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Camino's Wild Adventures at the Winter Spine 2024

Updated: Jan 30

It's Thursday afternoon on 18th January and superstar Camino Hannah Rickman is currently in an epic battle for second place with the incredible Lucy Gossage. We have so many WhatsApp groups sharing messages on the minus temperatures, course stoppages - remote support for this specific Ultra endurance event is wild!!!

The entire Camino Community has been gripped to this record smashing Winter Spine year. From our very own Superstar Jess in the ( 46 Mile ) Sprint, to Sam in the (108 Mile) Challenger South to Jack Scott and Damian ' Ultra Damo' Hall tussling it out to a new course (Full 268 Mile Winter Spine) record - it's been (like it is every year) a beautiful and yes - wild ride.

OFFICIAL SPINE pics included are all from race organisers x

Camino are always grateful to every single person that makes the Spine the greatest event on earth - the volunteers, the medics, the safety team, the legendary folk who live on the Pennine Way who open up their homes and offer vital food supplies and everyone else who invariably spends most of the week watching these heroic runners on the Spine website - dot watchers of the world unite.

Camino has asked our gang (who include Spine Check point volunteer Sarah, Camino Athletes in all the different Spine races - some who won - some who DNF'ed and some angelic friends who shared the journey with us) to share their thoughts for us all x

In 2025 we will be heading back and we want to coach and support a new bunch of runners who are probably thinking that they aren't sure whether they could complete such an event like the Spine. We have asked our friends to share their reflections in a way that offers great advice on the key elements that make up the Spine and together we hope that these inspire you to think about achieving your own Spine event in the future.

Big Camino x Winter Spine Love x

CAMINO: Superstar Camino Athlete and Coach Jess has been crushing ultra races consistently over the past two years - check out some of Jess's blogs on Tanzania and Comrades but there is something a little bit different - dare we say spicy about the Montane Winter Spine events. Jess leaves no stone unturned when it comes to race knowledge and even though this adventure on the Pennie Way was going to throw up some 'firsts' we were confident that Jess was going to do well. What actually happened was something way more impressive than 'well' - over to Jess to share more on her first Spine x

Superstar Jess Johnson:

"Winter Spine Sprint – a good afternoon out!

I went for coffee in Hebden Bridge the morning after the Spine Sprint race and soon after my phone vibrated with a message from the coffee shop owner, having recognised me as the winner of the race. I’d seen my phone had been full of messages since the night before (I was generally being a bit useless and hadn’t coherently replied to anything!), and I’d been told by a friend that this was probably the best win I’d achieved, but I don’t think it had really hit me. Maybe I really had done okay, even if I’d only raced a few miles in comparison to all of the other longer races in the series. I’m certainly not anything special, but it seems like maybe this was a special race to be part of!

This was my first race in the Spine series, and I quietly was quite apprehensive before the race despite lovely pep talks from Spine superhero Hannah, David and Paula. I’d diligently collected all of the kit I needed and thought that even if the terrain was totally out of my comfort zone, maybe I could buy myself an increased likelihood of finishing via my kit and packing. At the kit check (very thorough, including having to get my feet, in turn, up on the table to show my shoes were in good condition) I proudly presented my spreadsheet showing how I’d optimised the calorie to weight ratio for my mandatory 3000kcal food requirement. David really kindly spent the morning with me, and we ended up having a lovely coffee with the lady who came second in the race – Alice.

I remember setting off up Jacobs Ladder and knowing I was the first lady, but already feeling tired. My weak upper body felt like someone was sat on my chest with my pack on, and I was generally just being a bit wimpish uphill! I’m really not a very good racer, but given the opportunity I am probably more competitive than I like to think, so a part of me was willing Alice to overtake me in order that I knew I had no chance of winning. No one did overtake me, and so I plodded along up and down the hills, having the most wonderful time and trying to make the most of the limited daylight we were going to have. At one point, when I was thigh deep in a boggy puddle, giggling, I did wonder if it was all going to go terribly wrong if the weather turned or once night came. The glorious sunset I’d optimistically hoped for didn’t happen – we were on the Pennine Way in January, not a summer beach holiday. The sun set when we were in a cloud, getting a little soggy, with next to no visibility. That was the closest to any Spiney weather we had, and we are very lucky.

