Pain. Suffering. Again! But once more the toughest running race in the UK has enticed me back. Oddly enough, it is the difficulty of this race that is the big draw. This race is always going to be a challenge, no matter who you are and what your experience is. January in the hills and dales of the Spine of Britain is pretty much guaranteed to be a test of will, toughness, and sense of humour.
This will be my fourth time attempting the Spine, so I’ll try not repeat myself too much here. So yeah… 400+km, 4 days or so, horrible weather, not much sleep. My previous race reports and previews fill in the gaps. This year’s race is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. this Sunday, January 14th. Live tracking, as usual will be available here.
Every race is a learning experience, so in theory I should be better prepared than ever for this edition simply from the experience of previous races. Having said that, I’m not sure that it was a ground-breaking learning experience from last year to discover that breaking a rib when falling off a wall is not a good idea from a competitive point of view. I’ll try not to do that again.
So what’s different this year?
Well, I’m a year older, and moving into a new age group category in a few races. Not this one though. Preparation has been mixed. Training has gone well, and I’ve been trying to address some weak points I identified last year. Breaking my arm in a cycling incident in November didn’t really help, but hasn’t been too much of a hinderance (more time spent on a turbo trainer than I had planned as a result, but it is still useful).
From an overall race perspective there are few notable differences this year. The first is that the race is now entirely unsupported, with no-body allowed their own support crew. I’m all in favour of that, as there was a danger of a support crew arms race breaking out, which would have made the race a very expensive proposition indeed.
The big change from my point of view though is that there has been yet another increase in the standard of competitiveness at the top end of the field. There are quite a few athletes entered with the potential to compete to win.
We have the usual collection of previous winners… Eugene, Pavel, Myself and Tom Hollins (defending champion from last year). I’ve written about Pavel and Eugene in my previous previews. That all still stands, with the addition of another year’s experience. Tom won last year with a very interesting pacing tactic, coming through strongly late in the race to win. It will be interesting to see how he paces himself and times his sleeping strategy for the new unsupported format (He used his support van very effectively last year).
I can see two other very interesting runners of note entered. The first is Oliviero Bosatelli. He is an Italian runner with an incredible racing record. He is a previous winner of the Tor De Geants, and has the second fastest ever time for the event. That pretty much puts him in the superstar category for multi-day trail ultrarunners. The TDG is over 330km long, and has a cumulative climb of over 24,000 meters. On paper, that is tougher than the Spine. The only weakness I can see here is that I can’t see any results of his for races in Spine type climate conditions. If he can master the Spine’s unique challenges then he has the speed and endurance to win the race and annihilate my current (relatively ploddy) record.
The other notable newbie is Jim Mann. He also comes with a deserved stellar reputation. Probably his most widely known result is his win in the Dragons Back, a multi-day staged race down the length of Wales. He also completed the big 3 “rounds” in britain in a month last year in winter. So he is another runner with tremendous ultra-speed. His 3 winter rounds would seem to indicate that he should have no problems with the Spine’s challenges. The only crack in the armour I can see with Jim is that I can’t find any results for non-stop multi-day ultras.
There are a few other runners bubbling just below as well, but that’s 6 mentioned so far which is tons! So, all of this makes this year’s race very hard to call. And that’s before allowing for other potential disruptions such as injuries and weather disruptions. With all that talent lined up this year I honestly don’t expect to win the race. I definitely don’t expect to be in the lead arriving into the first few CPs (Aid stations / checkpoints). But I’ll be out there to compete and get the best result I can.
I also expect to see my course record fall this year. There are a few course alterations to avoid eroded section of the course which will have an overall affect of making the race a little faster. Even without this, I would expect that the comptition amongst the depth of the talent in the field would ensure it’s fall in any case. Whoever wins this year will have to race very well indeed.
Carol Morgan is back to defend her title in the Female category. Given how comprehensively she won last year and smashed the race record she looks like the red-hot favourite to win again.
The Other Race
I’ll be keeping an eye on the “fun run” this year… the challenger race (Possibly the hardest 100 mile race in the UK, but gets called the short race as it co-exists with the Spine). My big interest is seeing my friends Zoran Skrba and Richard Nunan competing. They’re both solid experienced runners, well used to running about in murky local conditions in the Wicklow mountains. I’ve no doubt I’ll get a few words of encouragement from them when they’re looking on from their finish line as I shuffle past.
Richard is my adventure racing team-mate. We’ve accumulates a good number of great results together, most recently as part of Team Columbia Ireland. Richard was also one of my core support crew for my Mizen to Malin run breaking the record for running the length of Ireland. Anyone who’s seen the video footage from that will know that Richard has a sense of humour that should get him through anything the challenger throws at him!
Gear Gear Gear
This year I’ll mostly be using gear and equipment that has been tried and tested in previous events. Thanks go out to my fantastic sponsors Columbia and the Great Outdoors, who make this endevour so much easier by equiping me with amazing gear. This race is so often first and so most a survival event, taking on horrific conditions. Having the right gear is particular critical in races like this.