Spine Challenger 2017

My last blog post, 3 years ago, was about my DNF at this very race. In fact, there was also a second DNF two years ago that I didn’t even bother writing up. After a year off the itch needed to be scratched and the autumn has been spent yomping around the hills, including a 3 day 80 mile hike along the Dales Way, the Dusk ’til Dawn 50 mile night time ultra and two 45 mile weekends with full kit and overnight bivvys. Kit has been refined and lightened, lessons have been learned about layering and how bloody slow it is breaking trail through snow.

(For anyone who doesn’t know the Spine Challenger is the 108 mile “fun run” companion to the main Spine Race, which is a 7 day ultramarathon the length of the Pennine Way from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, a distance of 260 miles. The Challenger ends in Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales and you have 2.5 days to get there.)

Of course, there’s always time for one last curve-ball, and as I was on the train to Edale on Friday afternoon I felt a scratch in my throat; surely I can’t be coming down with a cold now? But yes I was! Oh well, nothing to be done but get on with it.

The forecast for the weekend was cold and clear on Saturday, then mild and wet on Sunday. But walking to the race start early Saturday morning the cloud had come in and it really wasn’t that cold at all, so a quick change and dumped a layer back into my drop bag. Got my GPS tracker attached to my bag and soon it was time for the start at 8am. A steady start over snowy fields and soon it was raining too, and I knew this would be snow on Kinder. Up an icy Jacob’s Ladder into the cloud, past Swine’s Back then at the cairn everyone in front was going the wrong way, towards Crowden! Shouted back those in earshot but this still left about ten people following each other off route, but nothing more I could do. Crossing Kinder in the cloud and snow was great fun, and nowhere near as hard as it had been on a snowy recce back in November; basic rule of travelling on foot in snow is don’t be first!


The weather had started to clear by the time I was crossing the slabs towards the Snake, but route finding over Bleaklow in the snow is always tricky and I lost the path a couple of times, but then further up I was only the second set of footprints on the correct route. Feeling pretty chipper at this point with snowy hills and great views, although Bleaklow Head to Torside always seems to take an age. Heading towards Crowden the sun was out and it was warm enough to go down to base-layers, although not everyone agreed as a Frenchman jogged past in full waterproofs, balaclava and goggles. Past the film crew Ellie and Matt, the drone was flying but I didn’t make the cut for that day’s film.

Heading towards Black Hill my left heel was starting to rub a little so I stopped briefly to make some running repairs with tape, then pushed on up to get warm again (according to my thermometer it was 0C here at about 3pm and was the coldest it was for the whole race, it really was mild conditions). Heading towards Wessenden head I was met by Rob a colleague from work and it was good to have a natter for a few minutes.


Apparently it was around here that my tracker stopped working for a while, and I must have been “stationary” for a fair time as I even got a phone call from race HQ checking I was OK! I met Yann coming back up the trail at Wessenden as he wasn’t sure of the route but I soon set him straight; we met a couple more times in similar circumstances and he was always pleased to see me, in his words “you always know where you are going”! My knowledge of the route is a huge advantage and I didn’t look at a map once, relying upon memory and checking the GPS for confirmation.

A cup of hot squash from a Mountain Rescue team at Standedge then soup and bread roll just before the M62 kept me going, although I was aware that I maybe hadn’t kept on top of my food and drink as well as I should have. On to the reservoirs and there was a beautiful orange moon just above the horizon. Stoodley Pike was a long time coming and I had a couple of minutes sit down here before the final stretch to CP1. The haul out of the Calder Valley was as tough as ever then there is a second valley to cross before heading down to the checkpoint (of course a down you have to come back up to regain the Pennine Way at the start of the next leg). It was 11:30pm and it was just starting rain lightly; 46 miles had taken 15hrs 30mins.


Decided to have some food then get a couple of hours sleep; which in reality was two and a half hours of lying down but only an hour of actual sleep. Better than nothing. Took an age to get away again, faffing with kit in a crowded room full of other people doing the same. Had a pack of porridge before leaving and changed my shoes. Back out into the night at 4:30am.

Conditions were now very different from the nice crisp snow that had been underfoot for most of the previous day; rain and rising temperature had turned the snow into water and slush, and melting ice on top of flagstones was a treacherous surface. Reached Top Withins just before dawn and it took a good whack with my shoulder to get the door of the bothy open to have a quick break inside. Bare Hill and Ickornshaw Moor were as wet as I’ve ever known them, a real slog to Cowling. Reached Lothersdale at about 11:30am just in time for lunch at the Hare and Hounds who again were extending fantastic hospitality to Spiners. Lancashire Hotpot in a Yorkshire Pud was tasty and I even managed to eat most of it!

The on and off rain was mostly off by now and to make the next few miles across soggy fields go a bit quicker I put on some tunes courtesy of my £7 eBay MP3 player; have to say the debut album from the Magic Numbers definitely needs re-assessing, perfect uplifting indie pop. Had to stop at East Marton for 10 minutes to scrape mud out of my shoes and off my socks, despite DexShell “waterproof” socks my feet were wet for most of the day. More fields to Gargrave and into the Co-Op. As usual, nothing seemed that appetising and I just got a bottle of smoothie (craving some vitamins!), a houmous and falafal wrap, an apple danish and a four pack of Snickers bars, which were increasingly becoming the most reliable thing I was able to eat.

