTr1E and Rasta John was waiting for us with a packet of freshly airfried cooked chicken. Eoin was handed the packet and shared them out. I took one and could have eaten two more! They were really delicious! We spent five minutes chatting to Rasta John and then carried on our way to Greenhead.

At Greenhead Rory had a little blip and started saying he was going to stop. He had never done this distance before so while me, Eoin and Elaine all knew we could finish Rory had these doubts every now and again. Of course we all launched into reasons why he couldn't stop and we all just carried on! I fed him some Scottish Tablet which he liked. This had become a staple of mine being that you could break a lump off and it melted in your mouth yet in your pocket it stayed as a block and didn't disintegrate! And at 114kcal per 100g it packed an energy punch!

Into the first toilets Elaine and I went to sort out some clothes and food as it was dropping dark and getting cold. It was lovely and warm in there and we could have stayed for a while. When we left Eoin had gone on ahead and we soon caught them. We hiked along to the second toilets where there were some spectators cheering us on. I went to get more water in these toilets as I knew there wasn't any until Horneystead now. We left the toilets and headed off along Hadrians Wall. Suddenly Eoin bent over and said he didn't feel very good and then as we stopped there I also got some horrid shivers and all my arms went cold. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and not move. I bent over too hoping we would move soon as I needed to get going. We moved off with Elaine taking charge and keeping everyone moving. The wall was magical and the views (even in the dark) were amazing. Eoin was back on form and I had some tablet and sweets and also started to feel better. There were head torches in front and some behind catching us. Eoin picked up the pace and we were soon at the diversion and the end of the wall. 

On and off we all had rough patches and hoped to get the next section done quickly but oh hell it went on forever. Andrew caught us and just slotted in behind but he did a good job of talking which we all needed at that stage. I remembered the forest and the open ground and then more forest. It was now dark and we were all just falling asleep. There was nothing to look at either side of the path apart from deforestation, no ups or downs to change the pace and no-one could think of any conversation anymore. Honestly it seemed like we would never get there. I shared some chocolate covered coffee beans with Elaine as she said she was very tired.

I know what Spine runners mean now about Horneystead being such an amazing place. We arrived and Jane immediately gave us cups of hot soup packed with vegetables and a bread roll each. It was so delicious. I made hot chocolate and coffee for everyone and then Eoin said we should sleep. This seemed a good idea although in hindsight I didn't get any sleep as it was too cold and drafty in the barn, despite being covered with 100 blankets that Jane and the supporters found for us. We did rest though and it was good to get the weight off my feet. After half an hour Elaine and I were ready to go and so we set off as they were still faffing and we were cold.  Immediately we missed Eoin's knowledge of the route as we crisscrossed many fields and tried to find the route. We ploughed on, checking for lights behind which appeared and then disappeared. The route gets better to Bellingham with more interest and soon we were heading down to the checkpoint.

The checkpoint was manic with a lot of Spine North Challenger runners taking up loads of room and being noisy. We had planned to to sleep but didn't know that we could in all this racket. We ate some food and sorted kit out a bit while waiting for Eoin and Rory to appear which they did. Eoin was having problems with chaffing and had gone back to Horneystead to apply cream which is why they didn't catch us. It was decided to sleep and plan to be ready to leave at 8am. I was really hoping we could finish on Thursday night as I didn't want to run through yet another night. Elaine felt the same as she had family waiting for her. I just wanted this over now. A lot of the Spine Challengers were leaving and the place was quieter so we went into the sleeping hall and into a tent to sleep. I faffed with my sleeping mat but I was soon asleep and I woke before the alarm went off. I woke Elaine and we got up and went for breakfast. Eoin needed to see the medics and Rory was getting ready. We were ready to leave and keen to get going so we said our goodbyes and set off.

