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Train your Chimp

The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters is described as "The mind management programme for confidence, success and hapiness".  I think to read this book you need to be prepared to be honest with yourself and to delve into the inner you to discover who you really are at various levels.  One...

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Bideford Bay 50k

The Bideford Bay 50k was very much a training run for me rather than a race.  My goals were to be able to complete the race and yet still have a fast turn around recovery and hit the trails again.  To anable this I had to run sub regular race speed and to consider my race nutrition...

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A huge "Thank You" to all of our sponsors who have enabled this venture to happen and subsequently enable us to raise funds for Mummy's Star.

The Spine Race

268 miles (430km!) up the Pennine Way through WIND, RAIN, ICE AND SNOW in January for Mummy's Star - www.mummysstar.org

Text "PAPA48 £2 / £5 / £10" TO 70070 or visit: www.justgiving.com/papaferret

Lambs to the slaughter

There and back - A Ferret's Tail

The Chronicles of Middle Earth

I'm not going to waste anyone's time by explaining www.thespinerace.com, we all know by now that it's 'Britain's most brutal race'. In the run up to the race the entry list was described as a 'who's who of the ultra running community.' Although in my instance i'm sure it was a case of 'who's he?!'

Entering the spine race is something which should not be taken lightly and as the adventure unfurled over time I became to realise just how deeply it runs through the construct of a person's life. One of my personal reasons for entering was because I had actually reached a point in my life where I was questioning the construct of my own existence and point of reference. Having always been one of those people that doesn't exactly fit inside 'The Box', i've always had to work hard and persevere to maintain something that resembles a 'normal' life and has some form of prospect. In 2013 my combined efforts at 'normality' culminated to create a colossal crescendo of mayhem; managing my own industrial abseiling business, studying full time for a Masters degree in Sports Science, juggling kids and home life, voluntarily coaching athletics, trying to train, setting up trail running camps, and and and....

At the time of entering the race I felt as though I was not in control of my own life even though it was me that had created all these roles for myself. I found it very hard to find stillness and was quite often using alcohol or co-codemol to get to sleep. As crazy as it sounds, given the multiple roles i was trying to balance, i also felt as though I wasn't being challenged. An additional craziness is that even though I live in a beautiful part of the country and right on the coastal trail, I didn't feel that I was connecting with nature in the ways that I used to when I was younger. It was probably due to all these stressors that I also found myself regularly having to deal with feelings, emotions and memories from an abusive childhood, something which I thought I had laid to rest quite a while ago. Something needed to be done otherwise I would jeopardise the fantastic family unit I have, because i was becoming increasingly useless to them. Possibly I could have shortened this passage by writing that I was going through mid-life crisis and a resistance to conform and 'grow up'. In my head the answer was simple - I needed The Spine Race (TSR).

The path to Jacob's Ladder

In my preparation for TSR I started to read blogs of people who had attempted it and not completed the full length. Oh the irony as I sit and write another blog for the Spine DNF file..... Having read a mix of blogs it is clear to see that the top end finishers are special and maybe less susceptible to the pitfalls of us mere Ferrets. I figured that it's far more important to build a list of the things that will definitely put pay to my attempt rather than try and emulate the sheer amazingness of previous successful Spiners. My list of failure factors read as follows:

Psychological breakdown
Coldness
Wetness
Sleep deprivation
Hunger
Physiological wellbeing
Environmental factors
Equipment

Its easy to see from this list that these factors can all have an interplay affect on each other. For example if you have the wrong equipment you may end up getting wet, which can in-turn lead to getting cold. Both wetness and coldness can have an interaction with psychological wellbeing which in-turn can have an affect on physiological well-being by possibly speeding up the onset of exhaustion or preventing sleep which in turn speeds exhaustion. All this just from the wrong choice in waterproof jacket.

One of the biggest tasks for TSR was to acquire the full list of equipment required and to the best possible standard. It's very easy to get equipment that will cope with extreme low temperatures but as soon as you want something that will deal with the temperatures and yet still be light weight then costs start to triple+++. Rather than do a whole shameless section on how wonderful all our sponsors are I think its better if I talk about how individual pieces of kit performed in set situations.

Several weeks after I had my place on TSR confirmed my brother Tim (Fetch - Silver Strider) and I had an in-depth phone conversation as to requirements. Tim is a person I respect greatly and has had an amazing year of trail and ultra-running in 2013, including gaining his buckle in SDW100, coming first in East Sussex ultra (or something similar) and being named Bexhill Runner's and Tri Club all out Legend of the year (again or something similar). Tim clearly wanted to be involved and was certain I was not prepared for the task ahead, and a lot of the conversation was Tim telling me what I needed to do. Whilst I respect that this was born from love of me and experience, it was flying in the face of the fundamental reasons I was taking this challenge - I was already losing control. It was very hard for me but I had to tell my brother that I didn't want him involved as this had to be a project which I undertook alone, and if I failed it was because of my own venture. Tim took this really well and all credit to him he left all matters TSR related from that point onwards apart from the odd question as to how I felt about it.

Up on the moors

I'm not sure if it was my constant going on about TSR or if it was already on his mind, but the next person to join the party was my partner in Ferret grime Paul Radford. Paul let me know that he had entered and had told his wife Jen that it was my doing - Yeh cheers Radders! Paul had a cracking 2013 which started with a build up off of the early Trail Ferret camp and resulted in several podium finishes, and also saw us both reccying (official spelling please) and running the Bideford Bay 50k together.

Paul's a great person to have around as he's a touch anal (damn just reminded myself of the minibus in Ilfracombe harbour) in that he will think of every angle and needs everything listed and diarised several times. We had agreed early on that although we were preparing together, come race day we were each of different mindset as to how the race would be run and we were happy to run our own races. I question this now for reasons that will unfold.

My preparation for TSR was really very different than anything else i've done before. As can be seen from the list of identified failure roots above, there were far more things to worry about than actual running and fitness. Having looked at the breakdowns I was already certain that I could handle the individual distances from stage to stage. I did however do a few practice night runs which included a run from Bude starting at 1am on a night when the temperature fell to -6C. I got just about everything wrong that night except keeping running and staying awake. The layers I wore were good for keeping me warm whilst running but did not wick the sweat and so when I got in my sleeping bag to try and rest I was freezing and wet. The tent I took was inappropriate as it had a mesh inner, the sleeping bag I took was heavy and useless, I had no mat so lost all my body heat through the ground and more. However this is why we do practice runs right? I addressed all these issues prior to the race. Also on the night of that run I was able to test my mettle, which I consider the sole most important thing required for The Spine Race.

mettle ˈmɛt(ə)l / noun
noun: mettle; plural noun: mettles
1.
a person's ability to cope well with difficulties; spirit and resilience.
"the team showed their true mettle in the second half"
synonyms: spirit, fortitude, tenacity, strength of character, moral fibre, steel, determination, resolve, resolution, steadfastness, indomitability, backbone, hardihood, pluck, nerve, gameness, courage, courageousness, bravery, gallantry, valour, intrepidity, fearlessness, boldness, daring, audacity;

Leading into Xmas I started to wind down knowing that I would have the right equipment, that I had the mettle, and the miles were in my legs. I also needed to slow down as I had got a crappy virus that was going round the village (not that sort of virus you dirty feckers). This virus ended up staying with me for 4 weeks and leaving the week before the race, I guess that's better than getting one during the race or just before. This down time gave me the time to train my most important piece of equipment and the piece that I was struggling with most - my head! At the recommendation of many people I got a book called 'The Chimp Paradox' by Dr Steve Peters. This was to be one of the single most important things I did in preparation for TSR. If you have not heard about this book then I recommend you at least glance a copy, it may have saved my life.

