Runners faced blizzards on the Pennines during Wednesday. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race

Runners faced blizzards on the Pennines during Wednesday. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race

Organisers of the Montane Spine Race have halted the event in the face of severe weather warnings.

Runners are being held at checkpoints until it is safe to resume running.

Persistent and heavy snow is forecast, along with 45mph winds and severe windchill.

Racers are being held at Byrness, Bellingham, Alston and Middleton-in-Teesdale checkpoints as well as at Dufton and Greg’s Hut bothy on the northern slopes of Cross Fell.

Pavel Paloncý is in the lead and is at Byrness, south of the Border Ridge. Simon Gfeller, who was placed eighth in last year’s race, has moved into second place. The 2017 victor Tom Hollins is third, only about 20 minutes behind. The second and third men are both at Bellingham, about 24km behind the Czech runner.

The overnight leader Eoin Keith, who currently holds the race record, retired on Wednesday.

Two hours after leaving Bellingham, 338km into the race on Wednesday morning the Irishman headed back to the checkpoint to get his snowshoes, saying they were ‘a must’ to cope with the deep snow in the next section. In so doing he ceded the lead to Paloncý.

Members of the race’s media team found Keith walking along a road, off route. The 2016 winner had decided to retire from the race, citing exhaustion.

He said: “I was projecting forward and I think I would cause a safety problem.

“I needed an additional sleep and the first place I could get that would be [an emergency hut] in the Cheviots. That was a long way from where I was.

“I used up a lot of time going back for my snowshoes. I’m still not sure if it was the right decision, but if Pavel is up to his waist in snow, maybe it would have worked.

“It was a sensible call. But I’m still miserable about it.”

Current champion and course-record holder Carol Morgan of Ireland still leads the woman’s race by around 30km, with Briton Sarah Kirsty Williams second and third-place Daphné Derouch of France about 12km behind her.

Forty-three runners have so far dropped out of the race.

Organisers said they are monitoring the weather closely to determine when the event can restart.

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