Spine: stage 6, the race for last orders

The night before there’d been discussion of leaving the final checkpoint as a group at 2 am. But I didn’t want to commit as I didn’t want to end up in a situation where I was struggling to keep up with the group and slowing them down.  Like the previous nights I slept restlessly, even having taken painkillers to dull the hammering in my feet. At 1 am I got up and went and told Steve, who was up and sat on the sofa, that I wouldn’t be ready to leave at 2. But by 1.30 I was raring to go, so I got up, forced down some breakfast (for the first time) and taped my blister & smeared my feet in sudocream (for the last time...).

In the end only Steve and I were ready to go at 2, so we left and the vague plan was the others would catch us. I got half way across the car park before noticing my pole had got longer, and grown a wrist strap. I’d stolen someone else’s pole. So back I had to go to swap it for my own. Steve’s badly battered feet were causing him pain, whereas the painkillers I’d taken to dull the hammering sensation in mine had done the job. And without even noticing I pulled away.

On my own I happily negotiated my way through Bellingham and across the following moors. I only lost the path briefly, just before Whitley Pike and had to do a bit of heather bashing. I was a bit taken aback to find someone in a car monitoring runners at the next isolated road-crossing. I’d been planning to stop and have a wee there!

I’d been feeling a bit sleepy on the descent to the road, and this got worse. It took all my concentration to stay upright on the slightly uneven climb and descent past Padon Hill. The steep climb along the edge of the forest woke me up a bit, but the subsequent bog was a struggle. At one point I sat down in the bog and closed my eyes for 30 seconds. But common sense prevailed, this was a bad place for a snooze. I knew from my recce that there were some public toilets a few miles away at the end of the forestry section. So I focussed on getting there. I was still very sleepy, but my legs and feet felt fine and this section flew by. Rounding a corner I thought, in the dawn light, I saw a gritstone ridge ahead, but quickly realised that in fact it was the forestry track. I’m not sure whether this counts as an hallucination, but it’s definitely the closest I’ve ever got.

When I got to the toilets my heart sank when I read the sign on the door ‘closed until April 2014’. But I desperately needed to sleep. I couldn’t head onto the Cheviots in this state (and didn’t want to show up at the monitoring point just down the road like this). So I put on my primaloft hat and top and sat down in the doorway. I’m not sure why I thought this was better than lying down-less contact with the cold concrete perhaps?

I dozed for about 30 minutes, waking up as various forestry vehicles went by and finally waking up for good when Gary and Rob appeared. This seemed to be a good time to get moving again, so I took the extra top off and headed off with them. The power-nap had done me the world of good. I was initially slightly chilly and incoherent, but perked up rapidly as we headed into Byrness.

At this point Flip was manning the final roadside monitoring point and enthusiastically plied us with food and drink and explained the diversion around the ‘super bog’. The ever-smiley Ruggiero arrived, and once it started raining heavily he and I headed off along the well-signposted diversion. He was far faster than me though and pulled away on the never ending climbing forestry track.

As the painkillers wore off my right leg became very uncomfortable. Everything hurt, from the hip down through the knee to my ankle. Trying to look on the bright-side, I told myself the pain would help me stay awake (and I’d been very lucky to get this far before the ITB became a problem). I drip-fed myself painkillers through the day to keep the pain manageable though.

Like on my recce the first part of the Cheviots dragged, and I kept myself going with the promise of a stop for an expedition meal at the first refuge hut. Just before I got there Rob and Gary caught me (moving at speed) and we stopped together and ate. Being extremely nosey I got out the visitor book to see if any other Spiners had signed it. None had so far but  Rob and I did adding to the entries we’d both made, a few days apart, back in December.  After eating I shoved my flameless cooking system back into my rucksack, before realising it was still generating heat (and I was potentially at risk of setting my rucksack on fire).

