There Is No Map In Hell – Review

Most people who climb the 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District do so over a number of years. In 2014 Steve Birkinshaw managed to complete a continuous circuit of them; over 300 miles and many thousand metres of climb, in just over six and a half days. There is no Map in Hell is Steve’s written account of his tremendous achievement.

There is no Map in Hell

There is no Map in Hell

Legendary Lakeland runner Joss Naylor had completed the round in the 1980’s, taking just over seven days and it was thought that the feat would never again be attempted let alone bettered. However Steve’s background as a highly experienced fell runner specialising in ultra distance challenges (including winning the 2012 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race) meant that he more than anyone had the fitness and determination to give it a go.

In the book Steve gives an insight into his family background and previous long distance adventures before he moves on to explain what the Wainwrights are and recall some of the history of early attempts by runners to complete the challenge. He describes the huge logistical task of planning the route, calculating a schedule and recruiting a team of helpers. He also discusses his training in preparation for the run.

Steve then gives the reader a day by day account of his progress including details of each leg of his route and recounts his feelings, both physical and mental which unsurprisingly deteriorate as the week goes by. There are also short accounts from Steve’s wife Emma and support crew which give a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes and the highs and lows that they too experienced along the journey.

Steve Birkinshaw during the Wainwrights attempt

Steve during the Wainwrights attempt (from

Finally he describes what he calls “The Aftermath”; the physical and mental toll of running the equivalent of two marathons with over 5,000 metres of ascent a day, every day for a week.

There is no Map in Hell will appeal to any fell runner who is familiar with the Lakeland fells or those who have experienced or are planning their own long distance challenge. Rather than being purely full of facts and statistics it gives an insight into the human side of a determined, family man who pushed his body to extraordinary lengths to achieve a running feat that many thought impossible.

There is no Map in Hell is published by Vertebrate Publishing.

fell running guide

Inov-8 Get a Grip Competition

News of a great competition from Inov-8 which will give seven lucky runners a 5 day, all expenses paid trip to the Lake District. As team “Get a Grip” the winners will have the chance to learn tips from Inov-8’s top runners, test out new kit and take part in the classic Skiddaw fell race.

It sounds like a fantastic way to spend the week!

win a week with Inov-8

win a week with Inov-8

Full details of the competition here –

Good Luck!


Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

The Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (SHAFF) takes place from March 17th to 19th 2017 and this year features a varied selection of running films from both here in the UK and overseas. With 14 films being shown over three days there will be something of interest to most runners and particularly those who aspire to tackle longer distances. The films focus on a wide cross section of runners of all abilities, from sponsored athletes to recreational runners. Films to look out for include:


The story of a young woman from small Nepali village who ran away to join the army where she discovered that her tough upbringing had given her a talent for mountain running. The film follows her as she travels to take part in her first year of racing in the International Sky Running Championships and compete against some of the best female distance runners in the world. She then returns to her village to share her story with her family.

Mira – from Nepalese village girl to world recognised mountain runner

Outside Voices

This is an arty black and white film following the slightly crazy American Ultra Runner Jenn Shelton (one of the characters featured in the book Born to Run). Shelton is a straight talking, hard living 31 year old who travels and lives in a small camper van. She likes to party but is also one of America’s top female ultra runners. Look out for the party game that involves running, beer and shotguns!

Outside Voices – follows unconventional American ultra runner Jenn Shelton

Films from closer to home include:

Cape Wrath Ultra

This follows the progress of some of the competitors on the inaugural Cape Wrath Ultra as they tackle 8 days, 400 kilometres and over 11,000 metres of ascent through some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in Britain.  The film captures stunning scenery from the Scottish Highlands and talks to competitors about their backgrounds, motivation and their feelings and experiences as they take part in the event. It shares the emotional highs and lows, the injuries, exhaustion and elation as the runners make their way from Fort William to Cape Wrath.

Cape Wrath Ultra – 400km through remote north-west Scotland

Run Forever

Run Forever tells the inspirational story of how Yorkshire farmer Nicky Spinks attempted to become only the second person to complete a back to back Bob Graham Round in under 48 hours. The feat of endurance; 132 miles with 54,000 ft of ascent had only been done once before – and that was 37 years previously. Footage of the attempt is mixed with interviews telling of Nicky’s early years, life on the farm with her husband Steve and how she battled to overcome breast cancer.

