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The Montane Spine Race – 15th to 22nd January


Race report from dot 41 (aka Sarah Fuller):

WHY?
Perhaps the most commonly asked question to any spiner is ‘why’? It’s a question that’s not easy to answer, but it is essential to have a clear rationale or the chances of making it the 268 miles to Kirk Yetholm are small. I was struggling to find my ‘why’ in the lead up to the race, I had entered last year when it looked like most of the crew timed out at Byrness would be lining up again in 2017 so there was definitely an element of peer pressure there but that wouldn’t be enough reason to drive me onwards I needed to want to do this for myself. Clearly last year’s race didn’t go to plan and I failed to finish but yet strangely I didn’t feel I had anything to prove so why did I feel the pull back? Partly I couldn’t get that niggling feeling I had missed out on that finish feeling of contentment, of a job well done, of closure. Partly I missed my spine friends and missed being part of something truly special and I missed the adventure, that escape from normal life that enriches so much. However, I wasn’t totally sure I wanted to put my body and mind through such a gruelling experience again and the closer the race got the more I doubted myself and whether I needed that finish to make peace with the spine. I would battle with this conflict in my mind for the first couple of days at least and came close to calling it a day a few times early on but something in my subconscious kept me ploughing on after all its better to be a dot than follow a dot! Anyway here is my story – grab a cuppa its a long one…….

SarahFullerSpineFinish

THE START

Anyway there I was back in Edale on Saturday afternoon (which happened to be my birthday!) ready for the race briefing and kit checks etc. meeting up with my friends from previous years was great and there was lots of high spirits and happy reunions. All racers who had been pulled at Byrness last year were back and raring to go – no pressure then! There was a lot of snow on the ground on the Saturday but the forecast was for it to turn warm, wet and windy overnight ready for our start early on the Sunday morning – lovely! And so it was (warm wet and windy that is not lovely!). We were ready to go at 8am but a problem with the trackers set the start back half an hour so we had an extra half hour to mill about nervously before setting off into the soggy peak district. 113 racers started this year – the biggest field there has been by a long way, 13 of those were ladies. As normal virtually everyone starts with a run but most folk soon slow to a fast walk once out of Edale village as the initial adrenalin and excitement wears off. Spirits were high despite the grim weather and I felt less apprehensive than I perhaps should have given I had had a cold in the run up to the race and with a niggling injury over Christmas too, training had been a little sporadic. I tried to have confidence on my long history of endurance events and ability to dig deep into that experience to get me through the first few days and regain fitness as I went north (winging it or what!).

Soon after leaving Edale I got chatting to Paul – a friend of a friend who I had met very briefly at the tour de Helvellyn a month ago. Paul seemed relaxed, friendly and just keen to finish. We talked about my history with the race and how I planned to approach it this year and how I was at least confident in the navigation if not the running part! Paul was keen to share the experience and asked if I minded if we teamed up at least for a while – mind? I was ecstatic, whilst I was pretty comfortable with the idea of going it alone I know my personality type thrives better in these sorts of events with company particularly during the long nights. So I promptly chained him to my pack and felt a big burden lift. I had an honest conversation with him up front that I planned to take a tortoise ‘slow but steady’ approach and wasn’t willing to push the pace beyond what I was comfortable would get me to the end without blowing up. Paul was faster than me but untested on that distance and less confident with the route and navigation so he was happy to fall in with my plan. I had to pray I wouldn’t let him down and made sure to tell him to go on if he felt I was too slow.

So the 2 of us ploughed on across the kinder plateau in thick fog, rain and the kind of gloopy mud that has you both sliding about like bambi on ice and sucking you backwards with a vice like grip. I was too busy going on about how good a navigator I was and promptly broke my golden rule of navigation and blindly followed ‘the Germans’ on the wrong line off kinder – baaaaaaa woops. Seriously embarrassed I gave myself a kick up the bum to never again make a decision without checking myself first and apologized profusely to Paul. Strange bloke still wanted to run with me (well how could he not since he was now chained to my pack)!

Crossing kinder downfall was interesting we had to make a long detour to try and find a safe place to cross, usually it’s a hop and a skip across a couple of boulders to the path on the other side, this time it was a raging torrent and completely unsafe to cross until some distance upstream (where it was still a thigh deep wade!). It turned out this was only the first of many at best unpleasant and at worst dangerous stream crossings we had to make that day. Bleaklow and black hill being particular ‘highlights’ involving several waist deep dunking’s and very wet feet. Poor Alan Purdue took a refreshing swim in one burn up on bleaklow and I was feeling sorry for myself for going in thigh deep!

