Steve Birkinshaw’s 12 Tips for a Wainwrights Attempt

In 1986, the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor completed a continuous circuit of all 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District, covering a staggering distance of over 300 miles – plus many thousands of metres of ascent – in only seven days and one hour.

Those in the know thought that this record would never be beaten. It is the ultimate British ultramarathon. The person taking on this superhuman challenge would have to be willing to push harder and suffer more than ever before. There is no Map in Hell tells the story of a man willing to do just that.

In 2014, Steve Birkinshaw made an attempt at setting a new record. With a background of nearly forty years of running elite orienteering races and extreme-distance fell running over the toughest terrain, if he couldn’t do it, surely no one could. But the Wainwrights challenge is in a different league: aspirants need to complete two marathons and over 5,000 metres of ascent every day for a week.

With a foreword by Joss Naylor, There is no Map in Hell recounts Birkinshaw’s preparation, training and mile-by-mile experience of the extraordinary and sometimes hellish demands he made of his mind and body, and the physiological aftermath of such a feat. His deep love of the fells, phenomenal strength and tenacity are awe inspiring, and testimony to athletes and onlookers alike that ‘in order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd’.

  1. Have a background of running over the fells for many years – decades preferably. You are less likely to get injured and will be able to move faster, especially when tired, over the rough Lake District terrain.
  2. Recce good routes between as many of the Wainwright fells as possible. Alternatively, find supporters to help on sections they know really well.
  3. Find a lead support person who is happy to drive round the Lake District for a week with very little sleep (!), who will sort out your every need, and also the needs of up to fifty people who will be running with you. They need to put up with continual stress and hassle for the whole week, and yet stay calm and be able to make good decisions. A pretty big ask.
  4. Find up to fifty people who are happy to be out with you at any time of the day on sections of up to ten hours. If there are at least two on every section it makes it much easier.
  5. Eat as much as you can while running the Wainwrights. On a run of this length with twenty-hour days, you will never be able to eat as many calories as you consume. The pace is slow, so the type of food is not really important. All that matters is finding something you can eat – that you fancy. At the support campervan I enjoyed pizza, onion bhaji and tepid soup. Whilst running, Torq gels went down well. But everyone is different in what they feel they can stomach at times like this.
  6. Make sure you stay hydrated. With a support team carrying water for you this should not be an issue.
  7. Avoid getting blisters or any over-use injury. I changed my socks and shoes regularly to keep my feet dry and I still got really bad blisters – even though I have never had bad blisters before. I also got tendonitis in the front of one of my legs above the ankle, despite decades of running long distances over similar terrain.
  8. Accept that things will go wrong, and don’t stress about it when they do. I was badly sick at one point, which I could have got quite stressed over, but I took it easy for the rest of the section and after a rest in the campervan my stomach was OK again.
  9. Make sure all the shoes and clothing items have been tested beforehand and do not rub.
  10. Have a campervan (or even two like me) at every support point. This allows for hot food to be made easily, provides a nice place to change away from midges and also gives the possibility of sleeping if necessary.
  11. Remember that everyone out helping you has volunteered and given up their time to be there for you. So be nice to them and thank them.
  12. Pick a week with a really warm, dry weather forecast. It will make your support team much happier and everything easier to organise. If only it was that easy! By the time fifty people are sorted and ready to help it is very hard to change the date, you just need good luck.

Good luck to anyone that does try and run round the Wainwrights. The key things are to have run long distances for many years on the fells and to find a great support team so that all you need to do is think about putting one foot in front of the other.

So there we have it, some tips from Steve and Day 4 of his 9 day running blog tour. Next up, a post on Andy Mouncey’s blog tomorrow.

Onward, to Lakeland 50!

Last night I wrapped up a successful Spring training season during which I bounced back from the dismay of not finishing Country to Capital and the sorrow of not being able to start TransGranCanaria.

Coming back from these set backs was a gradual process and I began building up whilst I was in Gran Canaria – I started undertaking daily yoga practice again and my mileage slowly began to increase in the weeks following. I entered 3 races in a bid to get back into the racing mindset and to face my anxiety that I might be losing my edge!