Run Forever – the story of Nicky Spinks’ back to back Bob Graham Round

Beauties and the Bog

This short film follows 4 young women as they train and prepare to take on the gruelling High Peak Marathon; a 42 mile race through the remotest parts of the Peak District…. overnight in winter.

Beauties and the Bog – 4 women prepare for the High Peak Marathon

So, experienced runners and beginners alike will find something to interest and inspire them at SHAFF 2017

A full list of the films at SHAFF can be found here

Run Forever – Nicky Spinks’ Double Bob Graham Round

In May 2016 Nicky Spinks made fell running history.

Whilst most people are happy to complete the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours Nicky did a “double” (doing it twice) in a time of 45 hours 30 minutes, the fastest time ever!  She beat the previous record – which had stood for over thirty five years – by more than an hour and so became only the second person to do the “double” in under 48 hours.

Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round

Nicky on the Bob Graham Round

As well as her remarkable running achievements Nicky has also battled cancer and her record breaking round marked ten years since her diagnosis.

Her inspirational story is told in a film, Run Forever which premieres at the Kendal Mountain Festival this November before general release. See trailer:

fell running guide

Lake District Trail Running – book review

Lake District Trail Running is a handily sized book detailing 20 off road runs in the Lake District National Park

The selected routes range from 5km to 17km in length and vary in difficulty in terms of type of terrain and amount of ascent. Each run includes a brief description of the route including distance, ascent, navigational difficulty and estimated time to complete whilst an altitude profile shows you where you will encounter the ups and downs. A more detailed description breaks each route down into legs with easy to follow directions which are clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map extracts.

Lake District Trail Running

Lake District Trail Running

The softback book is well set out with the shortest runs at the front, the longest at the back making it easy to flick through and find the one you fancy. It is useful for runners of all experience and ability and is ideal for anyone planning a trip to the Lakes who doesn’t want to plan their own route. Packed with colour photos it is interesting to read and makes a great addition to any trail or fell runner’s library. It is even small enough to stuff into your bumbag!

Lake District Trail Running by Helen Mort is published by Vertebrate Publishing and retails for £12.95

Also check out the sister publication Peak District Trail Running: 22 off-Road Routes for Trail & Fell Runners.

Peak District Trail Running

Peak District Trail Running

fell running guide

Trail Running or Fell Running?

Trail running or fell running, what’s the difference?

When I tell people that I’m a fell runner I’m often asked what the difference is between fell running and trail running.  What is a fell? Are trail runs and fell runs actually the same thing?  Do some people do both?

Fell is a term mainly used in the Lake District to describe mountains or high moorland. Hence the sport of fell running which emerged from the old guide’s and shepherd’s races traditionally held alongside wrestling and other sports at the annual games events in rural Lakeland towns and villages.

fell running photograph

fells: hills or high land especially in Northwest England

A trail is a track or path predominantly in countryside areas and is often well signed and easy to follow.

trail running photograph

trail running

Fell running, although a minority sport, has been taking place in the UK for many years with the Fell Runners Association (FRA) set up in the 1970s to oversee the sport.  Trail running on the other hand is a relatively new sport having its roots in America and Europe and which has only emerged in the UK within the past 10 years but is showing a huge increase in popularity; the Lakeland Trails Series began in 2006 and now attracts over 10,000 runners.

The stereotypical image of the fell runner may be a stringy, bearded old man in a vest running up a rough hillside (and there may be some truth in that!) but the allure of the sport is its simplicity.

fell runners or trail runners?

stringy old men! – fell runners or trail runners?

In today’s commercial world trail running has attracted the attention of some big companies with Salomon sponsoring events in the UK and abroad and the image of a trail runner may be more compression clothing and sunglasses – a slightly more upmarket fell runner!  There is certainly more extrinsic value in winning a top trail race than a British or English championship fell race.

So fell running is harder than trail running right?

