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Camino Spine PART II

Hopefully you have all read our PART I Blog where we were grateful to get the reflections from Winter Spine WINNER Jess Johnson, Camino Superstar Sarah Burns Volunteer at Check Point 1 (Hebden Bridge) , our Camino friend Ruden from Runderbolts who completed an heroic Spine South Challenger and a brilliant rendition of her our experiences from Camino RD Carole.

In Part II we are ecstatic to bring you the beautiful reflections of Camino Athlete Sam Lissauer (WINNER of the Challenger South), longtime friend and Camino supporter Yvette Casallas and our very own Spine Coach Paula.

It's been an incredible - record breaking Spine year and we've loved every second. Huge thank you to our Bloggers and everyone involved in the Spine event this year x

Grateful to the Spine photographers who took these awesome pictures of our Caminos x

Big Camino SPINE Love x

CAMINO: After a highly impressive 6th in the technical Ultra Trail Drakensberg 100KM and then a sensational joint victory in the Lap Windermere (with the amazing Helen) we knew that Camino Athlete Sam had the pedigree to do well in the Spine. However it was her wonderful training block (many Spinesque miles recce-ing with Spine Legend Hannah Rickman) that gave us everything we needed to believe that Sam was going to do well. What followed was a gripping race with Sam and Helen - one that started off looking like then would complete the entire 108 miles together but ended up with a huge win for Sam - it takes two to make the magic in this sport and we were blessed with many incredible runners in this event.

We are so proud of you Sam x

Sam: "My Spine journey started very memorably but rather unexpectedly almost 2 years ago whilst sitting on my sofa in a very hot and sweaty Malawi where I became obsessed with ‘dot watching’ my wonderful friend @Hannah Rickman, and all these other remarkable people on their journeys up the Pennine Way. I had never heard of The Spine, or contemplated the world of ultra-running and this felt a whole world away; I was the wrong side of 40 yrs, had never run further than a marathon, was living on the other side of the world, was ‘too busy’ with 3 kids and a full time job, and too worried about trails and being cold to think that this was something I could ever be part of. This was something for other people – not for me. I could never do that, could I?

Fast forward 2 years and I am standing on the start line of The Spine Challenger South full of nerves, carrying a heavy bag, and faced with 108 miles of bog and ice up the Pennine Way. I spent some time before the race wondering how this could have happened. But I know how; I was inspired by some really wonderful women who have believed in me, pushed me and encouraged me to be there. And I had a coach who had prepared me well for everything I might face @onehandedrunner By then it was something I also really wanted to do for myself.

The journey to The Spine for me was probably more important than the race itself. In the past year have run further and climbed higher than ever before. I have learned about kit, navigation, trail snacks, night running. I have also come to love being out on the trails, often with some really wonderful friends @hannahrickman1 @heldasheff and there has been so much joy (and some tears) out on adventures in the hills. I have learned a lot about myself and what really makes me tick. And I have had something for myself – when I am out there I am not defined by being anything other than being me out in the wild. And that is a wonderful feeling.

As soon as the race started nerves settled and I could start running. This is what I know – me, my body, the trails and the fresh air. We were very lucky with the weather and aside from some dense mist (and some rain!) in the first few hours things were pretty good out there. I enjoyed ticking away the hours with my friend Helen, just like in training, and was so overwhelmed with wishes of support from so many people out along the way. Having never run this far before I wanted to start pretty conservatively so just kept the effort easy and well fueled (Torq gels all the way!).

Coming into CP1 (the only checkpoint) at 75km into the race everything felt pretty good and I was a bit too leisurely enjoying the hospitality of the CP volunteers, who were ace. Helen and I came into the CP as the first females, but we were soon joined by 3 other ladies who were looking strong. Helen and I left together to face the long dark night. I am not really sure what happened for the next few hours. Things ticked along and the air turned cold and icy. The grass started sparkling in my headlight and the stars overhead made you feel like a tiny speck in the universe. Eating was more difficult and I was really starting to flag when an angel with a walkie-talkie appeared out of the dark night and asked if I’d like a bacon sandwich! Thanks enormously to the team at Lothersdale who fed me vegan bacon rolls, numerous cups of tea and sent me back out feeling ready for anything! All volunteers, up in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, just to support people like me who choose to spend their weekend doing silly things at silly times of the day.