A week prior to the race I went to see my friends Elisa and Jason to take part in a Macmillan fundraiser. Elisa was diagnosed with breast cancer whilst 5 months pregnant with their 3rd child Zoe, who has since been born healthy and wonderful. However Elisa is still not free from the cancer and had not had a favourable response to chemo which meant that she was due a double mastectomy and lymph clearance on Monday 13th Jan (3rd day of TSR). Seeing Elisa contextualised TSR for me and made me realise that it was not to be feared but embraced as something which I had chosen to do, rather than forced upon me against my will. The explanation of Mettle above - Elisa is all of that and some. My charity fundraising during TSR was for an essential charity of Elisa's choice which is Mummy's Star (www.mummysstar.org). Mummy's Star offer advice and support to mothers and their families who experience cancer during pregnancy and through childbirth. If anyone would like to read more then please see my Just Giving page www.justgiving.co.uk/papaferret.

 

From the early days of planning it had always been our intention to have a support driver, who would drive Road Ferret 1 which is equipped with double bed, gas oven, fridge and electricity. When we got through our 3rd support driver dropping out just days before the race we gave up. It appears that the enormity of TSR hits people the closer it gets as there had also been a few drop outs from the race and also a few stepping down in distance to the Challenger. With no support driver it meant that we would have to try and fit all of our OTT support rations into our drop bags etc. This was done at The Peak Centre (www.peakcentre.org.uk) on the Friday morning before the race, much to the amusement of the likes of Debbie Brupbacher (1st female finisher 2014) and Jenn Gaskell. We were really glad to have taken the decision to arrive at the Peak Centre on the Thursday evening as it was a great place to stay and get 'in the zone' without distractions around us. Debbie spoke to me at one point about maps and navigation to which I responded "everyone can read a map right?". She chuckled.... I've read maps loads and I was a very good sea scout. I've also done some sailing navigation and we all use GPS in cars right???

Registration was as can be expected for a race of this type and could have been simplified in saying "there are many ways you can die", "if you are about to die press this button on your tracker" and "a lot of you won't make it to the end". The last supper was a goodun' in The Rambler Inn. A few last bits of packing and re-packing and then off to bed. Shit the bed Ian Bowles can snore! I think I managed a couple of hours however Paul got none and was an agitated mess in the morning. I tried to calm Paul as we got down to the start line and rev him up for the race but the lack of sleep was on his mind. Bag check, tracker fitting and milling around for the start. And then the fun began. A little dark cloud drifting down the hill, a small spattering of rain, turning to sleet. All this on the day which everyone said was going to be cloudy and sunny? Nearly everyone, another Paul in the race was already in all his waterproofs - witchcraft! As we made our way to the start line and the sleet started, I noticed some of the Challenger Hotrods like Sam Robson (http://constantforwardmotion.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/the-spine-challenger-2014-part-1-wheres.html) wearing just their shorts. Although Sam is probably not the best example here as he is a different breed altogether and considers things such as leggings and poles as cheating devices.

 

In the sheep pen at the start Paul was wired, he looked at me and joked "see you at the finish". At the off Paul bolted with the front runners, while I ambled over the line and up the road through Edale, slowly picking up to a trot. There's potentially 7 days ahead of us, what's the hurry?.... As we headed out onto the start of the Pennine Way the sleet started to pick up and as we climbed the sleet turned more to snow. Along the way people were gradually resigning to the conditions and stopping to put their waterproof trousers on. I hung in for as long as possible being stubborn that I didn't want to get my waterproof trousers wet on the inside right at the start of potentially 7 days. The Under Armour cold gear leggings I was wearing were saturated and the wind was giving me a bit of a chill already so i too succumbed. This was to be the first of many GOOD Decisions! (embrace the positives). A last minute acquisition of some Mountain Hard Wear Seraction WP trousers from Ellis Brigham (http://www.ellis-brigham.com/products/mountain-hardwear/mens-seraction-pants/293833) turned out to be a very good move. The Seraction trousers have an articulated knee and allegedly awesome moisture control. I can vouch for this as they went on at about Lee Farm and by the time we were at Mill Hill my leggings were bone dry with no moisture on the inside of the trousers - witchcraft! This is revolutionary! - Cheshire Cat moment. They are also very comfortable to move quickly in (note I do not use the word 'run') due to the articulated knee.

I took my time and even stopped to grab some pictures of some Torq Gels in the snow (Cuckoo!), thinking of our sponsors. In my mind I was going to document and blog the whole thing as I went. I will say right now that this lasted up until the early evening of day 1 and then reality set in. You can't keep stopping to take pictures or looking for signal to update. I was embracing my poles and really getting into the rhythm of a good pole action on the climbs. For those who appreciate a bit of pole action, I was using some Leki Eagles from Ellis Brigham (http://www.ellis-brigham.com/products/leki/eagle---pair/685132). At exactly Kinder Downfall I had a bit of a wake up call. The cloud layer was down and the path had turned into big slab rocks. I noted to my left a bit of a drop off which kinda gave me a bit of a start. I cautioned up to the edge and promptly found a small sized boulder to lob off. There was no sound of the bottom, even luckier there was no sound of "Aaaaaargh!". What a ferkin muppet lobbing one off over a sheer drop without knowing if there was a path below!!! I promised myself no more lobbing over sheer drops and hastily poled on.



I'd been playing cat and mouse with a few other athletes and I was just beginning to get warmed up. In general my warm up point is between 5 and 7 miles, for anything. Its long enough for the body and mind to go "yup, he's actually going through with this we might as well start to help". I started to pick up the pace and was moving (not running) quite swiftly. Around about Sandy Heys there was a bit of a backlog and about 4/5 people single file moving slowly. The path was flagstone (your best friend and your worst enemy) and either side was heathery bog with sludgy channels, which made passing difficult. I tucked in behind for a while until I saw a section that looked like flat snow covered heather and made an overtaking dash for it. Just as I was easing passed the group a voice shouted "Ben!". I turned to see Radders hobbling badly with Sam Robson and a few others in line behind him. Sam had his hands out behind Paul to catch his fall at any moment. "WTF have you done?!" I said with compassion. "I've popped my knee" winced Paul. "You ferkin muppet" I replied with a little more compassion.

