Friday, 17 November 2017

The Psychology Of Ultra (SPINE) Navigation

Ask any Spine Race Finisher  what was the hardest aspect of the race and they will probably come up with several answers but pushed further most will admit that the mental aspects of the race are the hardest.

At this point most listeners will assume that the Finisher is referring to the ability to "Man Up ", "tough it out " and push through the pain. Because this is the expected answer the finisher will tend to refer to the most extreme  painful elements of the race and not talk about  the mind games they played on some of the less taxing boring and monotonous parts of the course . If you want one type of answer you will probably get the one  you asked for.

When it comes to navigation on long Ultra's , experienced competitors will have equally strong views but those views can be very subjective. Each runner often emphasise one aspect or form of navigation and run down the importance of other methods. The truth about what is the best way to navigate will be different for every competitor.

Navigation is ultimately about how you personally think and process information.
If you have read any of my other posts you will probably know that I like to dig  deep into a subject and try to filter out the froth  and particularly Macho Crap that often clogs up various Facebook sites.
Yes I know you have probably got to this point via Face book but I have to start somewhere so lets hope any comments following this post are of a thoughtful nature.

So on with the subject  PSYCHOLOGY OF NAVIGATION

Lets start with the basics  . We humans use sight as our primary sense.
                                            We are creatures of habit and given the choice will move in straight lines.
                                            We will usually take the easy option if there is a choice.
                                            As babies we will follow our parent with our eyes.
                                             We are usually  lazy  and will let someone else do any hard work
                                             If we form a group or gang we tend to stop thinking for ourselves.

     OK now lets apply that to Ultra Runners
                                          The primary nav aid will always be your eyes.
                                           Given a choice we will keep running straight on.
                                           The easiest option is almost always following someone else.
                                           A stressed ,tired runner will assume the runner in front knows the way.
                                           Letting someone else navigate is less stressful than navigating yourself.
                                           The more stressed we get the less we actively navigate unless we have acquired the habit of navigation ( By enjoying  Orienteering)

       Now lets think about Spine Race Reality.

        Most mistakes happen at night when you are mentally at your lowest ebb. Once in this state we regress and start to act  more like a small child than a competent racer.

                 Its 2am  high on a wet exposed fell ,you have only had 2 hrs disturbed sleep in the last 24 hrs . You are sleepy ,physically knackered and aware that you are getting cold and hungry.
                 You are racing and I guarantee that the last thing you will want to do is stop ,eat and put on more warm layers especially as you have another runner's light  just in front .
                  How do you catch up that runner without more physical  and mental effort?
The answer is that you stop navigating and start following.
Following is not navigating . It is dumping all your race prep and relying on someone else who may or may not be going the wrong way.

Navigating by any method other than using just your sight and memory will slow you up

Sight  and good memory of a recce /previous race  will always be the fastest option.

    Falling back on nav adds such as GPS and Maps will drastically slow your pace .  We will normally avoid active navigation with aids unless we acknowledge just how dangerous a strategy "following can be".

   You can test this by running with a partner of a similar pace . As soon as you get your map or GPS in your hand and glance down you will fall behind.

      This is where your training should come in.  YOU WILL PROBABLY HATE THIS ROUTINE!
      To reduce speed lost you need to reduce the time your eyes are looking away from the trail. You can achieve this by having a map/GPS stowage system that you can access without looking. Once you have worked out how to do this you need to go out running with your gear ,and  set up and a beep timer set to beep every 5 mins . On the beep get out the nav gear and look at it properly so you can see how your position on the trail relates to the info on the map/GPS . ( If you are passing a track junction find it on the map.
      All this action will drastically slow you up but gradually you will get more efficient and loose less overall speed.  There is also an important side effect  in that regularly  glancing at a GPS will become a habit so during the race it will feel like a natural action rather than an annoying inconvenience.

      For a novice navigator getting to the point where you accept that active navigation will make you faster in the  long term is a real mental barrier. This is the reason why fast runners often will try Orienteering then almost immediately give the sport up.  Taking up Orienteering will teach any runner that a complex route can be completed faster by focusing on navigation rather than running .

Night time Spine Navigation will almost always be potentially complex.

     When it comes to complex nav Ultras like the spine the orienteers have a massive advantage because they will spend far more time actively navigating.

Any Spine /Challenger novice running solo will probably loose at least one hour due to nav errors every 20 hrs. This puts trying to gain time by using ultra light kit as an insignificant factor.

What do we want from our  GPS nav equipment?

The answer is a car type satnav type system . 
The  car satnav works with your brain in a different way to a hand held GPS.
         1  It does not require you to hold it.
         2  It is usually set up near your sight line to the road.
         3  It will give you verbal prompts to any deviation from a straight line.
         4  It will describe objects requiring radical changes in direction reducing the time your need to look at the screen and process the information.
         5  It will stay quiet when no nav action is required from you.

   Car Satnav designers take great care to minimise the amount of attention your brain needs to get to your destination.  The device will only ask for you to take action if a direction deviation is required. .           They also know about the straight line tendency.

     The Walkers/Runners GPS unit.
        This is a totally different beast. Most units take very little account of the mental effort required to use them. Some are made so complex that one slight slip on a menu page can require you to seek out the manual (Printed usefully in 16 languages!) . Most  are designed to be used while stop ed and held steady. The watch style GPS units can be better but tend to monitor where you have been rather than where you are trying to get to.

        It's not all bad and a GPS will probably at some point save your race BUT ONLY IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
        If you are buying a GPS you need one with an adequate base map. As a minimum I would recommend OS 1:50,000 mapping.
         You need to set the unit up so your direction of travel is towards the top of the screen and the map scrolls down as you move forward

         If possible get  OS 1:25000 mapping. You may think that this is the same as a zoomed 1:50,000 map but there is much more information on the 1:25000 maps including most of the crucial wire fence boundaries on the low level farmland. If you try to Zoom right in on the 1:50000 base map you will discover that the  red diamond pennine way cymbals are so large that you can't discern  their direction.

        You also need to know how to easily access the OS Grid ref from your GPS. This is a safety precaution that will allow the Spine Rescue teams or MRT to accurately locate you if you need to call for help. The Trackers attached to your pack work on the phone signals (if there is one ) and will give your rescuers insufficient information to reliably find you fast.  In the past having the Grid ref permanently displayed on your home screen has been recommended but in practise you need that screen as un cluttered as possible.

   Having said that there is a strong case that all competitors should be asked to demonstrate locating the Grid ref on their GPS in order to pass Kit Check

  Ok we have set up our GPS in it's most simple map form. How about the Official Spine GPX track.
Get this programmed into your gps and displayed on the screen in a non map colour . You will hardly ever find yourself actually following this line as it has not nearly enough way points to follow the trail.
It will come into it's own when you leave the pennine way to go into and out of the CP's which are not all on the trail.

Other Factors That Can Send Us Off Course

Everyone entering the Spine is by definition a racer . We have all trained to run and in the back of every ones mind is Speed. It follows that a runner will subconsciously avoid any action which slows you down . 
  This can be described as wide runnable trail syndrome. Some how we will always choose a fast line over a smaller rougher track. In theory we are navigating  but in reality we get lazy.
        The lucky few  of you who have recce'd the course will have not had much trouble with the navigation and not overshot places where the PW branches off from a wide unable trail during a non stressed  daylight recce.

    When knackered in the dark without anyone else to follow we somehow miss these small side turnings especially when we are trucking along heading down hill. The classic place where this happens  every January is where the Pennine Way joins the Pennine Bridal Way then branches off again. 
   SE018095 is the spot where several mental blips all conspire to send you the wrong way.

          1 the PW Bridal way is wide ,firm ,downhill and in a sweeping curve to the left.
          2 The PW itself is a small branch off to the right with the signage indistinct and off your eye line.
           3 This will be around dusk or in the dark for most runners
           4 You have just passed a road head which is usually marshaled (This interrupts your mental concentration)
           5 Interacting with Marshals and other runners may have led to torchlight in the eyes ruining night vision.
           6  Once interacting with marshals most of us tend to put in a spurt to regain lost seconds (we run off without thinking.
           7 If one runner goes astray down the bridal way a whole bunch will follow.
           8 The lead up to the road crossing is a slow section so straight after the road crossing we all  tend to speed up.


