Bellingham to Byrness – 15 miles – cut off 148 hrs then Byrness to Kirk Yetholm – 27 miles – cut off 168 hrs – need to be there by 08:00 Sunday morning with a total of 42 miles to go – how difficult could this be ?
I stepped out of the chaos of the Field Hospital into the silence outside just before the cut off at midnight! It was a clear evening with a crispness to the air. Standing next to Harvey, Darren Hunt’s adventure van and Spine support companion, I had my picture taken by Darren. As I was about to set off, I saw Thomas and a couple of others had been kicked out of the checkpoint with all of their gear. The medics were still treating Thomas and the volunteers were round him like bees round a honey pot still getting him sorted – I was witnessing a miracle unfold before my eyes – surely he wouldn’t be in a fit state to leave and still have enough time given I had had 4 hours, a spa and pedicure and had still just made cut off?
I said my goodbyes and Darren hinted that he would see me at Byrness. No disorientation leaving the check point this time as walking back down the driveway it was a straightforward left at the road and then look out for the PW signs through the village. I was feeling really strong at this point and setting off at a decent pace, I passed a fellow racer who was hovering on the bridge over the river. As soon as we crossed the river, a right turn took us along the water edge of the North Tyne, passing a children’s play area and then on through a fiddly section of road through the village before it opened out back onto the boggy moors after Blakelaw.
4km further up the squelchy moors, and I crossed the B6320 and started making my way up to Whitley Pike. I was beginning to feel tired again and my foot snagged on the heather roots going uphill. I didn’t try to break my fall as I knew this would hurt my foot too much, instead opting to ‘parachute drop’ on to my side and before I knew it I was lying in the heather! Wow – It was so comfy! The heather acted as a super mattress and wind break all in one with me being just below the plant height surface. I didn’t resist and I succumbed to lying there, above me were clear skies and the stars had come out to show me what they looked like after a week of gloom. The air was crisp, the smell of heather was beautiful and I decided to soak up the moment a little more than I anticipated, as I fell asleep!
The next thing I knew, I was wide awake, freezing, soaking wet and lying on the bed of a bone chillingly cold river and about to die – I could see a rampage of horses charging towards me down the river – at least, that’s what my mind had decided anyway! I leapt to my feet as quick as Usain Bolt, the pain of my foot not registering and started running as quick as I could uphill to get out of the river and away from impending death… after about 20 metres I came to my senses and realised I had been having an hallucination or night terror! I stopped and took a breath and then realised I was missing a glove – I was freezing cold – that bit at least was true, which is probably what woke me suddenly, and I contemplated just carrying on to warm up but realised this was a stupid thing to do, there were no more drop bags before the finish and it was close to freezing temperatures so I wouldn’t make it without the glove. Reality dawned that I wasn’t soaking wet, there was no river and more importantly no rampaging horses to be seen!! Haha… I retraced my steps and couldn’t believe that after just a couple of minutes of searching, there it was, my glove laid on the top of the heather. I must have been asleep for about 30 minutes but boy, once my head cleared and I was on my way, I felt rejuvenated.
Glove recovered and with my person still intact, I carried on and, although the sleep had ended with a bit of a fright, I was making really good progress. My next milestone was to get up and over Padon Hill and my new speed meant I soon reached the boggy Brownrigg Head. This was a steep section up with the forest to my left and little route choice due to the narrow path. The fence to my right left me with no option other than to follow this, and I made a very squelchy ascent. I approached a fallen tree lying from left to right and resting on the fencing allowing passage in only one place. With no other option, I took a step and found myself waist deep and falling forwards as I plunged into a bog! Using the fence to pull myself out, I continued the ascent and eventually made it to the top and to what looked like a substantial stone forest track, wide enough for vehicles and solid under your feet. Brilliant, at last perhaps this would be the chance to get some distance under my belt at something faster than tortoise pace. I was at 350m at this point and the air was fresh with frost and I needed a wee! With no idea why I did this, and not like I was on the M25 with hundreds of people watching, I found a fallen pine tree which had uprooted with a root ball of about 15ft in diameter still intact, and went behind there, out of sight! I was in the middle of a forest at something like 5am and I guess the upheaval of getting my front pouch off, jacket and waterproof trousers undone before getting anywhere near little Will (I did say it was cold lol), meant it wasn’t a quick process, but even so I think this covert operation was a little unnecessary, in retrospect. I looked up at the trees, as men do when you’re enjoying a little light relief – and bloody hell, there were Storm Troopers in the trees all staring at me!!! There must have been about 10 of them pointing their guns in my direction, so naturally I freaked out! – First rampaging horses now Storm Troopers ! Without doubt, I had experienced my first hallucinations of the whole journey so far, but it still jolted me enough to get myself tucked in, zipped up and back onto the track in record time!
