They say it’s not a good idea to return to the scene of the crime, so it was with some trepidation that I toed-the-line this January for the start of what is dubbed “Britain’s most brutal race”. This is the Montane Spine Race which has been running for the last 5 years and is fast developing iconic status amongst the slightly bonkers Ultra Running community. This year witnessed over 200 competitors taking part, from some 20 or so countries as far-afield as Canada and the United States.
The race takes on 2 forms: the full Spine Race being a 7 day and 268 mile jaunt up the Pennine Way, proving a serious winter expedition. The second, the Spine ‘Challenger’, is a shorter, but no less intense version, comprising 108 miles from the southern tip of the Pennine Way (Edale) in the Peak District, to Hawes in north Yorkshire. This version is conducted under a 60 hour time limit, with an emphasis on beating a tight timescale bearing in mind generally horrific winter mountain conditions. All this while having to carry all spare clothes, food, and full safety and sleeping equipment assuming an overnight, freezing, bivouac becomes a harsh reality.
2016 saw apocalyptic blizzard conditions and an under-equipped attempt from yours-truly with a thought to tackle the Spine Challenger race at speed. Some 65 miles in with zero sleep, the harsh reality of gritty winter mountain conditions and inadequate clothing got the better, leading to an uncomfortable and shivery few hours in a mountain rescue vehicle drinking hot sweet tea, decked out in heat-reflecting silver space blankets and swearing to do better next year...
This year, with full winter kit and a bullet-proof armour, the race (fortunately) panned out more as planned. Setting off at 8am on a Saturday in early January, we had beautiful snowy conditions leading to a truly scenic first day, albeit very slow going with navigation proving difficult over indiscernible paths. After 48 miles, a midnight arrival at checkpoint 1 (Hebden Bridge) provided the opportunity for a few hours of warming respite and a couple of hours of shut-eye. Very early morning on day two, I set off on the 35 miles to the second checkpoint and arrived late into the night after painfully slow progress under slippery snow-melt and thawing conditions. Feet were throbbing and the body shattered, but tiredness prevailed and a further 2 hours sleep under space blankets provided renewed vigour for the 3rd
day and the last 25 miles from Malham Cove to Hawes. Fortunately, conditions were warmer (a balmy 6c) and despite moving at the pace of what-seemed-like continental drift, I hobbled over the line in some 56 hours, with 4 to spare from the 60 hour cut-off. There was no danger of me going back for the 3rd
attempt, so this was a must-do at all costs!