Winter Spine 2022 Review

After a year's hiatus the Spine race returned with a bang this January, celebrating 10 years of doing what it does best: challenging runners to push themselves further than ever before.

With 4 events to track this winter, including a brand new Spine Challenger North race, there was plenty to get excited about. Despite the threat of rising Omicron cases and race route damage from Storm Arwen, it was with a sigh of relief that the 2022 Winter Spine was able to go ahead as planned. Cue obsessive dot watching…

In true Spine fashion things got off to a very chilly start with snow on the ground as the racers set off in Edale in the Peak District. Along the way there were several twists and turns, with multiple favourites forced to pull out as the 268-mile race up the Pennine Way evolved. 

So how did the Spine shape up? Keep reading to discover the highlights of the 2022 winter race. Or for those seeking a whistle stop tour of the Spine race, don't miss our dedicated origins story.

Race Winners
Ultimate Spine glory went to a familiar face of the race, Eoin Keith. Keith is a former course record holder, finishing second in 2020 and 2019, as well as coming first in the 2021 Summer Spine. This year he came in first in the early hours of Thursday morning, with a time of 92 hours, 40 minutes, making him a back-to-back Spine race winner. A few hours later, racers Doug Zinis and James Leavesley also landed in Kirk Yetholm and touched the wall at the same time.

With the main male leaders confirmed, the battle for the women's race was still to be decided. It was Montane athlete of 10 years, Debbie Martin-Consani who took the crown of first female finisher, with a time of 104hrs, 8 mins and 22 secs. Despite battling a back injury (more on that in a second!), Debbie beat her original record of 2nd place in 2020 and shaved off several hours from her time then.

Eoin Keith on the snowy hills of the Pennine Way | Montane

Debbie wasn’t the only Montane athlete who went on to achieve great things during this year's Winter Spine! In the brand new Spine Challenger North we had not one but two athletes competing, Simon Roberts and Howard Dracup. After a stunning run, Simon continued to wow us and went on to be the first ever winner of this inaugural race, with a considerable lead over his fellow runners. Howard also didn’t disappoint, coming in 3rd place overall.

Want to experience the action as it unfolded? Don't miss our podcast which talks with the winners shortly after they crossed the finish line. Or keep reading to hear more from them...

Montane Athlete debrief: Debbie Martin-Consani
Prior to the Winter Spine we caught up with some of the athletes competing to see how they were feeling and their expectations of the race: see their dedicated Q&A here.

With the Winter Spine now officially over, we wanted to check back in with the Montane winners for some reflections post-event. Here’s Debbie on some of her key tactics and that back injury…

“In 2020 my main goal was to simply complete. Whereas this year, I wanted to do the best I could during the event. I could afford to be a bit less cautious too. My plan was simple – move, eat or sleep. Not bother about anyone else in the race and just concentrate on a solid performance for me!  It’s too long to start racing anyone – especially on day one.  I knew I had to be a lot more flexible and not focus on times, more on effort and forward motion. I didn’t even know my splits from 2020 as I didn’t want to compare years.

Debbie Martin-Consani claims 1st female finisher of the Spine | Montane

I started to suffer with severe back pain towards the end of the race. It’s never happened before and I'm still not sure why it happened. Thankfully it only really started to have an impact on my movement on the Cheviots – the final 26 miles.  Any other time prior in the race and it would have been game over but I had to suck it up to get to the finish.  The medics were concerned it was Rhabdomyolysis, but I think it was the weight of the pack, the time on my feet and holding poles in my right hand when I run.  I kept having to take my pack off and lie on the grass as that really helped.  The two-mile road section to the end was the worst.  I thought I’d need to DNF with 0.5 mile to go.” Debbie Martin-Consani, Spine Race, 1st Woman

Montane Athlete debrief: Simon Roberts
The winner of the 2021 Dragons Back, Simon Roberts, set his sights further North this year, kicking 2022 off as he means to go on, becoming the champion of the Spine Challenger North. We caught up with the rising ultra-run star to find out how he claimed his considerable lead…

Sycamore Gap at Sunrise on the Spine race | Montane

The race starts with a big climb, Great Shunner Fell. I went fast up there, it wasn’t a plan I put in place and I was trying to keep a lid on it going up there as I did not want to burn out too early. I was just feeling really good and ended up being quite relentless going up there. The gap was formed and no one else fancied coming along with me. We had lots of snow and ice up there too. It was quite a challenge. I was getting cold and wet feet when I fell through the ice.

So, at every checkpoint my lead was getting bigger but at the last checkpoint at Bellingham I had a huge lead. With just a marathon to go I was thinking no one can catch me now, unless something happens to me. I moved well on the Cheviots overnight and I even had a couple of pit stops at Hut 1 and Hut 2 just to keep myself in check, making sure I was keeping warm, well fed and hydrated. Once I descended down from the Schil and joined the stone road down to Kirk Yetholm, I was then thinking, I've won this!” Simon Roberts, Spine Challenger North, 1st man

Howard Dracup on the Spine Race Challenger North | Montane

Montane athlete debrief: Howard Dracup
Having only managed 50k in the last 18 months due to illness, Howard had a tough mental battle on his hands as he tackled the Spine Challenger North. Here’s how he got on…

“I was ticking along nice all the way to Middleton. However the weather turned near Cauldron’s snout and I couldn’t see more than my feet. There was a headwind that blew the driving rain into my face. I started to feel nauseous and couldn’t eat much. I knew something had to change so I slowed the pace down.  Hadrian’s wall was the toughest section from me. I couldn’t comprehend that I still had 25 miles to go until Bellingham. The wall was relentless and it seemed to drag on and I lost momentum again.

I was at my lowest point and felt broken all the way to Bellingham. Part of my mind was saying stop and quit as I was moving so slow that I didn’t feel like I was racing anymore and this wasn’t part of the plan and then the inner me, the real me, kept fighting the thought to quit. It was like psychological warfare, almost mental torture.  I decided to sleep at Bellingham before crossing the notorious Cheviots. I had an hours sleep and woke up feeling good.

I felt amazing going over the Cheviot Hills, there was hardly any wind, no fog and I know how to cross these lands. I can read the ground, foot placement is everything up there. I pushed hard and was moving well again avoiding many bogs. I felt in the zone. I kept wondering why couldn’t I have felt like this on the crossing of Cross Fell and Hadrians Wall? I finally made it into Kirk Yetholm in just over 49 hours! Very tired but buzzing to have just crept onto the podium in 3rd spot.” Howard Dracup, Spine Challenger North 3rd man

Celebrating 10 years
To mark an extra special birthday in 2022, ahead of the race we caught up with Spine co-founder Phil Hayday-Brown to discover the origins of the race and his highlights of the route. Our story behind the Spine is a must-read for both long standing enthusiasts and those less familiar with Britain’s most brutal ultra run. 

This year will also see the much anticipated release of a 10 year anniversary film, developed by Summit Fever Media. With 10 years of inspiring Spine achievements on the Pennine Way, they’ve captured some incredible footage that really brings this challenging race to life. Take a look at the trailer for a sneak peek of what to expect…