A few miles of hard forest trails followed but these made for simple and straightforward navigation. The skies were perfectly clear and the views of the stars and moon were something else. They added to the feeling of isolation but made me feel more connected with the trail and nature than ever. The tracks did seem to go on for a bit though but I was in a great rhythm with my one pole and felt I was making good progress despite the odd Churchill Insurance ‘nodding dog’ moment when tiredness would catch up with me, but I felt really positive. The star formations were some of the best I’ve ever seen with so little light pollution there and it was so peaceful too. All I could hear were owls hooting, my feet shuffling along the gravel track and that distinct sound of one pole striking the stony surface.
Watching a beautiful sunrise come up over the horizon, I took a moment to soak it in and took a picture, which I posted on Facebook. Someone replied on the post and commented about it being ‘Northumberland at it’s best’ – ah, so that’s where I was! The A-Z map books and Harvey maps don’t give you an overview, they only follow the section of the Pennine Way you’re on, so like I mentioned in a previous blog, knowing where I was, but not where I was, felt perfectly normal.
It was quite light now and I was aware of a small camp within the trees on my left and saw Carolyn Binns and John Hammond stirring from a Bivvy spot. It was great to see some fellow racers having been completely on my own since Bellingham, but I was too much in my own zone to stop and chat – I was on a mission.
I thought I was close to the CP as I could hear road noise, but this lasted for another 3 km and seemed to drag. I was so keen to get to the welcome of Byrness and although I didn’t know what to expect, I did know that I only had 30 minutes allocation to stop there and knew it was at a B&B, as I’d seen footage on the Official Spine film. There’d been so much chat and hype about it, I was feeling quite excited. I reached a path lined by tall pine trees approaching a group of houses which included Forest View B&B like a runway, and I saw the familiar face of Peter Pierre Henley towards the end of the path signalling that I must be close.
I arrived at a row of terraced houses and was ushered into one of them through a small corridor. My pole (singular) was taken from me and I was shown to a seat in a conservatory. It was bright, as the sun was now shining into the airy space through the glass panels. On reflection I think I actually sat in the same chair Sabrina Verjee had (albeit a long time before me!) – kudos points surely ? 🙂 I didn’t have much time to sort anything out and before I’d caught my breath I was offered Neeps and Tatties and a cup of tea, which arrived within minutes. I remember sitting there smiling to myself – I was in with about 3.5 hours to spare from the cut off so had made back some of my time and was so happy to see familiar faces. I had to show SST some mandatory kit and before I knew it, I was being asked to pack up – they were very tight with the 30 minute rule here! I could have stayed for ages chatting to everyone, laughing and sharing war stories, I felt so at ease and comfortable. As I stood trying to attach my front pouch to my pack rig, the whole of what seemed to be my personal Exile Medics team filed into the conservatory – the smile on my face was beaming and these lovely girls seemed chuffed to see me too, and that I was still going, knowing their hard work hadn’t been in vain. I wish I could remember their names, they were nothing short of angels on my journey and cheered and clapped my departure.
I collected my solitary pole and felt a bit jealous of the other pairs of poles which were stacked in the corridor. As a member of check point staff accompanied me off the premises, Darren Hunt was filming my departure and interviewed me on behalf of the RED community (Run Everyday December Facebook group) I belong to.