It was about 4pm leaving Gargrave and I stopped again briefly a mile further on to do some more footcare before it got dark. The next few miles to Malham were grim, slogging through fields of slop in the dark. The final insult was slipping on literally the last few metres of muddy descent and bum slid getting covered in muck; some expletives may have left my mouth. At least reaching Malham you know that the worst of this is over and the rest of the way to Hawes is more interesting and less filthy. Quite a haul up the steps to the top of the Cove, but I felt strong, in marked contrast to three years ago when I’d blown my doors off by this point and had to have a rest every few steps. It was very dark, quiet and lonely heading across to Malham Tarn, but I realised that I had now got further than either of my previous attempts and there was no obvious reason why I wouldn’t get to the end!

Checkpoint 1.5 at Malham Tarn Field Centre is an “intermediate” checkpoint, so no access to your drop bag and no beds to sleep in, but friendly faces, hot water and somewhere to sit down inside. Felt glorious pulling off my wet socks and giving my feet some air. It was 8:30pm (37.5 miles covered in 16 hours since leaving CP1) and I spent about an hour sorting myself out and having a freeze dried meal before getting my head down in my bivvy on a covered veranda outside the CP. Had a good 3 hours sleep and was up again at 12:30am and back on the trail at 01:30am after a pack of freeze dried porridge.

Beginning the climb of Fountains Fell a couple of guys came back down the hill having struggled to find the path, they were happy for me to show them the way and we chatted for a while before I pulled away up the hill; I was feeling pretty strong at this point. It was foggy and damp but not at all cold. A tricky descent and on the way down I met and passed Yann again. The climb up Pen y Ghent was longer than I remembered but I enjoyed the scrambling sections and made the top for a five minute sit down in the summit shelter. The descent to Horton was rocky and very hard on the feet and it was a relief to get to the road and the cafe at 6am. Really wasn’t feeling too clever by this point but managed to get a plate of beans on toast down me.

I left Horton half an hour later and the next hour was the toughest for me of the whole race, feeling sleepy and a bit nauseous. Eventually I just lay down and curled up on a grassy bank – I didn’t even take my rucsac off! – closed my eyes and slept for maybe five minutes. This did me the world of good and I felt so much better when I set off again. Soon the day broke and I sang my sunrise song – I saw the light, I saw the light, no more darkness, no more night.

All through the race I had been very unlike my normal, (over) analytical, self; I rarely knew what time it was or how far I had come, and never checked what pace I was doing. I just concentrated on breaking it down into small chunks and only worrying about the current chunk. Look after all the little pictures and the big picture will look after itself. That was particularly true now. Get to where the three peaks route joins the PW. Then get to where you turn left off the track towards Old Ing. Then get to the bridge across Ling Gill. And repeat.

On the climb up to Cam High Road I overtook a guy who was struggling with his right foot, my feet were pretty sore now too and I was seeking out softer ground whenever possible. This is another section that always seems to go on forever, gradually climbing on a straight, wide track up into the cloud and fog. Past where the Dales Way comes up from Wharfedale, it had been a clear day when last I was up here on the Dales Way in October. Finally the turn off the Cam Road is reached and half an hour later you can see Hawes beneath you – the end in sight! All downhill from here and even jogged a bit, off the fell, along the road, across a couple of fields and into Hawes. The last hundred metres up the high street to the Market Hall, it was midday (so 52 hours since the start) and I was pretty happy, a 3 year old monkey off my back at last!



Kit List

I’ve done quite a lot of work to get my pack weight down, it really does make a difference! Purposefully choosing a small rucsac is a good start as with a bigger bag it’s very tempting to keep adding stuff “just in case”. I reckon I was carrying 4-5 kg before food and water.

Bags- Lowe Alpine LiteFlite 25 (Really good bag, simple and light and quite short which I found much better for my back. Huge mesh pockets on the sides for storing extra food.). Raidlight frontpack (4l capacity with bottle holders either side, 2 * OMM bottles). Alpkit lightweight drybags

Sleep system – Rab Summit 300 Alpine (Not the lightest bag at 900g but I can’t really justify spending hundreds of pounds on a new one!). Rab Moonlite bivi (Very light, not sure I’d want to use it in anger in heavy rain though!). Klymit Inertia X Lite Short Mat. (Lightest mat out there at 175g, and actually surprisingly comfortable).

Cooking – Alpkit Kraku Stove (45g), 100g gas can, Alpkit MyTiMug 650 (80g), Alpkit Lhfoon titanium spork (23g). Gas can and stove fit perfectly inside the mug along with a lighter. Unused apart from the spork.

Nav – Garmin ETrex 30 (plus Tempe thermometer), 2 * Harveys PW maps (second picked up at CP1, neither used at all), Silva compass (unused)

Lighting  – Alpkit Arc (great headtorch but now discontinued, batteries are loaded into cartridges and can be changed in the dark without even taking the torch of your head), Petzl Tikka (back up light, never used)

Poles – Black Diamond Distance Z 130cm (I’m a latecomer to poles having done all my training without but to my surprise I used them every step of the way)

Feet – Injinji coolmax liner socks inside DexShell Thermlite waterproof socks. Inov8 Race Ultra 290 GTX (start to CP1); Montrail Badrock (CP1 to end). Montane trail gaiters (with garden wire understraps which broke after about 65 miles!). Yaxtrax (unused)

Legs – Rab Powerstretch tights, Alpkit Parallax pants (soft stretchy fabric but a bit thin, worn about 80% of the time)

Upper – Brynje Super Thermo “string vest”, Alpkit Laika midweight baselayer, Alpkit Balance shell (I really rate this, great piece of kit and very good value. Worn for all but about 5 miles on the first day), Berghaus Vapourlight Hypertherm smock (worn several times for extra warmth, but mostly in the bag, super-light yet warm). Montane Fireball jacket (unused).

