In January 2016 Javed Bhatti was one of only 24 runners to complete the Montane Spine Race, a gruelling week-long 268-mile journey along the full length of the Pennine Way. But while his fellow competitors could relax at the finish line in Kirk Yetholm, the 52-year-old management consultant turned around and ran it all again in reverse, a return journey that took him a further eight days. As far as we can tell this is the first time anyone's done two Pennine Ways back to back in winter. So what was it like?
Javed has been raising money through the trip for Mountain Rescue England and Wales. The initial fundraising target of £500 has already been exceeded tenfold. Clearly he doesn't do things by half! To make a donation see his Justgiving page
UKH: How long have you been hill running for?
Javed: Since I was 16 - my first fell race was the Snowdon 10 mile FRA event
What about other outdoor stuff generally?
I am a caver, mountaineer, occasional mountain biker, nordic skier... I just love being outside doing stuff.
Have you got a track record in big races and epic rounds?
Last year I started doubling the longest races I could find. Thames Ring 250 became a 500 mile event for me. And then I did effectively a double Spartathlon in Greece (306 miles) a few weeks before the Spine. I try and do something that is a little challenging every two months.
What attracted you to the Spine race, and what on earth made you think that wasn’t enough and that you really fancied doing it all again in reverse?
It's billed as the most brutal race. I see it as the most inspirational so was curious to see what was possible. I am a reflective researching practitioner who loves to learn stuff. Doing something twice helps you consolidate and test learning.
What sort of training and pre-run preparation did you do?
I run around 10 miles a week, do a bike ride at the weekends and occasionally do some yoga. I try and do a few minutes of strength work most days. The main prep is around developing / managing the mental landscape.
What was your time on the Spine?
A fraction under seven days going up (this was the cut off). I had hoped for a negative split on the way back. However the two foot of snow, the blizzards which were met head on during the return, all meant that seven days was only possible if I had worked flat out. I was keen to enjoy the return leg and maximise socilaising and fund raising options. After Cross Fell I decided that eight days was the right target for the return. In the end it was eight days and an hour due to a number of photo shoots in the last few miles.
Did you enjoy the competitive element of The Spine, and the company of other runners?
Yes it's part of the attraction. The race provides a lovely 'frame' for exploring and playing on the hills.
At Kirk Yetholm your fellow Spine competitors knew they were done, but you were only at the halfway point. How did that feel?
I was excited to be setting out on a planned journey. It was good to also be able to share my plans openly - although quite a few had guessed my intentions by this stage. The race organisers and many others had known of my plans but had been asked to keep it quiet. As for half way... the distance was half way but I knew that in terms of effort it was going to feel like I was only 1/3 of the way.
Being on your own and not in a race context on the return journey – was that a very different experience?
Yes of course. Although at times I had far more company on the return. I was met by dozens of people at some of the road heads. Friends and complete strangers travelled hundreds of miles to join me on parts of the journey. The joy of social media and my use of trackers meant that I was never really alone.
During the last 50 miles I was even met by local mountain rescue teams at key junctions - it was all pretty awesome and times embarrasing to be the centre of so much attention.
What sort of clothing, kit and footwear did you use?
Mountaineering kit and fell racing shoes. The latter were swapped for boots for the mountain sections. I was never cold, and I was one of the few athletes without any feet issues at Kirk Yetholm.
How was the weather? And ground conditions?
Very wet. And in the mountains it was like a Norwegian winter.
Did you ever doubt that you’d finish?
Were there any particularly hard moments?
Yes when I couldn't recall the words for the Morecambe and Wise theme song "Bring me sunshine".
Cold, tired, low on energy, poor weather, monotonous terrain – how do you keep motivated and keep going when you’re in that sort of low?
I am a resilience coach ! I don't use concepts like 'low'. I am always curious about what is happening to me, what is happening around me. It's hard to stop smiling when you are in the outdoors doing something that you love.
Did you enjoy it overall?
Yes, there were far too many highlights to mention. I experienced real beauty and an amazing level of camaraderie and fellowship every moment of every day.
What attracts you to the Pennine landscape?
It has a bit of everything. Sections in the Dales feel like home.
Why did you choose to fundraise for Mountain Rescue in particular?
I have been lucky enough to visit some wonderful parts of the world, and I still think that the British Fells and Mountains are some of the most majestic and awe inspiring environments to be experienced.
The women, men and animals who form the Mountain Rescue services provide a vital safety net for all of us; young and old, fragile or super strong, so that we can enjoy those surroundings, share stories, and 'learn and grow' in many wonderful ways.
Finally – would you ever do the Pennine Way again?!
Yes... tomorrow if I could. I shall almost certainly be involved again in the Spine Race in 2017.
- This video from Montane gives a good idea of the conditions found on this year's Spine race:
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