Retracing my steps back to the path, I bumped into David Ward who was being greeted by other familiar faces, and who I had come to cherish seeing along my route, Medic Alex Pickerell and Fiona Lynch. After a brief catch up and knowing I was tired I decided to go and have a power nap in the church at the end of the path. I snuggled down in between pews, but couldn’t get the dusty smell out of my mind and having just eaten a large plate of hot food, despite my best efforts, I could tell I wasn’t going to drop off. So, up I got, donned my kit and headed back out onto the PW. Taking a short bit of road along the A68, I began the climb up to Byrness Hill. Needing to use the open plan loo facilities, I took the opportunity with the extensive forest tree cover. Don’t you love the smell of pine forests? By the time I was dressed again I could see that David Ward, Fiona Lynch and Carolyn Binns had passed me and were already further uphill. This was a bastard of an ascent, it was so slippy it was difficult to get any grip and as I went 1 foot forwards I was sliding 2 steps back. It was so energy sapping and I could really have done with my second pole here to help with balance, grip and weight transfer.
Coming out of the tree cover and after a bit more climbing, there was a small, short scramble onto Byrness Hill at 410m. The views that unfolded from here onwards were nothing less than awe inspiring. The sun had come to greet us at last after 6 days, ahead was Saughy Crag at 427m then due north up to Houx Hill at 491m.
I caught up with a young family and their 2 little boys were loving telling the story that they had made a flag and were going to get to the top of the hill to plant it as a victory sign of their ascent! It was windy and cold but the sunshine was very welcome, and the views – (did I mention the views ?) were such a fantastic panoramic vista of the Cheviots. I really enjoyed what was probably only a mile with the 2 boys and their parents, and for a brief moment I felt like I was out for a Sunday walk with the family, not trying to finish a 268 mile journey with less than a marathon distance to go. The joy of those kids filled my heart, the parents kept on apologising for their eagerness to chat, but it was wonderful. I left them shortly before the cairn at Houx Hill
Arrive on the roof top of the Cheviots for my final push to Kirk Yetholm and reaching Houx Hill
Onwards I went, still rising to Ravens Knowe and then Ogre Hill at 516m. The going was straightforward and I was enjoying the easy navigation with the extensive views. I caught up with David, Fiona, Carolyn and John loving the continuous banter between them all. It was something I hadn’t really experienced having done most of the route up to now on my own, but I liked that – feeling a deep connection with myself and the wild which you don’t always get in a group. David and Fiona had me in stitches, those two were like an old married couple. Having gone East for a short while by the River Coquet, we headed north again on a steep (ish), or so it seemed by now, undulating section which was navigating the Medieval settlement of Kemylpeth and the chapel at Chew Green. (There was a water point here for reference at the ford. GR 793083 by the path junction).
I pushed on uphill and seemed to lose the group behind me. What I thought should have only been about 6 miles from Byrness to the first Mountain refuge hut seemed to be dragging and much more, and I was willing it to come. By this time I was at a significant cairn east of Gaisty Law Peak , but looking NE for what seemed miles there was no sign of a hut and I felt deflated.
