Spine: the week before

I’m usually pretty organised. Weeks in advance I made packing lists and piled my gear up in the spare room. But I turned into a headless chicken in the week before the race.

On Monday I randomly decided to get a ‘race haircut’. Not quite the ‘very short all over’ most of the rest of the entrants would be sporting (I didn’t want to scare people). I told the hairdresser to ‘cut it as short as you can without it looking really silly, its spending the next week under a hat’.

The main problem was the medical certificate. I dropped it off at the doctors in early December and then it disappeared into an administrative black hole. After numerous phone-calls and visits to the surgery (‘No you can’t just make an appointment with a nurse to fill it in. It’s with the doctor.’) I found a private GP who was willing to fill it in (for £50 for a grand total of 5 minutes work). He told me I looked ‘very fit’. Just as my ego was puffing up, he followed this up with ‘I had a bloke in with one of these forms earlier in the week. He looked like action man’. He declared my heart-rate and blood pressure excellent, but actually both were higher than usual (due, possibly, to the stress of getting the form completed).

For some reason I’d decided I wouldn’t pack my drop-bag until I had the form signed. So on Wednesday night I started cramming stuff into my large North Face holdall. And it wouldn’t all go. I was also flying close to the 20 kg weight limit (as far as I could tell by standing on the bathroom scales holding stuff Crackerjack style). Cue a panicked order of an extra large holdall and some baggage scales to collect from Cotswold Outdoor the next day. I finally got around to packing on Friday morning and, after culling a couple of items, my drop bag weighed in at 19.6 kg.

In the midst of all this I popped over to the physics tea-room to chat to Jenn Gaskell about the race. We burbled over-excitedly at each other while some of the rest of the physics department looked at us as if we were slightly deranged.

Living in Chesterfield, I’d been a bit complacent about booking accommodation in Edale for the Friday night. By the time I emailed the Peak Centre they were full, and I was a bit nervous about staying at the Castleton Youth Hostel as I’d have to rely on getting lifts to and from Edale. At this point the other half (OH) suggesting getting a hotel in Castelton and he’d come over to the start with me.

We headed over to Edale late on Friday afternoon and I left the OH in the pub while I went to the 6pm briefing. This was shorter than last year’s and involved less focus on the different ways in which you could die. I did manage to disgrace myself though. Conrad Dickinson called on various participants from previous years to talk about their experiences. The first two duly provided stories of near death experiences on the Cheviots. He then looked at me. “You did the race last year didn’t you?”. “Not the whole thing” (I tried to deflect the question). “How did you find it?” “I just did the Challenger, (pause) which wasn’t that bad actually. (bigger pause) I’m not supposed to say that am I?”

Kit check was from 6.30 on race morning, but you could get it done on Friday night if you then left your rucksack in the hall overnight. So, to reduce the amount of stuff I had to do in the morning and the OH’s complaints about getting up early, I got mine done. Kit check brings out my worst girly swot tendencies. I don’t just want to pass, I want to impress with how well organised me and my kit are. And I went into flap mode. I’m guessing the kit checker was wondering how on Earth I was going to cope with the Pennine Way in Winter if kit check had this effect on me. He was impressed with my water bottle insulation and blister repair kit though...

Back to the pub to collect the OH and we headed over to Castelton, checked into the hotel and had an excellent meal at the 1530 restaurant. Getting away from the hubbub in Edale was just what I needed.  I’ve finished some fairly serious ultras over the past few years, but (not really looking like your stereotypical ultra runner) I still feel out of place at race starts.