Damian Hall

Outdoor Journalist and Two-Time Spine® Race Finisher

Fitness is important. But running/racing fitness is less important than you might think – you can just about power-hike the race inside the cutoffs. Being topographically embarrassed in the dark and horizontal rain when sleep deprived and up to your armpits in peat bog, and being able to sort yourself out, is a better asset. Are you comfortable in that scenario?

Think about how you’ll train mentally for the Spine. Above all else, it’s your mind that’ll get you to Kirk Yetholm. Practising the above will help.

It’s better to be undertrained and injury free than well trained but with a niggle. Strength training and hiking are good preparation too. 

In training, get used to carrying that pack and using it, so you know the best place for food, maps and gloves. Add weight to your pack incrementally, so it’s not too demoralising at first and there’ll be less injury risk as the body adapts.

Print and laminate a check-point check list: change batteries, change map, socks, charge phone, eat, sleep, et al. You’ll be deeply tired. It’s surprisingly how much time is lost through muddle-headed faffing.

Do everything you can (avoid snotty toddlers) in the fortnight before the race. Cold and flu have caused DNFs and DNSs. Use First Defence Nasal Spray. In that final week, rest, rest, rest. Eat well.

During the race, be wary of moving to a schedule. It almost always takes longer than you think and there’s no need to give yourself something extra to be demoralised about.

If there’s one word that sums up the successful Spiner's mindset, it’s adaptability. You will face problems and setbacks. How will you deal with them, both practically and emotionally? The adaptable Spiner is more likely to get to KY.

Try not to totally neglect hygiene. Sure, cleaning your teeth after every snack might be overdoing it. But never cleaning teeth or washing hands or, especially, taking care of your feet, can lead to some strange and weird problems, which again could become serious and race-ending.

It’s commonly thought that sleeping with legs slightly elevated delays the likelihood of feet swelling.

Be nice to the race’s staff and volunteers. Many of them have had less sleep than you and given up their time for free. Plus you’ll likely see them again later in the race…

Smile. Even when you’re hurting. Smiling causes dopamine to be released, the brain’s pleasure juice. Trick yourself into thinking you’re having a fun time.


“Look after your feet and they'll look after you.”
Harsharn Gill, David Lee, Zoe Thornburgh

“Don't just go out on daytimes, get out in the shitest weather conditions to harden yourself up.
Don't come into the race expecting to 'smash it’. It will only set you up for a big fall and you’ll be more likely to lose your head when your race isn’t going as expected.”
Gary Morrison

“Get comfortable being out in the dark. In January it's dark almost two thirds of the time.”
Rob Harper

“[In training] make yourself a face-sized cardboard toilet roll holder about 2ft long, attach it to your face and wear it everywhere. That should get you used to the mist-induced night-time headtorch tunnel vision.”
Foster Marcus

“Test kit, practice skills and navigation in winter conditions day and night. Access the Spine Training Weekend and autumn Complete Racer Courses for quality Spine training.”
Stuart Westfield

“Learn to navigate. It’s more fun than recce-ing and leaves the trail fresh for an adventure.”
Joe Faulkner

“Look at the time it takes most people to finish (check them out on DUV), then mull over how challenging it must be. I totally underestimated this race on first attempt.”
Mark Taylor-Weir

“Don’t forget to train your head as well as your legs. Your head is more likely to let you down, in my experience.”
Benjamin Tyas

“Volunteer first on the Spine Safety Team and learn from everyone else's DNFs. It's cheaper that way!”
Alex Buckland, Colin Green

“Don’t waste time, either be sleeping or moving. And don’t give up!”
Kevin Otto

“Don't race the cutoffs. Ever-changing weather conditions has seen them brought forward for athlete safety, so if you are sat on the cutoffs you could find yourself being timed out.”
Louise Steggals

“Remember to look up and appreciate the beauty of nature from time to time. I witnessed one of the most stunning sunsets I've ever seen.”
Michelle Jane

“Develop a very large sense of humour! (And love of mud).”
Sarah Fuller

“Make sure you know exactly why you are there. It’s going to be very unpleasant at times and unless you have a clear 'why’, it's going to be a struggle.”
Sarah Fuller

“No matter how shagged you are, never DNF going into a checkpoint. Have a brew and a chat with yourself. You will leave that checkpoint. (Not sure about the next one, like!)”
Mark Collins

“Accept half the people you stand at the start with will not finish. It's survival with a race attached, not just a race.”
Nick K. Maidment

“Rest at least 3-4 hours at every CP from the start.”
Leif Abrahamsen

“Use a sleeping bag liner. It saves your sleeping bag getting dirty when you have to crawl into it in the middle of the night bivvi-ing in a dirty barn!”
Clare Holdcroft

“Have an alarm that actually wakes you up. Or you may oversleep in said barn!”
Clare Holdcroft

“The number of pairs of socks and gloves you will need is n+1 where n is the number you have.”
Sarah Fuller

“Practical tip: add little loops on any zips (I used paracord). Then it’s much easier to pull with gloves on. In 2015 my ski goggles were invaluable. They were one of the last bits of kit I purchased and I wore them for most of the Baby Spine. Would have been blind without them. Most important bit of kit.”
Robert Jones

“If you're planning to race, travel light.”
Mark Turner

“Have you done long races before – can you cope with sleep monsters?”
Clare Holdcroft

“If you see sheep poo turning into a butterfly and attacking you, you may not have slept enough.”
Gary Marlow