By the time we had run, walked, swum and bog snorkeled to the M62 crossing it was clear this was going to be a long hard leg and a lot slower than last year. I tried hard not to panic about cut offs and already being down on my plan to get further ahead of them than last year. But the burger van was still there so all was right with the world. A butty and a brew later and a bit of posing for Japanese television we were off feeling refreshed (ish!). The rest of leg one was relatively uneventful and pretty dull just mud mud and more mud really and the sections blurred into one. CP1 at Hebden Hey couldn’t come soon enough and we arrived there after about 18 hours, a little dejected looking like something that had emerged from the primeval swamp. I felt better that all returning racers were saying the leg had taken much longer than previously (phew it wasn’t just me then!) but it was still on my mind that I needed to build more of a buffer through the race this time. I wasn’t planning to sleep at CP1 due to the noise but amended the plan as we were tired due to the unexpectedly tough leg 1 so allowed ourselves 45 minutes sleep. Some hot food and a seemingly endless faff later we trotted off back into the night and back up mud hill.

MUD GLORIOUS MUD

CP1 to CP1.5 at Malham tarn is my least favorite part of the course, apart from the trip over top Withens, which is quite nice the rest of it is seemingly endless ups and downs across fields that appear to be engaged in some serious slurry production and storage activity. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed much of day 2 apart from meeting up with kate at Cowling, which was a real highlight and totally unexpected. She had bought hot soup, tea and more importantly a friendly face and it was a massive emotional boost. I probably moaned a hell of a lot and swore a lot, god knows why Paul was still putting up with me. I was on a real downer, my cold was still very much present and I was starting to have serious doubts if I had the fitness and drive I needed to stick it out and more worrying I was struggling to get a grip on what I was doing here and why I needed to finish this (did I really, did it really matter that much? Right then I couldn’t have cared less if I never saw any of the Pennine way ever again most of it was just sh*tty mud anyway and couldn’t have cared less if I finished the stupid spine race, stupid idea anyway etc etc!). My gloomy mood continued into Malham and I tried my best to not be a miserable bastard but couldn’t help it but then jogging out of the mist as we got close to Malham was a figure in black. My first thought was who would come running along this deeply unpleasant trail out of choice in the dark (apart from spine racers that is and they would be going the other way and much slower!) – Matt Podd that’s who! I couldn’t believe it what a lovely surprise, another friendly face and a bit of chatter pulled me round a bit and we soon arrive in Malham village. Another day of mud had taken it out of me and we couldn’t face the climb up to the field centre so we bivvied down in the village instead in the back of Paul’s friends car and decided to tackle the climb after a couple of hours sleep. For sleep read lying down fretting for 2 hours – not good.

Still A lie down was good and we pressed on up over the cove not taking the best line but we got there in the end passing Kevin Otto on the way and a couple of other folk to eventually emerge at the field centre where we grabbed some hot water, made up expedition meals and had a quick scoff break. Then onwards to fountains fell and Pen y Ghent – at last some proper mountains and marginally less mud to contend with hoorah. For the first time we were starting to pull back time on my timings from last year as well – happy days. I was feeling a lot more positive about the race and starting to enjoy it. We positively skipped into Horton (well I needed the loo!) and straight into the café for a giant fry up, 6 gallons of tea and a 30 minute power nap in the corner. This was it I’d finally turned the corner with 2 days behind us I was never coming back to repeat those horrid bits again so I had to finish, I wanted to finish, I was determined to finish. I had found my motivation, found my why and it felt good. There would be no more thoughts of quitting I was going all the way until I was either told to stop, my legs fell off or I reached Kirk Yetholm.

We powered up the cam road heading for Hawes passing the 100 mile part somewhere along the way. It was light now and thankfully there was a long section that didn’t involve wallowing in a mud pit or half drowning in a swamp so despite its dullness I actually enjoyed this section. Along the way I was boring Paul with tales of last year where Julie and I had been falling asleep on our feet and talking about coffee constantly and a friend of hers had unexpectedly met us high on the cam road with a flask of coffee! Then like a miracle we bumped into Jo Barrett and she was bearing cake – wow what a nice surprise. I was so touched that Jo had driven out to meet us briefly, I didn’t know her that well but we had a connection with similar aged kids and chatted quite a lot on Facebook but that she would come out to bring cake to an almost stranger was incredible, such is the spine race. We then got filmed shortly afterwards and I spouted a load of rubbish, embarrassed to talk when the camera was there I felt such an idiot. The cake and visit gave us a big boost and we made really good time into Hawes even doing some running. We arrived in Hawes with a good 6 ½ hours to spare – that was the plan and thank goodness it was working out. I had time to sort myself out, get hot food and get a 2 hour sleep. A complete contrast to the year before and it was an enormous confidence boost.

