UGB Race Across Scotland – 18th-22nd August 2018

The Green-Tonge Ultra Team

Well this would be my 3rd Ultra GB run with the route now moved North of the Border to the Southern Upland Way. The 212 mile route starts in Portpatrick and heads in a generally northeasterly direction to it’s conclusion in Cockburnspath via a series of hills and dales with Everest equivalent ascent over the route.

This year I would be expertly supported by the ever-patient and long suffering Jane but she would have to handle the crewing alone as my Dad has sprained his ankle in an extreme geocaching accident but was dotwatching from home with my Mum.

Jane and I set off for Portpatrick on Friday 17th August with a car full of expertly packed and catalogued kit with a 12pm rendezvous with Spine Legend, Robert Cullen at Shap on the M6. Despite Robert’s offer of meeting him on the hard shoulder we drove a whole extra mile to collect him from Shap City Centre!!! The journey was pleasant as we exchanged Spine stories. His were stories of success but mine were of what could’ve been. I’m sure Jane found the musing of two ultra-addicts fascinating as she tuned us out to listen to the Radio 5 Live film programme. It was chucking it down for most of the journey but once we had got wet-through checking into the Waterfront Hotel the rain subsided and I rested for the rest of the afternoon.

Portpatrick at Sunset

On the way to a meal arranged by Gareth Boyd at the pub next door to our hotel (Thanks Gareth!!) it was great to see so many familiar faces from the previous iterations of the UGB race. I managed to catch up with two-time winner Neil Rutherford, who was coy about his chances this year in the face of a much stronger field with a great many overseas competitors. There were 158 racers due to be on the start line compared with 60ish the previous year and only 24 in 2016. This is a testament to the great regard in which GB Ultras races are held under the direction of Wayne Drinkwater, Jonathan Kettle and team.  At the meal I had the pleasure of chatting again with Neil, Joao Colaco and his girlfriend Daniela De Sousa from Portugal but nerves were high and the focus was on registration, kit checks and bed. I had to wait until the following morning to meet my running buddy from Oldham – Lady (Anne-Marie) Lord who had had a stressful journey with very little sleep the previous night.

Me & Lady Lord

My main focus for this new route was to arrive at the Finish in good condition. I had no expectations regarding time and position and wanted to run a relaxed and well-executed race where I was able to be alert enough at all times to be able to respond to changing situations. I was also interested in the role that partnerships that play in a race of this length especially when these relationships are advantageous and also how to recognised less helpful alliances ones, such as where I am required to travel faster or slower than sensible.

Lim & David from Singapore

Registration was another great opportunity to catch up with familiar faces from the last two years and also meet new friends. Lim Nghee Huat and his lovely family were present and his son, David was to join him on this year’s edition. Lim had been a great competitor over the last two years and showed that he can be extremely strong over these long distances.  Registration took much longer this year but this was understandable due to the increase in runners and a more thorough/professional process. This was a far cry from the tiny gazebo on Southport Promenade in 2016.

Another kit recheck and then time for some sleep for the last time in a bed for a few days…

Start: Portpatrick Lifeboat Station – Saturday 18th August 0600

Portpatrick to Castle Kennedy (CP1 – 13 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Saturday 1030
Actual Arrival:         Saturday 0840



Ultramarathons have mostly low-key starts and I feel that this is appropriate as this is not a spectator sport and ‘peace and quiet’ often are features of these ‘races’. However, compared with lots of my previous ultra races this was like UTMB as we set off on an immediate climb up the steps leaving Portpatrick in a Northerly directions towards Black Head lighthouse before heading East. It was a hilly start with lots of rises and falls to the beaches and the pace was too fast for an ultra of this distance which I think lots of people realised by later in the day. Good trail and roads were a feature  of the day but I was having issues with running at pace due to problems with my right hamstring. These issues were actually preventing too high a pace which I knew would be foolish at this point.

Ultra walking – and less than 100 metres in

I had various spells of running with other competitors including Jon Ward, who was very strong over the marathon distance but I was aware that I need to use my experience and run my own race. I saw Jane at Castle Kennedy (but no support received) and told her that I expected to be at CP3 Glentrool at 2230, so Jane was going to spend a leisurely morning and afternoon looking around (and sketching) the Castle Kennedy Gardens and off I trotted over a section that I was familiar with from a recce of CP 1-4 several months earlier.

Quick hello…but no support given!!

I must admit I wasn’t 100% comfortable in the early stages of the race and felt that the pace was stressful with people still jostling for position rather than relaxing into the race. I feel that it took several CPs before settling into ultra mode.

Castle Kennedy to New Luce (CP2 – 22 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Saturday 1400
Actual Arrival:         Saturday 1106

I really can’t remember much of this stage at all so let’s say it was fairly unimpressive but a short distance to CP3 at New Luce where I had a 5 min quick refuel and water bottle refill.

New Luce to Glentrool  (CP3 – 45 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Saturday 2230
Actual Arrival:         Saturday 1702


Glentrool – 5.5 hours ahead of schedule

It now felt that we were entering ultra territory and I started to feel fatigued but more comfortable with my pace. There are various episodes of this stage that remain in my mind including a nice chat with Matt Armstrong who had raced UGB2016 and a fleeting meeting with Jozef and Ken, the friendly and speedy Belgians who expressed their surprised that the Brits were not like the boozy lewd bunch they had met on their Spanish holidays. I was pleased to arrived at the distinctive landmark of the Beehive Bothy and Robert Cullen, who we had transported to Portpatrick was leaving as I arrived. I remember being pleased that I wasn’t too far behind Robert as he had lots of experience on these type of races. Soon after the Bothy we were heading down an uncomfortable steep stony path and I exchanged conversation with Robert for a short while. I then ran along with Jozef and Ken for a little longer enjoying their company greatly as I learned of their brewing and industrial cleaning businesses respectively.

