Steve Birkinshaw Book Tour Day Two

To Run for 7 days climbing 5000 metres or more everyday is a challenge that only many could dream of completing. In 2014 Steve Birkinshaw took up the challenge of bagging 214 Wainwrights in 7 days and trying to beat the record that was set than none other than Joss Naylor. Many believed that Joss’s record in 1986 couldn’t be beaten in what is the ultimate Ultra Marathon. There is no Map in hell tells the story of Steve’s attempt at beating the record with many a story along the way.
It is an honour to be able to host this blog post written by Steve himself about his typical weekly schedule leading up to the attempt. There is No Map in Hell is available to buy from the 4th May 2017 HERE.
Typical weekly schedule during the lead-up to my Wainwright round
I am sure that anyone like me who is not a professional athlete finds making time to train a hard balancing act among different commitments. I am a research scientist at Newcastle University, working a three-day week. However, as I have the privilege of being allowed to work from home most of the time and I like to do a high-quality job, I tend to work four days a week. My wife, Emma, also works nearly full time and we have three children aged eight, eleven and thirteen. I like to spend as much time as I can with them. So in between work, picking up and looking after the children and normal household tasks, I try to fit in as much training as possible. The one big thing in my favour is that I live in the Lake District near the foot of Blencathra. This means that the majority of my runs – particularly during the week – are directly from my house and almost all my runs are on the fells. At the weekend I sometimes go for a run up Lake District fells slightly further away, or I do a race; but these are very rarely outside of the Lake District.
Day 6 – An ice cream brought on Lonscale with Paul Cornforth carried up by Andy Blackett
I am also lucky that I have a background of many years of running on the fells, so over the years I have built up a lot of stamina and I can run on the fells in a relaxed and efficient way. But in the lead up to attempting all 214 Wainwrights fells, it was also important to get some solid training in. Scheduling this in was particularly difficult because as well as my normal hectic life I had to fit in all the preparation, logistics and media stuff for my run.
Day 7- Shoes ready for my arrival at Newlands Pass
Many years ago I used to keep a training diary of my runs and my progress, and I would have a definite plan for each session and each week. Over the last ten years this has changed completely. How far and hard I run depends on how I am feeling or how much time I have. If I am feeling good and the weather is nice, I might go out for a couple of hours. If I am tired I might just do a thirty-minute jog. I know the local fells like the back of my hand, so unless the weather is awful I don’t bother with a map and compass.
I am also extremely ‘old school’ with regard to electronic gadgets in that I never use anything apart from a basic watch. After a run I usually look at my watch and work out roughly how long it has taken, but that is it. I do not use a GPS watch or do Strava; I just run. I run because I enjoy it and it makes me feel better. After running for twenty minutes I completely relax and feel in tune with my surroundings, I do not listen to music with headphones on as for me this would completely spoil my enjoyment. When I do intervals, I do take my timings carefully as I need this motivation to make me work hard. Almost all my runs – including my interval sessions – are by myself, mainly as I run straight from my house so it is much more efficient than driving to meet someone.
A typical week before my Wainwrights run was the following:
Monday: 50 minutes easy
Tuesday: 1 hour 30 minutes hard
Wednesday: work in Newcastle
Thursday: 50 minutes including hill intervals or fartlek
Friday: 1 hour easy
Saturday: 2 hours easy
Sunday: 3–4 hours easy
This was around ten hours a week of running with around 4,000 metres of climb. It was a mixture of easy and fast, but I do tend to always run hard on the big steep climbs (to keep on running up these climbs is actually hard). This typical week is probably around 80–100 kilometres, whereas on a flat road I would be doing nearer to 160 kilometres in ten hours. Every month or so I also fitted in a long (eight hours or so) run, although with an easier week beforehand.

Day 7 – A selection of food laid out for me to choose from
Food wise, I did not do anything different from usual in the lead up to my Wainwrights. I have been a vegetarian since I was twenty and since then I have always been careful with what I eat and try to eat a healthy diet. I love my fruit and like a lot of vegetables, beans and nuts so I find it quite easy to eat healthily. I have the same breakfast every day, as working out what to eat would be too hard as I struggle to think when I wake up in the morning. This is based around oats, which I have been a big fan of for quite a few years; I seem to get fewer energy dips or bowel problems than if I have more wheat-based products. The way I make my breakfast is slightly strange! I have a big bowl of rolled oats, add some milk and warm it up in the microwave for a minute. Then I just add a chopped-up banana and some brown sugar. By the time I have finished eating it I am just about awake enough to cope with work. My typical daily diet is the following:
Breakfast: rolled oats, milk, banana, sugar
Lunch: oat cakes some with soft cheese and avocado and others with peanut butter
Tea: my favourite meals are probably jacket potato with beans and sweetcorn or vegetable curry with rice. Fruit.
However, I do have a weakness for sweets and chocolate. If any are left around the house I will often succumb to the temptation and eat some of it … and then I find it really difficult to stop, and end up finishing everything. My children have sometimes got very cross with me when I have finished their sweets that they have been saving!
So, overall I have to say that I didn’t actually alter my regular running regime and diet a huge amount in preparation for the Wainwrights, as I run so much anyway. I did up the intensity of training a little beforehand as mentioned, but as I have been running for so long I knew my body well enough to judge how much I needed to do in addition to my regular running. I also knew how far I could push my training without getting injured. Unfortunately there is no training you can do that will prevent blisters or help you get used to the pain they cause…

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