The Spine Race, sponsored since 2013 by Montane, is an annual unsupported ultramarathon held in the UK each winter and is widely regarded as ‘the most brutal race in the world’.
Here is our full guide on the event, including how to enter, details on the course, tracking and previous winners and course record holders.
Date, start time and live tracking
Spine Race 2024 starts at 0800 UK on Sunday, January 14th and is raced over the course of the week until 0800 UK on Sunday, January 21st.
Each competitor carries a GPS tracking device – provided by Open Tracking – which allows race organisers to monitor their progress and to ensure every competitor stays safe. The GPS device also allows fans to follow the race online.
Dot Watchers can follow the progress of the runners pretty much in real time by tracking those GPS signals via this link. A combination of the remoteness of the route, potential severity of the weather and a very light race calendar for most non-competing runners at this time of year makes it one of the most followed races of the year.
Spine Race route
Participants start the 431km (268 miles) course – which includes almost 13,300m of elevation gain – in Edale in the Peak District. From here, they then race along the Pennine Way National Trail up through the North of England before finishing in Kirk Yetholm on the English-Scottish border.
The trail crosses some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of England, with competitors following the Pennine Way through the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland National Park and Hadrian’s Wall to name a few. Over the 268-mile course, participants will experience every type of terrain the North of England has to offer, as well as some of its famously unfavourable winter weather.
Facts, tips & FAQs
The Pennine Way is a national trail in England, with a small section in Scotland. It covers 268 miles, with most walkers taking three weeks to cover the route. The FKT (Fastest Known Time) for the trail was set by John Kelly (USA) in May 2021, with a time of 58:04:00.
2022 saw a record equalling 73 competitors finish the race, matching the total number of successful competitors in 2019. The race regularly sees close to half the field not finishing the event, due to a number of issues, ranging from injury to navigational errors, or simply just not making the checkpoints on time.
Whilst Jasmin Paris holds the overall course record and is the only female to ever win the race outright, Carol Morgan of Ireland is the only athlete to have ever won the female title twice, with consecutive victories in 2018 and 2019.
Wind chills can reach as cold as –20C during the Spine Race, with gusts regularly reaching 45mph on the 268-mile route. Past competitors have spoken about the physical and mental exhaustion they faced as they constantly battled with the terrain, conditions and size of the challenge.
There is a time limit to the race, with competitors given seven days to complete this demanding course during the freezing temperatures of January. The race is unsupported, meaning competitors cannot run with pacemakers, have planned support or have their own support vehicles following them.
Unlike many other ultramarathon races, the Spine Race is non-stop with the clock starting in Edale and continuing until you reach the finish line.
Artic explorers Philip Hayday-Brown and Scott Gilmour founded the Spine race. Hayday-Brown, who is managing director at Ultra Endurance Series, has worked in the outdoor industry for over 20 years and helped organise and participated in the first ever race to the South Pole in nearly 100 years in 2009. Gilmour meanwhile was the race director until 2020 and is now an expedition guide and training provider in Scandinavia.
There are mandatory checkpoints along the Pennine Way, which runners must reach before a specific time. At these checkpoints, Spine Race volunteers provide hot meals, medical support and somewhere to sleep. However, runners are still required to carry their own tent, stove and rations.
The five main checkpoints are at Hebden Hey, Hawes/Hardraw, Middleton-in-Teasdale, Alston and Bellingham. The distance between some checkpoints vary depending on their locations, with some being 60 miles and 14-20 hours apart.
It is the long distances between checkpoints, as well as the solo nature of the race, which leads to competitors missing out on much needed sleep during the course of the week. Sleep deprivation then plays a key role in the Spine Race as it influences decision making and tactics, especially during the latter stages when the navigation becomes harder and the weather usually worsens.
The inaugural Spine Race was held in 2012 with 11 people starting the race, but only three finished. The following year 30 people took part and 11 crossed the finishing line. Hypothermia and frostbite are a constant concern for participants.
