A notoriously rugged route, famed for its powerful mix of beauty, bleakness and often-brutal conditions, the 268-mile (429km) Pennine Way is a challenge that takes most hikers between 16 and 19 days to complete. Last week, Damian Hall did the entire thing in two-and-a-half days (61 hours 34 minutes to be precise). And he was picking up litter en route.
Setting off from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders at 6am on Wednesday 22 July, Hall chose to run north to south, despite the fact that most people (including elite American ultrarunner John Kelly, nine days earlier) tackle the route in the opposite direction, due to prevailing conditions.
At 7.34pm on Friday 24 July, when he reached the trailhead in Edale, Derbyshire, at the southern end of the way, Hall had taken more than three hours off the previous record, set by Kelly just over a week earlier. Prior to Kelly’s run, the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the route had stood for 31 years, after being set by Mike Hartley, who ran the way in 65 hours and 20 minutes in 1989.
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“Going south gets some of the tougher terrain done earlier,” Hall told Advnture.com shortly afterwards. “Plus I’ve gone northwards three times before, so I wanted a fresh look at the route.”
An ultramarathon running coach, freelance journalist and climate change campaigner, Hall is an ambassador for Inov-8 and wore the Lake District–based footwear specialist’s new Terraultra G270 trail running shoes throughout the record-setting run.
The dad-of-two from Wiltshire, England, is also the author of the Aurum official Pennine Way guidebook, but he’s never experienced the way like this before. With a rotating crew of support runners with him, Hall had to battle sleep exhaustion and tough weather conditions while running the route, which crosses some of England’s finest but least-forgiving upland landscapes.
Rolling across hills from the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales, across the North Pennines and over Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland to the Cheviots, much of the way is extremely remote and very boggy, and the total ascent gained exceeds the height of Mount Everest.
Despite all this, and the fact he was racing against an extraordinarily fast time set just 9 days earlier, environmentalist Hall and his pacers collected litter as they ran, stuffing it in their packs before handing it to support team members at road crossing meet-up points.
“I feel overwhelmed, really,” said Hall when he finished at Edale. “I remember writing about Mike Hartley’s 1989 record in the Pennine Way guidebook before I got into running and thinking, ‘That’s insane, I could never do that!’”
Hall was joined by both John Kelly and Mike Hartley in Edale after his run, and later apologised to Kelly on Instagram for taking the record off him, after the American had held it for just a few fleeting days. The two are good friends, and had corresponded regularly in the build up to their respective runs.
“It was a huge team effort and I couldn’t have made it happen without the support of my road crew, pacers and the people we met along the way,” explained Hall. “I had the inevitable low spells, but the incredible team got me through them.
“I felt hugely motivated by three things and had FFF written on my arm in permanent marker as a reminder. They stood for Family, Friends, Future – the latter relating to our need to protect the planet.
“Also, the whole attempt has been certified as ‘carbon negative’ by Our Carbon, as has all my running and my family's lifestyle for 2020.”
It’s not the first notable FKT that 44-year-old Hall has to his name. He is also the current holder of the fastest completion time on Britain’s biggest long-distance footpath, the 610-mile South West Coast Path (10 days and 15 hours) and Scotland’s 230-mile Cape Wrath Trail (7 days 9 hours and 31 minutes), and in January this year he set the fastest time for a winter run of the infamous Paddy Buckley Round, completing the 100km circuit of 47 Snowdonia summits in 21 hours and 30 minutes.
The pursuit of FKTs (Fastest Known Times) has become a popular pastime for trail runners in recent years, and there has been an avalanche of attempts since lockdown has been eased, with runners having clearly spent the downtime planning new adventures.
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