Those three races were pretty successful and distances I don’t normally run. The first was the Ashridge Boundary Trail – a local trail race with a friendly atmosphere and plenty of hills. I finished the 16.5 miles in 2:12 in 25th position which came as quite a  surprise because I felt unprepared to say the least! A month later I visited Cornwall with Sarah and found Cornwall’s only fell race (Category C) – The Five Tors on Bodmin Moor is an 8 mile race with a loosely marked course and some fast descening. The race was tougher than I expected but I finished in 1:07 in 33rd place, I’m not sure what I found so difficult but I had a bit of a mental wobble over the final few kilometres and I just couldn’t get my pace to pick up to anything approaching competitive. The main thing for me was to get it done though and I eventually finished happy and smiling!

Finally, the culmination of my training over Spring – the Hertfordshire Amateur Athletic Association’s 5 Mile Championship road race at Pednor. I ran hard off the gun and felt good all the way! My legs were heavy early on but that didn’t stop a sub-6 minute first mile and then into the first climb at 3 miles my legs warmed up and started turning over nicely. My aim was to run under 31:00 so I’m really pleased, considering it’s not a flat course, to have registered a 30:58 for 24th place at the meet and 8th in the County!

I was the 5th Watford Jogger to cross the line – our first 4 won the County Team Championship and our second four were 4th in the County and 6th at the meet. We also swept up so many awards across the board! A brilliant night for the club and I’m proud to have been part of it. The race probably marked the end of my really fast stuff until after Lakeland 50 but I suspect I’ll be back on the roads training for a road marathon before the end of the year.

Lakeland 50 training this year will be pretty similar to last year as I still believe it to be the best race I’ve ever run in terms of strategy and pacing! I think the lead up really helped.

The training kicks of fully with two race weekends back to back – first up the North Downs Way 50 followed the weekend after with a local 10km trail race. I’ll be focusing on just finishing the NDW50 as I haven’t actually finished an ultra race since Lakeland last year! At the Wheathampstead 10km the weekend after I will be aiming to push hard from the gun and see what happens – much in the same way as I raced at Pednor.

I’ll train for two weeks after this and then it’s the St. Albans Half Marathon. This is another local race and run on road. It is also the first half marathon I ever ran five years ago and I haven’t raced one since! I ran 1:38 the first time out and I’d only been running for about 8 months so I didn’t really know what I was doing. The course is undulating [tough] and I’m hoping to push on again and see what happens – I would absolutely love to run under 1:30. Two weeks after this it’s the North Devon trail marathon.

I’ll be racing the North Devon Trail Marathon and focusing more on trail running speed as opposed to fast hiking speed as I did at Mont Blanc Marathon last year and I’m hoping to run a competitive race.

Two weeks before the race last year I ran the Chiltern Hills 50km Ultra but this year I’ve decided not to race and instead I will be traversing the Rhinogydd range with my friend Matt on the Saturday – it’s about a 20 mile route with 1800m of acscent. On the Sunday it’ll be a further 10 miles before beginning my taper into Lakeland.

The main staple of my training, alongside the racing, will be a weekly progression incline run on the treadmill. I did this sporadically last year and I wish I’d done more of it! I have been building this up over the last three weeks of my Spring training season and I’m seeing the benefits.

I’ve put a lot of thought and time into planning this year’s Lakeland 50 training and I am confident that it will produce a decent showing on the day – hopefully it will translate to a 10 hour if the conditions are anything like last year!

Time is precious, use it wisely.

It’s been a while, a long while. A long while indeed since I wrote a blog post, finished an ultra, practiced yoga regularly, or just felt like myself.

The reasons are many and varied: a DNF at TDS started the downhill trend in my general feeling of wellbeing, a new job in November with some pretty big responsibilities, a further ultra DNF at Country to Capital and then moving in with my [wonderful] girlfriend a week later all conspired to make me feel quite anxious. New routines, new responsibilities, a new found running vulnerability and a new home town!

