It is so hard to know where to start with this one! I was meant to run this race in 2021 but covid ended the 2021 dream. So I had 2 years of winter Spine training. This is a race starting in Edale along the entire 268 miles of the Pennine Way to Kirk Yetholm. Kim Collison, (my amazingly patient and understanding coach!) knew the blow of doing all the training and then not being able to finish with the race as he was also entered into this race. The thought of another winter of Spine hikes did not fill me with joy but it happened and it got done and the day arrived to finally travel up to Edale for the start of the race.
My nerves were off the scale. I always get nervous before races but this was something else. Poor Jean, my husband, he had a lot to cope with leading up to that race! We drove up from work on the Friday so that i was away from home and couldn’t pack and repack anymore – well try not to anyway! We stayed in Gloucester and just had a relaxing evening. We headed off to our place in Buxton the next day. Registration wasn’t until 6pm. What a wait that was! It was good to finally get my drop handed in, to be told my mandatory kit was all good and get my race number. I saw Geoff Partridge and Lindley Chambers which was a welcome bit of familiarity.
We also took Wiebke Lammers, a friend of ours, to register together which was lovely to ease the nerves. She has helped me so much with this race, a real fount of knowledge and experience and i’ve been so lucky to have her input into my race planning. I actually had one of my most valuable learning experiences with Wiebke when the Cheviot Goat was cancelled and we decided to recce the last 30 miles of the Spine route instead, as we were already up that way. The day started with blue skies but ended in snow up to our knees!! It taught me so much – and really tested my kit before the actual race.
So off we headed to the start of the race. I had managed 2 pieces of toast and had about 7 hours sleep thank goodness! I was worried I would not sleep at all. We picked up Wiebke and headed to the start for around 7.15, to get our trackers fitted. The actual start was 8am. The nerves were tangible. And I was so excited too. I couldn’t believe I was finally here. But to leave my husband and my children for what could be a week felt, really scary. I was terribly emotional. The weather was a bit wetter than expected and we were all deciding on starting with full waterproofs, which I did, as I knew I didn’t want to get wet, it’s a long way! The next dilemma – poles out of bag or in bag! I went with them in the bag but regretted that! So take note!
I said goodbye to Jean and headed to the start. I did not know where to place myself so just stood there behind a few men! The nerves were really there now. Then Kim appeared! Was so reassuring to see him. We hugged, wished each other luck and then he headed to the front. The right place for him to be!
And we were off, finally. I was so relieved to just get going. However, I soon realised that my poles would be very useful – it was very snowy as we got up the top of Jacobs Ladder and I just wanted my poles for reassurance – i fell within the first few miles and ripped my waterproof trousers! Oh well, lesson number one learnt! The weather was not great and the wind was making the snow hurt – some people had their goggles on and I was debating it – I thought wow this really is the Spine then! I was trying not to go too fast and get carried away. I noticed Anna Troup and Sabrina Verjee and thought maybe I am too fast and eased a bit but I felt good and it felt easy. So I was aware and being careful. It was great to settle into some good first few miles. Then there was a tent with tea which was so lovely to see – I had a coffee and got my poles out – huge relief! Not sure how many miles in this was but over 20 i’m pretty sure! This is when I saw the lovely Debbie Martin-Consani and shared a couple of lovely miles with her before she headed off in her incredible form and of course went on to win it. Unfortunately I witnessed Anna fall over and she said she had to retire. I felt so bad for her as she is so good at this race but she will be back and do what she does best again.
My kit was holding out well in the snow – I hate being cold so I go for heavy duty definitely keep me warm clothes! I had my Innov8 waterproof jacket on and the innov8 waterproof trousers. I had dexshell thermal waterprooof socks and Sealskin waterproof gloves. All were doing a great job. I was very aware though, that after a while nothing is totally waterproof and my big problem is if my hands get cold so i knew i would need to change gloves before long. I had packed so many thick waterprooof gloves about 5 pairs – they come at a price but so worth it. My hands never got cold.