Er no!  Probably the most iconic trail run is the UTMB – The Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc which covers around 170 kilometers and over 9500 metres of ascent!  However, trail races in England mainly tend to follow valleys rather than heading for the mountains. Trail running also trends towards Ultra Distance, i.e. further than a marathon and races such as the Lakeland 100 are becoming increasingly popular.  Which is harder; a 10 mile race on remote moorland in winter with low cloud, strong wind, heavy rain and poor visibility or a 60 mile trail in the heat of mid summer?  They are different types of hard.  It could be argued that the more remote and hostile terrain of a fell race is potentially more dangerous – but harder?

winter fell running photograph

winter fell running – a different type of hard

The one big difference between  the two sports is that true fell running requires you to be able to navigate (although plenty of fell runners play follow the leader and hope that the person in front knows where they are going!)  Many fell races cross remote, open moorland often without paths and with route choice being left to the individual.  So in bad visibility map and compass skills are essential.  In trail races it is more a case of following a good path on a set route with any junctions being well marshalled and signed.

Is the definition between trail and fell running always that clear?

Definitely not!  In the FRA calendar there are probably 500 races to choose from some of which follow low level, well marked paths and which the organisers mark out so that runners can’t (shouldn’t!) get lost.  In summer, evening races may start at a local cricket ground or country pub and do a 4 or 5 mile loop around the fields and woods – certainly not fell races in the true sense of the word.  Ennerdale Trail Race however visits the remote Black Sail Hut at the eastern end of the valley, some 10km from the nearest metalled road, it is certainly more remote than many short fell races.

Some races combine both trail and fell; The Ultra Tour of the Peak District follows footpaths and trails before heading out onto more remote moorland.

Ultra Tour of the Peak District

mixed terrain; Ultra Tour of the Peak District

Others sit somewhere in between the two; The Snowdon Race climbs to 1085 metres above sea level, much higher than many fell races, but does so on a well defined track on which runners then reverse on their way down.

So are you a trail runner or a fell runner?

A bit like a meso / endo morph, probably somewhere between the two.  Some fell runners wear compression socks and fancy shades!  Some trail runners can navigate and don’t mind getting their expensive shoes muddy!  Does it really matter?  I suppose the important thing is that whatever you wear, whatever surface you run on, trail running, fell running or whatever you call it.. just enjoy it.

trail running, fell running or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race

trail, fell or a bit of both? Borrowdale Fell Race

Happy trail running, I mean fell running!

fell running guide

Testing Conditions on Helvellyn

The Helvellyn Triathlon run route is tough at the best of times.

Add strong winds, low cloud, heavy rain, sleet and patches of lying snow and you’re in for a real challenge.

Tough conditions on Helvellyn

Tough conditions on Helvellyn

Mark and Scott were booked on to the triathlon in September and were keen to see what the route had in store and Mark wanted some advice and the opportunity to try out some kit.

Rain was falling as we left Gillside Farm on the steep, stepped path.  I was already wearing full waterproof cover; Kamleika smock and trousers whilst Mark chose inov8 Mistlite trousers and an old goretex top, saving his Raceshell waterproofs for later.  Mark opted to try a rucksack rather than bumbag and used the inov8 Race Pac 4 whilst I used the larger Race Pro 12 to carry some emergency kit.  Scott chose the bumbag option with an Osprey Talon although didn’t include water bottles as there was more chance of drowning than dehydrating!

taking in the view of Ullswater

Taking in the view of Ullswater

Conditions worsened as we ascended Birkhouse Moor with the wind picking up and the rain turning to sleet and so the stop to admire the view of Ullswater was a brief one.  Although it was the last week of April the long winter had get to relinquish its icy hold and Red Tarn still had a covering of ice.

An icy Red Tarn

An icy Red Tarn

The route is firm and rocky underfoot and both Mark and I wore inov8 Roclites; 315 and 285 respectively which performed well both up and down.  Scott wore Newton Momentum trail shoes, an American brand I hadn’t come across they brightened up the day!

We ascended Swirral Edge into the cloud and thankfully gained some respite, sheltered from the wind although wet snow was now falling.  High on the edge a large patch of compacted snow forced a slight detour requiring an exciting bit of hands on rock scrambling.

