After three and a half days of running along the Pennine Way, Sabrina Verjee has become the first woman to win the Montane Spine Fusion race outright, breaking the women’s record in the process.
The Spine Fusion is the summer version of the Spine Race. It follows the 268 miles of the Pennine Way, which involves 13,000m of ascent. It’s exactly the same route and rules as the winter race, which also famously saw a woman, Jasmin Paris, win outright this year, but the hope is that the weather is kinder. Except it wasn’t really!
Sabrina led the race from start to finish. Initially Cees van der Land was close to her but he was forced to withdraw. Sabrina’s finish time was 82h 19m. The male winner, Esteban Díaz Castañeda, finished in 89.57 and the second placed man, Gregory Crowley, has also now finished in 93 hours. But the rest of the runners remain out there. The second placed woman is currently Sophie Power.
The weather has been pretty grim at times on the course. There’s been clag, rain and even gale force winds over the Cheviots. The conditions have been unseasonably cold, mostly due to the wind chill. This has no doubt made things a little bit harder than many entrants expected.
Sabrina has a string of impressive results in very tough races to her name and she very nearly won the Lakeland 100 outright last year. She led for much of the race and was only overtaken in the last section, finishing second to Ken Sutor in the end. But what’s particularly impressive about this win is that it comes just four weeks after her second place in the Dragon’s Back Race! While most Dragon’s Back finishers are still taking it easy and regrowing their toenails, Sabrina has pulled off an outright win in one of the most testing UK races!
Sabrina’s finish time of 82h 19m is the fastest recorded time for a female athlete, beating the previous summer record (female) by nearly 48hrs. The overall course record is held by Mark Denby 78:04:14 (June 2018). The winter record for the course is held by Jasmin Paris in 83hrs 12m 23s, which was set in January 2019.
Sabrina said of her win: “Right now I feel ok, pretty good, very happy. It’s a shame Cees wasn’t there with me at the finish, but I have the win outright now” she joked. “Over the Cheviots there were gale force winds, it was terrible up there. But it was the only way I was staying awake. I would just doze off and be facing the other way at times and think where have I been for the last half hour?”
Earlier in the week Benjamin Tyas came home in first place on the MONTANE® Spine® Flare in 27hrs41m21s followed by Adam Gamble and Tom Couldwell, in joint second place. Saki Nakamura was the first place female completing the course in 32hrs11m22s with fellow competitors Sue Howarth and Susan Clapham shortly behind. In a strange coincidence both sets of 2nd placed competitors crossed the line together, showing true camaraderie to the end, resulting in equal 2nd place finishes in the male and female categories.
Most of the runners are still out there and will continue to come in over the next couple of days (there is a 7 day cut-off for the race). You can track them HERE. Among those still running are Raj Mahapatra and Gerry Dance, who are both representing NASS, the official charity for the race. Raj and Gerry both live with the condition axial SpA (AS) and are representing NASS, the only UK charity entirely focused on axial spondyloarthritis (axial SpA) including ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
Raj was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in 1993, when the consultant told him that due to the state he was in at the time, he should expect to be in a wheelchair within ten years.
Gerry was diagnosed in 1990, after almost 10 years of severe back and hip pain. He was told that AS would fuse his neck, spine and hips. Gerry cannot manage without daily medication but knew instinctively, that he must continue to try to run to combat the fusion.
Raj and Gerry were runners before diagnosis and both continue to battle to do what they love, when, all the while, AS does its best to stop them. They both count themselves lucky. So they run for everyone with AS who face their own challenges, whatever they may be. You can learn more about NASS on the charity’s website: www.nass.co.uk
Find out more about the Montane Spine Fusion Race HERE.