(Above image by Ben Lumley Photography)
During the Spine Challenger I kept myself entertained at times by composing an A – Z guide to the Spine Race so, for a bit of fun, here is the complete guide:
A is for… Adventure
More expedition than running race, every year is different and you need to be prepared to deal with everything the Spine throws at you!
B is for… Bogs
A common feature of the terrain, ranging from shallow and sloppy to person-swallowing bottomless pits. Approach with care!
C is for… Checkpoints
You only get one of these roughly every 50 miles so make the most of them! Thankfully they are beacons of light, warmth and good food, which may or may not sustain you through the long hours to the next one…
D is for… Dot Watching
Via the trackers fitted to all participants by Open Tracking, competitors are supported and urged on by a small army of complete strangers watching small dots move slowly up a map of the UK from the comfort of their living rooms.
E is for… Eating
It requires a lot of calories to traverse the Pennine Way in winter, and that means a lot more eating than in your standard ultra-marathon, with favoured choices including burgers, pies and full English breakfasts!
F is for… Friendships
Facing adversity together speeds up human interaction tenfold and new acquaintances feel like old friends after a few hours spent together during the Spine.
G is for… GPS
The necessity of this is much debated pre-race, but few racers don’t end up thankful to be carrying a GPS at some point during the long hours of darkness and poor visibility.
H is for… Hypothermia
A big threat on the Spine, thanks to exposure to the cold and generally wet conditions. It’s not a race to undertake lightly.
I is for… Isolation
The high moors of the Pennine Way are some of the wildest remaining places in the UK; lonely and desolate, but also beautiful and inspiring.
J is for… January
It’s winter, it’s the Pennines, it’s a challenge!
K is for… Kit
And lots of it! There are few other UK races that require you to carry sleeping bag, stove and mini crampons, or that check you are carrying enough paracetamol at the start!
L is for… Locals
The Pennine Way may be remote, but from pubs and cafés (my favourites were the Hare and Hounds at Lothersdale and Pen-y-Ghent café in Horton), to individual farmers and residents, most of the local communities do their best to make the Spine Race very welcome.
M is for… Mountain Rescue
Providing such invaluable support to the Spine that they have been rewarded with their own race (the Mountain Rescue Team Challenger, setting off an hour after the Spine Challenger). An absolute godsend, particularly for the remote first 50 miles.
N is for… Night-time
With 15 or 16 hours of darkness in every 24, being able to operate in the dark is crucial (as is a good headtorch)!
O is for… OS Maps
The Pennine Way is not straightforward to follow, with faint and sometimes non-existent paths and infrequent signage. Darkness, wild weather and often poor visibility mean that you need to be a confident navigator in all conditions.
P is for… Pennine Way
Of course! 268 miles of rough, wild terrain, the Pennine Way has a brutal character all of her own.
Q is for… Quagmire
When it’s not bogs, it is mud. The lowland sections of the route pass through many areas of extensive sheep and cattle farming and the fields can be a little… unpleasant!
R is for… Regulars
The Spine Races are somewhat addictive and many come back year after year, either to race themselves or as volunteers helping others achieve their goals.
S is for… Sleep
Not something you get a lot of on the Spine! The clock never stops ticking, so racers survive on a snatched hour here and there, with massive cumulative sleep deprivation.
T is for… Toilets
Only on the Spine do public toilets become a luxury venue for a meal or a nap…
U is for… Unshakeable
Much of the battle on these races is mental and an unshakeable resolve is needed to reach the finish line.
V is for… Volunteers
The Spine family of volunteers are what makes this race: medics; safety teams; checkpoint volunteers cooking up vats of homemade food. There is a huge army behind the scenes doing everything they can to get every runner to the finish.
W is for… Weather
One of the biggest factors in your experience of the race. The Pennine Way in winter can see snow, torrential rain, gale force winds or bright sunshine, sometimes all within a few hours!
X is for… X-rated
Whether it’s the curses of racers or the sights of blistered and rotting feet, some of what happens on the Spine should stay on the Spine…
Y is for… Yomping
The Spine Race requires a lot of this. The combination of heavy pack, darkness, rough terrain and difficult weather mean that all but the very front of the field will walk the majority of the race.
Z is for… Zombies
Commonly seen at the race finish…