The rest of the race in the dark trotted on by. I’d managed to stay largely upright and I’d resisted sitting down whenever there was an opportunity. I’d been surprised and boosted by friends popping up on the course at a couple of points, and probably had a good moan which I’ve selectively filtered out of my memory. With 15km to go I realised I’m actually horribly competitive in the latter stages of a race when I’m doing well, and I had to put my big girl pants on and separate from the kind friend I’d run most of the day with. In what to me seemed like a truly athletic performance internally, but externally likely looked like an unfit person running late for the bus, I managed to get myself to Hebden Bridge 2 hours quicker than I anticipated. I couldn’t believe it!

I’ve realised that most of my memories of the race aren’t about the running. That all seems like a blur which I’ve struggled to remember. I’m just touched by how kind everyone was to me during the race, both the other runners and all of the people supporting us. Whilst the weather was good and is the reason why I ‘ran’ so ‘quickly’, it must have been freezing if you weren’t running, and I’m so grateful for those people who chose to spend a January day and night helping people like me stumble safely to a hall in a distant town.

I don’t really know how I ended up finishing so high up the ranks, but I couldn’t be happier that I did. And to the man in the coffee shop in Edale on Saturday who – when surrounded by runners - asked if I was just in Edale for a little walk: No, I wasn’t. I can do hard (hard-ish) things too. Just not as hard as any of the other races going on this week!".

CAMINO: One of the awesome things about the Spine is that you can get an incredible insight into the highly emotional state of ultra runners by signing up as Checkpoint Volunteer. Paula's sister was one of these volunteers this year and was stationed at Check Point One in Hebden Bridge. We are grateful to Sarah and all the volunteers who work long shifts themselves and probably do things that shall remain private to help the dignity of the runners.

Full Spine Team from Check Point 1 - ALL LEGENDS

SPINE VOLUNTEER & Camino Cycle Coach Sarah Burns:

"The Spine Challenger South Race started from Edale at 08:00 on Saturday morning. It’s now 04:00 on Sunday morning. I’ve been awake for 22hrs straight. The temperature at CP1 in Hebden Hey is -3 degrees. I’m wearing all the layers I packed, including my down trousers, just to stay warm. I’ve just furiously shovelled a bowl of custard, rice pudding and banana down my neck.  The cold and fatigue are taking their toll and I’m not even running the race! I’m volunteering at CP1 in for the weekend.

Alongside me there are 40 other volunteers working around the clock to ensure the runners are well looked after when they arrive at the checkpoint. There are people cooking, cleaning, sorting bags, running around with cups of tea and coffee, filling water bottles, chatting with runners, whatever is needed. We are like a colony of ants, working harmoniously together to ensure the checkpoint runs as smoothly as possible.

The organisation is incredible. Spotters are stationed at the top of the slope down to the checkpoint. They shout out the runner’s numbers, so when they get to the bottom of the steps their drop back is ready and waiting. They are then escorted to the main room, where they are checked-in, found a seat and offered a hot drink as soon as their bums hits the chair. There is hot food available in the dining room and if they wish to get a couple of hours sleep, they are assigned a bunk. When they are ready to go, they are checked-out and escorted to the bottom of the steps to re-join the route.

The competitors on the Challenger South have been arriving at the checkpoint from approx. 16:30 on Saturday, although most competitors arrived between 23:00 and 03:00. It’s been a busy night. I’m stationed at the check-in desk welcoming the new arrivals. Noting down the time they arrive, finding them a bunk if they want to sleep, ensuring they’ve had a kit check done before they head off, recording the time they leave and wishing then luck as they head back out into the night. “Don’t forget to leave us a review on Trip Adviser”!

Despite the very cold conditions the runners arrive in good spirits; they are friendly and truly appreciative of our help and support. At around 23:00 on Saturday the checkpoint door swings open and I’m privileged to welcome my sister Paula to CP1. She bursts in with a big smile and I give her a big hug. I’m so please to see her. I check her in and leave her to sort herself out. I’m conscious I can’t give her any special treatment. So, when she hollers across the room asking me what time she arrived I then have to offer this service to the other athletes! After about an hour and a half Paula heads off, luckily, she is leaving at the same time Marie-Louise. I’m relieved she’s leaving with someone. Part of me wants to stop her going back in the cold and dark. The weather is forecast to be -11 on some of the peaks. As the night draws in, I’m relieved to see they are still together.

At 04:00 on Sunday I hand over my role to another volunteer and grab a couple of hours sleep. CP1 will close at 08:00. Then it will be all hands-on deck to get it ready for the evening’s influx of competitors on the Spine Race.