I made good progress to towards Bargrennan and was aware that the CP was only a short way up the road but that we had a short loop to complete before arriving. I called Jane to say that I would be very early (approx 1600 rather than 2230) at CP3 but this was met with some consternation as she was in the middle of a sketching session at Castle Kennedy with no tracker access. She started to pack up and I felt guilty about interrupting her ‘free time’. No worries as the short loop seemed to continue forever and took an extra hour than predicted with Jane arriving at CP3 only minutes before me at 1702.

A 45 minute break at CP3 Village Hall was welcome and as much food as possible eaten along with a foot check and personal admin. Robert Cullen arrived and stayed very briefly before pressing on to CP4 before dark.

Jane amuses herself with strange places names en-route
The tracking never stops!!

Glentrool to St John’s Town of Dalry (CP4 – 67 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Sunday 0600
Actual Arrival:         Sunday 0030

I left Glentrool with my Belgian chums and also with one of their colleagues Martino. It was really pleasant in this company as my Flemish is rubbish there was no demand on me chatting and thinking of topics as we made our way towards Loch Trool. I was somewhat confused by Chris Kay’s erratic pacing which had him running at pace and then walking meaning that we often caught him up. This technique obviously works for Chris as he finished many hours in front of me. We also had Rich for company through this stage and I shared my chocolate covered coffee beans with other members of the group with varying degrees of appreciation. It was towards the end of this stage that signalled the start of the rain and resulting very poor visibility and poor  underfoot conditions in woods and then unable to see foot placement on moors and hills into St John’s Town of Dalry. Heavy rain was forecast between 0100 and 0400 and I had a quick chat with Robert Cullen again who said he was struggling, possibly due to completing the Lakeland 100 only a matter of weeks ago. The hall was really noisy and I found it impossible to sleep with so much loud talking. Stayed for 3 hours between 0030-0330 but only able to sleep for 60 mins and woke feeling dreadful.

St John’s Town of Dalry to Sanquhar (CP5 – 93 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Sunday 1530
Actual Arrival:         Sunday 1405

I left the checkpoint just as the sun was rising for a hilly exit from St John’s Town with Gareth Boyd- closely followed by Belgians. It was great to journey with Gareth who was too be my companion for the rest of the race (Spoiler alert!!) One memory of this stage was breaking my no-meat except chicken for two bacon butties at Polgown Farm whilst we fought off a couple of curious chickens.

CP 5 – Sanquhar Leisure Centre
Gorgeous Brynje!!
Gorgeous Pizza!!

Day of walking and exchanging tales with Gareth – great company and easy chat but at a good pace and with purpose towards Sanquhar with dreams and pizza and Jane actually managed to source. This was a highlight of the race and a testament to Jane’s commitment to the ultra cause that she was able to source pizza on a Sunday afternoon in Sanquhar. This pizza was shared with the other runners passing at this point and greatly appreciated.

Jane noticed cut on leg and persuaded me to clean this as much as possible in the Leisure Centre. Following this 30 min stop I felt rejuvenated but then left without my poles – Jane needed to catch us up with poles in the car by Scotlands Oldest Post Office for a promised tough stage.

Sanquhar to Wanlockhead (CP6 – 101 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Sunday 1900
Actual Arrival:         Sunday 1745


The Fallen of Wanlockhead


More gratuitous Brynje shots!!

Scotland belongs to the sheep!!! Beautiful empty scooped valleys with no buildings apart from circular sheepfolds and  This was my favourite stage albeit with lots of climbing to Wanlockhead (Scotland’s Highest Village) and Home of the Beam Engine and more importantly food and a hot radiator. A hilly but short climb into Wanlockhead for more food.


Wanlockhead to Beattock (CP7 – 121 miles)

Predicted Arrival:   Monday 0330
Actual Arrival:         Monday 0245


Lowther Hill 


Gareth & Graham 

Walking with Graham Paton (106) and Gareth to the Golf Ball and then some road before painful descents and long ascents before reaching halfway point prior to interminable hill after the reservoir and long awaited right turn before long wet descent into forest. This was the most difficult section albeit falling just after the halfway point of the race.

We thought that the forest section was only 2 miles but more like 6 miles and took 2.5 hours with about 30 falls into mud. Hallucinations of lights and people with torches and episodes of shouting out to imaginary people marked the end of this stage. We arrived on the edge of our mental resources but after food and 2 hours sleep in the brightly lit toilet corridor at CP with buff over eyes and ear plugs felt I felt rejuvenated but Graham was not ready to leave the CP so we had to sadly leave him behind.



