At the start of December James Gibson became the first person to ever complete a continuous round of the Wainwright Fells under winter conditions. This 325 mile route with 36,000m of ascent, complete with some mad winter weather took James 8 Days, 6 Hours and 44 minutes. A blow-by-blow blog of the event can be read here (https://www.theclimbersshopjoebrownblog.co.uk/blog/winter-wainwright-attempt-2021)
Celebrating the 325 mile run....
I’m personally lucky enough to be a good friend and colleague of James ’and even spent time training with him on the run up to the attempt. As a personal trainer I offered up some nutritional and strength training advice too so it was nice to be involved with that side of things. During the event helped on some of the legs by acting as a support runner or navigation captain so I got to see the inner workings of the challenge, as well as how James was doing too.
It’s now a fair few weeks on from the event and James has recovered enough to get out running again. At first it was sub 10km routes from his Rydal home, and then at the start of the month we enjoyed a snowy plod around the Coledale Horseshoe together, followed by a trip around Leg 1 of the Bob Graham Round a week or so later. Yesterday, he ran the Fairfield Horseshoe in just 1 hour 55 minutes!! It’s fair to say he’s back to flying form!
Having seen what James put into this challenge in terms of training and mental resilience whilst taking it on, I thought it’d be awesome to get some of this down on 'paper' for you all to see what it takes…
When would you say you actually started training for the Wainwright attempt itself?
I started thinking about doing the Winter Wainwright round during the spring of 2020. Over the next 6 months or so I managed to recce the entire route and from memory, I think I did all the Wainwrights in about 14 days over that period. Pretty much all the recces were from my doorstep, either approaching by bike, then running part of the route or running straight out of the door. Living in Rydal, certainly has its advantages. After recceing all of the route, I knew that I was possibly capable of doing the round, but I felt like I could do it a lot better with some proper training. It was after this thought when I reached out to Paul Tierney (the current men’s record holder) for some more training structure. With gaining more structure to running, I found myself gaining more fitness, speed, endurance and power. The specific training itself lasted for around 18 months and without this, I certainly wouldn’t have been capable of achieving the time and effort that I put in and got out.
What went into your training? (i.e Running, walking etc)
There were a lot of aspects to my training that I considered valuable and a good amount of this actually came from working outdoors, mainly walking up the hills of the Lake District or Scotland and during the peak of summer, I would of been clocking around 6/7000 meters of ascent from work alone! Beyond this I also had a programme that I was following, which was different each week, a lot of this was based around running, gradually increasing effort and distance. Training consisted of hill efforts of different lengths and times, longer and harder as the programme developed. I also worked on speed, which again became longer and harder as time went on and then the closer I got to starting the Wainwright’s I was spending more time in the hills, mainly on the route itself, stringing legs together, along with doing these days back to back, something I believe helped my body
condition superbly for the round itself. So I guess the main thing I’ve learnt would be that the best training consists of gradually building up resistance and effort and keeping consistency throughout.
Did you devise your own training plan or did you seek external help?
Before any training for the Wainwright’s I always thought in order to achieve my intended goal, I’d have to put a lot of effort in to help my body condition, not only to the distance, but also the sheer amount of ascent that I would encounter during the attempt. I needed some structure to make sure that I was doing the correct training at the right time. Paul Tierney (previous record holder) is a good friend of mine, which not only has the experience and knowledge of the route, but is also a running coach at Missing Link Coaching, so I reached out to him and explained my thoughts and he was more than happy to help me. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me in terms of devising a plan on how to effectively get there, it must have worked well. Alongside the running, I also knew I’d have to work on my strength and conditioning, something I’m honestly a bit lazy at, surely I can’t be the only one? LMG Personal Training devised a 6 week training programme, which helped me strengthen area’s which would be a little weaker, that would in turn help my running style throughout the round. Again, no issues on this side of things throughout the round, so surely must have helped loads.
What would be your three main tips to anyone wanting to train for something?
1; Consistency - as mentioned earlier, the more you work on a particular activity, the easier it becomes. I worked slowly on this and went from running a couple of times a week, to later down the line running 5/6 times a week, but it was a process that took time to progress.
