Eoin Keith (IRL) won the Montane Spine Race 2022 in a time of 92hrs 40mins, crossing the line in the early hours of the morning with a lead over his closest rivals of several hours. Debbie Martin-Consani put in a similarly strong effort, finishing 1st Female, later that afternoon in a time of 104hrs 8mins.
This was the tenth edition of the Montane Spine Race which tackles the UK's first national trail: the Pennine Way. This year, the entry list was a who's who of top ultra running race winners and FKT holders; Damian Hall, a two time finisher of the Spine and former Pennine Way FKT holder; Kim Collison, who has multiple records to his name; Sabrina Verjee, the current women's record holder for the Pennine Way; Doug Zinis, the double Bob Graham record holder; Eoin Keith, a winner of the Winter and Summer Spine; and Eugenie Rosello Sole, who won the Spine in 2013.
Setting off from Edale, runners had to contend with horrendous conditions from the off. Snow, high winds, rain, mud, high rivers, not to mention the 268 miles in front of them were just a few of the things with which they had to contend. Damian Hall and Kim Collison took an early lead over Spaniard Eugunie Rosello Sole in 3rd and Doug Zinis in 4th. Sabrina Verjee went out ahead in the women's race with Debbie Martin-Consani, Nikki Sommers and Elaine Bisson behind her.
Day 2 began with drama that the race has become known for and despite her commanding lead, Sabrina Verjee retired from the race near Horton, leaving Debbie Martin-Consani to take the lead. Kim Collison – who was running alongside Damian Hall at the front – also dropped out. He said:
'My body started to shut down and I couldn't get any food in, was vomiting, and progressively seizing up.'
This left Damian Hall with a clear lead and ahead of the Pennine Way fastest known time. Tiaan Erwee, Eugunie Rosello Sole, Doug Zinis and Eoin Keith were behind.
Day 3 was no different in terms of drama and Damian Hall's commanding and potentially record-breaking lead came crashing down when he retired due to pain in his groin. Writing about his race, he said:
'I felt sensational, in body and mind. I knew Eugenie Rosello Sole would keep me honest, but I had a four-hour lead with 24hrs left. Had time for a snooze. The weather was surprisingly un-Spine like. Even if recent heavy rain had made the terrain minging in places. All was brill. Apart from one minor detail...
'I'd felt a subtle strain in the groin on that first night in the sloppy mud. But forgot about it.
' felt it a bit more on the long rocky descent from High Cup. A bit more over Cross Fell and on the gruelling 10K rocky descent. But stuff will hurt on this race. Did someone mention brutal?
'Between Cross Fell and the Alston check point there's a lot of stiles. My groin didn't like those much. Lifting my leg made me wince. I was already taking Paracetamol for a separate small issue. A medic at Alston gave me something stronger.
'I thought it was manageable. But stiles were difficult and painful. The painkillers weren't enough. I wasn't meant to take more for another couple of hours and there were 50+ miles to go.
'I shouted at the sky. I called my wife. Then race HQ.
'That was my time. Till it wasn't.'
Eugenie Rosello Sole took the lead over Eoin Keith, Doug Ziniss, and James Leavesley. Despite having the lead, Sole was having to fight against fatigue having accrued two nights without sleep. The number of front runners forced to retire this year has seemed high and sadly, Eugenie Rosello Sole was another casualty. He went to sleep at Horneysted Farm and was overtaken by Eoin Keith. In the women's race, Nikki Sommers retired. She had been running in comfortable 3rd and left Debbie Martin-Consani in 1st, Elaine Bisson in 2nd and Lizzie Faithfull-Davies in 3rd.
Is anyone going to finish this fucking thing? https://t.co/8YphxAbYGB— Ally Beaven (@AllyBeaven) January 12, 2022
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Eoin Keith crossed the finish line in Kirk Yetholm, marking his second overall win in winter and an absolute masterclass from the experienced tactician. Talking at the finish line, Eoin said, 'This was a special win for me. I didn't think I had a hope, I thought I'd give it my best, but there were just so many class runners here.'
When asked what his tactics were, Eoin said, 'to run my own race. it was my most comfortable and balanced spine race. I don't have gear 5 anymore but I've always said if you run your own race, and optimise your own performance, your best performance will come out.'
Eoin has also finished in 2nd position 3 times and previously held the course record. In 2021 he also won the summer edition of the race and set a new course record for that race too, making him the first athlete to win back-to-back summer and winter Spine Races. He was followed in by 2nd and 3rd place runners Doug Zinis and James Leavesley who had been running together since Tan Hill.
Debbie Martin-Consani's (aka. Ultra Run DMC) performance was strong and unwaivering throughout. After Sabrina withdrew, Debbie immediately took over the mantle of 'pole position' and continued to dominate, without showing a sign of weakness, and always with a smile on her face.
For more information on the other Montane Spine Races this year, click here.