Having bagged 3 hours sleep, it’s go again. We scurry round doing various chores fuelled by bacon sandwiches lovingly prepared by the kitchen crew. We re-group at lunch time for Pizza and agree roles and shifts for the rest of the day. It’s 14:00 now and I’m back on shift at 16:30, so I decide to try and get my head down. After tossing and turning for a couple of hours I’m back in the check-in room awaiting the arrival of the first runners on the Spine Race!

There’s a pack of 7 lead runners flying towards CP1. These runners will get special treatment. Their bags will be ready and waiting in the check-in room and they will have their food bought to them. We’re each assigned a runner to look after. I’m assigned James Noble - tea, food, help with some K-Tape (oh god I hope I’ve done that right), refilling water bottles, it’s all pretty brisk. As I walk past John Kelly, he asks for some help filling his water bottles. He’s subdued. He’s been open that his legs aren’t feeling it this year. I watch him as he struggles to get the water bottles back in their poaches and packs away the final bits ready to head off. He looks like he needs a hug to me, so instinctively I offer him one which he accepts. And with that the pack of 7 runners head off for a night on the trails.

Sunday night is colder than Saturday. When the runners arrive, their laces are frozen solid and the water in their bottles is beginning to freeze. We are the first check point on their 250-mile race along the Pennine Way. The rhythm of Sunday night is the same as Saturday although there’s an noticeable increase in tea consumption. It’s fascinating to see how everyone approaches their time at the checkpoint. Some are straight on to sorting out their kit and feet, some chill for 10 mins enjoying a hot drink before getting on with their tasks, some like to chat, some don’t, one guy changed in to full pyjamas before he headed off to bed, one guy vomited in his trainer because he didn’t want to get the floor dirty and one guy presented us with 2 boxes of chocolates that he’d packed in his drop bag as a way of saying thanks (that’s organisation!)

Having taken part in ultra-endurance cycling events I know the value of a check point, for both body and mind, and was keen to repay the kindness I’d received by volunteering at the Spine. The gratitude we received from the runners was overwhelming and it’s a privilege to know that in some small way we hopefully had a positive impact on their experience. The army of volunteers that help this event run is incredible, their humility and passion was infectious. Yes, it was hard work, yes it was tiring and yes it was totally worth it. I’d do it again, unless I get the “free” Spine entry in the volunteer ballot. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that doesn’t happen!

CAMINO: Camino Race Director Carole O'Leary had a mixed block of training leading up to the Spine and like many others had succumbed to the dreaded mystery virus. With one Spine route recce that had probably added more race and kit pressure than alleviated we were proud of Carole for making it to the start line and for being such a massive supporter of the entire Camino crew on the days leading up to the event. Over to Carole to share where it all went....

Carole O'Leary:

My Spine adventure.

A vertebrae voyeur...Was I ever a participant? I think of myself more of a gonzo journalist, for this one.  Although I didn't go far enough for the bats to kick in!

As a running coach one of the first things I tell people to do when they sign up to a big race is to tell lots of people, it makes you accountable keeps your training on tack and gives you the pressure of not dropping out!

So why I had i been keeping it so quiet that I was signed up for The Spine Challenger South, I had wanted to do the Spine Sprint but it sold our mega quick so I had gone to the next shortest distance available, a mere 108 miles. Although the first Check Point happens to be the same distance as the Sprint (can you guess what I was thinking) Every time it was mentioned I felt like I was being oust from a dirty secret I was keeping.

The morning we were setting off, as I was packed and leaving the house Matt asked what you up again this weekend? I'm off for a walk along the Pennine Way with some of the Camino Ultra peeps, (nothing to see here), I had done the same last year. Gone up to have a hike with friends on Friday then a pub dinner a few beers and do the same the next day. I then headed over to stay at the Edale YHA  to meet Paula and David, the night before the Bone Man was talking on the full Spine race. 

I got into the Camino fun bus David at the wheel, Paula & Jess upfont and me at the back with Hannah. On the journey up the Geanie had well and truly left the bottle! As social media did its thing and suddenly it had been announced to the world that I was part of the Spine race, people knew my race number, what? they where going to be dot watching! Panic ensued I better fess up to Matt, knowing he would bump into someone who would blurt out something about watching my progress. 

So here I was back at Edale YHA in the same dorm, only this time David wasn't taking part. I was! Time to pack and re-pack, thinking were to place all the manditary kit and getting the marmite and cheese rolls ready.

