There is no Map in Hell - blog tour day 1

Imagine covering 515km with 36,000m of ascent – under the pressure of a ticking clock and a specific number of peaks to be bagged…

The Wainwrights are the 214 fells in England’s Lake District, and visiting all of them is a popular challenge for peak-baggers. There’s even a register kept of those who have completed the Wainwrights.

Bagging those 214 peaks within a specific time, however, is quite another level of challenge. The first continuous round of all 214 Wainwrights was completed in 1985, in 9 days and 16 hours. The following year a new record of 7 days 1 hour was set by the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor. This record was said to be impossible to beat – it was, after all, the ultimate British ultramarathon.

Nineteen years later, hardcore ultra runner Steve Birkinshaw made an attempt at breaking that record. With a background of nearly 40 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…

He smashed the record in 6 days and 13 hours – that’s over 515km and with 36,000m of ascent.

Steve has now written a book, There is no Map in Hell, accounting his extraordinary achievement, and it will be hitting the shelves in the UK this week.

Rockhoppin’ Trail has been invited by the publisher to take part in Steve’s blog tour – a nine-day innovative online strategy to market There is no Map in Hell during the week of its launch. Each day a unique blog post written by Steve will be hosted on a different award-winning international blog site.
And excitingly, Rockhoppin’ Trail has the privilege of hosting the first blog of the tour!

Today is that day – Day 1 of the There is no Map in Hell  blog tour, and here is the post Steve has written for Rockhoppin’ Trail:

The persistent need to push harder, faster, further
by Steve Birkinshaw

During most races I take part in there are times when I think, “This is really painful, why am I doing this? I want to stop”. This happens on short races when my lungs feel like they are going to explode. It happens on long races when I get an energy dip and on every step up a climb my quads are screaming at me to stop. It happens in an ultra when all my muscles and joints are agony and I am shuffling along like an old man.
Day 6 - Leaving the campervan at Dodds Wood in a lot of pain to start the final section

However, almost as soon as I finish I will be thinking about the next race. If it went badly, I will immediately be thinking of doing it again but doing it better. If it went well I will be happy and want to do another race – but push myself harder or further. There have, however, been a couple of occasions when a run has been so hard and it hurt so much that I have needed to take it easy for a month or so while the mental scars vanish to be replaced by the positive memories. In particular I can think of the Lakeland 100 in 2009 where I suffered badly over the last thirty miles. I even sat down on a wall for five minutes at one point and decided to give up before I started moving again.
Day 5 - Mel Culleton-Wright and Emma putting on my socks over the blisters at Patterdale Post Office

For me, worse than the pain of running is the mental anguish of not running. When I have been injured or ill I have found sitting watching a race exceptionally hard. The excitement of the preparation and the emotional high that everyone has when they come back exhausted is very hard for me to watch. I want to be out there and experience that high. I want to know I have pushed myself to the limit and achieved a good time. It is really nice to win races but I get the most pleasure from knowing I have given it my all. I think I crave that high from the endorphins released during running. When I have finished the stresses in my life have completely disappeared and I am happy and relaxed.

But then there is the need to push it further next time to see how far I can go, how far I can push my body. I am never going to be the fastest runner – I am too big and weigh too much – but I seem to have an ability to run for long distances and the mental attitude to push myself and keep going when many others might give up.
Day 7 - Jim Davies treating my tendonitis at Whinlatter Hobcarton car park

Some of this explains my progression from orienteering through to fell races, long fell races, mountain marathons, adventure races and then ultras. The longer the race the more satisfaction and emotional highs I get from running hard and pushing myself to my limit. The longer the race, the better I also seem to do, which also increases my satisfaction. Running round all the Wainwright was for me the pinnacle of forty years of running. Over time I have gradually increased the distance I have run and pushed it further and harder than before. Finally I had the experience and stamina to push it hard for six and a half days round all the Wainwright fells in the Lake District.    Steve Birkinshaw

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