Sunday 23 June 2019

Paul Tierney's Wainwrights Round

Congratulations to Paul and his support team for breaking the Wainwrights record with an amazing time of 6 days 6 hours and 5 minutes (almost 7 hours faster than my previous record). 

Paul first contacted me about 18 months ago to say he was planning on having a go at the Wainwrights. I only knew Paul a bit, however,  I knew of his achievements such as winning the Lakeland 100 and finishing the Tor de Geants in Italy in four days. So I knew he was capable of beating my time if everything went well for him.  We had a nice run out together and a good chat in a tea shop. Paul was well aware how tough it was going to be, both physically and mentally, having read my book and seen the film about my run. Hopefully I offered him some good advice. I also lent him my map so he could get a good feel of the route and the logistics that needed sorting. 

Earlier this year he said he was definitely having a go and was going to start on 14th June, which was exactly 5 years after I started. I offered to help on the first leg, which is a bit tricky navigation wise as there are fields to get round and small unobvious tops in places. I also offered to help on a later section near Blencathra. 

I was impressed by the support team he had put together and how well the logistics were sorted out (he had contacted Jane Saul, who organised all my logistics, to get top tips). He had sorted out things like getting a shower at four locations on the way round and massages at various points. He had put together a faster schedule than me, keeping my times for the fell sections but reducing the rest/sleeping time. This was very sensible as I started to get some big stops later on as my feet were in a bad way and needed a lot of work doing to them. 

So Paul's big day came. The first leg with him went well. The bridge over the Greta was still down from Storm Desmond so he changed into another pair of shoes just to cross the river, he was determined to avoid blisters at all costs. By the end of the section Paul was 30 minutes behind my time but I was very tired at the end of leg 1 and Paul seemed relaxed and strong. 

His weather was certainly very different to me. I had dry and settled weather all week, although it was a bit hot for me. Whereas, for Paul's attempt it was more unsettled with horrible weather on the 3rd night (which could easily has wrecked the whole attempt) but other than that generally OK and much cooler than I had it.

Before I got out to see him again I was obsessed with following his tracker and comparing his times with mine. Overall he was gradually getting slightly ahead. I could not wait to see him on Blencathra so as well as doing that leg I decided to run out to see him on Great Dodd, a couple of legs before.
Not surprisingly, as he had been going for over 4 days he was suffering various pains. But he was moving really strongly on the climbs and managing to jog the descents. Perhaps most importantly he was eating (chips seemed to be a preference) and drinking well and he only had one small blister. Paul was also very with it mentally and you could sense he was determined to finish it however hard it was. At this stage I was pretty sure he was going to break the record the only thing that was going to stop him was a really bad overuse injury. 

Steve and Paul on Stybarrow Dodd

After this I had to go away with work to Nottingham,  so I was going to miss the finish but I was following the tracker, so as he approached Keswick I knew he had done it. 

It was really chuffed to see Paul break the record. The video of him at the Moot Hall brought back many happy memories for me. He and his support team, including his parents were so happy and Paul was obviously happy but completely shattered. So similar to how I felt five years previously. I have to admit I am slightly sad that I no longer hold the record. But Paul has been so gracious saying how much I helped him and it is nice that the route I devised lives on. Paul has raised over £27,000 for Mind UK in memory of his friend Chris Stirling who passed away in April this year (

As I am a bit of a map and timing geek I have compared mine and Paul's split times. The first chart shows the cumulative difference in time between the two attempts. A value greater than zero on the y axis means Paul is ahead. So he gets ahead of me after about 30 hours of running and then this difference increases to 7 hours at the finish. The big jumps are because we rested at different times. After the first night I rested after an earlier leg than Paul. So on the next leg Paul would be a long way ahead before he rested and I caught up.

The second chart shows the difference between us but with the rests/stops removed. So this chart is just comparing our moving times. In this case Paul is generally behind until hours 70-80 and is then 1 ½ hours ahead of me at the finish. 