New language was starting to emerge a "kit explosion", things get a bit "spicy" around that part, you need to "smash a pasty down". 

We chatted over dinner and a Yorkshire tea brew about what was to come, and debated whether at registration they had really said only 50% of the those that start the race finish. Funny how I had tuned into that, but the others hadn't.

We headed to bed alarms set for 5.30am. It came around quick and before you knew we were smearing suda cream over our feet, double checking our kit list with each other and trying to securely attach our race number to our drop bags.

Time to get back on the fun bus, this time it was Paula, Sam, Helen and  me being driven down to the start line. (Jess would start later in the Sprint and Hannah the following day for the full race)

A causal chat with Sam and Helen in the back as they confessed they had never been further then 60miles and that Hannah had inspired them to sign up.

We headed into the registration hall to be fitted with our trackers and then immediately joined a queue for the loo. A quick team photo and then off to the start line.

Things were looking crisp and sunny not like last years start line, cheering David of in pouring rain. The signal went to start, looked at the bloke next to me who started to run, and said "oh we are running are we?" he replied "at least for the next 400meters". I liked him. We were off...

Absolutely loving life I was trekking up the hill as Spine staff and Volunteers lined the road to wish us well. The racers and runners soon disappeared and i relaxed as i looked around me and found myself amongst walkers / hikers. That is probably another essay to write, what am I? a runner? or hiker? does it need to be defined... I digress. 

Memories came flooding back of having been out on these trails in the snow and rain the year before with friends, but I was feeling fresher now? why? due to the amazing weather and no hangover from the pub grub and beers the night before. The river crossing where I had lost it with friends last year wasn't flowing as high or fast so it was an easy skip and jump across. 

It can't of been far in before what I will always refer to as my Elf Sucky moment. I stepped out with my right leg into the bog all good, followed with my left, when suddenly I felt it sink! Oooh thats sucky I thought to myself and then aloud yes, very sucky, as my whole left foot, calf, knee, thigh disappeared into the bog, I think I need some help. The fella in front turns to help me as I try to palm my hand on anything firm. I look behind to see fellow Spiner's using me as a diversion sign and head around me, I think to myself your missing out on the sucky fun. But I guess its not for everyone, one of them comments some people would pay good money fort that, I reply, yes I have!  

Nervous of getting lost, I was keeping with the pack and checking my GPX at regular intervals. Munching on pork pies and salty prezels I had little concept of time, and when I first checked it was 2pm. How had that happened? Time was no longer a concept that seemed to make sense, and no matter how many times I did the math it was impossible to gage how long this was going to take. I thought to myself think of the daylight hours as your working day, and then when it gets dark its your night out after work. I wanted to try and get as many miles under my belt as possible while it was light so I thought lets get going and tick some of these miles off, I was now cocky that I was a navigational queen, no longer in need of a pack, a lone wolf released on the moors.

Off I trotted smiling past and having some casual banter with the guy I had regisitered with the day before who was now part of the safety team. A few moments later, oh feck, where has everyone gone? why doesn't this look like a path any more? that's just a long bog! well it is the most brutal race! no but that's not a path? its just off the gpx line, but I can't see another path option. Back and forth I went in and out of that boggy ditch, trying to decide what to do, now conscience that I might look like a degranged dot to whoever might be watching at that moment, you gobshite O'Leary. Where was everyone? surely if i was in the right place someone would be coming up behind soon? Is now the time to blow the whistle? Oh thank God here are some people, they too have gone wrong. Yeah we should be on the path below, lets romp through this heather to get there, ok! Back in the game, no longer a lone wolf, now part of another pack whether they want me or not.

There is talk of a refreshment tent coming up, amazing, I fancy a brew. Another spring in the step. I rock up at the tent letting them know my number so they can tick it off their list, then someone asks tea or coffee? yes please I say, which he says? Both I reply. So I have a coffee with a tea chaser whilst laughing at a debate that has broken out between a few northern lads, can you consider a Gintser pasty as a real pasty? They go on to name real pasties, I trot off never to find out what is considered a REAL pasty. All I know is you have to smash a pasty down!