I had done a lot of training with my heavy pack which weighed around 9kg. However, with three children and a job my long training runs with the pack were only every other weekend because I only like to do them when the children are with their dad so as not to disturb our time together. I do feel now that maybe I should have worn my pack more on shorter runs as well as the most I had ever done in it was 30 miles and although I did this many times, at around 50 miles my back was feeling the strain of running with the extra weight. I kept thinking how on earth am I going to be able to run 200 plus more miles in this pain. I tried not to worry and kept moving forwards thinking of getting to Hebden and the first checkpoint where I could change my kit and take the pack off and feel the relief of that for a bit. It seemed to take ages to get there! But eventually I was at the first checkpoint. I felt like I had slowed a lot already and it was bothering me. I saw Debbie was eating and looked pretty much ready to go. I tried to be efficient but realise this is not my strong point from the race! I was a bit tired it was dark now and I was not going to sleep this first night. I was aware I had been struggling to eat any of the food I had with me. Just gels going down and I was forcing cereal bars and supernatural pouches down but not enough. I made time to change all my clothes so I was nice and dry but the checkpoint was so cold with nowhere to dry clothes. I hoped this wouldn’t be the same the whole way. Everyone was so kind. I had a list of what to do at each checkpoint in my drop bag and made sure I charged all that needed charging (except my watch – silly me) and made my way to have some pasta. It went down really well but unfortunately kept repeating on me after that and getting anything else down was very tricky for a long time.
I am not sure how long I was here for but it felt a bit too long. I carried on in the dark and wet and my watch died! What an idiot! not being the best at navigation I rely on my watch so I had to get all my chargers out and rig it up for when I was running. It was fine but just annoyed I’d had to stop and start my watch. I don’t really remember much of this first night apart from back pain and doubts that I could complete this beast of a race. I had always doubted that I had the ability to complete this. I always feel I am not good enough and that this sort of race, in particular, is for the really good ones and I don’t stand a chance. I have watched this race for years with my husband and dreamt of being here and now I was I felt like I was trying to do the impossible. I got to Lothersdale where the Tri club had set up a lovely tent for people to rest and get warm and eat. It was such a welcome sight but by this point I was in so much pain in my back I was in tears. I really doubted I could do this now. I was only about 75 miles in and in extreme pain. So frustrating as everything else felt fine, my legs felt strong and ready to race but my back just wanted to curl up and go to sleep! This is where I first saw Mike, he was running with Nicola Sommers and I had seen her earlier, very strong. They were taking a little nap in there. Nicola was lovely and gave me a hug to try to help the tears stop and to make me feel better. She was so kind. I tried to eat some rice pudding but nothing would go down. They headed off – I tried to rest a bit but knew it was pointless, on went the pack and on I went.
I was getting frustrated as I wanted to run. There was a tarmac section and I was feeling good apart from my back but it was just so hard to run. I did, but not very fast! I started to feel a bit better as daylight came and I entered Gargrave. I was so aware I hadn’t eaten much so tried to eat one of my rehydrated meals, I had put hot water in earlier – but this was such a struggle. I managed about 4 mouthfuls and then it would not go down. Tried knocking it back with water but it just wouldn’t go. Gel it is then.
This section was fine but my back still was very sore. I met a few lovely men along this section and I felt slow as they were catching me up. Relieved some had stopped at the coop to get food. One was Bill Johnson, he was so lovely to chat to and cheered me up. We had a lovely chat about family and then Gary Chapman joined us and I heard some fantastic Spine stories which really put fire in my belly to finish and believe again. We started up to Malham Cove. It was really beautiful, a long climb but lovely. I nearly went wrong at the top! But saw Bill and Gary so corrected myself. It was on the way up that I saw a lovely camera man. He asked to chat for a bit and follow us and I excitedly said will this be out tonight my children will be so excited to see me. To which he said yes say hi to them. Well that got me all emotional and I said hi to my children, how tough it was but that I would get it done for them. First proper emotional moment about the kids, I missed them. But this moment was seen by all my family and they loved it.