Hands – Montane Extreme Mitts (start to CP1), North Face Apex softshell gloves (CP1 to end), Decathlon 60% silk liner gloves, Extremities Top Bag over-mitts (worn when raining days 2 and 3 to stop gloves from wetting out, very light but not sure they’re that waterproof. Did the job though), Montane Prism Mitts (unused)

Head – 2 * buff (most of the way I wore just one of these folded into a headband), fleece hat (can’t remember if I used this or not), clear skydiving goggles (only worn on Kinder, very light but fog up a bit too easily)

Spares – Baselayer top and bottoms (unused), socks (2 spare pairs – unused – plus Injinji/DexShell from CP1 allowing for complete change at CP1.5)

Odds and sods – dumb-phone, blister kit, first aid kit, tiny Swiss army knife (with scissors for cutting tape), spare batteries, MP3 player and headphones.


Spine Challenger (DNF)

After witnessing first hand Brian’s amazing exploits on the Spine last year I found myself in front of my computer early on a Sunday morning in February entering the Spine Challenger, the shorter version that goes from Edale to Hawes over 106 miles. I then largely put it out of my mind whilst doing my Sprint triathlon thing for the next 7 months! But come September there was no avoiding it any more and it was time to do some plodding. To be honest training didn’t go that well; I had to DNS from the Dusk Til Dawn 50 mile night-time ultra with an injured calf, and then the next weekend I managed to sprain my right ankle in a freak “stepping off a stile straight onto a metal bar sticking up out of the ground” accident. The longest I did in training were two 28/29 mile walks and my left knee had been sore since the start of December. But on the plus side I had been able to recce the crucial section of the course between Wessenden Head and Gargrave that I’d be doing in the dark.

After most of a day packing and faffing on the Friday it was time to get the train to Edale. People heading to the race were fairly conspicuous and I chatted to a guy called John on the way there who was doing the full race. I headed upto the Peak Centre where I had booked in to stay the night and then went for some tea at the Ramblers Inn with fellow Spiners Debbie, Paul and Ben. Back for more kit faffing then to the 8pm race briefing. I was given the cherished “118” race number, sadly I’ve not really got the hair to carry it off!


Briefing over back to the Peak Centre for a bit more faffing then to bed for, frankly, a terrible night’s sleep – not what you really want before something like this. Anyway, up at 6am for breakfast, final kit faffing, feet taping and then down to the village hall for kit check. On the way down I met Harsh coming the other way looking for me – I think he thought I’d overslept! Kit check was done for me by Spine legend Annabel which was nice.


Made some last minute kit changes too which turned out to be good calls. Swapped out of my thick Powerstretch base-layer for a thinner one and also ditched my trail running gaiters which make getting to your laces too much of a faff. Finally there was nothing left to do but wait for the start. Had a quick chat with Dave a friend of Viv’s who I know from us both having done the Rab MM a few years ago. A few minutes before 8am it started to rain quite heavily so on went the waterproofs. Then it almost stopped but I decided to leave waterproof top and bottoms on. We were escorted to the start line and after a few words from the organizers off we went at 8:20am.


Initially we headed up the road through Edale to the start of the Pennine Way proper in a long line of walkers (the runners were already long gone). As we were crossing the fields towards Jacobs Ladder first it hailed and then turned into thick wet snow blowing straight into our faces! The optimists who had started in shorts (!) were soon finding shelter to put on more layers and every few minutes I was having to sweep accumulations of snow off my front pack. By the time we were climbing up onto Kinder the snow had eased off but was quite thick on the ground, which was a help actually as we could follow footprints through the mist. I had said to friends beforehand that I would be disappointed if there wasn’t any snow so that was that ticked off anyway. Past Kinder Downfall I came across Paul from the night before who had hurt his knee and was struggling to move. With some more runners catching us from behind I carried on to let the race crew at the Snake Pass know that he was going to need some help, and bumped into a mountain rescue team on the way telling them of the situation too. At the Snake I saw Harsh who took a couple of photos, I checked in with the race crew then headed off onto a foggy Bleaklow.

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Bleaklow was fairly uneventful, the only issue being that my feet were absolutely soaking wet and cold from slush and bogs, and the Sealskinz “waterproof” socks I was wearing were about as much use as wet teabags. On the plus side the weather was starting to clear up and after descending to Torside off came the waterproofs at last. The next section up to Black Hill was one of the only bits I’d never been on before and it was quite pleasant, walking up a valley before a steep climb out of it then more gradually to Black Hill summit itself. The descent was another matter on treacherous damp flagstones; I passed a casualty of these who had fallen and hurt his hip, checked he was OK as I passed but I think he retired from his injuries.


From Wessenden Head (23 miles) to CP1 was now all known ground, and also easier terrain than had gone before. Shortly after 3pm I stopped briefly to get ready for the coming night; swapped thin baselayer for thick, gloves for mitts and put on my hat before plodding on scoffing a couple of bits of pizza. There was quite a pretty sunset, and this heralded another quick stop to put the headtorch on.