Bellingham to Kirk Yetholm 42 miles Total time 111.40 (but 109.10 hours really) Arrived Thursday 23.40

Now we were on a mission - to finish on Thursday!  We motored along from Bellingham to Byrness really enjoying this section and the feeling of getting nearer our goal. The ground was hard and I was avoiding getting my feet wet which was good. The ice was dangerous and we both had had falls but we got better at spotting in beneath the snow. Eating was good and it was actually a bit hot in the valley. Elaine had an amazingly fast walk which I struggled to keep up with but I didn't mind running so between us we made great progress to Byrness. In the checkpoint I was looking forward to seeing Sharon Dyson but she was away and the checkpoint staff gave me her best wishes. I opted for the mince and tatties and ate my way through the huge portion I got. The soft drinks were an added bonus too as was the proper coffee!!

We left before our 30 minutes was up and set off along the road and up the hill. I filled up with water on route. The climb was great and I thought "This is what I like doing - climbing!". I couldn't wait to finish and get back to proper mountains and events with lots of ascent in them. It was great to be getting higher and higher and onto this last section which is the best section although it does have a lot of flag stones and goes on a lot longer than it looks on the map! We summited and put some more clothes on although it wasn't as cold as we imagined it would be. Walking fast and jogging we were covering ground well. We passed a group of Army guys stood with the Safety team and they cheered us on. It was getting dark as we approached Hut 1 and so the head torches went on. I misjudged where Hut 1 was and it was further than I thought. When we arrived we hadn't intended to stay at all but the offer of a tea was too much to pass by. It was lovely sitting there drinking a hot sweet tea and we could have stayed for longer but back out into the cold we went.

Elaine was leading at a good pace and I had put my micro spikes on but I had to shout to Elaine that I needed to take them off. There really wasn't much snow at all and the ground was so hard that it was very painful running on the spikes. The TrailFlys had remarkable grip on the snow covered ice and better than the Yaktraks that Elaine had on. Elaine had left her poles at Bellingham as she had a wrist injury and she was managing very well without them but I found mine invaluable on the ice and for testing bogs as I still didn't want to get my feet wet.

It's such a long drag up and over Windy Gyle and then along to the first summit of Cairn Hill. Elaine asked me to go in front and now I was pushing the pace not wanting to be caught by any Spine runners now. The only runners we had passed were North Challenger runners though. We turned left at the summit and down the reverse of the Cheviot Goat to Hut 2. It was a great descent and we both really enjoyed it. Again we weren't going to stop at Hut 2 but the welcome cup of tea halted us. Photos were taken and congratulations given by the Safety Team stationed there.

So the last climb and then the descent. I remembered the climb to The Schil well and it wasn't a surprise. And then the initial descent too where I needed some food so ate some sweets and tablet. After that I thought we just went down the grassy ramp and hit the last section of road. How had my mind blanked out the horrid long descent to the sheep fields, the Tunnocks wagon in the farmyard, the drag along the valley to the bridge and then the hill up before another long gently descending road to the road / horses field I don't know but it had!? Elaine was the same - she said she had done this two years ago when she finished and she couldn't remember it at all. We had started of the descent in high spirits but as it went on and on and on we got slower and slower, and cursed more and more. We cheered up considerably as as we hit the village and decided that we would run through the finish and touch the wall together, without any dramatics.

Our husbands and friends were there to see us finish and it was a very special moment for us. We had a big hug and were both thankful that it was all done. We finished Joint 4th Ladies and Joint 15th overall in a time of 111.40 but I calculate that should be 109.10 hours.

Thank you to Elaine, Eoin and Rory for inviting me into your group and making the Spine the best experience ever.

On reflection I am glad that I have done the Spine and I hope I don't get the urge to do it again. There's things I could have done better but overall I went to have a good race and be pleased with how I managed it. I was disappointed in the Tor de Glaciers and I set out in the Spine to look after myself better and to have a hard race but an enjoyable one. I did that. I dealt with what was going wrong (feet and energy) and I spent time with some fantastic people. I enjoyed the checkpoints and made the most of the experience. I'm not sure what doing it again would achieve. I would love to support and help people get over the things that go wrong so that they can also achieve a finish.