Britain’s most brutal race: the Montane Spine
Taking place between 14 – 22 January 2017, the non-stop Montane Spine Race is quite simply one of the toughest ultra races in Europe. Set in the depths of winter and encompassing the entirety of the Pennine Way, competitors face various challenges ranging from unrelenting winter conditions to severe fatigue and all the physical demands that accompany a 268 mile race.
The Montane Spine Race is a collection of three savage ultra races:
- The Montane Spine Race – the original 268 mile race from Edale to Kirk Yetholm.
- The Montane Spine Challenger – shorter and faster than the Spine Race at 108 miles, but no less brutal.
- The Montane Spine MRT Challenge – the same as the Spine Challenger but specifically for active members of Mountain Rescue Teams from England, Wales and the Scottish Borders.
The inaugural Spine Race took place in 2012 with only 11 entrants. Of these, 3 ultimately crossed the finish line. Since then, the race’s notorious brutality has propelled it further and further into the spotlight, bringing it to new racers who seek the next scalp on their endurance race hitlist. This year will see 260 heroic competitors line up at the start of the three races, ready to take on whatever particular tests the Gods of the Pennine Way throw at them. And they do it in style – the current record of 95 hours 17 mins for the Montane Spine Race was set in 2016 by Ireland’s Eoin Keith, smashing the previous record. The record for the Montane Spine Challenger was set at 29 hours 01 mins by Marcus Scotney in 2014. The Montane Spine MRT Challenge was introduced in 2016.
At the helm of the Montane Spine ship stand race directors Scott Gilmour and Phil Hayday-Brown. And while they are the first to point out that the race’s success is down to a huge number of team members, from checkpoint staff to race marshals and medics to logistics staff, they have been the energetic driving force since the beginning: “The Spine Race was born out of a desire to test not just ultra racing skills, but expedition skills. We watched as the ultra distance race trend grew and grew and wanted to take that challenge to a whole different level” say expedition photographer Gilmour and polar logistics expert Hayday-Brown. “So that’s exactly what we did with the Montane Spine Race. We took an iconic trail route, added the usual demands of non-stop ultra distance racing and set it in winter to give it real ferocity and bite. We knew that it would attract a much more hardcore type of athlete – you’ve got to be damn tough, self sufficient, mentally resilient, able to function on limited sleep and physically at the top of your game, not to mention grapple with the full intensity of British winter. All the usual rules go out of the window and it comes down to survival. It is unique.”
But it’s not all down to luck that the Montane Spine Race has seen an influx of racers. Gilmour and Hayday-Brown are meticulous in their planning of each year’s offerings, from establishing warm, welcoming check points along the 268 mile route to keeping continuous tabs on all competitors via GPS trackers, ensuring their safety and coordinating with Mountain Rescue and medical teams in case of emergencies. A set of stringent entry criteria also helps to prevent serious incidents by ensuring athletes do not enter ‘on a whim’ and are fully cognisant of the enormity of the undertaking.
Even with the abundant pitfalls and dangers placed at their feet (quite literally in many cases) a knot of super hardcore runners come back time and time again to participate. Czech Pavel Paloncy is one such machine, having completed the Montane Spine Race in 2014, 2015 and 2016, winning in both 2014 and 2015 and narrowly missing out to Ireland’s Eoin Keith in 2016 (who is also the current Montane Spine Race record holder).
Paloncy is on the race rosters for 2017. As is Keith. We are expecting fireworks.
KEY MONTANE SPINE RACE FACTS
- The Montane Spine Race was founded by Scott Gilmour and Phil Hayday-Brown in 2012.
- Today it consists of three events:
- The Montane Spine Race – the original 268 mile / 420km race from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. Total ascent is 13,135m, total descent is 13,255m. Starts 08:00 Sunday 15 January 2017. Race time limit is 168 hours.
- The Montane Spine Challenger – shorter and faster than the Spine Race at 108 miles / 172km, but no less brutal. Total ascent is 5,637m, total descent is 5,636m. Starts 08:00 Saturday 14 January 2017. Race time limit is 60 hours.
- The Montane Spine MRT Challenge – the same as the Spine Challenger but specifically for active members of Mountain Rescue Teams from England, Wales and the Scottish Borders. Total ascent is 5,637m, total descent is 5,636m. Starts 12:00 Saturday 14 January 2017. Race time limit is 60 hours.
- The current records for the Montane Spine Race are:
- Men’s = 95 hours 17 mins, Eoin Keith (IRL). Set in 2016.
- Women’s = 153 hours 17 mins, Debbie Brupbacher (UK). Set in 2014. [Please note: athlete Beth Pascall set a faster time in 2015 (90 hours 59 mins), however due to significant race format and course differences caused by severe weather, the times of 2015’s races are unique and cannot be compared to any other year].
- The current records for the Montane Spine Challenger are:
- Men’s = 29 hours 01 mins, Marcus Scotney (UK). Set in 2014.
- Women’s = 30 hours 18 mins, Beth Pascall (UK). Set in 2014.
- The current records for the Montane Spine MRT Challenge are:
- Men’s = 32 hours 10 mins, Tim Budd (UK). Set in 2016.
- Women’s = 47 hours 30 mins, Nicky Torr (AUS). Set in 2016.
- 260 competitors are enrolled for 2017 suite of races which take place between 14 – 22 January 2017
- Watch videos from the 2016 Montane Spine Race here
- Read more about the Montane Spine Race here