Solitiude aplenty on The Spine. Photo: Solveig Rist

Solitiude aplenty on The Spine. Photo: Solveig Rist

One of the UK’s toughest races got underway this morning.

The Spine Race follows the full length of the Pennine Way, with first runners expected to complete the 431km (268-mile) route from Edale to Kirk Yetholm in less than seven days.

This year’s race is the third, the event first having run in 2012.

Last year, many entrants had to be rescued in blizzard conditions in the northern Pennines, yet winner Eugeni Roselló Sole still posted a record finishing time of 5 days 4hrs 52mins.

First woman was Annabel Gates who completed the race in 7 days 4hrs 59mins.

Runners set off from Edale in Derbyshire about 8.20am today and 12 hours later only five of the 74 starters had reached the first checkpoint in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

Joel Jaile Casademont of Spain was leading that point, with Czech Pavel Paloncy just two minutes behind. Brit Charlie Sharpe was third.

The competitors face the longest day going into tomorrow, with the next checkpoint 97km (60 miles) north at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales.

Border Search and Rescue Unit members help competitors from the fells in last year's event. Photo: BSARU

Border Search and Rescue Unit members help competitors from the fells in last year's event. Photo: BSARU

Organisers said of the event: “You will face the most extreme weather conditions England has to offer: deep snow, ice, gale-force winds and rain in a gruelling non-stop, seven-day race from Edale to Kirk Yetholm.

“It’s not just the conditions that are against you. Your own body could become your worst enemy with tiredness, fatigue, sleep deprivation and exposure playing havoc with your performance.

“To finish you must be prepared and willing to push yourself harder than ever before.”

They described The Spine, which this year is sponsored by Montane, as a truly brutal race.

Spine Race competitor, Brian Mullan said: “Other ultras I have done before have been much more about the running. This felt like proper wilderness stuff.

“The solitude and the vastness of the landscape, literally as the field thinned out civilisation seemed to be left behind on the later stages.”

The route ascends Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales

The route ascends Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales

The Montane Spine Race charity is Border Search and Rescue Unit, which covers the Cheviots and northern Pennines, and many of whose members were involved in the rescue of last year’s competitors.

This year, competitors are being tracked by GPS and their position can be seen on a map, while a leaderboard is automatically updated with their times.

A shorter race, The Spine Challenger, runs at the same time on the southern section of the route in a km 174km (108-mile), non-stop, 60-hour, winter mountain marathon between Edale and Hawes.

More details are on the Montane Spine Race website.

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