And that really does define The Spine. At so many points along this way a kind stranger seemed to appear out of nowhere and ask if I was OK. The support for the runners in this race really is incredible. And I am truly grateful to every single person who gives up their precious time to make this possible for me and for all Spiners out there.

I started to move well again and had a good couple of hours looking forward to seeing the sunrise again. The sky started to turn pink just as I got to the top of Malham Cove, and then, just as I expected to feel pleased it was daylight and had an incredible view, things suddenly felt tough. The rocks were really slippy, I was overwhelmingly tired and I was ready to lie down. Eating wasn’t going very well and I was running out of reserve. I had already run way further than I’d ever run before and there was still such a long way to go! I took a deep breathe, looked at the glorious sky and reminded myself how incredibly lucky I was to be out there. I also reminded myself that I was doing this for me, but also I was representing every single other woman out there who has ever felt daunted by the challenges life throws our way; we can do hard things.

Telling myself to just keep moving forwards I made my way, slowly, up and towards Malham Tarn. A quick cup of tea at CP 1.5  and more kind words from volunteers and I left absolutely determined to make it to the end. I was moving well and the morning was just so beautiful I couldn’t help but feel grateful to be out there on this more wild section of the course. Up and over Fountains Fell in snow and up Pen-y-Ghent and I started to really believe this was going to happen. The Cam high road, the last 20km+ was a slog, I’m not going to lie. But another lovely runner, Ben, and I faced it together. Just moving together, without a single word, both appreciating the company in the bitter wind and the never ending ‘up’ that is the road to the end. Gate opening was becoming a challenge with so many gloves on and confusing ‘same but different’ opening mechanisms. Surely opening a gate should not be this hard! Recognising this Ben opened all the gates for me and I closed them. Teamwork; a silent understanding from another runner that this was the support we could give to each other right now.

And then I was descending into Hawes. Turning into the final street I could see the Market Hall, my family, and the end. Utter relief, joy and pride as I finished and was greeted by hugs all round.

I had finished first female and was overcome by all the support I had received along the way. I considered permanently moving into Hawes checkpoint as everyone was so incredibly kind and I didn’t want to leave The Spine bubble.

Very proud of Helen Dale who came in second lady after a tough build up to the race and Paula, my wonderful, patient and kind coach. And all of those incredible runners who fought through dark moments of their own and were brave enough to stand on the start line of any of The Spine races.

I have learned a lot through all of this, although running a very long way, mostly in the dark, in the middle of winter may be an extreme way to come up with analogies for facing my own life challenges, of which there have been many over the past year. But for what it’s worth here goes: It’s a journey and there are ups and downs. Other people can support you, but you have to do the hard work yourself. Sometimes it feels like there is never ending darkness, but then a kind human or a sunrise appears and it makes you feel like things might be OK. It doesn’t always get worse. Being kind to yourself is a more effective way of willing yourself forward than being mean. And the end comes.

Oh and women are amazing. I hope that more women turning up and taking part in events that once seemed ‘unreachable’ will shift the curve just a little more. Women are under-represented in so many sports and this is just one of them. If you are reading this and think ‘I couldn’t do that’ (or anything else you choose to challenge yourself with) then you are wrong. You can ☺ And we are all here to cheer you on your way."

CAMINO: Yvette has been a familiar face on the UK Ultramarathon scene since 2018. She has competed in the South Downs Way 100 miler and Ultra Trail Snowdonia 100KM but there is something about the Winter Spine Challenger South 108 Miler which felt like the toughest challenge to date. Did Yvette carry her smiley disposition all the way to the end at Hawes....

YVETTE: "Prepare to take on one of Britain’s Most Brutal endurance races", seeing that caption makes you think twice about signing up to an event that sounds as horrendous as this. Every year, I’ve always tuned in to follow updates from the Spine races, in awe of these amazing runners enduring such an incredible feat. Never thinking that could be me one day. In July I received an email from the Spine team notifying me that I was off the waiting list and a spot had become available. I was very confused, as I couldn’t recall signing up. I remember thinking this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn’t hesitate for too long to register, and I hadn’t done any proper research into the race either, but usually I sign up to races and then deal with it later. Especially, as I had to get through UTMB TDS first in August.  