How to qualify and enter the Spine Race
The Montane Spine Race is open to anyone with appropriate experience who wants to test their physical resilience and mental strength.
A competitor’s application for the Spine Race must provide details of those relevant skills and experience – helping the organisers determine their suitability for the event.
If a candidate has past experience competing in the likes of the Bob Graham Round, Ramsay Round, expeditions or ultramarathons then they can expect their application to be looked on favourably.
However, you will need good navigating and orienteering skills if you plan to take on England’s oldest National Trail. Even skilled navigators have run into problems on the Spine Race before – especially in bad weather or whilst racing at night, so solid navigation skills will go a long way along the route.
Applications can be found online and are reviewed on a first-come-first-served basis, with applicants finding out on email whether they have been successful or not.
Entries for the 2024 race (and all Spine events in January 2024) are available here, with places going on sale from midday (UK time) on Monday, February 14th.
Fastest times and past winners
In 2019, fell and ultra-runner Jasmin Paris set the Spine Race course record with a time of 83:12:13. – becoming the first woman to win the race and beat the previous course record by an impressive 12 hours. Throughout her four days on the course, Paris only rested for a mere seven hours – where she ate, slept and even expressed breast milk for her baby daughter.
Damian Hall holds the fastest time for a male competitor recording a time of 84:36:24 in the 2023 iteration of the race. Czech adventurer Pavel Paloncy has the most Spine Race titles – winning in 2014, 2015 and 2018.
2012 Gary Morrison/Steve Thompson (GBR) – 151:02:00
2013 Eugeni Roselló Sole (ESP) – 124:52:00 | Annabel Gates (GBR) – 172:59:00
2014 Pavel Paloncy (CZE) – 110:45:00 | Debbie Brupbacher (GBR) – 153:17:00
2015 Pavel Paloncy (CZE) – 81:34:00* | Beth Pascall (GBR) – 90:59:00*
2016 Eoin Keith (IRE) – 95:17:00 | Anna Buckingham (GBR) – 166:38:00
2017 Tom Hollins (GBR) – 99:25:36 | Carol Morgan (IRE) – 109:54:00
2018 Pavel Paloncy (CZE) – 109:50:22 | Carol Morgan (IRE) – 130:37:22
2019 Eoin Keith (IRE) – 98:18:23 | Jasmin Paris (GBR) – 83:12:23
2020 John Kelly (USA) – 87:53:57 | Sabrina Verjee (GBR) – 108:07:17
2023 Damian Hall (GBR) – 84:36:24 | Claire Bannwarth (FRA) – 97:39:58
*The 2015 result is not considered a record due to significant route changes due to extreme weather.
Overall winner of each event is highlighted in bold.
Spine Race kit list
All participants in the Spine Race must carry a set of mandatory kit at all times. A full kit check takes place prior to the start, with additional checks throughout the route. Time penalties are applied if any mandatory kit is found to be missing:
Backpack – has to be capable of carrying all mandatory as well as any personal choice items for the duration of the race.
Compass – needs to be a baseplate magnetic compass – digital compasses on phones, watches or GPS devices are not allowed.
Maps – of readable size with grid squares and covering the entire route, must be waterproof or in waterproof case.
Knife – with 3cm or longer blade for cutting open food packets and helping with repairs.
GPS device – hand-held GPS device displaying route and showing current location as a British National Grid (BNG) Reference. Wrist-mounted devices/watches or mobile phones are not allowed.
Whistle – for signalling for help in emergency.
Goggles – Clear glass ski goggles or safety glasses are allowed, but must have a strap around the head to help keep them secure. Regular prescription glasses or sunglasses are not allowed.
Head torch – this needs to be a minimum of 100 Lumens, and you must carry spare batteries or back-up head torch.
Waterproof jacket – with hood and fully taped seams.
Waterproof trousers – with fully taped seams.
Hat – this needs to be a warm hat that covers the whole of your head and ears – baseball caps are not allowed.
Gloves – at least two pairs must be carried with one pair being waterproof while one pair must have fingers.