Scrambling on Swirral Edge

Scrambling on Swirral Edge

As we emerged onto the summit we left the lee and were met by strong, gusting winds. This was no place to linger so turning Northwest we made haste towards Lower Man. Visibility was around 50 metres and I was conscious not to miss the path to White Side, easily done in these conditions.

Knowing that there is a “sting in the tail” with the climb of White Side is important for race preparation and Mark and Scott were glad to see it if not glad to have to run up it!

Descending White Side

Descending White Side

Running off White Side we swung East and used the zig zags to practise downhill running; important to try to flow rather than put on the brakes and use up valuable energy – the legs are going to be tired by this point on race day.

Dropping to the Youth Hostel the wind eased although the rain continued to fall heavily as we discussed race nutrition; gels, energy bars and sweets and Mark told me his recipe for making Spirulina palatable!  Safe now, we scoffed my emergency Jaffa Cakes as we trotted down the track back to the farm.

Mark and Scott were happy with the outing, it’s given them a chance to test the kit they need and now know what the route has in store.  It was a grotty day but it’s sometimes more rewarding to put yourself through testing conditions and it gives you an idea of how hostile the mountains can be.

A quote from Mark “Was brilliant today Dave – thanks so much for safe and expert guidance and advice. Looking forward to the triathlon even more now.”

If you are considering running the Helvellyn Triathlon and would like a guided run prior to the race, contact me.  Next recce date;


Lake District fell running

I do most of my running in the Peak District but I also get to other lovely areas of the country.  I was recently in the Lake District preparing for a race and enjoyed a fine day in the hills with great weather.
Here are a few images, hopefully they might inspire you to try fell running.

Supporting Mike’s Bob Graham

When club mate, Mike asked for runners to support him on his Bob Graham attempt (approximately 70 miles, 42 Lake District Peaks, over 28,000 ft of climb all in less than 24 hours!) I was happy to help.

He was particularly looking for help on the night leg from Threlkeld to Dunmail raise, approximately 13 miles with nearly 6000 ft of ascent.  I was happy with the physical challenge having covered that sort of distance plenty of times, but what about navigating in the dark whilst trying to maintain a 24 hour pace – would I get him lost and blow his chances?

Mike & Mark, ready for the off

Mike set off from Moot Hall in the centre of Keswick at exactly 7pm hoping to be back before 7pm the next day. I started my watch and waved him and Mark his supporter off on the first leg and went back to camp to pack my bag for the next leg. It was tricky to know what pack to take as I needed to be able to carry my own kit, some safety equipment plus leaving some room for any of Mike’s kit, food and drink that he needed carrying.  Having checked all my kit including new batteries in my head-torch and tried to eat at a time when I would normally be going to bed it was then time to get to the changeover.

It was twilight at Threlkeld and torch lights could be seen descending the ridge off Blencathra as nervous supporters waited for their teams to come off the hill.  Mike arrived just ahead of schedule and managed 10 minutes of feeding and changing kit before we (Mike, Mark, Martha and myself) set off, across the main road towards the hills and on into the night.

The climb up Clough Head is steep and there is no obvious path but I knew to take a line avoiding the scree before turning to reach the top.  Just before the top the cloud came down and visibility dropped – not a good sign for the 12 miles to come.  Thankfully the navigation here isn’t too tricky and we soon picked up the trail leading on to Great Dodd and left the cloud behind.

There is something special about night running: enveloped in your own small pool of light listening to the silence, your senses seemingly more alert, the need to concentrate on your footsteps, the way that the land looms around you with even the smallest hillocks giving the impression of mountains in your peripheral vision.

Night running

The leg was straightforward from here until Dollywagon Pike with good paths meaning that only slight detours had to made to bag the summits allowing us to roll along at a good pace.