Beattock to St Mary’s Loch (CP8 – 143 miles)

Predicted Arrival:     Monday 1100
Actual Arrival:           Monday 1350

Gareth and I pressing on…


Steven, me & Gareth … not sure where Gordon is??
Beautiful St Mary’s Loch
A soggy CP8

Gareth and I had 45 mins to get things together and set off for St Mary’s Loch. Even more longer climbs and scenic sections. On this section we began to keep meeting Steven Braithwaite (No 103) and Gordon MacCulloch (No 53) unaware that our paths would continue to cross for most of the rest of the race. We met Jane at the cafe at St Mary’s Loch as the rain started just before closing and had a very welcome Chicken Burger, Chips and 2 x coke with Jane waiting on the 4 of us. Thanks for all your patience Jane!!!

St Mary’s Loch to Fairnilee Fishing Hut (CP9 – 164 miles)

Predicted Arrival:     Monday 1830
Actual Arrival:           Tuesday 0045

Planned on longer rest as really tired after wet entrance In the dark and tough stage at the end after climb from Traquair where we had met Jane and my friends Daniel and Rachel with food and good wishes and then the rain started on the long climb and rocky section through the night. Gareth and I worked together in the dark on this section. Gareth was struggling with visibility due to his glasses and I said that I was happy to lead until the CP but this required more concentration than I was able to muster. We met runners in various stages of disrepair but made good progress in the end into the CP and was rewarded with a late night visit from Jane with home cooked fish and chips from Daniel & Rachel albeit cold due to our delayed arrival. Jane compared the scene at CP9 as reminiscent of a Victorian Opium Flophouse with competitiors in various states of consciousness. After eating, we decided that as finishing was the priority rather than position that we would treat ourselves to 4 hours sleep!! I was rudely awoken on a deflated air bed with Gareth informing me that that we would be setting off at 0530 for the final pushes so ate porridge and drank tea as I hauled my deteriorating body into action.

A Victorian Flophouse!!


A treat for a shattered runner – Thanks Daniel, Rachel and Jane!

Fairnilee Fishing Hut to Lauder (CP10 – 182 miles)


Predicted Arrival:       Tuesday 0100
Actual Arrival:             Tuesday 1150

The 3 Stooges!!
Happy Jozef and Ken

Gareth and I set off in the company of Gordon and Steven with a plan to get the final  60 miles of this route polished off by midnight. We set off in bright mood at 0530 and our team of 4 made for easy early miles. Lots of discussion regarding film stars who would ‘benefit from’ the attention of 4 forty-somethings who hadn’t washed for 3 days and could only muster a reasonably brisk walk. Unfortunately, we had to part company with Gordon (or rather Steve dumped him!!! 🙂 due to having sore feet) I enjoyed this section, especially the thrill of seeing some ‘proper’ people and civilisation in the form of Galashiels. We saw real buildings and a care home whose staff waved as we passed by their premises without the offer of a place.

Macaroni Cheese and Scotch Pies….mmmm!!
Hungry Ken from Belgium with his 5 burgers from McDs

After a pleasant out and back section to Melrose Chain Bridge and more ‘witty banter’ with the three of us in good condition as we reached Lauder Public Hall where Jane put Mrs Lovett to shame as she provide a wide selection of hearty pies including Scotch Pies, Macaroni Cheese Pie and Caramel Slices whilst the Belgians order 5 McDonalds burgers each. We spent 40 minutes eating as much as possible before setting off again but Gordon had still not appeared at the CP. We had been promised some easier stages in the 2nd half of the race but they never seemed to appear.


Lauder to Longformacus (CP11 – 197 miles)

Predicted Arrival:        Tuesday 0630
Actual Arrival:              Tuesday 1810


Approaching Longformacus with Jonathan Rees (No 95)


After a few initial climbs towards the open moors we had a clear days walking on the high moors and I found myself at a the head of group of 6 runners and enjoyed the solitude for about 3 hours on the tops. At this stage 2 of the Belgians (Ken and Jozef) almost sprinted past us and into the distance in no time. I could see them on the far horizon for about 90 mins and they provided an indicator of the days route. It was great to meet up with Jonathan Rees (No 95) and Richard James (129) for the latter part of the day as we stopped for a regroup at Rutherford’s Cairn before heading down to Watch Water Resrvoir where it looked like Jane was parked but I couldn’t get my hopes up until I was sure that it was her. Jane fed and watered us once more and gave all the group encouragement informing us that the Belgians had ruin past her some time earlier.

The run into downtown Longformacus took an age but we had agreed on a 30 min break before pressing. The food at this station was very sparse but we were able to use Jane’s supplies and I instructed Jane to wake me in 8 minutes but was unable to get any sleep due to the attentions of 2 very affectionate dogs!! My right calf started to sting and was swollen but I thought that this was purely down to a bite that I had received in the last mile and I asked the medics for antihistamine and pressed on to the finish.

Longformacus to Cockburnspath (CP12/Finish – 214 miles)

Predicted Arrival:        Tuesday 1400
Actual Arrival:              Wednesday 0300

Leaving the last CP – only 17 miles to go!!
Trail out of Longformacus

Once again the departure from a CP involved a huge hill but we didn’t care now as we were heading to the final checkpoint. I aimed to try to break 90 hours for the race now meaning that we needed to keep a good pace as the terrain was the easiest in the race so far as we headed towards Abbey St Bathan and then down towards Blackburn Mills. It was at this stage that I noticed that Jonathan was becoming less coherent as we had increased the pace  and started to stumble and ask to sit more. I explained to Gareth and Steve that I was concerned about his welfare but was also concerned about Richard struggling with the pace. We decided that we would take the lead and observe and Gareth took responsibility for Richard and I tracked back to Steve who was with Jonathan. It was obvious that Jonathan was struggling with the onset of hypothermia and wasn’t able to sustain an adequate pace to maintain his body heat. I took the decision that we should head back to the road we had just crossed and get Jonathan in his bivvy bag. I called Jane at the finish and she passed me onto the medics who arrived in 20 minutes and were able to look after Jonathan leaving Steve and I to make our way towards the finish. I felt sorry for Jonathan as he’d had a good race but it was not safe to continue and he would no longer receive his buckle albeit for 7 miles.

