Friday, 15 January 2016

Spine Challenger - the aftermath/ fallout

Thats me in there somewhere
The Spine Challenger took a lot out of me. More than I thought, if I’m honest. As I stumbled through the door of that building at the end and had my tracker snipped off my rucksack, Lynne and Caroline helped me get my gear off, and there was burgeoning realisation of just how far I had pushed it.

Walking down the hill I had been shivering, at the end, I was no longer shivering - my core temperature must have been very low, fingers were unable to undo clips, and apparently I was looking in a bad, bad way.To be fair, all I had consumed in the last 15 miles was a piece of flapjack, and a gulp of water. I was pretty much beyond the fumes stage and was running on willpower alone.
The medic was called over to make sure I was ok-ish, and the verdict was that I was indeed very cold, needed to get changed, get some food into me and generally warm up slowly. I wasn’t allowed to sleep for a while, but once everything had been changed, I had 5 cups of sweet tea and eaten some complex carbs, I made my way to the floor to sleep.

Being helped out of gear
At this stage standing was an impossibility. I’ve finished races before where it was pretty hard to wander around, but never been in a situation where I literally could not stand. Within the next hour I was able to mobilise a little, but needed a stick to help me. Standing up from chairs wasn’t happening either.
To put it bluntly, I was a proper mess. A hypothermic, non-mobile mess. Even now, I’d say I pretty much pushed myself to beyond breaking point, especially as my feet were still massively swollen even 3-4 days after finishing. 
Its now Friday and they are about back to normal - I actually have definition around my achilles tendons again, I can move my feet up and down without the tendons creaking through lack of space because of the swelling and I can walk more than 30 metres without wanting to keel over in pain. 

Physically, I have to say, it pretty much broke me. 

But what about the kit that I used on the race? What worked? what didn’t? What would I change?

In no particular order.... 
  • Before the rain struck

    Shoes - Inov8 orocs - these were brilliant. Dobbed shoes that are the same shape as the x-talons, which I love. I was a little concerned that the dobs would bruise the underside of my feet, because you can feel them when running along hard stuff like flags and roads. To be honest, yes I could feel them, but I was much happier knowing that I would grip to everything that I came across. Slippy flagstones. wooden bridges, icey steps, mud, bog. you name it, I gripped to it at walking and at running speed. After 108 miles any shoe is going to be uncomfortable. If you’re tired and slip, you use more energy trying not to slip, or righting yourself. I had no such issues with these shoes. They are so worth the money I spent on them. I'm a bit worried about the dobs coming out of them as they age, but that is perhaps for another blog post.


  • Bag - I was using my several year old OMM adventure 20 litre. It was the perfect size, but the age of it really showed. The waterproofing was delaminating on the inside, when it got wet, it soaked in, the DWR didn't work, so it ended up being about 1kg of soaked water as well as the weight of the bag, snow stuck to it… yes. If I had been intelligent and borrowed Lynnes brand new one, I’d have been fine. Well, not fine, but a little less in pain. Lesson here is although the pack itself might be excellent, the age - and hence water repellent properties might not be so good. And that is certainly something to think about. 

  • Gloves- as you may have noticed from my previous blog I changed gloves an awful lot of times. The eVent waterproof top layers were excellent, but of course when you have to take your gloves off to eat and drink, your hands get cold and wet. Nothing stops that. Also, wearing 2 pairs of mittens means you lose a massive amount of dexterity. This leads to problems when you have to balance out having hands that work against getting food or water into you. which brings me to…

  • Waterbottles. They're great when you are nice and dexterous and can get them in and out of your pack. But in the middle of the night when its raining and snowing and both hands are taken up by walking poles, its pretty difficult to drink… get at least one bottle with a straw in it, and make sure that straw is close to your mouth!

  • Poles- for me - definite leg saver. I used them on the hills from the beginning. The leki micro varios that I used were excellent - easy to store and retrieve on the go, solid, and dependable. If you can, make sure you have a spare set in your support van though. A minor issue here, which dovetails in with the food thing is that when you have 2 hands full of poles, unless you can stash and retrieve them quickly, you end up not eating and drinking properly. I thought I had it pretty much nailed in terms of getting the poles into and out of storage, but still suffered really badly in the second half of the race.