I'm going to be honest here now and I know Paul will understand, and I hope it helps people to understand the mindsets that we go through when racing such events. One of the first quiet thoughts going through my head was "I can do without this, I was just getting up to speed, this is going to set me back". I thought back to my mind training and realised that this was one of the first of many manifestations of my chimp. The chimp is emotional and acts emotionally and seeks to preserve itself. I mentally boxed the chimp and padlocked the cage door while I drifted over to the guys and said to Sam that I would take over so he could go on. Sam didn't even hesitate and just said "I'm all good". What a legend! I tucked in behind Sam and watched and learned as he paid all of his attention to Paul's movements in case he would need to catch him from falling. The chimp was raging in the cage but this was my buddy and the chimp needed to learn some ethics and rules. We walked and talked for quite a while (i'm not sure how long) and eventually just short of the A57 intersection the Mountain Rescue guys appeared. Knowing that Paul was in safe hands and there was nothing else we could do, we bade farewell to Paul. Sam and I had both got quite cold slowing down in the walk and it would take me a long time to warm back up again (old bones). Sam shot off at a cracking pace and I was in awe again. I stopped for one last chat with Paul and I was really feeling conflicted about leaving him. This was emotional, but hang on, isn't the chimp emotional??? Had the chimp now turned 180? In a confused daze I set off.

 

Devil's Dike, Hearn Clough and Bleaklow Head were all easy as the path was cut and clear as a sludgy black slew through a velvet white carpet (ooo the imagery). Above John Track Well my phone started to bleet as backlogged messages were delivered. I got my phone out and called Hidden Ferret so I could talk to Little Minx Ferret as it was her 4th Birthday (I know, bad parent). I quickly found that I was unable to move from the spot as the signal would fade and so for about 30 minutes I caught up on the birthday climbing action and adventures at Clip n' Climb in Exeter (http://clipnclimbexeter.co.uk). The thought here being that if they do something amazing and fun then they won't notice Papa isn't there. This was the first one of my children's birthdays I have missed - it sux. When I got back moving I noticed that the people that had been just in front of me (Annie Garcia et al) were gone from all sight, although I had watched them disappear and so at least I knew the path.

Down at Torside Reservoir there was a number checkpoint and so I took it as a rest stop. We were long past lunch and so I figured some proper food was required. The first thing I did, knowing that I was stopping for a little, was to neck back some Torq protein recovery to facilitate some repair process. The banana flavour is just like banana thick shake - gert lush. When I was told that there was no water at this point it made me realise that I really needed to keep my eye out for good clean water and replenish at availability. I jetboiled up a wet meal in a bag and made a double choc out of the water used to heat the bag. This is more like it! Food in stomach and choc'd up I was warm and ready to hash on. Walking with Paul and birthday phone calls had set me back a bit so it was time to make some pace. Time for head down and the Bible. OK here goes... So in the run up to TSR I was thinking about audio, normally I like to run to trance and banging D trax but due to the length I figured it would do my head in. Soooooo, I started looking at audio books and it was a toss up between War and Peace or the Bible. At 68 hours long the Bible won. Well I've never had time to read it and I've heard it's a good story. Two thousand years of hype must be worth a listen right? Unfortunately I couldn't quite stretch the budget to the James Earl Jones version, I quite like the idea of Darth Vader reading the Bible....

As the evening settled in I became acutely aware of my largest fubar of the day. Whilst I had been following the herd through the snow and along major paths I had not been using either my map or my GPS. Now it was dark and we were in boggy moors - Black Hill, Wessenden Moor, Black Moss, Close Moss, Castleshaw Moor, Blackstone Edge, Chelburn Moor, etc.... It all looks easy on the map but in the dark and with paths sometimes being impassable and requiring diversions it was getting a bit sticky. I had communication from Hidden Ferret that the trackers were showing I had made ground and had up to 15 people behind me. This was good news for me. However, things started to go wrong. As soon as I would get a bit ahead I would find that I had deviated and usually it would be on a long steady downhill. How stupid of me to even consider that there would be some long downhill sections?!!! I remember running with joy down a large section only to be called by Hidden Ferret and told I was off course. A check of the map and GPS revealed I was gayly running down the Oldham Way (not a euphemism). Turn around and trudge back up and find that I have been overtaken by at least 5 peeps.



I think in the region of White Hill it was quite late and very dark and the temperature had plummeted. Enter flagstone hell! The flagstones that denoted the Pennine Way had become ice blocks. Time for the spikes to go on. And off, and on, and off, and Oh feck it leave them on! Even with spikes on the flagstones are shite to walk on when frozen and you can't deviate from them as a lot of the time there are deep rivulets either side and boggy pits await. Here be beasties!!! My chimp was shouting at me that if I had of listened to it and ignored Paul and not spent so long on the phone to Little Minx Ferret and not got so stupidly lost then I would be passing through here earlier like everyone else and it wouldn't be frozen and my pace wouldn't be reduced to a shuffle. "Yup chimp, you're probably right but right now that means nothing, so back in your box and let's just plough on". I was beginning to enjoy these little interactions with the chimp and I was beginning to realise just how much of my life the chimp had been controlling. Human Papa Ferret was in charge now. Oh dear god, am I man, chimp or Ferret?! Somebody call a shrink!!!!

Luckily the three of us had a long night ahead of us to work out where we all fitted into the puzzle we call Papa Ben Chimp.....

The temperatures had dropped and so food was important. I stopped to boil up a quick dinner knowing that I was going to be late into CP1. Up until this point my top layers consisted of my long sleeve Under Armour cold gear layer and just my Arc'Teryx Beta AR jacket on top. Whilst moving this was absolutely all that was needed and the moisture control was working well. However when you stop there is no heat retention or indeed generation going on so you need to add layers. My theory had been to use some of my older gear through day one and bin it in the bottom of my drop bag at CP1, hence preserving my better gear for when I needed it more. This was a good decision in the most part. I had also taken quite a lot of food which, although had made my pack a bit heavier than most, I do believe preserved me through the very long first night. Aaaah yes the long first night.....