Spare socks – one pair of spare socks.
Neck gaiter – this can be a gaiter or a tube scarf.
Spare base layer top – this must be in addition to the clothing you start the race in. It must be long-sleeved and can be natural or synthetic.
Spare base layer trousers – additional to clothing you start the race in, these need to be full length to ankle.
Spare cold weather mid layer – this could be a fleece or synthetic down jacket or a mid-layer long sleeve top.
Appropriate footwear – suitable for winter trail, mountain, running and walking.
Ice spikes – these must be additional to any spikes that are part of a shoe.
Medical kit – this is a personal medical kit which must include: Foil/Emergency Blanket (full size); Plasters/Dressings; Loratidine or Cetirizine Hydrochloride tablets x2 (Antihistamine); Loperamide (Imodium) x4; Antiseptic Spray or wipes; Personal blister care kit; Any regular personal medications – in original packaging or labelled clearly.
Sleeping bag – with hood, comfort or lower limit.
Sleeping mat – this must be a minimum of ¾ of your body length and at least shoulder width.
Shelter – a minimum requirement is a Bivvy Bag which must be waterproof with taped seams and the bag must be suitable for multiple uses. Competitors may carry a tent if they wish, but if they do they must also carry an emergency Bivvy Bag.
Cooking stove and drinking mug – this must be a gas or liquid-fuelled stove and one Pan or Mug capable of boiling a minimum of 400ml of water and a minimum of 100grams/ml of fuel. You must also carry a solid (non-foldable) plastic or metal cup for hot and cold drinks of at least 400ml capacity.
Matches, lighter or firesteel – this should be waterproof matches, windproof lighter or Piezo lighter for lighting your stove.
Spork – or a similar kind of eating utensil.
2L water carrying capacity – all participants must have the capacity to carry at least 2L of water at any point on the course.
Food – 3000kcal from the start and from CP3/1 and CP5/3 where you must start with another 3000kcal. This food can be eaten along the route during the race.
Mobile Phone – with charging ability at checkpoints and on the trail. This must be linked to a UK network and capable of making and receiving calls – not just emergency 999 calls.
Rear Red Pack Light – each participant must have an LED rear light that is visible during darkness hours.
Spine Event Calendar
The Montane Spine Challenger 2024 starts at 08:00 UK on Saturday January 13, one day before the Spine Race and it covers the first 108 miles of the Pennine Way, starting in Edale and finishing in Hawes or Hardraw. The time limit for the Spine Challenger is set at 60 hours as competitors test themselves on the shorter but still physically and psychologically draining route.
The 2024 Montane Spine Challenger North begins in Hawes at 08:00 on Monday January 15 and finishes at Kirk Yetholm by 20:00 on Friday January 29, with participants given 108 hours to complete the 160-mile course.
The Montane Spine Sprint provides participants with a ‘taster’ before deciding if they wish to take on the Challenger and Spine Race. Set over 46 miles, the course starts at Edale and finishes in Hebden Bridge with a time limit of 18 hours. The 2024 event starts at noon UK on Saturday January 13.
The Montane Summer Spine Race is the summer version of the Spine Race without the bitter, cold weather. This means that athletes have a slightly shorter time limit – at 156 hours (six-and-a-half days) – to trek from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. The 2023 race gets under way on Sunday June 18 at 0800.
The Montane Summer Spine Sprint gives competitors 18 hours to complete the 46-mile course – Edale to Hebden Bridge. There are no checkpoints on the route, but there are roadside welfare checks and support from the Spine team. The 2023 race starts at noon UK on Saturday June 17.
This year will see two Summer Spine Challenger events with the addition of the Spine Challenger North to the already popular Spine Challenger South. The Montane Summer Spine Challenger South – a non-stop 60-hour, 108-mile race from Edale to Hardraw, starts at 08.00 on Saturday June 17. The Montane Spine Challenger North is a 160 mile race along the Pennine Way from Hardraw to Kirk Yetholm, starting at 18:00 on Sunday June 18th.