Just before checkpoint 1.5 I met Kevin Robinson. He said he had not run any of it and had a really strong hike – he gave me the best tip for my back, a stretch which helped a lot and redistributed the load a bit. I got to Malham Tarn and tried to have a rehydrated meal, promptly wishing that I had got ones that were ready instantly rather than taking 15 mins. I just wanted to crack on. But also wanted to rest my back. I tried to eat some of the meal but again it just would not go down. So frustrating. I had trained with these and loved them but on race day they did not agree. This is the first time I saw Lizzie Faithfull-Davies, I really thought she was Nicola Sommers at first! They had the same coat and I guess I was tired! But poor Lizzie was suffering with her back too. I made my way out and this is where my watch played up. It was trying to send me in completely the wrong direction. Thankfully I realised and turned it off and on. So relieved I noticed with my poor sleep deprived brain! A few people had said they wanted to try to get to Pen-y-Ghent before it got dark so I had this in my head too. I am so glad I managed to get there because it was diverted later on due to high winds I believe and also doing it in the dark would have been tough! It was a hard scramble to the top and I had Lizzie behind me. It was nice to have her company but I couldn’t help thinking I must have slowed to be being caught and this really bothered me. I didn’t want it to but it did. I never intended to properly race this I just wanted to complete it but I also wanted to do my best and with the back issue I knew I wasn’t doing my best that really bothered me.
Lizzie and I descended well and thankfully I had put my headtorch on heading up to Pen-y-Ghent assisted by some lovely passers by who said could we get anything out your pack or do anything for you. So kind. Lizzie and I were talking and it was lovely to have her company, she seemed so strong and together. Then I tripped and face planted the floor just before Horton. Thankfully there was a little checkpoint and my friend Geoff Partridge there. He got me seen by a medic who cleaned my face and i had bitten both lips but it wasn’t too horrific. I just didn’t need it! It knocked me. Bless Lizzie, she stayed with me as we made our way to Hawes, checkpoint 2, as she was worried I was concussed. I had to tell her to go on, her hike pace was much faster than mine and I was feeling a bit fragile. I didn’t want to hold her back. She reluctantly went off. I had also learnt now that Kim had had to retire from the race which just felt awful. I was gutted for him – he had ran so well, it was a real low moment. So Sabrina, Kim and Anna all out….
Now was the stretch of High Cam Road in the dark and very wet. I was feeling the affects of being in my second with no sleep. I had been told earlier by a lovely person when I said I did not think i could carry on because of the back pain, that I must get to Hawes, have a sleep and reassess. Just get to Hawes. So this was very much on my radar. I was feeling lonely and it was foggy and wet and I just wasn’t moving very fast. My back was agony, I had a sore face and I was feeling very sorry for myself! I then saw an alien ship and recoiled backwards so as not to hit it with my head – then promptly realised i was hallucinating! And with that I stood on my pole. I thought phew that was close I could have snapped it, then looked down and of course it was snapped! Bloody hell! Could things get any worse?! Well yes actually, I then made a wrong turn after seeing some headtorches approaching, and I so wanted company I was so excited to see anyone. Then I saw them go off above me as I took a detour! I promptly turned and made my way back onto the route. By the time I got to Hawes I was a mess, soaked wet through, tired, hallucinating (dead guinea pigs mainly!!), broken pole, unable to eat and my back was agony. I phoned Jean as I approached Hawes and he didn’t answer. But I told him I just couldn’t do this I was in agony, I was going to have to quit i knew it. I got to the checkpoint in a state. I sat down and someone said she needs food she’s going to pass out. I knew I was going white as sheet, something I used to be good at at the end of 100 mile races – promptly pass out as I used to not be able to eat. Kim has worked hard on me with that and eating was much better but not today! The lovely Spine team got me two luke warm hot chocolates to down. I felt instantly better. They then said what do you want us to dry – music to my ears – a drying room. So I had loads to give them! I was taken to a sofa and given my drop bag. I decided to sleep here, allow myself 3 hours to try to reset myself. This was not my plan at all. I had planned not to sleep until checkpoint 3!! How wrong you can get it. I saw Lizzie who said she was going to sleep for 3 hours too. By this point racing was so out of my mind. Self management and whether i could continue were on my mind. I had a lovely meal, can’t remember what though! Sorry! And actually had a shower. It made me feel so much more human and brushed my teeth. I was given a room on my own and I slept so well. It was hard to get up. I look at my phone and I had a message from my eldest son – a turning point for me. He is 14, finds my races a bit weird – ‘why do you want to go that far and put yourself through all that?’ is what I usually get! His message said ‘My friends and I are all watching your dot and willing you on. Every day at school we follow you and can’t believe what you are doing. We are all so impressed everyone believes in you, so take this as a boost during a tough time, I love you – we know you can do this’. That message just turned a switch in me. It doesn’t matter how I do it, how long it takes, where I am placed but I have to finish this race for my children. It was just what I needed.
