Running Ultras

The Winter Spine Race – 2024

Over the last few days, I have been taking part in the hardest event I have ever attempted, the Winter Spine Race. The Race is 268 miles (431km), along the Pennine Way from Edale in the middle of England to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. I was not able to complete the full distance, but I ran further in winter conditions than I had ever run before, and it was a magnificent adventure.

Over the last few days, I have been taking part in the hardest event I have ever attempted, the Winter Spine Race. The Race is 268 miles (431km), along the Pennine Way from Edale in the middle of England to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. I was not able to complete the full distance, but I ran further in winter conditions than I had ever run before, and it was a magnificent adventure.

The Context
The UK in January tends to be cold, wet and dark. This year, the Spine race coincided with a cold snap, meaning we had little rain, some snow, and night-time temperatures below minus 10C. One of the challenges is that in this part of the UK, in January, the night lasts 16 hours a day. This means we run through the night with head torches, and we welcome the sun when it eventually returns.

A non-stop Race
The Spine race is a non-stop race. The runners have 168 hours (7 days) to complete the 268 miles. Along the way, there are 5 major checkpoints. At each checkpoint, we can access our drop bags to change clothes and gear or load more food. There is a time limit of 8 hours at each checkpoint. If we stop to rest at a checkpoint or between checkpoints, the time keep ticking.

The Start
The race started 8am Sunday morning, but the registration and the kit-check was on Saturday. In terms of accommodation, I had a last-minute change of plan and when a runner called Warwick mentioned he had a twin room at The Rambler (the pub next to the start of the race), I jumped at the chance to sub-let his room. On Saturday, I drove up to Edale with my son Joshua and his wife Eve, along with my running kit and drop bag. We had a nice lunch and then went for a walk near Castleton. During the afternoon, Joshua took my car back to Nottingham; I registered for the race, did my kit check*, attended the race briefing, and went to meet my roommate.

‘Kit check’, the Spine race takes runners into dangerous terrains, high moors, steep crags, in the dark in the rain, snow, ice and wind. The organisers have an extensive list of things we need to carry, such as a sleeping bag, stove, bivvy bag, ice grips to put on our shoes (e.g. Yaktrax), and much more. As part of the registration, we need to prove we have all the compulsory kit.

Friday evening I had a lovely dinner at The Ramblers, organized by Fiona and friends who were camping in Edale (in vans) to watch the start of the Sprint, Challenger and full Spine races. Most of my year is a bit of a battle with my weight (caused mostly be eating too much), but the night before a race is always a good chance to eat exactly what I want to eat – steak and ale pie, with mushy peas and chips, followed by cheese cake ????

Sunday morning, we assembled at the start at about 7 am to get our trackers fitted to our bags. The temperature is just below freezing, so not too bad. The trackers are devices that transmit where we are back to the race HQ and the internet so that the whole world can follow the dots as they move up the country. You can see the tracker results for this year’s race by clicking here.

A few last trips to the loo, more ‘hellos’ to friends, and it is 8am and we are off.

Up to Edale Rocks
Heading up to Edale Rocks, plenty of ice but no snow.

Day One – Edale to Hebden
We leave the start, head up the street through Edale, and on to the Pennine Way. (The Pennine Way is England’s oldest National Trail, designated as such in 1965.) The people who are actually racing are up the front and are running. Most of my movement is a combination of walking, hiking, and very slow jogging. The slow speed I travel at is a product of two things: 1) the distance we will be travelling and 2) the weight of the bag we are carrying. With water and food, the bag weighs about 10 or 11 kg (about 23 pounds) – the kit we are wearing is also pretty heavy as it has to keep us warm and dry.

Towards Manchester
As we approach the end of the Kinder Plateau, we can see Manchester in the distance

The first 3 miles (5 km) are pretty easy, and then we reach Jacob’s ladder and climb up to Edale Rocks (about 300 metres of climbing). Along the ridge of the Kinder Plateau the going is good and we are delighted that the river at Kinder Downfall can be crossed without getting our feet wet (the last time I crossed it in a winter race it was over my knees and I ran the rest of the race with wet feet).

