Q&A: Meet the 2022 Spine race athletes

The 2022 Montane winter Spine race is upon us! This year marks an extra special edition of the notoriously challenging non-stop ultra run which takes on the entire Pennine Way. To celebrate we caught up with 2 brave Montane athletes recompeting for Spine glory this year.

Britain’s most brutal ultra run is back for another thrilling instalment. Whether you’re new to the Spine race or are looking for a refresh into what it’s all about, don’t miss our Spine story blog. For those eager to get a first hand account of what it’s really like to take part, keep reading to learn more about the winter running pro’s who have competed before and are doing so again this year… 

Debbie Martin-Consani: Debbie has been a Montane athlete for 10 years.  Throughout this time she has collected a number of high-profile ultra-distance wins and records, and garnered a reputation of being a fierce competitor and formidable athlete.  She finished 2nd woman during her first Spine race in 2020, and is toing the line once again, hoping to improve on this excellent performance and conquer the full Spine race. Check out this podcast to hear about Debbie's previous Spine attempts.

Howard Dracup: Howard has a reputation for being a strong, tough athlete, having finished 6th in the 2018 Cheviot Goat and 3rd in the 2019 Spine Challenger. Typically preferring technical terrain, at first glance the rolling bogs of the Northern Pennine Way would not appear to play to his strengths.  However, his methodical training approach and inherent robustness will set him in good stead.

Debbie takes on the Winter Montane Spine Ultra Run

Tell us about your chosen Spine route and why you decided on this?

Debbie: I’m taking on the full Spine once again, because I don’t do half measures, I’m all in.  Plus, I think it’s a mistake to assume the shorter distances are “easier” versions of The Spine.  They are just as challenging, but the misery ends sooner. I made a lot of mistakes in 2020 and despite swearing I would never do it again… here I am in training for the third winter in the row.  Not sure I’ll be able to rectify those mistakes, as I’m sure plenty new ones will pop up. It’s hard to compare year-to-year as the external factors play the biggest part in anyone’s race.  It just boils down to who manages the conditions and themselves the best. 

Howard: I chose the Spine Challenger North for quite a number of reasons. Mainly because it’s a good jump up in distance from 100 miles. It’s perfect for those that have already done quite a number of 100 milers or the challenger south and don’t want to commit to doing the full spine race distance yet, it’s sort of the next step up if you like. I also quite like running the northern sections too, you get to see High Cup Nick and then go over Cross Fell, Hadrian’s wall and the Cheviots at the end. It’s also a bit more exposed as well as opposed to the challenger south. 

How has training been going?

Debbie: Well winter has arrived in the UK.  And we’re already on our second named storm, so that’s a good start.  It’s been going ok.  As above, I do think it’s hard to do specific Spine training.  It’s more about testing and fine tuning the kit and getting used to soft ground with a big pack.

Howard: Trainings gone relatively good to be honest. I’ve not had the best year (or 2) battling with some sleep related fatigue issues. But i’d quite like to say I’m getting on top of them now. Some solid training blocks in the bag all through summer and autumn, with no racing for me has done me good. I was meant to do the Cheviot goat as a last long training run for the spine north, but unfortunately that got cancelled so I ended up doing a pretty cool running weekend with mates which was equally just as useful training, if not better, as I didn’t get destroyed by the Cheviot bogs and i’m able to be back running again ahead of the race with no forced rest.

What are you excited about on the route?

Debbie: I love the solitude and personal challenge of the event.  Most of the time I completely forgot I was in a race. The noodles at Greg’s Hut.  Weirdly with 100 miles to go, it feels like getting to the finish line is doable.

Howard: What’s not to get excited about on this course? You have the scramble up Cauldron Snout, you get to run past High Cup Nick, then you get to hopefully see John Bamber in Greg's Hut as you go over the mighty Cross Fell. You then get to visit Hadrian’s wall and you're rewarded with a super tough but brutally beautiful trip over the Cheviot Hills.Howard tackling a winter run in the mountains | Montane

Do you have any Spine fears?

Debbie: The section between Edale and Kirk Yetholm. Basically everything about The Spine scares me. The uncertainty of the weather. The 16 hours of darkness a day.  Self-management is not my forte. Also kit check is pretty terrifying and stressful.

Howard: No.

What’s your favourite kit for winter running?

Debbie: The Spine jacket.  The clue’s in the name.  Nothing is more fit for purpose.  And the Prism mitts

Howard: My favourite pieces of kit are the Prism Ultra jacket, the Gecko 20 pack and the Prism Dryline mitts. The Prism ultra is well toasty for the amount it weighs. It compresses down to nothing and you don’t notice it in your pack. I don’t run in it but it gives me peace of mind that if ever I get into trouble and have to slow down or wait to be rescued then I can rely on it to keep me warm. The gecko 20 has plenty of space and pockets all over it for essential bits I need externally on my pack.

The Prism dryline mitts keep my hands warmer than gloves and I find they still keep my hands warm even when they’re wetted out. I suffer with Raynaud's so being able to keep my hands and fingers operational while running in winter time is pretty important- if you can’t move your fingers then you can’t look after yourself, you can’t zip or unzip jackets or use a phone in an emergency or unwrap food to eat.