         You can make real speed downhill on the pennine bridal way  for several Km and there is no big sign saying WRONG WAY  The slog back up hill is a real bummer but at least you will have company of the other runners stalling in front of you who were drawn like moths by your head torch.

              The Heard Effect

            The attraction of the following or just sticking with a group, is overwhelming especially at night.  Its not just that you cannot see that far but also that your body clock is telling you that you should be resting.  Sight is our primary sense and we can mentally extend our sight by letting our brain latch onto the flicker of a head torch beam far ahead.
             Some runners have  rear facing flashing red LED's  and these are particularly good at luring lagging runners to follow.
             Another factor is the subliminal belief that any runner in front might be superior in ability and by default navigational ability.  
Unless you actually know who the leading runner is and how good they are at navigating you should never assume they are going the right way 
               A lost  or unsure leading runner will automatically seek reassurance by looking back . If a whole bunch of runners are still following then they will falsely take that as a sign that they are heading the right way.
               A whole heard of runners heading the wrong way is difficult to halt. Even the last runner staring at a GPS showing the error will start to have self doubt.

             The other problem with group running is that conversation is more fun than navigation. Unless one group member (Usually an Orienteer) takes charge the group will often blunder forwards without even thinking about navigating This is especially true of the high level parts of the course.
               On low farmland groups are soon forced to get their act together.

           Applying Psychology To Your Recce Trips.

We tend to move slower on a recce  and so are less susceptible to navigational  regression.
Most recce trips are done in daylight so our eyesight  trail clues are stronger.
If you have never done the race you won't appreciate just how much harder it all is in race conditions.
You may be tempted to do more night recce's , and yes this will expose some of the potential nav traps but unfortunately you won't take in so many other memory sight information.

The ideal situation is that we visually memorise the whole course . In reality this is not possible even for someone with incredible visual memory capacity (It ain,t the same in the dark)

We need to recognise where we might make errors and try to memorise these locations


 Nav errors on the high moors can easily loose you  a  Km . There are long periods where you are following a single track with no signs to tell you if you are heading the wrong way. PW signs will only be found at large path junctions and sometimes at fence/wall crossings The boundary crossings at high level can be several Km apart.

 Many of the high level boggy areas have long lines of flagstones. However the primary function of the flagstones is to reduce erosion and not to indicate the Pennine Way. There are several junctions where  the track branches and a fairly insignificant path will be paved while the Pennine Way branches off in a less erosion prone un paved direction.

Mental Approach

Start by making the assumption that you won't be looking at your map or GPS at all critical turns unless you are physically faced with a choice of left or right . T JUNCTIONS automatically force you to refer to your map/GPS

Y junctions are more tricky . if the wider non deviating path is correct you will probably be OK but if the PW is a less distinct track deviating from a larger  path then you need to make a mental note and possibly mark your map and enter a pinging way point in your GPS.

Beware rail tracking .  This is where you go for over 1km on one obvious trail. Somehow during the race your tired brain will get habituated to this trail and you will become more and more blinkered.

Typical example the CAM ROAD 3km before Haws .  This junction has all the nav traps .
          I Deviating from a long wide track that you have been following for some hours.
          2 The Actual PW is indistinct and sort of slides off to the right in the grass.
          3 The finger post is set back from the Cam Road 
          4 High altitude and probably foggy/dark
          5 Exposed windy trail and you are probably distracted by the cold 
          6 The wrong direction Cam Road is down hill and inviting.
          7 Its only 3k to the CP/finish line so Challengers are in full race mode and Spine racers are already tasting that CP hot food.
Pre any Recce get out the map and look at all the junctions that require course deviation. Go out there  locate these points and ask yourself "Is there any way I can miss this path junction in the dark?"


     Time is lost by multiple minor errors which once discovered give you the choice of retracing your steps or climbing Barber wire topped obstacles.

        This requires a different set of nav skills. Any recce of these areas should also be approached differently.

          The main difference about the low level areas is that there are multiple paths ,junctions and farm animal trails.
            As you are changing direction so often we tend not to fall into 'rail tracking' We are often faced with T junctions so the Map /GPS gets far more use . Your main issue will be trying to work out which muddy smear on the ground is the actual Pennine  Way. 
            The biggest most well trod tracks are made by farm animals and none of them are in the race.
             Things are made worse by the fact that many of the Pennine Way wall crossing points are often steps up walls (sometimes but not always with small wooden gates)
               By definition they are stock proof so there will be no animal tracks to follow.   The gates in themselves are difficult to spot in the dark and the steps up the walls are made of the same material as the wall . It is not unusual to completely miss a wall crossing when standing only 5mtrs away in the dark even with the aid of a good torch.
         This wall crossing is typical of low level farm land . If you look closely you can see stone steps protruding from the wall like a ladder. In the dark the steps will be invisible unless you are side on to the wall. The only unusual feature is the sign post, most crossings are unmarked . Without that post you will have difficulty spotting wall crossings like this unless there is a well trampled track leading up to it.
          The OS 1:50000 GPS base map does not show all the fence boundaries you will encounter. The same applies to the Harvies PW Maps which are fine on the high fells but don't have the detail required for fast night navigation in farmland.

          AT night eyesight becomes more critical.  PW trail makings are not on every fence crossing ,they are also small ,faded and don't show up well at night. Most are small faded yellow acorn symbols about 100 mm across. 
            The wooden finger posts are moss covered and difficult to read from a distance. If it snows the snow tends to stick to the wood completely obscuring the writing.

           For low level fields the 1:25000 AZ maps are much easier to read but not being waterproof are easy to get damp and trash. You can put them in a plastic map case but you may need to take them out  after 6Km in order to turn to the next page. The whole operation makes map work at low level a real chore so most of us rely on a best guess and the GPS map.

                GPS MAPPING ERRORS 

           When you do a recce it is important to record your track then have your recce track displayed on the base map during the actual race.  You will discover just how inaccurate GPS units can be . Errors of 5mtrs are not unusual and can be much worse in woodland areas. 5 mtrs may not seem much but at times you may have a choice of two gates to pass through .  Choosing the wrong gate almost always puts you the wrong side of a high wall or fence and involve retracing your steps or climbing over barbed wire.
            Much larger GPS mapping errors frequently occur when the path on the ground deviates from that shown on the GPS map . The real track can often be 30 mtrs away from the mapped track in places.
             For runners without a recce track you have to rely on zooming in and out of your base map image . Don't be alarmed if you are trudging along a path and your GPS  is showing your position in the middle of a river running parallel and 5mtrs away from your position. This is all part of the challenge of the race. Navigation is all about taking in as many clues as possible and using your brain to sift out any erroneous data


At times you may pass through flooded areas alongside rivers . The flooding can be extensive and cover any trace of the trail. We tend to walk around these areas as it is impossible to gauge their depth except by prodding with that invaluable walking pole . In avoiding floods we also tend to drop our guard and miss kinks in the trail. The approach to MALHAM is where this often occurs and many runners will get diverted up dead end field boundaries. 
   The same can happen if the ground is churned up by cattle . While trying to stay upright we we forget to look out for the trail.

            Multiple racer footprints in snow or mud .

            Just to mess with your head there are some small junctions on the course that regularly catch out racers. This can lead to a really clear wrong track as runners retracing their steps will double the number of footprints.
           Tracks in snow are remarkably difficult to follow in the dark as your head torch will reduce the 3D effect .   

            Overseas Competitors And Folk Who Don't Have Recce Opportunity.

               By studying the course with a Map and Google Satellite Image it is possible to actually deduce where you may make Nav Errors, especially  on the high moorland areas . Look out for sharp changes in direction especially if they involve other wide tracks (as seen on the satellite image). You can insert Pinging Waypoints into some GPS devices just before the junctions to remind you to check your GPS
                The low level areas are more difficult to analyse so during the race always check with other runners to see if they have done many daylight recce's before putting any trust into them.
                 Your best plan is to get into that habit of frequently checking your GPS. This refex action will start to make sense if you get in some orienteering practice. This will also help train your brain to  relate your actual position to where you are on a map. The faster you can preform this mental function the more you will automatically actively navigate and the less mistakes you will make during the race.