When we left the refuge hut the guys were clearly moving faster than me, and asked if I wanted them to slow down for me. I said no and I’d see them at the finish. However I finally cracked out my iPod and this gave me a much needed boost (why didn’t I do this when I was struggling on the previous two afternoons?). I hadn’t put too much attention into what was on it. I just dumped all my playlists on and (since I usually use it to listen to podcasts) it was set to play them sequentially rather than shuffle. First up was ‘classic metal’. Starting with all of ‘Appetite for Destruction’, including (for some unknown reason) ‘Rocket Queen’ twice.  To my sleep-deprived brain the lyrics seemed remarkably apt. 10 days later I’ve still got

I see you standin'
Standin' on your own
It's such a lonely place for you
For you to be
If you need a shoulder
Or if you need a friend
I'll be here standing
Until the bitter end
No one needs the sorrow
No one needs the pain
I hate to see you
Walking out there
Out in the rain

going around in my brain. Next up was Iron Maiden (I’ve got the music tastes of a teenage boy...), including ‘Run to the hills’ and then the Hellacopters (which reminded me of the very happy 2 years I spent living in Stockholm). And plodding along in my music bubble the Cheviots flew by and I kept pace with Gary and Rob’s headtorches a couple of hundred metres in front.

We joined up again for the steep, and painful, descent from Auchope cairn. I grunted lots in the style of a female tennis player. Four of the mountain and medic support crew were stationed in the 2nd refuge hut, and 2 of them came out to meet us. We stopped briefly for a quick hot drink. I slammed down one final Mars bar and we revealed our plotting to arrive in Kirk Yetholm in time for last orders. At this point I was high as a kite and didn’t even sit down. I merrily told Matt(?) the medic that my feet were in a better state than when he’d treated them at Hawes. There were still several hours, several lows and a lot of grunting, to go however.

At the refuge hut a facebook thread on ‘what music would you like to finish the Spine race to?’ had been mentioned. And thinking about this kept my head occupied for a while. I briefly considered ‘Weak’ by Skunk Anansie and ‘Pretend that we’re dead’ by L7 (2 of my favourite tracks ever) before settling for the Sex Pistols cover of ‘My way’.

Just before the start of the long descent into Kirk Yetholm I made one final toilet stop, and it took a concerted effort to catch the guys up again. I then started worrying about whether I’d be able to finish my pint without getting wobbly, so I ate my final packet of Hula Hoops.

On the final road section we discussed, and binned, our earlier plans to jog in to the finish. I said my goal had been to finish in the style of Mick Cooper in the early hours of Saturday morning. However not only was I not going to finish in the style of Mick Cooper, I wasn’t going to finish in the early hours of Saturday morning, it was Friday night! It was suggested I could have a snooze on the bench on the final hill to kill time until Saturday morning, but not to expect them to come back and wake me up.

At the top of the final small hill Rob’s wife and some of the support crew were waiting for us. We power-walked in a line, grunting, towards the finish while they followed us giggling. It was a bit surreal. The village green came into view and there were loads of people standing on it. What were they doing? In fact it was a lot of the race support crew and various runner’s supporters who’d come out of the pub to see us finish. I’ll never forget the reception we got. I didn’t even mind lots of people hugging me (much...)! And, as the finish photos demonstrate, I had the world’s biggest grin on my face.

We went into the pub. I phoned home to tell the OH I’d finished and then had a celebratory pint. I’d liked to say it tasted great, but actually I can’t remember what it tasted like. Ian was in the pub, having had a storming finish. And (with his competitive head on) was enthusiastically telling me what I could do to reduce my finish time in future. I was just ecstatic to have finished well within the 7 day time limit.

Then it was into a mini-bus and a trip to the village centre for food and sleep. There were no showers there. It was possible to get taken somewhere else to have one, but at this point I just couldn’t be bothered. Another fitful night’s sleep followed. I kept falling off my thermarest.  After dreaming I was falling down a river I eventually ditched it and slept on the floor. Reunited with my iPhone, in between bouts of sleep I skim read my e-mail and surfed the web. And discovered quite how much attention the race and the trackers had attracted (including some, umm, rather imaginative discussion on the ARmy Rumour Service).

Overnight the hall filled up as more people arrived, in some cases with some epic stories to tell. After my first wash in a week (in a sink) I put together a very stylish outfit from my remaining items of clean clothing: crocs, primaloft trousers and a purple fleece and down jacket before heading to the station to get the train home.