Onwards into the dusk and from my recce I knew there was a slightly tricky path junction to get the right route towards the A640. I know people have missed this in the past and the same was true today as I saw headtorches come back across the moor to pick up the correct route. Over the M62 (I was wondering what people in their cars were thinking of these little lights crossing the footbridge!) to the section across Blackstone Edge which I knew was going to be a bit tricky in the dark, and this was compounded by a light mist rolling in which caused headtorch beams to scatter and reflect back into your eyes, not ideal. With a bit of luck and some educated guesswork I picked the right route and realised I had a 5 strong train in my wake. Once we’d cleared the tricky section I was a little miffed when 4 of them ran straight past me without so much as a word of thanks! I had the last laugh though as they missed the turning down towards the pub on the A58 and the last I saw of them was their headtorches up on the moor.

Quick top up of water from the checkpoint crew then off on the good trails round the reservoirs towards Stoodley Pike. Still misty but eventually I remembered that in such conditions a headtorch works much better if you hand hold it down by your waist which sorted that problem. Stoodley Pike is 40 miles in with just 6 to go until CP1, but a cruel sting in the tail with two steep valleys to cross first. On the second of these I slipped on a steep grass descent and tweaked my right knee when all my weight went onto it trying to arrest the slide. This was a worry as my right knee is my “good” knee and I rely upon it on steep descents. But thankfully it eased off and actually my left knee that had been sore for last few weeks was feeling OK anyway.

In Colden we head away from the Pennine Way to CP1, downhill all the way which would be great but for knowing that we have to head all the way back up to regain the Pennine Way at the start of Leg 2. I reached CP1 at about 21:40, so with the slightly late start I was only 20 minutes behind my guesstimate of 13 hours for the first leg of 46.5 miles. Checked in, got my drop bag and was relieved to get the hated Sealskinz off – I’m not even going to wash them they are going straight in the bin! Cleaned up my feet and got some hot food, Beef Goulash which was nice but not as much of it as I was expecting. Although I wasn’t feeling that great eating it anyway (a portent of things to come!). Had a quick chat with Dave in the dining room, he was about 30 minutes ahead of me and heading out again straight after he’d eaten. After food the main decision was what to wear for the next layer; thick Powerstretch baselayer plus thin Montane smock (which I’d worn upto this point) or thin baselayer and thick Montane Extreme Smock. I decided to go with the former- also swapped into thicker tights – and set about taping up my feet again and getting packed and sorted. As I was in the porch about to set off it felt colder than I was expecting and I had a sudden change of heart and did a quick switch into the second (warmer) clothing option – this later turned out to be a very good decision.

Eventually headed back out into the night at 11:30pm. The slog up the hill back to the PW wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting and I passed about 10 people heading into the CP. No-one else was going my way though so it was a little lonely heading out onto Heptonstall Moor. On the plus side warm dry socks felt fantastic after 12 hours of wet feet, and I was determined to try to preserve this feeling as long as possible. This was helped by a bit of a frost which has semi-frozen the ground and I managed to keep my feet mainly dry for the first 15 miles or so. Past Top Withins there was a cluster of tents and three people stood around chatting!? My main problem was that I was finding it increasingly hard to eat; I had vast quantities of food with me but none of it was very appealing. Forced down as much as I could but knew I wasn’t really getting enough in.

Past Ponden a quick check-in with the race crew on the graveyard shift then up onto Bare Hill which I knew from my recce would probably be wet. In fact it wasn’t so much the wet that was the problem but frosty icy flagstones which were lethal. Made it into Cowling OK though. The next section to Lothersdale was over fields rather than moors which always makes nav a little bit more fiddly and contained my one navigation snafu which led to me blundering around on a steep waterlogged grass slope up to my calves in mud and rapidly losing my sense of humour. Of course I was only actually a few tens of metres from the path!


Once I’d got back on track I made it into Lothersdale OK where I met Dave who said he’d also had a few issues across the fields. We headed on towards Pinhaw together. As we crossed a road we came across another Spiner coming from completely the wrong direction and saying he wasn’t sure what he’d been doing for the last couple of hours; I guess it was between 6 and 7am at this point. We expected him to tag along with us but when we looked back again he had disappeared. Over Pinhaw to the next check-in before the long descent into Thornton in Craven. I had to stop to go to the loo so Dave pushed on (finishing a fantastic 9th place). Shortly after a misguided hop across a gap in the flagstones had me slipping on ice and smashing my left knee; it hurt but no functional damage.

The next day did dawn at some point though. From Thornton to Gargrave is only 4.2 miles and largely flat but it seemed to take an eternity. I suffered a real mental and physical low at this point with tiredness and the lack of food really starting to hit. I was feeling quite cold and generally in not too good a way. I’d tried various approaches through the night to try to get my stomach working (more food, less food, more water, less water, sweet stuff, savoury stuff) but nothing had any effect. Eventually i reached Gargrave and headed straight to the Co-op to see if some different food would turn things around. I had a meat and potato pie, a bag of crisps, a chocolate milkshake, a bottle of Coke and a banana (all eaten standing in the public toilets where it was marginally warmer than outside – classy!). At the check-in with the race crew on the way out of Gargrave I ummed and ahed about dropping there but eventually decided to carry on to CP1.5 at Malham Tarn, which would give a chance to see if the food I’d eaten would have an effect.

