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…
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.
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.
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.