Sunday, 28 January 2018

Montane Spine Challenger - they think it's all over... (11)

I arrived down at the road after a longer than anticipated diversion down (although definitely shorted that the normal route).  I thought Horton would be just around the corner, it is on the map, but like everything else during my race, it was taking a long time.

Arriving at the Pen y Ghent Café I was feeling exhausted and pretty much in pieces.  I knew the medics were waiting to assess me as all the checkpoints were communicating the state of each (wobbly) participant. After (with help) managing to deposit my backpack at the door I went inside.  It was so lovely and warm and welcoming.  The Spine staff were excellent in taking care of me and assessing me.  I ordered some bacon eggs and toast and a pint of tea.  The tea would be easy enough but I wasn't sure how much I would eat, I just knew I needed to.  Whilst I waited for the food the race medic assessed my shoulder again and my general well-being.  Top of the freaking world! Ha.  No, all things considered, I was still upright and still moving.  And finally I was warming up.  I couldn't raise my left shoulder beyond about a third of what is normal. The doctor was great and said it was ok to continue, with the same advice I'd already been given.  I was grateful not to be pulled from the race at this final point.  I put on my final dry pair of gloves.  I knew they wouldn't stay dry long but I should get maybe an hour's use out of them (they weren't waterproof). I swapped my balaclava for a fleecy hat to wear under my hood and put on my final dry buffs.

With help I was able to get my backpack and front pouch back on.  Back outside the rain had eased and there was little wind beyond a chilly breeze down here in the village.  I picked up my poles, said my thank yous and set off on my along the final 16 mile section of the race just after 9:30am.

It was in the bag now surely? That's what I kept telling myself. So I left the village with a slight spring in my step. Not so much that I could run though. Ha. Many of these final 16 miles are runnable and they didn't take that long when I recced them. In my head I was only a few hours from the finish. I'd easily be finished in daylight. I'd packed my head-torch back into my backpack. But after a mile or two I had to remind myself that actually I was probably not doing much better than 30 minute miling and this could take me up to 8 hours yet. That would mean finishing in the dark. I needed to push on while the light was on my side. I walked with purpose.  I was pushing myself. Giving everything I had to this final section. It was going to be straight forward from here on in right?  Hmm, not so much.

Britain's (2nd) most brutal race wasn't done with me yet. After the torrential rain all night the track was sodden, with streams flowing everywhere and puddles spread out at every opportunity.  The first stream crossing, which I can barely remember from my recce (because there was nothing to remember!) it was now in full flow, with the sheep gate under the wall completely horizontal as the water was that high.  I couldn't get across where I went across in my recce and had to make my way upstream until it was narrow enough to get across: bag and poles first, and then me. It was so painful trying to get my backpack back on.  Very funny Pennine Way. You think you're really funny don't you? *rse!

Oh ho, the joke wasn't over yet! A mile or so later I rounded a corner only to be faced with a lake!  The track headed straight into in, and 30or so feet further away the track appeared out of the other side of the lake!!  Are you freakin kidding me?!  What the actual f*ck! I couldn't climb the wall on the left as it was  as tall as me (although there was gate close to this end of the water, I would have to try and climb the wall at the far side and I just wasn't capable of doing that given the state of my shoulder).  I tried going round the steep slope to the right only to find boggy ground and fast flowing water in spate. I returned back to my starting position.  There was nothing else for it.  I waded through the mini lake.  Given that the water was spread out so wide I reasoned that the flow of the water would be a lot gentler and so more manageable if I waded through.  Bloody hell it was freezing cold.  My legs, oh my god, they've never felt so bitterly and instantly and deeply cold. It had seemed like the best option to start but I was really questioning myself and my sanity as the water reached my hips.  This race really was a complete beast.  No doubt about it.

A short while later I caught up with 2 other runners.  And we approached the final water crossing together.  It was yet another detour upstream to find somewhere we could get across.  One had hurt himself at the previous 'water obstacles' but we all managed to jump across before then coming back downstream.  Just after this we reached the sharp left turning heading down to Old Ing. I moved ahead of the others and headed off on my own again.  Heading along the next section of track some more full Spine racers came past, 2 men first and then the absolutely amazing Carol Morgan.  It sounds a bit fan-girly but I was completely mesmerised by how smoothly she covered the ground and seemed so energized, especially due to the complete wreck that now was. I was and am completely blown away by all the Spiners - they are of a different breed to us mere mortals.