As we made our way from Kinder to Bleaklow, crossing the Snake Pass, we met runners coming the other way. This was the Trigger Race, 21 miles from Marsden to Edale. I was delighted to bump into Tom, a runner from my club among the Trigger runners. The only challenge during this section was ice on the slabs. The slabs are miles and miles of stones laid by the national park to protect the bogs. However, in most cases by being careful, and by sometimes running on the frozen bogs, the going was good.

Meeting Tom coming the other way
Meeting Tom coming the other way, he was in a race called The Trigger

Heading up Bleaklow, I started chatting to Rosemary, a runner I had not met before but who was to be my co-runner for much of the next couple of days. Rosemary is a fantastically experienced athlete (much of it in adventure racing), but this was her first Spine race. Running with somebody is an interesting trade-off. On the one hand, it can make time go faster and two heads are often better than one when a decision is needed. On the other hand one or even both of you can be running at a speed that is not quite right for you. As you will read later, I think we got the balance right. On the stretch to Hebden, I also spent time running with Neil, Ian, Pascale and Paulo.

At Torside, there had been plans to have an aid station, provided by the local MRT (Mountain Rescue Team). However, just before the race we were told not to expect the aid station as the MRT had been called out to deal with an incident). There was, however, water there to top up bottles. From Torside the race progressed well, up Laddo Rocks, across to Black Hill and up to Wessenden Head. Just before Black Hill we had to cross Crowden Brook several time. I have crossed this Brook before in both Winter and Summer, and this was the first time I was able to keep my feet dry – a product of a dry week and the ice holding the water in the bogs.

At Wessenden Head, there was a kiosk selling hot food and drinks, so I had a bacon sandwich and a coffee. Eating is a key part of a long race. With my weight, pack etc I probably burn about 6,000 calories extra per day when running. Runners tend to refer to fuelling rather than ‘eating’.

Just before Black Moss Reservoir, on a diversion from the regular Pennine Way path, we had a tricky river crossing to make, and it was getting dark. There were four of us together at that point, we put on our head torches and watched out for each other as we scrambled across. Running in the dark, I nearly took a wrong turn just past Black Moss Reservoir, but one of our group (Ian?) spotted the mistake, and all was well. A few hundred metres later, I stopped for wee and spotted two torch lights down in the direction I had nearly run – so I was able to shout to them and get them back on track.

At Standedge, on the A62 there was an aid station operated by the local MRT. We were offered hot drinks, biscuits, and water by the team. From the aid station, we had a steady run along the edges, looking down on the night-time views of towns such as Rochdale and Littleborough.

At 31 miles, we reached the M62 crossing and the institution that is Nicky’s Foodbar. This converted trailer is popular all year, but stays open 24 hours a day during the Spine Race (summer and winter), to support the runners. I had another bacon roll, with cake and coffee and an Irn Bru.

From Nicky’s foodbar to Checkpoint 1, at Hebden, was a mostly uneventful 13 miles, with some very easy running by the reservoirs, before a steep drop down to the River Calder and the Rochdale Canal, and a stiff climb back up the other side. The Checkpoint is at the Scouts centre at Hebden Hey, and is reached by a steep, rocky, slippy, dark path – just what you want at this stage. The first stage of the race had taken me just under 17 hours, my mind and body all felt fine. The distance on the Spine map says the first section is 44 miles, but my Garmin Fenix 6 Pro watch says it was 77 km (close to 48 miles). The real world never matches the route as set out by the planners, we wiggle left and right, we pop behind bushes for a wee, we head across to the food kiosk, and it all adds up.

At the Checkpoint, they gave me my drop bag and I immediately put my things on charge (two head torches, watch, and phone). Next, I ate some hot food and then had a lie down for 90 minutes (it was just past 1am when I arrived at Hebden). The lie down was on a bunk in a dorm. Hebden is a famously noisy Checkpoint (mostly due to the layout of the building and its squeaky doors). At about 4:30am it was time to leave, so the Spine team did a kit check (they pick 5 pieces at random to see if you still have them, if you don’t, they check the full kit list). At 4:41 I start my watch and head back up that nasty little path and start running for Checkoint 2.

