The Spine Race 2018 finished last Sunday after a most challending edition of its 450km aimed at Hadrian´s Wall in th United Kingdom. Victory went to Czech Pavel Palovny yet Simon Gfeller put on an impressive performance. The swiss runner lives and trains in Malaga, under the sun and warmth of spanish Costa del Sol. Yet after this 7th position last year he came back to brave the blizzards and snowfall gaining up positions over the five days of th race only to take the silver in the end.


Here we see first a video interview in spanish/english with Damien Hall, right at the finish line, then we move on to Simon´s very own race report, written by his own hand in a series of Questions and Answers. Play video!






Simon, congratulation to your 2nd place overall on the Spine Race! you have taken part also last year. what was different this year regarding last years edition?
Thank you. Well, last year it was very wet. The ground, the bogs, the moors where nearly under water. But it was less cold and less windy and there where no snowstorms. This years edition was absolutely epic! The wind was tremendous and therefore the wind-chill factor made it worse for the athletes. in fact: the this years edition was much harder tan the last years one.
We heard that on some sections the temperatures dropped to -17ºdegrees below zero!! Together with strong winds, White-outs, wet feet…really horrendous conditions! How do you cope with that?
It´s not easy to cope with all that thinking that your feet will be eventually wet the whole time and you will be extremely exhausted, your body and mind worn out and with huge sleep deprivation. You have to be focussed and stay focused to stay on the trail. Never stop going ahead, keep on, keep on..again and again, getting to the next checkpoint. Very important wearing good clothes/gear (thermal, Goretex etc.) and carring top-quality gear with you. Carring also enough food with you! If it´s cold you need to eat more, you need more energy, more calories to keep on moving otherwise you will getting slower and you will start to feel very cold and start to freeze. If that happens then you will be in real troubles!
There are 5CP´s (checkpoints) where the athletes have access to their dropbags, food and space for sleep. Did you sleep in all of those CP´s? How much did you sleep along the course?
At CP1 HEBDEN BRIDGE km 75, i didn´t sleep. I just sat down for a few minutes organising my backpack and went out again. I slept the first time at CP2 HAWES km 175, slept there for 1:30Hour. at CP3 MIDDLETON km 225 I slept for 1hour. at CP4 ALSTON km 290 another 1:30hour. at CP5 BELLINGHAM km  355 we were told by the race organisation that the race has been stopped due to the severe dangerous weather conditions. Therefore I had to stop there for some more, more hours than I actually wanted and needed but that was the same for all of us runners. The race then was re-startet at 6AM. My worries were that the advantage I got over my 2 persecutors was falling into pieces as they also came to CP5 and had to stop there together with me and starting all 3 of us again together at 6AM.
This year the runner-field was extremely strong; stronger than ever! Many international top-athletes were taking the start. Many previous winner where participating again. What was your strategy for the race?
To be honest I didn’t really had a strategy, seriously! I just ran as fast as I could, going my pace, always pushing and  staying focussed.
I didn’t bother about too much about other runners. Didn’t care about how many runners are in front of me or how many are chasing me. I just did my job as good as possible, pushing all the time. It´s a long distance and a very hard race and therefore many things can and will happen. I don’t stress myself. I try to stay motivated, keep moving, doing my race.
We also heard that there was an diversion at PEN-Y-GHENT, one of the highlights of The Spine Race, due to ice and hazardous conditions?
Yes, that´s true. sadly, but understandable, we were not allowed to go over Pen-y-ghent, climbing up to the Summit. The stoney Summit was totally frozen, covered in ice. It was too dangerous. We all had yacktracks/crampons in our backpack but the organisation didn’t want to take that risk, and that’s understandable.
We had to take an alternative road/trail to go around Pen-y-Ghent then to avoid going up and down to the peak.
There are some other stunning and really impressive places/sections you are passing during the race like: Hadrians Wall, the Cheviots, High Cup Nick, Cross Fell,…But which of the sections was the hardest one for you?
Wow yes! Let my have a think! I found a really tough section High Cup Nick. A spectacular area! But there was so much wind coming in front of you (facewind), heavy winds with snow. It took me so an unbelievable long time to go from Middleton to Dufton due to that wind and storm. A never-ending-story.
