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Summit Fever Media's official Montane Spine Race Film

Conquering the Montane Spine Race

by Damian Hall
Sunday 15th January 2017
Tags  MONTANE Spine Race   |   Spine Race   |   Montane   |   Damian Hall
“It's simply the enormity of the challenge. The idea that it seems almost impossible. So many things are against you. But there's just this small voice in your head that says maybe, just maybe, you could....”

Damian Hall gives us his insights about the Montane Spine Race, having competed in it (and finished it) twice. 
1. Can you sum up what the Montane Spine Race is like?
No one has summed up the Montane Spine Race better than women’s record-holder Beth Pascall in the must-watch Montane Spine Race Film. Interviewed in Kirk Yetholm’s Border Hotel at the end of the 2015 race, she says simply, “It was awful…” Then a guilty smile spreads across her face. “But it was amazing.”
2. What motivated/ encouraged you to enter the Montane Spine race?
When I first heard about the Montane Spine Race, it sounded impossible – and I speak as the author of the official Pennine Way guide, so I know England’s oldest and toughest National Trail well. So I followed the race initially with great interest. 
The first year only three people finished. But the second year a few more finished. The third year I was on the start line - I couldn’t resist. The size of the challenge was too appealing.
3. What was support like from friends, family and fellow runners?
Undeniably, the event does have a special aura. The staff – many are volunteers, giving up their week to look after us smelly, mid-life-crisis idiots – are amazing, fetching cups of tea, taping up your foul feet, giving you endless encouragement, throughout the night – when they’ve probably had less sleep than you.
Locals, too, have started to take some ownership of the race. On a rainy night in the Yorkshire dales, in the middle of nowhere, a stranger was waiting to give me water and advise me on the route. On Hadrian’s wall, a hiker donated me food (I wasn’t begging, I should state, but maybe looked less than well nourished). I found out later that a hostel owner in Byrness, following the race online, stayed up well into the small hours on the remote chance I would call in.
At home, because of the trackers – designed for safety but turning the race into a social media phenomenon – I got many messages of goodwill, often from people I hadn’t spoken to for ages, and from those I didn’t realise had my number. People who had no interest in running or mountains seemed addicted to watching what my daughter called “Daddy’s wiggly line” (and it got more and more wiggly towards the end). A Kirk Yethlom runner who’d been watching the tracker came and ran a short way with me, which greatly lifted my spirits (I hadn’t seen another runner for three days).
4. How did it feel getting back to normality after the race?
Even now, two years on, I still don’t fit the clothes I used to wear before my first Montane Spine Race. I lost all my body fat and a significant amount of muscle too. My t-shirt size has gone down from a medium to a small (on the upside it has made me a faster runner). My wedding ring sometimes slides off my finger unnoticed when hand washing. And three of my toes even now feel really weird.
The race messed up my thermostat and body clock for a while after too. Despite not being able to run for three weeks, I regularly woke in the middle of the night, sweating, panicky and ready to dash outdoors into the darkness. Getting back into a ‘regular’ routine, definitely took some getting used to. 
5. What are the biggest challenges you experienced during the Montane Spine Race?
The distance and the terrain are sizeable challenges of course, but more so the weather, which could do anything. I’ve hiked, run and mountaineered all over the world, in the Andes, Himalayas, the Australian Outback, but I’ve never been as unnerved as I have by the strong winds and wet cold of the Pennines in winter. 
The other main thing that wears you down is the lack of sleep: imagine horrendous winds and rain driving at you when you haven’t slept for 30-odd hours, it’s been dark for 14 hours straight and you’re wet, cold, hungry and more tired than you’ve ever been? And you’re lost. 
Before my first Montane Spine Race I wore size medium T-shirts. Now I fit small. My toes haven’t felt the same since. Water bottles freeze. Tough-looking grown-ups cry. Common DNF causes include potentially fatal hypothermia, retina damage, trench foot, broken bones. But complete it and you feel absolutely invincible. And there are many amazing moments along the way too, not least in the scenery and many moneys of kindness and support from others.
6. What is approach to the mental preparation ahead of the Montane Spine?
The most important thing, I think, is to want to have an adventure. That should help a relaxed mindset. You have to start out knowing that the Montane Spine Race will be enjoyed. Not all of it, mind. But some of it.
7. What motivational tips can you share with this year’s competitors?
The more you think about it, the more complex it may seem. But it’s simple really: all you need to do, is stay warm, stay fuelled and keep moving northwards. When stuff starts going wrong, remind yourself you signed up for an adventure and embrace it. It’s your mind, not your body, that will get you to Kirk Yetholm.
8. And finally, why should people take part?
While the race won’t change the world, almost all of us need more adventure, more wildness, more exercise, more bogs in our lives. And there are few better ways of getting all that than the brilliant Montane Spine Race.
Above all, it’ll be that immense sense of freedom, powerful sense of mission, glorious feeling of being in wild, rugged and remote places, with like-minded people, high on endorphins and too many caffeine gels and wonderful, rare simplicity of days that people will enjoy. Swapping screens and bleeping technology for moody moorlands, enigmatic rock formations and melodramatic skies, for one whole magnificent week – you honestly can’t beat it.
Damian Hall (@damo_hall, www.damianhall.info) is an outdoor journalist, author of the official Pennine Way guide and two-time Spine finisher. Damian is also the 2017 Spine Race social media manager. 
Montane are official sponsors of the Montane Spine Race

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