Jane tracking at the finish!!

Steve and I had seized up in the 90 mins that we had lost at this point and I noticed blisters starting on my right inside calf but stated to the medic that I would get these attended to at the finish. We were becoming increasingly tired on entering Penmanshiels Woods and followed the GPX track rather than SUW signs leading to a wasted 1 mile and a very irritated Steve, who struggled to let go of this error in the light of extreme fatigue. The mistake was corrected and we travelled through Pease Woods with relative ease before getting lost looking for a non-existent fingerpost from a caravan park onto the coastline, which was much higher up the hill than the GPX indicated. Once on the coast, we had no view of the promised sea-view but made out way around the headland before getting confused at the route into the finish much to both Steve and mine’s frustration (more Steve than me). Eventually, we saw the long-suffering Jane waiting on the corner to guide us the final 200 metres into the finish.

Mission Accomplished – 90h 18m


Well done Steve!!!

I felt in control and relieved to finish my  3rd UGB race becoming the only person to have 3 buckles (2 gold and silver this time) in a time of 91 hours and 18 mins. As I stated, this race was not about time or position but executing a controlled adaoatable race and I was pleased. It was a shame not to have finished with Gareth Boyd, as we had spent so long together but I think that helping a fellow competitor was more useful and it had been great to spend time with Steve too.

A trio of UGB buckles!!

Once I had finished it became apparent that the swelling in my right calf had increased and blisters had started to form with a possible diagnosis of Giant Hogweed Rash, which was duly dressed by the medics.

214 mile rash!!

The aftermath


The following day, I consulted the GP who in turn sent me to Edinburgh Infirmary A&E were I was diagnosed with cellulitis and was on IV antibiotics for 2 days as an outpatient. 7 days later and I am still recovering but feeling much brighter and thinking about my next adventure!!!

Thanks to Jane for all her love, support and massive patience whilst driving around Scotland to help me fulfil my running ambitions. Also for all the photos and social media updates. You’re a star!!!! xxxxxxxx


My Spine Adventure 2018


In January 2017, I volunteered on the Montane Spine Safety Team for the Spine Challenger (108 ‘fun’ run along the Pennine Way) and the full 268 mile Spine Race. As a marathon runner of many years with a reasonable PB (3:04 London 2012) I had grown tired of worsening PBs and decided that the only way to address this situation was to start racing longer.

The idea of ‘journeying’ really appeals to me in terms of getting somewhere meaningful under my own steam. Therefore, in 2016 I signed up for the innaugural Ultra Great Britain 200 mile run along the Transpennine Trail from Southport to Hornsea organised by GB Ultras and the indefatigable RD Wayne Drinkwater, who takes a keen personal interest in all his racers achieving their objectives. I was woefully underprepared for this race but still finished in 10th position (actually next to last but who needs to know that??) in 84 hours and 55 mins. Lots of lessons learnt regarding nutrition, pacing and coping with sleep deprivation – or how to give in and sleep loads!!

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UGB200 2017

I had been bitten by the very long race bug. I actually prefer over 50 mile events now.  So, in 2017 I decided to see how much I had learnt and repeat the UGB200 race in August 2017 albeit over the same, fairly dull route and beat my 2016 time by 15 hours recording a finish time of 69 hours and some minutes!!! This improvement was achieved by  better nutrition and a structured sleep strategy (2 x 90 mins sleeps in the race) and more steady pacing/walking especially for the 2nd 100 miles. All this was a precursor for the big one… I received a free place from the Spine Race organisers in a ballot for volunteers from 2016 race. As places for the race are not cheap (approx £800 but good value for money for a 7 day race)  I decided that I should go the whole hog and enter the 268 mile race!

Navigation Prep

Navigation was a new racing concept for me having been a road runner for many years and completing many of the big city marathons  as I could always follow a few thousand runners in front of me. However, obviously the Spine created a whole different challenge but I was also excited about learning a new skill.

I signed up for all the Spine courses offered by Stu Westfield from Ranger Expeditions. These courses are highly recommended for the new navigator and Stu has huge experience of teaching hill skills and navigation – highly recommended!!! Another great plus on attending these courses is the time spent with other virgin Spiners. I am thrilled to have met some great people as a result of these courses including Cass Chisholm, Barnaby Page and Malcolm Hicks who have now also become personal friends as we have continued on our Spine journey…more later of this bunch!!

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Cass, Paul Gale, Barnaby & Malcolm

I attended all three of Stu’s sessions (Beginner, Advanced and Masterclass) and felt much more prepared for time on the hills and look forward to exploring new places in future. I also attended the Official Spine Weekend at Hebden Hey where I met more Spiners and established members of the Spine family and completed the 47 mile Mary Townley Loop mainly in the company of Gordon Rowan who was to do his first ultra on that day and go on to successful completion of the Spine Challenger in January. Thanks for the company Rowan.

