inov-8 ambassador Paul Tierney ran and fast-hiked his way to a phenomenal new ultra-running record – covering 318 miles of rough, tussocked Lake District fells, summiting all 214 Wainwrights, and climbing the equivalent of four times Mount Everest, in a new fastest time of 6 days, 6 hours and 5 minutes.
Paul knocked almost 7 hours off Steve Birkinshaw’s previous record, which was documented in his film and the book, There Is No Map In Hell. The BBC, ITV and Runner’s World, to mention but a few, all reported on Paul’s epic achievement.
Paul was raising money for MIND, UK – in memory of his friend Chris Stirling who passed away earlier in the year. You can still help – Donate Here.
We caught up with Paul following the completion of his record run and worked with him on this new Q&A.
Q: How you are feeling? Has it sunk in?
I’m feeling very good about it all. It maybe hasn’t sunk in fully, as I’ve been busy since I finished trying to catch up on work and messages of support. I’ve also been feeling pretty tired and sore but that is beginning to subside.
Q: How are you holding up physically?
My legs took a hammering. I’ve done some long races in the past couple of years lasting up to 4 days and seemed to recover pretty quickly after them and got jogging within a couple of days, but this is different. I’ve had a swollen achilles and sore knee that don’t want me to run. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with my knees throbbing in pain and thinking I was on my way up Binsey in the early hours of Sunday morning, only to find I was actually squirming in pain round the bed. But my feet are pretty good overall. Just a couple of small blisters which have already healed. I know that the wider fit X-TALON ULTRA 260 and the TERRAULTRA G 260 work for me so I never really had to worry too much about blisters and of course the support team took care to deal with any potential blisters before they got serious
Q: Steve’s record was always going to be a tough one to beat – what was your strategy?
My plan was to rest less and try to move at a similar pace. This pretty much worked. Steve started a bit quicker than me so I was behind on the first day but gradually I pulled back the time by resting less. I couldn’t really improve on his route except for the odd line here and there, so I needed to do something with a bit more of an impact on the overall time
Q: How much did you actually manage to sleep over the 6 days?
I’m not exactly certain how much sleep I got but it was probably about 2 hours per day on average. Less the first night I’d imagine. But then there were times I was too sore to sleep and kept waking up wishing it was time to go again.
Q: Was there any point where you had doubts about beating the record or felt you couldn’t continue?
I didn’t really think about the record until I was well in to the last couple of days. I knew it was possible but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I knew there was so much room for something to go wrong so I didn’t want to tempt fate. The one time I let this happen was on Sunday when I was feeling really good. Then the weather came in and we got battered for the next 6 hours and I just thought, ‘I’m not going to get ahead of myself again. Just concentrate on the next climb.’
Q: We’ve heard stories of ice lollies being delivered by a four-wheeler, pizza’s being brought up summits, your mum and dad coming over from Ireland – what were the standout moments for you?
Those were all great morale boosters, particularly seeing my parents. Another one was when Ambleside AC intercepted me on the leg over to the A66 near Troutbeck. They were quite a way from home so they had to make a real effort to get there and sacrificed doing a bigger evening out. I really appreciated this and got a great boost. Obviously the finish in Keswick was amazing too. I didn’t expect to get a reception like that and I’ll never forget it.
Q: And with all the rumours of beers, chips and even some ice-creams, what was your nutrition strategy?
I had a strategy but it wasn’t really based on specific foods. I knew I wouldn’t want the things I thought I would want by the time I was a few days in. I worked with Rebecca Dent on my nutrition. She came and did a talk at our club and I liked her immediately by the way she came across that evening. So she made sure I was doing everything possible to recover after training and for the challenge itself. But she was giving me principles or guidelines to work from rather than specific, rigid instructions which just wouldn’t have been possible to stick to.
Q: How do you train your body to endure over 6 days constant running and fast hiking?
I think the training is an accumulation of years of miles in the fells. The legs need to build a strong resistance to the stresses of running on terrain like we have here in the lakes. You can’t condition them in the gym or on the road or with fancy exercises. You have to get out in the fells, a lot, and build up their robustness over the course of years rather than months. That combined with some experience of long races (3 days plus) really helped to deal with the forces acting on them. I think some strength work would be a good supplement to the more important running training but it shouldn’t take its place and it is virtually pointless if you aren’t going to use heavy weights with low rep ranges or perhaps also some explosive work. Too much of what we are being sold nowadays is utter bollocks – 3 sets of 12 bicep curls is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Q: What has been your approach to recovery?
Sleep is the number 1 element. If you aren’t getting enough sleep but are looking for the next wonder-supplement, stop. Devise a strategy that allows you to get 8 good hours of sleep a night and you won’t need the powder. Aside from that, doing some very light aerobic work in the 24 hours after a harder run is also a good idea. I try to implement both of these along with a decent diet but it doesn’t always happen!
Q: The planning of a Wainwright’s attempt must be a mammoth undertaking – tell us about what goes on behind the scenes?
I had a lot of help. At first this was mainly from my friend Neil McKenzie, who was even more excited about the challenge than I was. We did a lot of recceing together and met up quite a bit to discuss potential changes to the route. Then as we got closer to the start of the challenge I was lucky enough to recruit the help of a small group of friends who committed to being there almost non-stop throughout the week. This was a big weight off my mind because I knew I could trust these guys to do exactly what was required to complete the challenge.
Q: You did the challenge in memory of your friend and fellow Ambleside Athletics Club runner, Chris Stirling, raising over £30,000 in his memory, did this surprise you?
I was surprised but in hindsight I can see why we raised so much. Chris was much loved by all those who knew him and was very popular in triathlon, climbing and fell running circles so people wanted to support the cause in his memory. As it became clear that I might beat the record, more people donated because the cause was being shared to a wider audience. I’m so grateful to all those who donated and I know Jo is too. A lot of people will have got a lift from this and it makes me happy to know we might have made a small difference to someone who is suffering or in a dark place. Chris described how he felt to me shortly before he passed away. I felt helpless to do anything about it or to say the right thing. We need to to make sure the funds are there so that people who are suffering can access and benefit from them. You can still support Paul’s fundraising for Mind, UK – Donate Here.
(Ed’s note – Paul finished the run in his late friend Chris’s Ambleside AC vest, while Jo (Chris’s girlfriend and pictured in red) was waiting on the steps of Moot Hall with to congratulate him.)
PAUL’S KIT ARSENAL
Q: What was your favourite piece of kit and why?
I have 2. Firstly the PROTEC SHELL which was invaluable when the weather turned really horrible on the Sunday night over Fairfield.
Also the X-TALON ULTRA 260 shoe because of its versatility over all terrains. If I had just one option for my feet for this challenge, this would be it.
Q: What shoes did you wear and what made you choose them?
I wore the X-TALON ULTRA 260 and the TERRAULTRA G 260. The X-TALON for the above mentioned reasons and the TERRAULTRA because of its really comfortable fit, grip and durability on harder, rockier surfaces.
Paul wore the RACE ELITE SHORTS which were “really light and comfortable with a good inner lining that doesn’t chafe (very important)” and the WATERPROOF RACE PANT over them when the weather closed in.
On top, Paul wore the BASE ELITE LAYER every day with a MERINO HOODIE as a mid layer – “I love the hood on this as it acts like a beanie and also the sleeves which double as gloves.” He turned to the STORMSHELL WATERPROOF JACKET as a daily go-to waterproof, saying it’s “really nice and light but still effectively keeps water out. The fit and hood is great and kept the wind and rain out when it got really bad”.
The lead image for the blog was kindly provided by Stephen Wilson, GRANDDAYOUT PHOTOGRAPHY