 

Coming down into Hebden Bridge and there was a number check again. He had someone in the car who had withdrawn due to hypothermia - shit really?! "Not far now, cross the road and then zig zag up the hill and straight path from there". Well "zig zag up the hill" had me wandering through back gardens and all sorts, something which was echoed by a few others at later date. I was tired, it was late and I got to the river, yahoo! The scout hut which is CP1 is near. I caught myself wandering down the wrong side of the river and so went back up. Hidden Ferret called and said I was right there and that she could see all the other trackers. I pictured them all tucked up in bed with full tummies. I was back on track on the southern side of the river which I knew the scout hut was on. GPS was giving me a bit of grief and kept changing its mind. It was only after following the runnings around of the GPS and taking more 'scenic routes' that I realised in my tiredness I was holding the GPS unit up in front of my face. Schoolboy error fatale!!! The antenna of the GPS needs to be pointing in the direction of travel, i.e. flat in the palm of your hand. However holding poles and a map and a GPS is not easy and so the occasional hold up to the tired face of the GPS was what had resulted in this fubar. Not to worry we are south of the river and the scout hut is south of the river. I wandered down until I had actually ended up coming out in a town??? I was so tired 'Dog tired' and I sat down for a little cry with my chimp.

I sat with the map scouring it, I called Hidden Ferret and begged for help. She asked what was up, had I been to bed already and left again? Apparently she had been to sleep and the day had changed since we last spoke??? Time was becoming very strange. Then it suddenly hit me starring at the map with her on the phone I cursed myself so badly. "WRONG FERKIN RIVER!!!!" I was navigating a river which was south of the river I was supposed to be south of and had wandered around and around and ended up back in Hebden Bridge. I got my schnizz on and this is where the real me kicks in, when I'm on the ropes and i'm punch drunk and all think i'm out - I then pull it out the bag. It's a bit of a trade mark, to the point that I have a Master's degree in it. I was back on the road to recovery when some lights came up the hill behind me - shit it's the cops! Worse than the real cops its the race cops! As Scott Gilmour spoke to me from the warm cab I could see his inquiring eyes weighing me up. It's like the bit in Sherlock... Oh Feck must get Hidden Ferret to record Sherlock.... when Sherlock stops and reads someone and all the words appear on the screen. Head, fecked; body, fecked; pack, PaHaHaHa! way too heavy - fecked; feet, how big are those feckin' shoes?....

"You're on the right path I'll walk with you for a bit". I was certain that they were just going to say come on lad you're out your depth here lets just call it a day shall we? But instead Scott walked with me and I did my best impression of a 'normal' person, even though my chimp was shouting "break down and cry!!!! - he'll give you bacon...." Scott saw me to the right path and when I crossed the river which I had crossed correctly well over 3 hours ago I was very disheartened. I got into CP1 and Paul was there to greet me. It was about 24 hours since I had started and I was 8 hours over my comfortable midnight target. Two of those hours I could kinda account for and the other 6 were in the ether of fubar. "Forget all that" Paul said, that's done, today is a new day. Paul was awesome at getting me turned around. The first thing I did was to down a whole bunch of Torq recovery, sweet tea and a bit of porridge. Because I was so late into the CP there was no dinner left from the night before. Lucky I had my rations on the trail. I told Paul to wake me in 2 hours and got my head down. You may think this is miniscule but I needed to get some time back and for a father of 2 little Ferrets having been used to studying all night it's reasonable.

I woke feeling pretty darn good and packed up again. Plenty of food and liquid and also put my good layers on. This time it was 2XU Sub Zero leggings and X-Bionic Effektor long sleeve top both from Likeys (http://www.likeys.com/acatalog/X-Bionic-Effektor-Power-Running-Shirt-LS-Man-4760.html), I felt bionic as soon as I put it on. I also put my Injinji Liner socks on and my waterproof Sealskins. A big fubar of the previous day was under estimating the weather and terrain and I had gone with just Helly Hansen trail socks. This had resulted in 2 small blisters, one in between two toes and one on top of a toe. From the point that I put the Injinji and the Sealskins on my feet didn't degrade any further apart from the fact that I had not counted for the extra packing of the 2 pairs of socks which created a bit of a tight fit in my shoes. I know that some people have problems with the seams on Sealskins ripping their feet apart but I would never wear them without liner socks for that reason. Whilst we are on about feet, my shoes were Hoka OneOne Mafate III. Several people had wished me luck in them at the start and said watch out for the mud. To that point I had not had any issues with grip and had certainly seen plenty of people slipping in mud who were not wearing Hoka shoes. The shoes had also lived up to one of my planned expectations in that they had been very warm on day one in the snow. You see all that low density foam compresses and uncompresses which creates friction, which in turn is translated into heat - genius! In addition the long hours to CP1 had not taken a huge toll on back or knees. One piece of kit that I had to bin at CP1 was my brand new Montane Trailblazer Gaiters. The elastic which secures them under the shoe was already worn through on both in 1 day and where the elastic is knotted to secure it inside the gaiter the knot is quite big and gets pressed against the side of the foot. However the biggest problem for me with these gaiters was that where they velcro up the front, the velcro is doubled over and finished off at the top. These are an ankle gaiter and the result is that you have quite a large piece of very stiff material being constantly forced into the front of your lower shin each time the ankle bends.

Leaving CP1 at the same time as me (Midday!) was the very accomplished German Tobias Altmann. We set out together and soon hooked up with Spencer Lane who was doing a flyby of CP1. I was determined to learn from my mistakes of day 1 and decided not to use GPS at all and to nav off the map from the get go. Tobias and Spencer were both using GPS to check routes and I was using this to double check my mapping. Everything was going well but after a short while I was really conscious that the pace was slower than I wanted to be. Tobias had very sore blisters and Spencer was on a steady game plan with a support driver. I asked the guys if they thought it would be rude of me to boot on and of course they were both fine. Physically and mentally I was fine and ready to get on with catching up. One of my strong points was always going to be being able to operate with very little sleep, and my soon to be patented recovery system....

I bashed out the Walshaw Reservoirs and got up on Withins Heights. I stopped briefly in the ruin of the house from Wuthering Heights and caught up with some texts. It seemed that the fundraising had gone way over our target and hundreds of people were following. This filled my heart with courage and my eyes with tears. Time to push on with a mental note to come back with the family and visit Bronte Falls. Dropping down into Buckley and I heard someone shout my name. I thought it was one of the number checkpoints however when I got closer I saw it was one of Hidden Ferret's old school chums Tamsin and her Husband Ian. I tried not to cry, much, but it was all a bit unexpected. Tamsin and Ian had bought a whole flask of sweet coffee and some bickies. I sat in their VW van and consumed the flask. Ian asked if he could carry my pack for a bit, lols! "I'll get disqualified" I said, to which he replied "do you want us to drive you anywhere?". Bless I think he meant to get some dinner and they would drop me back. Sadly I needed to get on. It goes to show how well the trackers were working as they were able to track and intercept me at what turned out to be quite short notice. Spencer turned up just as I was leaving and it looked like we had lost Tobias.