For about the last month I’ve started to come around again and to feel like myself. I have started practicing yoga regularly again, albeit at home as I have been unable to shake the anxiety that came from nowhere relating to going to yoga classes – it’s a start. A good start too as I’m feeling a lot more grounded, my body and mind feel stronger and I believe it’s helped me to get back to running form.

I have still yet to finish an ultra, haven’t done since July last year but I did enter two after TDS: Country to Capital in January which I DNF’ed due to shot quads and then a DNS at TransGranCanaria Advanced in February due to aforementioned trashed quads messing up my training. However, for about a month now I have been training regularly and gradually increasing my weekly mileage from around 3 post-Country to Capital to currently around 40 – I’m aiming to hit a peak week of 80-90km before my next ultra which is in May. The return to regular running – in addition to what is now a weekly hike and daily yoga – put me in the frame of mind where I felt I could possibly finish a race over 10 miles so I entered a local 16 mile trail race this Saturday. Lo and behold, I finished. In fact, I did quite well considering everything that’s happened since my DNF at TDS back in August! I was aiming for a 2:15 finish, if the day was good, a 2:30 or ‘just a finish’ if things conspired against me. I finished in 26th place from 241 runners in 2:12 and I felt really good afterwards – I definitely held myself back which bodes well for the rest of this year if I can keep my consistency.

Over the past month I’ve also started to look at how I spend my time. I wanted to find out what I could do differently to stay motivated and more positive for longer periods. I wanted to find a way to try to stave off the anxiety that creeps up occasionally and to fight the depression that seems to set in for a couple of months each year. With this in mind I have taken the decision to stop offering my services as a running coach – Flowers Endurance is no more. On close inspection the venture added undue stress and pressure to my life without really adding anything positive be that in terms of income for myself or outcomes for my [very small] client base. I used to cram my weekly training plan creation into a Sunday night and Monday’s after work would be spent adjusting these, e-mailing clients and generally feeling a bit pushed for time. Instead Sunday’s are now spent hiking with Sarah and I am looking to volunteer my time on Monday evenings to a local Cub Scout group as I feel it’s a great opportunity to instil a love of the outdoors, and the skills required to enjoy it to the maximum, into a younger generation.

As I mentioned above, the Sunday hikes with Sarah have added to my motivation and positivity. I know that should I become injured again and unable to run, I should at least be able to hike and explore on foot, albeit in a slower and more genteel fashion! The hikes that we go on usually follow circular routes as Sarah purchased the Ordnance Survey Pathfinder guide for Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire as we moved to the border of these counties – I’m so glad she did because that book really started to pull me back from the brink of a deep depression and got me back outside! So, at present we follow the basic maps and the route descriptions but in the future we are looking to buy area maps and to start planning and navigating our own routes. For me, this means I can start working towards the goal of running the 10Peaks double next year! The 10Peaks Lake District is in June and requires competitors to visit the 10 highest summits in the Lake District, covering about 75km with 5600m of ascent. The 10Peaks Brecon Beacons follows in September and requires competitors to visit the summit of the 10 highest peaks in the Brecons covering around 89km with 4800m of ascent. For Sarah this means feeling more comfortable when we visit Dartmoor in April and the Southern Highlands of Scotland in August!

So I’ve started to feel like me again. Yoga’s back, running is back and I’m settled into my new living arrangements but the writing has not been with me since late last year. I can’t put my finger on why but it’s probably the build-up of anxiety and the fact that I really haven’t made time for it due to getting used to all the new things happening. I’m writing these words today though, because I wanted to at least make a start at getting back to doing something else that I love. But the reason I’m writing right now is mostly because the inspiration was sparked earlier this week when the world lost a great writer, and a great friend, who unfortunately is no longer with us. Dan Lucas.

