It had been described as Britain's most brutal race and the first running of the Spine (January14/21, 2012) more than lived up to the organiser's billing. Only three of 16 starters completed the full 268 mile course which ran the length of the Pennines from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders.
Race updates read more like Captain Scott's despatches from the Antarctic as competitors dropped out through injury, exhaustion and hypothermia - the Spine lost six runners on Day 1 alone!
Sceptics suggested that the Spine's fiercely tough 268 miles could not be completed in the required 7 days but the pairing of Gary Morrison and Steve Thompson finished in a time of 6 days 8 hours 2 mins to win a deserved place in the pantheon of ultra-running. Their achievement was described as a 'testament to their stoic determination and unbelievable desire to finish the course'.
Almost equal credit was given to the third finisher Mark Caldwell - 6 days 14 hours and 55 minutes. Mark's 268 mile was a solo effort.
After the carnage of Day 1, the remaining runners grouped up to help each other against their greatest opponent - the hugely challenging course. Richard Lendon, Gary Morrison and Steve Thompson formed one unofficial team; Jonathan Zeffert and Karl Baker another; and Tim Robinson, Andrew Collister and Brian Mullan a third. Only Mark Caldwell supported by his dad continued on his own.
Winter on the exposed moorlands, hills and mountains of the Pennine Way was proving to be a merciless experience even for the hardy runners who made it to Day 3 and another three competitors dropped out at that stage. Gary Morrison, Richard Lendon and Steve Thompson ended the day on a three-way tie for the lead, ahead of Mark Caldwell. Robinson, Zeffert and Baker ended their efforts.
Day 4 saw an element of humour as after completing a short but tricky 33 miles, Morrison, Lendon and Thompson headed to the Tan Hill Inn in the market town of Middleton-in-Teesdale. There they were informed there was ' no food'. A practical joke that was followed by 'the best mushroom soup and chips you could ever eat'.
As the leading three re-fuelled the man they were calling the 'Aberdeen Android' was bearing down on them relentlessly. Mark Caldwell closing the gap to just one hour despite a knee injury and blistering. Andrew Collister and Brian Mullan separated but both made it to the end of Day 4 control point.
Day 5 and it was down to four with Brian Mullen's retiral at Dufton, 154 miles into the challenge. Andrew Collister carried on until Friday, the penultimate day, when trench foot meant that the race organisers decided he was unfit to continue.
And then there were three!