Up Old Bees and Bare Hill was nice and easy with a guide wall to the left which gave a perfect map locator when you got to the end of it. This was good as visibility was down to about 2m in the view of the headtorch due to thick fog. My head torch is another one of the pieces of equipment that I'm super pleased with. The Suprabeam V3r has a massive 8 hour+ battery life at a high 200 lumen rate. In addition to this Tim at the Outdoor Design Coalition supplied me with 3 batteries and an extension cable so that I could keep the battery close to the warmth of my body to prevent battery life from depleting in the cold. I found that I never ran out of battery which was vital on the section from CP1 - CP2 as I was to be out for 2 nights with no chance to recharge. Going was fairly steady and nav was very good due to constant map reference with GPS double checking. The wind had picked up and was driving rain side on into my face for quite a while until I came across a stone summer cottage which I could shelter in the lea of. I think this was actually at Summer House but not too sure. I decided to put an extra layer on and so got my Patagonia R1 mid layer out and also my Under Armour InfraRed hood. I got the jetboil going and cooked up a wet dinner of chicken and pasta, with a double choc in the water once again. This was little compensation for the fact that I had originally wanted to go to the Pub in Lothersdale and have a full pub dinner. Good or bad that I didn't make it, I can't tell, but chimp was giving me grief for it.

However, once I was refuelled I was revived and the pace picked up again. Theres a small section before Lothersdale where you get to the end of a small road section and head across a field and over a stream. From the map it was hard to determine and so I switched over to the GPS. One of the problems with the GPS is that the waypoints were let's say 'loose' or maybe 'general' or at times 'open to interpretation'.... I followed into the corner of this field and it was knee high slurry. I checked the map and I was the right side of the wall. Also remember it's pitch black. There was absolutely no way over the field borders and there was extra barbed wire and fence reinforcements all over the shop as though the farmer really didn't want anyone going that way. GPS insinuated that we could maybe be a little bit further down the stream. I walked down the stream as it was the safest and cleanest place to walk. I came to a section which looked kinda pathy and headed in the right direction, the trouble was that the field it led into had no clear path and was basically a brackenfest. Looking at the map I can see exactly what I did but back then was pitch black and no visible path. I think I basically had a full on wander around the hillside and ended up doubling back to the river. I ended up back at the start point where Spencer was at his support vehicle having had tea and cake or other such luxuries. He must have thought I was mental as I came back fuming and chucking my dolls out the pram. We joined forces and this was the first point where I saw that this whole challenge is made infinitely easier when sharing roles and responsibilities. Having tried to fathom it out together we made the executive decision to take one of the tributary paths through the farm and up into Lothersdale.

When we arrived in Lothersdale Spencer retreated to his lovely warm van and I made my way to the path out. This was beside the pub which I had wanted to make for dinner and yet it was way past closing time. I was a bit demoralised to say the least. I called Paul and said I was done and basically ranted down the phone. Paul tried to calm me and told me to get my bivi out and sleep. Chimp was telling me this was a good thing to do. Thinking it through I knew that if I got in the bivi angry then this would not be a good thing. I had to use all of this energy and emotion rather than waste it. I bade farewell to Paul telling him I wasn't sure what I was going to do next but that I was close to done. I backed myself in against a stone wall and took my pack off. That alone was a burden removed. I downed some Torq recovery which instantly made me smile, banana shakes always do. I ate some Korean beef Jerky which in my headlight looked like it was branded Buldogi but was actually Bulgogi. I then thought I deserved some treats so I ate a bunch of smarties and Haribo. I imagined the chimp eating Haribo and it occurred to me that I always wait until chimp speaks to me, I never speak to chimp and ask how chimp is. So I asked chimp "are you ok?" and she replied "I'm ok". To which I replied "Feck me you're a girl!" and she said "come on you knew right?". We had a chat and I explained that we were in a bit of a pickle and she agreed. I said I'd like to give it a go at getting out but I needed her help. She said "well we've come this far plonkachops".

I packed my kit back up, saddled up and moved out. It wasn't long before we hit a snag where the path crossed a wall there was no sign of a way to cross the wall, just a tree in the corner. "No worries" said chimp "chimp likes trees". We were beginning to work well together and I feel maybe because I had stopped neglecting chimp. We boshed on up Pinhaw and stopped for a triumphant look over the valley from the peak. I couldn't help but think that this was one shitty basin I was glad to see the back of. My decision to push on through the shitty shits had ended up with me in a good place. Had I found mettle? Coming down the other side of Pinhaw the path intersected the road and there was the wonderful warm car and sweet coffee of Amanda Crozier and Ally Young - race marshals. While they made the coffee they said sit in the car with the other two. Sadly I forgot their names but it was a guy and a gal who had called it a day and were warming up and taking on calories. I wasn't that hungry and a lot of my continual progression I based on the fact that I had lots of food and in a whole variety of forms. As I sat in the driver's seat waiting for coffee the heat was on full blast and I was still fully clothed for the outdoors, as were the other two. I desperately wanted to turn the heater off but knew that they both needed it on. Gosh it was hot and sleepy! I had my coffee and a couple of power naps and then shot out the car for fear of not being able to get up again. This was such a hard stop to get going from but I had to push on. Amanda and Ally were very encouraging and it was only after the event that Ally commented on Facebook that she thought I was going to become the 3rd member of the car band. Not tonight baby!

I pushed on through some really boggy and marshy crap through Wood House and Brown House into the village of Thornton in Craven. Going through the rear end of the village another backlog of texts came in. The evening was clear and crisp at this point and I was beginning to fade again. I used the mobile signal advantage to check the next few hours weather and it was clear. I found some conifer trees to pitch under and swiftly got the bivi up. Even though it was freezing I was snug and cozy once inside the bivi. I was using the Terra Nova Jupiter bivi and had a Thermarest lite under me in a Rab Neutrino bag. Luckily all my clothing was dry so I could get straight in. I fired a text off to HQ that I was going to bivi down so they didn't panic when they saw that my tracker didn't move for a while. This was about 3am and I intended to get 2 hours kip. I needed to check on chimp because I knew she wasn't good. Ever since missing the pub at Lothersdale there had been a bit of an underlying theme of "a beer would be nice...". Although I wouldn't have actually had a beer at Lothersdale because its against the rules and if I had one I'd probably have 8, it had been a mental target to have a nice hot meal in friendly warm surrounds. Days and time had become mingled and I finally worked out that I was 43 hours in and had only had 2 hours of broken sleep in the scout hut at Hebden. Shit a beer or 8 would be ferkin lovely right now. I hadn't had a drink since New Years knowing that if I made it through the first week then I would have TSR to help me get through the hard bit. This plan was coming back to bite me now that I had stopped. I kept thinking about a nice big cold glass of Stella. Chimp was curled up on the floor writhing around like Gollum sick for precious. I needed to help her. I got my 500ml bottle of Torq banana recovery which I had been saving for a larger rest, necked the lot and smiled. Next was an army issue cinnamon bun followed by an apple turnover. Chucked in a couple of paracetemol for good measure and curled up with chimp, "it's gonna be ok".....