TO THE PUB!

As we got kitted up to leave Hawes and tackle shunner fell, racers were still arriving, I felt for them as they were in the same position as me last year with a rushed pit stop to get out again before the CP closed at 8pm. Clare was among them and she had had a tough couple of days and talked about stopping, I felt for her and tried to say positive things and hoped she would continue. I was so delighted later on when I found out she had turned things around and kept going what a star.

Shunner fell was as usual 3000 miles long and seemed to take days but apart from picking up a Japanese racer whose headtorch had failed and helping him off the hill we soon arrived in Thwaite. Kevin and a couple of others were sat on the bench in Thwaite and we joined them and a lady came out of her house and offered us tea – wow well we weren’t going to say no what an absolute star. So we lounged around and were promptly brought tea in proper cups and everything and biscuits too – awesome! Fired up we set off heading for tan hill, this bit seemed to go on a bit but we chatted to Kev and it soon passed. The safety team where there and a large number of racers were secreted around the pub and in the porch taking a snooze. Luckily Paul’s mate Steve was there in his van and he made us a brew and we had 40 winks sitting out the wind in the back of the van – luxury!

The next challenge was to cross Sleightholme moor without drowning, this is harder than it sounds although there are no significant bodies of water nearby there is one massive superbog and boy it was in fine fettle. I was a little nervous about getting us across in the dark but it had to be done and like many things the reality wasn’t quite as bad as the thought of it (but my thoughts were pretty bad!). We passed the Germans again across here faffing with headtorch batteries and would yo yo with them for pretty much the rest of the race, a really lovely fun group of people god knows what they thought about the state of our premier national trail bog trot! I have no memory of where it started to get light or much memory about the rest of the leg into Middleton if I’m honest apart from the little 20 min powernap in the shooting hut in deepdale with team Germany and seeing spine legend Karl Shields in his van near clove lodge (that was a very welcome surprise!). We broke into a run down the hill into Middleton – a massive contrast to last year’s slow hobble and I was looking forward to this checkpoint as it was my favorite one. The only problem was we still had a few hours of light left so in some ways it didn’t make much sense to sleep here but we were tired and I figured time spent sleeping here in comfort would be more beneficial than any time savings of travelling in daylight, particularly given the next 7-8 miles were along easy riverside trail that wouldn’t be much slower in the dark. We had finally gone spine native – night and day no longer had any meaning, we were tired so we slept then we got up and had breakfast and set off early evening for the long leg over to Dufton.

WATERFALLS GALORE

The Middleton to Alston leg is (usually) my favorite leg, its long at well over 40 miles but provides a natural halfway point at Dufton and some of the most beautiful parts of the Pennine way. The first part is flat along the river tees passing low force and high force rumbling away impressively in the darkness somewhere (one day I will come back and see them in the daytime!). It was an enjoyable trot along the river and pretty bog free for once what a treat! We then eventually came to the boulder zone which would ultimately lead to cauldron snout, this slowed progress significantly and was a real faff to traverse in the dark but to be honest it made a welcome change from bog trotting. We passed a couple of runners preparing to bivvy before the snout but we pressed on and started the climb and wow what a highlight. Despite a little slip for which I have been rewarded with a rather large bruise on my leg the climb up the side of the waterfall was exhilarating. Both Paul and I loved it and we whooped our appreciation rather a bit too enthusiastically! There was a welcome sight at cow green in the form of Sean from the SST and his rather lovely camper van which we took advantage of and had another brew.

