Not for the faint-hearted. Taking on the Spine Challenger.
The Montane The Spine Challenger is a non-stop, 108 mile race which is considered to be Britain’s second most brutal race and one of the world’s toughest endurance events.
We caught up with Fred Newton who has recently completed the event to understand his motivations for taking on the Spine, what it was like and to get a sense of the scale of the challenge.
The event has a time limit of 60 hours and follows a challenging and technical section of the Pennine Way. It notoriously has a high drop-out rate (c.50%) as competitors struggle to keep going through the challenging British winter weather, sleep deprivation and the tough, endless moorland.
12 questions with Fred Newton
1. What possessed you to do it?
Normal life is comfortable. We rarely choose to put ourselves in a situation well outside of our comfort zones – I believe you can experience tremendous personal growth by pushing boundaries. The Spine race offered me a way to really test my mental and physical strengths.
2. Done it before and if not, anything previous to match it?
This race was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Brutal and challenging on so many fronts.
3. What kind of preparation was required? Any differences from previous long distance runs?
Endurance training is all about building weekly mileage, I ran up to 90 miles a week and completed two ultra-marathons as preparation. The real difference for this race, was focusing on expeditionary skills – essentially being able to keep yourself warm, dry, fed, hydrated and in good physical condition in the worst conditions.
4. Any pre-race nerves?
To be honest, you just want to get going!
5. What were the conditions like at the start and through the race?
Absolutely atrocious. Over 50% of the field were DNF ‘Did Not Finish’, many from some form of hypothermia. For the first 16 hours we were hit by a storm of rain, cold wind and fog. For the rest of the race, we endured lots more driving rain, gale force winds and plenty of mud.
6. How many racing with you and what was the atmosphere and support like?
135 of us started the race, you are in it together and develop a real sense of camaraderie as the race goes on. The local support was warm and genuine, hot drinks and food offered where possible and a real sense of pride amongst locals – I was met by one elderly gentleman who insisted on walking me through his village.
7. Talk us through the race circuit itself?
You head up the rugged spine of England, up and over the Peak District before heading into endless misty moorland around Manchester. This gives way into a whole host of large reservoirs before dropping into the Yorkshire Dales; rolling hills and pastoral land. The highlight of the race takes you through the impressive Malham Cove before a final rugged climb of Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Gent. The final stage along a long old roman road before dropping down into Hawes
8. What was the biggest challenge?
Sleep deprivation. After my second night of no rest and in the early hours, hallucinations of wild animals started to appear in the fog and a mysterious big red box. The lack of sleep really does take its toll.
9. Anything pleasantly surprise you?
The medical and support staff were brilliant. A lady washed my horrible feet after 56 hours of racing in wet smelly socks with a smile on her face, what an amazing person.
10. How was the finish and what did you feel as you crossed the line?
The finish was low key and typically hard to find for the Spine Challenger, navigational challenges right until the end!
When I crossed the line, felt a great sense of inner belief and power – I had made it, I can do anything.
11. With a few days to recover ... how do you reflect on the experience?
The race was un-enjoyable for many parts, but I feel a positive glow of confidence from its completion. I'm already thinking about the next boundary to push and expect will return next year to complete the full 270 mile course.
12. What's next for Fred Newton?
Heading up to the west coast of Scotland in May to walk the wild Cape Wrath trail with my brother and two friends. This is meant to be remote and spectacular, I can't wait!
Big thanks to Fred for taking the time to answer our questions and you can hear more more from Fred in our podcast interview with him.