 I find myself signing up to races that have the words brutal, savage, and technical in the sentences, that I question my sanity at times. However, it’s good to try hard things and go beyond our comfort zone. Occasionally, the fear of going longer distances and the unknown holds us back and can influence our decisions of whether we take that leap of faith to try new experiences and test our abilities. But I felt I had enough past experience to give it a try. I haven’t run beyond 100 miles and the longest time I've been on my feet is 41.5 hours. What I didn’t take into account in the later months was how expensive it was all going to be. This event comes with a very long kit list and has to meet approval. If you have the wrong kind of kit, then it could jeopardise your race. I did what I could to recce sections of the Challenger South and train consistently, but suddenly race day wasn’t far off and I felt I hadn’t done enough.

During Christmas, I became unwell for 2 weeks, which was a massive setback. I could barely run 1-2 km before I had to pause and walk. I even considered DNS and I was too late to defer. So, it was either lose the spot and the money or just start the race and see what happens. With 10 days to go, I did feel better, but panic set in. I still had to buy a few kit items, and I hadn’t trained much with my pack to cope with the weight. I felt annoyed that I didn’t give this race enough respect to be consistent with my training, planning and testing my gear in order to give myself a better chance and be ready.It’s race day and I kept thinking about how cold it was going to be and how far I would get along the course. Did I mention I absolutely hate the cold!! I had no expectations about how I would do and had accepted a possible DNF, but I had 2 goals.

Firstly, to get to the bag drop checkpoint at Hebden Hey Scout Centre at mile 46, and if I felt well to continue, then my next aim was to arrive at the last location I had recced, which was Gargrave at mile 76.

Early on into the race I fell twice between the flagstones into the boggy, muddy water. Annoyed that I was cold, wet and had grazed my shin badly. I was a little shaken up, but I composed myself and cracked on. I tried to move as quickly as possible to make the most of the daylight, 46 km and 8 hours into the race it was time to switch to headtorch, the weather had stayed dry and the cold temperatures were manageable. Hebden was the only checkpoint to eat, sleep and change, however on certain sections of the route we were fortunate to have MRT staff (Mountain Rescue Team) and locals provide pop-up aid stations. It was such a treat to have these food/drink supplies! One in particular I was looking forward to was Nicky’s Foodbar where I munched on a bacon bap and sat inside a cosy shipping container.

At every aid station I couldn’t resist a cup of tea to perk me up.  From 53km onwards a runner called Pete decided to buddy up with me. I didn’t mind the company and was happy to navigate and lead the way, but we practically paired up and stuck together right up until the end. Arriving at Hebden I was happy to be reunited with my drop bag. The level of support from the volunteers was top noth working around the clock to assist runners. A change of clothes, socks and a serving of pasta, I decided to crawl into my sleeping bag for an hour to snooze. I’m not sure I slept properly as I could hear noises in the background, but it was time to get back out there. Another plate of food, final kit check and we headed out into the darkness around 3am. I was in good spirits and very awake, we had a long way to go, 31km, before we saw another little aid station with supplies. I could feel my feet swelling up, and had the start of friction on my little toes and soles of my feet. I blocked it out and ignored the discomfort, but it meant I couldn’t run much.

Sunrise was upon us, we were 24hrs into the race, a glorious morning with stunning views. I wish I had taken more photos, but I didn’t want to faff around with my gloves constantly or trip over. We arrived at the next aid station at 9am for a well deserved rest, another tea and bacon bap. I got a medic to check my toe, and decided to keep it taped up and loosen the laces; I had grown half a shoe size. Gargrave was our next stop, we arrived around 2pm meaning everything was open, whoop!. We chose to sit inside the cosy Daleman Cafe that was recommended, ordered a ham and cheese toastie and a flat white. Also it was a chance to enjoy the luxury of a proper toilet too!

