Monday, 18 December 2017

Control! And Race Psychology.


Time for an update looking forward to the 2018 Spine.

Looking at the various posts on Facebook the same old questions keep coming up.
 "Whats the best Shoe ,Boot ,Jacket, Sleeping Bag, Trousers, GPS?"
The Facebook addicts tend to pile in with various recommendations based on personal experience of Past Spine Races
  There is an underlying assumption  that The Spine Race can be easily defined and so a standard list of : THE BEST KIT can be recommended.

  The Racers who have multi finish experience try there best but there are seldom standard answers.

  The problem leads back to trying to define what Makes Tthe Spine Race Different  


Reading various Post Race Reports I came across one factor that perhaps comes closer than most to explaining why the Winter Spine Race is such a different Race than most other UK Races.
Eion Kieth a past Spine Winner and always a contender talked about taking Control of your race . This phrase set off a chain of thoughts about the Spine and why its such a slippery beast to explain and why it some years has  a high but  unpredictable DNF rate

When you take part in the Spine Race you have far less CONTROL over the race than almost any other Ultra.  You have to accept that every Spine Race is different.

I have talked about how the Spine differs from other Races but feel I never really get near to explaining why .

The More Control You Have , The Easier It Is To Attain Your Objective.

 If we look at other races we can see how in many cases the finishing percentage  over the years can gradually rise . This is partially due to gradual improvements in CP support and course marking.  Runners are getting fitter and completing more than two 100 mile race in a year is no longer considered unusual. The runners themselves are more experienced and are in better control of what they will face.

       An Athleat's  Past performance on 100mile ultras is usually a fairly accurate predictor for other long ultra's but not for actually completing the Spine.

The more we can control  the various factors of our personal race then the better our chances of finishing and achieving a PB.

As for the Spine then most would agree that PB,s on this race are fairly meaningless. The length of time over which the race is run and the potential changes in  UK Mountain  weather over what is essentially a South to North race and race duration can  play havoc with the plans of the most experienced runners.
 The percentage of race finishers varies from year to year depending on race weather conditions and how the racers and Race Directors react to the conditions. The race may be halted ,paused and the course diverted due to adverse weather conditions.
 Official race support and Marshalling has improved markedly since the early years . The race is certainly safer but to describe it as easier is missing the point. With increased numbers but no control over the weather the Race Directors will always have a hard and often thankless job tweaking the race while it is in progress to balance safety against runners ambitions. Cut Off Times may change and shorten for tail enders if sufficient safety cover cannot be maintained for the whole length of the active parts of the course.

FROM A RUNNERS POINT OF VIEW
You cannot control the weather or decisions made by race control.
You can control your own actions but only if you recognise the scope   your own abilities  and accept   how that ability will degrade as you move up the course.
A case in point is recce runs along the course . Many novices will scope out the course in daylight with the emphasis on getting in a good training run at the same time .
To get the most out of a recce you have to envisage how things will look on a particular race day , at what time of day and what state your head will be in at that point on the course.


The recent attempt on the sub 2 hr Marathon was attempted by a team focused on taking maximum control of all the factors. Weather , temp , wind , pace , nutrition , hydration , psychology, pace, navigation , climb,fitness training and even athlete selection were all under strict control.

Conversely if we look at the Spine then an individual athletes grip on controlling his or her race is limited and in some aspects  non existent!

YOU WILL HAVE LIMITED PERSONAL CONTROL , BUT IF ONE OF YOUR STRENGTHS IS THE ABILITY TO ADAPT THEN YOUR CHANCES OF  GAINING A  WELL EARNED FINISHERS MEDAL ARE  GREATLY INCREASED.

By increasing the factors you control you can up your chances of finishing and finishing well.
        Before the 2018 Spine  the help any runner has with  maintaining  control has in not been uniform. ( by this I am referring to support teams.)

         Although not so common in European Ultras , Support teams and especially the use of Pacers allows an athlete to delegate most  areas of Control to someone else and concentrate just on the running
   
Your ability to adapt to the problems that The Spine throws at you can be enhanced by  training in  all aspects of the race .
You need to work out  tested systems that you can put in place before the start . Practising eating when moving and changing layering systems in the rain and high winds should be second nature.
 Every system is linked to you as a racer . You need to look at yourself and all your Kit as one entity. Where in your pack you stow each bit of kit is vital to your overall performance .

         Areas Where You Can  Increase  Your Levels Of  Control.

         1  Pre Race 

                                 Getting Kit Obsessed.  We all do this often falling for the expensive is best option.   Your default setting is :lighter is better!
                                  You need to really use your imagination in planning how you may end up using each bit of kit and how that item interacts with the rest of your kit. 
                                  Get used to carrying kit , changing layers  and carrying out actions whilst on the move.
                                  Just how easy to deploy or store  a piece of kit.  Without this knowledge you won't have the information to weigh up the question : " will speed gained justify time taken  by pausing to put on the gear .
         The classic example is using traction aids. I suspect that 50% of all starters have never put on and tried walking in their traction aids . If you have never tried them you won't know how easy they are to use on surfaces other than sheet ice. You will also not know how easy they are to store ready to use without damaging the rest of your gear.
        If you want to maximise your control over moving on icy rocks you need to know how fast and easy it is to put  your traction aids on and off . (How fast must include time taken to remove gloves , get out the aids ,strap on ,gloves back on , then the reverse if the grip is no longer required.) 
       Having traction aids that you can put on  while wearing gloves may well be more important ,time wise, than weight or grip.

        If you have never tried on your traction aids then a windswept dark icy rocky trail is not the place to learn how.   

              Lack of control is often due to lack of planning and training diversity.
           Novice training is often overly biased to trying to train for stamina and speed .
                     

      KIT CHECK.

        This is an area that can throw a spanner into the works before you even start.
        Your Kit will be checked in a crowded small hall packed with people milling about . Make the assumption that you will be the one who draws a full kit check (if you are even thinking of trying to skimp on kit in order to have a lighter pack then you :A have totally misunderstood this race.
                                                                                      B are a complete idiot.
                                                                                      C won't make the finish line anyway.
          Have your kit ready for inspection but not as you will pack it on race day. Everything needs to be easily found so the Marshals at registration can inspect all.
           After kit Check put time aside to quietly re-pack all your kit so you know where everything is stored. (ideally you should have made  packing notes that you have worked out as part of your race plan.)