Dan was a proper writer. A journalist. A sports writer for The Guardian covering rugby union and cricket (I always told him I’d read more of his stuff if he’d pay at least a bit of attention to rugby league). A music writer for Drowned in Sound, Louder than War and other great independent music blogs. What I write, and what  a lot of us bloggers write is pretty much stream of consciousness but what Dan wrote was heartfelt, witty, knowledgeable, entertaining and regularly sparked debate amongst peers, friends and fans of his writing! I think I’ll leave that there because whatever else I could write wouldn’t do Dan justice. I guess that’s goodbye sir – I’ll miss the random meetings for a pint here and there and I’ll miss your outlook on life.

“Maybe, just once, someone will call me ‘Sir’ without adding, ‘You’re making a scene.’” – Homer J. Simpson

Here’s to more writing, more yoga, more running and more exploring. Time is precious, use it wisely.

2017 Goals & Resolutions

I’m going to keep this short, sweet and simple! Below are the things I would like to achieve by the end of 2017 in life and in sport:

Endurance Sports

  1. Finish every race I enter
  2. Win a race (I say this every year…). Alternatively, reach the podium!
  3. Gain another coaching qualification
  4. Buy a decent road/Time Trial bike
  5. Swim at least once a week
  6. Race an Aquathlon, a Duathlon and a Triathlon
  7. Improve my 50k or road marathon PR

Life

  1. Expand the Flowers Endurance client base
  2. Finish my Hatha Yoga teacher training course
  3. Drink less alcohol
  4. Commit to a plant based diet
  5. Build on the foundations of a brilliant 2016 to make 2017 an even better year!

2016 in Review

The annual review of the year past from the ‘26.2 & Beyond’ perspective.

Overview

Although the world seems to have been in turmoil this year with so many unexpected political changes , my year has probably been the best I’ve ever had in terms of the direction of my life and the direction of my running and endurance.

Best Race

Mont Blanc Marathon and Lakeland 50.

I couldn’t pick between the two! The Mont Blanc Marathon was my first ever race in the Alps and my first visit to Chamonix and Lakeland represents my best ultra performance to date!

Worst Race

TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie)

Perfect weather, beautiful surroundings but some poor pre-race preparation and a bad stomach led to a DNF. I still pulled it together the day after the race and enjoyed my time in the Alps though so it wasn’t all bad – definitely a learning experience.

Best Moment

Bushey 5k Road Race

I didn’t write a race report for this one but it was my first ever podium at any distance! It was made all the more special because it is my local race and my Dad and Sarah were there to share the experience.

I didn’t set a personal best but I stayed in 3rd from about 500m in, right to the end – not bad considering the weekend before I ran the Mont Blanc Marathon!

Worst Moment

I could choose a few of these all from TDS which I noted above as my worst race of the year! It could be arriving at the first checkpoint and seriously considering dropping from the race then and there. It could be lingering at the second checkpoint hoping that I would be able to use the toilet and then have enough time to refuel, gather myself and get back out on the course before being timed out. Or it could be the descent into Bourg Saint Maurice during which I totally gave up on the idea of racing and committed to dropping on arrival at the checkpoint there. Then again, it could be the depressing bus journey from there to a car park in Courmayer and having to wait there for two hours for a bus back to Chamonix…before making the hour long drive back to my chalet in the neighbouring valley! Not a good day. Definitely one to learn from.

Favourite Run

I woke on Sunday 28th August at dawn and set off on my last Alpine run of 2016. I covered 12.3km (+684m) and made it to the summit of Mont Joux just as the sun began to rise over the distant peaks of Mont Blanc and the Aigulles. It was the most serene I have felt on a run for a long, long time – I saw no other people and heard no sounds but the wind, cow bells and the hooves of semi-wild horses grazing on the side of Mont Joux as I passed them on my descent.

Favourite Kit

If you want to run long in a hot climate and all you really need is some water and some gels, Shot Bloks or other small items I HIGHLY recommend the UltrAspire Speedgoat waistpack!

 

Vote for me! (please)

Click to vote!

For the second year running (Ha!) I’ve been nominated to the shortlist for the RunUltra Blogger Awards.

I’m honoured to be nominated alongside some great writers/runners/adventurers/endurance athletes! 

