Let´s start by going back to January this year. More precisely in the middle of the night on Sunday the 14th. I was at the finish line for the Spine Challenger, which is a 175 km brutally hard race, and I was so tired and cold and my head could hardly take any more of that loud noise from the gusty winds, that had been my partner for the last 38+ hours.
For the last several hours I had been so happy, that I was doing the Spine Challenger and not the Spine Race. Some people call the Challenger for “Baby Spine”, which I find very insulting to everyone, who has ever completed that race. It is most likely one of the most challenging 100+ miles race´s you will find, and there is nothing “baby” about it.
Anyway. I was sitting in this house trying to eat and get some heat back in my body. One of the many nice volunteers asked me this one crazy question: would you ever come back to do the Spine Race (what he meant was: now when you have completed the 175 km race, would you come back to do the even harder 426 km version?)
I started laughing and said to him: “Absolutely not. You guys will never ever see me here again”. Louise, who was sitting next to us, replied to him, that I did not know what I was saying, and that I would change my mind in a few days.
I could hardly walk the next day, and two days later I signed up for the Spine Race. Seems like Louise knows me better than I do…
Now we are just 52 days away, and I think about the race almost every minute. 52 days might sound like forever if you are sitting behind an office desk waiting for your next vacation. Being on the starting list for the Spine Race, 52 days sounds like absolutely no time.
How do you prepare for such an unsupported 426 km nonstop race with 6000 vertical meters in rough terrain and most likely horrible weather? Add to that a heavy backpack.
Let’s start with the obvious part. It takes a lot of physical training to prepare for such a race, and the hour after hour running and walking in this terrain puts a lot of pressure on your body. Carrying a heavy backpack does not make this part easier. If you have not done your homework on this part, then you will most likely DNF quite fast.
The mental strength (or lack of it) will determine if you can finish or not.
It is a fact, that most runners will use 5-7 days for this race, which is a very long time to be out there.
It is a fact that you will be running/walking in darkness for about 14 hours a day.
It is (almost) a fact, that you will encounter bad weather and get wet and cold.
For a lot of runners, it is also a fact, that you will be totally on your own for hours and hours.
It is also a fact, that you will feel very very sorry for yourself at some points during the race.
To try to overcome all these mental challenges, you need to be absolutely clear, why you do this and why it is important for you to complete the race. You also need to be quite stubborn
I have done as much training as I have been able to, and at this point, I feel confident, that my body will be able to carry me and my bag all the way from Edale east of Manchester to the border of Scotland. All I have to hope for is that my knees will back me up for this mission.
I have run a lot of kilometres every week and in combination with cycling. I have not focused that much on hill running despite the 6000 vertical meters. Endurance has been more important to me. My weekly running distances have been 100-120 km and add to that UTMB 175 km in August, Seoul 100 km in October and my last long run will be Formosa 105 km in just 9 days.
The real battle (for all of us) will take place inside our heads. But I know, that I normally do quite good on that part. I know from my Munga Trail races, that I can go on for days and days and that I can do with very little sleep. The darkness will be tough for all of us and make navigation difficult, but I know that I will be ok on that part. The dark horse for this race will be the weather. The race is known for bad weather but as long as we do not get too much snow, I should be ok in terms of being able to move forward. Being on my own for a very long time is something, that
I am used to. Somehow, I always get stuck – alone – in the middle between the fastest and slowest runners. I know, that I will feel sorry for myself several times during the race, but I also know, that I will be able to overcome the feeling.
Strategy for such a race is difficult and much more demanding than for a stage race. If you are one of the slow runners, you have to plan your speed and breaks very precise, so that you will not miss one of the time cuts along the way. If you are in there to race, you will have to plan your own breaks BUT at the same time look at your competitors and try to guess, how much or how little they stop. If you break or sleep too little, you might be punished at the end. If you break or sleep too much, your competitors will beat you.
Over the next few weeks, I will start getting all my gear ready, and trust me, there will be a lot of planning to do with extra clothes, food, batteries for headlamps, watch, navigation device and so on. You do not want to be out there in the middle of nowhere having to say: “Uupps I think I forgot that”.
No doubt that this race will be the biggest foot race challenge of my life, and it is just around the corner.