It’s a fairly flat walk to Malham along the River Aire, quite pleasant when I did it in the summer on a warm day but very wet in the middle of winter, although given that I’d basically decided Malham Tarn would be the end for me I wasn’t too bothered with sloshing through mud and water. I was still struggling to eat and also was starting to feel cold and shivery despite having warm clothes on and the weather being pretty good. The climb up the steps round Malham Cove was a major effort and I had to stop for a rest and catch my breath a couple of times on the way up. There was one final twist though. When I reached the Malham Tarn car park where I was expecting the checkpoint there was nothing there! I’d assumed (ahem) it would be in the same place as last year but in fact it was half a mile further on. Fortunately a chap supporting another Spiner told me this before I had the chance to panic too much! Got into the CP tent and had a cup of sugary tea but my mind was already made up, I wasn’t going on any further.

So that was that. Put on every stitch of clothes I had (and was still cold) and waited a couple of hours before getting a lift to Hawes with some of the race crew. Got myself sorted out there and was resigned to a night in the hall before getting the train home the next day when my saviours Viv and Harsh turned up to give me a lift straight home! Slept all the way back in the car, went straight to bed and slept for 10 hours straight.


Inevitably after a DNF you spend a lot of time over-analyzing things. What went wrong? Well I weighed myself the next morning and had only lost a kilogram so I suspect I got the balance of my food wrong and had too much real/complex food and not enough simple sugars. Was I just being a bit soft and should have pushed on with a few stern words to myself? Well maybe but I was feeling pretty rubbish and another 24 miles and 8-10 hours might have been do-able, but I might also have got myself into trouble with hypothermia etc – especially as the weather closed in during the afternoon and it was a filthy wet night. If I’d got any less far than I did I think I would be disappointed in myself, but 82 miles in 29-30 hours is not too shabby.

ITU World Triathlon Grand Final London AG Sprint

I’m far too late with this update so will only say a few words and stick some photos up.

Training for the race was hard and I spent 5 weeks feeling knackered most of the time in a desperate attempt to catch up after a 4 week break. A decent taper had me in reasonable shape come race day though.

The whole event was really good, despite some lacklustre weather. Great racing from the elites and interesting to spend a bit of time in central London.

My race went pretty well all in all. The swim was OK, manic at the start as usual but soon calmed down. Transition was huge. The bike was very wet and caution was required on the bends and dead turns, but even so it was a lot of fun. The run was harder than expected but once my legs got going I put down a competitive split. Here’s a video of me finishing and overall I came 38th in my age group (out of 108) which I was happy with.

What’s next? The switch has been made for a winter of long distance plodding and I’ve not swum a stroke since London!






Pennine Way – Gargrave to Dufton

First, a confession. The original plan had been to do the whole Pennine Way (North to South probably) but a two day hike in the Lake District a couple of weeks before made it quite clear I wasn’t fit enough (walking fit, which is a bit different from being able to knock out a half decent 5k or sprint tri) to do this, or at least for it to be anything other than a hard painful slog. So a quick change of plans and I decided to do about 100 miles of the PW and the Gargrave to Dufton section seemed the most accessible (trains at each end) and take in some of the best scenery (and also act as a recce for the last third or so of the Spine Challenger).

More photos from the walk are here.

Day 1 Gargrave to Fountains Fell

Straightforward journey to Gargrave only slightly complicated by the trams not running and initially getting on the wrong train at Leeds. No point in starting walking on an empty stomach so I got a good lunch in first at Gargrave, eaten by the river watching a family of ducks. The route to Malham is quite easy and a good warm up, basically following the river all the way to Malham. Plenty of time so I detoured to Gordale Scar an impressive cleft on the landscape with plenty of tourists and a few climbers. Back to Malham and a quick bite to eat from the shop there before pressing on upto the Cove and then the Tarn. A steady climb up Fountains Fell then over the other side where the search for somewhere to camp began, eventually finding a good flat piece of grass with just enough room for the tent in amongst the thistles. Food, read paper, bed.


Day 2 Fountains Fell to Hawes

I was looking forward to waking up to a fantastic view of Pen-y-Ghent from the tent door but unfortunately it was shrouded in cloud and would remain so until I was over the top and down the other side. Reached Horton-in-Ribblesdale at about 10:30 and straight to the cafe for a full English and a cup of tea, proper walking food. Set off again at about midday and it was turning into a hot one now that the cloud had burnt away. The walk from Horton to Hawes is about 13 miles,  all on good tracks and in the first four or so miles there are a good few caves and holes to have a peek into, the most impressive was Browgill Cave with a waterfall into a tantalising (for a hot and sweaty walker) subterranean lake. Fortunately a little further on there was just enough water in Ling Gill for a swim to cool off; and luckily no-one came along the path whilst I was drying off after just in my pants! The remaining miles to Hawes are fairly unremarkable to be honest and arrived at about 5pm. Checked into the YHA then off to the White Hart for a lovely dinner of pie and chips with a pint of Semer Water bitter.


Day 3 Hawes to Tan Hill Inn

Full english number 2 starts the day, which is a bit ominous with some thunder and half an hour of heavy rain. But with a little extra faffing by the time I’m ready to go the rain has basically stopped. Into the Spar for some provisions then back onto the PW. The first stage of today’s route is over Great Shunner Fell (716m) a pretty steady climb which would usually be boggy I expect but not after the long period of dry weather we’ve had. By the time I reach the summit the cloud is down and for the second time on this trip I see nothing from the top of a hill. By lunchtime I’m in Thwaite and stop at the Kearton tea rooms for probably the best food of the trip, lovely fresh BLT sandwiches which came with bonus chips I wasn’t expecting. Recommended! The path onwards to Keld is very alpine, traversing the side of a hill with good views into the valley. Took a small detour to Kisdon Force which was well worth it, double waterfalls with some perfect wild swimming pools; didn’t go in as I’d left all my stuff back up the trail but will definitely be back for a swim there at some point. Another detour into Keld for some cake at the tea rooms there, filling my boots today as I know the next two days had little chance of food stops. A steady 4 miles to the Tan Hill Inn; camping for a couple of quid next to a pub – sounds OK to me! Strange place though, a pub in the middle of nowhere in Yorkshire yet the bar staff sound like they should be in Eastenders! Another short storm to end the day but my little tent was up to the wind and rain thrown at it.