A quick trip to CoOp for some extra supplies and we marched on. By this point, I already felt a sense of achievement getting this far into the race and feeling in good form. I felt I was that little bit closer to the finish, but still had a tough second night to get through and still climb up Pen Y Ghent. I tried dehydrated food for the first time. Yuck! 15 min to brew in hot water was too long, so I forced myself to eat it slightly undercooked, but it was a few extra solid calories in the belly. It wasn’t long before I really felt the conditions get much colder, the temperature had dropped significantly.  I had 5 layers on, buff, beanie and all the hoods over my head, plus 3 layers of gloves and hand warmers. The wind chill got slightly worse and I was just keen to get Pen Y Ghent out the way. Slowly we trekked across Fountains Fell, before dipping down to the foot of Pen Y Ghent and began the climb up. We had another runner join us, Kirstie, and thankfully she quickly guided us as we scrambled to the top of the summit. Carrying a heavy pack and poles made the climb hard. In the dark it was hard to visualise and make sense which way to go and I felt like I was on the edge. I recall reaching the trig and we hugged and kissed the stone with relief. That was the final big climb done. Descending from Pen Y Ghent to Horton was tedious. It wasn’t exactly runnable and I think I cursed and moaned a lot. I wanted to get some momentum on the descent but the path was so rocky, I had to focus extra hard not to kick any rocks and bash my toes. Horton was the last little village before the final push to the finish.

We were greeted by more MRT staff who checked on us. I remember shedding a few tears. I think I was in disbelief by this point that I was still on my feet and feeling relatively good. I knew then that the finish was in sight, I just had to dig deep on the final stretch. The three of us had agreed to take a little rest inside the public toilet. Pete and I agreed to sleep for an hour and be ready to set off at 2:30am. I sat on the cold floor with my back against the wall, but I couldn’t get comfortable. So I took my sleeping equipment out, laid the mat on the floor like a tarpaulin and wrapped the sleeping bag around me. I could feel my feet throbbing so I switched myself around by resting my feet against the wall. I was fidgeting, my strategy wasn’t working and couldn’t settle. It was almost pointless taking a break here and perhaps we should have persevered.The slow slog through Cam High Road just went on forever. This section was my least favourite, and the wind picked up, it felt more exposed and definitely reached minus degrees. Darkness everywhere and no sign of approaching Hawes, our final point. We noticed our flasks were starting to freeze over. I had been warned about this, but didn’t think it was cold enough for that to happen. One of my flasks had Tailwind which stopped the bite valve from freezing whereas the one with water I couldn’t get any fluid out or turn the cap. Good job we didn’t have very far to go. It felt like we weren’t making progress and I was getting grouchy! The lead runner of the Spine race caught up with us and shouted that we had 5km to go. I believed him! Suddenly I felt a surge of energy and urgency to make haste and get it done! (I later found out that it was Kim Collison who was leading). And just like that, we turned off the main track up a little hill and there below in the distance was Hawes.

Rewarded with another beautiful sunrise, a few more Spine runners passed us. They looked so fresh and light on their feet and we just looked on in amazement. Touchdown into Hawes, we had a few hundred metres of the main high street, eagerly looking out for the Spine flags, and there it was, inconveniently blocked by a white van, the village Market House entrance. I immediately sat on the steps, shook Pete’s hand and slumped against the wall. I was emotional and in disbelief because I didn’t think it was possible.

A unique experience I’ll never forget, genuinely one of the hardest races I’ve done and total admiration for all the runners that have the courage to give these races a go. Spine Challenger South Finisher in 48:04.18, 17/20 Female, 72/98 Overall. 

CAMINO: Our very own Coach Paula has been coaching many of our athletes at this years event and was inspired by her Summer Sprint to sign up to the Winter South Challenger. Training and especially the recces had been amazing up to the end of November but then a whole host of other events meant that there was a long 5-6 weeks where an absence of running had given Paula some obvious race day concerns. Over to Paula to share about her own adventures x

Coach Paula:

"Given that it was Winter, it was darker a lot sooner than when I had done this part of the course before, but I wanted to get to Nicky's food bar, which is the iconic of the side of the M62 motorway on the route, where you can pop into some food and drink at that point it’s really very much welcome. And actually it seemed that Nicky's came sooner than I was expecting it. I got inside 2 cups of tea had a halloumi roll - I warmed up a little bit and sorted out my head torch batteries and a few other little bits of admin and then pressed on the next bit of the route.

