Stumbling to the Spine and raising £31,000 for Move Against Cancer.

Stumbling to the Spine and raising £31k for Move Against Cancer.

“The journey to the start has been life-changing. I have no doubt the race will be life-changing. Thank you so much for the support”.

My words the night before I set off on a 268-mile adventure over the Pennine Way.

10 days since finishing in many ways is too early to reflect.

I dug a hole. I dug a very deep hole. But somehow, despite in the last 16 hours at times feeling broken enough to succumb to a DNF, I found a way to, just about, crawl out of that hole to the finish.

Standout memories that will stay with me forever.

The combination of excitement and fear the day before the race, facing something that seemed so big, so impossible, I didn’t even know how to start to break it down. ‘What’s your strategy?’. How can you have a strategy for something where so much is unknown?

The sociable first fifty miles, knowing I was going quicker than planned but also taking the advice of those around me to ‘go with the flow’ and not overthink.

Running through night 1 with a chatty guy called Dave. Sharing my 6 year old niece’s advice to shout ‘Super Boost’ when I was tired.

Tagging onto 4 guys for the leg from Malham Tarn (83 miles) to Hawes (108 miles) and savouring a stunning sunrise.

An incredible solo sunset on the top of Shunner fell (115 miles), knowing that, having not been able to sleep in Hawes, this was the start of the unknown. Reflecting that this unknown was exactly why I had put myself on the start line.

The solo second night across frozen bogs, accompanied by visual hallucinations of people and tents and auditory hallucinations which turned out to be my wheeze.

A 10-minute nap in an empty shooting hut, followed by the unexpected discovery of a farm tuck-shop haven, where I made a coffee, ate a porridge pot and reflected on the craziness of this adventure.

A 1 hr sleep at CP3 (150 miles) that felt like 8 hrs.

Old Cup Nick in heavy snow.

Climbing Crossfell and realising just how bad my chest had got. Stopping every couple of mins to stand over my poles and breathe.

The blizzard in the dark on top of Cross fell. Finding myself off course, with a frozen garmin, 3m visibility and complete disorientation. Terrified, yet also on a high, because I knew that experiences were like this were exactly what I was looking for.

The haven of noodles in Greg’s hut. I hadn’t planned to stop but in the context of a freezing blizzard it was justified.

The cold, yet beautifully clear night 3 from Alston to Greenhead, adding extra miles due to poor navigation and a dodgy GPS. The sudden realisation that I was entirely happy in my own head with no music and no podcasts. The stars. A sense of pride recognising that I was finally doing what I’d been dreaming about for a year.

Waking up from a nap just before Hadrian’s wall to be met by an angel (who also happened to be a triathlon fan) who took me to a pop-up aid station I didn’t know existed with hot water, coffee and a fire.

Frozen snacks. Frozen drinks.

Accumulating fatigue over Hadrian’s wall yet still alert enough to appreciate the beauty of the frozen sunshine.

A 5* sausage casserole followed by an asthma attack and inability to sleep at CP5 in Bellingham (mile 220).

Starting the final leg knowing I needed sleep, yet hoping I would be OK. For the first time, feeling truly cold.

Putting on all my spare layers in a mountain rescue car half-way to Byrness.

A sudden, overwhelming urge to sleep yet knowing I couldn’t during that cold night.

The pure terror of episodes of sleepwalking, waking up to find myself way off course or walking back up the way I had come. Trying to work out whether this was a nightmare about the Spine race or whether it was actually the Spine race (the red line on my garmin showing my deviations off course, and the sound of my own voice shouting ‘WAKE UP’ were what ultimately convinced me this was real).

The disorientation finally arriving into Byrness (mile 240). An urge to sleep so strong that nothing would override.

The comfort of finally being able to sleep on the cold floor of Byrness church.

Waking up, shaking with cold 2.5 hours later wondering what I should do; realising that lying there on the floor cold wasn’t helping. Making a hot drink and pulling myself together.

Heading back to the CP, assuming the medics wouldn’t let me continue. Feeling submissive enough to accept. Being mildly surprised there was no resistance and setting off up to the Cheviot, in a dreamlike state not really knowing what I was doing.

Telling myself that I just had to keep awake until sunrise, when it would be warm enough to nap. A life-affirming sunrise. A life-affirming nap.

Naps in the sun. So many naps in the sun.

Bursting into tears unexpectedly on the support team at hut 1, who just wanted me to take a photo of them.

Waking up from a nap way off course, then continuing to follow the line on my garmin across open moorland even though I knew there was no section of the course that wasn’t on paths.

Finally reaching hut 2 and letting myself believe I would make it.

Finally reaching Kirk Yetholm and sobbing unconsolably on mum. Relief I was safe. Pride I had made it.

Bex describing the support I’d been getting and the huge number of donations for Move Against Cancer.

Going back to the finish 6 hours later to see Andrew finish. Pride that we had both smashed it.

I was, and still am, utterly mind-blown at the huge amount of support I received during the race, even though at the time I had no idea of the magnitude. Nikki’s storytelling somehow drew in people from all walks of life, many of whom I know, some of whom I don’t. She even turned many of my NHS colleagues into dotwatchers. To log on the next day and read through the messages, the comments and the donations was truly humbling. I hate that word but for this, I don’t know what other word I can use. Thanks to Nikki’s storytelling, my sleep-walking and the generosity of nearly 900 people who donated, I’ve managed to raise an utterly incomprehensible £31,000 (including gift aid) for Move Against Cancer. I can’t put into words what this means both to me and to the charity.  As a bit of context, this would have been over 20% of our annual income for 2022_23. We are a small charity with a mighty team and lofty ambitions, and we make money go a long way. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

As a final chapter, my Spine story has an unexpected twist that neither I, nor anybody close to me predicted. It turns out I didn’t really know the man I’d been stumbling to the Spine with. Thanks to all the messages to both of us on Andrew’s spine messenger, another woman who Andrew had been secretly dating in London, thinking he was single, found out about me and had the guts to reach out to Nikki and explain what had been happening. Imagine being Nikki, getting that information on day 2 and having to work out what to do with it! While it feels crude and, to some extent goes against the grain, to share this so broadly, for me it’s easier. My Spine story was our Spine story, it was a shared journey to the start that so many of you joined in with. For me right now, clarity and transparency quells rumours and speculation and it means I can tell everyone in one go and side step any awkwardness.

But also, sharing this and trying to move on helps me to remember that it is only 10 days since I finished one of the UK’s toughest races, raised £31,000 for the charity I care so deeply about and I hope, perhaps even inspired a few of you along the way. I don’t want what I’ve learnt since to tarnish those memories.

My journey to the Spine was life-changing. I’m intrigued to see what comes next.

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