When the alarm went at 5:15 i turned it off and went back to sleep. I'm not sure at what time but the next thing I remember is hearing two old biddies trying to figure out what was on the ground before them and I was praying that their dog didn't piss on my bivi. The best I could do was to make a pretend waking up snore kinda roar at which the biddies and K9 pegged it. I got out the bag and wondered why oh why do perfectly normal people get up at this time? It was still dark! However I felt great! It was a new day - a good day and a day corners would be turned. As I was packing up a figure rumbled up the path. It was the unmistakable happy and jolly Martin Ottersbach. By chance and unbeknownst to us both we had both slept about 100m apart, the only difference being that Martin had bagged a luxurious barn and I had roughed under the conifers. At least the weather was dry and I was packing away dry kit. Before I finished packing, Spencer rumbled into town too, the paths were busy today!

 

Martin wins the bivi competition....

Pushing out of camp the sky became light and it was a beautiful morning down along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. However as the path veered away from the canal we had some pretty trudgey fields to go through. The sun was rising and for the first time in ages I took my jacket off. The warmth on my back helped the cough which many of us got from being out in the cold on the first night. There was a good bit of coughing amongst the people I met and it reminded me of Wilfred Owen "Bent double like old beggars under sacks, knock kneed coughing like hags, towards our distant rest we march". I caught Spencer by Gargrave where I got a co-op bacon roll. Just as Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes said "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing", I would like to go on record as saying there is no such thing as a bad bacon roll - period. If you think you're having a bad bacon roll then your life is clearly too fluffy! Believe me this co-op bacon roll was trying its absolute best to do an impression of what a bad bacon roll may look like, but me and chimp saw straight through it. Chimp was turning cartwheels, triple HP sauce... And a bottle of Irn-Bru for breckie "LG Chimp, LG! It doesn't get better than this...". School kids thought I was a nutter as I ate my HP sauce dripping bacon bap using the public bin as a stand up table and talked to my imaginary chimp. Then one of them saw the number on my pack and I heard him say "he's doing that nutty race" to which his pristine groomed home boy pronounced "nah man dey cum fru deys ago innit bruv". Thanks. Although this got me thinking that vagrants and vagabonds are missing a trick. In future I need to donate my race numbers to homeless people because it had turned me from a stinking muddy mess into something which was socially acceptable. I could just see it now, people walking up to homeless people with race numbers on; "what race you doing man?", "um the race of life dude", "cool when did it start", "like about 20 years ago when I was passed over and ignored by a broken education system, the government and social services...". I digress......

Gargrave to Malham was shite. Low laying river hugging muddy fields and ploughed fields as well. However, we did catch up to Martin and the sun was still shining. Spencer's support driver Janey met us all at Airton. I say met us all but she was obviously there for Spencer and Martin and I were tagging along. Regardless, she fantastically prepared me a sweet tea and a piece of cake. I lay down in the road and consumed these as the other two left. I took my time and gained a new lease of life which found me catch the other guys quite quickly. You can really see the benefits to pace and recovery through eating regularly and making good rest stops regularly. Just South of Malham I got signal again and I got some messages which reminded me that my friend Elisa was going to be having a double mastectomy that day. It hit me hard and was a stark awakening to the continuing world outside of this crazy thing. This was up by Windy Pike and I suddenly needed to be alone and to process. I pulled away from the other two and bashed into Malham. Janey was there and I think she was a bit puzzled that I'd rocked up with the other two not in sight. I stripped my top layers down to just the long sleeve X-Bionic and kept the Seraction trousers on as they breathed well and had good vent zips. This would prevent unnecessary on and offing. This was the start of what was to become "Hawes or Bust".

 

Miles of mud and a closed CP1.5

It was firmly in my mind that if I did not make Hawes by midnight then I would have very little chance of making the cut-off at CP3. I figured Hawes was about 26 - 28 miles from where I stood, just a quick mountain marathon right? I knew I had it in me as at no point previously had my legs been put under strain and the path ahead was good old mountain path where us Ferrets are most happy. They're not right up North spending all their time hanging around bogs, us Ferrets like it with our rocks at our feet. For this section I was going to change strategy on fuelling too. I loaded the front pouches on my Aarn Marathon Magic 33l with easy sweet things such as nuts, trail mix, sweets and beef jerky. Quick hand food such as ration pack sandwiches etc. More importantly I moved all my Torq gear into the front. This included gels, bars and carb drinks. I blasted Malham cove like the steps scene from Rocky (in my head) and navigated the moonscape at the top with Ferret like precision. I was quickly upon Malham Tarn. Hmmm how to handle this? I had an unnecessary interaction at Malham Tarn that left me stunned and on any other day could have put me down. I tried to crack on but couldn't get it out my head, i'd basically been told amongst other things that I'd timed out? I called Paul and got him to deal with it, which he did and I got a text back saying it's false, carry on, you're doing great. This is when you need mettle. "IF you can keep your head whilst all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you...." To top it all off checkpoint 1.5 was closed. Feckit, Hawes or Bust. I slammed a gel and swigged some carb drink. Head down and run. Even though my pack was in the region of 11kg the Aarn Marathon Magic 33l is a piece of witchcraft in the realms of backpacks, nay, load carrying systems. It was tight to my body and didn't slosh around, it didn't rub, and everything I needed was right in front of me. Texts started coming from Paul and others "you're flying, what's going on?". Great Hill Scar, Middle Fell and Fountains Fell all fell. I was on fire and at last when I put my foot down it didn't sink to my knee in mud. I had one goal and everything I needed to do it. I was putting something in my mouth every 5-10 minutes (stop it you dirty beasts), a hand full of nuts, some gel, a bite of a Torq bar, raisins, etc.



I found Janey again at the bottom of the path from Fountains Fell, before the trek to Pen-y-ghent. Janey had hot sweet tea, porridge and lots of encouragement. Paul and I really lucked out on our support crew and I do recommend it for many reasons. I didn't know it but that was the last time I would see Janey or Spencer so "Thanks Guys!". Pen-y-ghent was a minor blip at 694m, and looks a bit like table top mountain in the dusk. I slayed Penny before sunset, trickled triumphantly down her backside and took the permissible short cut avoiding Horton in Ribblesdale, even though Paul was texting me to stop there and get food. From Horton to Hawes I was completely race zoned; eat, run, check map, repeat. I think it was at about Cam End that I stopped and took a 360 and there wasn't a single light in any direction. I was so alone and yet I think I'd actually found a bit of stillness. The sky was clear for the moment and there was no wind, it was dark but I could run with the headtorch off, which I did for a bit. I had a goal and I was digging deep to reach it. From Cam End begins about a 6 mile relentless climb to Ten End and then the drop down to Hawes. As I headed along the Cam High Road the cloud layer came right down and I was reduced to 2m headtorch visibility. Six miles up hill, 2m visibility and a constant concentration to hold it together and keep moving until the end goal.

