Jennie Stevens - Conquering The Winter Spine Race for Student Scholarships

She did it! At 5:42am on 20 January, after over 141 hours on the Pennine Way, Jennie crossed the Montane Winter Spine finish line. Jennie battled the cold, muscle pain, sleep deprivation, and much more to raise funds for scholarships for low-income students. Well done Jennie! We are so proud of you!

Jennie Stevens at the finish line and Jennie with her Spine 2024 medal

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It’s difficult to put into words what I feel right now. Over the last week I have put my body and mind through extreme pressure and it’s fair to say I’m feeling a bit dazed.  

I’ve always been inspired by feats of human strength, and when I first heard about this race I was just in awe of the people who could succeed in this challenge. Until just over a year ago, I never imagined one of those people could be me.

The decision to fundraise came after entering the race, when I heard that money to support students from low income backgrounds came from donations and community fundraising. With the Spine being quite a niche but high profile event, I remember thinking “I can do something with this”.

So the culmination of 14 months training, preparation, and fundraising all came to a head last week, and it’s fair to say that it exceeded my expectations on all counts. What started out as a personal journey of discovery culminated in a massive collaboration of love and support from around the University and beyond.  While I covered most of the 268 mile race alone, I never actually felt alone. “Spine mail” messages were pouring in from departments and colleagues around the University (thank you especially to the Library, the UHS, APS, ACS, Enterprise, and EDU - there are others I will have missed!). And donations just kept on coming, with over £4000 raised during the race itself.

I want to thank every single one of you who took time out of your day to send a message or follow my dot! It really does mean a lot and I hope that it gave some distraction during the long cold month of January, however I do send my apologies to our VC, as one messenger did allude to the fact that productivity may have gone down at the University last week!

I will be running an event on the 2nd February from 6pm to talk about my experience and have a final fundraising push, and a raffle with some great prizes. More information will follow in the coming days.

Thank you once again, It’s been a privilege to share my journey with you, to show you what’s possible, all while raising money for a very worthwhile cause.

Jennie Stevens

Montane Winter Spine Challenge 2024 finisher

A challenge of a lifetime

The Winter Spine is an epic non-stop race spanning 268 miles along the breathtaking and demanding national trail in Britain; the Pennine Way. Setting off from Edale in Derbyshire, brave runners face the formidable task of reaching the Scottish Borders village of Kirk Yetholm within a strict time frame of 168 hours. With over 10,000 metres of elevation gain, participants must conquer the awe-inspiring terrain that traverses iconic landscapes such as the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland National Park, Hadrian's Wall, and the Cheviots. This extraordinary challenge serves as the ultimate test of physical resilience and unshakable mental fortitude.

Testing her limits for a greater cause

As a Student Support Manager at the University of Sheffield, she has firsthand experience of the impact that high living costs have on students. She witnesses the challenges students face with commuting, childcare, and the need to work long hours while pursuing their studies. And then there are the talented prospective students who are on the fence about pursuing higher education due to the cost of living crisis.

This challenge will serve as a testament to the boundless possibilities that lie within each of us, showcasing that there are no limits to what can be achieved. It stands as a resounding message that with determination and unwavering belief, there is nothing beyond our reach.

“There will be women out there who think university is something other people do, the thought of attending and potentially getting a degree makes them wide-eyed with excitement, but they need a little extra support and encouragement.  This is an opportunity for me to be able to help other women achieve their own big dreams while achieving my own - and that’s a really big privilege, it’s added another level of motivation to my challenge.”

Jennie Stevens

I believe in Jennie!Jennie has always embraced expedition challenges, but the one she's gearing up for is truly unparalleled. With a steadfast dedication to running since 2018, she's ready to elevate her game to new heights (10,000 metres to be precise) with this ultimate adventure. In her own words, she humbly admits, "I'm no elite athlete - I'm a middle-of-the-pack fell-runner and part-time adventurer who likes to set big goals." Her words reflect the essence of her journey, inspiring us all to believe that anyone can achieve greatness, especially when it involves transforming the lives of others along the way.

Support Jennie's challenge today

We know you’ll give it your all! Best of luck, Jennie!

Jennie’s story

  • What made you choose to take on this challenge and why?

