Local runners go across the pond for new adventure
Canice Harte hopes to win, break course record
Raise your hand if you’ve ever run 268 miles straight? Now raise your hand if you’ve done that in the midst of blistering winter conditions while navigating yourself through the entirety of the course with no Siri to tell you where to go, but rather a compass and a map?
If your hand is still up, chances are you’re either crazy or have competed in the Montane Spine Race and Challenger in Britain. The event is widely regarded as one of the world’s toughest endurance tests and when it takes place next week, a group of Parkites will be on the starting line prepared to take on the task.
“It’s 268 miles and in the middle of winter,” said Canice Harte, President of local entity Park City Running Company. “Winter conditions, winds blowing sideways, it’s just nasty. There’s a sense of adventure that drew me to it.”
Harte will be one of a group of six Parkites — three runners, two supporters and one videographer — who will embark to Britain for the trip. He, along with another local runner Benjamin Light, will be competing in the Spine Race, a 268-mile run on the Pennine Way, while Dominick Layfield will be competing in the Spine Challenger. The latter is essentially the same thing, but for just the first 108 miles of the trail.
“It does seem kind of crazy when you think about it,” Harte said. “I think this distance stuff, sometimes the mileage, doesn’t seem real until you get there.”
The group of avid runners has been training for this event, though many of them are already pretty accomplished. All of them have competed in some variation of a long race, but most top out at around 100 miles. This is the first time Harte and company will participate in a 200-plus mile race, but it’s been a long time coming.
Stephen Jones was a friend of Harte and Layfield before passing away last January in an avalanche while skiing near Park City. Like his friends, Jones was an avid runner and had already run in races that consisted of at least 200 miles. He always tried to get Harte and Layfield to join him, but convincing them was easier said than done.
“What [Jones] was personally driven by was the experience,” Harte said. “He just thought everybody should have that experience. I wasn’t totally sure that that was something I was into.”
After Jones’ passing, Harte and Layfield heard of the opportunity to run in the Spine Race and took advantage. Because it can be so grueling, the duo had to go through the application process, but thanks to their background, were easily accepted.
They did all of this behind closed doors, but now, it’s become a bigger deal. In addition to making the group larger by adding a support group and a photographer, Harte and company will be among the first Americans to ever complete the race. Another American, unrelated to the story, will be participating this year, as well.
“It went from, in January, when it was just [Layfield] and me kind of quietly signing up, not really going out there and telling everybody,” Harte said. “Now, [it’s turned into] a pretty big crew of locals all heading over there.”
And while Harte has spent hours researching runners’ boards and race plans from past competitors, he still isn’t sure how everything is going to shake out.
Each competitor has seven days to complete the race. They will start in Edale Village, where the trailhead to Pennine Way starts. The trail will take each racer to places such as the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland National Park, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots. It will finish near the Scottish border.
The scenery will, at times, be beautiful, but the winter conditions will certainly do their best to ruin those moments. According to the race’s website, racers can “expect to face extreme weather, deep snow, ice, mud, bogs, ground water, storm force winds and driving rain in a gruelling, non-stop, 7-day race.”
If 268 miles wasn’t enough, the forceful elements certainly are.
“The physical challenge is really just a way to get to the mental challenge,” Harte said. “Once you do this stuff long enough, you realize that your body is capable for doing whatever you want it do. You can go longer and farther. You can imagine over 268 miles, you’ll be out there by yourself in the elements, dealing with it and having to really dig deep and sort of work through that mental challenge.”
Many of the competitors are there just to complete the race. After all, it’s not every day that you can accomplish such a task.
But not Harte.
Not only does he hope to simply finish it. He’s aiming for the course record, which is just under 96 hours or approximately four days. This will require the utmost of dedication, including very little to no sleep on most days, but none of that bothers Harte.
“I’m trying to finish in the top three,” Harte said. “I’m trying to be competitive. I’d like to win the thing if I could. … I’ll be running nonstop for four days, minimum, of the seven days.”
Harte and Light will begin their journey across the Pennine Way on Jan. 15, while Layfield will begin his a day before. Will they finish? The group certainly thinks so. But will they accomplish their goals? That is yet to be determined.
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