Now I was warm, had fresh clothes on – all changed socks too. I then saw the medics about my back. They were so kind, strapped it, and my collar bones and back bone which were beginning to chafe – (I don’t have much covering these areas, not a good thing about not carrying much weight on me!). They also gave me a codeine to ease the pain. I forced some toast down and had a coffee. All my things were charged, i had dry clothes, it would not be long until daylight. I was reset and ready to go. This is where my journey with Mike Maxwell begins.
I had taken forever in Hawes, never imagined I would take so long. Maybe 5 hours!! Mike had been about 6.5hours! He was laying on a sofa and looked in no rush to get out. I said I was going to the Spine team, who had looked after me so well. Then I heard, hey you want some company? That was Mike, I have to admit I wanted to say no thank you, I feel like shit and want to carry on on my own being a miserable cow moaning about my back! But instead I said okay, but i’m not great company! I asked him if he wanted to start running. So we did for about 100 yards and then said sod that! It is so unfortunate but from Hawes I barely ran. Not my intention or plan but nor was my back. It was all about just getting to that wall in Kirk Yetholm now. Taking that medal back to my kids.
So Mike and I got chatting. I told him how awful my back was. He had awful blisters so we both had a little moan. I then said to him, I am doing so badly, I won’t be finished until Sunday. I’ll be chasing cut offs. To which he said, what?! No we will be in by Friday at this rate. I said are you mad, we are so slow no way. Friday was always like a B goal for me. I never knew how fast I could do this race but I thought a Thursday finish would be A goal but most likely totally out of reach but Friday – well Shelli Gordon finished at this time and many other great runners it seemed like a respectable time to finish, not my A goal but respectable and I was certain Mike was wrong as I was being so rubbish. But he was good at Maths and he assured me. He instantly lifted my spirits. The sun came up and we were faced with a most perfect day. It was beautifully sunny. We were heading to Tan Hill Inn – I couldn’t believe it – the pub I’ve seen on all the Spine videos a real famous spot, the highest pub in England, I started to feel the adventure and soak it all up. I felt good. Yes my back hurt but I could bear it, Mike distracted me. We talked about everything and nothing! Silence was comfortable, we just hit it off, it was easy and we were good companions moving at the same pace with the same goal – soak up this adventure and get to the end, don’t risk not finishing.
I told Mike I just couldn’t eat and had no money! He offered to buy me soup at the pub. What a gent. We got there and saw Geoff again – such a welcome sight. We had hot chocolate and ordered chilli and butternut squash soup and Mike had cheesie chips. It was so lovely and warm in there and I just started to feel so much better. The soup went down so well and I felt 100 times better. We then made our way across the bogs and Moorland – so boggy! But manageable. A few dodgy turnings here and walls to climb! But we were feeling good and positive – this day being so much shorter on miles than the day before. We were making good progress, slow but progress, consistent. As darkness started to come again we found a little tuck shop at a farm and lovely Mike brought me a can of coke and a whisper gold. We said we would have our coke on the top of Cross Fell. It was so lovely to have a goal and someone to share it with. I am normally a very solitary runner, it was just luck that we just got on and it was easy. However I was struck by another very unfortunate event. My period was due the following week and I am regular as clockwork but I imagine the strain I put on my body prompted it to come early. So there I was in the middle of moorland doing a nature wee with poor Mike on his poles back to me giving me space! And I look down and see blood everywhere (sorry guys!). What next?! Seriously….! I had nothing with me, I didn’t know Mike well enough to spurt this out yet. So I just pretended to myself that all was okay! Having no money with me either, I couldn’t even buy anything. Bloody useless. Onwards was the only option.
