Club Member Spotlight - Mike
Updated: May 18
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Family: 1 wife, 2 children - Emma and Faye
Favourite colour: Grey
Favourite Animal : Tortoise
Nemesis: The Hare
Were you always sporty growing up?
Yep, very sporty and overly competitive. I spent many weekends at athletics event. (That’s me in the front at 13). As I got older, I did less sports and got into mountaineering and running.
How did you first get into trail running? And what was it about trail running that made you think this is it for me? Was there a particular race / trail that made you fall in love with it?
At 45 I started running. I enjoyed getting out and running in the mountains, but I didn’t have any goals. My usual running route was around Dublin and parts of the Dublin Wicklow mountains. Eventually I built up to around 50km a week.
Someone at work mentioned IMRA. I checked them out and ran a few events with them. The hill running was a good introduction, and I enjoyed the crowd there. After about a year of that I bumped into Noel at basecamp and joined the club. I guess I love long runs more than anything. During the week I run along the coast and at the weekend up the mountains. It’s a good mix.
You recently took part in the UK Spine Race, an annual ultra-endurance event that takes place in the winter along the Pennine Way National Trail, which runs from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm on the Scottish border. The race covers a distance of approximately 268 miles (431 km) and includes over 43,000 feet (13,100 meters) of ascent, with competitors often battling harsh winter conditions such as snow, ice, and strong winds. The race is known for its extreme difficulty, with only a small percentage of entrants successfully completing the full course within the allotted time.
What made you decide to sign up for the Spine Race 2023?
I saw the Spine race on Facebook and though it looked interesting, so I signed up immediately. I tend to be on the look out for events that are interesting. I’ve added my running cv at the end so you can see how I progressed to be confident entering the Spine on a whim.
The Spine main event is a race along the full Pennine way which for anyone who doesn’t know is difficult due it being so long at 400km. So, I entered the South Challenger event instead which covers the first 160km. There is also the North Challenger event (covering the remaining) and a sprint event which is hilariously 70km (to the first check point). They have winter and summer editions.
How does the event compare to other events?
The race is brutal due to the weather conditions. The Pennine way seems to attract bad weather, it’s a massive factor. There are checkpoints about every 70km where you have access to your drop bag but that’s a long way if you forget something. You’re also required to carry quite a lot of equipment for safety which adds on more stress.
It’s funny, as I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing this race unless you are very familiar with mountain conditions amongst other things. To put things into perspective 50% on participants dropped out in less than 24 hours. Anyone that enters is no slouch and most people take years to prepare.
Before you even start to consider fitness, to do this race you need to be able to navigate on your own for long distances in the dark (there are 14 hours of darkness in January!). The weather is also horrendous, so you need to have good kit and carry the right stuff.
How did you train for the Spine?
I maintain high weekly milage (80 to 100km per week) which is a good starting point (and why I can jump into most events). I spoke with Noel about a training plan, and he set me on the right path. I was using a complicated plan, but he simplified the whole thing for me. My fitness level was perfect for the event. I now use the plan as my basis. It simply consists of 4 long runs a week. I tweak it every once in a while when I need to.
What fuelling strategy did you have in place for the race, and did you feel it was adequate for the demands of the event?
I’m not sure I use much of a strategy, I’ve tried out different approaches but now I tend to pop into Tesco and pick up a multi pack of mini bars and lash them in my bag. It works, there is a lot of hype around fuelling. The main thing is to eat regularly and not too much in one go, (About 100 to 150 calories every 30 minutes)
For the Spine after about 30km I could easily see that I would run out of food. The cold weather has a big impact on how much energy you burn. Fortunately, there are places on route where you can get food, so in addition to the food I carried I probably doubled that. When I reached the first checkpoint I loaded up and I was fine after that.
Can you describe a particularly challenging moment during the race, and how you coped with it?
There were a few but two stick with me. The first was when a hail-storm hit us in the middle of the night. The hail was hitting us so hard it was painful. It was at that point when I realised “oh, this is why you need goggles”. Mine were packed away in my bag and weren’t handy to take out and my fingers were frozen. It was a struggle to get sorted out and when we started moving again there was a real sense of relief.(from that point onwards my goggles were always in the front of my bag.)
A couple of hours later after the hailstorm we were crossing a mountain pass in horrific conditions. I remember feeling exhausted and freezing cold (don’t forget you are trying to navigate). At one point it just occurred to me ‘we literally can’t stop’; if we got into trouble ‘no one would get up here to help us’ (or if they did it would take a very long time). That’s a bit of an intimidating thought. It was a different feeling from my usual runs. During my normal runs I’d often sit down mid race to enjoy the view.
Ultimately, what led to your decision to withdraw from the race, and how did you feel about it at the time?
I got to a checkpoint at 107km and decided that was enough. I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but I found the night distressing and stressful. The stress had an impact. When we stopped, they were talking about it taking 20 hours to finish the last 50km. Even then I thought that was insane (how would it take so long? In normal conditions 10 hours would be plenty of time).
At the end of the day I was happy to reach 107km and get through the night so I thought it best to retire uninjured and safe. The people I was with left me at 9am and finished at 5am (so spot on 20 hours !?).
I will go again and there are a few things I learnt that will help:
Knowing the course is helpful. Navigating takes up time. I recently went over and ran a good chunk of the last 50km section I didn’t finish just to know the route.
I didn’t use poles, they are vital for this race to keep upright. Not using them resulted in greater fatigue.
Having good gloves is so important. If your hands are frozen that limits your ability to eat and get out of difficult situations. I thought I had good gloves but in reality they were terrible for the conditions. Always try putting on gloves with wet hands in bad conditions.
Looking back on the experience, what did you learn about yourself and your capabilities, both physically and mentally, that you will take forward into future races or challenges?
I wasn’t sure if I could go for so long through the night. It is also the longest distance I have covered so I was delighted.
Trail running can be physically demanding and mentally challenging. How do you avoid burnout and stay motivated to keep running?
To be honest I strive to enjoy every run and event. It is not always the case but if you focus on enjoying what you do I don’t think you will go too far wrong. Don’t push too hard. Its also good to have a variety. I always have an event coming up to help focus my training. I tend to work in 12 week training cycles with a good event at the end. Events within that cycle I use as benchmarks to see how I’m getting on.
2015 – 2025 I started by building up a reasonable weekly milage (50km per week)
2020` I got to the point of being able to run 40 km comfortably (in one go !!), Started hill running.
2021` I dipped my toe into IMRA and some events ranging from 10km to 50km
2022 A full season of events: IMRA Leinster league, Donadea 50km , 2 x 80km races, Dublin marathon, IMRA ½, IMRA MM, Lap of the gap, Back Yard,
2023 Spine South 160km, IMRA ½, IMRA MM, Donadea 50km,Spine summer full !!!! IMRA Wicklow Way, Kerry way 200, WTF 130km, Back Yard, Lap of Gap