Spine: stage 5, the 1100 calorie brunch

I had the luxury of a room to myself at CP4, and I got my best night’s sleep of the race. However it still wasn’t a good night’s sleep by any means. It was too warm (and it didn’t occur to my addled brain to turn the heating off) and I got the ‘feet being hit with hammers’ pain that I usually get after a 100 miler.

To get out of the CP I had to climb over Charlie and Alan who were both having their extremely battered feet dressed. Rob was ready to leave at the same time, so we set off together at about midnight. Shortly afterwards we came across a group heading back up the hill having over-shot the Pennine way. My recce memory helped out here, as I twigged where we were and we set off on the fiddly field crossings to and through Alston. Like the previous day I felt great, full of energy (and premature thoughts about finishing).

After an hour or so I stopped for breakfast (I can never eat straight after getting up). I quickly caught the group back up and we proceeded to collectively make a bit of a hash of the navigation. We were never lost, or more than 50m off route, but kept loosing the path. The worst incident left me knee deep in a pile of dung. I decided that my navigational mojo works better when I’m on my own and sped up a bit, to get myself a bit of space.

On the field crossings North of Slaggyford I had my final Charlie ‘fly-by’ as he ran past me (on his hamburger feet), faster than I can move, when fresh, without a pack. I caught up with Rob and Gary (who I think had pulled ahead when I had yet another food/wee stop) and we stuck together across the fields and moors towards Greenhead. As the Sun came up we stopped on a roadside bench and had a snack. I was very jealous. While I took a packet of Ritz crackers from my ‘savoury pocket’ and a Mars bar from my ‘sweet pocket’, they both pulled out freshly made sandwiches. Just before Greenhead I was harassed by a flock of sheep who thought we were bringing them breakfast.

Rob’s support were waiting in Greenhead and I headed off to the Youth Hostel, which had been left unlocked for us, and proceeded to eat. I had an Expedition meal, a(nother) Mars bar, a Mule Bar and half a pack of cashew nuts. A total of 1100 calories. Gary then arrived to have a quick sleep and I regaled him with the details of my 1100 calorie breakfast/lunch. I wasn’t sure which it was. It was 10 o’clock in the morning, but we’d been on the move for nearly 10 hours already.

Feeling fairly perky I headed off along Hadrian’s wall. Having been blown off the wall on my recce, this was the one bit of the route I wasn’t familiar with. The weather was gorgeous though and, for the first and only time, I took my waterproof jacket off. The down-side of this was that every time I lifted my arms to climb over styles, I realised quite how much I stank. To my surprise I loved the short steep climbs, but as the day wore on the flat bits got a bit tedious and I started feeling really tired. I really didn’t like the fuggy headedness which the lack of sleep brought on. I like being able to think straight!

Towards the end of the wall I passed Javed and another runner, who’d stopped to change batteries. We had a quick chat where I moaned that physically I was fine, but mentally I was struggling and the super polite Javed asked if there was anything they could do to help and suggested I walked with them. However I suspected I was moving a bit faster than them (when I arrived at CP4 they were both having injuries treated before leaving) so I pressed on. In retrospect I wish I’d been a bit more grateful.

Not long after Conrad Dickinson appeared, in running gear, with a flask of hot drink. I’m guessing I was a bit incoherent as he asked me how much sleep I’d been getting and what my plans were for CP5. He told me I was first lady. I told him I wasn’t, but I didn’t care (at this point this was 100% the truth, all I cared about was finishing). He warned me about the deep water/bog coming up (‘It’d probably come up to your head’), and I told him I’d already been there and done that and would be testing the footing carefully with my pole. My final encounter on the wall was with the race photographers who were lying in wait in a chilly spot at the top of the final hill.

After the turn off the wall I avoided taking a dip in the bog. The subsequent forestry tracks were really tedious. I tried to sit on a tussock for a snack but it collapsed and I ended up on my back like an up-turned turtle. (I’d seen a photo of Annie in a similar position, at a similar point in last year’s race and had wondered what on Earth she was doing....) Sitting up seemed like too much effort and, since there was no-one around to see me, I started eating in this position. And then Rob and Gary appeared around the corner...

They were marching at a fast pace and I struggled, and failed, to keep up. Part way through the forest a black clad running ninja darted out of the trees. I wondered if this was my first proper hallucination. But no it was someone (Tony Holland from the Ultra Runner store I think) out supporting the race. He was waiting at the next road crossing with a boot full of stuff  you might want after 200+ miles of run/walking. I was extremely grateful for the caffeine gels he gave me, which made the remaining miles into Bellingham a little bit less of a struggle.

Next up was the infamous ‘mud road from hell’. Knowing this was coming made it a bit less of a shock. And I think the rain had actually made it a bit less horrific than it was back in December. Plus one of the advantages of being short is that I could avoid bits of it by crouching and shuffling under the trees. None the less I did swear out-loud (‘for fucks sake!’) a couple of times. By this stage in the race I’d also started swearing at some of the more unwieldy gates.

Pushing to try to catch up with Gary and Rob I made a minor navigational error, overshooting a bridge across a river. It cost me less than ten minutes, but I was annoyed that I didn’t realise sooner (since when did the Pennine Way involve limbo-ing under branches?). At this point I decided to give up on the chase and just plod.

Just before Bellingham Ruggiero (another runner who would have been hours in front of me if it wasn’t for injuries) caught and passed me. He proceeded to go in roughly the right direction, but kept missing the small trods and his presence was enough to disrupt my navigational mojo. So I was paradoxically happy when his head-torch disappeared into the distance.

When I arrived at CP5 Rob told me they’d only arrived 5 minutes before me. And I inadvertently came out with what was apparently the quote of the day: ‘I felt so much better once I’d dropped back from you guys’. Oops. I tried to back-pedal (‘I’ve only got one speed, and you were too fast...’).

This CP was quite small and a bit chaotic. 4 or 5 of us had arrived fairly close together, and there was another pack sleeping. Joe Falkner asked me what my priorities were. ‘Food and sleep’. All the beds were currently full. There was floor-space across the car park, but some of the runners currently sleeping were planning to leave in an about an hour, which was about as long as it would take to eat and sort kit.

There was gear strewn everywhere (jokes were made about teenage boys’ bedrooms and UV lights...).  I found myself a space in the corner and tried to sort my gear. Someone managed to drop/throw their mobile phone into someone else’s food. I had my biggest meal of the week- a huge plate of pasta bake. Since I was ‘the last vegetarian’ I was given everything which was left and I shovelled most of it down while talking to the OH on the phone. As the pack in front prepared to leave I commented that one of them’s drop-bag was nearly as big as mine. He wasn’t amused. Oops, again.

Just after I finished eating and sorting kit, Joe told me there was a bed free and I dragged my kit through to it. I don’t know what the previous occupant had done, but the pillows and sheets were soaked. The room only had 2 beds and thankfully the other one was taken by Ruggiero, who either didn’t snore, or didn’t sleep.