Steve Birkinshaw in training with Helene Whitaker for last year's Dragon Back race

Steve Birkinshaw in training with Helene Whitaker for last year's Dragon Back race

A Cumbria-based ultrarunner is planning to smash a 27-year-old record for the ascent of all the Lake District’s Wainwrights.

The 214 mountains are described in Alfred Wainwright’s series of illustrated guidebooks and the record for a complete circuit is held by veteran Wasdale fellrunner Joss Naylor.

Long-distance specialist Steve Birkinshaw now has his eye on Naylor’s seven-day time for the run, and says he even has Naylor’s blessing for his attempt.

He revealed he spoke to the fellrunning elder statesman at the recent Keswick Mountain Festival. Birkinshaw said: “It is great that he is so encouraging.”

The Newcastle University research associate, who has now edged into the veteran 45-year-old running category, hopes to beat Naylor’s record by taking less rest time – and passing up the slap-up meals and pints of beer the Wasdale shepherd consumed between mountains.

On his blog, Birkinshaw, who has backing from outdoor brand Berghaus, said: “I do not know of anyone how has attempted this since Joss did it 27 years ago. So it is about time someone had another go.”

The Threlkeld-based runner, who won last year’s gruelling Dragon’s Back race down the spine of Wales, said he is aware of three record attempts on the Wainwrights, which the taciturn author described in seven volumes of his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells series.

Chris Bland’s 1981 attempt failed in the runner’s effort to complete a volume a day, falling 22 peaks short of the full tally of 214.

Alan Heaton approached the challenge differently, picking a route that would enable the peaks to be bagged more easily rather than by book volume. His successful round took him 9 days 16hrs in 1985.

Two years later Joss Naylor set the record that still stands: 7 days 1hr, including five days of heatwave.

Steve Birkinshaw said: “I seriously started to think about running the Wainwrights about this time last year.

“Since then the question I keep asking myself is: is it possible to beat Joss’s time?

“Joss Naylor MBE is an awesome athlete and as tough as you get. He is able run through pain over long period of times when anyone else would have given up. So to even contemplate breaking his 7 day 1hr record for the Wainwrights is a daunting challenge.

“I hope I do not get a heatwave like Joss had and I also hope I do not get seven days of wet and windy weather. Ideally I will have cool, calm dry weather but I am certainly not expecting this.”

The hydrology expert says he has also looked carefully at potential routes, and thinks he can shave some time off Naylor’s record by taking a different course.

Joss Naylor has held the Wainwrights record since 1987

Joss Naylor has held the Wainwrights record since 1987

He said he can save 20km and 2,000m of ascent. “This will make about a six-hour difference at the end of the attempt,” he said.

“My plan is that I should really only be either sleeping or moving, I should be trying to eat as much as possible whilst moving.”

Although his pace will be slower than the record holder’s the fact he will rest less and take a more advantageous route will, he hopes, enable him to knock 11 hours off Naylor’s time.

The attempt is due to start in four weeks’ time and the public will be able to follow the runner’s progress via the Open Tracking website.

Steve Birkinshaw is also hoping to raise cash for multiple sclerosis charities. There is a justgiving website for the MS Society and also one for the Samson Centre, which helps people with multiple sclerosis, including his sister Hilary.

More details are on Steve Birkinshaw’s blog.

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