 

To cap it all off there was a really shitty goat path through a bog and an extremely muddy hill descent into Hawes. When I opened the doors to the village hall in Hawes the heat hit me and the burden of the day came rushing through. I fell to the floor on a mat and was quickly descended upon. I felt awkward straight away and stupid and just wanted everyone to leave me alone. Which they did when they saw I was ok. I think the reason these things happen is that you spend so long pushing everything inside you out of the way and trying to control a grip on reality and the goal for so long, that when you finally reach the goal it all floods forwards. A bit like the reason teachers always get sick when the holidays start. It's because they hang in and focus hard right up to when the holidays start and then they let it all go and get sick. This is a very good time to bring in Nici Griffin - legend! Nici stripped me, emptied my sack, got things washed and drying, found me a quiet place behind the stage and gave me 2 hours to kip. Scott had come up and we had a chat and he congratulated me on the catch up, I was back in the game. I took my necessary Torq recoveries, ate some ration meals (no food for the late again) and got my head down.

 

Nici keeping a watchful eye ove her flock while Baby Ferret and Little Minx Ferret check on Papa Ferret's progress.

Nici woke me up at about 1:30am and I was feeling proper rough. I'd been hacking up like an old man ever since I got into Hawes and there was some pretty nasty shit coming out my lungs. I took 3 'one a day' vitamin caps to max out on Vit C. Nici said that Annie Garcia was waiting for someone to head out with as she didn't want to head out on her own. Annie is a very accomplished trail runner and no stranger to this section of the trail so I naturally jumped at the chance and tried to get my ass into gear. Actually it was Nici that got my ass into gear. This section was a short section at about 33 miles and I was beginning to feel really good. I was very wary that on day 1 Annie had pulled away from me and I didn't want to hold her up so we made a deal that if she wanted to shoot off she could. I switched my shoes from the Mafate III to the Hoka Rapa Nui Comp. I would be losing a bit in grip but make up a bit in lightness and speed. It was also lovely to get a fresh new pair of shoes on. Annie and Nici made me streamline my bag for faster lighter travel. I jumped outside to check the weather and it was mild and damp.

Annie led the way out of Hawes by memory and I was well impressed as we started to climb towards Little Fell. As we climbed the drizzle turned to sleet and the sleet into snow. I'd noticed that Annie was conserving on the climbs and this set me at ease, we were making good pace. We were still treking on Annie's memory when I said that I thought we were slightly off track. Annie said not but I could see the ridge to our right was rising above us and I knew we needed to be on top of that. I got my GPS out and it said that we were off course. I told Annie to hold fire and I would run up the hill and see if the path was there. As I treked off piste I came across two great holes in the ground which were luckily visible due to the amount of snow around which defined them as big hollows in my Suprabeam floodlight. I think they are marked on the map, I don't know if these were mine shafts or vents but they were a warning. It turned out that the upper path was there and GPS said this was correct. Annie rejoined me but she started to let me know that she wasn't happy with the weather.

We moved on, I was keen to keep things moving as the snow was really driving on us and there was several inches on the ground. As we climbed it got colder but at least I could make out some footprints in the snow, however, the path was quite boggy so diversions were required regularly. Then you'd come across flagstones, this is flagstone heaven because it means you're on the right path! Flagstones are either great or shit and there's no in between. They're either killing you or they're saving you, they're not happy to just BE. I think we were around Black Hill Moss when Annie stopped me and said she really wasn't enjoying this. She asked me how the snow was falling off my jacket but soaking into hers yet they were both Goretex. The difference was that mine was Goretex Pro and Annie's jacket was basic level Goretex. Luckily Annie was well layered with thick layers so she was warm, but she was getting wet. Then Annie said she was thinking about turning back. Chimp had been quiet for a long time but she started to get restless and I was with her. I did a quick assessment of Annie in the Sherlock fashion. Legs - fine; body - fit, warm but wet; head protected but miserable. Annie was fine and safe she just wasn't having fun any more. I needed to be direct with her so I said "Annie I feel great and I'm going to push on, you're welcome to come with me or turn back but we can't stand here and debate this, you need to make a decision now". Annie said she would go back so I checked she was good to return on the path, that she had her GPS on and told her to text HQ and tell them she was on her way back. I was sad here because I'd had a really positive experience with Annie and I liked sharing the load. It's at times like these that you realise you don't need to talk to appreciate someone's company as we had only chatted a little on the way up, mostly it was just having the security of another person with you - a comfort blanket.

With Annie heading back down and nothing but climb ahead of me I put my head down and hashed on. I was feeling great and I actually thought 'I've got this in the bag'. My body was good and my energy was good, more importantly my head was great. For the first time I was thinking I'm gonna get to CP3 with plenty of time and get a little rest before pushing on. At this point I was wearing my X-Bionic base layer and my Ark'Teryx Beta AR, and I was toasty. I also had my Under Armour infra red hood with integrated neck piece which really retained a lot of heat. I would say that this hood gives the greatest return on heat retention for size than any other piece of clothing as it rolls up tiny but you lose so much heat out your head so it starts working as soon as you put it on. Black Hill Moss, Bleak Haw, Hearne Head and finally the summit of Great Shunner Fell at 716m. It was howling up there, freezing cold and driving snow. I hunkered down behind the rocks at the top of Great Shunner to have a drink as I was actually feeling a bit dehydrated. I'd probably been pushing for a good couple of hours but not realised. It's surprising how much fluid you lose in the cold as you're losing so much moisture just each time you breath. As I tried to swig from my water bottle I realised that it was basically a slushy inside and had to shake it up. I managed to gulp a few mouthfuls before getting brain freeze. There was no time to waste here as I needed to get down to the warmer milder lower levels.

A pitch black white-out, does that make sense? It was still dark, but the snow was raging and all I had was my headtorch to go by. The GPS had been quite good and had certainly seen us right earlier with Annie so it was easier to go from that than the map at the moment. Then it hit - DUMP! If you've ever been in the snow when it goes from just snowing to total and utter dump on you, it's actually quite bizarre. The kid/chimp in you is laughing for sure because it's prime snowball time. My head was straight down staring at the GPS and I was slowly feeling my way along the path with poles. Of course every now and then you lose the path but you regain it and carry on. I lost the path for a bit and then the GPS started doing 180's "to me, to you, to me, to you". I was off path and it was very rough under foot, total white-out and GPS has scrambled. Chimp was not happy, but I kept her calm by walking in the direction that I thought the path to be. Things got a bit boggy and Chimp started to get really agitated, I was beginning to go with her. All of a sudden chimp said "Run! Run down hill and get us out of this shit!". I was with her and started to run down hill, until I dropped off a peat bank into shin high sludge - FUCK FUCK FUCKETY FUCK FUCK!!!!