Section Two – Hebden to Hawes
I tend to think of the gaps between the sleeps as ‘Days’, but in this post, I think it will be better to call them sections, as they can last longer than a day. Section Two, Hebden to Hawes is the big section, according to the Spine map, 59 miles, but in terms of distance travelled, my watch said 102 km (63 miles).

For the first 3 hours of the run we were running with our head torches, as it was still dark. The first part of this section comprised lower moors (e.g. Heptonstall Moor), Reservoirs (such as Walshaw Dean and Ponden). Descending into Cowling, I was passed by Jody Manning, a great runner (especially down the hills) and the creator of the Geeky Hiker, a great bit of kit I will mention later.

The next real joy was at Lothersdale, where the Craven Energy Tri Club run an aid station. As well as being massively welcomed by Spine runners, the club raised donations for charity this year for the Penrith Mountain Rescue Team. The last time I checked their fundraising page they had collected over £1300. After leaving Hebden, I had suffered an upset stomach and was finding it hard to eat things, but I still managed a bacon sandwich at the aid station. At the aid station, I bumped into one of my Spine heroes, Gary Chapman. Gary is a good runner, but also a fantastic sharer of helpful and inspirational information and a driving force behind the Tri Club’s twice-a-year support of the Spine runners.

After Lothersdale the Pennine Way gets fairly tame for quite a long way. The Pennine hills are bisected by the River Aire and the ‘Aire Gap’. The gap was created by geological faults, glaciers and the river Aire. To the south are the milstone grit moors (such as Kinder Scout), to the North are the limestone uplands in Yorkshire, but in the gap it is mostly farmers’ fields and gentle hills. Our main challenge at this point (and for the rest of the race) was the water freezing in our water bottles and bladders. Runners carry water in one (or both) of two ways. We can have bottles in pockets on our bags or in a bladder insight the bag with a drinking tube running from bag to mouth. With the bladders, it is the tubes that freeze, with the bottles it is first the nozzle at the top and then the contents. The temperatures we were running in were always negative, and sometimes lower than minus ten (before taking windchill into account).

The next memorable stop was Gargrave, which is a monitoring point for the race and has a Co-op supermarket that is much beloved of Spine runners, public toilets, and a pharmacy. We got there in the late afternoon, so it was still daylight. Given the Co-op was open, it is a pity that I did not check my supply of batteries as I could have bought a few more triple-A batteries and avoided some worries later.

Not long after Gargrave it was time to put on our head torches, and keep following the River Aire upstream to Malham. For the race, I had two identical Petzl torches. For each toch I had a rechargeable Petzl batterie and the torch can also hold three triple-A batteries. The MINIMUM kit list says one toch and two sets of batteries, or two torches with one set of batteries each. I had not thought through the fact that at the speed I was running I was going to be out for 3 hours of Sunday night and 16 hours of Monday night. I had two torches with a battery each, and one set of three triple-A batteries. Not only that, but in cold temperatures, the batteries do not last as long.

At Malham, we met two of the Spine Safety Team who were checking runners were OK before climbing Malham Cove and heading to an intermediate checkpoint at Malham Tarn. Malham Cove is a wonderful limestone amphitheatre carved by a waterfall, and it offers the Spine participants 400 stone steps to get up from the valley floor to the tricky limestone pavement above, leading to rocky a defile leading to the start of Malham Tarn.

At the intermediate checkpoint (i.e. no drop bag or food) at Malham tarn, we were allowed 30 minutes in a warm room with access to hot drinks and hot water. Several of the runners made hot meals for themselves by adding hot water to freeze dried meals the had brought with them. I chose the snooze option as I was already feeling sleep-deprived. Saturday night had not been a great night, Sunday night was probably one hour of sleep. At this point I want to mention the volunteers. As with all ultra-races, the magic ingredient that makes them so good is the volunteers. For the Spine Race there people operating the checkpoints, there is the Safety Team (mountain experts), there are the medics, and there are people operating the logistics. Without these volunteers, there would be no races, and their moral support is massive.

