The Spine Race 2016 – Kit Notes

kit

Another list for the kit geeks, you know who you are.

Head

I’m a top down sort of person, so let’s start with my head torch.

For reasons I’ve forgotten, most excellent reasons I’m sure, I bought a Petzl Nao with a spare battery.

I’d read that batteries don’t like the cold much, so I also bought the extension cable so I could keep them nice and warm (assuming I wasn’t also frozen).

I also threw in an old Petzl Tikkina for backup, and a Petzl Elite for emergencies (at 35g it seemed silly not to).

I don’t really know why I didn’t use my trusty Led Lenser, which has very useful dim (to save power) and narrow focus (to spot those elusive national trail signs) features. Probably because the battery compartment is a bit fiddly and the little Petzl was more self contained.

The Nao lit up the surrounding area really well, it was like a floodlight and I needn’t have worried about the lack of beam focus.

Battery life was, ok ish. I was pretty disappointed when the first one lasted only 5 hours, I’m sure lesser torches go 12 hours on 3 AAAs. The second one lasted 6, and after that I just planned accordingly, making sure I always had a backup in place.

Next time I’ll take 3 batteries, and after seeing various multi USB chargers in CPs, I’ll be taking one of those too (in a busy CP you’ll be lucky to get one plug, and I also lost one of my adapters, not helpful).

This setup worked pretty well, though due to my close fitting pack the only potential home for the batteries and spare torch was a small area at the top of my chest. Uncomfortable at first, but with enough time you can get used to anything (probably anything).

For more excellent reasons I had at least 4 hats packed (I was expecting rain), but only wore one.

This was made from super soft possum wool, transported by my lovely mother from New Zealand a few years ago.

It was really warm, even when wet (but dried out quickly), long enough to pull down over my ears when I needed it to, and was my almost permanent comfortable head wrapping companion.

Until David Lee commented:

It looks like a really itchy hat that, is it itchy? It looks it.

It wasn’t. Then it was.  Really itchy (I’d had other things to think about). At that late stage in the race I wasn’t going to ditch my new best mate, so itch on we did.

When I was buying a new dry bag at Snow and Rock, I noticed some buffs by the till and grabbed one. Total spontaneous purchase that turned out to be spot on.

The (weirdly named) Turtlefur was really warm, and tight enough to pull up your face when needed, but not so tight that you get panicky moments of feeling that you’re being strangled (I’m looking at you, Nike Thermal Neck Warmer).

I like the idea of merino wool buffs, so much so that I’ve got 3, but after about 10 minutes they seem to droop down and provide no neck comfort whatsoever. I kept an inov8 one handy though, for the two occasions when it was too hot for my wonder-hat, but too cold to expose ones bonce completely.

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Shoulders

Two Helly Hansen “warm” baselayers that I rotated, an OMM Rotor smock to keep in my pack and don for the chillier sections, and a bullet proof North Face Summit Series goretex jacket with the bestest tent like hood ever.

Oh, I wore Bontrager arm warmers (snaffled from my bike kit) because forearms don’t do much when you’re walking and mine always get cold.

Nearly forgot my Patagonia primaloft gilet, which I wore nearly all the time.

Why I didn’t feel the need to add another layer to my upper arms I don’t know, I only just realised they’d been left out actually, but they didn’t complain so don’t see any need to change this setup.

I love all this kit, and with the exception of the OMM smock I’ve had it all for years and it’s all been thoroughly battle tested in ultras, endurance sailing and skiing.

The HH warm tops are close fitting and made from merino wool. I was warm and dry at all times. Apart from once when I thought I had hypothermia.

Honestly.

It was on the way to Bryness and I could actually feel icy tendrils of doom snaking their way round my sides and clutching my chest. Pretty scary to be honest, and precipitated my only (short) run of the race in a desperate attempt to warm up.

Like a fool I’d left the underarm vents on my jacket open after getting a bit hot earlier and had completely forgotten.

That’s what 12 hours sleep in 6 days will do to you. It took me a while to warm up, even with my heart still hammering away.

Still, this is a good demonstration of making sure you’ve got decent kit and are confident in its abilities. All it took was a couple of drafts and I was being slowly frozen, even whilst marching hard through the snow.

Having managed to borrow a lightweight PHD sleeping bag for the race, I splashed out on a new pack. After enduring considerable agony on the challenger with my cheapo, not fit for purpose, overstuffed rucksack, I was hoping to do better this time.

Aarn packs first came onto my radar a couple of years ago when chatting to Papa Ferret before he started his Spine attempt. I was very intrigued by the size of the front pouches, and the number of straps and fiddly bits.

From the reviews I could find, people were generally very happy, “once you got it adjusted correctly”, which was enough for me – surely I could get it right with a week of constant use. There were a few useful videos on their website too.

I went for the Mountain Magic 22L, deciding against the larger one as I figured I’d just end up taking more stuff.