In my next post I will take a detailed look at the trail between Airton and Pen y Gent including advice on negotiating Malham Cove in extreme conditions. This is one of the few sections of the course I have looked at while not racing . Racing over this section (always in the dark I know that I have made repeated nav errors as do most of the mid/tail end runners . Reading the post could save you one hr and several tears in your over trousers!
. Anyone covering this section in daylight will probably have very  few problems and not have noticed the nav traps.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Facing The Spine Race 2018

So the Spine Race is back and whats more back to it,s original ethos. All runners are to be "Unsupported.
      I doubt if any of the Spine Vets would disagree with this re-focus on runners taking responsibility for themselves , in fact we are probably all delighted.  As far as race organisation is concerned what many runners don,t appreciate is how close the size of the race is to saturation in respect of runner safety and logistic support systems. The road communication network along the course is at  near full stretch with 125 Challengers and 125 Spine Racers. Any additional traffic homing in on the bottleneck point's at CP's would put runners safety in jeopardy.

     Chopping out support vehicles will also force  previously runners to modify their race  strategy.

      Spine Specific Thinking.

  Every year Runners enter and start the Spine demonstrating an alarming degree of ignorance into what the race is all about.   Several totally underestimate the complexity of the race and drop out before CP1 thinking they now know all about the race .

       There are many factors that make the race hard but their individual significance and how they combine to cause DNF's is seldom clear if you  read race reports.
        Having finished 3 Spines plus one no competitive finish and a stint helping out during the race and observing racers in various states I am starting to getting a better idea of what Novice racers and Vets may face .

      The whole 268 miles of winter mountainous terrain description will give you little idea of how to tackle the race . 

       More than one runner has looked at that simple 3 mph  figure and concluded that no descent runners enter the event! This demonstrates naivety in the extreme. 
        3mph should tell you that you are missing something significant about the race.

        Lets face it we can all do 3mph so why not during this  race ?

        Perhaps it,s the weather? Winter Pennine Weather is totally unpredictable . Each year is different  .
        You have heard the phrase that :' there is no such thing as bad weather   it's just the wrong clothes"  .  The issue with this is that the majority of runners are used to bad winter weather and come well equipped  but many still end up DNF ing.

       Ok how about navigation? Good navigators have a higher chance of finishing the race but for some reason good navigators with multi spine Medals still make massive mistakes.  Having a top of the range GPS has very little effect on your chances of finishing.

         Extreme Fitness at the start of the race is another factor that has little effect on increasing your chance of finishing ( although it does tend to boost your race position if you do)

        Equipment in the form of super light top of the range gear will also boost your finishing position but again has little effect your chances of  actually finishing . ( many early DNF,s were running super light).


        In my view if you don,t really understand the race and overestimate your preparedness for the race you are heading for a  DNF .  

            Every year many Spine finishers Blogs are written . Very few Spine DNF Blogs get published but if you come across one you usually find the details of how and why things went wrong are examined in detail.  Finishers Blogs are all about the highs and lows but seldom looked at in much depth. This is partly as we tend to write them in the form of a travel guide with more place names than details of the state of the runner at any point. ( I know having written several myself)

           You will also find the emphasis on specific problems but those  encountered change year on year. This in itself can be misleading as  the weight given to  issues tends to change in order of significance . An example of this was the Bog issues in 2017. I an led to believe they were no worse than in 2014 but in that rear it rained hard for most of the race so we focused our misery on the Rain rather than the Bogs.
           Challenger Blogs may now  contradict  Spine blogs in 2017 as the  two races started 24 hrs apart.  The Challengers spoke of Snow and the Spine runners swollen rivers  sweeping runners away.  24  hrs on the same part of the course can give totally different conditions.   Once both races were up and  running on the Sunday the challengers had reached a different part of the course where soil , drainage and track conditions were totally different. 

            Every part of the course is different.

        Despite early DNF runners bemoaning the terrible bogs causing their DNF,s the worst bogs actually occurs further up the course . Challenger runners encounter only very short sections of bogs
         The next thing you need to appreciate is that the severity of any given part of the course is in proportion to the physical and mental state of the runner moving through it.   If you have been wearing thin soled grippy shoes and have bruised the soles of your feet then a smooth road will feel like hell compared to a nice soft bog. The runner beside you wearing cushioned shoes  may be delighted with the tarmac and dreading the next bog. 
          This is one reason why it,s so difficult to choose the perfect Spine Shoe. In truth you need a different style of shoe for every change in trail surface.

             Before we go on I should define the word trail as in winter Pennine Way Trail.
          The trail varies between long lines of limestone slabs laid end to end across miles of bog through hard packed stony wide tracks and down to an invisible sheep track through miles of churned up mud and bog. To describe it as a national trail is  at times stretching the word trail way out of any sane runners definition of a trail or even hint of a trail.( and that's before you get lost in the low level farmers fields).
          For any non UK runners this can come as a bit of a shock!

             Navigation Issues

           Again these are not all that you may be expecting. Some runners are natural navigators with an affinity with map and compass. Some like the GPS and others rely on following others and only panic and look and try to use a GPS when they loose contact with the runner in front.  
            A runner at the Spine Start line will not have the same ability to navigate as a runner 200 miles up the course who has not slept for  the last 50hrs

           The Challenger  could be described as a Hard Core Ultra  with far fewer CP,s than you would normally expect to have on a 110 mile event.  The causes of DNF's are usually a matter of physical issues combined with poor winter hill skills.  The cut off times are generous so it,s usually a matter of screwing things up rather than lack of running ability that leads to a DNF.

             The Full Spine is a totally different beast. 268 miles sounds impossible to run.

              And it is . No one runs 268 miles . most run about 50 at max.
              This will be denied by most racers after their first Spine . It's only after you have done the event a few times and taken the trouble to look about you that you realise how little running actually happens. Almost all the running happens on the first day and when someone points a camera at you . The impression you get from the Spine Race films is far from Spine reality as far as running is concerned.

               In 2017 I did not race but ended up on the Staff ferrying runners and Drop Bags around the course . When not actually driving I helped out in many areas particularly in a' meet and mother' roll to incoming athletes at CP's.  I was stuck by the shocking inability of sleepy runners to process information and look after themselves.  As a runner you are not aware of how shot away your brain gets . A state  of slow information processing is the world in which you are surviving out on the course.
                Post race one observation really struck home to illustrate the hardness of the race and how it can be regarded .     Tim one of the US runners commentated that :

The Spine Is The Closest Thing I To Ranger School That I Have Ever Done."

             For those who do not know 'Ranger School" is US Special Forces Training!

            His only caveat was that the food  was better (only 1500 Kcal per day for aspiring Rangers)

            You may be thinking this is just a brag about how hard core the Spine is but Tim is just not that sort of stereotypical bragging Yank.
             Ranger School is all about putting the troops under extreme physical and mental stress. They get run ragged , deprived of sleep and yet still have to function and think well enough to fight. Ranger School is not just about how fit and tough you are . If you can,t think and preform under stress you DNF the course.          Sounds Familiar?

            Perhaps this analogy demonstrates what you will face on the Spine.

             Sleep Deprivation.

This I believe is the most underrated issue for all Spine Racers.  The trick is to sleep just enough to function at your maximum capacity to move well and take good decisions in order to do so.
No one has ever taught you to do this and their is very little guidance for Ultra Runners out there. Ok in theory you Bivvi out when you can,t stay awake but in reality for some time before you get into that state your pace will drop off dramatically and your ability to navigate will be near zero unless you are falling back on automatic navigating embedded in your brain by intense practise. 
         A Ranger or Spine runner needs to be able to navigate without even having to think about it . He or She also needs to be able to recognise a Bivvi  spot and grab sleep automatically. 