As we soon realised, checkpoints seem to take an age to get to. As we approached Middleton, it just seemed to go on forever and ever to get there! It was so good to get there finally. You are so looked after. I felt positive but I had to go to a lovely lady and explain my problem. She instantly brought me back some tampons. Such a relief. We decided to allow ourselves 2.5 hours sleep, we were exhausted and it was all self management now, get to the finish, no risks. So faffed far too long with kit – it’s amazing how long it can take, with a tired mind, to sort your kit, get changed, charge everything, eat, sleep, get up eat again, sort final bits of kit, have a kit check – I was just not efficient here, so much I could improve on and save so much time. I did also have another shower here because I was a mess from my period popping along for the ride. This is also a time waster but necessary – i would have chafed badly. So probably another 5 hour stop – so frustrating and trying not to panic about it. I also met a lovely medic who gave me more codeine and got me to roll my back, told me to not worry about the time – i needed to make sure I could get to the end by taking time here. Poor Mike had his blisters all seen to which were everywhere on his feet. And we were ready to go again. Must say I had the most amazing lentil soup here – it was so so good! And I was given shower gel and a toothbrush as I couldn’t find mine – so much kindness all around – did i mention I am not very efficient or organised?! So many lessons learnt.
So on we went. We had this kind of silent agreement that we were sticking together – or maybe we made that agreement I can’t remember! But I wasn’t going to leave him behind and knew he wouldn’t leave me. In my head, I was thinking should I be racing this more but I just knew it wasn’t in me this day – it was not an option for how I felt. Now was the time to take it all in and enjoy the adventure with my new mate! I just hoped I could cope with that when I finished, as I always beat myself up after races when I feel I have not done as well as I should have. We decided we had a good system, a little sleep in the dark at the major checkpoints and a good meal, then foot and back management and up and out in the dark so only a few hours of darkness before daylight again and just push to exciting parts of the course and the checkpoints and keep chipping away at the miles. It was working and we were making progress. This section was miserable though. There was a detour from Cauldron Snout because of ice. It wasn’t that clear especially when so sleep deprived! And it was a lot on the road. Normally i’d think yay get some miles ticked off running but no I just couldn’t. So we walked on an on up this hill that never seemed to end. Oh all the way up to High Cup Nick it was neverending in the dark. We were both not enjoying this it was so windy and cold too. Although I was so lovely and warm with all my layers and the right kit. We were at High Cup Nick in the dark so no lovely views for us but on the fell the light came and it was so nice to have daylight again. I screamed ‘oh Mike look there’s civilisation, cars and people’ To which he said, no Laura we are in the middle of a fell they are rocks! A hallucination by 8 am pretty good going!