Houx Hill, Cheviots panoramic vista and Windy Gyle 8.5 mile marker
I was doing really well and had a good pace but I think I was getting to the end of my energy levels now, so it was a constant effort to keep going at that speed and was looking forward to a brew and a sit down. Eventually I got to another peak and thought to myself ‘Don’t you dare be another false summit!’. Again it wasn’t there, but my map and GPS were saying it should be!! Don’t say I’ve missed it, I thought, but as I rounded the corner, there it was in all it’s glory! – no more than a garden shed tied down in all 4 corners by wire, but a very welcome sight! I saw the ever smiling face of Yvonne and Jim Allen, my hospitality team from the hut. My pleas of being a bit cold and tired were in a nice way brushed over, and I was introduced to the semi warmth (only because you’re sheltered from the wind) of Hut 1 – a ‘no frills’ shed in the middle of no where with wooden bench seating down both sides and some shelving at one end. I had broken this section down in my head into 3 – Byrness to Hut 1, Hut 1 to Hut 2 and Hut 2 to Kirk Yetholm (note I didn’t call it the finish) and although this had been longer and tougher than I was expecting, the first third was done. I had loved the scenery and wilderness of it all but was very happy to leave it behind me. There were some dehydrated meals on offer and a cuppa and I gratefully accepted both, having a hot chocolate and chicken tikka ‘thingy’, which wasn’t great, but it was food and warm. I knew I was ok for time so spent about an hour here. David and Fiona arrived, along with Carolyn and John, which made it cosy but started to feel cramped so I decided it was time for me to make a move. I put my Montane shell on over my Paramo as it wasn’t going to get warmer going into the night, and I was already starting to feel the cold before I’d arrived.
With no idea what time I left, I felt the temperature had dropped significantly, so guessed it was now mid afternoon – I remember feeling a little emotional leaving the security of the hut and being cold and worried about going into another night alone. Heading straight into a bit of a climb up to Lamb Hill after the hut, I soon warmed up.
Pictures taken at 16:05 and 16:38 looking back West from Beefstand Hill 562m and Mozie Law 552m towards Hut 1
I was now well and truly on the Cheviot Hills, pretty much following a fence line with Scotland to my left and England to my right. The sense of wilderness and exposure was there to see and feel with no habitation or quick safety escapes in sight. My pace was slow due to fatigue and underfoot conditions, and the temperature was dropping quite considerably but with no obvious signs of a safe haven for a Ninja Bivvy. I was hoping to arrive for last orders in Kirk Yetholm but by this point I was only doing just over 1mph! Trying to calculate my timings I thought midnight was more realistic, so I put out a Facebook post to try and give myself a bit of a boost. I got some pretty hilarious comments back and many motivational ones. ‘Get a move on that’s past my bed time’ – ‘Ffs Mike, I can’t hang around here dot watching all day. Lazy is what it is’ – ‘Come on stop bloody dragging this out!!!! Get the God damn job done will you !!!’ – ‘Doesn’t matter what time you get there as long as you do! (well before 8am obviously!)’ – Even reading the comments now brings back a tear, the emotional outpouring from all the supporters was just something so special and off the scale.
As I dropped off Mozie Law, the light was disappearing and I started to head into my 7th Spine night shift. Roughly an hour into darkness, and I could sense what was boggy squelchy standard PW ground and the odd wet bit of duck boarding, was starting to crisp up and become solid and icy. This made the rutted boggy parts pretty treacherous ankle spraining stuff. I slipped several times and managed to keep my balance or break my fall, and before long I was passing over stretches of flag stones again with a thin veneer of ice beginning to cover them. I did what I could to avoid the slabs by running / walking off the edges of them but I soon came to the conclusion that this was now getting dangerous and that if I didn’t put my spikes on soon I was going to be in real trouble. Due to the forecast I had decided to carry my Yaktrax Pro’s not my mini spikes. On went my Pros which are the style with coils. Even with these I found foot planting wasn’t 100%, and with every foot fall my foot would slide forwards slightly before gaining grip, which dented my confidence a little, but I was still moving forwards with greater speed than before, so accepted the situation and as time passed I started to trust they were doing the job.
I was starting to pick up my pace and then boom – Just after 19:00 I get the dreaded phone call from HQ ……
My mobile was in the front pouch so easily accessible and as I pulled it out I saw the number come up on my screen as ‘Spine HQ 24/7 Emergency’ and my heart sank. For a nano second before answering I thought back to my asking for clarification before CP1, then my failure to observe the deviation before Gargrave and I was thinking I’m going to be penalised or have a stop go penalty at Hut 2 – like there’s such a thing.. Haha… so I answered in a laughing manner – ‘What have I done wrong now?’ The caller responded in a similar way laughing – ‘Nothing’ she said, ‘There’s a runner about 2km away from you who hasn’t moved for a while and we can’t seem to raise him. We know you are going at a good speed but if there’s anyway you could move any quicker and see what’s up that would be great!’ ‘What’s the runners name?’ I asked ‘and yes I’m on my way’ She finished by informing me that SST4 were also on their way from Hut2.