           Most Spine Candidates invest almost all their time putting in the miles . However if you ask any Spine runner near the finish ,they won,t complain about is having no energy left in their legs . They will complain about a lack of sleep . It,s their lack of sleep that is making them stagger  and stumble like a drunk .  All too often a 5 hr zombie slog towards the line would only take 4 hrs if the runner took a 30 min power Knapp. ( that's 3.5 hrs running and 30 Min's sleeping).
            The catch 22 of this situation is that the zombie runner is not in a fit state to recognise the logic of this approach. Once you are sleep deprived every aspect of your race performance goes down the pan.
             Before taking on the Spine you need to practise hard any function that can be automated by your brain. If you look at the leading finishers most of them have an Orienteering/adventure racing background or military training. They have spent long hours not just learning how to navigate but also practising navigation. 
        Take the 2017 race finish . Eugeni , ( often described as a poor navigator )   demonstrated earlier in the race that he can navigate solo and fast . Pavel lost him at a CP and he fought hard and caught Pavel up .  Pavel is a well practised navigator who relies mainly on Map and memory.  On the final leg of the race Eugeni who relies mainly on his GPS made a wrong turn which cost him considerable time lost . Eugeni can navigate well with his GPS but was not mentally together enough to use it or even realise he needed to look at it . (as it was when he discovered his error ,he accurately navigated his way back to the course.  Pavel in contrast made no errors during that leg as despite having almost the same lack of sleep he could' rout find ' almost automatically by memory.

         If you read Pavels Blog he talks about at times  making a decision to sleep as he knew his overall pace would be faster  over the next part of the course. This decision also had to take into account the threat from Tom  .  Tom had the advantage of being able to sleep outside the CP's without having to take the time to set ups Bivvi .
         I may be incorrect (and am happy to amend this blog ) but from what I understand Tom,s strategy was to sleep more and often then move faster when out on the trail. This tactic had the added advantage that the other leaders Eugeni and Pavel never knew how much and when he was sleeping . In contrast Pavel and Eugeni were watching each other like hawks.

    In conclusion 

      Put good quality sleep high up in your priorities . A long sleep early in the race will not make up for very little sleep later on (as I discovered in 2016)  I suspect that 2hr blocks of deep sleep at regular intervals is probably the most efficient but this won't be the same for all runners .
      Getting good quality sleep is bloody hard if your brain is racing. Trying to sleep in daylight hrs at a CP is working against your body clock. The other problem with sleeping at CP,s in daylight is that the Staff and hangers on and some other racers  are mostly wide awake ,noisy and don,t really appreciate how much noise they are making. 
      In order to get the sleep you need to be fast and efficient with your tent or Bivvi bag . The CP,s are not sufficient to maintain an adequate amount of sleep. ( if you get the chance to recce the course then check out every barn or possible sleep bolt hole.  If you can,t do this then check out my earlier blog on sleeping issues then study their locations on Google Earth so you can recognise them on the ground . (If any one knows of more then let me know so I can add them to the sleep post.

       If you miss calculate on the sleeping issue and get overtired will probably be putting yourself in danger of hypothermia  ( 2017 was an abnormally hot year where runners got away with things).
      Lack of sleep will slow you up and is the leading trigger of the slippery slope towards a DNF especially towards the end of the race. 

         If you got your sleep about right then you will not appreciate how bad it can get . For me 2016 was my hell year despite finishing within time.My whole race was shadowed by a bad sleep mistake.

          Thats it for now . As always I welcome any comments even if you think all this is bullshit!


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Spine and Challenger 2017 Review

First the confession : Due to a hacking cough and bad chest I pulled out of the 2017 Spine and joined the Race Support Staff. I know only to well how the Spine kicks the shit out of your Immune System. If I had tried to tough it out I may well have ended up with Pneumonia . It was an easy decision to make and one I don't regret.
     By not actually racing I got a good insight into how the race went that was not clouded by runners blinkers.  Having scribed several Blogs on the Spine I know how easy it is to loose your objectivity about the race . This is one reason why anyone reading race reports needs to read between the lines . There are some great insights to be gleaned but  often the emphasis can be warped by hindsight. The other thing 2018 Spine Candidates need to consider is that the Race changes every year . The weather  is the dominant factor every year. Insights from one year particularly on kit may not be applicable the next year.

   The 2017 Races 

2017 Challenger 

     This year reading the Challenger and Spine  reports you may be led to think the runners were on different courses.
      The Challengers started the race during the end of a cold spell . This meant the runners started in snow.  On talking to SST members monitoring the course this was fairly light but any snow especially at night always gets described as a "Blizzard"!   Richard Lendon  one of the front runners described the snow on Kinder as the worst in 6 years . This made trail finding especially for the front runners particularly difficult. 
        The snow did however have a major effect on runners navigation. With the trail partly obscured runners tended to follow the trail as in any trail rather than get stuck in and navigate. As soon as one runner went astray others followed . At times over 20 runners were off track and searching for the Pennine way. 
         I suspect that the number of Nav errors was partly due to the fact that Full Spine Racers tend to take navigating more seriously. As they were 24 hrs later starting they were not around for Challenger runners to follow unlike in previous years.
         Quote of the day after one team made a 90 degree 4km detour was "O we forgot to turn on our GPS"!
         Trail conditions turned from snow to melted snow then slop during the second day. 
         From Fountains Fell to Haws the trail is mostly hard packed trail with a slippery final descent into Haws for the last 2km .

         All in all the Challengers had the easiest time over the first 110 miles as they avoided the melt water fuelled deep stream crossings on the first part of the course.

2017 Spine Race 

       With the 24 hr delayed start conditions early in the day were warming up fast but still with icy patches . The snow cover melted fast leading to large volumes of runs off water that gradually built up . The lead runners had no real problems crossing the melt water streams but tail ender's were faced with dangerous torrents leading to runners moving up and down streams searching for safe crossing points . Several runners took falls while wading waist deep  in the streams leading to several DNF's due to impending Hypothermia.
         Almost everyone got wet feet early in the race which led to blister problems which would plague runners for the rest of the race.

       Soggy ground became a feature for the rest of the race . This was especially a problem on the low level farmers fields were erosion by runner feel caused issues with the land owners .

      Just how bad the bogs were is a much debated point . Anyone who raced in 2014 can remember how bad the floods and bogs were .  That year we had almost continual heavy rain and so bogs were not the racers main concern. 
      In 2017 the weather turned so mild that some  runners ended up wearing only T shirts at times . The warm weather and lack of long periods of rain concentrated runners concerns on the foot and bog issues rather than the usual misery of driving rain. Fog was a significant issue at times especially low cloud on high ground.

      Overall finishing times were well down on previous years. Bivvying out on the trail was much easier this year without the worry of rain or severe cold. Cold weather saps energy far more than warm so runners got less tired than in previous years . Another factor that may have effected overall race times ws the opening up of more reliable food and sleeping stops such as in Dufton . Some Spine Vets described 2017 as an easier year but in truth it is never EASY!

    Future Spines  The Supported V unsupported ELEPHANT NOW IN THE ROOM.

    Most of the spine Vets will tell you that with the added CP's and better known sleeping bolt holes the Spine Race is getting softer. Having said that it is still one brutal race especially for Unsupported Runners . 
     The Spine Male and Female winners this year were Supported and the impact of a well drilled support team has now been recognised by most runners .
      The winners still won and within the race rules and deserve their rewards . 
     Just how much of an advantage you can gain from a support team is difficult to quantify . One supported runner reckoned it cut his race time by 12 hrs . Many of the 2017 supported runners including Tom  have said they intend to  come back in 2018 and run unsupported so they can compete on an even playing field with the majority of the runners .  
       What is not appreciated is the impact of supported runners vans and motor homes on the race logistics . Several times  CP' parking and access was blocked for short periods by these vehicles . If the roads had been icy or snow covered then racer emergency cover would have been compromised .
       My personal view on how this issue could be alleviated  would  be to create two race classes 

     ELITE and SUPPORTED . The results could be displayed separately and different awards given for each class. Most Corporate Sponsored runners would feel obliged to enter the Elite class and so run by the same rules as Pavel  Eugeni and Eoin.  The Supported class would cater for runners uncertain if they could tackle the Spine Unaided . This division would drastically reduce the number of supporters vehicles and avoid what could be a melt down of future Spine Races due to road  congestion.

