There are three versions of the Spine Races. The Spine Race itself follows the entire Pennine Way from Edale to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. The shorter Spine Challenger starts at Edale but stops at Hardraw. The Spine Challenger MRT is the same as the Spine Challenger but is solely for active members of rescue teams. The races commence at different times which reduces crowding and checkpoints being inundated with runners. The Spine Challenger started at 8 am on Saturday 12 January 2019 with the Spine MRT Challenge starting half an hour later. With the first wave of runners out of the way the organisers could register and kit check the rest of the runners enabling the Spine Race to start at 8 am on Sunday 13 January 2019.
No support was allowed for the runners other than a drop-bag being transported by the organisers to checkpoints along the route.
The races have quite a reputation for being brutal due to the harsh winter conditions; the terrain and the darkness. Nevertheless they attract entrants from around the world.
Saturday 12 January 2019 to Monday 14 January 2019
108 miles (174 km); 18,550 feet (5,654 m) of ascent
60 hours maximum time limit
First Man: Jim Mann; 22:53:28 (new course record)
First Lady and 6th overall: Carol Morgan; 31:47:37
Simon Bourne: 4th; Dark Peak Fell Runners; 30:20:20
Jennifer Scotney: 3rd lady and 12th overall; Dark Peak Fell Runners; 38:53:16
Jim Mann set a new course record beating the previous best time by 2 hours 48 minutes and 53 seconds. A very impressive time indeed.
Spine Challenger MRT
Saturday 12 January 2019 to Monday 14 January 2019
108 miles (174 km); 18,550 feet (5,654 m) of ascent
60 hours maximum time limit
First Man: Joe Farnell; 32:25:18
First Lady (only lady finisher) and joint 7th overall: Jane Hilton; 51:31:36
Jack Swindells: Retired; Dark Peak Fell Runners
Gregory Crowley: Retired; Dark Peak Fell Runners
Sunday 13 January 2019 to Sunday 20 January 2019
261.3 miles (420.5 km); 43,733 feet (13,330 m) of ascent
168 hour time limit
First Lady and 1st overall: Jasmin Paris; 83:12:23 (new course record)
First Man: 2nd overall; Eoin Keith; 98:18:23
Steven Jones: 44th man and 47th overall; Dark Peak Fell Runners; 152:21:37
Jasmin Paris set a new course record of 83:12:23. The previous record was set by Eoin Keith in 2016 in a time of 95:17:00 and remains the fastest time for the male category. Jasmin's outstanding result beats Eoin's best time by 12 hours 4 minutes and 37 seconds. Her achievement is all the more remarkable given that she was breastfeeding during the race and expressed milk at four of the five checkpoints. Jasmin's winning time which was 15 hours ahead of the next runner made headlines around the world. Meanwhile, somewhat further behind my recollection of the event is set out below.
The Spine Race started at 8 am following the Pennine Way over Kinder Scout, Bleaklow, Black Hill, Standedge, the M62, past various reservoirs and Stoodley Pike and on to the Hebden Hey checkpoint. The day started with a bit of rain and wind and progressed to gale force winds as the day wore on. At times it was hard to even stand up let alone try to run in a straight line which slowed progress and sapped energy. Along the way there was plenty of wading through streams and rivers. By the time I got to Stoodley Pike my legs were soaked and I was suffering from a lot of chafing. At the Hebden Hey checkpoint there was plenty of food and hot drinks and time to recuperate including a full 90 minutes of sleep in a bunk bed.