I backed up to the bank pulling my feet out the suction swamp of hell. I was shaking a bit, not from cold but a bit of shock (I think???). We were in trouble and I needed to take control. "Chimp I need you to go hide and leave me for a bit, go some place warm, how about when we were kitesurfing in Doll's Point, Sans Souci, Sydney". That's an easy one to go to instantly because I had so many good fun times there that as soon as I think about it I feel warm. I needed to get ahead of the game and pre-empt the next level of shitness which would be freezing my ass off and going downhill from there. I took my pack off, sat it on the ground before me and opened the top. All my warm layers were in the top as required so I took a deep breath and whipped my jacket off. As quick as I could I got my Patagonia R1 hoody on and dived my hand back in for the Helly Hansen micro fleece and Spyder Gillet that were in the emergency bag. The emergency bag that had been deemed as surplus to requirements as it had not been needed up to Hawes and we had streamlined at Hawes - you muppet. I put my jacket back on and the extra hat I had. I now had 3 layers on my head and the coat hood, this should help at least. The problem was that all my layers were great when you were moving but didn't retain heat well or generate heat. The only piece of kit I was lacking was what I needed right now, you have to have a Primaloft layer.

I needed to get moving quick but I was pinned and I started to shake a little. I checked my mobile but of course there was no signal. Control, control, control... Come on Benji this is where you excel, back against a peat bank, odds against you, wheres that bit of mettle? I got the map out and compass, lined the map and started to look around. All I could see was loads of snow in my headtorch for 360 degrees. Then I remembered the teachings of one of my previous management mentors "more often than not, the things we think are helping us are actually disabling us...." I turned the headtorch off and looked around, BINGO! One solitary orange light - Thwaite, it had to be. Listen and we can hear the flow of Thwaite Beck down in the valley. Listen closer and we can hear the trickle to the left and the right which means we are in between the Gills? Depending on our luck we have one or two Gills to cross before we make it back onto the path. As luck would have it there was just one Gill to cross in which I washed off the mud from my trousers as it was stopping them from working by blocking the evaporation. I made the path and hurriedly pegged down what can only be described as a rubble shute. At the bottom I saw someone walking towards me, it was Ashley, the partner and support crew for Neil Bennett. I said to her straight away that I needed to contact the Race HQ and arrange a pick up. Ashley was great and she walked down the track to her car with me. I was cold, super cold, even though we had descended out of the snow into the warm wet and the day had broken. Ashley said sit in the car and have a tea and I'd probably be alright. I did, but I wasn't. I went to the phone box to try and call HQ. I was desperately shaking all the way, my body was in shock. It was card only and I have since found out that a 10 second call to leave a message cost me £6!!!!

Neil came and quickly turned around and Ashley took me to Keld where she would meet him next. Neil had said that he saw my footprints veer straight of the path. I was later to discover that Martin who had made Hawes and left some 1.5 hours after us had summited a Shunner Fell completely devoid of snow. Such is the way of the hills. By the time we got to Keld I was bloody useless. I couldn't get out the car for shaking. Ashley was great she came back to the car and said she had found some people to take us in and use the phone. It was a farm campsite and the lady took me into the kitchen, hub of all farm life, and sat me by the range with a cup of coffee. We made all the calls we could and left messages. Finally we got a call back and told there was someone on the way. It was when the farmer and his wife started having a meeting with a suited gentleman regarding finances or other such that I felt a bit taking the piss and made excuses. Even then they were like "no, no, stay". We thought it best to wait in the car. Walking from the house to car I began to shake uncontrollably. I was done...

Darren Hunt picked me up and bless him after a while sitting shivering in his car he said "do you want me to drop you back out?". "I'm done I said". Theres the point you just know, and I was at that point. I was cold in my core. Hypothermia is classified by a drop in core temperature below 35C. It depends on length of exposure and severity as to how it affects you. Mentally I felt fine, my body was just telling me "I ain't letting you do that to me again". Darren took me to CP3 (Middleton) where I was met with a big hug from Nici and Scott who were both genuinely gutted for me. On the plus side there was the biggest plate of lasagne i've ever eaten!!! Nici ordered me to take it easy which I did not argue. Up until this point my feet had been fairly fine but interestingly now that I had stopped they swelled up like balloons. It's quite incredible how you can stave things off until the point that you stop. This can also be said for emotions. I took a while to catch up on Facebook and the charity site and found that masses of people had been following me and willing me along. We had also smashed the fundraising target of £1,000 to at least £1,500 and at the moment it's about £1,800. I also found out that Elisa's operation had gone to plan and at that point I kinda lost it inside for a while. I sat and processed for ages until I thought I really ought to get some sleep. As soon as I stepped out of the communal dinning are and HQ hub into the baggage hall my body started to shake uncontrollably, I was going into shock every time the temperature around me dropped. This was my body saying "na aaah buddy you are not doing that to us again!". It's weird because I felt generally ok but the random shock was impossible to deal with. Oh and the cankles were growing. I managed a couple of hours sleep.

That evening I packed up and we moved at about midnight to CP4 (Alston), where I adopted a helping role by assisting people still racing to enter and leave the checkpoint swiftly, rested and fed. This process was important for me as it was a bit therapeutic and it was a gentle cut of the umbilical chord. Also I couldn't walk too good and it kept me around the medical staff should I require attention. I was still going into shock when I got cold and that lasted for 5 days afterwards. After seeing everyone through Alston it was time to leave as if I headed North with the rolling machine it would get harder and harder to get home, and I was really missing the kids and Hidden Ferret now. When I got home I had 3 really bad nights of waking up in buckets of sweat and shivering from where my body was still having trouble thermoregulating. Hypothermia had given me hyperthermia??? I definitely would not want to be dealing with that up a mountain on the Scottish border.....

I came away from The Spine Race happy and feeling that I have achieved a mountain of positives from it. It was exactly what I thought it would be - brutal but fun. The first thing Little Minx Ferret said to me as I cuddled her on the sofa was "why didn't you finish the race Daddy?". I guess I deserved that one for missing her birthday! Many people have asked me if I will be doing it again next year. The truth is that it hinges around my daughter's birthday. One thing is for sure, I do not feel that I left anything unfinished or that I have something to prove. My circumstances of withdrawal are unfortunate but I feel that I am more than capable of completing the race. Just prior to the white-out I felt flipping brilliant. I'd corrected all my nav from day 1, I'd dug deep and hard to claw back my mistakes, I'd found mettle on several occasions but especially during 'Hawes or Bust', I'd found myself in a moment of stillness, I'd discovered my chimp, I'd used my head and I'd had a lot of fun. In addition we raised a lot of money and more importantly awareness for Mummy's Star. I also overcame a few demons along the way, some I've mentioned and some I haven't.

Most importantly I've discovered that I'm an emotional female chimp trapped in the body of a full mettle man with a Ferret's spirit for freedom and adventure - and i'm cool with that.

2014 beckons.....