      The definition of Elite status would  need to be strictly defined . Such things as hot drinks from friends could be allowed but no hot food or any to be consumed away from the road head would be allowed . No Elite runner would be allowed to enter any support vehicle or take or dump gear  and all Elite runners would have to have a highly visible fluorescent band on their packs so they can be identified and policed by other runners and race staff.
     OK I admit that the supported runners thing really annoys me but I feel the time has now come for all racers in one class to have the same rules . We are not allowed to stay in B@Bs but as things stand a Motor Home mobile B@B stocked with hot food on demand and a potential  unlimited  supply of dry footwear and warm bed is allowed for some fortunate runners .
      If I was serious about breaking the over 60's course record then getting my wife to support me with a camper van would be a no brainer . As it is I am a bit of an old school Grumpy Old Man and somehow I would feel that I was not really doing the real Spine Race . If I do break Dave Lees record then I want to do so using the same rules that applied to Dave.
      So next year hopefully I will be back racing unsupported  and my van will still be hauling Drop Bags .

        I welcome any feedback especially on my Elite Class proposal. Perhaps I am misjudging the situation . How do all you Supported runners feel and how much of an advantage do you think support gave you in 2017 if any?

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Race Plan For 2017 Cold Weather .

Race Plan For 2017 Spine

Its 7 days to go and the forecast is for cold/snow

At this stage you need to keep watching the forecast. Your race plan may have to be altered at any time .

The Two Classes Of Spine Racer .

Most of you will have read Damian Hills Remark that :" Grams Count". He also goes on to say that you can predict the top finisher's by the size of their packs .

This is all true ,but it may lead you to think that having the highest pack possible will always give you an advantage.

To Quote Pavel : " A light weight pack can get you to the finish line faster but a heavier pack will improve your chances of finishing the race."

This leads me to the two Classes of Spine Racer : 1 Racers who plan to only sleep at CP,s 
                                                                                2 Racers who  may have to sleep out on the trail.

Examples Of Racers who Plan ToOnly Sleep At CP's

The  2016 Elite Runners :Eoin , Pavel and Eugeni.  all planned to only sleep at CP's and stripped their kit down with the assumption that they would never have to Bivvy out on the trail .
Of the three Eugini had the lightest pack . He is probably the fastest of the three on pure speed in ideal conditions but he knows he is not a good navigator and so planes to let others do the navigation.
As a plan this is fine unless trail conditions or injury slow him down ,in which was he does not carry  enough gear in his pack to carry on .
Pavel and Eoin are better navigators , physically more stocky and so are less effected by bad trail conditions.

In 2017 other runners will be in this class ,including  Damian . They will all plan to sleep at CP's or end up DNFing .


Race Strategy For Runners Who Might Just Have To Sleep Out On The Trail.


The sleeping bag rating of 0c comfort will not be enough to let you get any sleep out on the trail.
         I have spent a night in -8c in a sheltered hut on the Cheviots  with a -1c comfort bag with a n extra 8c boost  bag liner and a down jacket with three pars of dry legging and still felt cold!

             YOU ALSO HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT THE TEMPS ON  COLD DRY MOUNTAINS FALL BY 1c  by every 100m of elevation.

   If the temp at Malham is -1c the temp at CP1.5 will be -3c.

      Temp drop with altitude does vary with atmospheric conditions but it will always be colder the higher you go.

Race Plan for the slower runners.

The first thing to remember is that you need to plan for each leg (Before exciting the CP containing your drop bag)
 If you can,t . make CP1 without sleeping out on the trail then you won,t finish the race ! 
  On The first leg out of Edale you could in theory have your pack at it,s lightest.  The problem with this approach is that you will be new to the race and won,t really know how much kit you need to take in order to stay warm while running. 
  If the temp on high ground is well below the comfort rating of your bag then you will need spare clothing to survive an emergency bivvy  until help arrives.

Second Phase .   CP1 to Malham.

                           Any sub zero night spent in a bivvy bag will not be fun . You will get very little sleep and this will impact your performance later in the race even if you survive the night without Quitting.
                            A foil bivvy bag like the Sol will not keep you warm and dry enough to run the next day. You need a good thick sleeping mat and a Gortex Bag.  As things stand if temps at Malham Tarn are predicted to fall below 0c I will take my tent. 
                            The tent will keep me warm and let me cook . An extra body in the tent will help.
                             I can put my shoes in the tent and stop them from freezing up .
                             If you bivvy in sub zero temps your shoes will freeze solid making them impossible to put back on without thawing them out. Your alternative is to put them in your bag with you. 

        The Sub Zero Bivvy.

Avoid if at all possible . Failing that then have extra gear . Take an extra foil blanket to protect your upper body. Have two sets of chemical hand warmers . 1 set to get you warm when you first get into the bag and a second set to thaw out your shoes in the morning. Take an extra insulated jack and leggings. Jump about and get warm before getting into the bag.

        BY THE TIME YOU HAVE ENOUGH GEAR TO SURVIVE AND SLEEP WELL  IN A BIVVY BAG you will probably be carrying more weight than a tent.


The Implications of a Cold Spine.

The PW has not been saturated with as much rain pre Spine as in previous years. This means that the sub soil and bogs will not be as saturated this year.
The onset of the cold is forecast for the end of this week which gives very little time for the ground surface to freeze to any significant depth.
 Frozen surface with underlying water will promote snow balling on shoes ,boots and gaiter straps looping under shoes.

 Now is the time to use a lighter to burn off any loose fibres on laces and shoes that can seed snow balling by soaking up minute drops of water .

  Traction Aids 

 We are likely to need traction aids for short and long  periods on the trail.


Traction aids are not just a whim of the race organisers to give you grief at kit check!
 from my past 4 spines I can tell you that the best way to negotiate ice is to by pass the icy spots . You will find that running alongside iced up path slabs on semi frozen bog is faster and safer than running in the middle of the Slabs .

  This is common on day one of the race.

Donning and removal of traction aids will often take longer than just making a detour. 
There are exceptions to this where you may find wearing traction aids for some distance will pay off.
Firstly the traction aids have to be functional . By this I mean light and easy to fast walk/run in .
This rules out Kahtoola Microspikes which are the Dogs bollocks for glaciers but a pain in the ass on the Spine .
Microspikes are mentioned in the Kit list because they were issued free by Kahtoola who sponsored the first Spine . They are heavy , slow to put on , cumbersome to walk in and tear holes in the rest of your kit .  (If you don,t want to be left standing by others it,s not too late to get a pair of YAK TRAX PRO.  The yaktrax work better for half the price and weight. 

If daytime temps rise enough to melt the snow surface and clear skies remain during the night the snow surface will freeze into a thin icy layer . It,s not pure ice but it can be slippery and widespread. So you will need Yaktrax to make fast progress. You may also need to wear them on rocky descents such as off Fountains fell and the steps down on the higher sections of Hadrians wall.

Running Poles .

     Running poles have several functions . Super light high tech running poles are designed to cope with compression loads (in line with the shaft ) And give you extra speed .

    In deep snow and slippery downhill sections of the trail they are used as a third leg to stop you falling .  You will still fall especially if the snow obscures what you are treading on . 
    Poles can also be used to probe the snow for signs of rocks or even the slabs you hope to be following.

   If you take a fall you will probably exert large sheer forces on the pole (Especially if the end is jammed in the gap between two rocks).  A super light weight carbon pole will break if subjected to sheer loads.  A heavier weight walkers aluminium pole will be of more use in snow.

Take extra and warmer options.
I shall be going old school and taking Dachstein Felt Mitts with Extremities Dry Bags .
Take Extra hats and don,t ignore any of  the contents of your drop bag . Who says you can,t wear your towel on your head to survive the Cheviots.

Snow Shoes. 

    The jury is still out on this one . They may help on some parts of the course if we get deep snow with a thin surface crust. In these conditions you  may have to pull your feet out of a hole with  each step . 1Km per hr max speed with immense energy drain.   If the snow is powdery then you can just pick your way forward making a trench (this system works best working as a team rotating the front trail breaker.

        Snow shoes take time to put on and take off and are best suited to undulating terrain such as the Cheviots. In a part of the trail with multiple fence/wall crossings they won,t be worth using .

         Your biggest issue is getting an accurate report of the snow conditions on the trail ahead . Very few CP staff or MST members have used Snow shoes . You have just got to get the best information possible and make the call to carry or not  that extra weight until the next Drop bag point.
         This is one area where Supported runners have a big advantage . Having your snow shoes delivered to you at CP5.5( Bryness) will save you carrying them all the way from Bellingham if the snow is only really deep on the Cheviots.

