Lecturer finishes 268 mile race as part of research project

A De Montfort University (DMU) academic has taken a research project to extreme levels by taking part in, and completing, a 268 mile race along the famous Pennine Way.

Dr Brian Harman, DMU lecturer in Marketing, has been investigating the psychological aspects of multiday endurance races. He decided that the best way to find out what racers go through was to take on one of Europe’s toughest ultra-marathons, the Spine Race.

Brian Harman Spine Race1
Brian Harman (second from right) completed the Spine Race last month

Billed as ‘Britain’s most brutal race’, the Spine Race is a non-stop race that covers a 268 mile route with a cumulative height gain of 16,230 meters. All racers are unsupported as they face the full force of the British winter over the course of several days and racers must complete the route within an allotted 168 hours.

After being ‘broken’ on two previous attempts, he managed to finish the Spine Race last month in a time of 143 hours and 16 minutes, placing him in the top 40 finishers.

Dr Harman, whose main area of expertise is consumer psychology, has been awarded Early Career Research (ERC) funding for the project by DMU’s Faculty of Business and Law. He is collaborating with researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland on this research project.

He said: “I’m delighted that I was able to finish the race on my third attempt. It’s such a difficult race and really pushes you to your limits. Although taking part in it was important for my research, it has also given me a real sense of achievement to finish it.

“The idea is that we tend to think of these ultra-racers as very solitary athletes but in reality, it’s actually more of a team effort.

“In training for the Spine you are on their own, not even the dog is going to go with you on those super long training runs. However, seven days of hardships and sleep deprivation tends to bring people together. In these difficult, gnarly conditions, people often group together and operate as a team.

“During these races many people cross the line together and help each other on along the way. I’m interested in the group dynamics, how we cope during these times, how we keep going, so that’s one of the things I’m looking at.”

Spine Race route
The 268 mile race takes place on the famous Pennine Way

Dr Harman believes that completing the race has given him vital first-hand experience of how endurance athletes manage to keep themselves going in such tough conditions.

“The Spine Race is certainly a stern test of mental fortitude,” he explained. “I’ve done lots of other adventure races and expedition races but the Spine Race is by far the toughest of them all.

“The bad weather conditions, long hours of darkness and sleep deprivation really wear you down. The Spine Race is a pretty unique race because it requires active problem solving and expedition skills.

“I have really enjoyed being able to investigate the psychological factors that help endurance athletes cope with the demands of the race.”

Posted on Friday 22nd February 2019

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