Next the long leg into Dufton which is pretty straightforward if it’s not the middle of the night and you have had more than 3 minutes sleep in the last few days. I rapidly started to unravel – the sleep monsters had come for me and we would battle it out for the next few hours but the buggers were winning. I was literally falling asleep on my feet and kept grinding to a halt just staring into space wondering what the f*** was going on. I tried stuffing my face, singing to myself, humming, talking utter bollocks to Paul but nothing worked I was done in. Given there was a rather exciting traverse above a big cliff coming up we (I) decided the safest thing to do was have a quick nap. It was relatively warm so I couldn’t be arsed getting out my bivvy bag or anything we just sat down on the trail, leaned against a rock and had 15 minutes glorious sleep. Once going again I still felt like crap and was still unbelievably sleepy but now believed I could just about keep my sh*t together to make it to Dufton without falling off a cliff or going the wrong way. The decent to Dufton seemed a long way and time seemed to extend with 5 minutes feeling like hours but we eventually rolled into the village and fell into the café. It was somewhere around 2-3am and the lovely owners had stayed open to feed us lot fried breakfasts – what legends. So we gratefully tucked in and tried not to cover their café in too much mud then rolled off down to the village hall to grab a snooze before cross fell. I think I was a little emotional here but we shall gloss over that but in any case we got a couple of hours and I felt like a new woman!

HIGH ALTITUDE NOODLES

We started the climb up cross fell in the dark but dawn soon came and we were climbing slowly but steadily. A few faster guys passed us but I couldn’t be bothered to change my pace from plod mode and continued doing my own thing. The traverse over to cross fell went without incident (a slight difference to last year!) and we were soon at greggs hut, as it turned out about everyone else was there as well at the same time – brilliant. What a great atmosphere, John Bamber was doing his noodle thing whilst being filmed by the Japanese crew who were rather getting in the way a bit since it was so crowded. Team Germany was there and loads of other racers and was great to see Joe Faulkner appear as well. It was far too tempting to linger and share some more banter but we pressed onwards wanting to get to Alston well before it got dark.

Alston checkpoint was a bit chaotic and there wasn’t much room to do a kit faff so I’m sure everything took me longer than it should but never mind I was so pleased to be there a good 12 hours ahead of where I was last year. I got my feet sorted, ate my own bodyweight in food then had a glorious couple of hour’s kip before hitting the trail again.

COWS, SUPERBOGS AND A BIG WALL

The next section through to Greenhead was appalling. After a couple of pleasant miles you hit ‘Isaacs tea trail’ now I don’t know or really care who Isaac was but I can tell you his tea trail if a complete bag of shite. It was an utter mess, shin deep in sh*tty mud and slurry and no sign of an actual trail anywhere what was this sh*t – seriously this bit was an utter disgrace. I well overused my yearly quota of the phrase ‘mother******* pennine way’ – let’s just say I wasn’t feeling at my most eloquent! Eventually we reached Slaggyford and then off towards the Greenhead superbog. Just before we got to that Paul turned to me and said ‘did you not see that?’, ‘no what’ I replied. Apparently I had walked within about 6 inches of a massive bull next to the trail but because it was dark and foggy and I’m a little stupid I hadn’t seen it at all, even though it was the size of a house (apparently). Well thank heaven for small mercies if I had seen that then I fair say it would have been game over, I probably would have pooed in my pants then promptly keeled over there and then with panic and run home screaming for my mum! The Greenhead superbog was in fine fettle, cow free but clearly going for the ‘grimmest part of the Pennine way’ accolade of which there were many contenders this year. We trudged and moaned our way across sinking periodically and swearing profusely. We passed Tim looking confused and tired halfway across he had had a bit of an epic trying to help a Japanese racer and was now beyond tired. We all plodded and swam together out to the road where Tim stopped for a snooze at the SST monitoring point and we plodded on planning to sleep near the toilets at the top of the climb. We trudged our way up and found team Germany had beaten us to the prime spots in the ladies but no matter it was great to see them and in any case Paul’s friend Steve showed up and we dossed in the back of his car again for an hour. I think Ian Bowles came to see us as well but I might have dreamt that!

I was looking forward to Hadrian’s Wall – at last some actual trail rather than swamp and even more exciting it was getting light so I got to see it this year. I was still pretty slow on the hills but felt good on this section and it was exciting seeing the summit fever media team and then Karl’s van again along the way. He reassured us we were looking good timings wise if we kept doing what we were doing which was comforting. Then all too soon we turned north and things got boring and boggy again oh well I knew it wasn’t going to last. No wonder the Romans didn’t bother to go any further North; although I’m surprised they managed to cross the Greenhead superbog! It was a real trudge through the swamps and woods although we would pass and be passed a few times which was about as exciting as it would get. We saw Bobby Cullen and had a reminisce about this time, this place last year where our race went to sh*t, then pushed on to Horneystead where we stopped for a brew and he pushed on. I love Horneystead – the owners have made a little Pennine way shed in their yard and it has a sofa, fridge, kettle and toilet and they had put out lots of goodies for the spine race. What an act of generosity and kindness. Tateno was there another of the Byrness crew from last year and we wished him well although poor chap left his map there and had to double back a couple of miles to pick it up – bummer. It wasn’t that far to Bellingham but it seemed to go on for about a thousand years – back in the mud zone I really lost my sh*t with it. I guess it was the straw that broke the camel’s back but I’m ashamed to say I had a proper toddler tantrum with it all – foot stamping, tears, shouting, moaning the lot (sorry Paul!). I managed to retrieve the final shred of dignity I had left and stomped off towards Bellingham still muttering about mud.