 I found this section quite runnable during The Summer Spine Sprint and I was actually looking forward to running along the side of the reservoir but once I arrived I actually felt much more tired than I hoped.

 I was running mostly on my own when I caught up with a couple who were doing the event together. They were from Norway and I tagged along with them on the stretch from Hebden town up to Hebden Hay and I really appreciated this. They were going at a decent pace and it pushed me to keep up with them and it also meant that it took the pressure off me navigating at that point because this bit is quite tricky.. I kept up with them all the way into Hebden Hay and we ran as much as we could during those sections.

Going in to Hebden Hay is a treacherous path which seems to conspire to disorientate you, but I knew that when I got there, my little sister Sarah, who was volunteering would be there, so I was super super excited, and actually wasn’t too bothered by the steep slippy hill! Sarah was at the door checking people in when I got there and got massive hug and lots of encouragement from her. I had thought that I might try and get some rest but I didn’t want to go in the room to sleep. It turns out that there wasn’t really anywhere to rest so I sorted a bit of kit and then went to get something to eat. Felt really good getting some hot food - had jacket potato and rice and chicken, 3 cups of tea and a snickers and then went back to sort myself out and get my kit on.

 Just as I was getting ready to leave Hebden and get my Kit checked there was a lady that came over to me and asked if I fancied some company. This was Marie Lou and little did I know then that we would be together until the end! I had planned to run the Challenger South on my own if I needed to, I was happy with the thought of going into the night on my own and had set my intention to do this, but was happy to run alongside people if that opportunity came.

 So I thought that it would be good to start with someone and if we ended up going our separate ways then so be it. Marie Lou turned out to be a fantastic companion. She’d run the first half with her friend who had tapped out at checkpoint one, and she had done this Race two times before, and so she knew what was coming up, and she was looking for some company for the night sections, which actually turned out to be a pretty smart idea because it was cold, windy and dark and actually tackling it together really helps when one of you feels a little bit low. The other one can step up and it drives you both on and you can keep each other going."

he next big challenge coming out of Hebden Was heading up to Top Withams in the early hours of Sunday morning. The temperature started dropping by then, and it was freezing. I definitely hadn't put enough layers on when I left Hebden because I was struggling a bit to regulate my temperature, and any Running that I was doing, I was getting very hot, but it got to the point on top with that I realised I actually needed to put another layer on. Any stopping and faffing while you're out on the course in an exposed place is never a good idea. You get cold quickly, but I felt better wearing my Down jacket. Pressing on through the cold through the night, Marie Lou and I got to know each other, and the time passed as we chatted away. Runners tend to spread out really quickly along the cool, so it's not often that you see people, but we passed and saw a few other runners; we checked to see if they were okay as it looked like they were having a hard time, but everyone has their ups and down, and most people carry on keeping going and even though they look like they're having to dig deep. It's great when you see them a bit further down the course when they've perked up and then moving again! The night seems to go on forever as the Sun rises at seven or 8 am. In those last hours, all we could do was speculate about the unofficial checkpoint in Lothersdale, which is run by a triathlon club and the delights it would bring; by this point, we were both hungry, and Marie Lou was so upbeat and kept us moving at pace, so we could get to that cup of tea and bacon sandwich as soon as possible. We agreed that we would try to get a 15-minute nap when we reached there to reset ourselves for the next long leg into Gargrave; what a blessed relief it was to see the volunteers under the tent at Leatherdale. We were beyond excited and jogged our way down to the tent full of weary runners with their sandwiches and cups of tea. We found ourselves a camping chair with a foil blanket around us, and a lovely Volunteer gave me an extra blanket as I was freezing. I nibbled on my bacon sandwich and left it on my lap, and I shut my eyes and nodded off .. the volunteers gave us a little nudge after 15 minutes, and they were wonderful, waking us up and offering us more tea. While I'd slept, my bacon sandwich had fallen on the floor, but hey Ho, I picked it up and finished it off. It tasted delicious. We got ourselves together with full tummies and warmed by the tea. There's nothing like the feeling when you've had a bit of a rest when you set off again. By this time, it was Light.

