This summer will see ultra-runner and inov-8 ambassador Paul Tierney try to break the record time for summiting all 214 of Alfred Wainwright’s Lake District peaks in one go.
The current record is held by Steve Birkinshaw, who, in June 2014, did it in 6 days, 13 hours and 1 minute. Prior to that the record was held by fell running legend Joss Naylor, who clocked a time of 7 days 1 hour and 25 minutes in 1987.
Paul will follow a similar route to Steve, who spent months mapping out what he believed to be the quickest, continuous on-foot route over the 214 peaks that featured in Alfred Wainwright’s iconic seven-volume pictorial guide to the Lakeland fells.
214 peaks. 318 miles. 36,000m ascent
The route, which starts and finishes in Keswick, is around 318 miles (512km) in distance and includes 36,000m of ascent – that’s the equivalent of four times Mount Everest, from sea to summit.
Windermere-based Paul will eat on the move and sleep in a van at road crossings. He will be supported throughout by family and friends, with groups of runners taking it in turns to pace and navigate him over different sections of the route.
The 36-year-old running coach and ex-policeman is one of the UK’s best ultra-distance runners, particularly over long races in the fells and mountains. He has twice completed the notoriously-tough Tor des Geants – a 205-mile race through the Italian Alps that includes 24,000m of ascent – and is a former winner of the Lakeland 100 event.
Ambleside Athletics Club member Paul, who will use inov-8 kit – including new graphene-grip shoes – for the attempt, said: “I’m under no illusions as to how tough this challenge will be. I fully expect it to test me to the absolute maximum and probably beyond what I can imagine. I will run what I can, but obviously there is going to be a lot of fast-hiking and, as time goes on, slower hiking involved.
“Once I started recceing the route the scale of the challenge in front of me really sank in. But it is great to know I have Steve’s support and he has been very good to me so far with his advice and encouragement.”
“I’m also lucky to be part of a great club in Ambleside AC and plenty of my clubmates have already offered their support, as have others among the local fell running community. Being supported by inov-8 – a brand that produce the perfect kit for a challenge like this – means there’s one less factor I need to worry about.”
The mental and physical battle ahead
Current record-holder Steve is not only helping Paul in his preparations for the attempt, which is currently pencilled in to begin on June 14th, but also hopes to run sections with him.
Steve said: “It’s nice to see someone giving it a go again. The nature of the fell running community means I have offered Paul any help I can with this attempt and will be out supporting him on his run to break my record.
“The Wainwrights were the hardest thing I have done, both mentally and physically. After four days my body was gradually disintegrating. I had 6 big blisters on my feet, tendonitis in my leg, I was exhausted from 24-hour days and lack of sleep. All my muscles ached and I still had 130 miles to do in two-and-a-half-days! I felt like giving up but managed to summon the strength to carry on moving.
“My advice to Paul would be to focus on small, achievable goals, be that getting up the next climb or pushing on through the next rest stop. If you think too far ahead it becomes too daunting.”
Paul grew up in Cork, Ireland, and played hurling, before trying his hand at triathlon and then eventually off-road running. Now living in the Lake District with his partner Sarah, both are well-known faces amongst the UK fell, trail, mountain and ultra-running communities.
‘An opportunity to overdose in hill running’
Looking back on Steve’s record-breaking run of five years’ ago, Paul said: “I was inspired by Steve’s round but had temporarily moved back to Ireland, so I didn’t have any involvement in it. Instead I kept up to date via social media posts and by following the live online tracker – one of which I hope to have set-up too for my attempt.
I just thought it was such a phenomenal effort on his part and I admired him for being able to suffer as much as he did. I really value that characteristic in endurance athletes. At the time it wasn’t something I thought I’d be capable of myself, but over the past few years I’ve gained more experience and probably got a bit of a feel for what it will be like from the two Tor des Geants races I’ve participated in.
“This will definitely be the hardest thing I’ve attempted given the increased distance (compared to Tor des Geants) and rougher underfoot conditions. The climbs – although not at altitude and not as long – are steeper in many places and the descents tend to take the quickest line, rather than switch-backing on a path.
“I am attracted to a challenge that might well be beyond me, but I really do like running in the hills… and this will definitely be an opportunity to overdose on that!”
Preparations and possible tactics
In preparation for his attempt, Paul is continuing to spend long days running and hiking in the fells, familiarising himself with various routes and also assessing to see if there are any faster lines. He’s also set to take part in a handful of fell races over the next three months.
Paul said: “With an attempt like this there is, of course, the risk that I might push myself a little too far, but that’s also part of the attraction.
“It is important to do everything I can to minimise that risk, both in the planning stages and while actually attempting the challenge. Afterwards too, I know I will need to recover fully before getting back to any type of racing. I think Steve felt recovered after 6 months and actually said in his book (There Is No Map In Hell) that he was getting close to some of his personal bests by the following summer when the chronic fatigue-like symptoms kicked in. So, I can possibly learn from that. But yes, I suppose it is a slight concern.
“I think Steve and I are actually similar runners in some ways and would probably finish quite near each other in a shorter fell or trail race. But Steve was a lot more experienced than me when he attempted it so I will be drawing on his experience and the ‘blueprint’ he has left behind after his attempt. That is certainly a big advantage for me and I’m lucky that Steve has been so generous with his advice and time.
“If I can train well from now until the attempt, I think I might be able to move at the same pace Steve did. So really it will be about shaving off some time spent at rest stops, and hopefully a few minutes here and there on the hill. There are lots of ifs, buts and maybes (and I haven’t even mentioned the unpredictable Lake District weather!) but what I can do is prepare well, give it my all and hope for a little luck along the way.”
Paul’s kit for Wainwright record attempt
Paul will use inov-8 footwear, clothing and equipment throughout his challenge.
In his footwear arsenal for the Wainwright attempt will be the X-TALON 260 ULTRA with a super-aggressive outsole for soft ground, the TERRAULTRA G 260 trail running shoe with an outsole designed for harder ground and the new, versatile ROCLITE 290 which sits between the other two, handling both soft and hard ground. He prefers to wear our medium-to-wider-fitting shoes when running, fast-hiking or racing over longer distances.
The TERRAULTRA and ROCLITE options provide Paul with graphene-grip, a revolutionary outsole rubber that delivers insane sticky grip and increased durability all in one. The world’s toughest grip, for what has to be one of the world’s toughest endurance challenges. Good luck, Paul!
Paul will use the X-TALON 260 ULTRA, which features a super-aggressive STICKY GRIP rubber outsole for traction on the soft, muddy Lake District ground, whilst offering increased cushioning and protection for the long distances he’ll cover.
The TERRAULTRA G 260, a lightweight (260g) and super-durable trail running shoe. Used by Paul on Tor des Geants in 2018, the TERRAULTRA G 260 features graphene-enhanced (G-Grip) rubber outsoles for the world’s toughest grip on hard-packed trails, offering the perfect balance between comfort and responsiveness. SHOP NOW
The ROCLITE 290 – a new, versatile trail running shoe which sits between the TERRAULTRA G 260 and X-TALON 260 ULTRA. Featuring graphene-enhanced (G-Grip) rubber outsoles, it handles both soft and hard ground and will be Paul’s ‘go-to’ shoe for his Wainwright attempt. SHOP MENS | SHOP WOMENS