We ended the call and that was it – I was off and flying with renewed energy, purpose and probably a bit of adrenaline kicking in. My race was over in my head and I was on another journey now. I got a text from Caroline McCann checking if I was ok, I answered yes and that I was on my way, as I guessed it was in connection with the incident call from HQ that she had texted me. I was on top of the Cheviots, completely exposed, there was a pretty reasonable breeze adding to the windchill factor and it was icy under foot and my mind was racing – You don’t hunker down in this for a kip or Bivvy, or even to make a brew, at worse you’d pause to put extra layers on or have a pee, you just wouldn’t stop for any length of time, and so I was expecting the worse.
I guessed I had roughly 20 minutes of trail to do, so I concentrated on forwards movement and then as I got closer after about 15mins of running and roughly 2km, I slowed and started panning left, right and ahead with my head torch a bit more and there he was! A body curled up in the foetal position lying half in a small ditch just in front and to the right of a slabbed section covering a ditch – GR882186 which was Score Head!
‘Oh no’, I thought to myself. I slumped to my knees talking to him and he came round – he was semi conscious and just muttering. All his clothing was black, but it had that white frozen sheen to it from the cold – ‘Richard it’s Mike’, I’m hear for you buddy, help is on it’s way.’ ‘I’m not cold’ were his first words and then something along the lines of ‘the elephants were in my way, it’s their fault’ I started to analyse him head to toe, asking if anything hurt – I was fairly sure nothing was broken but when he moved his head I could see there was a wound to his left temple which was bleeding, but not massively and he also had a bloody snotty nose – nice!. This guy wasn’t going anywhere by himself I realised and I frantically looked for his trackers on his sack – I still had mitts and liner gloves on due to the cold, but had to remove my mitts to stand a chance of pressing the SOS buttons. These ended up being fiddly and quite small and not really buttons at all and I couldn’t tell whether I had set them off or not, so the relief they were so small at kit check turned into wanting a ‘fuck off BIG RED button’ like on Catch phrase with a similar sound to accompany it, to acknowledge that when you press it, it had worked. I was constantly talking to him to gauge his response and all I really got was a conversation about elephants and cows. I called 24/7 HQ and said I needed help but the line eventually dropped out. We were in one of the most exposed parts of the Cheviot Hills and I’d only been here a minute or so but could tell I was losing heat rapidly. I was going to need help soon too! I couldn’t afford to have an unstable phone line conversation so immediately called Caroline McCann, my ML mate and SST coordinator. I didn’t care about protocols or who needed to know, what I needed was someone to know I needed help, where I was, and what was needed and, cool as a cucumber (I would expect nothing less from her), I gave her the grid reference and she prompted me to do stuff for Richard I knew, but in the cold and state of fatigue I was in was glad to be reminded. It was just what I needed. I wasn’t on for long and she reassured me that SST4 were on their way, so help wasn’t far. I ended the call fairly quickly as I said to Caroline I had to go because my hands were getting too cold to hold the phone. With no apparent broken bones, I chose to drag Richard out of the ditch a bit to make him more comfortable but, it’s fair to say with all his kit, I didn’t get far. It was then that I noticed he didn’t have any spikes or coils on his boots and I came to the conclusion that he had slipped and knocked himself out on the slabs of the bridge by the ditch. Next thing I knew, Stu from HQ was calling me, he was completing a report for MRT and needed as much info as possible. As I was sat right by Richards head protecting him from the wind, I remember apologising to him for talking about him ,rather than to him, on the phone, but this wasn’t the time to worry – we both needed help. There was a confusion about the GR so repeated this to Stu (this was easy for me as I had it as one of my data fields on my main screen on my Garmin 64s – you never know when you will need it so worth knowing how to use your GPS and how to find the GR as you can guarantee it will be in the shittiest conditions when you’re feeling you’re worst – so definitely worth having as one of your data fields in my opinion) I also tried to get across a picture of the scene to Stu and that he wasn’t coming off the mountain unaided, to try and soften the impact on Richard hearing what I was saying. Again, nothing but calm and professionalism from Stuart Westfield, HQ manager – thanks mate !