Another scary section was without any doubt Cross Fell, taking ages too to go trough there. The temperatures dropped dramatically down there up in the hills. Very heavy winds up to 60mph (100km per hour). With a wind speed like that the wind-chill factor was about -17ºdegrees below zero!! And that’s how do you really feel it. There were moments were it was difficult to stand upright and keep walking in this storm and whiteout! I was so happy to get to Gregs Hut, knowing that John Bamber would be there in the shelter and finally I would try his famous nuddels and toasted bred and rest there for some 15min. Yes, the Cross Fell section was a hard work! A big job in a dark stormy night! Very cold, icy and unbelievable strong wind. It was so cold that the water in my 2water bottles was frozen! So I had no water the last 3 hours to the next CP!! I started to eat a bit of snow, at least I got some water/liquid to swallow the food I was eating. There were some real “funny” moments!
Finally then the Cheviots, the last really hard section on the course before arriving in Kirk Yetholm. Its only about 50km before the finish but the Cheviots hills are responsible for so many DNF (did not finish).So many runners were struggling getting trough this in snow covered windy and cold hills. Many athletes failed there, only a few miles/kms before the finish!! It is a very tricky area. I was run-out of food because of all that deep snow there, wasting too much energy digging a way trough the 50cm recently fallen snow! The path, the stone-platted way was not visible anymore. Everything was just snow with the bogs underneath! I took us ages to go trough those hills.
At hut2 (shelter) we had to stop for a 30min rest. We had to eat and melt some snow with our gas heaters because we were ran-out of water! The melted water we put then in our water bottles, in this way we had enough liquid for the rest part of the course to the finis In Kirk Yetholm.
Did you used the same type of gear/material for the race as last year?
Yes, I used the same race-kit tan as year, made only a few little changes getting down a bit the weight of my backpack. This year I used a much lighter roll mat, also a lighter bivy bag. As lighter is your pack as faster you will move! And therefore getting to checkpoints quicker!! However this year in the race I destroyed mi poles and waterproof pants. In the Cheviots section I lost my gaiters somewhere in the bogs or snow, and I got all the snow and mud into my shoes.
Is there anything you can recommend, any information, for somebody you would like to do The Spine Race?
Well, it´s an absolutely brutal, a very hard but amazing race! You will live some fantastic moments, enjoying lovely landscapes. You will spend some really great and nice moments with other runners on the trail. Those memories will last forever! But you will also face horrendous and challanging moments. You should have experience in this type of races and you need plenty of mental and physical strenght! You have to be self-sufficiency and capable to deal with all kinds of difficult situations out there in the nature and hostile climate. You will face problems and setbacks. You will have to learn to deal with them, practically and emotionally. Look after your feet…and look after you feet! Learn how to use your GPS. Many runners have a DNF (did not finish) because they couldn´t work with their GPS unit. Train with your gear, get used to it. Dont´t go last-minute shopping! Take top-quality Goretex/waterproof gear with you. A sturdy waterproof winter jacket, not a superlight-summerrain-jacket! Heavy rain is very often, usually with strong wind. Use comfortable good quality waterproof trousers as you will wearing them nearly the whole race anyway. If you use down-jackets then just make sure they will not get wet as this could lead (and probably will) to hyperthermia.
If somebody would like to push his/hers body and mind to breaking point, then, that´s the race you are looking for!!! GO FOR IT!! Be nice to the race staff and volunteers as they will take care of you!
There are so many bogs/moors, you have to cross streams, will have wet feet nearly tho whole time. Some runners use waterproof socks. What type of socks did you use?
I don´t use those waterproof socks. I ran in normal Lurbel wool-socks and I had no problems with. I once tried Sealskins waterproof socks but they had a hard seam which started to cut the top of my toes. I felt they were warm, but no matter how warm they are if they shred-up your feet. So I use only normal Lurbel woolsocks the whole time. Some runners used 2pairs of socks because it was a bit cold. I changed my socks at each checkpoint but for running I put on only 1pair of socks, felt warm enough, exept a few parts of the race a felt a bit cold and my feet were nearly frozen but not too serious.
How about the race-organisation, rescue team and medical staff?
For me, the Spine Race is a top-organised race, one of the best ones. They are really professional. Organisation, Medical team, Rescue team and also volunteers are working so hard to do the right thing. Absolutely fantastic! They are all doing a great work during this week. If you have a real problem out there they will come and get you out there as soon as possible! And that is in some cases not so easy!








Info by Mayayo Oxígeno for Trailrunningspain