Spine Race 2024 - Interviews

Spine Race 2024 - Interviews

The Spine Race 2024 is now over after an epic week of running at Britain's most brutal race.

It turned out to be a record breaking year with records being smashed in some freezing conditions.

It was a great week for the SCARPA team with Dougie Zinis finishing 4th in the full Spine, Tom Hollins finishing 2nd in the Challenger, Jon Shield finishing 7th and Carmine de Grandis running a brilliant race to make it across the line in an excellent time.

Post race we caught up with SCARPA athletes Dougie, Carmine, Tom and Jon to hear about their experiences on the Pennine Way.

Dougie Zinis

My plan was to play the long game this year but to still beat my PR. I knew there would be a massive group in front of me but I also knew 70% would drop out before Bellingham as that's when the fun starts.

It was a fast race as the ground was hard but this didn't make things easy as it took massive concentration to not roll a ankle and the packed ice after Hawes was deadly, I took quite a few heavy falls but luck was on my side on this occasion with just feeling batted and bruised.

The lows were the Sleep monsters on cross fell where I also fell ironically. I also hate Hadrian's Wall. But the sunset on the Cheviots was worth the race alone 🤩.

Getting to touch the wall at the end was an amazing feeling and to have took over 9hrs off my PB is amazing especially as I think I could have done a little better too, I'll be back as I love the race, its not just about pure speed as it will eat you up and spit you out.

During the summer I will be reccing a route in Wales I have put together. I will get onto a couple of 100mile races too but will make sure I don't over train for the Spine next year as it worked for me this year.

Spin Infinity ♾️ for 160miles which suited the hard packed trails and slabs.
Spin STs which I put on when the snow started to fall and the temp went up for 10 hours before going sub zero again 🙃


Carmine de Grandis

I went into this race healthy and motivated, but under-trained, especially in terms of reccies on the route. I did not know what to expect other than through the reading I had done and the people I had spoken to. It turned out to be very very cold. So the ground was very hard and frozen which made for very challenging conditions.

While I preferred the extreme cold to rain, I found that I had to adapt my pace to moderate sooner than I wanted. The icy stretches made for very slow moving on several sections. However, I loved the extreme and brutal weather as this was a race where I wanted to test my resilience.

It was great to see the leaders of the Winter Spiner Race coming past between Tan Hill and Langden Beck YHA. The Monday and some of the bright days it was possible to move quickly. The bogs were mostly frozen over.

However, miles and miles of ice contributed to the pace of those who were further back to be slower. The runners at the front are incredible. I am especially proud of my team mates Tom Hollins (2nd at Challenger North), Dougie Zinis (4th Full Spine) and Jon Shield (Top 10 at Challenger North). I was pleased with achieving my A goal which was to reach the finish line and experience the highs and lows this race offers.

Highs: Being at the start line with some of incredible people. Mastering a crossing of Cross Fell in extreme blizzard conditions. Teaming up for the section between Alston and Bellingham with some amazing athletes (Oliver and Andrew). The beauty of sunrises, sunsets and starry nights in the cold and wild of the Moors, Crossing the frozen Cheviots landscape, being encouraged by my wife and a friend at Alston - when I wanted to quit - and by Simon Roberts and Robyn Cassidy, reaching the finish line with two friends from Norfolk, playing my accordion as I crossed the finish line in Scotland.

Lows: Being totally depleted physically and mentally as I reached Alston and Greenhead - the two times I was ready to quit. Achilles tendinitis which started only about 24 hours into the race and I had to manage throughout. Dealing with accepting that I was on this race to complete it as a personal journey more than a competitive event. Once I accepted that, I was away and loved it. Suffering lots on the Alston moors during a very cold and challenging navigation night.

Physically it was hard. The last two sections had been very challenging in terms of how cold they were and ground conditions. The last mile on the hilly road felt longer and harder than the full race (mentally!). However, I am still processing the emotions which flooded in as I saw the wall of the Hotel at Kirk Yetholm. My friend Neil brought my accordion and the organisers allowed me to finish with it as part of my #carmineaccordionrounds in aid of Climbers Against Cancer. It took me a full year to go from a bitter DNF to an amazing feeling of success. I had to dig so deep and look at parts of me which became visible only through the suffering and I am so grateful for this journey - very much a spiritual journey for me -.

I have a few races in mind and a huge personal challenge involving my accordion and a few mountains in the UK and abroad. At the moment I am recovering. The Achilles seem that will heal - though I am not sure how long they will take -. Races I would definitely like to do are Fellsman, GL3D, UK Skyraces, National Three Peaks with my accordion and a couple of races (Monte Rosa ascent and Limonextrem)... However, at the moment my focus is about training smart and preparing for being competitive within my age category at the races I will take part in.

