The Spine Races are widely regarded amongst the toughest endurance races in the world – especially the winter version. Five of our SCARPA Athlete Team are taking part in the Spine Races, so we caught up with them to preview the race.
The Spine Races consist of the full Race and shorter Challenger and Sprint races. The main event is a non-stop, 268 mile race along the most iconic and demanding national trail in Britain; the Pennine Way.
Beginning from Edale in Derbyshire, runners have a time limit of 168 hours to reach the elusive village of Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders.
The Spine Challenger North is a 160 mile non-stop race taking part on the Northern half of the course.
Two members of the SCARPA Team are taking on the full spine: Dougie Zinis and Simon Roberts, whilst Jon Shield, Tom Hollins and Carmine de Grandis are battling the Challenger North.
All of our athletes are returning to the Spine this year after taking part in previous years and gaining brilliant results. Simon Roberts won the 2022 Spine Challenger North, Jon Shield set a course record on the 2023 Spine Sprint and Dougie Zinis came 3rd in last year’s full Spine.
Carmine de Grandis unfortunately had to retire from last year’s Spine Race, so is going back this year to finish what he started! After a few years off Tom Hollins (who won in 2017) is returning to the races, this time taking on the Challenger North
We caught up with our athletes before the race to see how they were feeling going into such a big challenge and their aims for the race.
This race seems to draw me in, its a nonstop roller coaster which can strip you down and make you race…I love it.
I like the race as its as much about your mental state/ problem solving and kit choices as much as its about fitness. I need to dig in to make it to the end so I’ll not take anything for granted and ‘try’ keep to my own race.
My PR is 96 hr so I’d love to beat this but my first priorities are get to the end and enjoy the Spine ‘bubble’.
I’ve not gone overboard with the training as I love training any way, but I have tried to make sure my fitness doesn’t peak too early. I’ve also got onto the Pennine way to do some long runs with the Spine pack on and kept up to my S&C 3 times a week.
Which parts am I least looking forward to? Let me think, each time I’ve done the race I’ve not liked a different part so it’s not particularly the course more my state of mind, night 3 is always a struggle with only 50 mins sleep under my belt the sleep demons are in full force, if I can keep a decent pace throughout the night until Bellingham for a sleep I will be happy.
Footwear. It much depends on conditions as the ground is multi surfaced. Feet are a priority so up to Hawes it’s 70%ish slabs/tracks with sloppy fields thrown in so a comfortable shoe with grip, my choice is the Spin Infinity, its a shoe I’ve used on many a ultra distance which is comfortable and has just enough grip to keep a decent ultra pace going.
Later in the race the ground gets boggy in places and higher so you can get snow, I like bigger lugs on my shoes for this so will have a pair of Ribelle Run Kalibra STs in my drop bag, 6mm lugs with a little more toe room for swollen feet and a boa system to make life easy for a hallucinating zombie.
I’ve never set a firm target in this race as it eats up well over 50% of the field but the targets I go for are consistently, move well in the nights, eat well, be honest with your self and have a bloody good time. Hopefully this sees me touching the wall for my 4th podium finish.
I’m extremely excited, feels like a while since I’ve been on an adventure like this. I absolutely love Spine Race. I love the route and all of the main attractions, I love the checkpoints and the volunteers, I’m really happy to be going back.
I’m based in South Wales but I have ventured up North to do some long runs on the Pennine Way.
Its good to get familiar with the route as on the race we could be seeing it at night. We even stopped in at the Tan Hill Inn for a mid run beer and whiskey 😁 I’ve also been practicing with all the kit making sure I’m comfortable with everything.
My aims for the Spine are the same as usual, that Top spot! that’s the goal. Hopefully I will also have some fun along the way.
For most of the route I plan to wear the Spin Infinity, a thoroughbred ultra running shoe that offers great cushion and support. For the more technical stages that require more grip, I will go for the Ribelle Run.
I think I’m looking forward to going over cross fell. Its a great mountain, its the highest point on the course. This is where Gregg hut is located, its a bothy where the racers can get shelter and have the famous chilly noodles cooked by the Spine staff. There is no part that I’m not looking forward to. Each stage has its highlights, there’s always something to look forward to. I’m looking forward to Malham Cove, Pen y Ghent, Tan Hill, High Cup Nick, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots.
It may be called Britain’s Most Brutal Race, and it is hard and you do have quite a few dark moments. For most of it, I am having fun out there, so why not return?
Going into the race I’ve had some illness and injuries which have unfortunately hampered my running consistency first catching a stomach bug travelling to race in Namibia and then having to take it easy for a couple of weeks before then having an Achilles flare up.
I’ve added a lot of cycling in to my training which I always find really suits races like the Spine as leg conditioning and endurance are massive factors.
Also cycling on a bike in a freezing garage doing disgustingly hard sessions on Zwift is good mental training. I’m not familiar with the challenger North route so I’ve only recced certain parts but then that’s part of the adventure and a recce for a full Spine race attempt in the future.
I’ve won the only two races I’ve entered in the Spine, the ‘Sprint’ race last winter and then the ‘Challenger South’ in the summer. However these races have an element of luck in avoiding injury, illness and so on. I’ve had some bad luck in my last race becoming unwell prior to the start so I’m hoping I can turn up and have a strong race I’d be happy with. If the race doesn’t throw up any major issues I’m confident in my training that I have the fitness to get through and be competitive.