   The key is  to practise  all aspects of your Spine training.
    If you can't get out on the course then get better at other aspects such as feeding and making changes to clothing while on the move.
    To stay in control ideally you need to practise under stress. You can control your training sessions  so take advantage of any adverse extreme weather conditions. Discovering that your glove /arm waterproof seal is not waterproof during training should be regarded as a good discovery . Working out how to solve the problem will put you back in control during the race .
    Many runners look to spend their way towards controlling their race . "My gloves leak so I need a more expensive pair " is many folks default reaction.  Shift your thinking and get more analytical about any issues training throws up . Take the gloves : Should the cuff of the glove be tighter. perhaps it slips outside the jacket cuff funnelling water in? Perhaps a rubber ring seal cut from a butchered Marigold washing up glove will solve the problem. What about electrical plastic tape?
      You will be removing your gloves hundreds of times during the race , how do you avoid dropping them?


       Your ability to stay in control is limited by your ability to think clearly and decisively.
In previous posts I have referred  to the fact that as you move up the course you suffer increased sleep deprivation and This has a marked affect on your thinking ability. Once past 48 hrs without sleep almost all the runners go down hill fast.
        Sleep deprivation reduces your ability to stay in  control. It is what makes the SPINE such a different beast than the Challenger. 
         This was clearly demonstrated by the fast finish times achieved by the race leaders in 2015 when the race was halted several times allowing far more time for racers to catch up on sleep at CP's.
          

          When you get into what I call Zombi sleep state then working your brain hard will make the effects of sleep deprivation worse.  (if one of a pair of runners is doing all the navigation then that runner will need more sleep at the next CP)
                  It therefore follows that pre race training to automate many of your actions will alleviate sleep stress and reduce mistakes.

         In a  post I  referred to Military Training and how it teaches a soldier to react automatically to  random but possibly predictable situations giving the soldier more time and brain energy to problem solve the less predictable situations. Some of you read that and jumped to the conclusion that a trained soldier would have an advantage.  That was not really what the post was trying to portray.
      Training and particularly repeat training will form mental habits (hard wiring your brain by repeated reinforcement.
      Getting in to the habit of checking your GPS position on a regular basis will keep you out of the shit when you find yourself alone on the trail.

the vast majority of spine nav cock ups are due to the runner not bothering to navigate until they are actually off the trail!

Navigational Control.


If we refer back to the Spine we can predict that a well practiced orienteer will navigate the Pennine way faster but also and equally as significantly will have to draw on less conscious brain effort to do so.

In 2017 I helped with the Logistics team spending much time at each CP. Several times I was approached by runners asking me how they could break free from a dysfunctional group. The runner asking was usually the lead runner who felt they were carrying the group.You have to be brutally honest. If it feels bad as you leave the CP then it will get far worse before you reach the next CP.
By the time you reach the Cheviots you may  be so mentally shot away that behaviour becomes highly erratic  with rapid mood swings and paranoia this is not the time to finally express your feelings after bottling them up for several days.


Controll And Gear.
Now the Spine is officially an unsupported race several part supported runners will have to address  dry kit and food resupply .( In the past friends and family were allowed to help carry gear)

the DROP BAG ISSUES. 
The big one is the 20Kg limit
Packing all you may need in a 20Kg bag is not easy. The problem is that you cannot predict the weather. You need to plan layering of gear and using multi functional gear.  If you look at my Kit Issues post I have covered most aspects . Using Capri tights can enable you to run the whole race in one stinky pair rather than having to pack several pairs because the lower legs are soaked.
 If all your spare gear has to come out of that one 20Kg bag then you will need to recycle wet gear by using drying rooms or radiators.  
Working With the Logistics team I can confirm that there were about 4 full large black bin bags of lost gear by the end of the race.  Hardly any of this gear was marked! 

There were even about 4 lost GPS units by the end of the race ! (none of which had a name or race number marked on them.

One easy way of staying in control is by marking every bit of your gear.
Larger  gear such as shoes , waterproofs, poles and trousers must be also marked with obvious tags made of bright tape to stop  other runners picking up the wrong gear.

The 20Kg weight issue will also have an effect on trail food resupply. Don't forget to shop before the CP at Middleton  and Haws.   Probably the best selection of food is at the Spar in Alston which is a large supermarket located about 5 mins past the CP on the main road into town.

If this is not your first Spine then remember to Remove all old race numbers from your drop Bag or it may end up following the wrong runner!!! 



        Motivation.


The good news for the novice Spine Racer is that you do have an advantage over the Spine Vet,s when it comes to Motivation. (with the exception of wannabe winners)

As a novice most of you really want that Finish Medal and that power of motivation is worth one hell of a lot when faced with difficult situations.
For Returning Spine Vets it,s true we will probably not make so many mistakes but those  of us with a Spine Finish Medal also knows how bloody hard it is at times especially when the phrase :"nothing to prove " keeps popping into our heads .
At times the phrase 'Ignorance is bliss, can be an advantage.

TO FINISH THIS RACE YOU NEED POSITIVE MOTIVATION


Be True To Yourself.

             This race is so long that it is impossible to reach the finish line  pretending all is well.
              Over a distance of 100 miles it,s Impossible to hang on in there until the finish line when  tyou are not enjoying yourself.
               48 hrs is a period of time most Ultra runners  can cope with.
              Not enjoying yourself for 7 days  (168 Hrs )is a whole different matter.
  This Race can mentally break you for several reasons:Physical Exhaustion
                                                                                         Physical Pain
                                                                                         Long term raw fear.
                                                                                         Intense Frustration.
                                                                                         Personality Clash..
                                                                                  Sleep deprivation accentuating all the above. 
       

        It,s not an accident that this race employs a Race Psychologist. (Dr Fiona will be around during the race and she could well save your race !)

       Hopefully my blogs will have taken some of the mystery out of the race and reduced the number of mistakes you will make during the race. (if you are a little less stressed that will help)

               Your Mental Health Pre Spine

             It is generally true that exercise is good for your mental health.
             Extreem exercise coupled with chronic sleep Loss, disruption of sleep cycles and an endocrine system completely off balance will expose any underlying mental health issues you have .
             The Spine is probably not an event to enter if you are in a poor mental state.


               Fighting The Spine!.


               Some racers approach the Spine with a fighting mentality. The phrases : 'Break The Spine', 'Smash The Spine' and 'Defeat The Spine' are often used .  The basis of this thought process is that the Spine Needs to be fought in order to get yourself to the finishing line.  Unless you are superhuman  pitting yourself against the terrain,weather ,distance and all the unexpected challenges will lead  to a DNF.
                 FITNESS , BRUTE FORCE AND BALLS Alone  WON,T GET YOU TO THE LINE.
                I would advise you to approach the race with an open mind. Instead of setting out for a fight  ,try to understand the race especially during the initial phases.
               You can,t change the Race but you can change yourself by learning how to react to the problems thrown in your face.
               You only have to look at the low number of finishers (Counting out 2015 which was not a normal year) to deduce that this race can't be considered a conventional Ultra. Physical training and a good track record on 100 mile races is no guarantee of success.
               I remember reading an article written just before the 2014 Spine listing : "The ones to watch", as far as I can remember all but one dropped out !
               Race predictions were applied using standard Ultra data ,ignoring the fact that none of the "ones to watch had ever raced  for 100 hrs (a more accurate test of form)
                
                LEARN  LESSONS THEN ADAPT YOUR BEHAVIOUR TO  EMBRACE THE SPINE. 
                Learning how to adapt then reaping the results will boost your moral.


