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Cumbria woman is first to complete continuous 500km endurance run

Sabrina Verjee on the summit of Cat Bells, her final peak of 214 Wainwrights in a continuous round – photo credit Chris Lines

Sabrina Verjee, a 39-year-old veterinary surgeon from Ambleside in the Lake District, has become the first woman to complete a non-stop ‘round’ of the 214 Lake District summits known as the Wainwrights. Starting in Keswick at 3:00am last Monday, Verjee completed her 525km route on Sunday evening, in six days, 17 hours and 51 minutes. She became the first female athlete to complete a continuous round and in doing so recorded the third fastest time ever.

The Wainwrights are the 214 hills and mountains that feature in Alfred Wainwright’s famous seven volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. Since the books were published between 1955 and 1966, the Wainwrights have become a popular tick list for walkers, but the first recorded continuous run was completed by Alan Heaton in 1985, in nine days and 16 hours.

Two years later, fell running legend Joss Naylor set a new record of seven days, one hour and 25 minutes. That stood for 27 years, until Berghaus athlete Steve Birkinshaw knocked almost 12 hours off the time in 2014, when he completed his run in six days and 13 hours. Last summer, Paul Tierney, from Windermere, lowered the record by another seven hours.

The route of Sabrina Verjee’s continuous round of the 214 Wainwrights – image from Open Tracking

Due to continued social distancing guidelines, Sabrina Verjee ran with a minimal support team. She asked the public to not join her at any time on the fells, in contrast to scenes during previous rounds. Both Tierney and Birkinshaw joined her crew at times, running with her for sections of the route and the latter was also at the traditional finishing point, the Moot Hall in the centre of Keswick, to welcome Verjee on Sunday evening.

Also there was Joss Naylor, who commented: “This was brilliant. Sabrina has done something very special, and set a tough target for other ladies to aim for. What she’s achieved will inspire others to have a go, but it’s a mark that could stand for many years.”

Sabrina Verjee is one of the UK’s leading ultra-runners, having completed the five-day Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race in Wales on three occasions, finishing second place in the women’s race in 2017 and 2019. Last year, she won the women’s category in the Montane Spine Race along the Pennine Way, finishing fifth overall. Verjee began planning for her attempt on the Wainwrights record many months ago, before the COVID-19 outbreak, but had to adjust her planning as a result of the pandemic.

Sabrina Verjee contemplates her achievement after completing her continuous Wainwrights round – photo credit Chris Lines

Speaking after her round, Sabrina Verjee comments: “I’m so happy to have completed my round and more than a little relieved. My right knee hasn’t been happy for a couple of days, so the final sections were very tough, especially as the fatigue really started to kick in.

“I’d have loved to have invited more people to be part of the adventure, but in the current climate that wouldn’t have been responsible. However, my small team shared loads of messages of encouragement with me, which were a big boost.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who supported me during the round and it was very special to be joined by Steve and Paul, and then to see Joss at the finish. That says everything you need to know about the incredible camaraderie that there is in the endurance running community. I look forward to repaying that support during future attempts on the Wainwrights, but for now, I think that I’ll rest up for a while!”

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