Michael Moncrieff Spine Challenger January 2018

Category: Fell Published Date Hits: 1533

Michael Moncrieff The Spine Challenger - start

I did The Spine Challenger over the weekend of 13/14th January.

I’d picked up two injuries in October after running Lakes in a Day and, at the start of December, didn’t think I would make the start line. With lots of careful training, I made it to Edale in one piece, feeling relatively fit, but also conscious that I hadn’t been able to recce the course north of Hebden Bridge and didn’t have anything like the time on my feet that I’d have liked.

The weather was unusually dry and benign for The Spine Challenger, a 108-mile route along the Pennine Way from Edale in The Peak to Hardraw in The Yorkshire Dales. It’s a continuous race (the clock never stops) and is unsupported. We started at 8am Saturday.

Edale to Hebden Bridge (checkpoint 1) went really well apart from a severe pain in the outside of my right foot that had developed from the 11hr mark. I’d got into a good group of 3 and was running well within myself. 75K done in 13.5 hrs. Only another 100K to go!

A quick meal and check of my foot ("no bony pain so probably nothing broken - try different socks and shoes”) and left the checkpoint 45 mins later with another runner. We had agreed to stick together for the night section and to keep to a fast walk.

By 5am I was a wreck! Changing shoes had been a mistake - the new pair had no rock protection and I was feeling every little stone. Both feet were agony. I’d also accepted some food from my companion and the sugar rush had completely upset my sugar levels so that I was experiencing significant sugar rushes followed by massive lows. I decided to bivvy on the slope above Lothersdale which led to the comedy moment of the race - turns out that once you’re zipped inside your bivvy bag you can’t put an arm out to stop yourself rolling down the hill!!

An hour later I was cold and had only managed about 15 minutes disturbed sleep. Time to pack up, make some porridge and get going.

The sun appeared an hour into this next section which made a huge difference to my mood and, running on my own now, I’d discovered that if I ran at my pace (often a fartlek run: walk) I could maintain a steady 4.5-5kph. Unfortunately, the pain in my feet meant that I had to stop for 5-15 minutes every hour to rest them or they became too painful to walk on, so I was averaging just under 4kph.

Michael Moncrieff The Spine Challenger Malham

A quick bite to eat at the pub in Malham with my family who then walked with me to Malham Tarn, a mini checkpoint, picked me up really well and I was ready for the final stage.

I left at 4pm Sunday with 45K to go but reports that the weather was about to change. I was wearing every item of clothing that I had with me. My hoped-for sub 40hr finish (midnight) had disappeared with the painful feet and I was concerned that my head-torch batteries (including spares) might not get me to the finish.

Up and over Pen Y Ghent in 15m visibility just as the wind started to pick up (they bypassed PYG shortly after I’d completed it due to safety concerns) and down to the cafe in Horton. Shovel in a welcome fry-up and get back out into the sleet and wind. Time to end this race!!

I knew from reading various race blogs that The Cam road was a notorious area for bad weather. I had a 25-30mph wind blowing wet & cold sleet at me, luckily from behind. Visibility was down to 2 metres - according to the racetrackers I was running with another racer, but I never saw him until almost the bottom of the Cam Rd! I was very tired by now and starting to get cold. I needed to find some shelter to get a hot brew in me…..

2 1/2 hours later I was definitely into mild hypothermia territory, falling asleep while walking and starting to get worried. Finally, I found a stone gate-post that afforded some protection from the building weather and I was able to get the stove out. That gate-post probably saved my race!

Another couple of hours later, the wind hit 60mph+ (I was blown off my feet by the first of three guests that were easily in excess of 75mph), the wind-chill was about -15 and there were 2 inches of slushy snow on the ground. I’m not sure if it was wishful thinking or mild delusions, but by now I was imagining that the organisers must have temporarily halted the race and that I was going to meet an MRT vehicle coming up the track to evacuate me to the finish. No such luck!

As I got off the Cam road and into the outskirts of Hawes I started a ‘sprint’ finish. 1K later I remembered that the finish had been moved to Hardraw, another 1K further up the Pennine Way!

I got to the finish just before 4:30am on Monday morning. 44Hrs 24min. 26th man, 30th overall.

Out of about 130 entrants, 103 made the start line (viruses and injuries) and only 76 finished.

I can NOT recommend this race! The Pennine Way is not nice underfoot. Two-thirds of the race is done in the dark, so you don’t get to see very much. I did not enjoy it. When I crossed the line I very definitely stated that I would not do this race again and would never do the Spine Race. But Ultrarunning is a bit like childbirth.

And I’ve been watching in awe as the full Spiners struggle through conditions that make my experience look like a picnic - the current leader (6’2” tall) is struggling through waist-deep snow on the Cheviots……I just wonder….maybe?? After all, it is supposed to be a challenge……!

One of the reasons I did The Challenger was to test myself (I succeeded!). The other was to raise money for a charity called Horatio’s Garden, a charity who fund bed-accessible gardens for spinal rehab centres. If interested you can read more about them on my JustGiving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mpm2018

Thanks for reading!


Michael Moncrieff The Spine Challenger Wessenden
Copyright Holmfirth Harriers Athletics Club 2012