Ahead of the start of the 2023 Spine Race this weekend, we spoke with defending champion Eoin Keith, who gave us an insight into his preparation and plan for the monumental challenge that awaits him along the Pennine Way this Sunday.
‘It’s impossible to predict’
The Spine Race is widely considered as one of the hardest races in ultra-running, with the 268-mile route taking in a variety of terrains throughout the North of England and Scotland as competitors race their way up the Pennine Way.
Keith, who took the overall title in 2016 and 2022, admits that even for a veteran of the event like himself, the race is impossible to predict and prepare for fully, as “you just don’t know what challenges will be thrown at you by the weather and the conditions”.
Heading into this year’s edition, the reigning champion, who shared that he does little training “specifically for the Spine”, has had a mixed build-up after “getting over a few niggling injuries and a dose of cold/flu”.
Of these issues, the Irishman joked that the one problem he couldn’t overcome was “slowing down with old age”, but at 53-years old, the former Ireland on Foot record holder is showing no signs of stopping.
On his expectations for the race, Keith shared that “the main thing is to enjoy the race”, adding that in a race as hard as the Spine, “finishing is the next big target” after having fun. Finally, he does have some hopes of “being as competitive as possible” given that the first two objectives are met, whilst also wanting to “not make too many mistakes along the way”.
For Keith, not making too many mistakes is tied in closely with sleep deprivation, which is a common issue as a competitor in a multi-day race like the Spine. Dealing with it, according to Keith, “is always a big issue if it arises”, and avoiding it “is one of my main targets and priorities”.
The right gear and plan to take on the race
Whilst acknowledging that the unpredictable nature of the Spine makes it incredibly difficult to prepare for, Keith did share that “having the best gear I can get to deal with whatever the race throws at me” is crucial and a massive confidence booster.
This year, Keith will be equipped with a host of new gear, which includes his race pack (OMM Phantom 25), some mid layers to deal with the January cold (Columbia Omni-Heat infiniti) and a Silva Dry bag with a compression valve, which is crucial for “making the huge mandatory gear list manageable”.
As well as the confidence boost his gear provides when tackling the elements, the Irishman candidly shared his confidence in his own ability to “dynamically find solutions to whatever challenges the race will almost certainly throw at me”.
I know I have the knowledge and experience to enable me to dynamically find solutions to whatever challenges the race will almost certainly throw at me.
Outside of his gear and experience, the two factors that will have the most impact on Keith’s ability to win consecutive titles is his ability to keep on top of his sleep and nutrition.
Interestingly, Keith doesn’t have a “fuelling strategy”, instead sharing “I drink when I’m thirsty” and “eat when I’m hungry”. He adds that he likes to just take on drinks he likes and “real food”, such as fruit juice at the start and the gluten-free lasagna at the aid stations.
Out on the course, Keith highlighted coffee and hot chocolate as personal favourites, stating that “taking advantage of the availability of warm drinks” plus the added bonus of a “caffeine kick” sees hot beverages on the top of his list of refreshments.
Finally, on the topic of sleep, Keith said that even after decades of racing it is one of the main areas that “I’m still learning and trying to fine-tune my strategy”. His plan for 2023 is to follow something similar to 2022, where he slept for roughly an hour (40 minutes of actual sleep) in “each aid station from CP2 onwards”.
This Sunday, Eoin Keith will start the 2023 Spine Race with the hopes of clinching a record equalling third win. Tracking and more information on the 2023 Spine Race can be found by clicking on the link.