Also, as part of my navigation prep, I undertook the onerous but satisfying job of laminating my maps and splitting the route into stages between checkpoints. This became a labour of love and I am justifiably proud of the end product a mix between the A to Z (OS) maps and Stuart Grieg’s book on the Pennine Way annotated with Ian Bowles notes on dining/bothy experiences and opening times along the route. 

Kit Choices

Good grief…the kit!!! I recently read a blog from Ian Bowles, Spine Veteran who said that most of the finishers of the Spine already own most of the kit before entering…well I owned nothing, so I took that as a omen!! However, I learnt loads and spent even more acquiring the 30 items that make up the mandatory Spine Kit checklist

Kit Chaos – How is all this going to fit in my bag??

I’m not going to list all the kit that I bought and certainly not how much was spent on kit but I certainly had fun choosing and waiting for multiple deliveries from an online-store with dubious HR and Tax practices but ever-so convenient…

Once my kit was purchased and started to swamp the house it was time to see if it would all fit into a massive Mountain Equipment Resupply Bag and OMM 32 litre backpack. This challenge would see me packing and repacking and repacking again for the whole week prior to leaving for Edale. Of particular difficulty was fitting spare kit into the huge resupply bag and keeping to under 20kg but I managed to weigh in at 19.9kg with a backpack of 7.8kg without water, to give a carrying weight of just under 9kg. I was really surprised to see the tiny size of some racers packs both at registration and also whilst doing kit checks myself later in the race at CP5 (Bellingham) but also I was informed that one runner had a backpack approaching 20kg at Kitcheck!!!!

I also packed a small pack to collect at each CP which had the map for the next section, new batteries, new contact lenses, new socks and hill food so that the previous pack could be replaced as easily as possible without forgetting essentials.

Faff reduction


I think it is worth mentioning footwear and socks at this point – or ‘foot-systems’ as they seem to be called when you spend a small fortune. I decided that I would definitely be going for comfort rather than speed and also wanted to aim for dry feet as my friend  and fellow UGB200 runner/winner, Neil Rutherford had advised me that feet problems were the main reasons for DNFs.

I decided on the following ‘foot systems’ all worn with Dexshell WP socks and sock liners:

  • Salomon Speedcross 4 – to start the race in (never used wanted more support
  • Hoka Hi Tor Boots (great for running and walking) – worn for Day 1 – no problems
  • Salomon D4 GTX boots  – worn for Day 2 – great for using in v.wet/submerged conditions
  • Hoka Tor Mid Speed 2 WP boots (2 sizes too big to allow for swelling) – only able to wear after the race – see report later (spoiler alert!!)

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I must take this opportunity to thank Dave Emmanuel and Bryan Lawton from Up & Running Oldham for supplying me with the Hoka Tor Mid Speed 2 WP boots  and sorry that they did not get worn during this race but I am looking forward to getting them muddy very soon. I know that two time Spine finisher, Stephen Brown swears by these shoes and has completed the last 3 Spine Races wearing these Hoka shoes!!!


I order shedloads of Expedition Meals  but I must admit that I can’t manage to get through a full one as they seem a far cry from ‘real food’ and as such I think I lack calorific intake in a race. Certainly the ones that are supposed to look like mush (rice pudding/porridge/granola) fare better than the more optimistic sounding veg chilli and sweet and sour chicken. I will continue to try to acclimatise to this type of nutrition as the packs I have last the next 30 years!

I also added Quakers ‘Porridge-to-Go’ bars, Haribo (Fangtatstic) and also a spicy nut/snack mix. All in all I managed to meet the 3000kcal per day requirement but it was a close call and with hindsight relied too much on the dried meals which then required stopping, boiling water and cooking rather than having food on the go that I actually looked forward to. Lesson learnt for 2019.

Mental Prep

I had been warned/advised that the Spine race was more a mental than physical challenge and as such thought myself fairly strong being able to push through pain and improving regarding sleep deprivation.

Fiona Beddoes-Jones from Cognitive Fitness Consultancy provided a valuable session at the Spine Training Weekend at Hebden Hey (AKA CP1) looking at mental resilience and  particularly interesting concepts were ‘why do you want to finish’ and also the concept of acceptance and forgiveness especially relating to navigational issues. Thanks Fiona!!

I had the opportunity to chat to Borja Martinez Gonzalez in my stint at CP5 during the race and will be really interested to hear about the results of his PhD study looking at sleep deprivation in the Spine Race. Any hints on avoiding sleep monsters especially over multi-day/night events would be welcome.


My Spine recess started, appropriately with a short excursion from Edale to Kinder Downfall and back in the company of Spine veteran Stephen Brown who was full of really useful advice and queried my preparation of 50-100 mile ultras and 24 hour races. Stephen was the first of many people to remind me that the Spine Race is so different from an ultra running event and as he had finished it twice before I guess I needed to pay attention. He also mentioned that I needed to start buying and practicing with any race kit asap.

Stephen & I at the foot of Jacob’s Ladder

I undertook several recces alone as I wanted to be prepared for being alone for long periods of the race. One particularly enjoyable one was a trek from Edale to my home village of Greenfield on a lovely summer’s day. Beautiful weather and too hot for much running – not ideal Spine prep.

Another enjoyable recce was the trek across Heptonstall Moor towards Top Withins bothy to sleep overnight and then return back in the morning. My main concern was bumping into another nutter in the bothy at 0100 when I arrived. This was my first experience of bivvying/bothying and I was surprised at how warm and cosy my new PHD Minim 300 bag and Thermarest roll mat were in these conditions. Another box ticked and I felt like it had been a useful experience.

