Sabrena Verjee on her record-breaking Pennine Way run in 2020. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Sabrena Verjee on her record-breaking Pennine Way run in 2020. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Ultrarunner Sabrina Verjee is attempting another continuous round of the Wainwright fells.

The Cumbria-based veterinary surgeon set out on Friday morning to attempt a record run over all 214 Lake District peaks.

She is undertaking the challenge less than a year after posting the third-fastest circuit of the Wainwrights, despite suffering knee problems during her 2020 run.

Her target is to complete the 525km (326-mile) route in less than six days. The current fastest time of six days, six hours was set by Paul Tierney in 2019. Tierney beat the previous record held by Steve Birkinshaw of six days, 13 hours, posted in 2014.

The route involves 36,000m (118,110ft) of ascent.

Verjee ran into problems during her July 2020 attempt, suffering a painful swollen knee. Lockdown restrictions forced changes to her schedule, and she ended up running in far from ideal conditions, which were then compounded by her knee injury.

She said: “I wasn’t satisfied with the speed with which I went round last time.

“I still don’t know what went on with my right leg, but it got to the point where I couldn’t bend the thing.

“I had so much water retention – I had about 10 kilos of water on me at the end – I didn’t really look like me any more. So I was really slow.”

She finished her continuous round of the fells detailed in the late Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells in a time of 6 days 17hrs 51mins, the third-fastest recorded time for the challenge and the first known woman to have achieved the feat.

Verjee traverses Gibson Knott during last year's Wainwright's round. Photo: Steve Ashworth

Verjee traverses Gibson Knott during last year's Wainwright's round. Photo: Steve Ashworth

“I know I can do it better,” Verjee said. “I just couldn’t get off some of these hills without holding onto people. That wasn’t something I wanted to claim a record for; it was not done in the right way. Although I was quite happy it wasn’t a record and I’d be quite happy not to have a record. That’s not what it’s about, but I think I can do it better.

“I really enjoyed the whole week, so why not do it again?

“I actually set off last time knowing I would do it again this year, because I’d missed the window of opportunity. July was not the right time to go. The particular time when I went, we’d had three days of torrential downpour and ground conditions were appalling, compared to now. They are bone dry, even though it has just rained the last day, that will go. It’s absolutely bone dry.

“I could have it a little bit warmer and more sun, but I’ll take what I’m getting.”

Although England has seen a prolonged spell of dry weather, forecasters are warning the fells will remain cold, with occasional snow or hail flurries. Atlantic systems may bring wetter weather in the coming week.

Verjee explained Birkinshaw’s run inspired her to tackle the challenge. She said: “I just saw Steve do it in 2014 and I was, like, that is really cool; what an awesome journey. And at that time I wasn’t even an ultrarunner, but it was shortly after that I did my first ultra. I was, like, this is cool, I can run for long periods; I’ve got the events racing background; I can go without sleep.

“I saw Steve doing it and I thought: do you know what, I can do that challenge, because I can sleep less than Steve did. And I thought: I can have a go at that; that’s my thing.”

Planning for the 2021 round has also taken careful account of the Covid-related restrictions that are currently in place. Sabrina Verjee’s support team is led by her husband Ben Turner and all will be following clear guidance during the time that they are running.

Paul Tierney currently holds the Wainwrights record. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Paul Tierney currently holds the Wainwrights record. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

As last year, she is asking members of the public to not join her at any time on the fells or at the finish. Her progress will be tracked live online by Open Tracking, and the round is being filmed and photographed, thanks to support from La Sportiva, Berghaus and Right Lines Communications.

All three companies will share updates on social media throughout the run, including the latest footage and photography as Sabrina makes progress around her route.

Verjee said: “Despite the injury, last year’s journey around the Wainwrights was a wonderful experience and I’ve been planning to repeat it ever since, but in even better style.

“My aim is to complete my round in under six days, or at the very least, faster than last time. I have a very special team of close friends willing me along and it’s that element that means the most to me.

“Running is an amazing sport for mental health – for me it’s not actually about setting a record at all, but about the enjoyment, the camaraderie and the support team. This is a team effort – like football with one person scoring the goal, but the whole team wanting the same thing. Our fingers are crossed that the weather will be kind and that my body behaves.”

Sabrina Verjee is one of the UK’s leading ultrarunners, having completed the five-day Dragon’s Back Race in Wales on three occasions, finishing second in the women’s race in 2017 and 2019. In 2019, she won the women’s category in the Spine Race along the Pennine Way, finishing fifth overall, and last year she set a fastest-known time for a female athlete completing the entire length of the Pennine Way from north to south.

During her Wainwrights run, she is being supported by a number of sponsors: Berghaus, La Sportiva, Petzl, Dexshell, Supernatural Fuel, Gingerbakers and Mountain Fuel.

  • Sabrina Verjee descends Gibson Knott en route for Helm Crag, accompanied by pacers John Kelly and Ben Turner. Photo: Steve Ashworth

    Sabrina Verjee descends Gibson Knott en route for Helm Crag, accompanied by pacers John Kelly and Ben Turner. Photo: Steve Ashworth

    Update: Verjee began her challenge at 7.30am on Friday and by lunchtime already had ticked off 15 Wainwrights in Great Langdale and Easedale.

More than four hours into her run, she was 50 minutes ahead of her planned schedule, travelling at an average of almost 10km an hour.

Her progress can be followed on the Open Tracking website.

As night drew in on Friday, Verjee was more than three hours ahead of her planned schedule.

Here’s a video shot during early stages of her run.

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Runner Sabrina Verjee ‘feeling strong’ in Wainwrights record attempt
  2. Runner Sabrina Verjeee hits the Lakeland fells in Wainwrights record attempt
  3. James Forrest sets record with 14-day solo round of Wainwrights
  4. Runner Sabrina Verjee heads south with an eye on Pennine Way time
  5. Sabrina Verjee completes continuous run of 214 Wainwright fells