Day 4 Tan Hill Inn to Middleton-in-Teeside

A bright and still morning so a leisurely start to let the tent dry off. Decided that a 3rd cooked breakfast in a row would be pushing it so stuck to some flapjack. On the trail by 9:30 for what was a bit of a transition stage (using the parlance of the Tour de France) with not a whole lot going on. A long section over moors and (dry) bogs was (rudely) interrupted only by streams of cars and lorries on the A66. The last 6 miles were more farmland but still no villages and hardly a soul to be seen, although some interest was provided by the fighter jet training above. With not a lot to delay me I just cracked on with it and was in Middleton-in-Teesdale by 3:30pm. Checked into the Teeside Hotel (yes I know I’m getting soft in my old age but it’s supposed to be a holiday!), ate a late second lunch, then ate tea, then went to bed. Rock and roll.


Day 5 Middleton-in-Teeside to Dufton

Up and away early for a long day on the trail (22 miles) to Dufton, following the River Tees upstream and over the fells. Three famous waterfalls are passed along the way; Low Force (bit impressive), High Force (very impressive) and Cauldron Snout (quite impressive). After lunch just above Cauldron Snout continued the steady climb before a curious expanse of flat ground and then suddenly the ground falls away from your feet and the amazing High Cup Nick opens up in front of you. Very impressive and a great place to sit and comtemplate life over a cereal bar for a few minutes. All that remained was a five mile stroll downhill to Dufton, coffee and cake there and then I arrived at the YHA minutes before a heavy shower, my weather radar had been working pretty well all trip!


Day 6 Dufton to home

I had been toying with doing another day over Cross Fell but had pretty much decided against it, and my foot was sore when I got up which confirmed that decision. The 3rd full english of the trip then a 3 mile stroll to Appleby on a beautiful morning to get the train home, which included the bonus of going over the Ribblehead Viaduct!

Kit List

  • Rucsac – Go-Lite Peak – bought on a whim a year or two again (well it was half price) 38 litres, very light, perfect for this kind of thing
  • Tent – Alpkit Delta – sold with some caveats but perfectly fine for solo use although I’ve not tested it in any really filthy weather yet
  • Sleeping Bag – Mountain Hardwear Lamina 35 – 2 season synthetic, 1 season would have been more than adequate with hindsight.
  • Sleeping Mat – Decathlon Lightweight 3/4 self infalting mat – very comfy, folded into 5 and shoved into the back of my rucsac to carry
  • Shoes – Montrail Badrock – last minute purchase so straight from the box into a near 100 mile walk. Possibly a touch high in the arch for me but otherwise very comfy, they have a rock plate under the forefoot for protection which I find I need for multi-day walking otherwise I get sore feet
  • Walking clothes – 2*Merino T-shirt, 2*decathlon 2 layer socks, decathlon 3/4 running pants – perfect, 3/4 pants instead of shorts so I have less leg to cover in sunblock!
  • Clean clothes – T-short, trousers, socks
  • Shell – OMM Kamleika Pullover and Pants – top only used very briefly, pants not at all
  • Insulation – Rab Generator vest – almost got left at home but I needed it to use as a pillow!
  • Long sleeve baselayer and pertex gilet – not used
  • Cap and sunglasses
  • Towel, washkit, wet wipes, P20, midge spray
  • 2 litre bladder, 1 litre flexi-bottle, collapsible cup, chlorine tablets – just the bladder full or nearly full was enough for a day.
  • Maps, compass, whistle, altimeter watch, headtorch
  • Phone, Kindle, charger, camera
  • Money and cards
  • Alpkit dry bags

The weight of that lot was 8kg not including food and water.


June – Month of the Qualifiers (and a 5k and a 3-up)

A big month of triathlon in the UK with all three sprint qualifiers and two of the standard distance qualifiers, with a standard of racing that many were saying was the highest ever in domestic races!

Nottingham Sprint 1st June

Very early start to drive down to Nottingham for a 7:30am wave start, but at least it would all be done by breakfast time! Swim was OK (12:38) although I started too far back really and never got stuck in. T1 was a bit of a shambles, lost too much time here. The bike is four laps around the regatta lake so pretty straightforward, head down (figuratively, not literally) and ride – OK but couldn’t really get the power down as I would like. T2 similarly slow as T1 with a long run on tarmac with cold feet. But once I got my shoes on all was right with the world and had a great run 17:29 for (a tough under) 5k to finish 22nd in my age group. Seven to qualify from this race so a way off the slots but just close enough to think that it’s not completely a lost cause.

Bowdon 5k 6th June

Not much to say about a 5k, other than it hurts! Went from the gun to try to go under 17 mins on a reasonably fast course and a beautiful evening. The clock was counting down as I headed to the finish and I thought I’d just missed it by a second or two – which still would have been a good PB – but the official results had me at 16:59, yay!