2; Work on the mental side of things - this is something that I have developed over a long period, of course we all have low points, times where we don’t/ can’t see the other side, but the more mentally strong you can become, the less you’ll experience these thoughts. Ways to try and work on this would be rather than avoiding some wet and windy weather, would be to go out in it and try and turn the negative thought of getting wet etc, into a positive one somehow. Or perhaps adding that extra hill on at the end of a run, just slowly tricking your mind into doing more than you think.
3; Gradually increase load - this would likely go in hand with consistency, but don’t do too much at the start, gradually build up to it, and do it over a period of months, rather than weeks. I had a six month programme, which I followed as best as I could and despite this, I still put in too much effort near the start, where I shouldn’t have and as a result got shin splints that took a few weeks to recover. It’s easily done, but avoiding it will help in the long term.
Staying upright. One foot in front of the other is all James needed to achieve.
Based on the above, do you think anyone could get themselves to the point of being able to complete a continuous round of the Wainwrights?
Of course. With the right mindset and training, anyone's capable of anything. I’m thankful that I work in the outdoors, so I’m always outside, either up hills with groups or out training for myself. It takes a lot of effort and time, but anyone's capable for sure.
Is there anything you’d do differently (or will do differently) in your training for this or similar challenges?
A hard question to answer. I feel that I did as much as I was capable of, I’m sure there’s always more that can be done, but trying to juggle training with life and work can be quite hard. Having more time to train would of helped, I basically had 6 months to get in shape for the attempt, so having 9 or 12 months would have been more effective. Again spending more time on the strength and conditioning side of things would have helped a lot too I feel.
You’re one of the most mentally resilient people I know. Your ability to get your head down and grind stuff out is incredible. Do you owe this to anything in particular, such as previous experiences, or do you feel it’s a natural gift?
Thanks! I would definitely say that my past experiences have helped and pretty much developed my mental resilience. I’ve had lots of experiences such as doing rounds/ long days out in the hills running by myself, with the aim of never giving up and never to take the easy way out. There have also been times where I’ve done long distance trails such as The Cape Wrath with a friend of mine and due to injury, he’s had to come of the route with still over 100 miles left, so being mentally strong to finish on my own definitely had to come into play. So I’d certainly say getting into situations where you have to be mentally strong, definitely pays off.
Going into the challenge, did you ever believe you wouldn’t get to the end? There’s a growing list of people who have failed at a continuous round in the summer months, let alone winter.
There was never a situation where I thought I wasn’t going to get to the end, I went into the attempt with the mindset of expecting the challenge to be hard, either physically, mentally or because of the elements of the weather. The only thing that I had in my head for not getting to the end would of been injury, whereby I couldn’t finish, thankfully I didn’t have this. The weather during the week was full on winter at times, with storms to contend with too, but I always anticipated times like this, so sat out the worst of the weather and pushed through the rest.
Smashing some brownie, less than 24 hours until the finish line.
I’ve said to numerous people that you were going so well I reckon if you had to carry on at the end of the Wainwrights for another 50 miles you could have done, would you agree with this?
Haha. Yeah I felt very good throughout and was still running well, even at the end, something I certainly didn’t think was going to happen. Yes I could of ran further if I needed too, but 325 miles was enough for the week.
Finally, when you can’t be bothered to train, how do you get yourself out the door?
There’s always times where perhaps you feel tired, its wet, cold or whatever reason you can’t get yourself out that door, but convincing your mind you’ll just go out for 30 minutes or so and it wont be that bad, you’ll often find you’ll do more than you think you’re capable of and it’s never really that bad. Just treat it as resilience training and most importantly listen to your body, if you are really tired, never try and over do it, it could cause fatigue problems further down the line.
A huge thanks to James for taking the time to chat to us about this, a fab insight I hope you will all agree. You can follow James' adventures and epics on his website at https://www.gibsonrunandclimb.co.uk/
Peak no.213 of 214- James surrounded by some of his closest friends