           Predicting who will make the finish line.

      I have mentioned before that  regular Mountain Marathon Runners are at the top of the Finishers lists.

      This fact could  be explained by the relevance of the training mountain marathons gives you to acquire  the skill to do the Spine. I suspect that although the training angle is true there is more to it.
       The fact that you are into Mountain Marathons shows that you enjoy the challenges they throw up .  
       Stephen Brown who I ran with for much of my 2016 Spine put it another way:

" Most Spine Finishers already owned much of the Kit before they even thought of entering"

           You could boil this down to the concept that running in mountains with extra nav and weather problems is something that: PUTS A SMILE ON THEIR FACES.

           If you like the whole idea of a Winter  Pennine Challenge you have more chance of finishing than a runner who has entered the race just because it is the longest race they will ever  have done.

         That is not to say that a Novice with minimum mountain experience cannot finish (You may possibly have never discovered just how much you like this type of race ).

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I Suspect that I am not the Only Spine Vet who rather hankers back to the good old days where there were fewer Cp,s and you had no choice but to carry a tent and camp out on the trail.
        Every Spine get,s a little softer with extra  more slick CP,s  Caff's staying open for 24 Hrs and better safety cover. However the Spine  will always be a tough unpredictable  race and that,s what still attracts me .
        2017 with its mild conditions boosted the number of finishers
        The  no support rules and CP 1.5/3.5 restrictions plus a proper 2018winter may well come a shock.

       Will you make it to the finish line ?

        If you love the outdoors and your idea of a  good workout involves mud and hills rather than a long hard treadmill session in a warm gym you are in with a chance .

       Finishing loop race such as the Hill or multiple 10k laps of a country park  in 24 hrs is a physical challenge with the added difficulty of fighting boredom. This type  of race won,t help your mind set when fighting a snow storm on Cross Fell.
       
       If you can smile thinking about the race then you have a high chance of finishing.
       If you can smile during most of the race then you have an even greater chance of finishing.

       Every ones motivation on this race will be made up of different facets. From a personal point of view I know my motivation changed between Spine Years .

       Year One : No idea of how to do the race . Not scared but more fascinated as to how far I could get (pre race mentally  put my chances of finishing below 20%). It turned out to be a steep learning curve . I loved each challenge apart from the dry retching on day one . By the time I reached CP1.5 I was delighted to think I could at least finish the Challenger course.
       Teaming up with Jen Gaskell  before Fountains fell gave me motivation in the form of wanting to  help her attempt to be the first female Spine Finisher . (This had the effect of taking the pressure of me which was good for my own moral) . After Jenn crashed out of the race at Dufton I had to re-assess my motives and did this by focusing on beating the German team just ahead of me . I enjoyed the chase and looking back perhaps it was a good thing that I never caught them up!
       CP5 to the finish started as a race against the oncoming storm followed by a battle against the storm over The Cheviots .
        Throughout my 2013 Spine I had a Smile on my face .I loved the race and was totally hooked.


          Year 2 . I had a much better Idea of what I was facing. Much of my motivation during the race came from leading small groups. I also became more competitive  as I knew I could finish. My kit worked well allowing me to enjoy the race .
 I had one massive stroke of luck by arriving at Dufton just as the race was halted . This gave me 3 hrs free unclocked sleep time . By the time I reached the final leg I knew I had a 3 hr time bonus on all the runners in front of me . Again pressure off and smile on! 
           Another good race .


        Year 3 DNF,t on day one . For some competitors  this would be game over . For me a finishers medal is not what the Spine is about. By re-starting as a non competitor at CP1 I was able to look at the race as an outsider  and learn from others.  I spent most of the race collecting info for my blogs .
        Yet again this action took the pressure off me and made my race easier. The multiple stoppage breaks changed the whole nature of the race . The fast finishing times exposing the effects that a good sleep has on Spine Speed.

          Year 4 was probably my worst Spine year.   I  mentally beat myself up for oversleeping at CP 1.5 . This one mistake changed my race into one of continually trying to catch up lost time rather than racing others . The internal pressure I put on myself prevented me from sleeping well during the rest of the race . This all came to a head during the last haul through the snow on the Cheviots . If there had  been any way of quitting between hut 1 and 2 then I would have quit. This negative swing was made far greater by my chronic lack of sleep. The Cheviots mentally shattered me!


           To sum up how I mentally work . I try to focus on external factors to give me motivation . Internal pressure takes the smile off my face .
            I Enter The Spine To Enjoy The Journey . Beating others and even finishing for me is just a bonus .

            I have been asked if I would raise money for Charity By running the Spine . I have to confess that I could not mentally cope with other peoples expectations .
My chances of finishing would probably be diminished if I was sponsored to run.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Enough about Me !
Earlier in this post I mentioned that lovers of mountains have a greater chance of finishing.
If this is you then there are ways you can focus this positive mental  energy.

        1 Navigating with a map will keep you better in touch with your surroundings.
        2 Turning your torch down low at night (Especially in moonlight) will reveal the splendour.
 Unfortunately Full moon is the 2nd Jan 2018.
        3 Keep your head up and look around . Your nose and ears can help you soak up the mountain atmosphere.
        4 Try to keep comfortable in your layers. If you become over aware of physical discomfort you will close yourself off from the outside world.
       ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

          Running Your Own Race And Team running.


      If you try to make it to the finish line by running with someone you are not matched with in pace or sleeping patterns it will end in disaster.
      Starting The Spine with the intention of running the whole race with a partner is a strategy I would only advise if you know your partner really well and have spent some time training together.

            Teams competing in The Challenger  will be subjected to far less stress.

           Ad Hoc Teams will form as you run . Some last to the finish but most won't
   

           It  possible to run with others and still run your own race. The one proviso is that teams need to stay fluid. The only way this can work is if runners finding themselves teaming up need to discuss aims ,attitudes and possible 'divorce ' scenario,s.    It is also worth laying ego,s on the table so everyone knows where everyone else is coming from.

         Large groups tend to move more slowly and eventually break up before the finish line. This is partly due to small miss match of pace and sleep patterns but also because chronic sleep deprivation will magnify any psychological  stress between team members.(larger groups will also be slower through CP's as they tend to swamp the facilities.)

          You can and should expect unreasonable ,  manic ,unpredictable and irrational behaviour from yourself and others towards the end of the race (this is especially true for anyone fighting the final cut off,s.)


