Updated: May 16, 2022
With the Pennine Way running right past Summit Crazy headquarters, we can't help but get excited for what we'd consider to be one of the toughest ultra races that the UK has to offer: The Spine.
Put your feet up and delve into Martin's gripping account of the Spine race.
It's October 2020, I have been running ultra marathons for 2 years now, becoming somewhat obsessed with the sport during this time. I now have the biggest month of my ultra running journey coming up... The West Highland Way Challenge Race, a 96 mile Trail in the Highlands of Scotland and a 100 mile track race in Cambridge, they were 17 days apart and I finished them both and they went well, this gave me a lot of confidence and I gained a lot of experience and learned a lot about myself during these 2 races.. IE I knew I could suffer when it got tough and pull through.
The next week I glance at my phone to see an email from the Montane Spine team, there had been a few drop outs and I had been offered a place. If it had not been for my 2 races in October I would have declined as I was not ready, but something told me to go for it and after pondering the decision for a few days, I accepted the offer, paid the fee and was in...
After purchasing the 28 list mandatory kit and watching every podcast I could find on the Spine Race, (Stephen Brown's with The amazing John Kynaston) were my favourite, I thought I was ready to take on the 268 mile winter Spine Race then Covid put an end to that and the Race was cancelled until January 2022. I had another year to wait and looking back this ended up being a blessing in disguise for me as I was not ready yet.
It's now January 2022 and 1 day away from starting the montane winter Spine Race, I'm a lot more confident in my abilities as an ultra runner now having experienced a few hard DNFs and learning from those, I also trained hard and raced a lot in 2021 with one end goal in mind... The Spine. I had reccied some of the Pennine Way, tested kit, made adjustments and felt as ready as can be, the only issue was that I had got Covid on December 18th not ideal prep and I was thinking of deferring but it was too late and I would lose my place, I recovered and felt OK but told myself I would take it easy.
I travelled down from Scotland with Mark Caldwell, a spine legend and fellow running mate, we got dropped off in Edale by Grzegorz Korsak (thanks again Grzegorz) and registered then made our way to our hotel, we got fed and prepped for final time before trying to get some sleep. Our room was above the pub which didn't help and I must've lay till what felt like hours before eventually nodding off. The next thing we were up ready and in the taxi on our way to the Start line in Edale.
The race : I was suddenly standing on the start line with Kim Collision, Damian Hall, Sabrina Verjee, Anna Troup, Debbie Martin Consani and a whole list of other Top ultra runners... Then we were off and running and the weather instantly turned wild with snow and wind hammering us as we headed north up and over Jacobs ladder, I ran beside Sabrina Verjee for a few minutes and remember saying you look a lot bigger on TV, she smiled and had a wee laugh, I then had a moment of madness / panic.. Around 5 miles I had checked my side pocket to see it open and I had no head torch inside, I had two on me at the start, 1 main and 1 spare I was sure my main was in my side pocket and I turned around and ran a 1/4 mile back passing runners asking if they had seen a headtorch only to be found by Mark Caldwell and told : it's on your head!
I couldn't get in to my rhythm after that and started having a lot of doubts, I stopped and added an extra layer because of the cold and fell back down the field, the wind and rain was torrential and the night was getting closer, did I belong here, am I capable of this? I managed to make it to Hebden Bridge at mile 47, the first checkpoint and my mind had cleared of those doubts and I started to feel better, although my left knee had swollen up and my big toe had also swollen with what looked like a small infection. The medics at the checkpoints were fantastic and fixed you up so you could get back out there and go again. After 4 hours sleep and lots of food, I was ready to make my way from Hebden Bridge to Hawes, this is the biggest section of the course and it's just over 60 miles. I teamed up with Mark Thomson for a bit and we walked a lot of the day, both in a fair bit of pain by now, the midway checkpoint at Malham Tarn was a relief but short lived as you were only aloud a maximum of 30 minutes there. We were back out and on our way to Hawes with a very cold and difficult night ahead, we got to Pen y Ghent only for the clag to get too bad and a diversion was put on, this meant leaving the GPX file, which was tricky especially in conditions where you can only see as far as your hand. We got through it and up on to High Cam Road, (the notorious road built by the Romans). This was brutal, exposed, cold and very wet.. and seemed to go on for miles. We eventually came through and got down and in to Hawes for yet more amazing hospitality and food put on by the amazing Spine family, we had now done over 100 miles. I managed 3 hours sleep and was back up and ready to go, the worst of the weather was past us and Tuesday was a nice clear day, my mind was in a good place and I was looking forward to pushing on.