BELLINGHAM AND THE WOODLAND SLEEPMONSTERS

It had been dark for a couple of hours when we got to Bellingham but we were on track with timings, I had worked out I wanted to leave Bellingham about midnight and do the leg over to Byrness in the dark with the aim of being out of there to enjoy maximum daylight hours on the cheviot and then hopefully reach KY for last orders (no hope like a fools hope!). Anyway Bellingham like most other checkpoints was utter chaos, probably a factor of me being further up the field than I was last year and the higher number of starters, I think there had been a lower percentage of drop outs as well so far. Sarah and Andy Norman were on duty again and wow they were great, couldn’t do enough for you I felt spoilt. Sarah talked about doing the race next year and I hope I get the chance to repay her kindness in some small way along the way. We had time to eat 20,000 calories and a couple of hour’s kip but by now our bodies were so sleep deprived it only reset the clock for so long.

We left just after midnight with kev back out into the thickest fog of the race so far – great just some nice featureless moorland to negotiate in the dark with visibility down to 3 centimeters. This was going to be ‘fun’. As we left the road we met up with Tim again and made a foursome to cover the moorland section. Kev and I were on nav duty – one taking the lead and one checking and making sure we were good. This worked really well and we made it across the tricky section with minimal wandering. Kev was like me he liked to do the nav and didn’t trust anyone else to take control of things but he said to me after a few hours that I was one of the first people he had trusted with the navigation for a long time – I was made up with that comment. Before long we made it out to the road and onto the forest tracks, on the one hand it was nice to be motoring on at a faster pace without worrying about getting lost but it was so tedious I started to fall asleep again. On and on it went I was having a big battle with the sleep monsters again and desperately trying not to fall off the pace or off the trail but I was losing big time and several time just seemed to wander off the side of the trail and be staring off into the woods before shaking myself off and trotting on. Thankfully it emerged I wasn’t the only one feeling like that and we made a team decision to take a powernap before getting to Byrness. We just put on our insulation layers and sat on our packs under a big tree and went to sleep in about a peco second. We allowed ourselves a glorious 20 minutes and then cracked on. I was still sleepy but Byrness and dawn wasn’t far away and I tried to hold it together for the remaining boring miles. Eventually we passed the forestry commission car park, turned onto the riverside path and before long were on the final stretch into Byrness passing the summit fever media guys again.

Byrness was an emotional moment – this was as far as I got last year so near so far. The cheviot felt like a formidable obstacle before the finish and the spine wasn’t going to let me get away with an easy ride but I felt it was within my grasp now just had to not cock it up! Byrness ‘checkpoint’ is a little B&B run by a lovely couple who fed and looked after all the runners who made it that far completely out of their own pockets. What amazing generosity. We had a slap up dinner for breakfast a bucket full of coffee and a 40 minute snooze. It was a lovely atmosphere team Germany were all there as were quite a few of the 2016 Byrness timeouts – Me, Kev, Bobby Cullen, Edu and Tateno. Harsharn had gone through a little ahead of us and would also go onto finish. We all pretty much set off together, a little later than planned but the extra snooze was definitely worth it I felt like a new woman!