          If you find yourself working well with another runner after hooking up during the race then let them know and discuss strategy. This sounds easy but because you are both subjected to the same stress factors laid out by the race.
                You will find it easier to team up than to break up a team.
   It is usually up to the weaker team member to give permission for the stronger racer to leave them behind.
        Small teams ,especially pairs of runners can and will form strong bonds . Everyone has low moments and running with someone else who is experiencing the same conditions as you can help pull you through your lowest moments more effectively than a phone call to an outsider who can never fully comprehend your situation.


           Fear Of Getting Lost In the Dark.


            If this is a problem for you then your only option is to team up with others. This can only really work if you are physically stronger than your running partners. Trying to keep up with a group moving faster than your natural pace is not sustainable in the long term. 
            It is still possible to reach the finish line despite being a weak navigator. This can happen even even among the race leaders . This is a high risk strategy that only really works if you have the capacity to run yourself out of trouble. In some instances navigation weakness in yourself can compromise other runners who feel obliged to help you out of trouble.

               Having the ability and self confidence to navigate will go a long way to maintaining the positive mental state desirable to reach the finish line.

              Your Moral Obligations To Others.

              The Spine Race is potentially lethal! It is run in conditions far worse than other races in Europe (as far as I know)
               You have a responsibility to keep yourself and others safe . It is often up to a struggling runner to not put themselves in danger . You should not assume that other runners will be around to pull you out of a dangerous situation and rescue you.
                If you find yourself having to stop racing and help rescue another runner then don,t hesitate. The race directors will credit you with any time lost . You won,t be asked to sacrifice your own race.
                I have no doubt that choosing to quit is probably more  difficult  decision to take , than manning up and pushing on.
                One of the hardest and most courageous decisions to quit I have witnessed was made by Michael Frenz in 2013. -------30 miles from the finish  line he became aware that he was loosing control of his ability to' thermoregulate'. He was still strong and moving well but had sufficient  self awareness that he knew he would probably put himself and others in danger if he pushed on . Michael self DNF't despite the objections of the runners with him. It was the correct decision and I salute him for his actions.

                 A runner suffering from Hypothermia may not be in a position to make their own decisions. 

            Whenever you pass another runner you should talk to them and assess their physical and mental state.  Any worries you have should be reported to Race Control as soon as possible.


       Anyone abandoning another racer in trouble has no place on The Spine or any other race!

        Although you are racing this does not give you permission for bad behaviour .  Sleeping in toilets is pushing the bounds of acceptable behaviour. (during the night it is unlikely to impact on the public but sleeping during the day in a toilet is not acceptable )  This also should probably apply to the Malham Bird hut . (leave it for the bird watchers during daylight)

             Competitive Mind Games
              This race is hard enough without getting into a fight with other racers . 
         The  main niggles are  1 following a good navigator and trying to disguise what you are up to!
                                              2 Disturbing another runner trying to sleep.
                                              3 Walking off with someone Else's gear! (this is usually by mistake)
                                              
         The Front runners can get into sleep time spats at CP's  Don't ask CP staff to wake you if your nearest competition wakes up first . CP staff are neutral and not your race team.
           2018 will be interesting as the front runners will all have the same info on each others race strategy and CP storage times .
          In previous years runners with support teams could sleep outside CP's and sneak off at any time .
       
                                                    


           Mental State Of Tail Enders Nearing The Finish Line.

            At this point the tail enders will have been racing for 48 hrs longer than podium runners
            The mental strain will probably be far more of a problem than the physical. Sleep deprivation turns most runners into a bunch of 3 year old's who have stayed up too late.  Throwing your toys out of the pram is normal behaviour . Just prepare for others to chuck their toys at you and try not to get into a fight. 
              Once you have climbed onto the Cheviot ridge you are faced with a long wilderness section with no easy way of quitting the race. Anyone on the Cheviots  pushing the final cut off will be running in the dark and needs all the help they can get!
              The Cheviots in the dark is a scary place especially if covered in snow. If you only get a chance to recce one stage of the race then this is the section you should choose. 
               By the nature of the race anyone around you in the last stages will probably be moving at the same pace as you . 
           It may be worth burying the hatchet and teaming up at least as far as The SCHIL. From that point on then turn it back into a race to the line!


                HYPERACTIVITY during the race.

               This is a common state for virtually all runners at some point . Sleep deprivation and hormonal overload can trigger strange behaviour.
                There was once an example of the medical team preventing the race leader from carrying on from CP2  until he calmed  down! (offering to do press ups to show he was OK did not go down well!)
                 Hyperactivity can be your worst  enemy when trying to fall asleep.

            Spine World: Total Race Immersion

              Once you start the race you are surrounded by a group of people all with a stake in the race. The dedication of the Racers and support staff is all quite remarkable and all consuming. 
               The non stop 24 hour nature of the race kicks up the passions ignited by the race. Followers of race trackers get sucked in and loose almost as much  sleep as the racers.
                Even for anyone unlucky to DNF keeping posted on race developments is a priority.
                Spine World is very addictive and will lead racers to blank out the outside world.

If Donald Trump presses theBIG  RED BUTTON during the race ; then the reaction of most racers would be to ask what effect his actions will have on the CUT OFF TIMES!


                Outside Communication And Social Media

               If you think you will have time for Tweets and Selfies you will get left behind.
               Stopping at almost any point for no reason in the open will leave you chilled for the simple reason that the clothes you are wearing will be matched by muscular heat production.  The only way you can pause and not get chilled is to dive into heated premises.
               There have been some Go pro images from the first 100miles but after that everyone gets serious and either concentrates on the race or Quits.
                CP time is not to be wasted on searching for wi-fi (most are black spots anyway)
                Phoning a loved one who is worried about your safety should be avoided.
                At least 1 competitor has been COMPULSORY DNF't  after a concerned partner phoned the emergency services  after  a runner phoned home for a moan  about  how shit he felt then the signal was lost!
                  AS soon as the emergency services are called the responsibility for the runners safety is transferred to the Police . YOU ARE OUT OF THE RACE (NO ARGUMENTS ALLOWED)
  

            Run Your Own Race From The Start!

       Now that,s a big ask! Everyone heads off up Jacobs Ladder over pace  every year. Letting others pass you is very hard ,it takes will power.
         It takes 15 hrs to reach CP1  for most runners you don't have to sprint.

       That first hill is not just an issue of over expenditure of energy but also a matter of getting your base layers damp from sweat. Damp base layers will drain you of energy for the next 15ish hours.
        Try to take it really slow at the start and for all of day one .Sitting back and learning how to move efficiently will teach you more about finishing the Spine than any Blog I can write.
         Make a mental effort to monitor your body . Adjust :pace, clothing and food intake as you go along.It takes will power to dot his but it,s worth while.

