Spine: stage 3, plodding on fumes

I’d originally planned to leave CP2 at 10pm, but by 7pm I’d given up on sleeping. The toes on my left foot were looking a bit messy: a big blister on my little toe had formed and burst, the manky toe-nail on my 3rd toe was turning into a manky toe and the base of my big toe was sore. Time to see the doctors. But there was no sign of them-they’d been dispatched to the pub for dinner. I got my stuff ready to go and, just as I was deciding whether to try and sort my toes out myself, they returned.

The guy who treated my feet (Matt?) had originally been taking part in the race, but had had to drop out due to foot problems caused by the wet conditions. He was surprised my left foot was, in general, in as good condition as it was. He insisted I took my right sock off so he could have a look at that foot. Initially he thought it looked so good he was going to call the other medics over to have a look at it. But then he spotted swelling across the balls of the foot, which apparently could turn into blisters later on.

The fix for the blistered small toe was the usual padding with moleskin. The sore big toe was a blister deep under the callous (I hadn’t looked after it as well pre-race as the soles of my feet). It would probably need draining with a needle later on. For now the plan was just to tape it. However none of the medic teams’ tape would stick to my foot. At one point there were two doctors trying to get tape to stick to it. In the end we used some zinc oxide kit from my own first aid kit. The manky 3rd toe was more of a worry. What was wrong with it had a name (I don’t know whether it was the Latin for ‘manky toe-nail due to hacking at it with nail scissors’) and I was probably going to end up with an infected nail-bed which would need antibiotics. For now the treatment plan was to stick a needle in it, squeeze the pus out and slather it in Savalon. It hurt a bit. All of this took a while, in particular the trying to get tape to stick to my foot. Irrationally (since originally I hadn’t been planning to leave until 10) I got frustrated at the rate at which time was ticking by. (I hope I kept this to myself.) In the end nearly an hour passed between giving up on sleeping and leaving the CP. Just before leaving I found Scott to check I’d done the right thing in calling for help for the guy I’d found on the way into Hawes (apparently I had). I also whinged that I was worried that I hadn’t managed to get much sleep up till then.

Remembering last year’s tales of ‘9 layers of clothes on Great Shunner Fell’ I’d irrationally convinced myself it was going to be really cold, and put a base layer on under my tights. And, since it wasn’t raining when I left the CP, left my waterproof trousers off. 5 minutes later it started raining and I had to stop and put the waterproofs on. 15 minutes later I was over-heating and had to stop and take all of my lower-body layers off and remove the base layer. In the process I dropped it in a muddle, rendering it wet and unusable... This was my worst ‘kit fail’ of the week.

Toward the top of the climb to Great Shunner Fell it started snowing, making staying on the path a little tricky and the descent slippery (several people overtook as I inched my way down). On the fiddly field crossings after Thwaite I caught one of them (Colin?) again. We went slightly off course a couple of times (both times by turning right through tempting open gates too soon). The first time I convinced myself I recognised a field barn (highly improbable given the number of them in this area) and we needed to be on the other side of it. Luckily I was (accidentally) right. The 2nd time, according to our GPSs we weren’t far off the route, but there was a high wall topped with a barbed wire fence separating us from where we were supposed to be. We found a track going in the wrong direction. Looking at the map, this would connect with another track which headed back up towards the route. And, remembering a throw-away comment in one of the guidebooks about a tempting track heading the wrong way, I figured this would get us back on route, and it did.

The rocky paths and wall crossings on the way to Keld were hard-going, but at least they kept me awake. Just after Keld we passed two people bivvied out (in one case with an elaborate duck-tape, trekking pole set-up rigged up to shelter their head). I wondered if I should ask if they were OK, but convinced myself that it looked like they were, in which case the last thing they’d want was me waking them up.

The climb to Tan Hill dragged. I was feeling, really, really tired and I dropped right back from Colin. I’d somehow got it in my head that I could sleep at Tan Hill and used this as a carrot to keep going. Someone came out from the marshalling point to meet me. I told him I really needed a couple of hours sleep. He broke the news that they only had access to the porch of the pub and there was nowhere I could sleep. I said (in a lame attempt at a joke) that  I could ‘make like the Germans and sleep on the floor of the ladies toilets’. But apparently there was only one toilet.