We made our way to Dufton. By this point I was bleeding heavily and had to share it with Mike! He was so lovely. I had to ask at Dufton for more assistance with this but the lovely lady didn’t have anything – I soon became the lady needing tampons – but how lovely that the Spine team were all trying to get something sorted for me. And yes, I should have prepped for this just in case, a very very important lesson learnt. So I had to cope until the next major checkpoint. Something I really want to point out is that these mini checkpoints are so lovely but there is no food. Hot water and a hot drink, Dufton did have lovely mince pies! And there was a cafe there but I had no money. I, for some reason, expected crisps and chocolate or something but nothing. Which is probably very clear in the race instructions but I just hadn’t appreciated there would be nothing. I was getting hungry now. But I didn’t want any of my food. It had become apparent that Mike had all the bad food and that’s what I wanted! I had proper survival food but he had, twinkies, mars bars, milky ways, cream eggs! That is what I craved but didn’t want to eat all Mike’s food. He was great and shared a lot with me but it’s never like having your own. So again, a huge lesson learnt, no rehydrated meals or cereal bars – cream eggs and crisps! At Dufton there was a lovely lady called Mel, who when I told her my back was in agony, said I am a chiropractor – what can i do! Oh music to my ears. She lay me on the floor and cracked my back three times. It felt so much better after this. I am so grateful to her. This is also where we learnt that my pack was way heavier than Mike’s and I soon realised my emergency clothing had got wet and i was carrying loads of heavy wet clothes with me. So the next checkpoint I was going to sort this out. At Dufton we also had the pleasure of meeting Mark Caldwell – the legend that was one of the very first people to complete the Spine. He was so strong and focussed. A real honour to meet him.
Now we carried on to Cross Fell. I was excited about this section – the weather was beautiful – tricky underfoot from all the previous rain but that didn’t matter with this gorgeous sunshine. I knew Greg’s hut wasn’t far from here too and it was all so exciting. This was the best my back had felt. We moved well up to Knock Fell and Great Dunn. It was so windy but so beautiful. We were trying not to slip on the ice on the flagstones. I was so looking forward to the can of coke reward! When we finally got up there we found a wind block and sat down for our coke. Well it didn’t go to plan – we froze! And had to get up and move on, we were really really cold and falling all over the place. Not quite the lovely coke break I had imagined! But it made getting to Greg’s Hut even more incredible. It looked closed and my heart sank. But there we were welcomed by John Bamber and his team. Oh what a moment. I felt like I was not really thee. I was a bit star struck, poor John – I kept taking pictures or him preparing his famous noodles! They were so good. Appetite was fully back. A few others joined us in there so we got up and carried on. Headtorches on and loads of layers – i had two fleece coats on, it was so cold up there. What a day that had been – we made our way to Alston. Again, this checkpoint seemed to take ages to come – it’s like someone moves them further away!!! Here we saw Liam Vines, who we had seen a few times on our journey. He was moving so well and always so encouraging and made me laugh a lot. He too, was fed up with the checkpoints seeming to move further away from us with every step forward!
I got to Alston and was immediately met with the most wonderful lady who told me she had been to the shops to get me some tampons. What a woman – she was so kind. I was so embarrassed at seeming to unprepared. I had also left my towel behind! Oh dear oh dear. But I as so looked after. I was given a towel by another lovely lady and some shower gel and I felt so much better for this. We had another 2.5 hour sleep. Maybe this was too much, yes in hindsight I think I should have had less to be really racing but as I keep saying it was all about managing ourselves now and getting to the end. My drop bag was becoming such a mess but I was too tired to care. And it had ripped. I ate well here lovely veggie lasagne. The whole team were so lovely. I also took the time to have my feet taped like Mike’s as I had a couple of cuts on them, no blisters though. After my sleep my feet had swollen to a massive size. I was so glad to have fresh waterproof socks and brand new Hoka mafates half a size up. They felt amazing. I knew I had been saving these for the later stages and was so pleased I did. My feet wouldn’t have fit in my others.
Off we went again for what I consider the worst section of the race! Mike and I had had so many laughs – we were literally delirious and I found the smallest thing hilarious at times. I would just laugh for no reason and then we would laugh until we cried – literally about nothing! But it was great for the soul! We had many pole stretches by now. They were so great – such a treat! And of course very funny! We would hike for a bit then stop, lean over our poles and stretch out our backs! It was dreamy! It’s amazing how you such condensed time with a total stranger you become just so at ease. Farting, laughing, talking periods, getting angry, crying, grumpy – we did it all!! But laughing was a major one we did. My tummy still hurts now from laughing so much.
