It’s been two months since I lost all sense of self preservation and signed up for the Montane Spine Race and planning is now in full effect. I have upped my weekly mileage, running my commute to work on a daily basis rather than once or twice week. I now have 5 low intensity double 9k run days a week alongside a speed session or long run / race. I have also been adding in some sessions with the Tire Trainer and dragging that for up to 5 miles to build my endurance. My race calendar for the year is also starting to fill out with some Ultras to get me ready for the Pennine Way in 8 months time, but I will go into more detail on training next time.
A large part of the Spine Race is the mandatory kit list. It is extensive and requires a lot of careful thought: Do you prioritise weight and make sure you have the lightest possible options or do you opt for a bit of extra weight and the additional comfort that can provide? With food, do you carry the bare minimum or do you make sure that there you have enough excess to cope with any unplanned delays? How I prepare here will impact the entire race so it’s important I come to a decision that’s right for me and not just follow what someone else has done before.
In general running is a very level playing field; with choice of kit making a minimal difference, it all comes back to the runner. However, events like 4 laps of Winter Nuts have taught me that sometimes kit really matters. It can make a huge difference in terms of performance and even contribute to your chances of completing the course (just try for 4 laps with no neoprene!). The Spine Race magnifies this due to the extreme distance and conditions expected on course. Winter on the high hills and paths of the Pennine way can be a dangerous environment even when not traversing the whole stretch in one go, with high winds, rain and even snow to be expected. The damp and cold is going to be a key factor and choosing kit to combat this and keep hypothermia at bay will be of utmost importance.
There are 29 items of mandatory equipment on the list ranging from a spork to ice spikes, that should give you an idea of what I am going to need to carry with me. I’m hoping to have my race pack come in under 7kg with all kit and nutrition. This means I need to make some big choices on what I actually need as opposed to what is a luxury, if luxury exists when you are being hit with 60mph winds and horizontal rain. My target is to get my sleeping bag, sleeping mat and bivvy down to under 1kg as these are likely the bulkiest items of kit I will have. I don’t know how much use they will get during the race, but I want them to be warm and comfy when needed and as small and unobtrusive when not in use.
Finding the right footwear is going to be a key decision as I will want something that is able to deal with the punishment that the Spine is going to dish out while keeping my feet in good condition. While grip over a variety of terrains will be important, there are going to be so many different surfaces over 268 miles that no matter the shoe choice it’ll get slippy somewhere. I'll want to be comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) for the duration. With this in mind comfort will be the deciding factor in my final pick. I am also planning on having my poles with me which will help with balance, and if it gets really gnarly I’ll break out the ice spikes. My last year has been mainly spent running in the Scott Supertrac RC’s but for The Spine i’m going to be looking for something with a bit more cushion and a larger toe box. I’m currently testing both the Supertrac Ultra RC and the Inov-8 ROCLITE 290 Graphene grip (Jasmin Paris wore one pair of the 275’s for the entirety of her dominant performance in this year's race). So will have reviews up for both of those soon.
Getting my layers right will also be a major consideration, The Spine requires that you carry a spare long sleeve base layer, leggings and cold weather mid layer in addition to the clothes you start in. I am lucky enough to be sponsored by Marena Sport who make some brilliant base layer compression gear that will keep me warm and also hold me together at certain points. For my mid layer I am going to be looking at taking a synthetic down gilet as this will still work when wet unlike genuine down which will only serve to chill body temperature further if soaked through by the British weather. In addition to the base requirements I’ll add in some Merino wool layers as it has great warming qualities and is lightweight
Full waterproofs are of course on the list. For the last few years, my go-to has been my Inov-8 RaceElite Stormshell 150. It’s been a great servant and has kept me dry in numerous races, but for The Spine I’m going to need something more substantial. A waterproof that can keep the wind and rain at bay, trap heat whilst also remaining breathable. It sounds like a unicorn, but I may have just found one. Again it’s Inov-8 who have come to the rescue, and again it’s a piece of kit worn by Jasmin Paris this year. The Inov-8 AT/C Protec Shell almost seems to have been designed with the Spine Race in mind. It has a 3 layer Pertex waterproof fabric up to 20,000 HH. I’ll be doing a full review of this in the coming weeks as it’s due to get a good test over the Easter weekend. For my legs previously I have always carried (but never used) a pair of £10 Cotswolds Outdoor lightweight waterproofs. Save for one time at the top of Goat Fell during the Ultra Tour of Arran when it was mandatory. They were carried more with an eye on passing a kit check than actually getting any use. They did their job effectively that day, but I do not think they would serve me well for numerous days on the Pennine Way, so will be looking for something that can withstand whatever The Spine can throw its way while keeping me dry and adding a layer of warmth to my legs.
The other assorted items include;
- A camping stove (must be gas or liquid fuelled)
- Waterproof matches
- Handheld GPS (e.g. Garmin GPS map g4)
- Medical kit
- Googles with clear lens (to protect from wind blindness)
- 2 head torches (min 100 lumens but i’ll be looking for more)
- Gloves and thermal hat
- Map & Compass
- 3000 kcal food (must be topped up to 3000 at cp3 and cp5)
As you can see, it’s quite the list and I will be doing a few runs with full kit so I can get used to the weight and feel of the pack, which is yet another item I’m going to be looking at. I know Pete was a big fan of the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 for the MDS so I may look at that alongside some other options. If you are interested in reading the full mandatory list it can be found here.