THE FINAL FRONTIER

The climb up through the woods was steep and muddy but I didn’t care I was on new ground now and only 26 odd miles to go. It still felt like a long way but at least it was all new now and what’s more there was a weird round shiny thing in the sky and it was a beautiful morning. We reached the top of the climb and took a moment to just look around – the views were incredible after being stuck either in the dark or inside a cloud (or both!) for the best part of the week all my senses were waking up at once, it was simply stunning and I had a lump in my throat. I felt truly privileged to be there, I’d worked hard to get there and we all felt we deserved the little treat. We enjoyed the sun and views for a couple of hours but then sadly the fog rolled back in and we were back to staring at a cloud oh well it was good while it lasted! We reached hut 1 in ok time but we were all tired and starting to really slow down I wasn’t that worried as we had hours in hand and I was confident I could crawl the rest of the way in the time limit. We had a short break at hut 1 and made up some expedition meals hoping the hot food would boost our pace a little. It was hard to get going again leaving the hut and we had a number of significant climbs between us and hut 2 but we made steady away progress, which I was pretty happy with but Kev was getting worried. I think he was a little paranoid about the race organizers seeing our pace drop and pulling us out for some reason, I tried to rationalize it as we had a significant time buffer on the cut offs but he was having none of it and persuaded us to up our pace significantly. I felt a little cross at first but it did feel good to be moving faster again and I soon got used to the renewed pace and the new focus was keeping me awake more so it was probably good for us. Soon enough we reached the slog up Auchope Cairn the last obstacle before hut 2, Paul, Tim went ahead powering up the hill, me and Edu followed a bit slower but then I noticed Kev had disappeared off the back. I called to Paul to wait as we had agreed to stay together and keep an eye on each other. Kev still didn’t appear so Paul went back down to see what the problem was. Kev had completely bonked he hadn’t eaten anything and had ground to a halt and was a bit angry with us for ‘storming off’, which was completely justified but everyone was just so tired we lost the plot for a bit stuck in our own little worlds of suffering it wasn’t intentional. We force fed him sweets and set off again slower this time to get him to hut 2 for a rest and refuel. The incident woke us up and we were more careful to stay together and soon enough we picked our way down the nasty slippery decent to hut 2. I was extra glad I had stopped to put my yaktraks on!

It all felt so close now we had a few hours until last orders and I knew it was about 3 hours from the hut to the finish at our pace so it was doable but we needed to refuel and rest a little. Everyone was exhausted but in good spirits, particularly Edu who treated us to some singing. He kept trying to get me to join in but I was just out of it and couldn’t muster the energy sorry Edu! We made up another meal in hut 2 and had a brew courtesy of Tom Jones and the other safety team guys. It was a jolly atmosphere and I didn’t want to leave but we had to. Tim had started to get cold so set off ahead of us and we hoped to catch him up on the way – a safety team followed him at a distance which they would do to us as well. I was annoyed about this at first and paranoid, why did they think we needed following? We are all moving well and in good condition and good spirits? I hope it was more they wanted something to do and had to go down at some point anyway so may as well tail us rather than concern for our wellbeing.
I knew there was one last climb between us and the finish but I wasn’t prepared for the size of it – in reality it’s probably tiny but it seemed like going up Ben Nevis at the time it just never ended and I was falling further and further behind Paul but managing to keep pace with Edu. After what seemed like an age we started to descend which was worse – back into the bogs oh joy. The Pennine way wasn’t finished with us yet, it was going to make us work right up to the end, it was going to keep testing us to the limits, no easy roll into the finish for us. The decent went on forever, I was falling asleep again and desperately trying to hold it together I couldn’t fail now but I was clearly losing the battle with the sleep monsters again. I tried singing and talking to myself and talking to Paul but he couldn’t be arsed to speak and I don’t blame him! Eventually the track improved and gradually became a road, we got a little confused going through a farm which was embarrassing as the safety guys were watching us at this point. I wanted to shout at them this is only the second nav blip I’ve done in 7 days do you know give me some credit but kept my mouth shut!

The road went on and on and we all retreated into our own little worlds and own pace, I felt it was a shame not to all finish together but everyone just had to do their own thing to get it done now and it was just a few miles along the road to go. I rang Derek worried that he wouldn’t know I was going to finish soon as the signal is crap in KY but he was on the ball and waiting at the pub. I was choking back tears all the way from that point I could visualize the children and Derek waiting and expected maybe a race official or two. Nothing could have prepared me for the moment we saw KY – we saw the lights first then buildings started to materialize then the noise. We had missed what we thought was last orders (i.e. 11pm) but were on track to finish before midnight if we kept pushing. Eventually the pub came into view and we forced ourselves into a run, operating on pure adrenalin and instinct now. It felt like a sprint across the village green but was probably more like a comedy shuffle. And then it was done, I saw the children they had made a big banner with welcome home mum on it I was so moved, I saw Derek and wanted to go hug them all immediately but was surrounded by race officials and other race supporters who were telling me to go touch some wall or something. Since I was so tired I just did what they said like an obedient child and finally rested my hand on the wall, and so finished the Spine 2017. All I could manage was to burst into tears as they presented me with my hard earned medal. Everyone wanted to hug and congratulate us, which was incredible I felt like a celebrity but I wanted to get to my family and finally got to give them all a hug for the first time in 7 days. We hung around a bit for Edu and then Tim to finish shortly afterwards then made our way slowly into the pub. I sat down and didn’t want to get up again I wanted to savour this time to reflect to enjoy the last moments of the Spine bubble before I got sucked back into normal life. People helped me with my shoes and kit and all I had to do was just sit there and Derek went to get us a pint (the bar was still open hoorah!) and boy that tasted good!