I start walking off alone again and remember that this might not be a good idea, ok I can see someone ahead, lets go make a new friend. I catch with him and latch on, I find out out this isn't his first Spine, what is it about this race that people keep coming back for? I find out he has had to drop out in previous attempts, this seems to be a theme amongst most of the people I've got talking to. Its good to have some insider knowledge as he talks me through what's coming next. A Burger Van with Tea and then a Cafe a few miles after that is what I hear. But wow the views are stunning and from up here, what an absolute joy it is being out here on a day like today. Its starting to get really cold as we reach a long straight paved bit. Shall I stop to layer up, no lets move faster to warm up. I actually start to run for a bit, it feels nice to move in a different way for a bit. I clamber down and across another water section, then back up onto the straight toward the Burger Van, Oasis.

I order a Tea and a can of coke, it started to rain a bit and I'm thinking its going to be dark soon so I decide to change layers and get my waterproof trousers and Jacket on whilst drinking my tea. I pop the can of coke in my pocket to have later. By the time I've done all this the guy I had jogged off from is at the van, he say "you really got moving then" I tell him how I didn't want to stop and get cold putting more layers on so had decided to move faster till the van. We pair up again to get going onto the amazingly scenic resivour section, at this point the first male Sprinter passes us by. I think to  myself I'm looking forward to seeing Jess Soon... 

We plod on with the knowledge that there is Hot Vimto soon, what a treat that will be. It doesn't disappoint and mini chocolate rolls to go with it too. Lovely jubbly. Off we go, I've got a choccy vimto power up and we start to split, i wait at gates making sure he is ok? I offer a Cafine Bullet or the Can of Coke I have in my pocket, no he is ok, just sore feet, nothing to worry about, soon i'm out as a lone wolf again the gap having got bigger between us. I get to the Cafe and the high-viz hero asks if i'm stopping on going on, going on I say, but hang on is there a toilet? Yes, a portoloo around the back. Now comes the biggest challenge yet, manuvaing in a portoloo with a rucksack, gloves and multiple layers of clothing. Having spent 10mins or so rocking in the portoloo I saw good to go again. Only 9 miles left to Hebden Bridge, lets get cracking.

Sprinters are now coming past more often and I'm checking each one to see if its Jess. My Garmin beeps to tell me it has 5% battery left, feck! how long is left till the check point? about 4miles, is it going to last? What are my options? Shall I try keeping up with the sprinters? no lets stop and get my charger out, bollocks my pack won't open and i can't find my charger, its too cold to be faffing like this, do something else. Carole!!! I look up, Jess!!!!! Amazing your 1st Female, Smash it! She screams back Love you, I holler Love you Too, whoop whoop. She's gone. Okay, time to get my ETrex out and see if I can work out how to use it while I still have some battery in my watch to compare. Its not going well, I hear a voice shouting, I look up to see a runner with his dog, are you doing the Spine? Yes! You are meant to be up here! How do I get up there? I clamber up the bankside and get onto the higher path. Lovely it looks pretty straight forward again from here.

I'm off again, a group of Sprinters come passed again I'm thinking at this rate I should be fine just try to keep their headtorches in sight, one stops to tie his laces, his mate shouts at him to get a move on, jokingly telling him how to tie his laces, have you got your bunny ears? They disappear. Its impossible to know how far away those headtorches are. Luckily its a pretty clear path, for now. Onto the rocky boulders, I'm thankful my watch hasn't died yet, this would be impossible to know the way without it, another sprinter passes, no time for banter, please yourself.

The moon is out, I'm in love, its a pink crescent, this is amazing. There is a massive looming Monument, I need to turn at that, then its looks like a nice downhill section. Another sprinter pops up alongside me, amazing your the 2nd female! are you a challenger? I laugh and say No, then realise oh yes I am, she laughs and says you don't sound so sure, she says I'll dot watch you and off she goes... I feel a rush of guilt knowing  the dot won't be moving past CP1.

Karma kicks in, the watch has died, I think I have less then a Park Run to go but this Etrex doesn't fill me with confidence. I get to a junction and try to guess which direction, but decide its better to wait as I can see a head torch approaching. Yeah another challenger  not a sprinter who is going to whizz by. I fess up telling him I'm his new best buddy whether he likes it or not.

Another Spine returner, another who has previously dropped out. Unfortunately another who is relying on a Etrex that is even older then mine. Where is everyone else, they must have stopped for hours in the cafe or really slowed up, or we are going the wrong way! No still seeing Pennine Way posts so all is good, its just never ending. We run for a bit to keep warm, we stand in a field of sheep for a bit, and decide its not that way. 