From Malham Tarn the next point of note is Horton-in-Ribblesdale, but to get there requires climbing Fountains Fell, then descending it, then climbing Pen-y-ghent and descending it. Leaving Malham Tarn my battery finished. This raised the question of whether my remaining half-used battery, and my one set if Triple-As would be enough for me to keep moving until daylight reappeared. I was running with Rosemary at this point and she kindly led the way with her light on normal and my light on dim for most of the way. This meant my light lasted until daybreak and I was able to recharge and re-stock on batteries at the checkpoint at Hawes.

The two big hills were uneventful, but breathtakingly attractive. On reaching Horton we met another support team, collected some more water, and had 20 -minutes snooze in the toilets. By now, I was seeing hallucinations, but not terribly badly. After Horton comes the Cam High Road, an old Roman Road. Many people seem to hate this stretch, perhaps because it occurs so late in the day. It is long (about 10 km), it is mostly uphill, and the wind usually seems to be in your face. But, it is not tricky to navigate, and the surface is normally good. This time it was very icy and I should (with 20:20 hindsight have put my YakTrax on.) YakTrax are metal coils, held by rubber that can be fitted to the bottom of your running shoes. They make walking and running on ice relatively easy instead of almost impossible.

On the Cam High Road, I spotted a couple of other additional interconnected problems. Some of the pairs of gloves I had brought with me were too small and I was not eating enough. During the race my hands swelled (not unusual when running) and under my gloves I had thin, fingerless mitts. This meant it was a lot of fuss to get my gloves on and off and that is probably why I was not eating enough. Normally, I eat something every hour, but on this race, I was eating less often. After leaving Horton Rosemary and I had a chat about what happens if one of us needed to go slower and agreed that we would definitely split up at that point, for the benefit of both the faster and slower mover.

Eventually, the Cam High Road came to an end and daylight started to break and soon we were descending into Hawes, reaching Checkpoint 2 in 28.3 hours, getting there just after 9am Tuesday morning. At the checkpoint, it was charge the electrics, eat and then sleep in a dorm. We wanted to get some daylight, so we chose a three-hour sleep. Before leaving Hawes, I checked my feet. Both my little toes were bruised from previous races and the Spine race had bruised them further, so I taped them up and put some tape on a couple of warm spots. On the ball of my left foot, I suspected I had a hot spot (a precursor to a blister). I can’t see/reach the bottom of my feet (perhaps I should take up yoga) so I asked the medics for assistance. I cut a piece of moleskin and KT tape and they stuck it on for me. They also commented that my feet were in better condition than most of the other feet they had seen at the 108-mile point (174 km) – which was reassuring.

Section 3 Hawes to Langdon Bec

With Rosemary
With Rosemary, on Shunner Fell, just before the blizzard hit us.

I left Hawes with Rosemary at 3:30pm, having spent just over 6 hours at the checkpoint. This meant we would have nearly an hour of daylight before needing to put on head torches. From Hawes we travelled though streets and field to get to Hardraw and then start to climb up Great Shunner Fell. This is where the weather changed. The wind came up, first strong, then very strong. The snow started, then the blizzard started. Navigation became really tricky, we could not see the route, and the footsteps of runners ahead of us were erased within minutes by the drifting snow. This section gave me two problems. The first problem was that I was wearing a new pair of gloves and they proved to not be as waterproof as promised, my hands were soon cold and wet. The second was that I struggled with repeatedly having to lift my foot out of the snow to make each step – occasionally stumbling into drifts. I have to shout out a big thank you to Rosemary for leading on this section, and for helping me change gloves at the top of the fell. At the top of the fell we met other runners and travelled down the other side as a bigger group.

With hindsight, I can see that whilst I am very fit in terms of running and hiking, I am not as fit in other areas, and the walking through the falling, deep snow had tired me disproportionately. I need to take up something like crossfit to round out my fitness better.

On reaching the flatter section, with 20:20 hindsight, I should have put on my YakTrax, which would have enabled me to keep up with the group over the next stretch. When we reached one of my least favourite sections, the broken rocks on Kisdon (before Keld) I struggled to keep up with the group and made the decision to fall back and to stop for a proper rest in Keld.