Overall Paul was 7 hours faster than me. Of this 5 ½ hours were because he had shorter rests and 1 ½  hours were because he was moving faster. So his plan of shorter rests worked as he hoped.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Marmot Dark Mountains 2019

The Marmot Dark Mountains is a race I have really mixed feelings about, it is a race I love but also one that as it approaches I dread. As a race it is one of the ultimate tests, as to do well it requires fitness, navigation and mountain craft.

I set of with Charlie Sproson on the Elite course just before 8pm from the event centre based at Lowther castle. I was looking forward to running with Charlie, as we have known each other for quite a few years but never raced together. He is a mountain running guide ( and also has the winter skills which I am a bit weak on. We were a bit scrappy for the first 20 minutes, but then settled in well and I took the lead, finding some nice lines and the checkpoints spot on. It was wet but mild and I was just wearing legging, a base layer and my GR20 Berghaus waterproof and I was really enjoying it. 

But after a couple of hours the weather changed quite suddenly. On the big climb up Checkpoint (CP) 7 I was starting to feel cold and got very tired. I put on my lightweight gloves but within minutes my hands were again cold and I was really struggling to keep up with Charlie. By the time we reached number CP 7 it was snowing with a really cold strong wind. I was shivering and my hands numb. We stopped to put on more clothes. I put on my waterproof over-trousers and my Berghuas Hypertherm, but my leggings were wet from the rain and I felt really cold and was shivering. Then I could not get on the liners of my mountain mittens. My hands were numb and even pulling with my teeth did not work. Charlie had a pair of inner mittens which after a couple more minutes we managed to get mostly on and I put the outer of the mountain mittens on over the top. But we had to get moving quickly or else it was getting dangerous. I was not properly sorted, my hat was partly covering my left eye and the chest strap on my rucksack was not done up but that did not matter. I followed Charlie up and down to CP 8, working hard I could feel the warmth coming back to my core and then eventually to my hands. I got my gloves on properly, my hat straightened and my rucksack clipped in and on we went. By the time we reached CP9 I was warm but tired and slow. CP 10 looked to be the hardest checkpoint on the course but Charlie took a compass bearing and hit the checkpoint, which was 1.5km away, spot on. Then it was down to the valley and with some food and water I finally got going again and having had my map in your pocket since CP 7, I got it out again on the big climb to CP 13 on Place Fell. 

After another two big climbs we eventually reached CP16 near Arthur’s Pike and I thought it is nearly all downhill and fairly easy navigating to the finish. But we were both tired, I had a massive bonk, and we got really confused by all the unmapped paths. We were really unsure where we were and could not work out which stream we were following down.  Eventually we relocated 1km from where we should have been and Charlie took a bearing straight to the control, but we had lost 25 minutes. All the confusion meant I forgot to eat anything and I had another bonk leaving CP 17.  Eventually, just after 7am (after 11 hours 17 minutes), we were climbing to  CP20 and then there was the last run-in to the finish back at Lowther. We were delighted to be told we had won.

It is great for Charlie to win his first Elite MM win. He was so strong all night, took over the navigation when I struggled and is very impressive at following a compass bearing.

We ran with a Silva Exceed head torches mostly on the medium setting. The large battery pack lasted 8 hours before we had to stop and change battery packs.

Congratulations to everyone that finished their courses and those that used Sound Mountain Judgement and got safely off the fells.

Thanks to the Ourea events team and all the volunteers for a great event. The organisation and courses were spot on and it was a great venue

Things I have learnt
1)   Before the event check I can get my  gloves on when my hands are cold and wet
2)  We should have stopped and got all our clothes on 15 minutes earlier. We could feel the change in weather (and we were expecting it from the forecast) so we should have sorted it out before we got cold.
3)  We should have taken the last big climb a bit easier and then then made sure we nailed the next control instead of losing 25 minutes.
4)   Remembering to cut my toenails (I cannot believe how many time I have forgotten to do this!). My best three toenails (i.e the only ones that sometimes look normal) are now black again

Friday 5 October 2018

ROC Mountain Marathon

I really love mountain marathons. It is great being self-sufficient for two long days running and navigating in the mountains. I have done over 60 in the last 34 years and it is great to still be up there competing near the front of the Elite course, but over the last few years I have found them really hard. There were times during this year’s ROC MM when I thought how nice it would be to have two relaxing days on the fells rather than pushing my body to the limit.