I have decided that I will have a one year break before considering attempting the Full Spine race. This race asks for total commitment and I feel that the last two years I gave a lot of my time and energy to it. However, I would like to be a volunteer on the Winter Races in 2025 as the "Spine Family" isn't just a saying!

Tom Hollins

The spine was pretty amazing this year. Most years it is boggy, windy and rainy. The years when it has snowed you can end up wading through deep stuff. To have so much ice and snow that didn't come above ankle height made it very atmospheric - and also made for some very fast times! The cold crisp days also made for some beautiful views. The start up Great Shunner was amazing. Sadly I did Cross Fell and the Cheviots in the dark but the sunrise on the last morning was super special.

I was happy with my race and with the result overall. Having won the spine and the Challenger South previously I was absolutely in it to win it, while being mindful that it has been a few years since I did the race and the standard of competition is rising every year. I paced myself nicely at the start and then moved gradually forward, moving into second and within an hour of first. At that point I thought I had it in the bag as I had plenty in the tank and started to increase my pace. At the next few checkpoints I kept being told that Joe O'Leary had done the same, but better than me, and was pulling away. It was a really impressive run from him. From Bellingham onwards I decided to reign it back in as I wasn't going to catch Joe and 3rd was some distance back, saving my legs for future plans and relaxing to enjoy the experience.

Slowing down did save the legs but perhaps wasn't the best strategy in terms of time out. I had planned for a quick nap at Byrness but the checkpoint was pretty vibrant so I decided to go on to the finish without sleep. The extra hours meant I found myself on the cheviots going round in circles. I sat down to clear my head and then woke myself up snoring. It must have been less than 5 minutes as I didn't feel cold and that was enough to refresh me. However, I had fallen asleep by the side of the trail in temp minus 14C without a sleeping bag or bivvy bag on. Fortunately I had put my down jacket on so I was saved from what could have been a disastrous outcome. Winter on the hills is not to be taken lightly and looking back I should have ensured that I slept at Byrness or Hut1 on the cheviots.

A shout out has to go to the Spine family for looking after us all during the event. It's such a humbling and amazing experience to have all those volunteers around you willing you on, and whatever you need they are absolutely on it to help. I've missed them and it was good to be back. It's also been a while since I've kissed that wall at Kirk Yetholm and it was a fantastic sensation to be there again. Until it was pointed out to me that I had now podiumed at 3 of the 4 spine races and I would have to come back to do the Spine Sprint next year. That is not my distance at all - but hey ho I can't disappoint the spine family, so I've got to try!

Post race I have never had such a quick recovery. 1 week later and I feel ready to race again. Partly this is because I worked within my limits, but It's also a brilliant testament to the strength training I have been doing with Mags Dempsey. I was back in the gym again this morning. She is a hard task master!

The plan now is to build for a personal project in May. I turned 50 last August and am hoping to attempt 5 rounds (back to back) at 50 this year. This is a something I started planning just before covid hit and it has been a long time coming. Despite getting older I feel well placed to give it a go, although the enormity of it is huge. Still we have to keep pushing our boundaries. That after all is what we are here for.

Jon Shield

My race went better than I could have expected having nursed an achilles injury up to the event and it still wasn’t right by the time the race started so I’d done very little running since the Desert in November.

I had a goal to get around which I didn’t think was possible so being able to get around was a big positive for me being the longest distance I’d covered in my running career to date. It also allowed me to gain knowledge of the whole Spine Race route for future attempts when I’m feeling a lot fitter and healthier.

Having ran only on boggy, soft terrain with the injury I had the hard frozen ground didn’t really help with the greater impact forces. It did feel fast but lack of conditioning definitely beat me up more. Avoiding all the slabs coated in ice was also a challenge. Whether it made it faster or not I’m not sure, I just think the runners winning brought their A games so congratulations to them! 
I didn’t really enjoy the first part of the race in the daylight. I didn’t feel fit and then at about 35 miles was getting sharp pains in my Achilles which I thought would end my race at checkpoint 1 so mentally this was a big low and I had to go into damage limitation mode. However leaving checkpoint 1 mentally something clicked and I started to enjoy my race taking pressure off myself and tackling Cross Fell at night was awesome. 
Reaching the wall at Kirk Yetholm was a relief. It wasn’t the result I wanted but it’s part of the process. Learn the route, learn the trade, learn what needs to be done to get around and then from there build for a proper race effort. 
I plan to run both versions of the Spine race this year if possible after UTS100M if recovered along with Wales Ultra Trail 100M. Beyond that we will see! The main focus currently is to become pain free and get back training well and build fitness.