However this next section was not so funny! Mike had his grump over all the Moorland – he couldn’t understand why all the stiles and the just nothingness! But I felt so amused and kept laughing – sure that didn’t help! He threw his poles had a mini meltdown and then we got on with it. I think it is Walltown where we met a lovely couple who were manning a mini checkpoint with coffee – it was so lovely and we had a nice chat a laugh with them. And i ate two packets of crisps I had got from the checkpoint before. They went down so well. I was so aware I didn’t have enough food I wanted, and still none of mine would go down. So calories were not good enough.
After this we hit Hadrian’s Wall. This is where I just had the biggest low. For hours, poor Mike. It was just hill after hill, my Achilles on my left was starting to really hurt and my feet were burning. And 16 miles to Bellingham seemed like forever at our pace. I was missing my family and I just wanted my normal life back. I couldn’t see the light. Mike tried and tried to distract me with guess the song, guess the film – singing to me! Until he went delirious for hours singing to himself whilst I was totally silent. It was hard on both of us. It got dark and my feet were still killing me, it was so hardgoing underfoot and I just couldn’t shake my mood, miles seemed to take forever to tick over. Then I fell in a bog and I cried. It all came out and Mike gave me a hug. With that I kind of pulled myself together – it was now about 8 miles to go but we were told that there was Honeystead Farm where a lovely farmer had refreshments and a warm welcome a few miles away. This helped to have a closer target. And just before this we were met by some lovely people who came out to give us flapjacks! Human kindness really shines in this race.
We stumbled our way to the farm in the dark – through lots of wetness and mud. But we got there and what a welcome we had. I had a lovely cuppa soup as I am vegetarian and the lovely smelling homemade soup unfortunately was not. The lady was so kind and welcoming. We were soon joined by Gary, who I had met earlier and this was his 7th Spine, amazing. And by a few other men who we had been tooing and froing with. Adam Marcinowicz, being one of the loveliest. So kind and encouraging. It was getting busy so we cracked on 5.5 miles to Bellingham – then it was just a marathon to go. That felt good. Again the checkpoint took forever to get to which we were now in hysterics about! Back to our old selves!
We decided just an hour sleep here to make sure we could get to the end fairly okay! I was like a zombie and trying not to fall asleep having my feet taped. I had veggie sausage casserole. It was freezing in the room to sleep in but I fell asleep so easily. I changed to my last pair of dry waterproof socks, got all our things together and there we were ready to make our way to Kirk Yetholm. I couldn’t believe it. But I still couldn’t be convinced we would make it. It’s still a long way on what i now called elephant feet and my achilles was absolutely screaming at me. My body had had enough. It is amazing how far you can push it when you ordinarily would feel there is nothing left.
We had to get bussed to the start of the Cheviots this year because of the damage Storm Arwen had caused. It was too dangerous to go through any areas of forestry as trees were still unstable. So we did not go to Byrness from Bellingham. This meant a nice warm 20 min extra nap which i welcomed by this point. We got the bus with Gary and had a lovely walk up the hill to the Cheviots with him. We both felt so good and again couldn’t stop talking and laughing! I again, found everything very amusing. Gary was so strong and great to see him have such a good finish. We had a little group of men that we were back and forth with all the way along, all lovely. I knew they slept more than us but were faster at hiking so were likely to overtake us on this last stretch. I couldn’t let it worry me. My achilles was so bad and I had to get to the end. As the sun came up it was a glorious day on the Cheviots. Absolutely stunning. We got to Hut 1 and had a coffee. Also Mike kindly gave me a cream egg for breakfast! He had given me so much food now, all chocolate and some amazing strawberry sandwich thing – oh so good! I saw the lovely medic, Harrison, who had helped me with my back earlier on. I told him of my achilles and he kindly strapped it for me. He also gave me more codeine. This was such a help. On we went to Hut 2, passed by Adam here who was desperate to get back to see his 12 week old little girl. This made us both very emotional. I couldn’t wait to see my kids. I had had some lovely messages from them and Jean had left me two notes for when times got tough with pictures of them willing me on. I had so much support and love. I didn’t check my messages all the time but could see things popping up – knowing my colleagues at work were following my dot, so many friends and of course my family and even people I never met – willing me on it felt incredible.