Next we headed for Middleton on Teesdale via the Tan Hill Inn and over a never ending section of bog that went on for miles and was tough to find a line to navigate. I was moving well on that section and made my way up in to the top 50 I was told, on the way in to Middleton on Teesdale I met fellow runner Chris Cowley he had been running with another runner who was now injured.
I left Middleton with 2 hours sleep in the bag. Sleep was becoming a real struggle in checkpoints because my sleeping bag was too hot and made me wake up soaked in sweat and cold... Not good! My feet were also heavily blistered by now and I had an infected toe which had to be drained with a needle at checkpoints, it was getting real now.. Make or break time.
I took a few painkillers and set off after a few miles the pain would just go numb and I couldn't feel it anymore, it was like my body had accepted what was happening. I arrived at Dufton to yet again eat more food (the food is one the the highlights of this race) and I had bowl after bowl 🙂.
I then met Chris Cowley again and by this point he was on his own, we decided to team up and head up and over Cross fell together in the night, by this point we are around 40th place and just wanted to Finish. Teaming up with Chris was the highlight of my race and we hit it off instantly, he is one of life's good guys! We then found strength in our legs and started shuffling the flats and running the downs, we were moving well and started picking our way through the field, up and over the notorious Cross Fell in the dark and cold wind with zero visibility, it was a rather daunting night but we made it off and down in Alston after a quick stop at Gregg's hut for some noodles 🙂.
My feet are destroyed by now and I almost wanted to just keep moving with the fear that if I stop I won't be able to start again. Once again treated like VIPs in the Alston checkpoint: lasagne, rice pudding with jam, and help with whatever you needed. Me and Chris agreed we would leave at 5 am, he was off and in bed by 11.30pm and I went to the medics where I was treated till 12.45am, I then tried sleep then woke up at 2am in a pool of sweat and freezing cold, I decided there in Alston that I would not sleep again and would push on through to the finish. I discussed this with Chris and after him getting a good sleep in Alston he was happy to cat nap for 30 min in Bellingham and then head straight up to The Cheviots with no sleep, it was a risky tactic but we both felt we could pull it off.
We left Alston and headed for Bellingham along Hadrian's Wall via Greenhead, myself and Chris ended up running with Liam Vines and John Slater that day for around 6 hours,. The day was great the banter was flowing and the 4 of us moved through the field picking of the latest runner that came in to View, by this point we are now around 30th place and found a pace that was working for us. Me and Chris eventually looked around to see Liam and John no longer with us, we just kept going and kept the pace strong up to Honeystead Farm, one of my Favourite stops along The Pennine Way, I had 2 bowls of soup and some words of encouragement then we were back on the charge to Bellingham through yet more bog and muck that was tricky to move through. With just 25 miles to go when we arrived in Bellingham we realized we could potentially go sub 120 hours finish and this motivates us both. After 45 min in Bellingham... X2 bowls of sausage casserole for me and some medics fixing my feet again we were in the car and diverted past Byrness and up to the Cheviots, by this point I have not slept more than an hour in the last 2 days and the sleep deamons were catching up with me. We headed up in to the cheviots to an expected windchill of - 7... It was more the bog that was biggest factor in the Cheviots, Chris missed a slab and disappeared up to his waist.. I helped him out and we laughed it off. I was having hallucinations by this point, and kept seeing the fence kind to my left turn in to streets of houses, I knew they were not real but it was a strange experience, Chris was pulling me through the night at this point, after my pulling him through the day we were even and had made our way in to the top 20 by not stopping at Bellingham.
I could see he was moving better than me (he had no blisters 😂😂) and told him to push on and leave me. I knew I would make it to Kirk Yethom at that point and a few miles later saw my watch say less than 1 mile to go, then I came over the hill in darkness to the beautiful sight of Kirk Yethom, it was the most emotional and happiest finish of any ultra I've done, almost felt surreal. After crossing the line and touching the wall I was awarded my finishers medal and had made my dream for over a year cone true. I finished in 20th place overall in a time of 118 hours 28min 07 seconds. Something tells me I might be back.
What a brilliant insight into the grit and determination that it takes complete something as huge as the winter Spine. We hope that Martin is eating all the food, getting plenty of rest and planning his next adventure.
The Summit Crazy Team