I finished together with Paul in a time of 159 hours 13 minutes. 8 3/4 hours ahead of the final race cutoff. Three of us had been vying for the 3rd lady position for days and in the end the 2 German racers finished a little bit ahead of me but I didn’t care less I had finished the Spine that was my only goal. 5 ladies made it across the line this year for the first time ever, which was incredible and I later found out that fellow Otley resident Carole Morgan had smashed the womens record for the race finishing, well a long time before me. I was absolutely delighted for her what an incredible run and I hope that our efforts would inspire other women to experience this incredible race.

AND THEN…..

Nearly a week on I’m recovering slowly, I haven’t been plagued by theinsomnia, nightmares or night sweats this year which was a nice surprise but my feet have been very sore from swelling and my toes have both hardly any feeling in them and very painful at the same time, which is odd. The race was an incredible experience and perverse though it sounds it’s been incredibly enriching to be stripped back to life’s basics of moving, eating, sleeping and surviving and that’s it. No job stress to worry about, no bills, no tasks to be done no things to be arranged, stuff to be sorted etc. it was just me and the trail. A race like this is very special and it has been an absolute privilege to be able to share the experience with the other racers and race volunteers. Nowhere else can you find a more intense way to spend time with people and get to the core of who they are and who you are, I find that incredibly liberating and refreshing in a time when people wear so many masks. I now understand why many people feel drawn back time and time again to put themselves through such a harrowing experience. I spent most of the week willing it to be over, talking about never having to go near the pennine way again but in a few short days I miss it intensely but I’m also finding more joy in the everyday and appreciation of the small things in life. Will I be back? Yes but I’d like to join the volunteer team and see the race from the other side and help and encourage others on their journey. Right now I feel no need to race it again but I know sometime in the future I may feel the pull back so never say never – after all what else is there to do in mid-January?!

Over and out for another year from dot 41 thankyou for all the support.

  1. #1 by Sarah on January 13, 2017 - 4:32 pm

    Well I’m recovering from a cold, haven run for weeks due to injury, ate too much at Christmas and the weather has decided to do its usual spine thing – what could possibly go wrong?!!

  2. #2 by Antonio Cardinale on January 13, 2017 - 10:13 pm

    Good luck indeed Sarah , you will need loads of good luck for this year winter Spine Race , I will follow your harsh and brutal but beautiful adventure every day all the way hopefully until the very end up North. You have got to be a courageous and intrepid person , I just could not do it , night and day racing all the way for 7 days , not summer time , but in deep winter , cold and darkness , sleep deprivation , wishing you that the weather condition this year are a bit better without too much deep snow , ice, mud , gale winds and heavy rain on your way to conquest this unique race of this magnitude .

  3. #3 by Matt on January 14, 2017 - 6:25 pm

    Well said Antonio. Good luck Sarah

  4. #4 by Antonio Cardinale on January 16, 2017 - 11:19 am

    Fantastic racing Sarah , you are doing really well , you reached Stanbury and we could have met because yesterday morning I was doing the Stanbury Moors Race on the same footpath that you are doing now, and it was so muddy that I could hardly stand up . Come on Sarah , you are doing great.

  5. #5 by Matt on January 17, 2017 - 7:35 am

    I went out to see Sarah last night. Parked at Malham and ran back down the PW to find her. She was going strongly and moaning a lot – her normal default setting. She was going to sleep for a bit and has now carried on and is on course for Horton in Ribblesdale. Very misty and muddy underfoot. Saw a few other competitors also heading north.
    Good luck Sarah!

  6. #6 by Antonio Cardinale on January 17, 2017 - 11:49 am

    It was good of you Matt to go Malham to encourage our amazing Sarah , and it is great news that she was going well in a very muddy underfoot and in unbelievable slipping and sliding paths . Keep going Sarah .