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Top Withins Bothy

Several night time wild-camping trips later and I was beginning to enjoy the freedom and sense of adventure that these type of trips affords. I tried to get out on long walks/wild camping as often as possible.

My Spine Training friends Cass and Malcolm had a trip up North to have a 3 day recce with B&B stops and covered Edale to Hedben and then Gargrave to Hawes. Barnaby and I were not free to join them so arrange our own recce in early Dec with me joining Barnaby for an enjoyable couple of days journeying from Hebden to Margrave in great wintry sub zero temperatures and then Malham to Malham Tarn in glorious sunshine but still very cold.

Approaching Malham Cove
Minus 14 degrees! Brrrr!!!

This trip was a great couple of days with one overnight at Top Withins and the Mason’s Arms in Gargrave – where we just arrived in time for food and the weekly quiz. Again lots of useful info was acquired and Baranaby realised that he didn’t have to carry his entire possessions on his bag and to minimise the amount of kit-faffing that he does en route – good grief, can that guy faff!!! Really enjoyed the short Malham to Malham Tarn section with really surreal and beautiful views over the limestone pavement.

Malham Cove

A few more night walking experiences and a load more kit buying and I was almost Spine ready … or was I??


In the weeks, and months prior to the race on 14th January the Spine was all pervasive and Jane, my wife had to endure my droning on about Spine-this and Spine-that. The communications with the rest of my Spine mates (now known as the Green Gang – after the colour of kit rather than my surname) were a great source of fun, advice and general banter. The week prior to the race was consumed by packing and repacking and a fair deal of panicking too!!

Malcolm & Cass – Cass is the the one without the beard

On the 13th January 2018 at 0800, Cass set off on the 108 mile Spine Challenger event, supported at the start by Malcolm and fared excellently throughout the event finishing 2nd lady in a very impressive time of 35 hours 38 mins 20 secs – setting a very high bar for Malcolm, Barnaby and I to reach once our race set off 24 hours later

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Jane and I, arrived in Edale on Sat 13th Jan at 0955 keen to get into the kit check queue to prevent long waiting times. All went smoothly, with my kit check being 3 random items and GPS check undertaken by Caroline McCann who had been so useful on the training weekends. All done!  Jane and I hung around with Malcolm in the Ramblers Inn with an increasing number of Spiners including Pavel and Eugeni…but still no Barnaby who sent us a message saying that he was buying a new drop-bag as the previous one was not large enough.

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We went to Stu Westfield’s Spine Masterclass but I must admit my mind was preoccupied  with tomorrow’s event. I can’t remember a great deal about the rest of the day but thankfully managed a good night’s sleep before waking at 0600 on race day…but still no Barnaby!!!


Malcolm and I made our way to the start line for 0745 … still no Barnaby …. 0750 …. nope …. 0755 … up he trots,  Barnaby ‘Faffmeister’ Page, as cool as a cucumber and ready to start the race after a few hiccups pre-race with the journey and last minute kit issues.

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As discussed over the last few days the three of us stuck together until the foot of Jacob’s Ladder when I stopped to take my jacket off and then that was the last I saw of Malcolm and gave Barnaby a break from my incessant wittering. However, their ‘loss’ was Stephen Brown’s gain as we met for the first time since my first recce and I continue to be impressed by Stephen’s unflappable and stable demeanour. Stephen and I chatted for a while and then I decided that I would stop to wipe the sweat from my glasses when the right lens fell out. Bloody marvellous!!! I had contact lenses in my pocket but needed a mirror to fit them. Think quickly!! I guessed that the best solution would be to walk/run the next 7 miles ‘blind’ until Snake Pass and then use a vehicle wing mirror to fit the lens. The next 7 miles were pretty miserable not being able to see out of either eye and just following runners in front to make sure that I didn’t get lost. Basically, I made all the mistakes that Stu Westfield and Caroline McCann had warned us about such as not correcting problems early and following other people. Doh!! However, all improved at Bleaklow where I fitted my lenses and Barnaby and I met up once again for one of several periods in the race.

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Bleakow Head on a sunnier day

I had been surprised when people said that they had got lost on Bleaklow but sure enough I became confused when I encountered a plethora of runners in all directions as they were running the Trigger Marsden to Edale fell race and I once again followed the wrong people until I found myself running in the opposite direction to the rest of the Spine Racers. With about 30 minutes lost I practiced the acceptance and forgiveness concept that Fiona had reinforced helped by the fact that, to his surprise, I caught Barnaby up again on the descent to Torside although I had left him behind 30 mins previously.

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Torside Clough

A steep but uneventful descent brought us to the welcome MRT checkpoint at Torside where I met Jane for the first time. She had hoped to meet me at Snake Pass but a puncture had prevented that and it was great to see her here with Barnaby arriving shortly after me. Tony Brown and his family also made an appearance here and it was great to have some support on the route. After a short stop we crossed the reservoir to make our way up towards the climb to Laddow Rocks and then Black Hill followed by an easy run walk towards the Isle of Skye Road where I knew my Dad would be waiting to offer encouragement, but obviously not support!!! The temperature was dropping significantly and it was no place to hang around especially as the light was fading.