Finally we see a neon Spine Sign, sprints to the right, challengers to the North. This must mean we are really close right? another little jog to celebrate. Wait a minute I recognise this, this is where I did a night run with Paula and David, we have to go up hill. Thats it, you run on I'm walking, I slow up hill. The weird little passages past peoples houses, how many rusty abandoned caravans is that we have passed now? Paul waits for me, I know his name now. (feel bad I don't know any of my other Companions names) I tell him to crack on, but he says its fine he won't abandon me, he'll wait again at the top of the next bit we get to a gate, and he has shouted up to another Spinner who is heading off in the wrong direction. I am amazed, we ahvent seen anyone else for ages, he tells me he passed him a moment a go up the uphill. We wait for him to come back and join us. Its Ruden, (I think I wish he had his jetboil with him) He has the route on his watch, yay! The 3 of us get moving again, Paul has more in his legs and after a bit off he goes. I start chatting to Ruden, asking how this compares to his Snowden experience, he also tells me of his plans to run 4 London Marathons back to Back this year. He also tells me about the blisters on his feet. We get onto the road and its downhill so i naturally pick up a bit of pace, Carole!!!! its Paula, she has left CP1 and is off on the second leg, she has a new friend with her (Marie Louise) she is in good spirits, I tell her to smash it (or something along those lines). Down along the road we go a gap starts to open and I start to move a bit quicker in the knowledge that signs to the finish will now appear. I get to the point were I know I need to turn off, there are some people standing on the roadside, Carole!!! David! A quick hug, he tells me I'm proud of you, my stomach sinks again as I think will he still be proud if I finish at CP1? I don't have the heart to tell him at this point that is my plan. (maybe I could have saved him from a night freezing in the van)

Its a treacherous decent down to the Check Point and there are a flow of people coming back up to continue the race, I hear a voice What's your number? 400, its echoed back, What's your Name? Carole, again its echoed back as volunteers prepare to meet and greet me and get my drop bag ready for me.

For the 5th or 6th time today i'm told what a lovely smile. I can't help it, I have loved every minute of this I'm in my happy place.

Sarah is on duty at the Checkpoint and is ready to check me in. I get a cup of tea, I'm asked if I want a bed, yes please, it's a mixed dorm, no problem, someone will bring you up in a moment. I look around the room, no one else is smiling (apart from vols). There are some horrific looking feet on display, flesh bare. I don't see Paul, has he gone straight back out? or already in bed? I have my cup of tea, I don't put anything on to charge. I get my sleeping bag out and my change of clothes. I head to the dorm, I choose the top bunk furthest from the door. Tucked myself in without setting a alarm clock, the kick out time not on my mind. I sleep between alarms going off, opening & closing of zips & doors, snoring and in the last hour the screams of someone as they turn in their bed, its how I imagine being in a hospital ward.

I wake up, check my phone it's 5.30am, I jump down from the bunk, there is no ladder. I gather my stuff as softly as I can and head back to the main area. There is a rush of people getting ready to leave, bag checks are being done, volunteers are discussing waking people up to let them know that if they don't get ready now they will miss their cut off. I'm offered a cup of coffee, yes please. As i drink my coffee I get my wash bag and clothes together for a shower. In the shower I look down to see the mud line of my Sucky Elf moment and laugh again, its takes a lot of scrubbing. I arrive back in the main room fresh. A volunteer approaches to ask about bag check etc. This is it, this is were I admit it, I'm not heading back out. There is still time on the clock for me to make it, what's wrong? Do I need to see a medic? No, I am absolutely fine. 

Questions I asked myself before retiring:

Have I got stuck in a Bog? Yes

Have I gone further then I ever have before? Yes

Can I still walk? Yes

Am I injury free? Yes

Have I got Lost but still managed to get here? Yes

Did I navigate through the night? Yes

Did I enjoy every minute? Yes

Am I doing it for the dot watchers or me? Me

Will I be back next year? Yes

Job Done, now lets get David on the Phone and go see Bedders finish! 

CAMINO: In 2023 our friend Mark White (Run Grateful) introduced us to Ruden (Founder of the incredible Runderbolts). Even on that first meeting there was obviously something unique about Ruden. Whilst most of the Runderbolt chat that evening on a track in Osterley was about a recent city 10KM there was a small group reminiscing about Ultra Trail Snowdonia and Ruden piped up 'I am doing the Spine' - mic drop. From that moment we pulled Ruden in and we've gone on a wonderful journey together - getting Spine ready. Ruden's story is one that resonates massively with Camino and we are so grateful that he has shared his opus with us. Some exciting things happening with Camino x Runderbolts in the EcoTrails Challenge 2024.


