Tuesday, 9 May 2017

There is No Map in Hell - Blog Tour - Guest Blog From Steve Birkinshaw

If you are anything like me, you tend to spend part of most weekends either running or dot-watching on a computer screen (following someone else who is running)! In the increasingly 'connected' world of social media there seems to be a race to 'follow' every weekend. In general this only takes a few hours or a day of our time, dipping in and out of the coverage. Back in 2014 the relatively new experience of dot-watching really took off as runners and non-runners alike found themselves glued to their phones or computer screens for an entire week, following the little-known sport of fell-running!






Sporting achievements often become media stories, but generally these are limited to mainstream sports or have a celebrity element to them.  But for 7 days in June 2014 the British public became enthralled by the almost super-human effort of fell runner Steve Birkinshaw. Fell running is a niche sport, and most people are unaware it even exists. But each day of his heroic effort Steve Birkinshaw was featuring in news bulletins and being discussed on social media around the country.
The Wainwrights record required him to summit all 214 Wainwright fells, covering a distance of 519km with 35,000m of ascent over the challenging terrain of the Lake District - that’s over 12 marathons and climbing more than 4 times the height of Everest. This had to be completed in less than 7 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes in order to break the 1986 record held by fell running legend Joss Naylor.


There in No Map in Hell is his account of this incredible achievement.  It is a captivating read and I am honoured to be part of the blog tour to promote Steve's book. The book covers his general running background but is primarily about his record breaking round and features some wonderful extracts from others involved in the attempt such as his wife Emma (as can be seen in the extract below). The style of the book is a reflection of the fell running community and you get a real sense of the type of people fell runners are. 


To get your hands on a copy of the book go HERE.


Here is an exclusive extract from There is No Map in Hell. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


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SECTION 19 Mosedale Road End to Dodd Wood Car Park
DETAIL 37.5km, 2,200m ascent, 17 Wainwrights
SUPPORT TEAM Martin Indge, Chris Baynham-Hughes, Jim Mann, Paul ‘Corny’
Cornforth and Nic Davies
TIMES Start time 10.02, end time 19.35, break at end of leg 01.08
Mosedale Road End with the daunting prospect of a long section over the Northern Fells to come. Everything hurts.
 
This is a crucial ten-hour section over the northern fells. But cleverly my
support team decide to split it into two with an additional stop above
Whitewater Dash. This is about an hour’s walk uphill from the nearest
road, so it is great they are happy to do it as it makes the section much
easier mentally.
 
Emma: ‘I have the day off work and the children are at school so I finally have the chance to run with Steve; it is lovely to get up Carrock Fell and I am encouraged to see how well Steve is running once he gets warmed up. Maybe there is a chance he can complete it now. I would love to run further, but I have a long shopping list of things to buy including Torq gels (about all he is eating whilst running now), cream and dressings for his feet. I also have a heap of sweaty running clothes to wash and food to cook.’
 
It is really nice that Emma has time to join me up Carrock Fell. She has been incredibly busy sorting out everything, so the fact she has managed to get an hour and a half on the fells with me is great. It also gives her a chance to see me when I am going well and happy out on the fells rather than at the support points when I am at my worst.
As we go along this section it begins to dawn on me how many people are interested in my progress. I was expecting some interest amongst the fell-running community, but the interest is much wider than I ever imagined and growing rapidly. The mixture of the trackers, the regular blogs, television and social media mean that thousands of people are now really excited about my progress. As well as people watching my progress from their computer screens, they are also coming out to see me. So when we arrive on High Pike someone comes up and gives a generous donation. Then some fell runners who I recognise but do not know turn up. These are Paul Dobson, Andrew Martindale, and Paul and Chris Wilson, and they run with us for a couple of hours. From the top of Brae Fell I can see the next top, Longlands Fell, and there is a massive flag on top. It seems a bit strange and we all wonder why someone would have done that. When we get there we find that it has been put up for me by Jeff Ford, who lives locally and is chair of the Mountain Heritage Trust. I had never met Jeff before, but like so many other people he had been following my progress and came out to give me some support.
Having a five-minute power nap on the summit of Great Cockup on day 6.
My afternoon dip happens as we approach Great Cockup. I suddenly come over extremely sleepy; I am walking along barely able to keep my eyes open. The guys try pouring water over my head and talking to me but it is no use. I need to sleep. So, on the top of Great Cockup I decide I have to have a power nap. I lie down with a rucksack as a pillow and close my eyes. Meanwhile Jim Mann decides to fill in the time by running around with the tracker so it will make a picture on the OS map that thousands of people are following on the Open Tracking website. After five minutes I suddenly get up and start moving again – unfortunately Jim does not have time to finish his picture. I feel slightly less sleepy but for the next hour I am still really struggling to stay awake. I feel like I am midway between being awake and asleep.
The descent off Little Calva to the track above Whitewater Dash is heathery without any real path. I place my foot badly on many occasions and let out a little scream as the shoes press on my blister. I am desperate to get through this descent but I am even more worried about the descent from Ullock Pike at the end of this section, which is even rougher with taller heather and no path at all. It is good to finally reach the track and see the support team of Jon Bardgett and Mel and Kate Culleton-Wright. I have food, drink and more foot treatment and another little doze.
The big climb up Skiddaw goes well and at the summit there are more people looking out for me, together with Al Lee and Rob Jarman doing some filming. After all the difficulties of the first two days it is great that Al and Rob have finally caught up with me when the tops of the fells are clear of cloud. After Skiddaw there is a long out-and-back to Lonscale Fell and as we approach this top Andy Blackett turns up with some ice creams. He has carried them up from Keswick in an ice bag – a really nice surprise. The ice cream goes down very well on such a nice warm afternoon, although with my lack of coordination a lot of it ends up on my face.
As we approach Ullock Pike I have a discussion with Scoffer, who has turned up after work, and Corny about the route down that I am dreading. We decide it will be better to go back over Long Side, contour round Carl Side and then down the path, which is a bit longer than my planned route but avoids the knee-deep heather. I can run the descent, so it’s a good route. There are even more people on the top of Dodd, the last top in this section. I was planning on taking the north-west ridge off Dodd but again we make a sensible decision and decide to take the longer route which goes along a good track. I descend well running at nine-minute-mile pace according to Bill Williamson’s GPS.
Crossing a beck before the climb on Knott with Martin Indge and Chris Lines.
There are around twenty people waiting for me as we get to Dodd Wood car park, including Emma, Matthew and Hannah. I arrive there one minute up on my schedule, although as usual I will leave quite a bit behind due to my longer-than-anticipated stops. We follow the normal routine of getting washed and straight in the campervan. Eating is getting progressively harder; anything even slightly warm feels really painful as it goes down my throat. Tepid soup seems to be best at the moment. I don’t know what Mel is doing to my feet but it is absolute agony – the worst yet. With Matthew and Hannah present I try really hard not to scream out in pain and show them how terrible it is, but I cannot help a few squeaks. Eventually, it is so painful I grab a towel to muffle the sound and so that they cannot see the tears in my eyes from the pain. Matthew is really sweet and gives me a hug and says ‘it will be worth it when you have finished’.

I know my body is gradually disintegrating. Everything is becoming harder and slower. My mind is gradually going and all I can focus on is just moving forward – one foot in front of the other. I do not even try to think about anything else, that is what my support team is for, and they do everything brilliantly. Talking is sometimes hard, so if I no longer need my poles I just throw them down as I know someone will pick them up for me. Luckily the end is almost within reach and it is approaching a bit faster than the rate at which my body is falling apart. But it is a close-run thing.