Content warning - there's a lot of swearing!
For those not accustomed to racing through the night, being alone in the darkness brings with it a whole new set of challenges. I've only raced a handful through the night before (except for track 24 hour races which are completely different). Once was the West Highland Way Race where you set off at 1am and have maybe 3-4 hours of darkness to run in, but you are surrounded by people the whole time, then if you are running into the second night you will normally have at least one support runner with you. Another time, was at the Lakeland 100. I won't sugar-coat it, I had a total meltdown during the first night of the Lakeland 100. I threw all the toys out of the pram and was determined to pull out. The second night wasn't as bad, but it wasn't a positive experience either.
The difference between those races and the Spine Challenger is the length of time spent in the dark, and the solitude. I knew the dark was going to be one of my big obstacles during the race so I had spent many training runs and walks in the dark in preparation. But when you're in unfamiliar territory it's always going to be tough. I was constantly repeating positive mantras to myself and visualising the route as if it was still daylight and again thinking it could be worse...
I had a cup of tea at Harrop Dale as I walked up from the road. I thought back to my recce with Jen and making fun videos for her training vlog. Along Standedge and across White Hill I was trying to remain upbeat but the pain in my shoulder had become unbearable. I knew there was something seriously wrong with it and I was really starting to worry about my race. I started stopping to bend over to relieve the pressure on my shoulder, and for that brief moment I felt some relief. But as soon as I stood up the pain was back again.
The sight of the burger van at the carpark just before the M62 was a thing of beauty. I wasn't entirely sure it was real until I was maybe 100 metres away from the road. It was a relief. I ordered a burger and a cup of tea. Oh, it was just what I needed. So warm and comforting. I hoped this was the pick-me-up I needed to get me across the rocky mess that is Blackstone Edge and then onto the White House. But no, I found a new low crossing Blackstone and by the time I made my approach to the White House and the MRT/SST(?) I was in a bit of a state. I could barely get my backpack off so that I could get some paracetamol out of my medical kit. The volunteers were super helpful filling my water bottle, giving me a cup of tea and a couple of custard creams (tea and biscuits make everything better!) and then helped me get my backpack back on. They advised to see the medics once I got to Hebden. I thanked them and headed off up the road, being cheered on by some people standing outside the pub.
Despite their help, and that brief moment of human contact, as soon as I was back out on the trail again, consumed by the darkness, the pain and the solitude I felt myself falling into the depths of mental darkness again. The track was easy enough along to the next diversion, but I was in no mood for tramping through more boggy muddy mess round Warland Reservoir. Stupid f*cking @sshole of an excuse for a trail! Stupid f*cking bogs! Where was everybody? Was I so far back that there was literally nobody else left on the trail? I could Have sworn I left the burger van before some other people. I wasn't going fast, I don't think I could have been going any slower! Why weren't they catching me? FFS!
I wound my way endlessly towards Stoodley Pike. It seemed to take forever. Walking was unbearably and depressingly slow, especially when there were so many miles ahead and they were just not passing at all. As I headed downhill away from Stoodley I caught a glimpse of a headtorch behind me. Oh great, now you catch up with me, just as we are coming off the moors! Great help that is!
But for whatever reason they didn't catch up. Catch up, don't catch up, just stop flickering in my peripheral vision and using me to navigate!! (Obviously they weren't using me to navigate as this part is easy to follow.) Argh! I was having a serious sense of humour failure as I descended into Charlestown. In fact I was being a real idiot. As I crossed the road and went to take the turning up the stupidly steep path under the railway and up the hill, I saw a man in a van reading a clipboard. F*cking delirious idiot that I am, knocked on the window (bearing in mind this is sometime after midnight!) and asked him if he was with the Spine Race and did he need my race number? "The race love?" came the reply, "No, I'm with the railway." I mean, what the hell was I thinking?! Clearly I wasn't. As I climbed up the hill I was berating myself for being such an idiot whilst simultaneously trying not to burst my achilles which was being an absolute b*tch. It's one thing to have a busted shoulder, I was making forward progress (slowly) with that, but a busted achilles would end my race on the spot.
I slipped and slid across the farm fields over the next hill, then down that stupidly narrow path towards the river. I mean, what is that all about? It's the Pennine Way. People are going to be wearing rucksacks and yet they make these crazy style/stone hole things that you can barely fit through with a running pack, never mind a 9kg f*ckin mountain on your back! On the bright side, at least the stone bridge wasn't frozen and I didn't have to worry about falling in the river. The Pennine Way gives and then takes away - constant up and down - an emotional rollercoaster.
Soon I hit the road where the race deviates from the PW and heads down the mud luge to the checkpoint. I phoned Paul as I knew I had signal here, even though I knew he'd be asleep. I left a message to let him know my plan for the checkpoint so that he wouldn't worry. Initially I had thought I'd be in and out within about 90 minutes but I told him I was going to change and eat and then see the medics. I said there is a likelihood I would be in there for several hours. Then I said goodnight and headed down to the Hebden Hey 45 mile check point. If I am completely honest, I wasn't entirely sure I would be coming back out.