          The next mental task you need to address is navigation. Although everyone will be playing follow the leader , it,s time to start cross checking your navigation before it get,s dark. If you can make navigating a subconscious habit it will really help later in the race. Try to get into the habit of monitoring your position on the map so you know when to turn the page.

         By the time it gets dark small groups will form up for the majority of the runners. One of the reasons this happens is because it takes less mental energy if you delegate decision making to others. Just not tripping takes mental effort so we all tend to load mental strain on others. At this point on some levels  you will have ceased running your own race .  With a competent nav group leader this may not be a bad thing in the short term but you will be loosing out on forming your own efficient decision making mental pathways.  

         Good and bad mental habits have a greater impact on your  performance   later on in the race when lack of sleep strains your decision making capacity.


              Checkpoints and de-stressing.

              I have said in a previous blog that you won,t have much time for talking but at times having a chat is a good method of winding down your stress levels in order to fall asleep fast.
               If you have a CP strategy and a well organised  Drop bag this will be a great help. The most simple action such as having a laminated sign saying :"Please wake me at .......pm "  attached to your bed he'd will reduce your fear of oversleeping even though you have set your alarm.
                 Good sleep is the best way to keep your mind sharp and in a positive mood.


              Fight /Flight and the dark side of the Spine.

         You will have read tails of having to fight your way along the course at times. This may well be unavoidable at times . It certainly happened to me in 2016. Lack of sleep put enormous strain on my mental ability to keep moving . I got to the state where my ability to balance was severely compromised (if i shut my eyes for a fraction of a second I would fall over . I was not actually gripped by fear but I knew I was on the edge of my mental reserves.

                 When you are in a fight and flight situation your hormonal system kicks in releasing several hormones :Adrenalin and a lesser known hormone Cortisol . These hormones act to override many of your normal bodily functions masking your natural red light warning signs.  They also have an effect on your brain effecting mood. Mood changes can help you survive short term issues but can also be a problem inhibiting and disrupting sleep patterns and compromising your immune system This effect can persist for some time.

           It is not unusual to see  tail end Spine Race Finishers  at the Kirk Yetholm village hall sitting and quietly weeping for some time .
           Long term high levels of Adrenalin and Cortisol are not good for you . There have been studies on post race Cortisol levels at the Western States 100 that indicate that vitamin C taken post race may help reduce Cortisol. I suspect that the post WS100 levels of Cortisol are way lower than the levels found in Spine Race Finishers.

           Virtually everyone finishing The Spine even if they DNF will probably experience some form of mental fallout. What form this takes can vary. It can range from becoming a total obsessive Spine Race bore to falling into a deep depression . You should warn your nearest and dearest that you will be changed by this race.
           The term Post   Traumatic Spine Disorder has been used sometimes as an amusing term.
           POST TRAUMITIC STRESS DISORDER is  not amusing it is a real condition experienced by soldiers and others exposed to extreme stress. It is also a spectrum disorder (you can suffer it to different degrees). It is possible that some spine finishers will be somewhere on that spectrum for a while.
            
            Don,t plan on getting back to work too soon after the race.

       Note: I Know very little about Endocrinology  but would love to know more .   If anyone wants to investigate : The Hormonal effects of extreme distance races  then The Spine with it,s continual ticking clock would probably throw up some interesting data for a Phd . 

       I would welcome any feedback from Medics  so I can edit out any mistakes I have made in this blog. 




        

       Fffff





                      


      
       

       
                                                                                       





Saturday, 16 December 2017

IMPROVING RACE SPEED


      EVERY SPINE RUNNER IS RACING

There is no way of getting away from that fact even if you:" only want to finish"

 If "just finishing" is your only aim then you are probably not one of the faster racers and so you may end up as one of the Racers who end up racing the CUT OFF TIMES.

 Cut Off times are often changed with little warning especially towards the end of the race when adverse weather conditions can slow progress across the Cheviot,s down to a crawl.

  The Spine is 7 days of race pressure so you need if possible to build up a cushion of time.

Overall race time = (Average speed X Time making net forward progress)+ Static Time

Net forward Progress = Time taken moving towards the finish  LESS ! Time Moving the wrong Way! 
 Therefore AVOID NAV MISTAKES.

A conventional attitude to Ultra,s is to break them down into small sections and calculate split times. This well tried race plan formula just won,t work on the Spine. The Weather can double or even treble actual split times. ( Ice Caked shoes don't help)

By all means start with a plan BUT DON,t PLAN ON THE PLAN WORKING!

           
          Some of the situations you will be faced with unavoidable conditions that  will slow you up but in most situations  you can modify your behaviour to increase  average speed .

         Spine Race  Speed


            There is little point of thinking you can measure Spine Speed in Km/Hr. A better measure is to think about time taken  between  exciting  the  CP,s. (we tend to ignore CP time).
            Think of this as a leg.
             Next thing to consider is how to reduce this time. 
             Conventional thinking  starts with :Just Run Faster!
             Spine Reality has shown that the faster runners don,t always have the faster leg  times .
             Training to run faster will only help you in some aspects. It also is limited by the amount of hours you can afford to invest training for  the race. 
              Elite Spine Runners (Who can run a hilly 100mile ultra in under 24 hrs )  Will focus their efforts on maintaining a high speed over longer periods.(Some such as Eoin Kieth have re-trained the way their body functions as a whole)
              Spine Race Mortal Runners are better advised on concentrating their efforts by a less physical approach to reducing leg time . The good news is you can achieve this by refocusing your race planning on other factors , rather than reducing minute mile pace.

   Race Down Time.

 (The number one way to loose speed appart from getting lost)

             Minimise  Time  Lost At CP,s (Some first timers throw away any gains by squandering time at CP1. By the end of the race they will have learned better.)



           You may have noticed that my definition of a :LEG time was not the time taken to get from one CP to another.  It includes the time taken at the CP 
                        Because you need to and eat sleep , this will be a large chunk of your race time.
                        Cutting wasted  time taken at the CP,s should be the first focus of your attention.
                        The Race leaders will probably not sleep  at all of the CP,s. (CP1 is just a transit stop, CP2 may well be the same as it,s not till CP3 that they will sleep.
                       Many Elite runners have no experience of running over 40 hrs without sleep.
                       Every year  some of the Elite racers they will miss--calculate then crash and burn!
                       How much time you need for sleep and when you should take it varies with each individual runner
              It is generally accepted that two hours of deep sleep will go a long way towards re-setting your brain. Longer than 2 hrs might be better for some but over 4 hrs is probably wasted time.
           