I have been writing ‘26.2 & Beyond’  since 2012 and although the layout has changed and the frequency of my posts has fluctuated over the past two years, my commitment to the blog and to the process of writing, has remained. 

I love being able to write things that many of you seem to enjoy reading so thank you all for your continued readership and support! 

I would really appreciate it if you could take a couple of minutes to click the image above and vote for my blog. All you need to do is click my name, enter your own name and e-mail address and then click to submit. 

Peace & Blessings 

Lost: Yoga Mojo (reward for return: inner peace, outer strength)

I have been practicing yoga since December 2015 so it hasn’t even been a year! I took to it really quickly, and up until recently I enjoyed my regular practice often attending three classes a week and practicing at home. In June of 2016 I was enjoying learning about the spiritual, physical and historical aspects of yoga so much that I began a Hatha yoga teacher training course! I am still on that course and I am due to complete the theory side of it in April 2017, with the practical side being completed by the end of June 2017 if all goes to plan.

But it’s not all going to plan.

chakra

I feel like I’ve lost my yoga mojo and I can’t quite grasp what it is.

Maybe it’s the physical fatigue from a tough summer of ultra racing, maybe it’s the mental fatigue of planning a house move and moving into a new job? Whatever it is, I just don’t feel motivated to go into a class and when I do, I don’t feel as confident as I used to – it’s like a kind of anxiety and sometimes fear overcomes me and I either cannot relax sufficiently to smile and enjoy the flow of the class and energy or I stiffen up and even the simplest of asanas becomes painful or unduly uncomfortable.

I will be continuing to take some time away from organised yoga classes, and perhaps even from my home practice which has lapsed quite significantly over the past few months anyway. I doubt that I will get back into a two to three class per week routine as had been my habit prior to July, for quite some time. It seems that since early September I have been forcing myself to attend some classes and that adds to the anxiety, the fear and the pressure – yoga should be a peaceful practice that the mind and body lends itself to. Never, in my opinion, should it be just another workout or form of ‘exercise’ that needs to be done for a person to feel accomplished.

I think I will likely wait to see what is on offer when I move to a new area at the end of January. Maybe it is time for a change of teachers to reenergise the way I see, feel and experience yoga.

Having reflected on my recent experiences of yoga, unfortunately I currently feel a bit jaded by it all. It does seem overly commercial with each teacher pushing their ‘brand’ or ‘style’ and oftentimes it seems they don’t even realise it. It pains me to see various yogis on social media pushing quasi-spirituality in a bid to fill their classes whilst at the same time it pains me to see yet other yogis promoting their classes more like a pilates fitness workout, again in a bid to fill their classes and attract ‘customers’.

The connections I have built with my yoga teachers, when tested, do seem to be tenuous and fragile too – if I miss a few classes there is one teacher who immediately seems to forget my name but who seems to insist that we have a friendship beyond guided yoga classes. Another teacher does seem to be genuinely interested in everybody who attends their class but (maybe I’m being cynical) I can’t see how this is at all possible without becoming mentally, and at times emotionally, draining for that particular teacher, thus impacting on their own practice and indeed the quality of their life. In fact, of the three teachers I see regularly there is only really one who cuts through all of the commercialism and the desire to seem open, accessible and ‘genuine’ to those who they teach.

They show up to class and they are approachable, knowledgeable and happy to guide the class but they don’t seem to be pushing any spiritual, friendship or any other agenda beyond a decent 60 to 90 minutes session of yoga before it’s time for everybody to return to their daily business – at first I found that strange but now I find it refreshing and the classes they run seem to be the only classes that I consistently enjoy anymore! At the moment these are the only classes where my mind and my body relax. 

Unfortunately, this particular teacher isn’t around at the moment. Hopefully they will return before I move to another area in January as I would like to think I could at least attend one of their classes on a regular basis until that time!
I will continue to explore my feelings and thoughts around yoga theory and practice, and I am sure that in the near future I will return to actually practicing yoga on a regular basis. I truly hope that the near future I speak about is nearer in reality than it currently feels when I take my hour a day to reflect on it!

Om

Namaste, Peace & Blessings.