I’ve been taking on personal expedition challenges for the last few years. During my research, I landed on the Spine.  It’s a race I knew about, but not one I had ever considered - it was something other people did….awesome people, legends of the sport.  Not me.  But, it lingered in my thoughts and wouldn’t go away.  Before long I was working on a plan for the race to see if it was even feasible - it was then that I realised this was within my capabilities and since that moment I haven’t looked back. 

And so began a 3-month obsession with the race. I collected data on starters and finishers over the years it’s been running, (since 2012), including male/female stats.  I watched the two films about the race and everything available on YouTube and listened to all the podcasts I could find.  I told very few people about my desire to enter as I didn’t even fulfil the automatic entry criteria. 

The 2023 race came and went, I watched with interest and excitement.  Then, on 6th February at 10 am, entries for the 2024 race opened.  The website crashed!  Some people got in…I didn’t.  After an agonising few days and with apparently 100-ish places left, entries re-opened on 10th February.  After 10 minutes of shaking and sweaty palms, I got through the first stage, my relevant experience was sent to be assessed by the race director, and I struggled through the payment process (my bank wasn’t used to me spending so much money!), and then, the confirmation email came through - I was in! 

I cried with relief - this was such a big deal.

I’ve always loved to challenge myself. I’ve only been running since 2018 but I’ve always been an adventurer.  And this is the ultimate challenge, the ultimate adventure, a real test of everything I have - endurance, grit, determination, mental fortitude.  A chance to push myself right out of my comfort zone (I hate being cold!) and see what I can do.  The desire to be one of the few amazing women (the current course record is held by a woman - Jasmin Paris, 2019) to reach the end of the race and touch the wall of the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm - the desire to make myself proud - is so strong.

  • What does fundraising for Scholarships at the University of Sheffield mean to you?

The idea of fundraising through the University came to me during a recent session about the financial support available to Widening Participation students.  As I listened and learned what our University provides to its students, and where the money comes from, I thought - maybe I can raise money to add to these funds - what I’m doing is big - people might be interested!  The next day I enquired with colleagues in the Campaigns and Alumni Relations team and their support and encouragement so far have been amazing, and I’m really excited about embarking on this campaign and what might be possible.

Student support is a big part of my role in the university, and in my previous department, we had a high percentage of students from WP backgrounds.  I am seeing more and more the effects that the high cost of living is having on our students, many of them struggling with commuting, childcare, and having to work increasing numbers of hours while studying on a full-time course.  This is no doubt a big deterrent to prospective students, with very little available support, who are already unsure if university is for them.

I’m no elite athlete - I’m a middle-of-the-pack fell-runner and part-time adventurer who likes to set big goals, see what I’m capable of and how strong I can be.  I’ve been subject to the odd quizzical expression, but no one has ever told me ‘you can’t do that’.

There will be women out there who think university is something other people do, the thought of attending and potentially getting a degree makes them wide-eyed with excitement, but they need a little extra support and encouragement.  This is an opportunity for me to be able to help other women achieve their own big dreams while achieving my own - and that’s a really big privilege, it’s added another level of motivation to my challenge.

  • How do you feel about taking on this challenge?

There’s a long way to go. I started planning in October and training on 1st January (before I’d even been accepted!), and now I am on plan version 6 (!) and my early training is going well.

I’m currently feeling overwhelmed by the extensive kit list, and I’m trying to focus on other events I have during this year which should set me up well for the Spine if all goes to plan.

The overarching feeling is of excitement, especially now with the fundraising aspect added, but I have the associated worries such as ‘what if I get ill and can’t compete?, what if I slip and break my leg 2 miles into the race?, what if I only get to checkpoint 1?’.

I can imagine my thoughts and feelings will change during the course of this year and, come December, I’ll probably be terrified.  It’s just so big, and I’m so grateful to have secured a place in the race and at the same time to have the opportunity to benefit others.

  • Do you have any advice for those who might be considering taking on a similar challenge?

Yes! Don’t wait. If you get an idea in your head, think it through, and if it’s not completely ridiculous, dangerous or harmful to others, then do it!  

A challenge should always be just that - a challenge.  One of my favourite quotes is “If you’re going to face a real challenge it has to be a real challenge. You can’t accomplish anything without the possibility of failure.” - Lazarus Lake, real name Gary Cantrell - the founder of the Barkley Marathons – the world’s toughest and craziest ultra-marathon.

Life is short - you only get one shot.  Be the best you can be!