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James Nobles playing the long game as he makes Winter Spine Race debut

Jonathan Turner
News Director
Updated on

Has there ever been a Winter Spine Race line-up like this year’s?

The reigning champions both start – Damian Hall and Claire Bannwarth – and on the men’s side we’ve got nine of the last 10 winners including three-time victors Eoin Keith and Pavel Paloncy.

Throw in the intriguing presence of John Kelly who, following his Barkley Marathons finish last year can’t resist a return to the race he won in 2020, and dot watchers are in for an absolute treat.

But could the winner prove to be someone taking on the epic challenge – billed as ‘Britain’s most brutal race’ – for the very first time?

The next step up

It’s a big ask but James Nobles has answered most of the ultrarunning questions thrown at him in impressive style over the last two years.

Winner of the Dragon’s Back in 2022, Nobles’ chief focus last year was the Northern Traverse.

Heading into that 300km non-stop coast-to-coast challenge, he told us beforehand: “This will be, by far, the furthest I’ve attempted to go in one hit. Prior to this, I’ve done about 70 miles on the Paddy Buckley Round. I’m hoping that I can just switch my legs off and keep the momentum going.”

And what followed was a superb performance as he ran out the clear-cut winner, before quickly nominating “having a crack” at the Spine Race as the next big objective.

James Nobles is presented with the trophy at Robin Hood's Bay [©SILVA Northern and Lakes Traverse | No Limits Photography]
James Nobles is presented with the Northern Traverse trophy [©SILVA Northern and Lakes Traverse | No Limits Photography]

That now becomes a reality and he goes into the event in good form after being pipped to the title at last month’s Montane Cheviot Goat by reigning champion Simon Roberts.

Chatting recently on the ‘Ultrarunning Sam’ podcast, Nobles explained how he used that 59-mile race in freezing conditions as prep for the Spine – especially in planning everything from clothing and footwear choices through to nutrition.

Waiting game

So what is his game plan for the 268-mile challenge that awaits in the Spine? He told host Sam Hill: “As far as a strategy goes, given the field we’ve got this year I’m going to try not to go out too quick.

“If anyone wants to really blast off and hammer themselves from the start then I won’t be going with them.

“But if I think we’ve got a good, stable core of people who are just going at a decent pace – and I’m thinking there of the people who have done this quite successfully before – then I’ll probably try and stick with them.

“I have found I can maintain a pace quite well for a long time so I’ll be hoping that maybe into the last 100 miles or so is where I can maybe open things up a little bit.

“But we’ll see – it’s such a long race that it’s hard to have proper tactics around it.

I’ll certainly be trying to push myself as much as I can across the full thing – and trying to get out of it what I hope I can.

“I learnt quite a few bits and pieces from having done the Northern Traverse so I’m hoping that I can bring that into the Spine.

“I didn’t sleep during the Northern Traverse but I obviously need to on the Spine so I need to figure those bits and pieces out.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

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