As It Happens

Sleep-deprived ultrarunner completes 214 peaks in record-breaking time

After completing all the Wainright peaks in less than six days, Sabrina Verjee now holds an extraordinary record.

Britain's Sabrina Verjee completed all the Wainright peaks in less than six days

Ultrarunner Sabrina Verjee is the fastest person ever to run the 214 Wainwright peaks in northern England. (Jim Bacon)

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As Sabrina Verjee was preparing to do a gruelling run up and down hundreds of peaks in northern England, she figured the fastest time she could complete the route was about six days. 

The ultrarunner smashed that goal on Wednesday morning, when she completed the Lake District's 214 Wainwright peaks in five days, 23 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.

She's now the fastest person ever to complete the 523-kilometre route, which includes about 36,000 metres of ascent. 

"I always knew I could do it," she told As It Happens host Carol Off two days after her run. She said her recovery was going "really, really well" and her legs were feeling surprisingly good.

Fourth time's the charm

It was Verjee's fourth time taking on the Wainwrights, which are named after Alfred Wainwright — the British author and illustrator behind the seven-volume work Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells

But Verjee's previous runs didn't go as planned.

Her first attempt last year was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. While she completed the route on the second try, her time was slower than she would have liked because of rain and a knee injury.

Then, on her third attempt this year, she had a severe asthma attack and had to stop. 

"It was always something out of my control," she said. "So I knew I could do it, if there was something that didn't disrupt me that was out of my control." 

Running on empty

Verjee's extraordinary time broke the record previously set by Paul Tierney in 2019. She credits her approach, which prioritized being on the move as much as possible. 

"He'd had a lot of sleep and spent time doing things that I probably wouldn't need to do," Verjee explained.

"I thought, I can reduce the amount of time that I need, other than time just to go running. So I don't need to sleep as much. I don't need to faff around as much ... And although I may run it slower, the overall time would be faster." 

Verjee didn't take her first sleep until 36 hours into the run. 

"That total stop time was two hours. So I probably slept for about an hour and a half within that two hours. And I did the same for every night after that, more or less." 

Sabrina Verjee with her team on the penultimate summit, Black Crag. (Hazel Clark)

Verjee also saved time by eating while she was on the move, fuelling herself with "easily digestible foods" like carbohydrate-rich jellies made for athletes. 

At some points, her husband — who was there with their camper van — would make her something more complex, like rice, pasta, chicken, or potatoes. 

"[I] just try and eat as much as possible in as little time as possible. And while I was eating, someone might change my shoes and socks and then, you know, off I'd go again." 

Verjee says it's been incredible to see how her run has inspired others, especially other women.

"This was one of the most amazing things that has come out of this," she said. "I didn't really realise that I could inspire so many people just by sharing my running, which is probably why I am sort of opening myself up to the media a little bit." 

Even during the run, she was aware that people were following her tracker, and the messages they sent lifted her up. 

"When I was having any low moments, I would just say, 'Oh, could you read me a few messages from the overnight tracking site?'" 

"Kids especially would get me when they'd be like, 'Oh, you know, you inspired me to go for a run with my daddy' or something like that." 

Written by Katie Geleff. Interview with Sabrina Verjee produced by Sarah Jackson.