I met lots of amazing people and saw many acts of kindness on my journey and one of them was at Keld. Keld is a tiny village and it had opened its community centre to the Spine runners. The community centre provided a room, a burning fire (which they periodically came and topped up), some food and drink and an honesty box. I put some damp things on the fire guard, pulled out my sleeping bag and had a couple of hours of sleep and rest.

Leaving Keld, I turned on my head torch and finally had the sense to put my YakTrax on. I am so glad I put them on, as the ice coming up was treacherous. From Keld to the next checkpoint and Langdon Bec was still 29 miles, so there was lots to do. The next point of note is the Tan Hill Inn (the highest Inn in England). The Tan Hill Inn provides its side barn (where they often hold music event) to the Spine race, which gives us a the chance to get a hot drink and replenish our water. I spent about 15 minutes here, since it was not that long since my last good break.

The next challenge was easier than expected, the crossing of Sleightholme Moor. Normally this moor is a mass of bogs, with every foot sinking in and letting in water. But this time it was frozen solid and since no more snow had fallen in the last few hours, the route was easy to find. Emerging from the moor, I met and passed Jody Manning. One of the features of the race is that different people do better and worse at different times, so sometimes Jody was ahead of me and sometimes behind me.

Somewhere around Gods Bridge (a natural bridge caused by a river burrowing under rocks) just South of the A66 it became light again and I took off my head set with a good chance of not needing it again until after the next checkpoint.

Discovered by the amaxzing Spine Media team as ate and apple and piece of Christmas Cake

Another amazing experience happened near Cotherstopne Moor. I met a wonderful family who had opened their barn to us. I stopped, had a coffee, apple and a piece of Christmas cake (which was a wonderful treat). I then asked if I could sit there a bit longer to rest and they invited me into a room attached to the building, it had a warm fire and comfortable chair and I had a good nap. Evidently, some other runners had spent part of the night in the barn, and were now warming up in the house. These were wonderful people.

Me and Suzzane
With the amazing Suzanne at Langdon Bec.

After my rest, it was a solid session to the Langdon Bec checkpoint. I arrived at just after 4pm, i.e. before it was dark. One of the volunteers at Langdon Bec was the amazing Suzanne who is a great runner in her own right and massive supporter of events through her volunteering. Suzanne was also able to pass on messages from my clubmates and send them photos. At the checkpoint, I had something to eat, a sleep, sorted my kit, another meal and left at 10:15pm, prepared for a long night.

My Final Section
One more amazing story of human kindness coming up. As I was getting ready to leave the checkpoint, I spotted my YakTrax were coming apart. I set about patching them with cable ties. But the odds of them coping with the next icy section were not great. One of the volunteers spotted my problem (I think his name is Andy?) and offered a pair of his YakTrax. I offered to pay him for them later, but he refused. Obviously, if I can’t find out who my benefactor is, I will repay him by paying it forward. But what a wonderful gesture.

Because of the snow and ice, there was a route diversion from Langdon Bec, instead of going up the River Tees to Cauldron Snout, we headed along a longer but safer (and actually easier) route. I walked most of the diversion with Jody and learned a lot more about the Geeky Hiker bag she has invented. One of the real equipment pluses from this trip was Geeky Hiker. The bag is waterproof and sits on my chest so I can put in my essential, must grab items, especially food.

At the end of the diversion, we got back on the regular Pennine Way and Jody pulled away from me up the hill to High Cup Nick. Over the next 15 km my race came to an end. During the climb up to High Cup Nick and then on the descent, I was aware that my decision-making was getting worse and worse, particularly in the area of navigation, and progress was getting harder and harder. The descent from High Cup Nick into Dufton was very, very icy and if I had not had the replacement YakTrax I would have been in serious trouble. As I slowly made my way to the mini-checkpoint in Dufton, I reviewed my situation. I am sure there is a technical description, but basically, I had run out of energy. It turns out I had lost three kilos (nearly 6.5 pounds) in three days and not only was it making me slower (which is not a problem), but it was impacting my ability to look after myself properly. If the next session had been an easy stretch, I would have given it a try. However, the next stretch was a series of three fells: Knock Fell, Great Dun Fell, and finally, Cross Fell (the highest point of the whole race). If I had pushed on, there would have been an inappropriate risk that I would have to have called for help.