After Dollywagon we had to choose the best way to summit Fairfield, the choice being a good descent path and less well trodden route up or a grassy descent to pick up the main, loose scree path to the top.  In daylight I would have chosen the former but in darkness it would have been easy to stray into rocky ground and lose time so we opted for the main path.  This made for a tortuous climb on steep loose scree but led us safely to the summit from where we retraced our steps to a col and the last climb of the leg, Seat Sandal.  The summit was again in cloud and so we ran on a compass bearing westwards, gradually dropping towards the road.  A slight moment of worry when, with the lights of the cars in sight, we found ourselves in deep bracken, our torches illuminating a boulder field below but thankfully a short traverse brought us to a path and a swift downhill run to our waiting support crew with Mike’s fuel of choice – a Pot Noodle!
4 hours 26 minutes of night running and on schedule.

3.15 am Leg 2 / 3 changeover

After the scheduled 10 minutes refuel a new support crew took over to guide Mike on the longest leg to Wasdale.  This included the technical climbing section and he was in the capable hands of Matt and Mike G who were to get him safely up Broad Stand whilst Kirsty and Richard were to do the navigating. The sky was just starting to lighten as they set off and they would soon be able to run without torches. For me it was back to camp for some sleep. 

Dawn, high in the Lakes

After a welcome hot shower I managed a handful of hours sleep and then spent the morning drinking tea and eating.  I wondered how Mike was getting on, the signs were good with only a little low cloud on the highest peaks and it was calm and dry. Then we had a phone call to say that he had struggled a bit on leg 3 and was 30 mins behind his plan. Feeling reasonably fresh I packed a bag and drove to Honister, the changeover for leg 4 / 5. My plan was to reverse leg 5 and meet up around Great Gable.  The weather was colder now with a chilly breeze and as I climbed out past Grey Knotts I could see Gable’s summit in cloud.  On Green Gable the conditions were dramatic, one moment visibility was down so a few hundred metres, the next the cloud lifted to give fantastic views of the valleys below.

Lifting cloud revealing dramatic views

I reached the summit and decided to stay and wait for Mike and his support of Andy and Julia. I had company from spectators and marshals of the Wasdale fell race that was taking place.  Just as I was beginning to worry that something had gone wrong they emerged from the gloom looking tired but pleased to have reached the top.

Emerging from the cloud on Great Gable

The descent of Gable is tricky on tired legs – steep and rocky but after that and a short climb to neighbouring Green Gable it was an easy downhill via Brandreth and Grey Knotts, picking the best grassy lines down to the supporters at Honister where dry socks, flapjack and drink were thrust upon Mike by his crew.  Then the 10 minutes were up and the final leg back to Keswick began.  In theory this is an easy leg, a generally grassy section, 3 hills with 2500 ft of climb leading to roads and a gradual downhill into town.

Mike and Julia leaving Great Gable behind

There was a sense of optimism in the air as the merry crew set off up Dale Head, only a disaster now would prevent Mike from getting round in 24 hours.. wouldn’t it?

Mike and supporters leaving Honister

“Drink Mike, have a jelly baby, want a gel?”  The well meaning support crew were anxious that Mike kept up his energy levels but after 20+ hours of force feeding himself sugar he had had enough. He was tired, he even admitted it.  Luckily Phil insisted and he was able to manage sips of Coke and on autopilot now he continued up and over ticking off Hindscarth and Robinson, the last of the 42 hills.  Matt spotted a quick line leading to the valley and we dropped down quickly, leaving the hills behind and only the run in left to do.

A quick change into road shoes and the famous club vest but Mike was so tired, he was almost falling asleep in the chair as Simon attended to his feet like a father dressing a child! A couple of minutes and we were off, 3 miles of almost flat running and it would be over.

Left foot up, Simon attending to Mike’s footwear

I don’t know if it was the magic of the Dark Peak vest or the background as a 10k runner but suddenly Mike was looking strong, his long legs eating up the road and his sense of humour returned as he teased Dan about not being able to keep up. 
Helen was up front with the map looking for the footpath leading into town and there it was .. with a big fence and a sign saying footpath closed!  but we weren’t in the mood for any detours now so it was around the fence hoping there wasn’t an impasse further along the path.  Suddenly there were cars and pedestrians, the main street into town and the roof of Moot Hall visible 500 metres away.  A swerve through the market traders who were packing away and the glory was Mike’s as he mounted the steps where it had begun 23 hours 45 minutes before.

The final steps
Well done Daddy!