Runners faced blizzards in the north Pennines. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race

Runners faced blizzards in the north Pennines. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race

The Montane Spine Race earned its reputation as Britain’s most brutal over the past 24 hours as runners battled high winds and blizzards in the north Pennines.

The race gained a new leader after Jim Mann, who had pushed the pace since the start, was forced to retire injured.

The lead passed to Eoin Keith, who holds the record for the course. Two-times winner Pavel Paloncý is currently second, with last year’s victor Tom Hollins in third place.

Mann left check point three at Middleton-in-Teesdale early on Tuesday morning, 18 minutes behind Keith. Both runners were several hours ahead of the Irish runner’s schedule for a course record of 95hrs 17mins. Organisers said Mann seemed remarkably fresh, compared to a clearly weary Keith.

The two raced to Dufton, then up Cross Fell, the highest point on the course, where Mann was forced to wear goggles and balaclava to cope with a blizzard and strong winds. “It was a complete whiteout,” he said.

Both paused in an unofficial aid station at the Greg’s Hut bothy on the northern flanks of Cross Fell, with Keith leaving first. But at Alston, checkpoint four, 276km into the 420km race, Mann retired.

He said: “I had a bit of a sore quad from a fall on the first day, but it’s been manageable.

“But I went into another hole today and wrenched it. I can’t even go over stiles now. I don’t think it’s serious, but it hurts like hell.”

Record holder Eoin Keith now leads the race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Record holder Eoin Keith now leads the race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

By midnight on Tuesday, Keith had reached Hadrian’s Wall, with Paloncý about 6km behind him on the approaches to Greenhead.

Both Hollins and Swiss runner Simon Gfeller were taking sleep breaks at Alston.

Current champion and course record-holder Carol Morgan of Ireland still leads the women’s race at Dufton, but has had difficulties. She said: “I feel like I’ve got another 5,000 miles to go still, but I’ll get there.

“I’ve had some big downs, but I feel good at the moment. I feel strong.”

Briton Sarah Kirsty Williams was the second woman, about 30km behind Morgan, but Daphné Derouch of France has caught up with her and both were at the Middleton-in-Teesdale checkpoint at midnight.

After a day of strong winds and snow showers in the Pennines, the weather forecast for Wednesday is for clearer conditions with temperatures around 1C.

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