With renewed energy, we set off for the next big stop, Gragrave, where I had finished one recce and started another. I was very much looking forward to visiting the fantastic tea shop there. The Sun was shining, and although it was bitterly cold, it was just a delight to be back in the daylight. Coming into Gargrave, there is a beautiful stretch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and although we were tired, this was a delightful part of the route. We were delighted to see Ribble Valley Walker on the canal, taking photos, which was a lovely surprise. We must've looked a bit bedraggled coming into Gargrave, and we headed straight for the tea shop for a hot cup of tea and a toasted tea cake. We then went to the co-op for some supplies. Unfortunately, for some reason, maybe due to the tiredness, we forgot to pack some extra sandwiches, which we really wish we had bought later on and in the last hours, we were under fuelled and hungry. 

The following section up to Malam would be one of the biggest challenges in the Race for me. Marie Lou was full of beans after Gargrave, and as the route was reasonably flat, she was keen to move quickly. Marie Lou is a quick walker, and I was trying to figure out how to keep up with her blistering pace. In my next training block, I will focus on fast walking! The only way I could keep up with her was to look at her feet and move my feet at precisely the same pace as hers, and although I was lagging behind a little, I was actually moving faster. This was one of the beautiful things about teaming up with someone. If I'd been alone at this point, I might have been mooching along in my own little world, and I was moving faster because of the company. Malam is epic. The climb goes on forever, the route up to the tarn a sweeping curve. It wasn't the only part of the route in which I swore heavily, panting, as I marched up the hills, cursing the Pennine way for being so bloody hilly. It's interesting to note what motivates you to keep moving. Meditation has been a big part of my preparation for this Race, and I'm fortunate to live right next door to a Zen temple which does morning meditations, which had been a great comfort to me in the run-up to the Race, especially when life had been so hectic, and My Mum had been very unwell. I had imagined my peaceful hours meditating would help me be serine during the challenges of the Race, but the truth is actually swearing my way up the hills was the best way to motivate myself! So apologies, dear Pennine Way, I didn't mean any of it. You are beautiful and epic. Please don't take my swearing personally!

We were both a mess when we got to the mini checkpoint at the top of Malham Tarn. We'd been fantasising about sleeping, but when we sat down and had a cup of tea, we realised that we wouldn't get any sleep there. We could only stop for 30 minutes, and our time was nearly up. The volunteers there were really lovely. We snuggled in the warm room, and they fed us tea, and although we were disappointed, we couldn't stay longer to sleep. They did suggest that there was a bird hide a little bit down the road that some people have been using! By this point, it was getting dark, and it was freezing, and we both felt that we were just going to get even colder if we stopped, so the only thing to do was press on now, and we knew we wouldn't get any more sleep until the end of the Race. The temperature plummeted as the night went on, and winds whipped up. We escaped Fountain Fell and realised we needed more layers and a good feed before we tackled Pen-y-Ghent. We finally found a wall to shelter behind, sat down, had a sandwich, put on some extra layers, and pressed on. As we started again, we were treated to the incredible sight of a white owl hovering still in the starlight while the winds blew around it before it swooped with precision to hunt its dinner.

