The Montane Spine Race - Full Report

After an emotional week the Montane Spine Race is finally over. Whilst the event itself is clearly exhausting for the competitors, spare a thought for those sat at home who have been glued to their computer screens around the clock, endlessly watching the dots move steadily north. I for one am looking forward to giving my eyeballs a rest…

White outs across the high fells were common  © Steve Ashworth
White outs across the high fells were common
© Steve Ashworth

Jokes aside, this year was undoubtedly a tough one, with Storm Brendan hitting the racers hard throughout the first few days of the event. Even on the start day, before Brendan had arrived, the weather was truly awful: high wind, lots of rain, and a generally dreich feel. Looking back to that soggy Sunday morning it was hard (maybe even unpleasant) to think that this was going to be the best weather the competitors were going to get for the next four days!

In the men's category John Kelly was dominant throughout, but with a race such as The Spine it is hard to predict whether or not such dominance - particularly in the early stages - will lead to an outright victory. Too much speed, or too little sleep, early on could easily lead to a blow out - hence the continued curiosity of the avid dot watchers.

Even when it wasn't white, it was always wet!  © Steve Ashworth
Even when it wasn't white, it was always wet!
© Steve Ashworth

Indeed, there were certain points where John Kelly showed signs of weakness, not least after his power nap - which lasted barely a handful of minutes - at Hawes, after which he left the checkpoint and proceeded to run south. For those who haven't been paying attention, The Spine is a south to north race - hence he was going back the way he came. Thankfully he righted himself after a short distance, but it goes to show the levels of physical and psychological strain that the athletes are under. Another interesting point is that prior to the arrival of Storm Brendan John Kelly was one hour up on Jasmin Paris' course record, but this was all to change.

Sabrina Verjee - Winner of the Women's Category  © Steve Ashworth
Sabrina Verjee - Winner of the Women's Category
© Steve Ashworth

John Kelly   -   Winner of the Men's Category  © Steve Ashworth
John Kelly - Winner of the Men's Category
© Steve Ashworth

In the meantime Eoin Keith (the winner of the men's category in last year's event), Eugeni Rosello Sole and Jayson Cavill were battling it out for the remaining places on the men's podium; however, all barring Eoin dropped out due to injury: Jayson at Byrness and Eugeni at Alston. In and amongst this, in spite of the elements/lack of sleep/immense fatigue/hallucinations, John Kelly continued to crank along, gaining an unassailable 30 mile lead on Eoin, to finish in a time of 87:53:57. Eoin proceeded to cross the finishing line in 100:11:00, followed by Simon Gfeller and Wouter Huitzing, who crossed the line together in a joint time of 103:50:23.

In the women's category, much like the men's, there was one individual who set the pace from start to end. Sabrina Verjee - outright winner of the 2019 Spine Fusion Race - was the first woman across the Snake Pass and led from that point on, finishing in 4th place overall with a time of 108:07:17. Unlike the men's category, where there seemed to be several contenders for the remaining podium places, the women's category was pretty consistent throughout, with Debbie Martin-Consani looking strong in 2nd and Patricia Patterson looking similarly strong in 3rd.


Whilst the focus of this report has been on the podium, anyone who finishes The Spine Race deserves to be congratulated. It is an immense achievement at any time of year, but in midwinter - in a single push - it really is something. Thanks also to everyone that contributed to The Spine Race thread.


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John Kelly
Washington, DC

John's Athlete Page 3 posts

Sponsored by: La Sportiva, Hammer Nutrition, Ultimate Direction & XO Skincare


21 Jan

I've been wondering about this through the week, but do people know what Spine Racers wear on their feet? I presumed most would go for quick drying trail running shoes, but presumably in January that means you would be spending 87 hours up with wet (and I bet often cold) feet. Can feet stand up to being soaked and punished like that? I think in one of the videos I saw someone wearing some Hoka hiking boots - I noticed because I have the same model, one of the more quirky things I've been asked to review over the years! - these are waterproof with eVent and I've been pretty impressed with them in that respect. I can jog in mine, so I imagine real runners could run in a pair, and I suppose most people end up walking more than running towards the end?

I managed to get a few blisters and bumps doing about the first 50 miles of the PW this summer in a pair of well tested, super comfy trail shoes - in warm, mainly dry conditions and where I stopped reasonably regularly to wash my feet and let them air a bit in streams and lakes. I can't imagine how hard it is on your feet in January doing the full 270!

21 Jan

Most popular combo will be a fairly sturdy trail running shoe (goretex or not is up for debate, each has pros and cons), sized up to fit waterproof socks (Sealskinz or Dexshell) and a liner sock. There is a footwear survey being run on the spine FB page, I'll try to remember to post the results when they come out

21 Jan

I was wondering about John Kelly's pack. Having looked at the kit list, I can imagine he was wearing and carrying most of it. But what sleeping bag and mat did he have, because his backpack was tiny!

Nice looking pack btw, anyone know what it was?

21 Jan

Ultimate Direction pre production model, available in the spring I believe. Might be a race vest 5 but not sure

22 Jan

One of the little videos showed him being kit checked towards the end and he pulled something out - bivvy bag maybe - and my thought was, well that's shrivelled up in the cold! :) I guess he gets the best stuff going from sponsors, some of the later finishers seemed to have much more 'normal' backpacking kit.

I did notice how much clothing many of them seemed to be wearing - I guess skinny runners going through vast amounts of energy, even when you are moving constantly you aren't generating the type of heat that a middle aged bloke like me manages walking uphill at a reasonable pace!

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