The pack itself is a bit heavy, around 1KG, so the challenge was to add as little extra weight as possible, whilst making sure I had everything I needed in an emergency.

Setting aside all non essentials I got it down to about 8KG including food and water, much better than the 14KG I lugged round on the challenger.

The two 1L pouches on the front of the pack, coupled with an insulated bladder and hose, meant that aside from adding/removing layers, I didn’t need to take it off at all.

My hose still froze (oo-er missus), -15C takes some serious insulating against, but I had a couple of 250ml soft flasks that mostly survived the cold, presumably the movement helped.

After much deliberation I went with a super basic sleeping mat, a bog-standard foam roll-up job. Not particularly compact, but at around 200g and providing cushioning and warmth for a small handful of £s, it was a no brainer.

My bivvy bag was a non breathable basic something or other, but very light and waterproof.  Condensation was a problem but the only time I used it I also had my waterproofs on, so that didn’t matter.

I know that breathing outside of the bag prevents that, but it was condensation or frostbite. Another easy choice.

I threw in a silk liner just for that extra bit of warmth, and it definitely helped. The main downside is that it’s not stretchy, so couldn’t really be “snuggled” down into. Anyway it’s main use this time was to keep mud out of my sleeping bag, and as Shippo pointed out, a bin liner would do that job just as well.

I bought some SealSkinz waterproof mittens for the challenger, but they weren’t going to be enough on their own, even though I don’t tend to suffer from cold hands. After some research I bought a pair of Montane Via Trail gloves, which turned out to be ideal.

The description said they come up a bit small, which in reality meant that they were close fitting enough to maintain dexterity – tying shoelaces for example. They also have sections of conductive thread, so you can operate your favourite touch screen device.

Having two pairs of gloves was great, it gave me an easy way to regulate temperature (sometimes just removing one mitten was enough to cool me down) and meant that when I needed to fiddle and faff, my hands didn’t freeze completely solid.

Next time I’d take something to clip my mittens to though, I dropped one a couple of times and it was sheer luck that there happened to be someone behind me who picked it up.

Before I forget about touch screens, a note on phones and battery life.

Switching my iPhone 6 to 2G mode and enabling low power mode meant that I only needed to charge it a couple of times, and managed to take a few photos and send the occasional text.

The real cellular workhouse was a very basic Samsung (£10 from Tesco) which kept me in touch with the outside world and still had battery left at the end of the week. It took me bloody ages to get used to predictive text again though.

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Knees

Again, I’d packed a pair of leggings for each leg (of the race!), but ended up wearing pretty much the same combo for the whole week.

I did have a few pairs of decathlon wicking pants though, there are limits to recycling, even when racing. These are amazing, and coupled with some body glide meant the end of chafed nether regions.

Unlike Mr Valentine, who entertained us during the trudge up to Malham Tarn with an innovative use for a buff.

Some un-lubricated, persistent, bollock on thigh action had rendered both areas excruciatingly painful. We’ve all been there, and the thought of stopping is very high on the list of outcomes.

Not when you have a handy buff! Just wrap it round your thigh and scamper on happily.

Buff! Top to tail protection, from cold, wind and friction!

Don’t forget to put that buff in the special do-not-recycle bag.

In fact we bumped into an unhappy lad at one point who was suffering from the same affliction, I wonder if he took the advice.

I wore some new 3/4 length inov8 leggings under the extraordinarily awesome Rab eVent over trousers.

My legs were warm and dry throughout, and if the lower bit ever got wet, they soon dried out due to the excellent breathability of the fabric.

I picked up a few minor rips round the ankles, which given how many sharp things they encountered isn’t too bad (including my own knife, embarrassingly, whilst cutting off lumps of frozen mud).

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Toes

The long seal skinz and injinji liner sock combo worked well on the Challenger, and I saw no reason to risk something different.

Your feet do eventually get wet, and if you’re dunking them in icy muddy water for hours on end, they do get cold as well.

On the whole however, my feet felt warm and comfortable. I changed liner socks at every CP and outer socks half way (along with shoes).

I can’t remember where I picked up the tip, but the first thing I did at a checkpoint was to get shoes and socks off and flip flops on. Pretty sure that this really helped prevent blisters.

Speaking of which I managed get two, one tiny one on my heel which didn’t cause any bother, and one huge deep one on the outside of my foot. No idea how it happened, and though it was sore if I poked it, or side kicked a rock, didn’t cause a fuss.

Seeing the big puddle of blood when it was lanced was slightly disconcerting, but an interesting new experience to tell the future grandkids.

My trusty (and still slightly too small for the double sock setup) inov8 trailrocks rose to the occasion, and a good friend lent (gave, nobody lends trail shoes) me a slightly bigger pair.

