A runner prepares to cross the M62 bridge on Sunday night. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

A runner prepares to cross the M62 bridge on Sunday night. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The race for the lead of the Montane Spine Race is hotting up as runners face freezing temperatures and 70mph gusts.

John Kelly of the USA set a fast pace during the first 24 hours of the event, which involves running the full 268 miles of the Pennine Way.

Kelly led the field until a navigation error leaving Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales allowed Irishman Eoin Keith to catch the American. The arrival of Storm Brendan has added to the travails of the competitors who have faced unusually muddy conditions underfoot, high winds and prolonged rain spells.

Despite that, Kelly set a record-breaking pace over the first day, ahead of that set by last year’s winner Jasmin Paris. More than 150 runners made the start from Edale at 8am on Sunday, with 420km of brutal Pennine weather and terrain ahead of them.

John Kelly set a fast pace during the first 24 hours. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

John Kelly set a fast pace during the first 24 hours. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

At the time of writing, John Kelly and Eoin Keith were neck and neck as they headed north out of Swaledale towards the Tan Hill Inn.

A chasing group of three, including Spaniard Eugeni Roselló Solé, who dropped out of the 2019 race just short of the finish, Jayson Cavill and German Andre Hook was about 3km behind the leaders.

Leading the women’s race, Sabrina Verjee was in sixth overall place. Verjee, who won the 2019 Montane Spine Fusion run along the same course in summer, was about to tackle the ascent of Great Shunner Fell as night fell.

Eoin Keith gained on John Kelly in Wensleydale. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Eoin Keith gained on John Kelly in Wensleydale. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Second-placed woman Debbie Martin-Consani was in a group of four runners heading north in Ribblesdale, ahead of third-place female Patricia Patterson who was descending Pen-y-ghent.

Speaking before the start of the race, John Kelly said: “I’m just going to run my own race and not worry about the others.” Kelly is a former winner of the 100-mile Barkley Marathons event in Tennessee.

Behind the group of three, currently resting at Hawes, is a party of runners including former winner Tom Hollins, Spine Challenger past winner Wouter Huitzing, James Leaveley and Huw Davis. Simon Gfeller had just set out from the Wensleydale village at dusk.

Sabrina Verjee has a commanding lead in the women's race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Sabrina Verjee has a commanding lead in the women's race. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The Montane Spine Challenger Race, run along the southernmost 108 miles (174km) of the Pennine Way, was won by Briton Doug Zinis. Asked if a win was in his plans, he said: “No, I thought I’d be happy in the top 10.” In fact he won the race with a lead of an hour and a half over second-placed David

In third position was Chris Brookman, who crossed the line beside the first woman in the Challenger, Elaine Bisson. Bisson ran an outstanding race having come in with a target of nothing more than ‘hopefully finishing’ and ‘taking the race a mile at a time.’

Second woman over the line was Sarah Witte. When asked how she’d found the race dubbed Britain’s most brutal, she said: “Brutal doesn’t cut it; his race is something else.” Rebecca Lane took third place in the women’s race.

Montane Spine Challenger winner Doug Zinis. Photo: Jimmy Hyland

Montane Spine Challenger winner Doug Zinis. Photo: Jimmy Hyland

The Montane Spine MRT Challenge, for active rescue team members from England, Wales and the Scottish Borders, was won by Joe Parsons of Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association. He said: “I don’t mind the dark and I don’t mind the wind and rain, so I cashed in on the bad conditions.” His strong performance through the bad weather of the previous night saw him come within six minutes of breaking the MRT Challenge course record.

Second placed Greg Crowley made Parsons work for his medal, coming in only a few minutes behind in his eight Montane Spine Race event.

Julian Walden, fundraising officer for Mountain Rescue England and Wales, said: “The Montane Spine Challenge has become a big date in the mountain rescue calendar.

“We’ve had more than 30 team members taking part in the MRT Challenge and we’d like to say thank you to everyone involved in organising such an amazing event.”

Runners have seven days to complete the course in the main Spine Race. Competitors’ progress can be followed via the Live Tracking website.

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