Snow was a big story in the Spine Race. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race.

Snow was a big story in the Spine Race. Photo: Mick Kenyon/Spine Race.

The Montane Spine Race has concluded, after living up to its reputation as Britain’s most brutal race.

Fifty-three competitors managed to run the full 268-mile course along the Pennine Way, in conditions that included blizzards, heavy rain, waist-deep snow, 50mph gales and severe windchill.

The event saw the first husband and wife team to complete the race, along with a surprise marriage proposal from another runner at the finish in Kirk Yetholm.

The 2018 Montane Spine Race attracted athletes from 13 countries, with Czech runner Pavel Paloncý taking the winner’s trophy for the third time, and Irish runner Carol Morgan winning the women’s race for the second year in succession.

Fewer than half the 118 starters managed to complete the gruelling course, with final racer Phil Clarke arriving at 6.47am on Sunday, just over an hour before the deadline in a time of 166hrs 48mins.

Clarke started the race the previous year, but retired at Bellingham, 337km into the 420km course. “Can I go to bed now?” he said at the finish line. “I’m so tired.”

He added: “That was brutal; something else. I wanted to start at one pace and finish at that pace, and that pace was slow. It feels brilliant to finish. I won’t be back. But it feels absolutely brilliant.

“Thank you everyone on the race, the volunteers, medics and everyone, you’ve been absolutely brilliant.” At the finish, he received a congratulatory phone call from his daughter in New Zealand.

Pavel Paloncý scored his third victory. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Pavel Paloncý scored his third victory. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Arriving shortly before him, Andy and Sarah Norman became the first couple to complete the Spine Race. Andy said: “That was awesome. The whole thing was stunning.”

There was a double celebration for Matt Harmon who, on arriving at Kirk Yetholm, dropped to one knee and popped the question to his girlfriend Sarah Roscoe, who accepted his proposal.

As well as the challenging and varied weather, organisers said 2018 may well be remembered as the time the race became a truly international event, with 69 overseas competitors in the Spine Race and shorter Spine Challenger, with Japan, New Zealand and Malaysia also represented as well as North America and many European nations.

Co-race director Philip Hayday-Brown said: “It was really exciting to see so many foreign competitors this year, including some international athletes of real calibre.

“When we conceived this race, the whole point was that it was intended to be tough: Britain’s most brutal race. This year the weather threw various challenges at competitors, especially the deep snow drifts that covered much of the last third of the course, harshly slowing them down when they were at their most fatigued. It was definitely a tough one.

“However it made it all the more inspiring to see runners arrive into Kirk Yetholm, the emotions of the athletes shared with our very hard-working staff and volunteers, who’d shared much of the journey with them.

“A marriage proposal at the finish line – which impressively even included the painful manoeuvre of going down on one knee – was a highlight for many of us lucky enough to witness it. Some people got a little sweaty eyed. Ahem.”

Carol Morgan repeated her 2017 win in the women's race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Carol Morgan repeated her 2017 win in the women's race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Fellow co-race director Scott Gilmour said: “We are also really pleased to retain local support along the route and a huge following online.

“This race really seems to capture people’s imaginations and we’re grateful of all the goodwill it receives.

“We’d also like to thank the dedicated support team who make the event possible. Without their efforts and sacrifice, the race would not have the incredible atmosphere and camaraderie people have come to expect.

“It’s a wonderful community who come together to support those willing to endure the brutality of it all.”

Summit Fever Media will be producing a DVD and downloadable movie of the event.

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