We got disorientated in the run-up to Pen-y-Ghent. For some weird reason, both of our watches glitched. For a while, we were without navigation, but we bumped into some people who were waiting for a runner, and they pointed us in the right direction; you can see Pen y Ghent right ahead of you, but you have to sweep around the back of it to take the route up to the top. It had been one of the most challenging parts of the Recces that I had done with David, and he'd been patient going ahead of me while I was languishing behind, being quite petrified of falling off Pen-y-ghent and struggling to climb up the rocks. This time was no different, except I was much more tired, and the weather Was much worse. Luckily, I had the excellent Mary Lou to go ahead of me, and she gently encouraged me up to the top. At one point, I froze. I looked down. It seemed like a steep face that if I fell off, I wouldn't make it, but I looked up and couldn't see how I could scramble up. I felt dejected and scared, but I realised the only way was up. This was a significant moment for me in the Race. I felt very vulnerable, and with only one hand, I've always been a bit intimidated by climbing. So, there's always the nagging at the back of my mind about whether I can tackle this terrain safely. It was that rather than my ability holding me back, I knew more than anything I wanted to finish this Race, so I jumped up on my bottom onto a rock, shuffled very slowly around and then dragged myself onto the next rock. I was nearly at the top. I've never been so glad to get to the top of anything before; I remember saying when I got to the top that I would never climb Pen-y-ghent again. With time, I can see thst it was a gift, and I'd like to go back, having practised some movement skills that will help me climb it more confidently. Learning in races is gift,  where you find out what other skills you can work on refining so that you can go on more adventures and visit those places outside your comfort zone.

The last 12 hours of the Race were really a blur. By this point, the fatigue had really set in. Although I wasn't hallucinating, my peripheral vision pulsed with clouds, lights, and shadows on rocks resembling artistically drawn animal shapes!

Like many people experience, the Cam High Road is something else, especially after 28 hours with out sleep . There's a steep section that goes up and up, and sometimes it feels like you're in a bad dream because you're sure it should've finished, and I couldn't quite understand why I was still going up it. My youngest son, Herbie, an up-and-coming runner, gave me a great motivational quote to take to the Race. It's a quote from a fortnight YouTuber, which he also has adopted for when he does his cross-country races. He shouts to me, "Never back down, never what?" and I have to shout back, "Never give up", he replies. "Yes, that's right". So there was only one thing to do in the dark, windy, starry night. Every step I took, I shouted, "Never back down, never give up!" It seemed like I was calling out this mantra for hours as I moved up the hill, but then there we were, at the top. There were many points on this part as we headed down into town that even though we were so so close, there was one bit inside of me that just wanted to stop to sit down, and I was sure that if a car had driven past me, I would've stopped put my thumb out and hitched a lift! But the truth is there is no shelter. There is no stopping. It's cold, blowing a gale, and the only way for it to finish is to get to the finish. Marie Lou is stretching out ahead of me, and I'm sure I said to her a few times go on, go ahead, it's not far now, But my new amazing friend stuck with me even though I was probably being quite annoying and moaning a bit by then! I apologise, Marie Lou, but I hope my navigation skills earlier compensated for the moaning later. There's one last booby-trapped bog to navigate, and then you're in town; knowing I would do it was immense.

As we headed to the finish line, I could hear the cries of Carole and David cheering me on as they waited for me. I was so grateful to have my wonderful friends there at the end. 

Side-by-side, Marie Lou and I headed to the finish line with big hugs, big smiles, and medals around our necks, and we were huddled into the hall at the finish line and the incredible volunteers gave us tea and fed us jacket potatoes. 

The Spine event is really unbelievable. The focus is on self-sufficiency and carrying the things you need on your back; this is hard to do, but you learn incredible skills from it, and a massive sense of freedom comes with those new skills. What can I do now? I have my sleeping bag, my Bivvy bag, poo shovel and my camping stove. The world is my oyster, And I'm looking forward to some self-supported Adventures later this year where I can use these newfound skills. 

A final huge thanks to my coach, David, who is incredibly patient and understands the balance that I need in my life and my training, which often involves doing less running than he might put in an athlete's plan and focusing more on the other things that nurture me. The Camino toolbox is always open to finding new and nurturing ways to connect with movement, mindset and adventure. He always ensured that I did enough long runs, had recced the whole course, and would be as prepared as possible for this Race. The proof was in the pudding as I crossed the finish line and got my medal.

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Just in awe of these incredible humans and the kind of mindset it takes to tackle and accomplish something so challenging. I congratulate them all!


I loved reading all these accounts. And swearing over mediation every time on the hills 😅


Rachel Lissauer
Rachel Lissauer
21 янв.

Gosh. What incredible accounts! I have been watching your dots and the YouTube clips all week. These really bring it to life. I can see how much focus and determination it has taken to take part - and the strength and joy you've got from being in nature with like-minded souls. Next time I think I might come and work in a hut!

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