As I passed by Ling Gill I decided I better use the final piece of shelter before Hawes to get my head-torch back out just in case.  I'd left Horton at 9:30 which at 30 minute miling would be a 5:30pm finish (in darkness).  I took the now useless gloves off.  I knew the wind was going to really pick up again as I returned to high ground.  I resolved not to put any more wet gloves back on.  There was nothing else for it but to basically tuck my hands up inside my jacket sleeves as best as I could (just like you do when you're a child but trying to act tough and not wear gloves like your mum told you to).  I somehow managed to get my backpack back on.  I'd just taken another dose of paracetamol. I think I was at my 24 hour limit and knew that I wouldn't be taking any more during the race.  Whatever the pain, I just had to bare it.

And so the slog up to the Cam High Road began.  And that really is all it is. A slog up a track that was now a stream. Once you reach the Cam High Road you simply turn right and carry on upwards.  I remembered to stop and turn around to look at the Ribblehead Viaduct -  a cracking view back when I did my recce, and surprisingly the cloud had lifted enough now that I could see it, somewhat hazily, in the distance.  Onwards I trudged and the wind picked up behind me, colder and more bitter with each passing step.  I was struggling to keep my hands warm, but at least they were dry.  My left shoulder was really playing up now with my constant need to use my poles to help push me up the never-ending hill.  The short tarmac section never seemed to get any closer.  I was constantly clock-watching now. If I could just get to the tarmac by such and such time, then I would only have about 7 miles left, and if I could do those in such and such time then I would finish by x o'clock. I was longing for it to be over now.  I knew it was coming.  But whilst it was only 7 miles, that could still be another 3.5 hours of torture. Why did everything have to take so long?  Why did I have to have an injured hip?  When did I have to fall so early in the race and bust up my shoulder?  Why had I not put the right socks on and got my feet so wet and painful?  Every single step sent bolts of pain through my feet. This race was truly taking everything from me.  Tearing at me from every possible angle, trying to stop me from achieving my dream.

The tarmac came and went, and I started my 5.5 mile descent towards Hawes. It probably should be described as my descent into foot hell. My macerated feet were screaming at me!  Every step was excruciating.  It felt like every bone was broken and every muscle and tendon was torn to shreds.  The evil Pennine Way goblins had covered the route in sharp knives that I had to then run over. At the same time the wind on this section was unreal.  It is full on wild and freaking insane.  My hands were completely frozen, the rest of me was not much better.  I just had to keep telling myself to move, move faster.  It doesn't matter how much it hurts just move as fast as you can.  I had to get out of the wind or else I would freeze.  I was too slow.  Move. Move. Come on Vicky, block out the pain.  Every step is one less to endure.

It was truly horrific.  Rather than letting up, the wind was getting stronger and stronger.  The route turned into ridges on slippery muddy grass between ankle deep muddy endless 'puddles'.  I couldn't keep on the dry as the wind was knocking me off my feet once again. Multiple times I was blown clean off my feet again and onto the banking. I was raging.  Absolutely seething. Stupid f*ckin *rsehole Pennine f*cking Way! AARRGGHHHH!!!! I've had enough!  Get me the hell off this god forsaken hell hole! My feet have been to some pretty dark places in races before, but this was a new level of misery and pain.  I was done.

Finally I arrived at the diversion.  Anything had to better than the muddy boggy mess that you had to go through on that final hill right? Most of us were thrilled that a diversion had been put in.  Oh how wrong we all were.  So, so wrong.  Picture a pile of rubble with streams of water running down through it. Now try and run/walk across this endless pile of rubble with completely destroyed feet for the best part of 2 miles.  It was pure, unadulterated hell. The absolutely only thing that made me move forward with any momentum was the thought that I might actually be able to finish the race in daylight.