Me and Barnaby at Laddow Rocks

I was aware that I wanted to make as much progress down the easy section by the side of Wessenden Reservoirs and needed to switch my head torch on for the first time crossing the clough at the bottom of the reservoir before starting the long path towards Standedge. I was alone for all this session but really pleased with my pace and effort level and felt that I could continue indefinitely at this pace of less than 20 min/mile. I was pleased to see some head torches near Brunclough Reservoir and recognised the voice of a friend Billy Hughes but fell off the path at the same time snapping one of my Black Diamond Distance Z walking poles. I was annoyed with this lack of concentration but could use the shortened pole until I reached my drop bag at CP1. I was pleased to see another mate, Paul Simpson at the car park and he told me that they had curtailed their meal at a local Indian Restaurant to come and cheer me on.

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Castleshaw Moor looked nothing like this in the pitch black (Photo: Phil Norton Photography)

It was sub zero at this point so I was keen to keep moving and made my way over the hills above Castleshaw Reservoirs. It was whilst navigating over this area, which I know well that I met Carlos Climent who I was really happy to spend many hours with over the next day. It was great to meet him and although I do not speak any Spanish, Carlos was very patient and we managed to communicate when needed. I assisted Carlos with some of the navigation towards Windy Hill and the M62 where we got the last hamburgers at Moors Snacks – not quite the hot snack I had been looking forward to but I was not fussy at this point. I also managed to see my parents for the final time at this point.

Carlos and me at CP5

Carlos and I made good progress over Blackstone Edge and a brief stop at The White House before making our way along the reservoirs towards Stoodley Pike. We maintained a decent pace and managed to meet up with a large group of 5 or 6 racers including established Spiners Dave Lee and Al Pepper. We continued with this group until we reached the Pike as the weather deteriorated and we were able to change  into waterproof clothes to make the slippery descent through Callis Wood and the main raid. No dramas and we were ready to start the miserable climb up to CP1. Knowing this section well, I know about the cobbles, mud and nasty descent into Hebden.

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A Spiner crossing Blackstone Edge before I got there Photo: Bob Smith/grough

We arrived at CP1 at 0030 decided on 0300 wake up to leave at 0400 – left at 0415 with Carlos. I met Barnaby as I was leaving CP1 and he had just arrived having had a tough night in worsening weather and had decided to withdraw from the race. Carlos and I  were approached by Robin Kinsbergen from the Netherlands who enquired about whether we wanted to travel together. We were more than happy to have Robin’s company and made good progress across an increasingly soggy and very dark Heptonstall Moor. I was very familiar with this sections and could easily lead the navigation towards Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and Top Withens bothy.

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The weather deteriorated further as we were arriving at the bothy and I suggested that we ate here but Carlos and Robin were keen to get to Ponden Cafe about 30 mins away so we pressed on as daylight broke. On arriving at Ponden Cafe we were relieved to be in a dry and warm environment and was looking forward to the promised sausage and bacon butties. I have never been so disappointed with the breakfast being stone cold having been prepared the previous night and requests to heat it up fell on deaf ears. Carlos and Robin had the sense to order hot soup but I made the mistake of skipping this and therefore my energy levels dipped later earlier than my Spine companions.

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Rain, rain and more rain on Ickornshaw Moor 

The underfoot conditions around Ponden Reservoir were OK as we walked over tarmac but they quickly deteriorated as we crossed Ickornshaw Moor into rivers, puddles, bogs and more rivers. I was really pleased that my combination of Dexshell socks, liners and Salomon D4 Goretex Boots kept my feet dry and toasty but it was still a miserable section before a fairly dull section into Cowling. By this time I could feel my energy dipping slightly and was looking forward to the promised delights of the Hare & Hounds at Lothersdale. Just before getting to Lothersdale there was an innocuous river to cross and using all my best river-crossing techniques learnt from Stu Westfield I set out to cross the fast flowing but shallow river. First stepped my right foot on an inviting stone which was slippery and fell heavily onto the right side of my chest onto my water bottle. Bugger!!Really sore at this point but only 30 mins until the pub and was sure that I was only winded and it would ease once at the pub. To add insult to injury, once we got to the pub that they could offer was flapjack and crisps. Bugger & Bugger again!!! It was tricky to get my rucksack on and off at this point but surely it would ease.

After the disappointing pub break we pressed on over various hills and dales towards Thornton in Craven where I mentioned to Carlos and Robin that I was starting to experience increased pain in my ribs and that I was going to ease off the pace. After some discussion, Carlos and Robin agreed that they would travel together and I wished them well as they wanted to get to Hawes in one go but my ambition was initially to get to PyG cafe and then revised to Malham Tarn (CP1.5) and camp there for the night. Once they had left the pain in my ribs increased and eventually at the Double Arched Bridge I stopped to try to get my painkillers but they were in my rucksack which I was struggling to get off my back without increasing the pain.

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Double Arched Bridge in East Marton – The Bridge of Spine Doom!!!

I received phone calls from Wayne Drinkwater and Cass Chisholm who were both watching the tracker and saw that I had stopped and I then said I would call my parents who were waiting to see me in Gargrave (approx 3 miles away). I phoned race HQ and they stated that there were no medics in the area and that I would need to get to Malham Tarn. I realised at this point that my race was over and dejectedly made my way to the Cross Keys Inn in East Marton to call my parents to collect me. So my race stopped with a whimper and lack of ceremony but the pain in my ribs would have prevented a reasonable performance and I was now moving so slowly that my temperature was dropping markedly leading to increased rib pain as I shivered. This really wasn’t the plan!! What a rubbish end to the race I had planned so long for and spent so much time, money and energy on! I felt numb…

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The End!!


