Sabrina Verjee Becomes 1st Woman to Run the Wainwrights

© Steve Ashworth

Sabrina Verjee has completed the legendary Wainwright Round of the Lake District fells, becoming the first woman to do so. The 39-year-old veterinary surgeon, based in Ambleside, visited all 214 Wainwright summits in 6 days, 17 hours and 51 minutes.

Day 1: Sabrina on Haystacks with Buttermere and Crummock Water in the background  © Steve Ashworth
Day 1: Sabrina on Haystacks with Buttermere and Crummock Water in the background
© Steve Ashworth

Sabrina initially set off with a schedule to try to beat Paul Tierney's 2019 record of 6 days, 6 hours, 5 minutes, and was up on schedule until Wednesday when she lost time during the night. She was able to regain a lot of the lost time throughout Thursday morning, but towards the end of the weekend her pace really slowed.

With minimal stops for sleep, snatching the odd 30 minutes here and there, Verjee had to contend with a typical blend of Cumbrian weather including heavy downpours, wind and low cloud. Despite the days of punishment she persevered, in an impressive display of determination to finish at Keswick Moot Hall just before 9pm on Sunday night.

On 15th July, Sabrina wrote on the Fell Runners UK Facebook group explaining that she does not consider her round to be a record, which was her initial aim: 'things were going well but a few days in and my right knee became agonisingly painful and swollen. I needed assistance down Clough Head to the Old Coach Road – I had to lean on little Dave to take the weight off. At this point I realised that I was not going to be on a record pace and that it was going to be a struggle just to finish but I was committed to finish.

'I completed the Wainwright's round to my own satisfaction but I do not wish my attempt to be ratified or acknowledged by the FRA or any other claiming some right to the Wainwrights. I do not claim any record for this achievement. However, I do look forward to taking on the challenge again in the future.'

Due to current social distancing guidelines, Sabrina ran the round with minimal support and asked supporters not to join her on the fells, at road crossings, or at the finish in Keswick.

In a post on the Fell Runners UK Facebook group, titled a little piece of history, Nigel Hetherington said:

"Maybe it was too much to hope that Sabrina would actually set an outright Wainwrights record today but, without hope, without belief there would be no effort and no progress.

"Sabrina, we are all so immensely proud of your phenomenal achievement – bring it home with a spring in your step and a broad smile on your face in the knowledge you've smashed through another glass ceiling inspiring thousands to simply believe."

In 2019, Sabrina won the women's category in the Montane Spine race with a time of 108:07:17, putting her in 4th place overall. She's no stranger to multi-day races and rounds – in 2017 she finished 2nd in the women's category of the Berghaus Dragon's Back Race.

Sabrina on Gibson Knott during day 3  © Steve Ashworth
Sabrina on Gibson Knott during day 3
© Steve Ashworth

History of the Wainwrights list and records

Back in the 1950s and 60s, Alfred Wainwright spent more than a decade crafting his famous series of Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. The seven volumes include all the well-known big Lake District fells such as Blencathra, Bowfell and Scafell Pike, along with a host of lesser summits from Lingmoor Fell to Latrigg.

Clustered across every corner of the Lake District, the 214 'Wainwrights' have become a popular tick list for keen walkers. Most walkers will spend years ticking them off in ones and twos, but when runners got interested the idea of climbing them all in a single journey took hold.

Alan Heaton was the first to run the Wainwrights in 1985 in one continuous circuit, taking 9 days, 16 hours. Two years later, Joss Naylor ran the round and despite a heatwave causing him to suffer from swollen feet, hands and mouth, he completed it in 7 days and 1 hour. The record stood until 2014, when Steve Birkinshaw completed the round in 6 days, 12 hours and 58 minutes, as shown in Alastair Lee's subsequent documentary.

In 2019, Paul Tierney took the record with a time of 6 days, 6 hours and 5 minutes. Commenting afterwards, Paul described how the mental battle was as hard as the physical one: 'The hardest part by far then was getting up and out of the van again. Walking down the steps of the van made me feel like I was an 85-years-old with two bad knees. Everything hurt and mentally I wanted to stop. After about 10 minutes these negative thoughts left me and I could focus on keeping going to the next summit.'

Watch the film of Paul Tierney's 2019 record:

  • In other news, in the early hours of Sunday morning Kim Collison broke the Lakes 24 hour record, bagging an incredible 78 tops in 23hrs 45 mins. We hope to follow up with a fuller report soon.

This article was updated on 15/07/20 to take into account Sabrina's statement on the Fell Runners UK Facebook group.

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Sabrina is one of the UK's top endurance runners. In 2017 she finished 2nd in the women's category of the Berghaus Dragon's Back Race.

In 2019, Sabrina won the women's category in the Montane Spine...

Sabrina's Athlete Page 4 posts

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12 Jul, 2020

That's amazing. how much do people sleep when they do this? Can't imagine running for 6 days.

13 Jul, 2020

If you look at the planned splits (on the tracker page) there are several points where the schedule had 120 minute stops - so she should have managed loads of sleep during the 6-7 days (yeah right). I wonder how much time she actually was asleep during the whole thing.

It appears (from the timings) that you don't actually have to be going that fast on these multi-day epics, you just need to be able to keep going, and going, and going, and manage with bugger all sleep without hallucinogenically going off route.

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