So last week I did something a little rash, I applied for a place in the 2016 Montane Spine Challenger Race.

Montane Spine Challenger 2016

Montane Spine Challenger 2016

For those that aren’t familiar with this race, lets start by describing its bigger brother. The Montane Spine is a non-stop foot race along the entire length of The Pennine Way, from Edale to the Kirk Yetholm on the England Scotland border, covering a total distance of 268 miles.

As if this wasn’t hard enough, the race is run in January every year, so in the depths of the UK winter, across some of the most remote and barren terrain that England (at least), has to offer. This is why it is badged as Britain’s most brutal race!

Competitors have 7 days to complete the course and while checkpoints are provided, you are expected to be self sufficient and carry everything you need to survive between them, sometimes for quite significant distances.

For those of us, and I include myself in this list, not quite nuts enough to throw themselves into the full race, the organisers also offer The Montane Spine Challenger – sounds nice and cuddly doesn’t it?

This race follows the same format as its bigger brother but in this instance you have 60 hours to cover (only) the first 108 miles of The Pennine Way to Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales.

While on the face of it this may sound like a much more straight forward undertaking, as the organisers point out on their website, it is anything but!

From appearances alone 60 hours looks like ample time to complete this course. However, appearances can be deceptive. The rugged and very technical nature of this race is mentally taxing, as you have to constantly be aware of foot placement in icy conditions, weather systems, navigation, available daylight and self-management.

In the 4 previous editions of the race competitors have faced storm force winds, snow, extreme ice, bogs, fog, hail, mud and almost anything else you can think of!

Source: Montane Spine Website –

Unlike other races, competitors are asked to apply for places by completing an online application form stating their experience both in ultra running but also operating in harsh and remote winter environments. I have always been really intrigued by the race, probably due to the opportunity it would give for me to combine my ultra running and mountaineering experience. So when they opened for applications for the 2016 race last week, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

Truth be told I totally expected my application to be rejected, considering I’m just about to attempt my third ever ultra marathon this coming weekend. However I thought it was worth putting an application in to get a better understanding of the process and also to get feedback on the areas the organisers felt I was lacking, so I could build up the necessary experience for future application.

Imagine my total shock and surprise then when I received the email to say that my application had been approved! OMG!

Shall I, shan’t I?

The process now is that competitors who are offered a place have 14 days to commit to their entry, otherwise it will be passed to somebody else on the waiting list.

I am still in shock that my application was approved. My guess is that it was my winter and alpine mountaineering experience and qualifications that got me over the line, something again which demonstrates the seriousness of the undertaking.

I am in two minds as to whether to take the place. On the one hand I am really drawn to the race and the challenge it brings and would love to take part. On the other I have the nagging doubts about whether I am quite ready for the undertaking and if I could be biting off more than I can chew at this stage of my ultra running career.

This weekends Hardmoors 55 will give me a good feel for the type of terrain I will be crossing, hopefully not in full winter conditions this time around though – please Weather Gods please! There is also the impact on family life that I need to consider, so will need time to discuss this in more depth with them before committing myself.

I am still letting it all sink in and will take the time to seriously consider it in the coming week before making a final decision. I am conscious that there are plenty of people out there who would love the place, so I want to ensure that when I commit I do so 100% to make the most of the opportunity.

I am hopeful that a week of navel gazing, combined with a successful run across the North Yorkshire Moors this weekend will give me the confidence required to pull the trigger and commit to the 2016 Montane Spine Challenger. It would be a fabulous challenge and a great way to start 2016!

Update: 27/03/2015

I spent a long time agonising over this offer, chatting to friends and other ultra runners. Finally however I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t proceed with the place, opting instead to get more ultra running experience under my belt, with a view to entering the race in 2017.

This was not an easy decision and even as I sent the email turning down my place there were twinges of regret. This just showed me that this is a race that I really want to do and will be back to tackle it in future years.

While I am confident in tackling both the terrain and the conditions that this race throws up, I’d prefer to try and get at least one other hundred miler under my belt before taking the plunge with The Challenger. There are so many great races out there, that I shouldn’t feel like I have to rush into entering.

Now to find a hundred miler!