This was probably my lowest point of the week. In the pub porch I fumbled with my kit, drunk a coffee, ate as much as I could and tried to ‘man up’. Quite a few people had converged at this point. One offered me some ProPlus. I declined as I was worried it would stop me sleeping at the next CP (which was a bit irrational as it would take at least another 7 or 8 hours to get there). Someone else mentioned there was a shooting hut half-way to the CP so I set off with this as an intermediate goal.

After Tan Hill there’s an infamous long stretch of bog. This was just the challenge I needed to wake me up. In the dark/mist I managed to pick the marker poles and path out (keeping my headtorch on a low setting and sweeping it from side to side seemed to be an effective way of doing this). I ended up with a bit of a pack following me, and I shouted happily ‘we’ve made it!’ when we hit the track at the end.

Ian caught up with me here (he’d been one of the pair we’d passed bivving after Keld) and we chatted for the next few miles. His enthusiasm for the race, and positivity about my prospects of finishing, buoyed my mood hugely. Just after dawn, by the tunnel under the A66, I stopped to shovel some more food down. Ian, and some of the rest of the pack from the bog, pulled ahead and I struggled to keep up with them across the moors. I spotted a hat by the path and, remembering reading about Ian loosing his hat last year, I guessed it was his and picked it up. Initially I carried it, but then decided I needed to store it more securely. Feeling fuggy-headed, attaching it to one of the karabiners on my ruck-sack seemed to take forever. At the shooting hut I decided to press-on, on the grounds that a longer sleep at the CP would be better than two short sleeps.

Just before Balderdale I followed the pair in front slightly off route and my mood crashed again. Michael caught me and (seemingly with energy to burn) took several photos. I don’t like having my photo taken at the best of times. He told me he’d email the photos to me ‘for your children’. I didn’t have the strength to tell him that the closest thing I have to a child is an elderly, bad-tempered, lop-eared rabbit, who wouldn’t be very impressed by them. But if I had to stop at CP3 they would, I thought, at least provide evidence of quite how bad a state I’d been in. He offered to check how many miles there were to the CP for me. I didn’t want to know, I knew the answer would just make me miserable. There was nothing for it but to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I got there.

My stomach was growling. I kept eating, but it felt like trying to keep a fire going using paper. I’d feel better for a few minutes, but then ‘puff’ the fire had gone out again. A couple of miles out Richard (who’d dropped out of the race due to hypothermia) was running a roadside monitoring point from his car. He told me the biggest lie anyone has every told me (‘you’re doing great’) and offered me a bewildering range of food. I took a Rocky Road mini-bite and, fuelled by this, recaught the pair in front as they struggled with a style. I probably didn’t help matters by telling them there was an nasty wall style coming up (sorry...).

As Middleton-in-Teesdale, and CP3, got closer I started feeling better. At the top of the final descent Dave, who’d bivvied out with Ian, caught me. He told me (jokingly I think) that I might have beaten him to Hawes, but I wasn’t beating him to Middleton. I was surprised that it’d taken so long for him to catch me, and we made our way into Middleton together. We got to the CP at around 2- the time I’d originally been aiming for, despite my earlier departure from Hawes. This stage had been a very long, very slow, slog.

While I was feeling a bit better than I had earlier, I still wasn’t sure I was in a fit state to continue. I decided to get as much sleep and food down as I could and see how I felt when the cut-off for leaving the checkpoint arrived. I had a decent sized piece of veg lasagne and chased this down with 6 pieces of toast. I phoned the OH to tell him my plans, but didn’t sort my kit, there’d be no need if I wasn’t continuing. Just before going to bed I went to the toilet and was horrified by what I saw in the mirror. With great big bags under my eyes and red weather-beaten skin I looked just like my (70 year old) dad. I also had loads of small white spots along the sides of my nose.

Nici had tipped me off about a warm, quiet dorm. I slept better than at the previous checkpoints, but was woken by someone who came in to wake one of the other runners and sat on my head.