About 15 minutes after arriving and whilst on the phone to Stu, I saw 2 sets of head torches coming down from the direction of North and towards me – SST4. Knowing help was imminent and everyone who needed to know knew and they were setting the wheels in motion in the background, I could set about helping Richard and started off by getting his gloves on and giving him some of my very warm, perfect temperature coffee – I said in a previous blog that there would be another plug for it but thank goodness for my Zojirushi flask, I don’t care how much it cost – money very well spent. I think I filled this up at Byrness but it was the dogs b******s and helped us both. I also gave him some chocolate. The head torch lights seemed to take an age to come but I could sense they were not far now, and I think the emotions of everything spilled over with a tear in my eye – the angels of SST4 in the form of Alistair Black and Louise Greenwood, were here. Alistair made quick work of getting out his storm shelter and between the 3 of us we dragged Richard out from the ditch then all climbed inside putting Richard onto a plastic Bivvy bag to protect him from the frozen ground. I pretty much collapsed against the side of the shelter exhausted and didn’t think I was helping much after that. Richard had some more of my coffee but I was still getting colder. Alistair encouraged me to crack on if I was ok to do so as the MRT were on the way, so they would be ok for me to leave. So, after about 45 minutes with Richard it was time to wish him luck, say goodbye and make a move.
I felt rubbish leaving them but could tell if I hadn’t I would jeopardise me and potentially become another casualty for the safety crew to deal with. I crawled out from under the shelter and shivered as I got my race pack back on and made a start. I knew I now had a hill to climb as I’d seen the SST guys come down it to get to me. From what Alistair said to me I reckoned I had about 2-3 km to go to get to Hut 2 and that was my main focus now – to safely get there and re group. A combination of the cold air in my face and my emotions of dealing with Richard, knowing he wasn’t going to kiss the wall, had me in tears and I was struggling to see. He was only 10 miles from the finish having done 250 plus miles to this point, and had supported another runner for quite a while by being the navigation behind the pair of them. I was cold, exhausted and emotional but at least I was still going and that just filled me with even more determination than ever – to say I was gutted for my friend was a massive understatement.
I was climbing up from the site of the incident at 550m to the turning point where you descend to Hut 2 at 743m, when a fresh faced mountaineer came bounding down the hill – it was James from SST3, a paramedic, with all the gear, and particularly remember him having winter grade C2 or C3 boots on. He asked me a few questions only a proper medic would, so I knew Richard was in safe hands with those 3 now, and I took comfort from that.
I was not sure whether it was because I didn’t think I would get this far, but I hadn’t studied this section much. I turned left at the top following the fence line and with the very steep descent, my feet were suffering badly from being pushed to the front of my shoes and the ground conditions, not bog or mud this time but hard icy ground made it slippy. I made it to Hut 2 and boy, what a relief that was! Met by Deborah, I was escorted inside thinking ‘two thirds down and one to go’. With roughly 8 miles left, I thought I’d have a brew to gather my thoughts before cracking on to get the job done as I was still feeling cold – did I mention it was cold? The temperature outside was about -5c but it felt much colder, probably due to my exhaustion. Thinking it was about 2 hours to get to Kirk Yetholm, I was thrown when Deborah Allum said most people were taking 4 hours to complete this! I had a complete sense of humour failure for a moment, then resigned myself to having a proper chill out in the hut to regroup and gather my thoughts before leaving. I had a dehydrated hot meal provided as I hadn’t really eaten much of my food so far that day. Deborah, Chris McClymont both SST and Jo my trusty Junior Doc were our hospitality team at the Hut. I must have been at the hut for about 45 – 60 minutes and was joined by John and Carolyn and we chatted about Richard for a while, as they had also chipped in and helped after I had left him.
