The Spine Race 2022 – Preview

The start of 20222 feels very like the start of 2021 in our Covid world. There is one significant difference in my little corner of the world though. This year the winter edition of the Spine Race is going ahead, having had to be postponed last year. I have the funny mixture of excitement and trepidation heading for this one.

As ever, the Spine seems to be attracting inclement weather. After the mildest new year’s day on record in the UK, temperatures have plunged, and it is currently snowing in the start village of Edale as I write this. So this has the look of being a proper winter Spine race that should live up to its justified reputation of being the most Brutal race in the UK, and probably one of the tougher ones in the world. Luckily my sponsors Columbia ensure that I have the best gear to cope with the conditions (One of my little secrets is that I’m a blue skies and sunshine person… without the great gear I’d really suffer in the Spine)

Heading Away from Greg’s Hut

As usual, the course generally follows the length of the Pennine away, from Edale in the Peak district of England up to Kirk Yetholm over the Scottish border, covering over 400km of non-stop racing. There are a few minor diversions in place this year, along with 2 major ones due to extensive damage to forestry caused by this winter’s Storm Arwen. One of the diversion necessities a bus transfer between CP 5 in Bellingham and the start of the Cheviot Hills. So overall the course is slightly shorter than usual.

The Spine Race Route

The field entered this year looks like it is the strongest ever, although it’s hard to nail down exactly who is entered given a long series of changes thanks to Covid and the various restrictions imposed as a result.

In the Female race, it looks like Clare Bannworth, the recent winner of the 360 Challenge in La Gomera, has not been able to make it to the race due to French travel restrictions. However, the two fastest female Pennine way runners are very much still on the list. These are Sabrina Verjee and Anna Troup. Both of those are well capable of winning, and I couldn’t hazard a guess which one is likely to win. Both have held the summer Spine record and think both have held the overall Pennine Way record. They are both well able for winter conditions as well. GB international 24 hour runner Debbie Martin-Consani is another obvious top-class runner in the field.

The Male field also brings a collection of record holders and past winners. For me, the stand-out favourite is Damian Hall. I rank him as the top UK ultrarunner, given his range of results in competitive international races, along with a great collection of FKTs, including the record for running the Pennine Way. The last time Damian raced the Spine I actually managed to get the edge over him, but he is considerably faster now (and I’m older and slower!).

The nest two names that stand out are Kim Collison and Douglas Zinas. They have both proven their speed at shorter distances, including wins at the Cheviot Goat and the Lakes in a Day for Kim, and a Spine Challenger win for Douggie. I think this will be new distance territory for both of them, but I expect them to do well.

Eugeni is also returning, having received a late entry, fresh from his speedy run around the La Gomera 360. He was a lot faster than me there and overtook me several times (Of course the fact that he overtook me several times also indicates the vagaries of multi-day ultrarunning). There are many other familiar past competitors entered, including Tom Hollins, a previous winner of the race, and Simon Gfeller who is always close to the front of the field I would not be at all surprised if all of those runners make it to Kirk Yetholm before I do.

There are one or two other Irish runners entered as well this year. I can see Noel O’Leary’s name on the list. If that is my old adventure racing pal then he should be well up the field. The winter conditions in the Spine will suit him nicely, and he doesn’t lack speed endurance. Liam Vines is also entered for the first time. Another man who should see the Spine as T-shirt weather! I’d also expect to see Liam finish well.

No doubt there are people entered who will be competitive that I am not familiar with, or possibly who are notion any of the multiple contradictory lists of race rosters.

My own form coming into the race is only so-so. I had a great year overall last year, the highlight of which was my record win in the Summer Spine. I’m trying not to think about the Summer Spine conditions at the moment! But I had slowed by the end of the year and had to take a break after my outing in the La Gomera 360 Challenge. So I’ve recently returned to fullish training. I’m also noting that I seem to be running slower times for my standard effort levels in training. The ageing process seems to be having its inevitable effect.

However, it is the Spine race, and anything can happen! I’ll be heading out to be as competitive as my form and fitness allows, and to enjoy being immersed in the race. I’d be following avidly anyway, so I might as well be there! It’s always interesting. The Spine also has a great atmosphere. I’ll be looking forward to renewing old acquaintances amongst racers, staff, helpers and followers!

As usual, the best thing about the Spine is the great live tracking which can be followed at https://live.opentracking.co.uk/spinerace22/. Hopefully Richard will get some time to provide a bit of commentary on my Facebook page. The race usually posts some daily race videos which give a good flavour of reality on the ground.

So now the first big journey of 2022 begins….

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6 Responses to The Spine Race 2022 – Preview

  1. Dan Doherty says:

    Good luck bud!

  2. Sharon Dyson says:

    Looking forward to following your progress Eoin – there will be a warm welcome at Bellingham for you and we will reserve you a seat on the bus!!

  3. bgebruers says:

    All the best Eoin! Stay safe and have a great race.

  4. John says:

    All the very best Eoin. Hope you have another fabulous race.

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