So my Spine Race 2018 was over almost before it began … unlike this blog!! I discussed the next step with my parents outside the Cross Keys Inn and reluctantly pressed the SOS button to inform Race HQ of my intention to leave the race. I was anxious that I wanted to still be involved in the race and not to return home immediately as that would’ve made me a bigger failure. So after a phone call to my wife, Jane I decided to volunteer on the Race for the rest of the week to cushion the blow and allow me to exit the Spine Bubble gradually.

I spoke to Stu Westfield and he suggested that I got to Hawes, via my parents long round trip from Oldham where I could get some sleep and my resupply bag and then my role for the rest of the week would be established.

On the Tuesday morning I was assigned to Lindley Chambers’ Spine Safety Team (SST) and headed off to Middleton (CP3) with Mike from Logistics and then moved onto Alston (CP4) via a very snowy drive courtesy of Paul Reeve. I was becoming frustrated at the lack of activity on these teams as, of necessity, the SSTs have to wait for incidents to happen and it was evident that due to my rib pain that I would be unable to help on the hill. I did walk a few runners into CP4 at Alston including Tom Hollins who had obviously exerted himself on Cross Fell and entered the CP in a depleted state but soon recovered after food.

The next morning we made another snowy trip to Bellingham (CP5) where I stayed until the end of the race. On arrival at CP5 news soon arrived that Eoin Keith (Race Leader) had just been back to CP to collect his snowshoes to traverse the Cheviots and Pavel Paloncy was now in the lead. Soon after this news, Eoin returned to CP5 having pulled out of the race to prevent a ‘safety concern’ on the Cheviots and I spent a pleasant afternoon chatting with Eoin about the Spine and other races having previously met him when he retired at CP4 in 2017. Bizarrely, he retired in 2017 with exactly the same injury as I had this year. The offending article for him had been his GPS unit rather than a hard water bottle but the result was the same

Simon Gfeller
John Knapp


Tom Hollins

Later that day, the race was stopped overnight due to Tom Hollins arrived and so did Simon Gfeller and John Knapp, so we had 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed racers resting until the race started the following morning after a full kit check. Unfortunately, Tom had lost his goggles and borrowed mine albeit receiving a 3-hour time penalty in the process. The three racers agreed to travel across the Cheviots together for safety but within 60 mins Tom had withdrawn with a foot injury and was out of the race allowing Simon and John to chase down Pavel who also had a 3 hour time penalty for GPS infringement at Byrness. The race was on!!

I had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with both Tom and Eoin and enjoyed hearing their tales and also was impressed with the good grace with which they took the end of their races.

I spent the rest of the next 2 days welcoming runners to CP5 in various stages of fatigue but they all took the full kit check as a necessary part of a resposible race and I reassured racers that it was like their Mum or Dad checking that they had everything for a day at school or work. Not sure that helped in the early hours but a little humour goes a long way. The kit checking process proved very educational for me and an interesting finding was that I only checked 2 x Jetboils with all other racers going minimal and not a single tent but bivvies and e-bivvies. Some racers were skirting on the edge of regulations and I would not want to have been them if the conditions deteriorated and they had to rely on the lightweight kit

It was great to meet all the racers and volunteers at CP5 and it certainly helped me come down after my shortened Spine experience

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Post Race Thoughts

Will I be back? Immediately it was a definite ‘no’ but as time passes and I reflect on my race I know that I have the determination to have another crack at the Spine. Perhaps, I need to train in the hills more and become resilient to multiday racing. 268 miles is a hell of a long way but more importantly 6-7 days is a really long time to be ‘racing’ or ‘journeying’ or whatever you want to call it.

What would I do differently?

  • More food, more regularly from the start
  • Make sure that any niggles (e.g. glasses) are sorted immediately the problem occurs
  • Don’t fall over and keep concentrating, even when the going looks easy
  • Use soft flasks rather than water bottles
  • Don’t mount GPS (or anything else) over the ribs
  • Concnterate on long spells in the hills rather than kit buying
  • Make sure that I am organised at CPs but no need to rush
  • Make a sleep plan and aim for a finish rather than any time
  • Be prepared to walk, for a long time…on your own

Thanks…and finally!!

Well done on getting this far. The blog is only my thoughts and has been cathartic to help me getting my thoughts together. Hopefully, some of it has been useful.

Before I stop waffling on I would like to make the following thanks:

  • To all the Spine Family – racers, CP staff, SST and others – you did an amazing job in crazy sleep deprived conditions!! Well done
  • To the Green Gang – you inspire, amuse and bewilder me in equal measure with your tenacity, craziness and good nature.
    • BP – You’ll be back! Faffmeister!!
    • CC – You proved that you should be doing the full Spine in 2019.
    • MH – Amazing effort for a man of your age and stature!! ;-
  • To Susan & Frank Green, my parents – thanks for not persuading me away from these adventures and coming to Wessenden, Gargrave and the lift to Haw
  • To Anne-Marie – Glad you enjoyed the experience of the Spine and I am sure you’ll be on the start line very soon. Thanks for the lift home
  • To Jane for putting up with me being a ‘missing link’ and being worried whilst I am having adventures. I love you xx