This year’s ROC MM ( was in the Northern Fells of the Lake District and I was doing it by myself (doing it in pairs was also possible). It was very much home terrain as it included Blencathra – my local and favourite fell. Setting off from the Uldale side the competitors in the 6 different classes got their maps at the start line. I immediately looked at the distance of my Elite course; it was 44km on Day 1 – slightly further than expected so I thought it was going to be a long day. The first two controls took us right across fast running ground to the area on the southern side of Blencathra. There are paths up the ridges to the summit of Blencathra on this side of the fell, but anywhere in-between is really tough ground – mainly deep heather with loose rocks all on really steep ground. This is the sort of terrain where I excel but by the time I had got out of it and appraoching number 4 the effort was taking its toll and I felt light-headed with a dip in energy coming on. A couple of bars sorted it out but it was not a good sign with only 3 hours gone. As I approached the end of the long leg to control 5 I saw my main competitor Tom Gibbs come out from a different route just ahead of me. We had a quick chat and found out I had caught him up 14 minutes, although we were moving at a similar speed – I had taken some better routes. By the time we reached control 7 I started to struggle badly. Tom was off and moving well, I was moving very slowly. How much time would I lose to him before the finish 12km away? My bonk got worse I was wobbling around struggling to make any progress. I tried eating but my stomach was really dodgy so I had to stop as I knew I would be sick. There was the last  climb of the day up to control 9 and I risked some more food but my stomach had had enough and I spent a couple of minutes knelling down throwing up everything (a real waste of all the energy that I needed the rest of that day and the next day). Things got worse as I fell over and broke my glasses (I normally wear contact lenses but I can see both the map and land better with my varifocal glasses). I lost a couple of minutes finding the next control as everything was blurry and then struggled to run downhill quickly. Eventually I reached the finish and Tom had finished 21 minutes earlier – I was seven minutes down on Day 1 having run for just over 7 hours. As I said to people I chatted to it was a good 5 hours followed by 2 hours where everything went wrong. I got all my spare clothes on, collected water and put up my tent. But I was very cold. 7 hours of running and then being sick had completely reduced my energy stores. After noodles and couscous I felt OK but I was not expecting to feel good on day 2.

Day 1 Map

Day 1 route from the trackers every competitor carried. Route  = 47km with 2400m of climb

The second day started with some positives. I was not feeling sick, I had slept a bit and was reasonable warm and dry all night, I did not have any injuries and I had even managed to get my contact lenses in. I was not expecting to catch up the 7 minutes on Tom but I would give it my best shot. I took some stupid routes to controls 1 and 2. I did not follow my normal plan of going straight if I cannot choose between two routes. Knowing a clever route around Sharp Edge helped on control3 which took us to some more really rough terrain on the southern side of Skiddaw. I was working hard but not moving very fast. It was all a struggle and it was no surprise when I saw Tom catching me up on the way to control 6 – having started 20 minutes after me he was extending his lead and there was nothing I could do about it. He eventually finished just in front of me. It had been another hard 6 hour day.
Day 2 Map

Day 2 route. 38km with 2200m of climb

Winning this event meant Tom had also beaten me to win the British Mountain Marathon Championship. So congratulations to Tom for a well-deserved win. Even with home advantage over the weekend he was better than me. In the end I was happy to come second. Congratulations also to everyone else that got round the elite course - it was a tough one to finish before the courses closed.

The weekend was really well organised by Shane and his team of cheerful helpers. I thought the courses planned by Graham were great. There was a real mixture of terrain from the rough, tough terrain on the southern slopes of Blencathra and Skiddaw to the faster running further north. There were tricky route choices on just about every leg and I made at least three stupid selections. 

I am annoyed I had such a bad bonk and was sick on day 1. I need to work out why these happened. However, overall I am happy because although I was tired afterwards (and felt sick) I had none of the really bad fatigue that has plagued me for 4 years. I slept well afterwards and my heart has been beating normally. As for the future I am going to have to think about if I want to continue to push it hard on the Elite course or maybe go for an easier option.