At the checkpoint, I spoke to the checkpoint team and to three other runners, including Grant and Danielle. They made some good suggestions. I could have a meal at the checkpoint and stay there for 30 minutes. Or have a meal and going with the other three runners who were going to sleep in a nearby bus shelter for an hour or two. But having given it some good thinking, I was aware that I would not recover quickly enough to be appropriately safe on the next step.

I made the call to retire, told the checkpoint team, messaged my friend’s daughter who had offered to drive me when finished, messaged my family, and posted it on Facebook. I had run 169 miles (272 km), with a heavy pack, in very hard conditions.

After the Race
I was in Dufton in the North of England, my drop bag was on its way to Alston, and my lift was just about to leave Durham. I rolled out my mattress on the floor and got into my sleeping bag, and had a few hours of sleep. When Rosie arrived, she drove me to Alston and we got there before my drop bag, so we popped out to get some breakfast and returned when my bag arrived.

Once my bag arrived, Rosie drove me back to Nottingham, and I resumed messaging and talking to people.

Success or Failure?
I set out to run 268 miles in less than 7 days. In the end, I ran 169 miles, carrying a heavy pack, through negative temperatures, a blizzard and strong winds. That is my longest run ever in those sorts of conditions. I am disappointed not to have finished but very happy with the effort I put it, happy with what I did achieve, and happy with the decision I made to retire at that point. If you keep pushing your boundaries, you will DNF (did not finish) sometimes. If I always meet my goals, then perhaps I am probably not being adventurous enough.

Will I try again? This is a question I have been asked several times already. The answer is probably not, but I can’t be sure. I have run the Summer Challenger, the Summer Spine, and the Winter Sprint. The reason I do trail running is that I love the outdoors, and the Summer Spine is a great example of an outdoors run, but the Winter Spine is mostly about running in the dark. For me, the main attraction of the Winter Spine is that it is so hard, but there are plenty of things that are hard, and some are more scenic ???? However, I may come back to do the Winter Northern Challenge, to get the full set, or might even try the full Spine again (I have learned things this time that would give me a better chance next time.)

I do not think of myself as an ultrarunner. I think of myself as a runner. I regularly take part in road races, cross-country races, and fell races. But, my favourite runs are social trail runs. I run ultras in the mix because I can and I like them – and I want to keep running a wide rane of events, rather than focusing on just one type of event.

What About Age?
As some of you will know, I am 67 years old, and that impacts some things but not others. For any runner, the future is unknowable; you could develop an injury or illness next year, which means your ultrarunning days are over. But, as you get older, the odds get worse. I might still be running ultras in 20 years, but at 87, I would have to be quite lucky to avoid the various pitfalls. This means I have to think about what races and experiences to prioritise, which means I tend not to run the same race more than once.

I know there are a few things that being older does not help with, my balance does not seem as sharp as 20 years ago, my maximum heart rate is now about 160 beats a minute, and I think my untapped energy reserves and the speed I can rebuild them are probably less good than when I was 50. Beyond that, and in my case, I think age makes little difference. I probably need to train a bit harder to get the same result, but that is not a problem. This year, I went back to working five days a week (after two years of working three days a week), and that has negatively impacted my training. For example, in 2021 and 2022, I ran about 4500 km, and in 2023, I ran about 3500 km). I need to find better ways of compensating for the interruptions work causes.

Thank you for the messages
I received masses of messages on Facebook, through messenger and LinkedIn. I also received 58 messages through the tracking app. These messages are a real boost for any runner – we get to see them at the checkpoints.