           The other area where they may be useful in around Cross fell . in 2016 the northern slopes just above Gregs Hut were covered in drifts making progress painfully slow but possible as I was moving down hill.

            One Last thing 

This can be done by gaffer tape holding packing foam against the bottle sides . If you forget there is always pull a wool sock over them.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Spine Race Food Considerations.

Energy Levels And Food.

         Lack of energy reserves is the primary reason of feeling cold during the race and not lack of warm clothing (unless you are an idiot and choose gear based on  minimum weight).
          If you have no fuel to generate heat then you will suffer.

        We need energy to compete.
        This energy can come from two sources:   1. Food consumed during race.
                                                                                 2. Body energy reserves built up before race.

 Most of you tackling the Spine Race will have had Ultra experience. If you have completed a 100 mile race you will have taken on a fair amount of food during the race and may think that you have a good idea of how much you need to eat to complete an ultra

  When thinking about the Spine race you need to focus on the day and days after that long Ultra

     Take the next day . 
     Just how much did you eat and how hungry were you over that 24hrs?
     I am willing to bet that you could eat anything put in front of you!

     The intense feelings of hunger expose the fact that you have dug deep into your normal reserves and have in fact developed an energy deficit.
      The fact that you may not have been very hungry during the race could be because your hormonal system  effectively suppressed  hunger pains in favour of your Fright or Flight Mechanisms.

       We all differ in how efficiently we burn our energy reserves .

      Post Race  you probably felt short of energy and took that next day real easy. It may have taken some time to get back to eating normally and as for running another ultra, well that was out of the question for a long time.
     OK Now consider the Spine.  After the  first 100miles you need to get back on your feet and face another Ultra then another then another! and Another.
    To put it another way after the first 100 miles you will have to try to  replenish your energy levels in order to keep moving.  Attempting to do this  'fully' during a short break at a CP is almost impossible. 
       If you treat your second 100 miles the same way as you eat your way through the first, you will soon run out of energy. 
      This is a serious problem as it,s not just a matter of slowing up and trying to eat more. It is very difficult to make up your nutritional deficit while you are still expending energy. 
     If you slow down to much you will not generate enough heat to keep warm . 
     Once you get cold one of the first systems to shut down is your ability to digest food! 
    The simple truth is that you have to eat and digest more whilst you are out on the trail  than you would on any other Ultra you have ever competed in . 

   Your body will cope better with a steady intake of food rather than famine and binge.
    The standard Ultra format is to have a checkpoint at approx every 10 miles. 
    The act of arriving at a CP will remind you to eat and having food laid out ready will facilitate eating.
    the Spine is different . With Ultra distances between each CP it will require more will power and awareness from the runner to keep topping up.

      Many of you have will normally have  difficulty eating and running . The food will just sit in your stomach making fast progress out of the question.
      Time now to change the way you normally think. I talked in my last blog of the hard to believe fact that if you can maintain 20min miles while moving  you will probably podium.   Moving at 20 min mile pace makes digesting food much easier. 
  To digest food its best to eat little and often. ( This is one probably one of the key factors that enabled Garry Morrison to finish the Spine 3 times). However eating every 15 Min's as Garry does is not easy. I know it does not suit me. I eat less often but in larger quantities when I do eat.
  In  training for the Spine you need to consider training to eat on the move. How slow do you need to be moving to digest food and what will your stomach tolerate? 
        Leaving a CP or pub with an over filled stomach which slows you down is not a problem in the longer term. Ok you will may move slower at first but in the long term food in your belly means you mar need to consume less later that leg . Your average leg speed will be greater. 
          As the race progresses your body will adapt to taking on higher than normal food volumes. It is probably true to say that by the time you reach the finish line your whole sleep , endocrine , appetite and  metabolic system will be set at totally different levels from what they were at the start . This is why it takes so dam long to wind back down after the Spine.

 Back to back 30 mile training runs are fine and good but if the food is not in your system then no amount of fitness will stop you grinding to a halt. 

The other problem of running out of energy is that it will have a marked effect on your mental energy. The Spine Race is a race completed or DNF.t by your mental state. 
         If you use you head then baring accidents you can make it to the finish line. It follows that you have to look after your head / mental state.  The less physical strain you put on your body the more you will free up mental energy to plan and make good decisions. 

             What Hill Food To Carry? 

             Race Rules state min 3000Kcals. Some of this should be emergency Hi Cal Dehydrated Food.
              I like to have some emergency food in reserve that I plan hopefully not to use : An Expedition foods dehydrated main meal and Porridge for breakfast 2600Kcals in total.
             The general consensus of opinion is that Energy jells are no use on longer Ultra,s
              Almost all runners trying to use high tech energy supplements as their main energy supply will fail to eat properly and end up DNFing.
              Even Challenger Racers have to keep their digestion system's running efficiently for over 40 hrs . Using High Cal ,Hi Tec lightweight foods will screw up your digestive system . 
             You may move faster for a while but you will probably DNF faster as well.
             The closest I come  to high tech  foods , is carrying Cliff Shot Blocks which I use as a snack not a main form of energy supply. (I have clear reasons why I use them which I discuss later)

              You need to choose food that you like rather than what you think you should eat.
               The aim is to encourage yourself to keep eating.
                I  like to carry high fat and protein foods such as Cheese, Pies Canned fish Sausages and Boiled eggs. 

               I never pass up the opportunity to raid a pie shop or indulge in hot fish and chips.

               My current favourite  is Wraps with plenty of re-fried beans and veggies.

                The resulting bad breath and farting may explain why I frequently run solo!


              Small snacks such as Peppermi , Baby bell Cheese  and extra strong mints can also help to keep you awake in the hours before dawn.

            I always try to avoid foods that give you a sugar rush and any Caffeinated product. You should try to iron out the peaks and resulting troughs in your energy levels.

           My general lack of fitness and poor gait means that I am a very inefficient energy converter and I will eat far more than other competitors during the race. It is not unusual for me to exit a CP carrying  well over 1Kg of hill food.
            Whatever your requirements you will find that you will have to eat extra food outside the CP,s
      Pubs ,Shop's and Cafe' foods  are allowed within the  race rules.
     I have made up a list of their locations and it may be worth marking them on your Maps.

Make a mental note to yourself to plan food for the next leg while you are still 15 mins away from a CP.


          By choosing to sleep at a CP you may pass a feeding stop that is closed 
          Before checking into a CP , consider food  shopping for the next leg first!

Supported runners have a big advantage in not having to plan  for shopping stops.


          Delays While Waiting To Be Served.

             Food service at CP's will be slower for any runner not leading the pack.
             CP staff will be falling over each other to help and feed the front runners.
             As the later runners rolling CP's things slow up.

             Pubs and Cafe's

            This will happen at Pubs and Cafe's  and it can be o long time to wait. Sometimes it,s faster to get a pie in a shop . 
            The Gargrave  Co-op  hot pie cabinet will get you back on the trail faster than a Pub meal
             However if you need a proper pack off and sort yourself out stop, then perhaps a pub meal with a seat beside a roaring open fire is the  better option.
             BY Combining several   race functions such as kit sorting ,nav re-grouping, eating and warming up. you will save on race down time.

             At times it may be just plain quicker to get out your stove and cook up a re hydrated meal rather than wait queueing for food in a pub.

               CP Food

               The choice and quality of the food on offer varies each year.
               Generally you will be offered a main meal or breakfast  or possibly both.
                The CP's operate on normal time so you may be unlucky to arrive at a CP when they are serving Breakfast when you would like a main meal.
                 The CP staff try to be as accommodating as possible but planning to feed a bunch of grunting  Spine Racers on differing time clocks is an up hill struggle.

                 The CP do not provide sandwiches  or food for you to take out on the trail.
                 You may be able to steal the odd packet of crisps or biscuits but you should organise your own hill food.
                 In 2016 I never had enough food at the CP's so had to top up with drop bag food. Couscous is a good fall back food as it is almost instant and can be put in a plastic bag and consumed while on the move by squeezing it into your mouth.