After eating more and messing about sorting kit out I set off into the night. Plodding along over Oakworth Moor I was falling asleep on my feet and trying to stay upright. There were refreshments at Lothersdale which revived me a bit and with the daylight things seemed better. By the time that I got to the Malham Tarn checkpoint it was already dark. I was already behind in my planned schedule so didn't stay long although my urgency arose mainly from the weather warning at the checkpoint. Gale force winds were forecast to build up within the next few hours. Fountains Fell was tackled with the wind picking up. On the ascent of Pen-y-ghent the wind was battering me and threatening to pluck me off the rocks adding to the sense of adventure. Having passed the summit the descent was fairly tame but went on and on. At the cafe at Horton-in-Ribblesdale (open all night for the Spine Race) there was a chance to sit and enjoy some welcome refreshments. I was by then in about 34th place so doing reasonably well although feeling tired. I dozed with my head on the table as other runners came in and went out again to overtake me. I continued to doze and had more to eat and drink. When I finally managed to drag myself to my feet and leave I had been there about an hour and a half but felt better for it although a bit cold from just sitting and not moving. In order to warm up I broke into a run and kept going which allowed me to regain some of the places lost while resting. Along the Cam Road the wind was howling and making a terrible racket. Wading through the wet and muddy conditions my feet were getting waterlogged and I could feel blisters coming on. In the wild weather stopping to sort my feet out was not my priority and I wanted to get to the next checkpoint. My legs refused to move as quickly as I wanted them to but I finally got to the Hawes checkpoint even further behind my own planned schedule.
Eating and resting at the checkpoint was good and I allowed myself 90 minutes of sleep in a bunk bed there which was superb. The checkpoint is small and was crammed with lots of competitors, checkpoint staff and medics who sorted out my blisters enabling me to continue. One final task before departing was to sort out kit amongst the mountain of drop-bags and limited space to find things. A well-ordered drop-bag can save lots of time and effort and I resolved that next time I would strive to be more organised. I finally left the checkpoint mid-morning whereas my plan had been to set-off around 4 am. The schedule was slipping but I was still moving forward.
Great Shunner Fell is a great big lump of a hill which climbs gradually but this means the journey to the top is further. The descent on the other side was welcome though giving scope for a bit of running. A photographer there took some photos and I challenged him to a race down and he sped off ahead of me. Approaching Thwaite my anticipation of cake and hot chocolate at the delightful cafe was growing in intensity. The notice on the door proclaimed that it was closed for the winter but open again in spring! I consoled myself with a packet of Eccles cakes and some cold water before resuming the journey plodding on to the Tan Hill Inn. Suitably refreshed there and having some blisters attended to by medics enabled me to continue north over the soggy Sleightholme Moor; under the A66 underpass and more moorland to checkpoint 3 at Middleton-in-Teesdale. The food there was excellent and presented with a choice I found it easier to have one of each of the main meals offered plus cake and copious hot liquids. 90 minutes in a bunk bed was good; more would have been better but the clock does not sleep so I got up and went back to the rest area to eat again. At the time I thought that I could be happy sitting there for a hundred years but there was a race to run so it was time to put the cold, damp and muddy shoes back on and head out onto the next leg. It was already daylight as I left and passed other runners coming in. They must have been going all night and would now be faced with sleeping and missing some of the limited daylight or pressing on again with hardly any rest at all. I did feel sorry for them and hoped that they would be okay.
The next section has some interesting scenery to occupy a weary mind and body - Low Force, High Force, Cauldron Snout and High Cup Nick. Before I reached the last of these there was a sharp pain in my right achilles tendon which was a concern to me. It got worse as I went on and I ignored it hoping it would go away. Fortunately towards the end of the day it had not developed into anything more serious. The cafe at Dufton was a welcome place to rest and eat prior to the long slog up Knock Old Man and beyond. The icy summits of Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell and Cross Fell were not places to hang around and linger. I increased my pace to get it over and done with while trying to avoid the frozen puddles and pools which sometimes bore my weight and at other times the ice broke causing me to wade around in the icy water. The strong breeze gave me an incentive to get off the tops as quickly as possible and down to Greg's Hut for a chance of a hot drink and a chat with the nice people there. After that it was the long slog along a stony track to Garrigill and a few more miles across mainly farmland to checkpoint 4 at the YHA at Alston. More food and 90 minutes of sleep in a bunk bed partially rejuvenated me.