I plan to have a few pairs of shoes depending on the weather and in my drop bag. If rain is prominent throughout or snow I’ll be wearing the Ribelle Run GTX to keep my feet dry combined with waterproof trousers. If the terrain and weather is comparatively dry I’ll use the Spin Ultras which has been my go to shoe for a lot of races. I’ll also have the Ribelle Run Kalibra ST shoe as well in case I want to give my feet a change.
I’m looking forward to the whole route. Having followed the race for a few years now hearing the names of places I’ve dot watched whilst following the race, the famous Alston lasagne – I can’t wait to sample this… I’m wondering how many portions I’ll scoff, and Sycamore Gap minus the beautiful tree that should be there along Hadrian’s Wall. I think it will all be quite emotional especially when fatigue kicks in.
The Spine race never appealed to me. The Sprint race took my fancy as it was a relatively short race where you could give a full effort. Then somehow I entered the Challenger South and now I find myself doing the Challenger North. The full Spine race still doesn’t appeal… but will I do it… absolutely, and I’ll no doubt still wonder what the hell I’m doing, but it’s like a drug and the community around the event with the volunteers, the staff and other runners make it a truly unique event.
Carmine de Grandis
I am looking forward to racing the Winter Spine Challenger North race. I can’t wait to start and touch the wall of the Hostel at the end of the Pennine Way.
I am really looking forward to test my fitness and resilience in this expedition style non-stop event which I know is really tough. Having been ill and had to pull out last year, I really want to prove to myself that I can complete this event and build on the success. I am very aware that this will be a hard event as the British winter conditions on the fells are very challenging.
I am also looking forward to meeting old friends and make new ones along the way. After all it is 160 miles and 108 hours so I will have the opportunity of spending a good amount of time in the great outdoors which is what makes me happy.
To prepare for this race I have focused on building overall fitness and health. I have also worked on my mental strength as I really struggle to accept my DNF last year. I took part in other races and over the last few months I have used more the kit that I will use for the race.
I have not managed to spend much time on the Pennine Way, but I have done this on purpose as I really like to experience this challenge with fresh eyes. Taking part in the Dragon’s Back race in September carrying a heavy pack – you may have heard about my accordion challenge! – gave me confidence that I will have a good chance to complete the Spine Challenger North. I have also been supported by my Team mates in the Scarpa Trail team, many of whom have completed the Spine races and have great knowledge and experience as top athletes or coaches/physios.
My aim is to enjoy every step, try my best, keep smiling, support others along the way, accept help with gratitude and reach the finish line within the cut off time… anything else will be a bonus.
I am looking forward to reaching Greg’s Hut and meet the legendary John Bamber. I am also looking forward to covering the Cheviots section.
I felt that I had unfinished business! So I am starting with the Challenger North. At the moment, I do not think I will enter the full Spine in the future… but I think you will need to ask me the question again after I finish the race this year.
Having had a few years off from the spine races I am excited going into this one.
The course recces have reminded how awful and yet amazing the experience is in equal measure. I have relearnt my love of mud and sideways rain.
I’ve not had much time to train for this one, having spent a couple of months recovering from the Swiss Peaks 360 in September. I’ve been doing long steep hill events for the last several and the spine is the most runnable race I’ve done in a while (when you aren’t up to your waist in a bog), so for training I’ve been practicing on similar training close to home – predominantly trying to keep running throughout and gradually increasing the distance and the pack weight.
There has also been a bit of speed training here and there which I haven’t done for a while. I am relying on underlying conditioning from previous races for the resilience so it will be interesting to see if I am right, or have got it badly wrong.
The first aim should always be to finish. That said I will be trying to compete and that always increases your chances of a DNF. There are some good runners out on the Challenger North this year and if conditions are OK it wouldn’t be surprising to see the course record beaten. As usual I will be running slow at the start and seeing who I can catch by the end.
Having won the full winter spine and the winter challenger south previously I would love to win this one. That would leave me aiming for a win on the spine sprint next year to complete the series. The sprint favours me the least of all the courses but let’s see how this year goes first…..
For shoes I will be starting in the Spin ST. They are great in the mud, but still have enough cushioning for the harder sections and road. I may need to swap to a more cushioned shoe with a wider toe box by the end and my usual go tos are the Spin Ultra and the Spin Planet.
Course wise I am most looking forward to running over the Cheviots and kissing that wall at the end. Its such an iconic area of the country that I don’t get to run much. When I was on the full spine I was staggering and hallucinating by this point and I am hoping that I might enjoy it a bit more this time. There are no sections which I am really least looking forward to – There are so many bogs on the course it’s hard to choose a least favourite one. I’m just planning on embracing it all and keeping a smile on my face. The wind blowing your cheeks out usually helps with that whether you want to smile or not.
I think, much like childbirth, what is making me come back this year is the passing of time and amnesia as to how difficult it was last time. All I can remember is the good bits and feeling so happy afterwards.
If you, like us enjoy the annual Spine Race dot watch you can track the progress of the SCARPA team (and all runners) here:
Spine Race https://live.opentracking.co.uk/spinerace24/
Simon Roberts: 236
Dougie Zinis: 276
Spine Challenger North https://live.opentracking.co.uk/spinechallnorth24/
Carmine de Grandis: 528
Tom Hollins: 547
Jon Shield: 588
We will of course be keeping track on how the team do in the Spine Race – so check back on our blog to see how they get on. Plus we will be catching up with the guys post race for a debrief – watch this space!