                    Drop Bag Food Stocks

                  You start the Race with a 20Kg max drop bag ( It will be weighed!)
                   Hill food for CP1 to CP2 needs to be in the bag .( Gargrave is the first opportunity to shop for extra food).
                   You always need spare food in  the drop  bag just in case you get out of synchronisation with Pub/shopping hours. Freeze dried meals are the most weight efficient option.
                    If you miss the Bellingham Co-op opening hours you have no shops easily available between CP4 and the finish line (And that's probably 48hrs with no extra hill food)
                    Supported runners won,t have to worry ,giving them a big advantage.


  Planning Food Consumption 

(locations of food on course in order).


         In order to finish The Spine Race you will have to consume way more food than that provided by the CP's
          You also need to note any opening/serving times .

             Start the race on a good breakfast. Don,t worry about a full stomach slowing you down at first ,you will reap the rewards later that day.

           The White House Inn is evidently off limits in 2017 for all racers!!

                  This will have a big  negative impact on most of the field. Not having the opportunity to top up with food in the warm before CP1 will increase the percentage of DNF's on day one.

               Burger Van at M62 crossing (the only hot food on leg one)

                         Probably open till 10pm for Challengers and Spine Racers.
                         He may possibly stay open longer but no Guarantee.
                         From the M62 to CP1 is a long way to go with no hot food inside you.
                         No real shelter in which to eat your food.
                 Food --Main meal and breakfast available .
                This CP has been known to run short of food for tail end runners.
                 Even if you don,t stop to sleep you need to eat as much as you can.

               Pondon Cafe    SD 979379

                  Located in weird furniture store up the road W from the reservoir (Look for the sale reduction signs)
                  You will have to take a 1k deviation off the PW then 1k to rejoin.
                  Probably opens after 9am and has excellent all day breakfasts.
                  Extra milage but will set  you up for the day.

                 Lothersdale Pub

                     Set up to harvest your trade during the race .
                     Hot butties available from 7am .
                     Main meals served 11am till late.
                     Bang on the trail and expecting Spine Racers!
                     Seats covered in cling film and extra mats on the floor.
                     Set price deal for Spine Racers now the Landlord has got his head around the idea.
                     Now part of Spine Tradition to drop in!

                   Cafe at end of canal section 2 miles  before Gargrave.

                       Pass under the A59 then come off canal at next road bridge and go left up road 50mtrs
                       Abbotts View Cafe.


                       Several pubs 
                       Co op food store with hot pies (On RHS 100 m down road just after the bridge)
                       Co op 7am to 10pm with a Hot Pie stand !.faster runners tend to eat all the pies.
                       Coop is last food shop to stock up before CP1.5
                       The Co op may well be your last chance for food until Horton and that's a long way!


                          Several Pubs (I have never reached  there before they stopped serving evening food)
                          Not aware of any food shop but I think there is a cafe
                          Many runners pass through Malham after closing time.

                      Malham Tarn

                           Bugger all except the kettle
                           BYO food.

                     Horton Cafe .

                         Expecting racers normally stays open all night.
                         Feed up, it's bloody miles to Haws! And much of the trail is high and exposed.
                         Spicial Spine Race Meal Deal.


                         Several pubs and food shops. Possibly a chippy (it may have been an hallucination)
                         Remember to Stock up before finding CP2 if it,s near dusk.
                         Tackle Shunner Fell on a full Stomach.
                         Meal at the YHA CP but no takeaways except for the odd biscuit.
                         This is an out and back CP so you will pass the shops twice.
                         Check to see if there is a chance that the `Tan Hill Pub will stay open all night before leaving the Haws CP.

                     Tan Hill Pub

               Normal opening hours.
               Some years the bar has been open all night for racers. (Warm chips and an honesty box)
               Other years Pub closed at night but foyer open for Marshals to shelter in .

                   Middleton + CP

                The Butchers  Deli  has some of the best pies in the UK.
                Again it may well be worth stocking up on hill food.
                 Once past The  Middleton Food Shops there is no place on the trail to re-stock until Bellingham. The Co-op in Bellingham 7am till 10pm. 
                 The CP is a long way past the shops but you re pass the shops to get back to the trail on leaving the CP
                 The Shops  may be shut when you re pass them! So best to go shopping on way into CP.
                 Usual CP food available.


                    Pub and Cafe. 
                    Open normal hours . Cafe is expecting your trade. 10 am till 4.30 pm
                    Don,t expect the Pub to go out of it's way to serve you food. (not always pro Spine Race)
                    Village hall (if open) Kitchen and Kettle good for re hydrating food.
                     Post Box Cafe may open 24 hrs (not had this confirmed yet)

                    Gregs Hut.

                     Usually a tin of hot  pot noodles available.
                     Eat them all up !You are still hours from Alston

                      Gargill    (Shop and Pub on RHS of green.)

                     Post Office Store.
                                                   Minute shop short  rather random opening hours.
                                                   Don,t bank on it being open when you pass.
                                                   Limited food but a good place to pick up your pension.
                       The Pub              Was closed for a time ,(May have re-opened) Has a To let son outside.

                      CP4 Alston

                                         A Long way before Alston  town.
                                          Remote from the trail , Usual CP food.
                                          Eat well next readily available food is at Greenhead  unless you make a detour to Alsto Co op.

                        Alston town Co-op  food store.

                           Opens 7 am till 10pm
                            Probably 300m off the PW and 300m back.(you will be reluctant to leave the PW)
                            Petrol station in Alston may serve snacks.
                            Last place to buy extra food if you  may miss bellingham CO-OP


                            Pub and Cafe 300m off trail
                              As soon as you cross the A69, climb the bank (following the PW signs)and you will find yourself at the end of a dirt road . (The PW is straight on  over this road) If you  go right along road and you arrive in Greenhead.
                                Good reception at both places.
                                Go back up road to rejoin PW (don,t shortcut!).

                            Hadrians Wall
                                   Sod all places to eat (No wonder the Romans hated the place!)
                                    Fill water bottles at tap by toilets , no  clean water for 20+km 
                                    The one fast flowing stream crossing the trail is the outflow from a  still lake.

                            Honeystead Farm. GR: NY 815773

                                  FollowSpine Pit Stop Signs.
                                  On the  PW trail
                                  A real life saver of an Oasis in bad weather.
                                  Comfy Chairs ,Snacks and a Kettle  Fridge.
                                  Relief when you will most need it                                        
                                 This place is an old farm shed. The owners are very generous to walkers.
                                  Honesty box SO PUT SOME DOSH IN IT!

                            Bellingham CP5

                                          Cp is 1Km short of the Co-op in town.
                                          Good Bakery in Bellingham next to Co-op (Hot Pies!!!)
                                          Seriously take into account stocking up on hill food now as this is your last chance to  buy and carry extra food before the Finish Line.
                                           You will need extra  Hill Food for the Cheviots!
                                           Ask yourself will the Co op still be open if I sleep at the CP first  .
     IF I AM SHORT OF FOOD I WILL SHOP IN BELLINGHAM CP THEN WALK BACK TO SLEEP IN THE CP. (two extra 2 Km is a small price to pay for a well fed runner heading for potentially the hardest part of the course!) 

                             The Forrest Lodge, Byrness   CP5.5

                          soup and Sausage and Mash   ( + veggie option).

                           No second helpings.

                          The best and most Spine Orientated  CP food on the whole course in 2016! 

Once out of Byrness there is no good running water so fill all your bottles at CP5.5

                            THE FINISH LINE

                                Food in the Pub Is Good.
                                A few snacks available in village hall.

            Psychological Boost From Eating.

           I like food and during the race I use this fact to keep my spirits up . Low energy reserves will depress mood and alertness especially in the hours before dawn.
           The distraction of feeding myself can take my mind off my other troubles.
           It is possible at times to feed yourself awake.
           The use of drugs such as caffeinated foods or PRO PLUS will give a short term boost but if your reserves are really low then the trough after the boost can be catastrophic. I regard this sort of action as loosing control my race .
            Loosing Control is only a short step away from the DNF.
            I do have one unconventional crude trick to shock my body back awake and this is to suck on a sachet of brown source Stolen from a take away on the drive to Edale. It is disgusting but for me it can work.

          Choosing Hill Food With A Focus On Your Speed.

          Sorry I am not talking about carrying less heavy food.

