23 June 2023


I signed up for the 2023 Summer Spine 268 Mile Race just two days after completing the Bob Graham Round, squeezing under the 24 hour mark by just 8 minutes. I was riding on a high from that experience and that usually means, ok, what's next. It was to be my goal event for 2023, but ended up being my co-main event after I was selected in the Tor des Geants 330 lottery. With nearly three months between the two events, I was still able to put all of my focus on the Spine Race.
Pretty much immediately following my signing up for the Spine Race, I started scouring the interwebs for anything Spine, race videos, gear reviews, gear lists, mandatory gear, etc. I started to create spreadsheets to figure out the gear I had and the gear I needed. The biggest challenge would be the selection of the race pack I would use to carry the extensive list of mandatory gear along with any other things I deemed helpful or necessary.
I quickly learned that most runners used packs with 20l or larger capacity, most opting for larger while some elites managed to go smaller. I first experimented with the 30l UltrAspire Epic XT pack before getting the opportunity to test a 20l UltrAspire prototype Epic XT pack. With just a day to go before my departure, I made the final decision to use the 20l pack as it would allow me to fit all my kit with only very little room left, which meant no shifting gear in the pack as I ran, thereby avoiding awkward movement of the pack while running. It also meant I wouldn't need to cinch my pack done much as it was mostly used to full capacity.
While this race is considered self-supported, i.e. access to an aid station only every 50 miles, on average, runners were allowed one drop bag that would travel with them from the start to meet them at every aid station, basically once per day. This drop bag was limited to 20kg (44lbs) and would need to hold all spare kit and nutrition one may require for the duration of the race. With the unpredictability that is UK weather, one was well served to make sure to pack plenty of rain gear. This proved to be true for this year's event as well.
My arrival at the actual start line would not be without some severe challenges. With just 5 days to go before my departure from the US to Manchester, UK, my US passport renewal had still not been completed (note: I had sent to for renewal more than 3 months earlier). After making a 7 hour roundtrip to the passport office in Atlanta (to no avail), writing my local congressman (claimed credit, but not likely a factor) and finally getting through to the state department's passport call center, my application was expedited and y passport arrived just 3 days before my departure. Thankfully, my trip to Europe started with a 1 week visit to my new employer's HQ in Finnland. I say thankfully, because Delta partner airline Virgin Atlantic managed to lose all of my bags on my flight to Manchester, UK. Because my race wouldn't start for another week, I was confident my luggage with all of my gear would arrive in time. In the meantime, I had to go shopping as I had zero clothes in my carry-on. Aparently though, my expectations of getting my luggage in time were a bit optimistic. As it turned out, it took Virgin a full week to locate and deliver my luggage just a day prior to race check-in and mandatory gear check. I knew the exact location of my luggage all along down to the specific building (Orlando, Florida? Why Orlando, Florida? Thanks, Apple AirTags), but that did not speed up the process any. Eventually and after waiting for nearly 2 hours to get assistance at the lost luggage desk in Manchester, I finally took possession of all of my bags and gear. Phew!
My good friend Oli was kind enough to not only host me again during my stay in the UK, but also to shuttle me back and forth to and from race registration and the race start. Thanks again, Oli, to your and your amazing wife and family. It took a lot of stress and anxiety off my shoulders. After a decent night's sleep, I had time to chill and sort through my gear one last time, making sure I had packed everything I needed into my racing pack and my drop bag. The racing kit was pretty easy to decide on as everything in it was pretty much considered mandatory gear. For a short description of the mandatory kit requirements as well as anything else I packed in my race pack, check out my YouTube video here. For anything else that I needed in my drop bag, check out another one of my videos here
While Oli was putting in another shift at his high stress job as an ER doc, I wandered through town to pick up some last minute items. Thankfully, Oli was able to find someone to cover the end of his shift, so he could give me a ride to the location of the race packet pickup and mandatory gear check in Edale about 90 minutes outside of Manchester in the beautiful Peak District National Park. This would also be the location of the race start the next morning.
The mandatory gear check is probably the most extensive gear check I have ever been through, and for good reason. As it turned out, I needed every bit of kit that was required...and then some. After unpacking and verifying all of the mandatory gear with the volunteer, it was finally time to get my bib. All runners would be outfitted with a special GPS tracker that had been customized to hold twice the battery power of the normal tracker, which is necessary when running an event that lasts an entire week.
After check-in, it was time to make the 90 minute drive back to Manchester for a last meal and some downtime before the big day. 
The Spine Race is a 268-mile race that stretches the entire length of the Pennine Way National Trail from southeast of Manchester, England all the way to Kirk Yetholm, Scottland. Runners traverse a total of four national parks in the process while climbing roughly 40,000 feet. 
Oli and I arrived at the race start a good hour before the actual start time leaving me plenty of time to get check-in in once more, pick up and get fitted for my GPS tracker and to drop off my drop bag along with a finish line bag. While I would not have access to the finish line bag during the race, it would allow me to pack some things for the finish line without using up valuable drop bag space.
Once I was checked in, it was now time to get nervous in anticipation of the start of the 2023 Summer Spine Race. I did manage to briefly chat with the only other competitor from the US, Peter Mortimer, a UK expat living in Flagstaff, AZ. Pete had much bigger goals than me for this event and I'm happy to report that he accomplished them (podium finish!!!). 
As I was looking around in the starting corral, I noticed how widely everyone's running pack sizes varied, from small 12l packs to giant 30-40l packs that contained everything but the kitchen sink. Once again, I wondered if had had chosen the right gear, the right nutrition. Did I even belong at this starting line? Even after 15 years of ultrarunning, I still feel like a novice at times and this was one of those times. I'm not ready for this. Why did I think I could do this? Then the signal to start was given and all of those doubts went away. It was time to get to work and to soak it all in, all 268 miles of it.
Over the next 130 hours, I would experience my most extreme ultra challenge to date. Rather than give a blow-by-blow of what happened over the course of these 5 days, I instead created a feature-length race video, that hopefully captures the highs and lows as well as the spectacular course I got to experience. Check out the full race video here and comment here or in the comments section of the video with any questions you may have. For photos of this amazing race, please continue to scroll down. If you prefer a full written report of this race, please let me know that in the comments as well and I will do my best to provide extensive written reports along with the race videos.

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