Irish athlete Kev Leahy has been declared the winner of the first edition of the Montane Arctic Spine Race.
A non-stop, 293-mile (472 km) foot race along the Kungsleden Trail in Arctic Sweden, the event took place in one of the most stunning winter landscapes in the world.
The handful of participants started at Abisko at 9am on Tuesday 6 February as they began a journey through snowfields, Arctic tundra and frozen woodlands flanked by Sweden’s highest mountains.
The aim was the finish line at Hemavan within 192 hours in what was an expedition race that required self-sufficiency and proficiency in cold weather management, with temperatures as low as -35°C and winds as high as 40 mph.
‘A miraculous achievement’
The organisers – as they said they would – had to adapt as the race went on, changing or removing cut-off times as they monitored the progress of the athletes.
Indeed the eventual ‘finish line’ proved to be a little before Hemavan and it was Leahy, the winner of the 100-mile version of the Montane Yukon Ultra in 2020 and second in the full 500km Montane Lapland Arctic Ultra in 2022, who proved a class apart.
He was the last person standing and had been alone on the trail since Ed Sellon finished the Arctic Challenger course in Kvikkjokk two days previously.
Summing up Leahy’s accomplishments, the Spine media team wrote: “We challenge you to think of a harder-earned medal than the one he has around his neck now. Kev has blazed a trail along the Kungsleden, setting a standard for anyone intrepid enough to take on this race in the future.
“Since then every kilometre he covered has been a record, and every hour that he remained out there has been a miraculous achievement.
“As the person who managed to comfortably cover the furthest distance, Kev is our winner this year. All future editions of the Arctic Spine Race will be a search for somebody able to build on and surpass his incredible performance.”
How the race panned out
Carolin Barrett, Eoin Murray, Charlie Wilkins Mael Jouan, Joe Barrs and Barclay Morison – the last two who led on day one – were among the early retirements.
All of which meant that by the second night on the Kungsleden, just four remained.
Leahy and Rob Brooks headed the quartet at that point, followed by Sellon and Robi Dattatreya.
And then there were two after Dattatreya and Brooks called it a day at CP1 at Stora Sjofallet.
‘Tranquility and purpose’
Leahy and Sellon continued but the latter decided it was time to bow out having achieved what was effectively the 129-mile Arctic Spine Challenger route.
Sellon had actually started the full race – and with two teammates – but the organisers explained: “We long ago closed the rule book and started adapting to this pioneering event.
“There was no hesitation from Race Director Phil Hayday-Brown in awarding Ed with an Arctic Spine Challenger medal.”
All of which left Leahy out on his own, with the race’s media team adding at that point: “He has nobody to beat. Nothing left to prove. The effort required is colossal.
“He is choosing to do it anyway, seemingly for the sheer love of being in the moment he is in. Where we might see only isolation and hardship, Kev seems to have found tranquillity and purpose.
“He has the Kungsleden to himself and appears to be thriving out there in some of the most beautiful, though brutal, scenery on earth.”
Earlier in the event Leahy had said he was hoping to see the Aurora and that wish came true to reward his continued tenacity.