After having some blisters attended to by medics and eating the mission resumed. However, after just a few miles a blister on my heel was causing me to limp badly so I stabbed it with a penknife which allowed the fluid to drain and progress to continue. I had been looking forward to running along Hadrian's Wall in the daylight but by the time I got there it was already dark. Nevertheless it was interesting going along it before heading north across moorland. It was in the forests that drowsiness started to take hold and I was stumbling around sleepwalking and sleeprunning. From time to time I would jerk awake just as I was about to fall. It was as if time stood still and all the trees looked the same. Had I been going around in circles and making no progress at all? No, it was that the ill-defined path lacked variety. On one occasion I awoke with a start thinking that I was in a supermarket and I was in a panic because I could not find the frozen peas aisle. Gradually it dawned on me that I was still on the Spine Race so I kept trudging forward. Out of the forest and across moorland there appeared to be someone watching me - safety crew perhaps? But why the fishing rod? There wasn't even a stream or pond there. As I got closer they disappeared only to re-appear further along the route several times. At the Horneystead Farm there was a sign stating "Pennine Way Pit Stop" which was sufficiently persuasive to draw me in. There were welcome refreshments there and seating with a box for voluntary donations towards the items on offer. A comfy chair took me prisoner and prevented me from leaving. I stayed there in a torpor for quite a while as other competitors came and went. Eventually I was able to escape from the comfy chair but the inactivity had led me becoming a bit chilled. To warm up I set off at a brisk pace towards checkpoint 5 at Bellingham along fairly easy terrain. It was already light when I arrived at the checkpoint. I ate, sorted some kit out and had medical attention for the blisters and was given anti-biotics for a developing chest infection (to carry around if things get worse but I was able to finish without resorting to them). There were no bunk beds at this checkpoint but I was lucky enough to find a spare settee to sleep on for 90 minutes.
I set off in deteriorating weather and had not got far before darkness fell. Forest tracks take away the need for careful navigation and enable a runner or walker to doze off with either one or other or even both eyes closed to rest while moving forward. From time to time the edge of the path is veered into causing wakefulness if only for a few seconds. Amazingly I was able to stay upright and not fall over although there were quite a few near misses. A couple of times I brushed the snow off large clumps of heather to sprawl on them briefly to rest before resuming the journey. There was chance to sit down at the Byrness intermediate checkpoint and eat but there was a time limit for stopping there of 30 minutes. I left feeling fatigued with blisters on aching feet and throbbing and aching knees. The forecast was high winds, snow and bad weather on the Cheviots and I didn't feel in a fit state to continue. I was dead tired and found a pleasant graveyard to sleep in and resolved to sleep until I woke up rather than set a time limit. About four or five hours of sleep went some way to improving my condition. The ascent onto a ridge warmed me up and I was encouraged that by now there was only about 25 miles to the finish. The route briefly crossed into Scotland before passing some Roman camps and at Hut 1 it was already daylight. The friendly checkpoint staff there included a medic so another chance to reduce the problems with blisters and rest a bit. A few other competitors came and went so I lost a few more places but at that stage I was thinking more of finishing rather than anything else. The worst of the weather had been in the night and weather was now calm with good visibility over the frozen terrain. My speed was limited by the pain in my feet and knees and also general tiredness. At Hut 2 I was greeted by a media scrum which was unexpected and interesting. A hot drink and a chat lifted my spirits along with the thought that it was now only about 6 miles to the finish. Also, there was another runner about half an hour ahead of me. I tried to run as best as I could and as I started the descent from the ridge I saw someone ahead which caused me to quicken my pace. Looking back he spotted me and he also quickened his pace. Apparently he had seen my bright yellow hat and for future events perhaps I will use camouflage for the final stages of a race. With the twists and turns in the route he was in view at times and at other times out of sight. During the times of lost visual contact I put on spurts of speed to try and sneak up on him. He seemed to be using the same tactics because the gap was not closing very much. There was a final uphill road section that slowed me down but after that it was all downhill. I saw him and burst into a run but he saw me and did the same. I was gaining but the finish was just around the corner. A final mad sprint to the finish enabled me to get within striking distance of victory. In the end we both touched the wall of the Border Hotel at the same time to both finish after 152 hours 21 minutes and 37 seconds after leaving Edale the previous Sunday. When the final results came out an hour had been added on to his time (presumably due to a time penalty) so the final sprint had not been necessary but had nevertheless been fun and good to finish in style.
During the course of the event I met some great people - both fellow competitors and event staff. It was a pleasure meeting them all; running with some; walking with others and being looked after by others.
I have already signed up for next year's event.
© Dark Peak Fell Runners 2019
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