I said I couldn’t stop at Hut 2 my achilles was too bad and i worried i wouldn’t be able to get going again. So we said hi and bye! We also saw the lovely cameraman from Malham Cove, who interviewed us again and made me cry again when asking about what’s kept us going. My kids of course! and my husband. The views were breathtaking – I felt so humbled by the beauty up there and the silence – so privileged to be there. Hills went on and on the Schil neverending! But then we came to the 4.5 mile sign to Kirk Yetholm! I think now I knew this was it we were going to make it. A huge wave of emotion hit us both. Mike turned to me and said lets get this emotion out the way here! Thank you so much for such an incredible adventure. We had shared 150 miles or more together. And gone through all the emotions and pain you possibly can. At times it felt like torture – unable to stop because the upset of stopping was not worth it but continuing caused inevitable pain and the urge to stop and sleep was incredible. Mike and i shared times of taking the lead where I would follow and watch his shoes in a trance and vice versa we called that napping! Almost like sleeping on the move! We had an incredible journey together and we had made it. I started to read out messages as we were coming towards Kirk Yetholm, my sister had messaged me continuously and it was such a boost each and every message of support and willing us on meant so much, amazing how it gives you more strength, you find something extra to push on not just for yourself now but for someone following your little dot on the map.
We tried to run a bit into Kirk Yetholm. I couldn’t believe we were here, both of us crying we made our way under the finishing arch to so much support and i saw Jean, emotions truly out now! I touched that wall and I felt like I was dreaming. We were lucky enough to be handed our medals by the legend, Eoin Keith, such an honour and he asked us a few questions but I was a bit of a crying mess by now! I got to finally wrap my arms round Jean and we both just sobbed! It was done. I still can’t believe it!
What a rollercoaster of emotions this race puts you through. All the way I was saying we must finish I am never ever doing this again. I said to Jean never ever again that’s it it’s done. I can’t put myself through that again. And now here I sit plotting my return. I know I have to go back. This experience was incredible. I learnt so much that I want to take with me to my next experience. The first time I just wanted to complete it but I can’t stop thinking what could I do with this new found knowledge and taking a few more risks now I have completed it once. So it’s gone from never ever to when can I do it. Who knows what next time will bring. But I am so excited to go back armed with cream eggs!
I am truly grateful for the the support and words of praise I have received during this race and since completing it. I am honestly overwhelmed by it. I have to admit I am not overly happy with the time I achieved but this was what I was capable of at this time – what my body could allow with all that was thrown at it this time round. Who knows, maybe this is the best time I will ever achieve but I must go back and see just one more time!
There is so much that goes into a race like this not just on race day and I’m incredibly lucky to have amazing support from my husband, children and entire family, who spur me on to complete these crazy things I get in my head. My husband just gets it as he is an ultra runner too and is desperate to have a go at this race himself. We are currently debating who has the next go! I guess it has to be him….! I am also lucky to have such an incredible coach in Kim, who just understands me (not an easy task!) and my anxiety, lack of confidence in my ability and just always pushes me to believe I can do it and achieve what I want. Always available when I need support and i’ve learnt so much from him.
I am recovering fairly well but it’s taking a lot of time compared to any race i’ve done previously – my achilles is still very sore and so is my back and I have never experienced such tiredness. My left foot is still completely numb over a week on. But I look at that medal and it’s all worth it!
TOP KIT RECOMMENDATIONS
Dexshell Thermal waterproof socks – incredible
Sealskin knee high waterproof socks – good for when feet swell bigger around toes
Hoka Mafate shoes – no blisters at all, comfy and grippy
Innov8 waterproof jacket – same as Jasmine Paris’ – I got it half price and it was amazing
Innov8 waterproof trousers – so warm and dry so quickly
Runderwear hotpants – no chafing
Skins thermal tights – really warm
La Sportiva long sleeved mid layer and base layer – just never felt cold in my body
Cream eggs, crisps and lots of coffee!