"Spine Challenger South 

I was inspired to get involved in the Spine race after seeing my friend Sabrina Pace-Humphreys complete the full 268 mile Summer Spine. I looked it up and saw that there were smaller distances and thought… let me tackle the baby 108 miler first and see how that goes then I’ll be in a good mind to tackle the full Spine. As a community runner and founder of running crew, Runderbolts, I decided to take on this challenge to try and open the door to those who would never think running this type of distance or event was achievable or an event of this nature was for them. I am determined to knock down the doors and inspire others to push themselves beyond what they think they can do. I plan to make a positive step, to help pave the way to a more inclusive and diverse running industry from 5k road distances to 100 mile+ trail events like the Spine. 

For some reason, I never get nervous in the lead up to a race. I’m way too chilled about the actual race, until I’m in it and my legs start moving and I’m like “oh damn I actually have to run 108 miles now.” Reading up on the event in the lead up, a lot of the content was about how to survive, rather than run efficiently or perform well. Someone posted a YouTube video in the fb group called “How to get found alive” and in the briefing after kit check the advice ranged from how to not get hypothermia to how to not headbutt a cow to what to do if lightening strikes. Despite my anxiety, for some reason, these things seemed to excite me rather than scare me. This time I was just apprehensive about the dreaded kit check, my anxious mind made me overthink every item. I had my Army friend and fellow Runderbolt crew member, Gaurav with me to help drive me around and transport my ridiculous amount of kit. I turned up to Edale with about 8 massive bags and black sacks full of things I’d potentially need for the race. I brought 6 pairs of gloves, enough food and clothes to last me months, and every variation of plaster available on the market. David and Paula helped me so much the night before, they reminded me that I was running a race and not moving house. They quickly helped me condense a removals van load of gear into a vacuum tight essential kit check passing survival jet pack! 

I woke up in Edale YHA 5:30am feeling fresh and ready to smash whatever was coming my way. Threw on my Hoka Speedgoat 5’s and headed down to get my tracker fitted and then boom, 8am and we’re off! This was my first 100 miler and I was excited to get this distance under my belt. My longest run on similar terrain was 100k Ultra Trail Snowdonia in May, which had more elevation and my longest road distance was 126km, when I ran the London Marathon route 3 times back to back in April 2023. My mindset coming into this race and any challenge I set myself is that it’s already done, so in my head I was confident I’d finish, but just didn’t really know in what fashion, time or physical condition, as this distance in these conditions was new territory for me. 

I pushed hard from the start and aimed to get to CP1 by midnight to buy myself 8 hours from cut offs. I felt like I was learning as I moved forward, I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning. Carrying a heavy pack, I had to tape up the straps to stop it bouncing on my shoulders. My Garmin stopped itself a few times and I had to keep resetting the route. At the first mountain rescue tent I was so excited by the luxury of having a cup of tea, I made the school boy error of forgetting my poles! By the time I’d realised, I was already a few miles ahead and was not going to spend over an hour going back to get them so I kept it moving. I fell over quite a few times and once pulling my groin muscle. Around 25/30 miles in, the impact from me pounding down on the rocks and frozen terrain, I developed painful macerated and blistered feet. Despite all of these set backs I kept momentum and arrived successfully at CP1 by 00:16. I tried to sleep for an hour but it didn’t work. All the bottom bunks were full and I couldn’t find a ladder to get to the top bunk and didn’t want to bend my legs and risk getting a cramp so I somehow pulled myself up and wiggled like a fish. I was too paranoid to sleep so laid down for half an hour listening to people coming in and out and maybe dozed off here and there but I wouldn’t call it sleep. My feet were burning with pain and my legs were stiff, I saw the medic about my feet and she told me if I K-taped them up and keep going, I’ll be okay and encouraged me that I can get to the end! Somehow I faffed a lot from tiredness and stiffness and spent 4 hours at CP1, I don’t even know how, time just flies when you’re faffing. Just as I was heading out a mystery angel blessed me by reuniting me with my poles that I left behind earlier, that I certainly need for the challenges that were to come. 