Any bits of wisdom to share?
In terms of running, I do a lot of running – most of my running is on my own, so I get plenty of thinking time. Here are five thoughts:

  • I believe life should contain adventures; they can be big (like the Spine race) or small (running with friends in the woods), but they should be there – life is not all about work, duty, or trying to win.
  • My thing is not necessarily your thing, but I think you’d be happier if you definitely have a ‘thing’. When I meet people who have a passion about running, petanque, carving, painting, etc they tend to be interesting, happier people that those that don’t have a ‘thing’.
  • Being in a group helps. My first participation in an organised run was in 1981, the Robin Hood Marathon. I ran regularly, but on my own until I was about 58 years old and started running with a group when in Tokyo. I was working in Japan for a few months and thought it would be a way to find out more about Japan. It did help with Japan, but it helped me as a person even more. On my return to the UK I joined a local club the Redhill Road Runners and that has transformed my running experience to a much better level.
  • Focus on what you have done, not what you did not do? Today I bumped into a friend who asked me how far from the end was I when I retired from the race. I joked with him that the first question should have been how far did you run? (169 miles, by the way). For me, the most significant thing is that I ran that far, in those conditions. Not completing the whole distance matters, but it is not the big thing.
  • Most people are kind, and many are amazing. The obnoxious people tend to make a disproportionate amount of noise, so they can seem to be the majority. But an event like the Spine (and like the London marathon, and the Oxfam charity walks, and big cycle rides) gives people a chance to show their kindness, and you realise that nice people are actually in the majority, and we should not give so much attention to negative people.

14 replies on “The Winter Spine Race – 2024”

Amazing Ray, i followed you on the tracker each day and was a bit worried youhad slipped or something when i saw that you had retired – but what an incredible achievement and a massive adventure! Congrats!!!

What an amazing description of your experiences. Very well done.
Our friend, Wilfred Bell, complete the Spine North yesterday ( the last competitor to complete the course). He’s 2 years older than you and – as you say – is well aware of the challenges of increasing age. But he loves, loves, the challenge. Congratulations to you and to Wilf and all competitors.

Great to have met you Ray (I am the Ian you mention). You’re as fast with your race reports as you were on the course. It was me who assisted with nav on the strange wooden road (but most of the rest of the nav on that section was you – thanks). You may not be aware but you provide inspiration to many. As soon as I’ve finished typing this I’m going to join my local trail running club as per your advice.

What a great read, Ray! Thanks for sharing. I must admit I was quite sad when I saw you had DNF, but as I read this I am absolutely sure that you made the right decision.
I love your quote: ” If I always meet my goals, then perhaps I am probably not being adventurous enough”. Will keep this in mind for the future. Have a good recovery. Hope to see you soon on the trails.

Such a great read. What gear did you use? What brand /model Jacket, shoes, trousers did you use? And other gear. No joke.

Thankyou for writing this Ray, it was a very interesting read which I read out loud to my husband. What a fabulous achievement. We are both nearing 60 and would love to have a crack at it, having dot watched for many years and recently hiked/jogged the whole of the Pennine way between us on alternate days.
In awe of your achievement, it is such a brutally tough challenge.

Hi Ray
I read your record of your participation in the Spine Race and thought it was grand. Hope you will still be able to do this in 20 years time. As for me, I’ll not attempt it, though we have walked some sections of the Pennine Way and do love this countryside. The most I manage nowadays is through Woodthorpe Park to Sherwood and back. But then, as of yesterday, I am 79 now!
Best wishes, Margaret Swift

Amazing journey, amazing read. Very typical of you and yoir amazing approach to life, Ray.

Your passion for life and your drive to live it fully, is nothing short of beautiful. You are a true gent, a caring and considerate, focused and driven, but most importantly, you do it all with a smile.

Ray, when I met you on Ranger Ultras S&N I liked your attitude to the Spine and really hoped that you’d make it to the end. That you didn’t, does not matter. You made a stonking show of it, in none too easy conditions and your words above reflect a similar passion that I have to running or perhaps just doing! Well done Ray. See you at the summer spine??!!

What a journey !

169 miles is an incredible success.

And understanding and accepting your limits is also a great accomplishment.

From a fan who admires your way of seeing life,

I am not sure that I would agree that any adventure is about finishing. One of the most inspiring people I met on this year’s race was Jody Manning (the inventor of the Geeky Hiker bag). This was her 4th Winter Spine and she had put everything she had learned from her three previous efforts, plus loads of other events that she had finsihed to ensure that she did it this time. I chatted to her at some of the checkpoints and ran with her for a couple of hours one night.

That being said, if somebody keeps DNFing across several events, I think it would be a good idea for them to seek out some events they could definitely finish – to get on a more even keel.

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