  7. #7 by Antonio Cardinale on January 17, 2017 - 10:49 pm

    I agree with Matt P. nothing is going to stop Sarah the Cyclops not even a mighty wheelie bin , she is flying heading towards Tan Hill . Fabulous racing so far.

  8. #8 by Matt on January 18, 2017 - 5:38 pm

    Beyond strangely compelling; addictive I’d say. Moving north now from Middleton after a sleep. High force and High Cup Nick here she comes – go Sarah

  9. #9 by Antonio Cardinale on January 18, 2017 - 11:59 pm

    Here she comes in Middleton after 140 miles , Dufton is next on the map , now we are half way and the mind and all body had enough of all this , and it is hard to carry on , loads of runners are already gone home , maybe it is time to rest few hours , then off again towards North, indeed go Sarah , come on , everybody is with you in this huge great and almost impossible adventure .

  10. #10 by Antonio Cardinale on January 19, 2017 - 11:55 pm

    Alston is reached after 170 miles , I just can not believe how far you are gone on the tracking map , it is a fantastic and fearless show of what a human being can achieve , the almost not possible , because the body is engulfed with exhaustion and it will refuse to carry on half a meter any longer , go on Sarah you are so great .

  11. #11 by Antonio Cardinale on January 20, 2017 - 10:16 pm

    It is just extraordinary our Sarah F. has done 217 miles so far and she has reached Bellingham , now not even a blizzard on The Cheviot can stop the cyclope Sarah , go Sarah go.

  12. #12 by Antonio Cardinale on January 21, 2017 - 8:20 pm

    253 miles done , the fearful mountain the Cheviot done , the fabulous cyclopes Sarah F. on her way to the finish line , well done Sarah keep going ..

  13. #13 by Matt on January 21, 2017 - 9:53 pm

    An amazing performance. Sarah should be finishing tonight having put the spine to bed.

  14. #14 by Antonio Cardinale on January 22, 2017 - 8:37 am

    Congratulations to Sarah Fuller for finishing Britain’s most brutal race and maybe I could add on the entire planet . I agree with Matt P. an amazing performance and I would add a superb and unique adventure at the very limit ad maybe beyond a body endurance. It should have been a double really , only a blizzard on the Cheviot stopped Sarah from conquering the race at her first attempt last year . Well done to Sarah Fuller .

  15. #15 by Antonio Cardinale on January 23, 2017 - 9:40 pm

    From the pic of Sarah touching the finish , it shows her delight although the body is filled with exhaustion of any sorts , for finally to complete this unique brutal adventure , and maybe she is thinking at the same moment that it should have been two , if it was not for the heavy blizzard on The Cheviot that blocked her on the way to conquer the Spine not far from the finish last year . Well done indeed to Sarah the conqueror .

  16. #16 by JamilP on January 24, 2017 - 2:18 pm

    Awesome effort. Proud to be your neighbour! Well done.

  17. #17 by Sean O'Halloran on January 27, 2017 - 9:22 pm

    WOW ! What a fantastic report, thank you for sharing your experience with us. Next time maybe a GoPro??
    You are a great inspiration and role model to Erin and Sky and any other young girl (or boy) out there.
    I have enjoyed the past three years of dot watching and so I was pleased to watch your dot finish this year, hope you did not mind me asking a friend to snap your pic as you finished.
    Looking forward to your next challenge, I hear there is a summer version of the Spine.
    Massive well done, enjoy the recovery and hope the feet and body returns to normality soon.

  18. #18 by Liz Rayner on January 28, 2017 - 8:43 pm

    I watched your dot all week and am so thrilled at your achievement. So inspiring. Thanks for such a brilliant race report which I have read three times already! Wishing you a swift recovery from a truly brutal event x

  19. #19 by Antonio Cardinale on January 28, 2017 - 11:31 pm

    I agree with Sean O’. what an extraordinary report by Sarah F. on her great brutal adventure . I just do not know how you have completed 260miles with footpaths like quagmire, I was on the same Pennine way path almost at the same time doing the Stanbury Splash , only 7 miles and all the footpaths were a disaster, mud ..mud ..mud , because all the snow melted and it was hard going until the very last meter …so I really appreciate your fabulous achievement reached after 7 days and nights with missing huge sleep hours . Once again well done Sarah .

  20. #20 by Tamara Weatherhead on February 2, 2017 - 3:53 pm

    Fantastic report. Amazing achievement 🙂

  21. #21 by Peter on February 3, 2017 - 3:20 pm

    Makes you proud to be a “Black and White”

    Well done pink 41. Fantastic achievement.

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