Who runs non-stop for 108 miles across some of the most brutal terrain in the UK, in the middle of winter, through a storm, with no sleep? And then goes on to be the first woman home?
None other than our very own Detective Sergeant Kendra Wedgwood.
Yes folks, you read it correctly, that’s 108 miles, without sleep, in the middle of winter, across the Pennines. Add in some scary hallucinations for good measure and you have the recipe for an exhilarating ultra trail run.
We are absolutely thrilled and very proud of Kendra as not only did she complete the Spine Challenger, but she went on to be the first woman to finish and was 10th overall, with a completion time of 46 hours and 9 minutes. Competitors are allowed 60 hours to complete the race. Out of 98 starters, she was one of only 29 who finished.
The Spine Challenger starts in the Peak District village of Edale and follows the Pennine Way, ending in Hawes in Wensleydale. Kendra set off a 8am on Saturday 8 January and finished just after 6am on Monday 10 January. The Challenger is part of the gruelling Spine Race series that includes the main 286-mile race traversing the entire length of the Pennine Way, ending in Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders.
We gave Kendra a few hours off before we caught up with her to find more and ask a few questions about this extraordinary achievement, what inspired her to take up ultra running and how she juggles what must be an intense training regime with a demanding job, family life and being a mum and step-mum to three children.
First of all Kendra, can you tell us what made you want to take part in a 108-mile race in the middle of winter across some of the most bleak and inhospitable countryside in the UK?
The Spine Challenger is an iconic race and I just wanted to be part of it. I wanted to see how far I could push my body and what the limit was. I think this is a common theme amongst ultra runners. Going through that pain barrier and coming out the other side is very rewarding. Long runs also take you to some beautiful places and you get to talk to like-minded people and you really do feel like part of a big family. A bit like policing. I purposefully set off at the back with absolutely no intention of racing. My only goal was to finish. The drop-out rate is always at least 50 percent and I didn’t want to be part of that group. I found out at Malham Tarn that I was leading lady. At this point I had 26 miles to go which would include climbing Fountains Fell then Pen-y-Ghent, then Cam High Road. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I dug in deep with severely blistered feet and a sprained ankle and pushed all the way to the finish. It was worth it.
How long did it take you to train for the Spine Challenger?
In essence two years. In 2020 for my 40th birthday I entered the Hardmoors Superslam which consisted of five races of 30 miles, 55 miles, 60 miles, 80 miles and 110 miles. I was first female (what a great birthday present hey?). I then did some other silly events and in April 2021 I sustained a hip fracture. I was no longer able to run and thought my running days were over. Undeterred, I bought a road bike and began cycling to keep my fitness up. I had lots of intense physio and in November 2021 I made my debut back to running and ran the Hardwolds 80-mile trail race (this is a race across the whole of the Yorkshire Wolds Way) and I not only came first female but I broke the female record. This was unexpected on both counts. I then knew I had the fitness for the Spine Challenger but knew it was going to be the hardest thing I had done to date because of the terrain, the elevation, the kit you had to carry and the amount of time I would be out on my feet. The course is not marked so you have to self-navigate the whole route too. For me the Spine Challenger was going to be more about mental strength than physical strength. When you run 100 miles you can go to some dark places and you need to be able to bring yourself out from them otherwise you will just quit.
What goes through your mind when you first set off?
Every single event I do, I am nervous for. I don’t know if that will ever go. I am always so excited and happy at the start of an event and when the race gets going I am always filled with joy and just grateful to be there. I just absolutely love running and it has transformed my life and so being out in beautiful surroundings doing the thing I love and seeing the look on my son’s face when he is so proud of me, is just amazing.
What was your worst point on the race?
The night before the race started I did not sleep through nerves so when I was on the start line I was already tired. The first night of the race I found myself alone on the moors for eight solid hours. There was a blizzard throughout and my face was taking a battering from the wind and rain. I was cold, wet, trying to navigate and began hallucinating. I kept seeing men which was really scary and I went to some dark places on this first night. I thought about quitting and felt myself falling asleep whilst walking. I just wanted to sleep but because I was out in the open moors with no shelter, I couldn’t find a safe place to bivvi up and get some rest and did not want to become a casualty for the mountain rescue team. I kept promising myself that as soon as the storm died down or I reached a section out of the wind, that I would set up camp and sleep for an hour. However by 8am when the light had come, I bumped into other racers and began engaging in conversation. Life seemed less miserable then and so I ploughed on.
Tell us about the hallucinations, they sound frightening…
The first night when I was alone I kept seeing men everywhere and this was so frightening. The second night, I saw four men who kept appearing (I remember their faces vividly) but I also kept seeing my dogs. I would open a gate and then hold it for my dogs to get through then realise I was hallucinating and shut the gate. At one point I convinced myself my eldest dog was dying because I kept seeing him but I was able to rationalise with myself and remind myself that it was just an hallucination. They are so real even though you know they are hallucinations. Madness. I saw a monkey, a rabbit, a fishing rod, a man in boxing shorts with a white boxing glove, just utter madness ha-ha.