         : Laying in a bed with your eyes shut but your brain still out there racing is NOT SLEEP.      You will probably be shocked as to how hard it is to sleep at the early checkpoints!
                     Later on in the race sleeping conditions gets easier (except CP5). But most of the field will probably need some sleep at CP1 so give it a try . If sleep does not come make a fast decision to get back on the trail. (note if you can,t sleep at CP1 you may be faced with sleeeping on the hill at some point before Malam.)

                     Your CP Routine

This is mine :
                      Locate CP  door (not always easy)
                      Clean crud off shoes before entering CP (makes re dressing much faster)
                      Take off outside gear  in freezing boot room..
                      Check in (At CP1 you are  given your Drop Bag outside the CP.
                      Locate drying room if any and spread out wet gear.
                      Stash pack with drop bag in vacant space available( This will be a corridor at CP1 with people trampling over you and your bag).
                      Dump hill water and rubbish from pack.
                      Hot drinks and food first session
                     While waiting for food prep for the next leg. Get weather info  Study map of next leg.  Complete battery change. GPS +torch while eating.
                     Re- set GPS for next leg (Gps should be on loop around your neck so you don,t loose it in CP!!!!)
                     Make a plan.
                     Take shower /wash bag from drop bag
                     Shower then repack wash bag.
                     Re-fold/sort, maps 

                    
                      Eat more food.
                      Get medics to look at your feet. then apply medicated talk to dry and avoid athleets foot.
                      Sort gear for next leg into one run bag.Close bags (because someone will  probably shift them while you are asleep
                      Locate bed .change outside,and set alarm on watch, shade torch beam ,creep inside.
                      Get in bed ,insert ear plugs,pull black buff over eyes,stuff spare gear under feet to elevate, put watch and head torch by pillow.
                     SLEEP
                     Get up taking all gear out of dorm silently.
                     Get dressed   using pre prepared  run bag 
                     Get Medics to rebuild feet or book place in Q before looking for food.
                     Eat any food offered.
                     Repack  Back pack and re-organise drop bag  ready for next CP  (While your brain is fresh)
                     Sort Hill food and try to scrounge extra.
                     Have a dump!
                     Double check drying room and regret not marking all your gear (are they your Omm trousers or someone else,s , they are not where you  hang them before bed!
                     Don,t forget your towel
                     Dress in outer layers.
                     Get out map and double check way back to trail (Without 180 Degree error)
                     Fill water bottles.
                     
                     Decide if its worth delaying for other 'not quite ready' runners.
                     It,s not so shoes , gaiters, gloves on
                     Get outside with your poles this time !
                     Bugger off down the trail.


As for relaxing and chatting you won,t have much  time except while eating.



                    Pre planning how you pack your drop bag will cut wasted time:.
                                   Sub divide hill food packs 
                                   Have a dedicated CP comfort bag(Soap, Towel,Crocks , Talk, toothbrush.)
                                   Tape batteries into the  correct numbers for each devise.
                                   Label each sub bag so you don,t have to spread your  gear about
                                   Make up a drop bag closure check list.(attach to drop bag).


CP5 issues : No dedicated dorm at CP5. Everyone sleeps in an open hall. The hall has large windows with no light tight blinds so even with curtains closed it is light during the day . To fall asleep you need silence but especially during daylight it can be noisy . 
                        


                    Down Time On The Trail.

You can easily loose more time on the trail faffing around than you will gain from running faster.
This is another case of getting really organised.

                    Packing.

               Your pack  system can be regarded as a 3 stage transport system:
                        1 gear you will only used if forced to Bivi or cook. 
                        2 Items of clothing that you may wish to use that require removing  back pack.

                        3 clothing , hill food , nav gear ,poles that you can grab without removing pack.


              Items 1 can be buried deep in your pack with the heavy  objects close to your spine.
              Items 2  near the top or back pockets in marked sub dry bags 
              Items 3 at the front of your pack or in front pouch all easily to hand .

           If you have to take your pack off you will loose ground and start to get chilled.

         To reduce down time on trail you need to practise accessing gear  while still walking .

It follows that having more front stowage capacity will allow you to carry out adjustments without stopping. 
                       Having a front pouch will give you a better finishing time!

               If the front pouch is prevented from bouncing  it will give you better posture and balance allowing you to move faster on rough ground especially down hill.
                  The only real downside is that they can make taking off your backpack slower

                Having to take off your pack will:SLOW YOU DOWN
                                                                       COOL YOU DOWN
                                                                       STRESS YOU AS OTHERS PUSH ON
                                                                       
          
                
             

              Preventing Sweating will reduce trail down time.

             We are now back in the choices of kit  selection. At times you will overheat at others you will get cold. 
              Your first line of regulation should be adjustments while still moving. Jacket Ventilation is a good start . The Paramo jackets sometimes come with multiple zips ( If I could afford one I would get one that opens up down the front and with full length under arm zips so you can easily dump heat from your whole torso . A Jacket that operates over a wide heat production range can speed you up by removing the necessity of having to remove your pack .
              Fine adjustments can be achieved by switching Hats .(your hats should be easy to  grab.)
              If you are forced to change your shell layer your replacement layers should be at the top of your main pack.

               Hill Food 

         This should be on the front pack system to encourage you to eat and keep snacking. 
         If possible take items that can be consumed with gloves on,
         If your hill food is not easy to unwrap you will probably tend eat less!
         You need a bin bag for dead wrappers and other detritus.
         

              Nav Gear .

         Front and central so you will never put off'  'just checking your course'
         GPS tethered to your pack.( Stowed in holster)
         Maps tethered again and tucked in front pockets.

             Glove Storage .

             Get this one sorted and you have just gained 2 hrs off your finish time

             You will take gloves off and on  hundreds  of times during the Race!

     Any seconds  saved will have a large impact on your overall speed .  The problem is mostly about what do you do with gloves once they are off. 
                Your choices are :Clip them to your pack . 
                                             Have a dedicated pouch or deep pocket that they can,t fall out of!
                                             Have them on  short strings permanently attached to your sleeves.
      
                 Whatever you do it,s worth sewing small loops to them to give you the option of clipping them to your pack.
                                            Practice removing and stowing gloves while walking without looking at the gloves. If you can do the whole thing by feel you will gain ground.

               Clip on Storage .

      On your front pack strap attach a Carabina Clip to attach :gloves ,hats .
,traction aids ,  head torch or your mates gloves
. Don,t be tempted to go for a small one ,get a chunky one you can open it  with gloved hands !
. Tape or lash the Carabina to the strap so it can never fall off.

             Annoying bits that fall apart.

             Many adjustment plastic clips on your pack or head torch  are designed for easy factory assembly. This means that the webbing can slip out  of the clip. 
             Take a good look at all buckles and clips . Is there any way of using tape, sewing line or a soldering iron to make them more secure . Most of us have had a head torch strap come loose at some time . `in the middle of the night your head torch may well get dragged off your head and require precious gloves off ,spare torch time to re-adjust it !