Manchester Wheelers 50km 3-up TT

A decent showing for the Manchester Tri team of me, Howard and Steve with a respectable time of 1:13:49 (25.3 mph). A painful final third for me and Steve though as Howard dished out the hurt.


Photo courtesy of Martin Holden


Tri Bristol Sprint 23rd June

Interesting urban race venue with the finish up on a flyover! The swim start was narrow so I decided to get up the front and get involved. Went hard from the start and was rewarded with a 12:04 swim and out of the water 18th in my age group. What’s more I didn’t lose any places in T1, a bit of practice and stripping it right down to the minimum helping me be a bit slicker. The bike was two out and backs on the Portway, headwind out, tailwind back. Rode a touch better than at Nottingham but still struggled to get all the power out that I know I can (and do every week in training!). By the end of the bike I’d made up five AG places, but then lost one in T2. The run is an out and back on a path the other side of the river before winding up onto the flyover to finish. I had a good run again, although a slight stitch at the 2km mark meant I had to back off a touch. With a couple of hundred metres to go I kicked on to take one more guy who I assumed was in my age group before hitting the finish line.



Thanks to The Triathlon Shop for the photo

I thought I’d need to be in the top ten to stand any chance of qualifying but when I got my results print out I was slightly surprised and very pleased to see 7th in age group! With five slots available I now needed two people ahead of me to have either already qualified at Nottingham or not be trying to qualify. A slightly nervous wait for the results and then cross referencing with the “registered to qualify” list… and yes, there were two who could be struck out! Somehow I’d sneaked the 5th qualifying spot!

Llandudno Sprint 29th June

Not a great run in to this race as I was ill on Tuesday and Wednesday (Brunal Lock Belly!) and had done no training at all since racing at Bristol. But on the day I felt OK and I wanted to do the course so decided to head down. The pressure was off so I could just enjoy it after all!

Very busy race with a huge transition area (equals sore feet from lots of barefoot running) and lots of Manchester Tri folk to chat to. Not done a sea swim since Challenge Barcelona in 2009, always a bit more interesting than lakes; a little bit of swell, an offshore drift and lots of jelly fish (I didn’t get stung but lots did). The bike is two laps around the Great Orme, a proper “road-man’s” course with climbs and descents and twists and turns; lots of fun. Although I nearly got taken out be a seagull crossing the road from between two parked cars (it hadn’t read the green cross code clearly). Felt fast starting the run on the flat section along the prom. Climb up to the turn around point then back down and hit a nasty headwind for the run in to the finish (that’s why I felt so fast at the start!). No need to destroy myself today but I would have hoped to finish a bit higher than 35th in AG, quite a come down from last week! 


What you been up to then?

As my last blog post was getting on for a year ago I thought I’d better do a catch up first before getting on with some more recent news. Some things have changed (like the location of this blog, RIP Posterous) but don’t expect anything too revelatory.

August 2012

So last we met I’d just pulled out on a 60 mile Ultra. Straight after I had a great couple of days in London for the Olympics – although post-ultra-legs not ideal for navigating the steps up to a seat in the rafters of the Olympic stadium. Also did the 100 mile Ride With Brad sportive with John which was pretty tough seeing as neither of us had really touched our bikes since Roth. We did get to ride in the Wiggo peloton briefly though.

September 2012

Bit of mountain biking including a Penmachno / Marin Trail double header. Coombs Tor fell race, bit of orienteering. Nothing too serious!

October 2012

Sale Harriers training weekend in Ingleton, including a great run over Ingleborough. Then a week off ill before the first round of the MACCL XC league in Heaton Park.

November 2012

Decent run in round 2 of the XC league at Sherdley Park, although poor decision to wear spikes as I think this triggered a new round of calf problems. 10th place in the Kendal Mountain Film Festival Trail Run which really knackered my calves!

December 2012

Another reasonable run in round 3 of the XC at Wythenshawe Park, but again struggling with calves. A week later it was clear that these issues weren’t going away and sought some help from Paul Savage at Athlete Matters and started a lay off from running for a month or so whilst doing some strengthening work instead. 

January 2013

At some point in the preceding 5 months I decided to have a go at qualifying for the Sprint at the World Championships to be held in London, September 2013. So triathlon training started in earnest this month. Running limited to building up some easy jogging. Also spent a few days chasing Brian up and down the Pennine Way as he successfully tackled The Spine. I also started a “take a photo every day of the year” project which is ongoing and sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a real chore!

February 2013

Calf rehab hit by a couple of set backs. Actually did a race, Hit The North CX/MTB which was a lot of fun, even if front brake failure did make the descents a bit more sketchy


March 2013

Kicked off with a weeks training camp at Kinetic PB in Spain, some good bike miles logged even if the weather was a bit sub-optimal for a couple of days. A week of swimming every day and 200m (2:59) and 400m (6:13) PBs followed. Running starting to come back on-line with a new strategy of running almost every day but mostly short easy runs. Ended the month with an Easter mini training camp in Dorset  to try and escape the cold weather up North (which had led to the postponement of the Buxton Mountain Time Trial from its usual Good Friday date).

April 2013

A month of solid training concluded with a J2/9 PB for a 25 mile time trial of 1:01:57. Running still mostly easy but with a weekly progression/tempo run to start sharpening up again – injury free since mid-February.


