Pavel Paloncy. Photo: Nicky Lygo/Spine Race

Pavel Paloncy. Photo: Nicky Lygo/Spine Race

Pavel Paloncý has won the Montane Spine Race for the third time.

The Czech ultrarunner arrived at the finish at Kirk Yetholm on Thursday ahead of Simon Gfeller of Switzerland and Briton John Knapp.

Paloncý arrived at the Border Hotel, the northern end of the Pennine Way at 9.50pm, with an overall time of 109hrs 50mins.

He is the first person to win the race three times and the first to complete it five times – he has also been runner-up twice.

“It’s a great feeling to be here – again,” he said as he touched the wall of the hotel to complete his race

“I’m really happy it’s over to be honest. It was long – but it always is. But every Spine Race I’ve done has been different.”

John Knapp. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

John Knapp. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Conditions on the high fells of the northern Pennines were some of the worst in recent years, leading to the race being temporarily halted overnight on Wednesday. Blizzards and high winds meant the event lived up to its reputation as ‘Britain’s most brutal race.’

Running resumed at 6am on Thursday, but last year’s winner Tom Hollins retired while in fourth place, saying the tendons in his ankles were swollen and he was moving too slowly.

Hollins was among several runners, including Paloncý, Daphné Derouch and Benoit Rothan, to be handed three-hour time penalties for ‘mandatory kit discrepancies’, believed to relate to lack of snow goggles.

Simon Gfeller. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Simon Gfeller. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The 2018 race saw three previous race winners: Eoin Keith, Eugeni Roselló Solé and Tom Hollins, all fail to finish, as well as Jim Mann, who led for much of the event. Paloncý outlasted all of them. “It was like two different races,” he said.

“The first four stages were really fast, we were ahead of record time and looked like we might finish in under 90 hours, and that was fine.

“But then everything changed and the last two stages were really hard. The last stage was very hard, especially. In the Cheviots I had to work hard [in the snow]. It was quite frustrating.”

John Knapp said before tackling the Cheviots section: “We’re not racing. “This is all about the two of us having a big day out together in the mountains. The company and safety are more important than racing for positions.”

Leading woman Carol Morgan. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race

Carol Morgan. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race

In the women’s race, current champion Carol Morgan still has a commanding lead over Sarah Kirsty Williams in second, though this has been reduced to about 21km. Derouch is in third place; Morgan holds seventh place overall.

The Irish runner said while on the snow-covered Hadrian’s Wall section: “I feel great. The enforced rest has rejuvenated me. It’s so beautiful here.”

There have been 49 retirees from the race so far, with 69 runners remaining

Following the enforced halt, which enabled runners to gain some unexpected sleep, organisers issued revised chop times by which competitors have to leave checkpoints. The runners have until 4am on Friday to depart Alston and 4am on Saturday to Bellingham. The cut-off for the final checkpoint at Byrness remains the same at noon on Saturday, with the latest arrival time at Kirk Yetholm still 8am on Sunday, seven days after the start of the race.

Eoin Keith presents Pavel Paloncý with his race medal

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