             Not Enough Hands 

             What you need to carry in your hands: Running pole (possibly X2 )
                                                                           Map 
                                                                           GPS
                                                                           Compass
                                                                           Food
                      That makes 6 hands plus a spare for really rough ground (Pen Y Gent)
            Work out a system . ( I usually only carry one pole at a time)
                                             If it,s not in your hand it has to have a dedicated storage place.
                                             Front storage again!
                                             Work out a way to temporarily store poles fast



                                             Making Progress Along The Course

       One question everyone wants to ask is :Do you actually run and for how much of the race?

                          You will get the impression that you walk the hills then jog the flats and down hills.
                           In reality this is only for the first half of day one.
                           Looking at Films about the Spine you will get a false impression :Much of the footage is taken from day one . There is a focus on the leaders who move faster and lets face it we all put on a spurt for the camera. Runners walking don,t make the edit unless they are courageously fighting the elements.
                           
                          I have no idea   what the Elite runners get up to. (most of them had buggered off into the distance before I reached the 1 mile point!). The winner in 2014 won by  actually moving at 20 minute mile pace.


                         The most efficient way to get to the finish line is to move at your natural pace.

                          Your Natural Pace Is. The speed at which you don,t sweat.
                                                                The speed at which you don,t keep tripping up.
                                                                The speed at which your energy use equals food input.
                                                                The speed at which you don,t make nav mistakes.

                7 DAYS is a long time . Most self DNF,s happen over the first two days due to runners not running their own race .
                It,s really hard but just try to take it easy for the first few days. Running short  of energy early in the race will bight you in the ass later on as your CP stops give you very little time to recover.
                Once past CP3 you will have got the hang of things and reserve energy can be used to greater effect.

                             Have  YOU OVERTRAINED  desensitising your body warning lights?

                          This is not about lack of tapering . It,s about ending up so fit  that your body is trained to run to just keep running. This is fine for a 100 mile race where you aim to fall apart just past the finishing line . If you get anywhere near this state on the Spine your body will crash ,fast and with little warning.
                  I am not saying don,t train ,just be aware to keep reserves.
                  If you run short of energy you will move slower and loose heat fast. Adding extra warm cloths will have only limited benefits if your body can,t produce heat. NEXT STEP HYPOTHERMIA.

                     Power Walking.

                    This is probably not the best term for Spine Pace . I prefer the term Efficient Pace Walking. If you can train yourself to walk faster your upper body will move around less and you lill expend less energy for a given pace . 
                    Having a loose fitting back pack wobbling around is another wast of energy.


                     As I Write This Post It,s The end  Of December . You will all be well into putting in the miles to train your body . Most of you will be concentrating on running. 
                     It is well worth experimenting on upping your walking pace . If you have a regular training run : Time yourself over a set distance such as a 1Km leg . Force yourself to walk and try to adjust your walking style to gain speed without breaking into a run. You may well find that changes in posture or leg lift will help.

Upping Your Natural Walking Pace Is More Use On The Spine  Than Training To Run Faster.

                 Running in a Group.

          For some this is the only way to go. 
          Any group of 4 runners or more will tend to loose speed.you are always waiting for someone !
          For a smaller group sharing nav duties can help speed.
          Running in deep snow can be faster if you take turns breaking the trail.
          In larger groups someone will almost always be moving at a pace out of their comfort zone.

           I shall discuss Group Psychology in a later post.

             When Should I Not Pause To Sleep At A CP? (and hope to gain time)

               This is a decision most of us will have to face at some time during the race.
 Factors To Consider:  Will I be able to fall asleep?(noisy CP ,s + Adrenalin)
                                     Will I miss a weather window (And end up fighting a storm)
                                     Will I miss good daylight (When I can move faster and nav easier)
                                     What,s the next point I could  possibly sleep in shelter.
                                     Is my sleep system ok for sleeping on the trail?(Tent is far more comfy)
NB carrying a tent in you drop bag will give you more options even if you don,t normally carry it.
                                     Do I have it in me to make it all the way to the next CP?
                                     All these decisions are easier if running solo or in a pair. (Discuss options before you get to the CP.)

                If you do miss a CP sleep you will probably gain ground on others but there is always a price to pay. The Tent option is probably best  only if you have taken the time to practise putting it up and down in a hurry. (from past experience I believe it,s faster to put up a tent then sort yourself out rather than trying to juggle  food /sleep /changing cloths from a bivvi bag.
                                     


                         Risk And Reward Strategy

       Your pre Spine Planning is all about the Risk and Reward Balance.
       The most basic  approach is to equate speed with reducing pack weight.
       Podium runners plan never to sleep out on the trail . Their main strategy is to run there way out of trouble so they try to shed as much pack weight as possible.
       A runner moving at speed will be slowed by a heavy pack more than a tail end plodder like me.
       Carrying less gear  reduces  your options for very little increase in speed.
       For a front runner a light pack can be a significant factor but for the tail- ender light  pack weight is less significant than the ability to sleep out on the trail. 
        The extra 500g of tent over bivy bag weight is a significant  factor for the elite.
        If you can afford the cost and drop bag extra weight then having the choice between tent and bivy bag in your gear at each CP is worth considering. 
What never get,s mentioned in blog,s is that it,s not unheard of for a front runner to end up begging for extra food and warm layers. It,s not always possible to run your way out of trouble . 
The relatively mild weather conditions for the first 5 days of the last 4 spine years has allowed several runners to get away with a high risk strategy. If we do get heavy snow early in the 2018 race then I predict that several potential podium runners will DNF due to lack of spare food and gear.

         Having used a tent on two years I believe it gained me time . However being a fairly large old bugger I am less effected by weight. One situation  are where a tent really pays is if you are running in a pair. Sharing duties so one brews up while the other puts up the tent is mutually beneficial time wise . Most tents are 2 man and once inside a tent offers better head protection so you will probably fall asleep faster and get better overall quality sleep.
         The other issue in well below zero temps is that your shoes will probably not be frozen solid when you wake. 


        THIS IS MY ROUGH 2017  PACKING PLAN for TENT/BIVI choice.

      Start to CP1 :            16hrs with 3hrstop at CP1 ----------------carry bivy bag(2hrs sleep max)
      CP1 to Maham Tarn : 4 hr stop in bird hut ---------------carry bivy bag
      Malham to CP2 :     Non stop still with bivy bag.
      CP2 food +shower then back on trail at dusk------------carry tent short sleep Tan hill possibly
      Tent stop to Middleton  : no stop still with tent.+emergency foil bag.
      Middleton(shower short sleep): swap tent for Bivi bag then non stop to Alston.
      Alston (shower +sleep time adjusted to daylight /weather conditions.
      Alston to Bellingham : non stop with Bivi Bag.
      Bellingham (3hrs sleep)
       Bellingham to finish : Short power knapp,s at Cheviot Huts ----Carrying Bivi Bag. 