I’d had enough now and wanted to get moving so Chris accompanied me outside and I said my farewells expecting to wave goodbye to him at the door – ‘Would you like me to walk with you for a bit?’ he asked. I just wasn’t feeling it and I think I said something like ‘no it’s ok, I’ll be fine’ – ‘Are you sure?’ he said …’yes I’m ok honest’ I replied. ‘But do you mind, as I’d like to walk with you for a bit’ said Chris. ‘Yes that’s fine’ I replied – I think I had withdrawn in myself a little and I felt awful afterwards being so ungrateful for the offer of his company. I wasn’t very talkative but we chatted a little about the race and what races he had done, mentioning the Arc of Attrition and I remember thinking wow – sounds like you’re in a different league to me but then couldn’t forget the things Chris was saying about me, things like ‘I can’t believe you’ve kept going’ – ‘you’re such an inspiration to me!’ I was lost for words, Chris and looking back I am so glad you didn’t listen to me and walked for about a mile I think before turning back, as I remember leaving still feeling cold and worried about doing another 8 miles. You set me up perfectly as I headed into the thick fog, which had now descended whilst I had been in the hut. It was such a pleasure to have your company, you also couldn’t stop apologising for the kit check incident at Middleton which we still managed to laugh about… So here we go – 7 or so miles left!
Someone kept mentioning this thing called ‘The Schil’ and I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. That was until I negotiated a couple of hills and was thinking to myself that I was expecting it to be all down hill from the hut and my legs had had enough now. I descended from the second hill of 508m and the fog cleared slightly and there was this ‘milky’ air in front of me. The sky was clear but this milky layer of fog / cloud seemed to be causing a shadow of what looked like a whale – I was sure I wasn’t hallucinating and thought it was just cloud cover but as I started to climb and the gradual incline became ever more steep I realised the bastard wasn’t a whale or cloud cover! It’s The Schil and it’s a mountain of 601m!!! My legs felt like lead surprisingly for the first time since the climb out of Dufton and I was reduced to a crawl going up…
Up and over The Schil and down the other side which was just as steep as the ascent, I prayed for no more hills and a left turn skirting round Corbie Craig. I seemed to have a second wind here and found myself running – running, I say old chap, this is a shock! At this point I was aware of what sounded like a drone above me just to add to the pressure, but it totally freaked me out to start with as I couldn’t see it’s owner/operator anywhere. I was now heading down hill on a good path thinking I must be close now. I glanced up at a wooden footpath finger post and my head torch immediately caught the PW acorn sign so I carried on and I was going really well – still running 🙂 Then I checked my GPS – oh bollocks!!! I was only on the high route !! What bastard creates 2 Pennine Way paths within miles of the pub ? I actually didn’t have the energy or desire to retrace my steps back uphill and this was made worse by ‘big brother’ watching over me from above – who was watching the footage, I began to think. A quick decision and I was traversing over what became a rather steep section dropping away to my right and wondered if I actually should have retraced my steps as on tired legs this was a bit ‘interesting’ – if I fell here, it would be a public hanging and seen by Mr Drone and his captive audience but I persevered across Steerigg Knowe and got to the other Pennine Way path. Back on track for the umpteenth time and I was plodding along nicely when I got to a finger post ! KIRK Bloody YETHOLM 2 miles you beauty !!!!!