May 2013

The rescheduled Buxton MTT was held on a beautiful May Day bank holiday and I rode a 5 minute PB to just duck under the 1:50 mark. Back to the Wednesday track sessions and running pretty well considering. Man Tri training weekend in the Lakes, wettest ride ever on the Saturday then a very ugly 31 mile time trial with trashed quads from a Friday evening fell run over Catbells. Very cold Salford Quays aquathlon, although even with some in-sole issues I ran my best every aquathlon “5k”. Solid 6th place at the Ian Hesketh Memorial Duathlon on a beautiful day at Rivington.



Well that’s us almost up-to-date and heading into the three qualifying races for the World Sprint Championships.

Nortumberland Ultra DNF

I Did Not Finish. I almost Did Not Finish at checkpoint 2, 21 miles in, as for the whole of that 15 mile leg all I could think of was why was I running? And that I didn’t really want to be there. But pride got the better of me and I carried on. Then again at checkpoint 4, 36 miles. A torrential thunderstorm had rolled in 10 minutes earlier, the rain hosed down and I really didn’t fancy heading up onto high ground with the lightweight kit I had. But eventually I stopped at the final checkpoint at a round 50 miles and 13.5 hours of effort. I could have carried on physically but I just decided that I didn’t want to. Effectively I was making a decision on my future in ultra-running out there on the trail. Finish, and I would go on to do another one in a few weeks time then enter the UTMB in 2013. Stop and that would be that, I could turn my attention to something else. So I stopped. Any regrets? About the DNF itself, a little; but about the overall decision, not yet. So what does the future hold? Sporting wise some shorter stuff I think, try and get some good times to my name before I get too old!

I suppose a few words about the race are necessary for posterity’s sake. I chose the Northumberland Ultra as 62 miles for 3 UTMB points seemed to be a “bargain”. Oh how wrong you can be! The first 6.5 miles to CP1, though, weren’t too bad. A minor “follow the leader” wrong turn early on and quite up and down but reasonable running. I didn’t stop at the CP (which was a bit of a mistake as we’ll see later). The next 15 mile leg started with a nasty climb up to the summit of Hedgehope Hill 714m. It was also now quite hot and very humid. Over the top and after a short runnable section it was on to horrible tussocky grass and bog which made progress very slow. After Dunmoor Hill and Conyan Crags we turned back on ourselves for some better running towards Linhope. From here another climb to Rig Cairn (it was just a moderate size cairn, not sure why it needed it’s own name) and by now I’d run out of water which was not good. But a steep drop from High Cantle took us to the River Breamish where a quick scramble down let me fill up my bottles again (so no harm done really). The remaining 4 miles to CP2 were on a good track but still with plenty of climbing to counter the downhill sections. Lots of runners came together at CP2 which was good; I didn’t hang around too long, just grabbed some sweets and Coke, filled up my bottles and away.


The next leg was a bit flatter but still hard running on an indistinct path which was very hard to follow in places. Especially in the latter stages where I made a bit of a hash of it by following my GPS too closely rather than the lay of the land. This led to some wading through bogs and then hacking through a field of chest-high bracken. I was going the right way but not the best way! Other than that this was a short leg and I reached CP3 shortly after 4 other runners (who had overtaken me due to my poor route choices!). Four of us started to the next leg together and after a climb at the start this was much better running on decent trails. After a couple of miles I pulled ahead of the others as (a) I like to move at my own pace, and (b) I’m a bit anti-social! Through the halfway point 31 miles and still moving OK although my left adductor was a bit sore on the descents. The last mile and a half to CP4 though was hard again with a tough climb and then a very indistinct path which I soon lost. I was not helped by the fact that after the clouds threatening for a while it now started to absolutely hose down as a thunderstorm had rolled in. Stumbling round in the pissing rain trying to find the path my mood was not helped by the three guys I was with previously passing me on said path about 10 metres further up the hill.

Anyway, made it to CP4 where I quickly decided that I didn’t fancy starting the next 14 mile leg across high ground in this weather with the lightweight kit I was carrying (lightweight shells are great until you actually have to take them out of your rucsac and start using them in earnest). I sheltered in a bunkhouse and watched the rain come down. After about 50 minutes of relentless torrential rain it eased off and the decision needed to be made – stay put and DNF or carry on. After some umming and ahing (standard) I decided to crack on, although I did warn the checkpoint marshal that I might be back in half an hour if I changed my mind! Given that I’d been mostly stationary for about 70 minutes after 8.5 hours of effort I was moving pretty well and set a decent pace up the road, next to a brown and swollen river. A mile of tarmac then the route strikes NW for 3 miles over Yearning Law on boggy but runnable ground before reaching the Border Ridge section of the Pennine Way, heading NE for 8 miles towards the Cheviot. Lots of this section is flagged which would make for good running but for the flags being either damp and slippery, or completely underwater. When it briefly started to rain again I questioned my decision to carry on, but it soon stopped and then I was treated to a beautiful summers evening high on the ridge with not a soul around.

I’d made the mistake of not getting stuck into the food I was carrying whilst I was holed up at CP4 and what with pushing the pace a bit trying to make up for lost time by Windy Gyle 619m I was struggling and it was a slog from there on up to the high point at 743m just West of Cairn Hill and The Cheviot as I tried to get my stomach working again. Great views of the setting sun from the summit (it was now about 8:45pm). A short down and up on boardwalk to Auchope Cairn before a steep descent into the top end of College Valley. I’d already decided to stop at CP5 so took this at a steady pace and a final stroll in the last light of the day down the valley to CP5 and the end (for me).

GPS Data