          At any point during the race you will have to expend energy multi tasking.
          A sprinter only really has one task:To Sprint.
           A Spine Racer can be swamped by multiple tasks. Eating is one of them.
           Even the process of chewing will slow you up to some extent.
           Locating ,opening,inspecting,getting in your mouth ,chewing ,swallowing then stowing all the food wrappers will all loose you ground.
            Pre planning will help. Start with stowing: that front pouch should be a nose bag full of food.
            Remove all surplus wrappers
              : Take Baby Bell mini Cheeses  as an example : They come in a string bag -----DITCH,
                                                                                           Cellophane red wrapper---DITCH 
                                                                                           The red wax case ----retain so the cheese does not become contaminated. (it is possible to eat the wax and crap it out later!)
            You can move faster by not having to unwrap the various layers.
             This is one small example but the principle can be applied to everything you eat.
            Opening wrapping should be easy but for much of the race you will be wearing gloves . You may have to stow the gloves even  in order to hold a packet of food.
           Wrappers that can be opened with your teeth lead to less faffing.
            It may be worth taking food out of original wrappers and putting it in ziplock freezer bags.
            Avoid sweats that get sticky when wet .
             Try to keep your front pouch nose bag reasonably clean and organised.

              All these points seem rather petty but you can test how much speed you can loose by trying to keep up with another runner while you try to eat . The drop in pace is dramatic!

              Part of your race prep should be practising eating on the move.

               Time lost  while eating may appear trivial . The real problem comes when another runner is in range . While  you eat, they will move faster than you .  This is not always a problem but from a mental viewpoint you may well put of eating in order to maintain your own pace. This short term advantage may well  bight you in the ass later when your lack of food really damages your pace.

Staying in charge of your race is all about taking control of all the factors affecting your efficiency

                                YOU SHOULD DO.

               Reasons  why I use Cliff Shot blocks. Mountain Berry Flavour( Caffine free)

            They can be stowed in pockets of my pouch with one end sticking out.
             I can tug them out of the pocket wearing Mittens.
             I can open them with my teeth.
             Once open they do not leek goo.
             I can squeeze them into my mouth one block at a time with Mitts still on.
             I can re -stow them without looking down.
             They are easy to share with other runners.

            The Dedicated Rubbish Bag.

                     A long time ago I was issued with a Velcro attached  dedicated rubbish string pouch at the start of the UTMB.  It has been astonishingly useful in saving time separating used food wrappings from live ready to eat food. 
                    Customise the front strap of your pack by hanging an easy to get at pouch on the strap.
                     All to often runners expect to buy a pack that does everything . 
                     Each race you do is different so get out that needle and thread and get customising!
                     Somewhere on the front of your pack system there is room for a rubbish bag.

         When reading various Spine Blogs you have to take into account who wrote them .
         A tail end Spine Finisher will have to survive fur perhaps 3 days longer than the winner and this has to be reflected in every approach to the race .
         I have said before that I am a very inefficient runner and this probably extends to the way I burn up my energy reserves. My Spine Food Consumption is extreme :Probably over 10,000Kcals per day by the end of the race. It takes me some time to wind myself up to this level of gluttony,but it works for me .

       Dealing With Extreme Cold.(and how this can impact your food consumption)

         I have covered  the issue of water turning into ice above.
          Your Snickers Bars can also freeze solid.
         It is highly likely that at some point during the race you may have to deal with extreme cold conditions.
           It is not just a matter of wearing more layers , you need to try to plan further in advance.
           Everything ,and I mean everything is harder if the temp falls below-5 and you have wind chill to deal with.

           The subject of gloves is a major issue. In particular gloves V Mitts.

            I theory having gloves gives you more manual dexterity to use your maps ,GPS controls and access your food. The reality is that if it is well below freezing the gloves you need will be padded and cumbersome . They will be fine for holding poles and perhaps a map and GPS but if you need to press the correct button  on the GPS or refold a map  or unwrap food , you will have to take your gloves off.
           Gloves have a larger surface area than Mitts so weight for weight a Mitt will always be warmer. I find mitts are also easier to take on and off.
            Strangly the worst combination can be glove liners inside Mitts. This works ok for warmth but the problem comes when you need to take them off. You can,t easily get your fingers back into a glove that is inside a Mitt. 
             What tends to happen is that you have to stow your Mitts while you get your liner gloves back on . The whole process can be fiddly and you will need to place your Mitts in a safe place while getting your liners sorted. 

            A Mitt liner can sometimes be left inside the outer Mitt making getting your hands out for fine dexterity work faster and easier.
            The other advantage is that it is easier to put hand warmers inside Mitts.
            I have found that the touch screen of a Garmin Oregon GPS if set up correctly can be viewed using the top of running pole to prod the screen.


    Getting dehydrated will reduce your pace dramatically.
    Although the race is held in cold conditions you will still need to stay well hydrated.
    In low humidity freezing conditions you loose a large  amount of water just breathing.
     Staying Hydrated is not always easy. Fresh clean water is available at times on the course but is far from dependable.
     From past experience I can tell you that the road head Marshals supply very little water and it all gets given to the front runners!
    The tail enders will have to use streams. and whatever source they can find.
     If taking from streams use fast flowing water.
     Some people take filters but as far as I am aware they don,t end up using them as it takes up far to much time.
     Avoid filling up with water from the outflow streams of large ponds. The pond/lake water is often suspect.
      Farm field run off water is also suspect.

      Kit list says ability to carry 2l. most of us start with only 600ml then fill up after reaching high ground . 

      My personal choice is to use water bottles as they are faster to fill and I hate demand valve tubes.

             Some parts of the course such as the CHEVIOTS and Hadrians wall provide few water sources  especially if snow is on the ground. you need to fill up at CP5.5 and 4.


     Note For All Support Teams/ Spectators  And Road Head Marshals.

       There is never enough clean water available on the course so anyone attending road heads can help by having a 5+ltr drum of water (savers supermarket brand) available for any passing racer to top up with water. Tap water is fine ,we are not fussy.
          Please ask any race visitors to carry extra water for racers!

           FREEZING WATER containers

           2012 and 2013 were the years when every ones water bottles and bladder tubes froze up .
           In subsequent years  this fact has to some extent been forgotten. 
            You need to thread your bladder tube through an insulated pipe and if possible tuck it inside your jacket.
             Water bottles hung on the outside freeze remarkably quickly. Make a holster for them out of insulating material and if possible cover the tops.You can use old waterproof socks.
              Carrying 800g of ice along the course does nothing for your moral. You can,t ditch the ice as it won,t come out of the bottles which you will need later.
               If you use electrolytes they may help to  reduce water freezing point so experiment now with
 samples in your freezer.
                It is possible to tuck a lighter fuelled hand warmer such as that made by ZIPPO along side a water bottle to keep it liquid ( I have managed to keep a Zippo hand warmer running for 18 hrs on one fill)
            It takes as much gas to melt snow as it does to boil water (Snow ---Boiling 2X gas  consumption.
             During  the TEFT,s  stop in hut 2 on the cheviots we used up 4 gas cylinders to produce about 1l of boiling water and 2l of melted water to drink!   And it took hours.)

 Bonus Hot Drinks For Challenger Racers

      In 2016 the local Mountain rescue teams attended several road heads supplying Hot Drinks and water. This may well happen again in 2017 but it is part of the support  for the mountain rescue teams competing . Now we have split starts they will probably not be around for the Spine Racers starting on the next day.

          It is possible ,and desirable to train your body to make better use of it,s reserves.
          I have often referred  to the importance of "Running Your Own Race". Eion Kieth uses the term :Staying in Control . Control is the key to avoiding the DNF and improving your race position.
           Eion The 2016 Race winner  takes a very different approach to nutrition on Ultra,s . It certainly works for him but I do't think I have the self discipline to copy his long term nutrition strategy. His blog is well worth a read:

  I have had a few more thoughts on how your body may react as the race progresses.
 I should say that I have no medical training but did study Physiology a long long time ago.  Its what happens to the body on extreme races that particularly fascinates me.

  Several books have been written on ultras.
 I particularly like Dr Mike Strouds "Survival of the fittest"    This book gets right into the guts of what you could face during the race . Mike Stroud has accompanied Sir Ranulpf Feinnes on many of his expeditions . His insights on expeditions in extreme cold are particularly interesting and relevant to what you may face on the Spine.