Longtown Moutain Rescue Team (LMRT) members Andrew Geeson and Mike Fawcett have completed the Spine MRT Challenge, a race that Andrew says, “lived up to its name as Britain’s most brutal.”   

Andrew and former Cross Ash Primary School teacher, Mike had previous experience in their arsenal. Andrew had taken on the MRT South challenge in January 2022, whilst Mike tackled the MRT Challenger South in 2018. However, this would mark their most difficult challenge yet. 

60 miles longer that the South edition, the Montane Winter Spine MRT Challenge is a non-stop, 160-mile race along the Pennine Way from Hardraw to Kirk Yetholm; that sees individuals aged 18 (plus) of all different levels participate to “test themselves”.  

Andrew, 63, headed into the challenge with a levelheaded approach, saying: “I think it’s best to look at the race as a series of 30+ or 40+ legs rather than the whole number or it does become quite daunting.”  

In the build-up, the Crickhowell local had trained by taking walks of up to 33 miles a day, with the odd 20 followed by another 20 the next day. His dedication was rewarded as Andrew found the elevation not overly difficult after doing lots of miles locally on the hills.  

However, nothing could have prepared him for the horrific conditions. 

Andrew and Mike found themselves battling blizzards, temperature drops to –20, knee deep snow drifts, frozen ground, high winds and rain, which served “air wreaking havoc on the lungs”.   

“The bitter cold had my water bottles freezing up so no fluids for long sections and this took its toll,” Andrew shared. “I understand that a few people who’ve never had asthma were forced to withdraw due to cold induced breathing problems.”  

Although Andrew and Mike were not a team – they were united in their determination to power through and beat the race cut off point, which stood at 108 hours. This meant minimal sleep – even at the checkpoints where they would often reconvene.   

“There was no sleep the first night,” Andrew recalled “then probably no more than two hours each day at checkpoints... The difficulty at the checkpoints is some people snore like walruses!”  

This was made no easier by the condition of the checkpoint, which served as yet another challenge to the exhausted participants. “The last checkpoint was unheated so quite miserable to try and sleep on a hard wooden cold floor... It was always going to be tough, and the extreme cold made it more difficult.” 

Andrew pointed out that for some, however, the cold leant an advantage. Due to the ground being frozen, what might normally be knee deep bogs, had become solid - enabling the young up and coming athletes to produce new records. 

It is important to recognise that while it was a race, everyone was completely supportive of one another in achieving their goals. 

“The ‘Spine bubble’ has come to be known as a big family atmosphere with people helping each other on the route and the checkpoint support staff are fantastic,” said Andrew. 

“They help with food and drinks; bowls to be sick in, medical advice if needed; and would patch up people’s blisters and minor injuries.  

“I myself broke one of my walking poles after a fall on ice and a volunteer lent me his brand-new poles, which I posted back to him after the race, everyone really tries to help the participants reach their goal.” 

Andrew’s personal aim was to complete the race. The true test would come with the last seventeen miles, as the 63-year-old faced hallucinations as result of sleep deprivation and lack of fluids and food. “I was convinced a bright object in the night sky was following me,” he said “I even stopped to film it with my phone. When I got to a refuge hut the safety crew informed me it was the moon!” 

Despite this, Andrew managed to claim 10th place, with a time of 92.22.08; coming behind Mike who finished in 9th place. An incredible achievement. 

Now in his recovery, Andrew said although being “battered and bruised”, there were highlights to the experience – from the connections he made to the stunning rural locations, which showcased the clearest and brightly lit star/skies. 

Yet, the most rewarding part of the experience, was the money Andrew and Mike had respectively raised for LMRT – an organisation that both proudly volunteer in.  

LMRT was originally formed in 1965 to help people in difficulties within the Black Mountains. The role of the team has now expanded to include a wide variety of potential situations, where the police consider whether their assistance and expertise would be of benefit. 

The independent charity is responsible for the teams funding and management. Being purely self-funded can come with its challenges, especially as they need over £35k a year to keep vehicles and kit in good shape. 

Through their individual Just Giving pages – Andrew raised £695, and Mike, £1,040 – which, will go towards aiding LMRT. 

A spokesperson from LMRT, expressed the team’s delight in Andrew and Mike’s accomplishment, stating: “We are immensely proud of their completion of the Spine Challenger. Their resilience, strength, and mental resolve throughout this gruelling challenge are commendable and epitomise the best of mountain rescue values. 

“Andrew and Mike’s dedication to pushing their limits to raise funds for good causes is a tremendous inspiration for our team. Their accomplishment highlights the physical and mental demands of mountain rescue work and brings to light the spirit of community and support that is vital to our operations. 

“We are in awe of Andrew and Mike’s achievements, and their success is a testament to what can be accomplished with determination and a commitment to a cause greater than oneself. On behalf of the entire team at Longtown Mountain Rescue, I extend our heartfelt congratulations to both of them.”

Andrew and Mike’s Just Giving pages are still open to donations. If you would like to show your support, visit the links below.

Andrew: https://www.justgiving.com/page/andrew-geeson-1704295574666

Mike: https://www.justgiving.com/page/mike-fawcett-spine-mrt-challenger-north