As I headed off into the remaining 60+ miles of the race, it started to seem much more like a survival mission and the conditions became much tougher. Around the Malham stretch I began teaming up with other runners. This is where the decision making skills were called upon. Do I get a head start and go out alone into the toughest section of the race at night in freezing temperatures or do I wait for a group that wanted to Bivvy for a while and go an hour later? Even though I had no sleep, I didn’t feel tired so didn’t really want to stop. My thought process, if I go out alone I’ll probably struggle to keep momentum, and feel sorry for myself, but if I went with a group it would force me to keep a decent pace getting up and over the Pen-Y-Ghent section. Plus, it turned out to be much safer as we looked out for each other as temperatures dropped to -14 windchills. I started falling asleep a lot on my way down... at some points I’d fall asleep while running and wake up and realise that I’m still running, I don’t know how my feet took the right steps while I dipped into fairyland but I’m just relieved that I didn’t wake up to a rock in my face. 

On the final stretch from Horton to Hawes, every mile felt like 10 miles. It was never ending. I was so sleep deprived and exhausted I would go through a cycle of run, hike, hallucinate, fall asleep, wake up, wonder where I am, repeat. I’ve had hallucinations before but nothing like this and not so regular. I had so many that it would be hard to list them all but here’s a few… On the first night while running alone for the whole night I saw two guys, run across my path, I thought it was just my own shadow doubled from someone else’s headtorch behind me but when I looked around there was no one in site for miles and the figures disappeared into the darkness. When climbing up Pen-Y-Ghent I saw a face inbetween a runners feet. It was the last stretch from Horton to Hawes, on Cam High road where I felt like I was in some sort of parallel universe. I saw two ladies cheering for me and I said thank you and they disappeared. I saw a little boy offering me sweets. At one point I saw some runners (real life) overtake me and one of them was carrying a suitcase and I looked closely to try and bring myself to reality but I could still see the suitcase and just ended up accepting it. The weirdest  thing I saw was 2 small regal animals that looked like a cross between a squirrel and a meerkat. They were wearing crowns and staring at each other with pride, with a golden mist surrounding them. I also heard regular chatter of runners approaching from behind but when I looked back to greet them, there was no one there.

The conditions were tough but there was an air of kindness and generosity that helped carry us runners through and it seemed to grow as the miles increased, with the kindness from volunteers, passersby and participants. I like how we were greeted by our name at a many points in the race, it makes you feel like they know you’re out there and you’re not fighting alone. In Middleton, I had collapsed my head down onto my poles in an exhaustion break and must have looked demoralised, so a very kind family invited me into their home for coffee and biscuits and we had a nice chat. They offered me to come in to warm up but I didn’t want to bring bog into their nice clean house, so instead enjoyed taking a break on their swinging chair outside, which I nearly fell off. The Lothersdale ‘Facon butties’ and VIP foil seated tent was a great energy boost! I had to have 2, and was offered a 3rd as takeaway but I didn’t want to be too greedy. On that final stretch amongst all the imaginary support I received, there was also loads of real life support. A lovely couple walking their dog gave me a flask of coffee and 2 caramel wafer bars! As the fast full Spiners overtook me, one thing I realised was how calm and caring they were. You’d think that they would be huffing and puffing to make headway on their much longer journey, but instead they slowed down to chat and ask how I was. One lady competitor gave me pro plus tablets and soon after another gave me some tasty chocolate coated coffee beans!

I was finally less than a mile away from the finish and the end was in sight! I was greeted by a nice Spine team member who greeted me by my name and guided me towards the finish line while having a celebratory chat. I then proceeded to do my signature sprint finish and jump to the finish line! In true Runderbolts spirit, my girlfriend and a car full of my crew had drove 5 hours and stayed overnight to come and surprise me. They popped champagne (0% alc) and confetti to create the dream finish line party of my Winter Spine Challenger South! 

Overall I had an amazing experience! This race takes you to new depths both mentally and physically and tests you in all sorts of ways you wouldn’t expect. It’s more about planning, logistics, navigation, strategy and decision making, than actual running. I am so thankful to everyone who supported me in this journey, too many to mention. This has now inspired me to take on the Challenger North and then the full Spine! 

In the race it’s logistics over fitness, but overall it’s mindset over everything. I didn’t complete this run in January, I completed this run in my mind months ago when I signed up and made a concrete decision that it was already in the bag. The race for me was a 108 mile celebration of my decision to succeed. When you decide and commit to a goal, all the answers and tools will appear to get you through, whether it’s imaginary regal Squirrel-meerkats or kind people offering you a cuppa, you’ll always find a way to succeed! 

Thank you!"

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