What went through your mind when you found out you were fastest woman?
Over the moon. Elated. I had certainly not set out to win and did not think I had a chance of winning and so it just felt incredible. My husband and mum and dad were all there to watch me finish and I just felt so proud and emotional because I had worked so hard and was in so much pain.
How do you prepare nutritionally for such a race?
I am plant-based and try to eat well. I eat a lot of carbohydrate, especially in the lead up to an event. For me carbs are key and I tend to have rice or pasta at least once a day. I have a naturally huge appetite and always have done. There is always room for sugar but I always try to load with carbs first then sugar after as a reward.
How and what did you eat while you ran?
I have trained so much with nutrition that I am quite good at eating on long events. I focus on carbs and only give myself sugar when I feel I need it. On this race, my body was hungry a lot which was great. Quite often on these events we have to remind ourselves to eat every hour but on this race, I was hungry all the time so my body was in tune with what it needed. I ate peanut butter sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, nuts, protein bars, crisps, pasta. All carried in my back-pack.
How often do you train and does it involve just running or a combination?
I do some kind of training every day. Whether that be yoga or resistance training or strength and conditioning, or running or hiking. The key to being an endurance runner is not just about running. In fact my actual running miles are relatively low (compared to a lot of ultra runners) on average I run about 45-60 miles a week depending on how close to a race I am.
How do you fit it all in with working and family life?
Running is a huge part of my life and so fitting it around family and work takes management. This means I have to get up at 5am to run before the family wake or run later at night. Having a supportive husband makes all the difference. I couldn’t do what I do without him. In fact my husband has also started joining me and he too now runs in the Hardmoors races and so I have to support him! We also marshal at races which is great for our son as he sees running in the mountains as a normal way of life and he is desperate for me to take him up some mountains this year.
Why did you take up running?
My son was a terrible sleeper from being born and I found that I had slipped into some kind of groundhog day whereby I went to work, came home, cleaned up then was up all night with a child who couldn’t stay asleep. It was exhausting physically and mentally and I just needed something for me. My brother-in-law had started doing triathlons and his enthusiasm was infectious. My husband began doing the triathlons with him and I decided to start running. I would run with my dogs round the field at the back of my house and be absolutely shattered after two miles but always felt so much better afterwards. After running in the police cross country events, I then set up at 5:55 club at York police station with a colleague where anyone who wanted to join us could meet us at 5.55am and we would run 5k before an early shift. I always felt so much better during my shift when I did this run.
How did it all start?
I used to dabble in running in my 20s and then again in my early 30s and would run two to three miles and think that was a long way. I then had a few years off but at the age of 38 I started running again. I began by running 3k then 5k then joined the police cross-country team which consisted of only myself and another colleague at the time! I then started running 10k cross-country events and did really well. I caught the bug and began running further and further and realised I had a natural talent for endurance running. I will never be fast but I do have the ability to keep going even when your body feels like it can’t go on. On this race I had some of the most scariest hallucinations I have had on an event and my feet felt like I was walking on lava but I just kept moving forward and stayed focussed and positive.
Any plans to enter the biggie 286-miler Spine Race at any point?
We will have to see. I have another 100-miler in May this year and then next year I am looking at completing a 160-mile race with a view to entering a 200 mile race. The 289 mile seems out of my league but I will never say never. The thing about the Spine is not just the distance, it’s the terrain. The Pennine Way in winter is BRUTAL. I’m not sure if my body is capable of doing the full event but I know I have not reached my body’s full capability yet and so we will see what the next few years bring. Never say never I guess.
What’s next for you in the running calendar?
In March I have the Hardmoors 55, then in April I am doing Fellsman (I am not racing that, I will be just having a nice day out!). In May I have the Hardmoors 110, then in September it’s the Hardmoors 60 then in November I have the Hardwolds 80 again. I also have a 50-mile and 100-mile bike ride to do in-between. I am not a cyclist but I am doing these events to spend quality time with my dad who is a keen cyclist.
What would you say to anyone thinking about taking up ultra or trail running?
DO IT! If you are worried about cut off times then enter an Long Distance Walkers Association event. They are amazing. They are walking events and so have generous cut offs but you can run them should you wish. No one wins anything for coming first so there is no ‘racey’ feel to it and the checkpoints are usually stacked with the most delicious home-made cooked delights! AND they’re so cheap to enter. Everyone should join the LDWA.
We think you’ll agree that this is an amazing achievement and what an inspiring lady Kendra is.
Kendra joined NYP 17 years ago a became a detective in 2011. She is currently based in the safeguarding and exploitation team.