Isaac’s Tea Trail joins the Pennine Way for three miles which means it’s on the course of the Spine Race taking place this week. It’s an ultra endurance event. Very very ultra.
Known as Britain’s most brutal race, it sees dozens of men and women running the entire length of the Pennine Way National Trail from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. That’s 268 miles to be completed in seven days, which means a lot of running in the dark. I would be impressed if that was along a canal towpath but it’s up and down the compressed contours of a mountain range, in winter weather and short daylight hours.
The race co-director Scott Gilmour says it’s almost perfect in its cruelty.
And yet when I visited the race checkpoint at Alston Youth Hostel the runners I met were smiling and apparently unstressed. By then Debbie Martin-Consanie and Taro Kuchimi had been running for 76 hours and completed 185.6 miles.
While eating chickpea stew and lasagna they were reunited with their big kitbags which are moved from checkpoint to checkpoint, retrieving dry socks and more snacks for the rucksacks they carry on the run.
Alston Youth Hostel is right on the Pennine Way, so the runners didn’t need to expend effort on a single extra inch of footpath to reach it. It’s run by Linda and Neil Willmott, although during the Spine Race a team of volunteers takes over the building and Linda and Neil try to keep out of the way of the well-practised and slick operation. Neil took himself off for a bike ride and Linda caught up with admin in their private flat.
This is their third year as a Spine Race checkpoint and Linda is still in awe of the fitness of the runners. “Some of them only stay a few minutes,” she says. “They eat, get the medics to attend to their feet, repack their rucksacks and head out. Others will go to bed for a very short sleep, but they all have different tactics at the checkpoints”.
Chronic sleep deprivation is a feature of the Spine Race, causing hallucinations and navigation errors. One year a befuddled competitor ran straight into a cow; some fall asleep while running and crumple into the mud.
Blisters and chafing are common, hypothermia a real risk, sprains from slips and trips another hazard, trench foot happens, toenails drop off. The medical team at the Youth Hostel had tubs of vaseline for the chafing and strong blue tape for blisters and battered toes. The taped-up feet in the top photo belong to Eugenie Rosello Sole who was forced to retire at Alston. In last year’s Spine Race he had to give up just 3.7 miles from the finish.
This year the weather has been especially brutal, with added Storm Brendan. Here are some of the pictures from the Montane Spine Race website and https://www.facebook.com/TheSpineRace/
Incidentally, the Montane Spine Race website has a live tracking map which plots the progress of each runner. I should warn you that it’s very addictive and adds to the awe you will feel at the epic efforts of the competitors. I found myself checking it last thing at night, then while I was warm and cosy in bed I couldn’t help thinking of the runners out there in the dark and rain. Checking again in the morning I was astonished at where they had reached while I’d been sleeping.
Alston Youth Hostel is one of the five main checkpoints (others are Hebden Hey, Hawes, Middleton-in-Teesdale, and Bellingham) and there are three minor checkpoints at Malham Tarn, Dufton and Byrness. In addition, the support team volunteers carry camping stoves to mountain bothies such as Greg’s Hut on Cross Fell and offer the runners noodles and hot drinks.
Debbie Martin-Consanie and Taro Kuchimi stayed at the Youth Hostel for only around an hour before setting off again. As they left Alston they joined Isaac’s Tea Trail and strode out showing no sign of fatigue.
In fact Debbie was running ……. and even smiling. Respect.
There’s more information about Isaac’s Tea Trail at https://isaacs-tea-trail.co.uk/
For information on the Spine Race and photos and videos of this year’s event go to https://thespinerace.com/. The race continues until Sunday 19th January, with a deadline of 8 am for the final competitors to reach Kirk Yetholm. The winner, John Kelly, reached Kirk Yetholm at 1.17 in the morning of Thursday 16th. He had walked and jogged 268 miles in a time of 87 hours 53 minutes and 57 seconds.