When it comes to endurance running, Sabrina Verjee is a force to be reckoned with. One of the UK’s leading ultra-runners, she’s well versed in breaking records and taking on the most challenging ultra-marathons, all while balancing her busy day job as a veterinary surgeon.
Having completed the legendary five-day Dragon’s Back Race in Wales on three occasions, in 2019, she won the women’s category in the Spine Race along the Pennine Way, 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.
Photographer: Steve Ashworth
Now she is attempting to set a new fastest known time (FKT) for completing a non-stop 525km ‘round’ of the 214 Wainwrights, packing in 36,000m of ascent along the way. This is her second attempt on the record, after a knee injury slowed her down and forced her to accept physical assistance during some technical descents during her attempt in 2020.
She will set off on her run from close to her home in Langdale early on 30th April and is aiming to finish the round in under six days – breaking the current FKT of six days and six hours.
Here, Sabrina tells us more about the challenge and what running means to her:
“In June 2014, Steve Birkinshaw ran round all the Wainwright summits in six days and 13 hours – this was the first time I had heard of a ‘Wainwright’. I learned that these were the summits in the Lake District as defined by Alfred Wainwright in his seven-book pictorial guide of the Lake District. Wainwright picked what he thought were the ‘true fell tops’ and marvelled at the spectacular views that one could get from these vantage points, as opposed to the actual summit itself which was often quite uninteresting. Having recently move to the Lake District, I thought it would be a great journey and challenge to also go and visit them all…one day.
I did my first ultra run in August 2014 – ‘The Grand Tour of Skiddaw’ – and since then I was hooked. As time progressed, I raced longer and further, completing and sometimes making the podium in classic ultra races including the Dragon’s Back and Spine. I decided that 2020 would be the year to run the Wainwrights. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic took over and I was unable to do the Wainwrights as planned in June. I thought I had probably missed out on the optimal conditions of dry, settled weather but my fitness was peaking and I waited for the government guidelines to change so that I could do my challenge.
On 4th July, we were no longer required to stay at home overnight and I was ready to set off, but that weekend saw a number of weather warnings and the Lake District was hit hard with high volumes of water and very strong winds – not the time to be out on the fells for five minutes let alone a week! Unfortunately, with the constraints of my work I could not hold off too long and so I set off on 6th July in flooded, less than ideal conditions. I knew that the attempt was not going to be a quick one but I considered it a recce with a plan to go again the following year if I wasn’t happy with my overall time.
Photographer: Steve Ashworth
To be fair, the first few days went better than I expected and although I had to circumvent some rivers that were too high to cross, I was still making good progress on my time. However, about three days in while contouring The Nab – I badly strained my adductor muscles in my right leg. Unsurprisingly, the next 24 hours of running only made this worse and it progressed to bursitis and eventually with all the swelling an inability to bend my right leg. I ended up needing some physical assistance from my supporters to get down some of the technical descents and my progress became pitifully slow. Nonetheless, I decided to continue the round and was pleased to complete the journey to Keswick Moot Hall. I completed the round in under seven days.
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!”
Before she set off, Sabs spoke to Steve Ashworth about her motivations and her excitement about setting out on another long run around the Lakeland fells. You can watch the short interview
Though she appreciates everyone’s interest and support, due to COVID restrictions, Sabrina is asking members of the public to not join her at any time on the fells or at the finish BUT thanks to a bit of tech you can follow her progress live here and we’ll be sharing regular updates throughout the challenge.