Last updated: 29-Aug-18
Waist-deep snow drifts, 50mph-plus winds, sleeting, torrential rain and freezing winds lay ahead for the 118 competitors who stood on the start line of this year’s MONTANE® Spine® Race… and that was just the weather challenges! Whenever we compile a “Toughest Ultras” piece, the comments are – you have to include The Spine, and, in fairness, I think it IS time to go and review that list.
Here are the stats:
- Distance: 420km/268 miles
- Overall ascent: 13,135m/43,093ft
- Overall descent: 13,255m/43,487ft
- Highest point: 892m/2,926ft (Cross Fell)
- Start: 08:00, Sunday, 14 January 2018
- Time limit: 168hrs (seven days)
- MONTANE® Spine® Race record: 95h 17m (2016), Eoin Keith (IRL)
- MONTANE® Spine® Race record (F): 109h 54m (2017), Carol Morgan (IRL)
The Spine® Race’s finisher rate average remains below 50 per cent but this year, the runners were getting close: 53 out of 118 competitors finished at Kirk Yetholm’s Border Hotel, the traditional end point of the Pennine Way National Trail and the Spine® Race within the cut off time of 168 hours, full of pride but with bodies broken.
Pavel Paloncý came in first for the men with 109:50:22. He has form in this race having already won it twice and come second twice. After the race, he explained how it felt, “It’s hard to compare all of these years, but, yes, I would say that this was maybe the most competitive year. Definitely nothing is certain until the last moment. The first year I had a huge gap quite early so I only had to screw it up or get some injury, but this year I got into the lead quite late and had to use all my skills.”
He was followed in by Simon Gfeller 118:09:00, with John Knapp in third 118:34:57.
The women’s race was won by Carol Morgan, the existing record holder, with 130:37:22, with Kirsty Williams in second 151:00:05 and Emanuela Marzotto in third 152:02:12.
After the race Carol said, “What a grand finale – It was very beautiful! There were big open expanses, with blue skies and no one there. I was eating ice, because I was so thirsty. I’m tired though. It’s been really tough.”
No records were broken this year, but that was no surprise as the race had to be paused because of the extreme and dangerous weather conditions. Race Director, Philip Hayday-Brown, summed it up, “When we conceived this race, the whole point was that it was intended to be tough: Britain’s most brutal race. This year the weather threw various challenges at competitors, especially the deep snow drifts that covered much of the last third of the course, harshly slowing them down when they were at their most fatigued. It was definitely a tough one.”
ANYONE who finishes this race gets a hero’s welcome and the last man in, Phil Clarke, who made it just 72 minutes before the cut off, with 166 hours and 48 minutes, was no exception. He had started the race the previous year, but retired.
This was him on the finish line, “Can I go to bed now? I’m so tired. That was brutal, something else. I wanted to start at one pace and finish at that pace, and that pace was slow. It feels brilliant to finish. I won’t be back. But it feels absolutely brilliant. Thank you everyone on the race, the volunteers, medics and everyone, you’ve been absolutely brilliant.”
The race is a relatively new one as the first Spine® Race took place just six years ago in 2012. It started with only 11 entrants, of which three ultimately crossed the finish line in Kirk Yetholm, Scotland. This year, 283 runners lined up at the start of the three races (the Spine® Race, the 108-mile Spine® Challenger and the 108-mile MRT Spine Challenge). The Spine® Flare and Fusion races are the summer versions of the race and start on 23 June 2018.
For sure, 2018 will be remembered for the weather, but it also the race became a truly international event, with 69 foreign competitors in the Spine® Race and Spine® Challenger.
There was also a spot of romance according to the Race Director, Philip Hayday-Brown, “A marriage proposal at the finish line – which impressively even included the painful manoeuvre of going down on one knee – was a highlight for many of us lucky enough to witness it. Some people got a little sweaty eyed. Ahem.”
What a way to end!
Kudos to Damian Hall, the Media Manager, for supplying fantastic news, pictures, interviews and videos from the event. Check out their Facebook page for lots of goodies.