Summer Spine Q&A: Rob Greenwood

The Summer Spine is upon us! Hear from UKClimbing Rob Greenwood, one of the runners taking part in this years’ non-stop race accross the Pennine Way.

Hard won miles await the brave runners looking for a unique challenge this summer, cue the Montane Summer Spine Race. Based on the winter edition, the race takes on the 268-mile Pennine Way,  setting off in Edale in the Peak District, before heading North all the way to the Scottish Border. En route, racers tackle some of the most remote and exposed landscapes in the UK. You can discover more about this epic long-distance route in our dedicated story behind the Spine race blog

Alongside being strong runners able to go the distance, mental strength and resilience are a key skill all participants will need to call upon during the Montane Summer Spine race. Just listen to last years 3rd male winner Ed Harris who we recently chatted to on our podcast to find out more about what it takes to complete the challenge. 

This year, one participant we’ll be closely tracking is Rob Greenwood, UKClimbing writer, who has been busy training to take on this summers Spine race. We caught up with Rob to find out more about him, why he’s taking on this years Summer Spine and what Montane kit he’ll be relying on during this long distance running challenge…

Tell us a bit about yourself

It’s always tricky to summarise yourself within the space of a single sentence, but I guess ‘climber and runner’ would be pretty accurate, as I’ve bounced between the two throughout my whole life, and I suspect I’ll be drawing on my experience of both throughout the Summer Spine!!

I started running from a really young age, as my parents were both keen runners, taking part in both marathons and mountain marathons. As a result of this I had a pretty active upbringing, where walking, running, scrambling and suffering were the norm - although so too was having fun. Climbing came a little later on, but when it did absolutely took over, and has taken me all around the world. 

In more recent years my focus has moved back towards running. Initially this was because I had some unfinished business with the Bob Graham Round, but after that I carried on simply because of how much I enjoyed it, how many other things there were that I wanted to do, and how well it fit in/around family life. Thankfully being based where we are in Bamford, within the Peak District, makes getting out super easy - plus it’s conveniently close to the start of the Pennine Way!

Why are you taking on the summer spine?

As is often the way, once you’ve done something you previously thought impossible (in my case, the Charlie Ramsay Round, which I did last year) your first thought having done it - aside from the immediate desire to eat a LOT of chips - is to wonder what to do next. The Summer Spine felt like a very obvious and natural choice, because it presented a very different challenge, but one that drew upon the experience I’d already got, then added in a whole load of unknowns. I guess it was a sense of curiosity and intrigue about those unknowns which made it so appealing, but the appeal lay firmly within the summer event. Much though I love darkness, rain, snow and ice, the prospect of daylight, a little bit of warmth, and some dry weather was - for some reason - more appealing.

In terms of what I wish to achieve, and what I want to get out of it, the answer - first and foremost - is to have fun. These things can easily turn into an absolute sufferfest, and I’ve almost no doubt it will at some point, but my primary aim is to enjoy it. Beyond that it’ll be to see the sights, make a few friends, and laugh as much as I possibly can at the ridiculousness of it all… 

Have you done anything like this before?

Doing the three Big Rounds has definitely helped, as I feel familiar with what the first 24hrs has in store. When it comes to multi-day experience I’ve done events like the Original Mountain Race (OMM, originally known as the KIMM), which teach you a lot about resilience. But due to the fact you stop overnight, they have a very different feel to something like the Big Rounds or the Spine race, which is non-stop.

Ironically the closest thing I could equate in terms of experience are the various big walls or north faces I’ve climbed, where you’re spending multiple days within quite a high stress environment. There’s a cumulative toll on both your body and mind, made worse by the fact you are - more often than not - in genuinely objective danger. Thankfully there aren’t anywhere near as many crevasses on the Spine, so that’s one less thing to worry about!!

What has your training looked like?

After I decided to do the Summer Spine last year I began to work with Dave Taylor (Coach and Fell Running Guide). I don’t know a great deal about training, or how to do it properly, but was conscious I wanted to use whatever time I had wisely - and to avoid getting injured. It’s been a really interesting process, not least because Dave is a really nice, down to earth guy, but also because he’s encouraged me to do things I’d never have done before. It’s also been incredibly varied, ranging from short to long, slow to fast, and all within a manageable amount of time.

Which Montane kit will you be running in and relying on?

I suspect I’ll be wearing the Dragon Zip T-Shirt and Dragon 5” Shorts from beginning to end, although depending on how cold it gets may use the Trail Series ¾ Length Tights. I’m a huge fan of the men’s Spine Waterproof Jacket, and whilst I very much hope it remains dry throughout, that’s probably wishful thinking. As/when it does decide to pour down at least I’ll know that it’ll not only keep me dry, but also keep me comfortable, courtesy of its outstanding breathability.

Obviously there’s a fair amount to carry, so I’ll be taking the Gecko VP20+. It was a tough call between this and the Trailblazer 20, but I think from a running perspective the Gecko is the natural choice. It’s got pockets everywhere too, so makes it really easy to stash things - whether that be snacks, bottles, phone, map or compass - and easy access is of paramount importance when it comes to being efficient.

Have you got any race tactics or advice you will be channelling when the going gets tough on the trail?

This is going to sound pretty basic, but my mantra will simply be to keep going. It’s inevitable that you’ll have some low points, but from previous experience almost all low points pass, providing you keep eating and drinking. 

Do you have any top tips for long distance runners? 

I am not entirely sure I’m qualified to comment, but I think maintaining a positive outlook throughout ultra distance events is - at least for me - integral to both their enjoyment and success. 

How do you plan to unwind after completing the Spine?

I’ll probably take a month off after the Spine. It’s really easy to underestimate the toll that these sorts of things take on you, so some time to rest and recover properly will be a good long-term investment. 

Beyond that I’ve got the Glencoe Skyline in September, the Cheviot Goat in December, and I’ve no doubt that once the dust has settled from the Spine I’ll have come up with something similarly stupid to do next year.

Summer Spine Race 2022

Feeling inspired to keep up with all the race action this summer? Head to our official Spine race hub to find out more, alongside the Open Tracker links you’ll need to follow all the racers (including Rob Greenwood) progress.