Having lost nearly all my toenails, I might invest in some even bigger ones for next year, though that won’t stop there being an abundance of highly kickable rocks along most of the route.

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And eyes

Goggles were part of the mandatory kit list, and after a load of people dropped out last year from semi frozen eye balls (!?!), they seemed like a valuable item to have.

Obviously I just chucked my trusty 7 year old ski goggles in the bag, safe in the knowledge that they worked fine a year ago on some bright sunny French Alps.

Eh, no. I could barely see a thing, especially with the dearth of sunshine. Luckily I was able to twist my hood round and deflect the artic gale away from my face.

Recently I bought some new swimming goggles (Aqua Sphere Vista), they’re almost like something you’d wear scuba diving, I might take them next year, or something small enough to fit in a front pouch – I saw one person with little round goggles with leather sides, maybe not, they looked a bit creepy.

I’m generally pretty hopeless at sleeping so bought a fancy eye mask to use in checkpoints. The Bedtime Bliss from Natural Revolution was top of the list on Amazon which I think just means that you pay over the odds, but I’d had enough of price checking by then and just went for it.

Turned out to be bloody brilliant! Not a peep of light gets in and it’s super comfortable.

And ears

Whilst on the subject of sleeping, I did a bit more research and ordered a bag of Howard Leight Laser Lite ear plugs, another awesome purchase and now that spring is finally here they’re doing a great job of letting me sleep though the dawn chorus.

My hat was long enough to cover my ears and kept them toasty. On the rare occasion that I got slightly too warm, I could roll it up and let the breeze in.

This had the unfortunate side effect of making me look a bit like a binman however, which is something to be avoided when the Racing Snakes photographer was constantly popping out from behind walls and bushes.

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And mouth

Somehow I managed to forget lip salve! Luckily my mother in law came to the rescue with that and a load of food for the race, I just wish I’d taken more of the fruit cake, it was a perfect blend of just-right sweetness and not too hard or too soft.

These things are important towards the end of a long slog!

I listed a load of food on my main report, but here it is again:

In my pack (replenished at CPs):

  • Pepperami – went off these very quickly, going to take proper French sausage next time
  • Snickers – obviously
  • Wine gums – first time on a race, good addition
  • Cooked pizza – didn’t seem to mind being in my bag for the best part of a week, went down very well
  • Beef jerky – fresh, from the savanna at London Bridge in London, separated into a freezer bag per leg
  • 9bars – threw them away, too sweet
  • Shotblox – given to me by a friend of Tonys (I think), awesome, need lots for next time, had forgotten how easy they are to get down
  • Decathlon cereal bars – basic but ok
  • Lucozade gels – not much to say: they work
  • Fruitcake – top of list next year
  • UCAN super starch (plain) – it works and saves having to eat too much actual food. Anything other than plain makes me retch though. Had 5 little bags, one per CP
  • Salted peanuts – another first, lovely

I read somewhere that Ian Bowles took whole blocks of feta cheese with him, cracking idea.

In my drop bag:

  • Extra portions of all of the above
  • Expedition foods, spag Bol, macaroni cheese,…
  • Small pots of ambrosia rice pudding – my stomach has never been in a bad enough place to refuse one of these, life savers
  • Bought/foraged in the wild (not including checkpoints, the noodle bar or the Bryness B&B here)
  • Chicken sandwich from the awesome Bill and Janet who tracked and intercepted me in Lothersdale
  • Steak slice from the COOP in Gargrave, so hot it burnt my mouth, could’ve done without that, also topped up on snickers
  • Large bowl of chilli and rice, washed down with a black coffee in the Pen y Ghent cafe outside Horton-in-Ribblesdale. I also picked up a replacement sleeping mat here.
  • Massive plate of food in the Tan Hill Inn
  • Multiple bags of crisps and pints of orange and lemonade in Duftons Stag Inn

Almost stopped at the Twice Brewed off Hadrians Wall, but decided to make the most of daylight and pushed on, Stevies crew gave us some bacon and eggs, which was lovely

I’d definitely make sure to have at least two bags of heatable food before setting off over the Cheviots, one for each hut.

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And nose

Some people seem to spit a lot when they run, I just produce a lot of mucus. I don’t know the reasons for either, but both are pretty disgusting.

The combination of that, with a propensity for nose bleeds (despite an operation when I was 16), meant that I tended to arrive at checkpoints etc with a frozen, bloody, snotty mess on my face.

I thought about taking a balaclava next year, which gives me the option of looking like a ninja (in my mind), a terrorist (everyone else’s mind), or an assault victim.

Not sure which is best really, but no doubt the inhabitants of the Stag Inn in Dufton wouldn’t bat an eyelid. They seem so used to spiners arriving in various states of disarray, and would probably just make you some room by the fire, regardless of what you looked like.

Think that’s it!

(Full report)

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One thought on “The Spine Race 2016 – Kit Notes

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