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There is No Map in Hell
There is No Map in Hell
In 1986, the legendary fell runner Joss Naylor completed a continuous circuit of all 214 Wainwright fells in the Lake District, covering a staggering distance of over 300 miles - plus many thousands of metres of ascent - in only seven days and one hour. Those in the know thought that this record would never be beaten. It is the ultimate British ultramarathon.
The person taking on this superhuman challenge would have to be willing to push harder and suffer more than ever before. There is no Map in Hell tells the story of a man willing to do just that.In 2014, Steve Birkinshaw made an attempt at setting a new record. With a background of nearly forty 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. But the Wainwrights challenge is in a different league: aspirants need to complete two marathons and over 5,000 metres of ascent every day for a week.With a foreword by Joss Naylor, There is no Map in Hell recounts Birkinshaw's preparation, training and mile-by-mile experience of the extraordinary and sometimes hellish demands he made of his mind and body, and the physiological aftermath of such a feat.His deep love of the fells, phenomenal strength and tenacity are awe inspiring, and testimony to athletes and onlookers alike that 'in order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd'.
Paperback; 234 x 156mm
Some colour photographs
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
There is No map in Hell by Steve Birkinshaw. Vertebrate Publishing. £12.99
When the legendary Jos Naylor ran round all the 214 Wainwright fells in seven days in 1986, his shoes fell to bits after the third day. The new shoes rubbed his feet raw down to the bare ligaments. "It was sore like red-hot needles shoved into my ankles. . . . . When I eventually finished, there was absolutely nothing left in my body."
The run required the runner to run two marathons and climb 5000 feet over rough terrain every day for a week.
On 14th June, 2014, Steve Birkinshaw set out to break Jos Naylor's record. He left the Moot Hall in Keswick as the market stalls were being set up at 9 o'clock. Within 22 minutes he was at the top of Latrigg and a further 20 minutes saw him running over High Rigg and on to Walla Crag.
It was a run that had been a full forty years in the preparation. Aged seven, he'd taken 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 2 kilometres of his first orienteering race. When he started on a Maths degree at Nottingham University, Steve was one of the top four orienteers in the country. When he did his PhD, he and his new wife, Emma, made it into the orienteering squad for the Olympics. Neither of them made the actual team. In 2003, with a young baby boy, James, at home, he took a stressful and successful part in the BBC programme, SAS: Are You Tough Enough?" Steve certainly was.
In 1996, he'd failed after only two sections on the Bob Graham Round, but in 2005 he was ready to try it again. The following year, he tackled the Ramsay Round over Ben Nevis and struggled against pain and exhaustion to complete the Paddy Buckley Round in Snowdonia.
In 2008, well ahead of the field in the Lakeland 100, Steve was enjoying his running: "It was a great starry night and I enjoy being out alone on a night like that . . . running up gentle slopes without much effort.
There were other Lakeland 100's, but in 2013, he was ready to contemplate the 214 Peaks challenge, to follow where such legends as Chris Bland, Alan Heaton and Jos Naylor had led.
The attempt involved much researching of the fells and the meticulous planning of the shortest possible route with the most advantageous climbing. Steve was saved 16 km and 2000m on the route of Jos Naylor's record-breaking run and he planned to cut down on Jos's rest time as well. His winter training schedule involved something like ten hours of running a week with 4000m uphill.
After Day One, 89 km over 35 Wainwrights to Ennerdale, Steve's knees were throbbing and he couldn't sleep. At the end of Day Two at Steeping Stones above the Duddon Road, he was besieged by midges. Day Three found him in Rydal Church, blistered and sleepless with his knees throbbing even more. On Day Four he took codeine to kill the pain half an hour before the end and almost fell asleep beside the track. Going down the steep and grassy slopes of Great Mell Fell, on Day Five, the tendonitis became agony. At the start of Day Six Steve "hobbled down the road like a very old man", and at the end he felt his "body is slowly disintegrating".
The last day, Day Seven, Steve went from the Pheasant Inn to Whinlatter to Newlands Hause and finished at the Moot Hall at two minutes past ten. "Unbelievably," he writes, "I had beaten the legendary Jos Naylor by over twelve hours."
The following day was just a blur: "All I remember is that I ate a lot, and when I was not eating, I lay on the sofa groaning."
Steve Birkinshaw is an inspiration to all fell runners. He raised over £20,000 for multiple sclerosis charities. For anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps, the book contains a detailed map.
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