  • Headtorch - I kept my Silva runner on its lowest setting all the way through the night. at a normal running speed this doesn't provide enough light, however, at the speed I was going. it was absolutely perfect. You don't need insane brightness, you need a decent level for a long period of time.

  • Reccying - putting time into reccying the course was probably the best and most intelligent thing I did in terms of preparation. By the time the race came around I had traveled over the full course at least once, and had done about half of it at least twice, I could look at a map and know what the path looked like, know where I needed to turn, and which wall lines to follow. The only point where I legitimately could have got properly lost was in a white out on fountains fell… but to be fair, Ive been lost in my own back yard in a whiteout in the middle of the night, so I'm not counting that. If you're planning on doing this next year, there is no better thing you can do than get to know the route very very thoroughly

  • Food - tangfantastics, hot sweet tea, cold pizza and beef and sweet potato pies (from Feedzone portables) . These are the things that saved me. 

  • Lightweight primaloft layer - one that turns inside out - breathable one way, warmer the other. As night fell, this was an excellent layering piece that, once it got colder, I turned the warm way out, and it kept me going

  • Spare socks. I had a spare pair of socks in my rucksack, and put them on at checkpoint 1.5. I should have had another pair of outer socks as well - that would have been a godsend. As for sealskinz - seriously don't waste your time. They certainly are not waterproof - we all know that, but as for keeping your feet warm and wet, no, they don't do that either - not after a few hours. I think I might burn mine. I still don't have the answer, but it might be in the form of rooster socks… I’ll keep you posted. 

  • Inov8 debris gaiters - I was wearing them. and when I took them off to undo my shoes there was debris all through my laces. They're ok for short runs, but I think this is a bit of a different level… lost one of the elastic undershoe things as well. Without them my shoes may well have been even more full of crap, but for a longer run I think that an actual water repellent gaiter would have been a better option.

  • Front pouch
    GPX files. Make your own for short sections of the race - I had a couple of specific ones for getting over wolf stones and also over fountains. I made them as detailed as I needed and used
    them on my GPS watch. As well as having a general purpose GPS- the satmap, they were really good as an idiot check to make sure I was in the right place, going in the right direction. 
  • Front pouch - I borrowed a salomon front pouch from a friend - it was ok, but it bounced around like nothing else so I ended up having to clip my waistbelt over it instead of behind it. Because it was so cold. I didn't use it nearly as much as I wanted to, which was a shame. 

  • A support team that knows what it is doing. Yes, Lynne and I have supported a few long distance events over the years, Ive supported her on races and vice versa. We sat down beforehand and worked out when and where we would meet. potential things I might need. and how it would all work. She worked from a little van, and I have to say, if there was to be a next time, I would hire a campervan type thing with winter tyres. It was do-able from the back of a Nemo, but pretty cramped.

  • Borked.
    Waterproof bags have an age limit. Everything in my bag was wet. Everything. Despite them all being in Alpkit waterproof bags, the whole lot was sodden. This did nothing for the weight of my kit, which I imagine ended up being a good couple of kg heavier than when I started. I was pretty surprised at that, but suppose I shouldn't be really.

  • Hand warmers These are flipping great - but when they get wet, all warming properties leave them and you end up with a solid packet of previously warm stuff in your soggy mitt. Warmth through memory rather than actual warmth at that point.

  •  Never stop moving forward. Every time you stop you aren't going towards your goal. Even slow steps are better than no steps. Yes, I got caught by the 3 fastest guys in the Spine, but it took them about 100miles to close down a 2 hour headstart. Once you’re going, don’t stop. 

    I'm pretty sure there are other things that are I could talk about, but none of them are really at the forefront of my mind at the moment. As and when I think of things I'll "publish" them.
    There will also be a few specific reviews coming out soon as well - planned ones are for the shoes, the satmap and insulation layers. If there is anything else you want to know about, drop me a line.

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