I actually couldn’t believe it! Being totally honest, ever since I started on Sunday 12th January at 08:00, I had never thought of the finish in all the time I was racing – I had just started and kept going North, breaking it down, one mile, next stile or check point, but this sign made me break down in tears! I knew for the first time I had done it! I could relax because it didn’t matter if I crawled from here, I was going to finish Britains most brutal foot race and my children filled my thoughts. I tried to run thinking I’m not going to stop, I was rubbing my eyes with my buff so I could see where I was going and Mr Drone was still there. These were the longest 2 miles of my life. My emotions just flooded out, I was crying, shouting ‘I can’t believe it’ and ‘Get in there!’ I had the idea that I would stop at the top of the Green on the approach to the finish and sit down to gather my thoughts and contemplate what I had done but A) I think that would have taken me beyond the cut off time and B) well, I was getting close because I could hear voices and see street lights filling the sky above the hedgerow on the approach. I could see my breath in the air and the road was slippy but as I came round the final corner I was rudely interrupted by David Wood, who started talking to me, not realising he was interviewing me live on Facebook, so the idea of sitting down wasn’t going to happen but in hindsight, I wouldn’t have changed this for the world. David you were a bloody star and 2 smiling people were reunited in Kirk Yetholm – thanks mate, precious moments to cherish. Having left Hut 2 around 22:30 on Saturday 18th January, I was now about to cross the line and kiss that wall some 3 hours later at 01:32:35 and thought of Richard, and the stark reality that ‘It ain’t over until you kiss the Wall’.
I cannot put into words the feeling of complete relief and sheer elation of running across that grass! I saw a couple of Montane flags and a gathering of loads of people but couldn’t focus on anyone in particular to know who was there – I clenched my fist (one benefit of having a free hand) and raised both arms in a defiant ‘I’ve done it” motion. I hadn’t, but to me it felt like I had won the race and slowed to a walk to switch off my head torch before collapsing against the wall and with a kiss and a couple of slaps with my hand on the cold stone , I had done it…. It was over… but I never regretted a moment. I saw Caroline – time for a hug although I struggled with my balance to stay upright and we shared a joke about timescales but I was so glad to see her after the issues on top of the Cheviots. Caroline, thanks for being my friend since our ML but more importantly, thanks for being there and making me feel everything was in hand for runner #258 – professional and calm as ever and a perfect display of teamwork. Another hug from one of the RD’s, Scott and I turned and heard Tony Allen’s voice saying’ RED TV’ but it just didn’t sink in. It sounded like him, looked like him but it couldn’t be – we were in Scotland so why would he be here ? But it is him- we’ve shared some top times mara but this was off the scale !! Thank you for making the effort and making my finish extra special. I saw David Broom who had helped me at Bellingham and I couldn’t resist another man hug, the inspiration you gave me to continue – well, thank you. I was struggling to take it all in and leaned on to my knees – I was expecting to be very emotional as I’m that sort of guy but I think the outpouring of emotion I had on my final mile or so had left me a bit raw with nothing left to give and maybe that was a good thing and left those tears for others – cue Sharon Dyson and Nikki Lygo xx. I rose to Nikki Knappett placing the medal around my neck and, unannounced, I decided to break into my very own Oscars speech and when I finished I had a beaming smile and saw Yvonne again, smiling back at me – cue fist pump. We had done it – I felt like it was a team effort and every single volunteer I came into contact with and every social media follower who had posted, liked or messaged me had been part of one hell of a journey that I will never ever forget for the remainder of my life! I wanted to party outside all night but Scott called time as I think the crowd were getting cold, bless em, but not until after a pic of me and non other than Pav was taken ! I couldn’t top this – Thank you… 🙂
Video footage kindly taken by Caroline M of my final moments heading to the Border Hotel – Kirk Yetholm some 161 hours and 32 minutes since leaving Edale and with a total of 10 hours 15 minutes sleep.
I finished this by a steady forward progress, keeping faffing to a minimum and nailing my process not outcome goals, never thinking too far ahead and with the sheer belief that I could, from others backing me and their belief in me that I could and utter determination never to give in, for that I am very grateful.
In all honesty I don’t think I would have changed a thing other than refine my footwear choice which I will be working on before hitting the Pennine Way again for anything other than days out.
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go – T.S Elliot I now know what this means…
Thank you to My beautiful children and family for their continued support, love and ongoing acceptance of their crazy Dad / Son – I love you all to the moon and back and promise never to stop my craziness as it’s what makes me who I am 🙂 xxxxx