You will have noticed that I give no split times after CP1. This is because I will be running at my own pace( modified by trail conditions). Sticking to a rigid plan may well not be feasible.



             SUPPORTED  TEAM  STRATEGY(mountain rescue teams)

       Check before race to see if you are allowed to sleep in MR support vans.
      You will  probably all have back up teams with Vans . This opens up several options.
       Tent will never be used as the support van is your tent.
       Hill food can be kept to a minimum as extra is always ready at the next road head.
       You need to know when  and where to expect to meet your support crew. This should be discussed each time you get back on the trail ,so you can plan accordingly
       Clothing can be added or shed at road heads according to weather /pace/demand.
       CP waiting times can be cut as support team will pamper you!(hot food/meals ready and pre booked
       Hopefully this will give a level playing field for all teams .
        NOTE : YOU STILL NEED TO CARRY ALL THE MANDATORY GEAR!
         

           Ways for a team to  move faster.

          One of the key factors is to leave individual ego,s at home. Team Speed is what matters .
          Talk this over together and with the support team.
         One member  of the team will always be slower (THEY HAVE TO ADMIT THIS!!!)
         The miss match can be sorted by getting the faster runner to carry a greater proportion of the pack weight.
          Support team can re-assess individual pace at each road head. Training together should have revealed  pace differences before the start line. 
           Train to always keep moving fore ward and  focus on trying to avoid ever stopping.

          Once running pace is evened out then the next thing is forming the best nav team . This is usually one on map and another on GPS. 
          Next thing is to reduce stopping time . I covered this earlier in my blog but teams can help each other in other ways.
          Stowing Poles   Any action taken with the hands may involve having to put down or stow a pole. Your partner can take your pole and either carry it or better still stow it in your pack. 
                                    Having a team partner gives you access to the back of your pack.
Your team partner needs to know the location and  contents of every external pocket and pouch in your pack. With this information they can get things out for you without either of you stopping.

          Running In A Group, Transiting Gates.

           It may appear trivial but you will wast a huge amount of time waiting holding gates open.
           Try to arrive at gates together even if the tail runner has to put on a spurt to catch up. 
           The faster runner opens the gate and closes it while the slower pushes onward without pausing.(this is another example of taking speed strain off the slower team member)
           The slowest runner never shuts the gate as they will fall further behind.
       

              KEEP TALKING
            Each team member must be aware of the condition of the other . with this information you can make decisions earlier and for the benefit of the team as a whole.

              Speed In Snow

        Snow shoes may help for deep snow (Perhaps we  will find out in 2018)
        Team running can share workload.
   

        SNOW BALLING is a new experience for most novice Spine Racers. It occurs at temps of around 0c . At much lower temps the dry powder snow tends not to stick to legs and shoes.

    It is not unusual to find yourself with 1Kg of snow attached to your feet (so much for weight saving gear.) 


         HOW SNOW BALLS FORM:It starts with a seed of wet snow. If this is crushed against half melted snow you will get an extra layer forming (the same as rolling snow to make a snowman.)
                                                          Snow balls forming on shoes are also mixed up with mud and grass . This can make them as tough as  reinforced concrete!!!
                                                          Your best defence is to prevent them forming.
                                                           Small fibres of fluff on your laces wet out and start the seeding.
                                                           Use a lighter to burn off any fibres and tape lace ends with plastic electrical tape to stop them flapping about.
The photo,s above show snowballing on the frayed uppers.                                                      Replace frayed under foot gaiter straps with new water repellent straps.


           Overall Speed In Bad Conditions.

            You will always move slower at night. This would be ok if the slower pace led to less energy use . The problem is that the reduced speed is due to low light contrast leading to a decrease in walking/running  efficiency. 
            Unless we get  cold dry air conditions ,you can expect mist /fog at night. This makes path finding slower ( Visual signs of the trail) and also foot placement difficult.
             We are all familiar  with the concept of technical trail surfaces . At night any surface can be regarded as more technical. And so slower to negotiate.
.              Good lighting will help but head torches have a major flaw.
               IN SNOW HOLDING A TORCH IN YOUR HAND IMPROVES SPEED
                Your head torch is close to your eyes so you can,t see the  shadows cast by objects on the trail. This effect is more pronounced in misty snowy conditions. 
               By carrying a torch low down in your hand you can see the ground more clearly and move with more confidence. (this is one reason I carry two torches . I turn the head torch beam to min power and turn up the power on my hand torch)

               You will sometimes need to follow tracks in mud or snow and holding the torch low down will greatly assist in  tracking.


              Speed In Bog Or Deep Snow.

          You have to accept the fact that at times you will be forced to slow up . Trying to maintain pace over the ground if your feet are dragged down will just sap your energy . Your pace should be governed by moving efficiently even if this means slowing up.
          At any point on the course you have to take the long view . Energy saved is never lost . 
          By moving efficiently early in the race you will find it,s actually possible to speed up over the latter stages of the race.


Stopping On The Course.

In  a normal ultra  your heart rate is elevated much of the time and stopping for a short break can rejuvenate your pace 
Your Heart Rate on the Spine will usually  be much lower so stopping gives you very little benefit. Stopping means reducing heat production and having to take extra actions to keep warm.
You should expect to keep moving except for pub stops and pausing in shelter to sort out kit.
Appart from in 2017, temperatures during the race have made stopping in the open for a rest a shortcut towards hypothermia.


Blisters 

Most of us will have foot problems . 
It is possible to run a 100 mile race with bad blisters by just toughing it out.
268 miles is a whole different matter . Foot infections can lead to the Medics DNF ing You!

It Takes the Medics a long time to dress a bad foot problem and this is all down time.

Dressing feet is not a medical priority. If the medics are called away on an emergency then it will be up to you to sort out your own feet!
Even if you carry on ,by day 4 blisters will decimate efficient walking technique.
Prevention of blisters is better than treatment (There Is No Cure Except Time Not Running)

Most blister problems start on DAY ONE  If you take really good care of feet before CP1 you will have much less trouble later.

On Day One when runners are caught up in the  fast pace  they tend to ignore any pain or hot spots . Fast pace is also a trigger for blister formation.
Over my past 4 Spine my feet have had few problems . There is nothing special about my actual feet. 
I Belive my lack of problems is due mostly to always wearing a minimum of two pairs of socks (3 with the waterproof socks) I use Injini Toe Socks on day one .
I Check my feet regularly and coat them with "Burts Bees Hand Balm " which reduces the wrinkling from the damp. My Shoes are large enough not to crush my toes together and I carry 3 sizes in my drop bag.