I could see across the valley to Hardaw.  I could see the finish.  It was there waiting for me. Finally I made it onto the tarmac.  I don't think I have ever been so glad to see tarmac. There was about half a mile into Hawes and then another mile and a half to Hardraw.  This is when it hit me.  I was going to finish.  One week ago I was 95% certain I wasn't going to even start.  I couldn't believe it.  This was actually happening.  It had been such a long race. I knew it would be long but in reality it's always different.  Such much harder to execute than to plan. I was hurting in every possible way, but looking at my watch I couldn't stop and dawdle now.  If I wanted that daylight finish I had to get shifting.  But how could I possibly run given the state of my body.  I was so exhausted and the pain, especially in my feet was excruciating.  Each step - the pain - searing up my legs.  But somehow I needed to run.  It hurt like nothing else, but I had to block it. I had to push.  Don't let it slip now Vicky.  Keep on fighting.  What's 2 more miles of pain after all these miles. It's nothing! Block it.  Push on.  Run. Run. Run.

I followed my GPS to make sure I got the correct route into Hawes.  I was finally here. Passed the Wenslydale factory. I thought of my kids and Paul who had toured the factory when I had been doing my final race recce.  All of our effort as a family was showing here and now.  I had made it back to the factory, to Hawes.  Now all I had to do was soak up that last mile and half to Hardraw.

Run. Walk. Run. Run. Walk. I weaved my way through Hawes and headed out the road towards Hardraw.  As I left the road to take the path across the first field I saw two other runners in front of me. I couldn't believe it.  I hadn't seen anyone in so long. They both looked in pain by the way they were walking. I didn't want to overtake so close to the end but I had to run.  I had to get to the end as fast as my broken body could. I realised the first runner was a girl but didn't realise it was the lovely Lizzie until after I finished.  I said well done as I passed but was completely focused on forwards.  If I hadn't been so possessed I would have stopped and hugged her.  She's such a lovely and inspiring lady to know. But I only had my eyes on the finish now.  Back on the road and it was flooded, so up onto the path on the far side passing the other of the two runners. There was so much water in the river.  Back on the road again I ran along the flat, not stopping to walk until I reached the hill.  I wanted to get into those fields.  Those final fields.

I don't think I truly believed I would see those fields for a second time when I did my recce of them back in October.  I'm not sure I believed it when I stood on the start line in Edale nearly 56 hours previously. I checked my watch as I crossed the field.  It was 4pm. Only now, could I relax.  I knew I had the daylight to finish.  I could have walked.  No I couldn't!!  No way!  I wanted to finish in style.

Every step I savoured.  Each one I would never have to repeat.  I would never have to suffer through those awful bogs, that hellish weather, the dark, and the pain again.  My broken and battered body had done it.  It had got me to this point against all the odds. I had done it. 110 (ish) miles of utter hell.  I faced it, endured it, and beat it.

There was a photographer taking photos in the second to last field.  I shouted to him "I did it! I bloody did it!"  He cheered back, "Yes you did!" It was wonderful. I was so completely happy. My heart bursting.  And then across the next field I saw somebody yelling from the gate.  I thought to myself, "That's not Paul, who is it?" It wasn't until I got closer I realised it was Olivia!  My Hebden angel had come out into the field to cheer me into the finish!! How amazing was that?  THAT is the Montane Spine Race!

We hugged in the field and I carried on running.  She told me Paul and everyone was waiting for me (with cameras).  "Oh no, I need to wipe all the snotters off my face!! I don't want them in a picture!" We laughed and Olivia hunted out a tissue as we ran! My angel till the end. She was as excited as I was, telling me she had to be the person who gave me my medal. Through the final gate, people were clapping, and there was Paul!! He was videoing me.  I blurted something incoherent at him. Grinning from ear to ear and shaking my fist.  "I BLOODY DID IT!!!" I yelled as I ran over the bridge.  This was without a doubt the proudest moment of my running life.  As I arrived at the bunkhouse to the waiting welcoming committee I raised my good arm into the air and yelled again.  I had done it. I had finished Britain's (2nd) most brutal race in 56 hours and 11 minutes. And Paul was there to see me finish.  Perfect. I couldn't stop smiling.

I still haven't.

There's a fine line between heaven and hell, and that line lies outside the bunkhouse in Hardraw.


Ben Pine said...

Epic report. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and heroically well done.

Mrs Gibson said...

Wow, amazing, huge congratulations Vicky! Reading about your finish made me cry! X