A little over a week ago, a man with an on-camera tea drinking habit akin to Guy Martin, Damian Hall, set a new FKT or Fastest Known Time on the Pennine Way, days after John Kelly had broken Mike Hartley’s 31 year record set in 1989 of 65 hours 20 minutes. Rather than pitching this as bitter adversaries, it should be known that Damian and John are friends as discussed in Red Bull’s feature.
Now you may remember in 2019 Damian got a lot of air time on this website and 2020 has been pretty scarce of Hall tales. I think you’ll agree with me, he’s gone to an awful lot of effort to get back on here. Damian, you only needed to drop me a DM!
The 44-year-old inov-8 ambassador completed the iconic route from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders to Edale, Derbyshire, which includes a section along Hadrian’s Wall, in an incredible time of 61 hours 15 minutes 15 seconds, beating the previous record by more than three hours…
The Pennine Way is Great Britain’s oldest – and arguably toughest – National Trail. Much of it is over remote, boggy hills, with a total ascent that exceeds the height of Mount Everest. Popular with hikers, who usually complete it in 16-19 days, Hall did it in just two-and-a-half, battling sleep exhaustion and all manner of tough weather conditions along the way. Damian has also fumbled through 2 bitter Januarys on the same route racing the Spine Race, to then go back in a media capacity when he realised the lack of suffering was getting to him and needed that particularly brutal blend of wet and cold the British Isles is famous for, as outlined by Ranulph Fiennes in an early Spine Race Film. And yes, the below image is in July!
Not only that, the dad-of-two from Wiltshire, England, and his team of pacers also helped clean the famous trail of litter as they ran, stuffing it in their packs before handing it to support team members at road crossing meet-up points.
Speaking at the finish (which he reached at 7:35pm on Friday July 24th), Hall, an ultramarathon running coach, freelance journalist, author and climate change campaigner, said: “I feel overwhelmed, really. 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!’
“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. 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.
“There wasn’t lots of litter on the trails, but we picked up anything we saw. The road support crew did likewise from the places they met me at along the way.
“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.”
The record Hall beat had previously been set just a week earlier by his friend John Kelly (64 hours 46 minutes); an American ultramarathon runner now based in England. Before that it had stood unbeaten for 31 years, belonging to legend of the long-distance running sport, Mike Hartley, who ran 65 hours 20 minutes in 1989.
Its August now and its not uncommon to have crossed paths with Damian at an event or race by now, but given things have changed somewhat, I utilised the power that is electronic mail to delve a little deeper into a few aspects of his FKT
What were some of the ways you made your run carbon negative? What was the greatest logistical or time consuming action needed to achieve this?
I’ve been working with a company called Our Carbon (https://www.ourcarbon.com) who’ve analysed my carbon (and equivalent a greenhouse gas emissions) for 2019 and together we set a target for 2020, that, with some offsetting but also significant lifestyle changes (switching to renewable energy, flying less, giving up beef, et al), would make my family carbon negative for 2020. My Pennine Way Bimble fitted comfortably into the budget, which can be seen on the above website. I also fuelled without animal products (which is easy), without plastic waste (which is a real P in the A – so much of our food comes in plastic) and collecting litter.
How much litter was picked up by your support crew? Have they recalled repeat offending items? Is this something you often do when out on the trails training row with family?
If I’m totally honest, when I’m out running on my own or out hiking with family, sometimes I collect rubbish, sometimes I don’t. But I will endeavour to more now. On the Pennine Way my pacers and road crew picked up the vast majority of litter (thank you!) and we think it was about eight medium-sized bin bags full. Mostly plastic bottles and food/snack wrappers.
The Brecon Beacons have been your mountainous training ground for the last few years, how has your training differed with the restrictions placed firstly in April but then with limited access to Wales until recently.
No Beacons for me for months during lockdown, boo hoo hoo. So I enjoyed finding fresh local trails and then as lockdown eased I went to the Mendips a few times, then snuck up to the Pennine Way for three recces.
With races cancelled (and still cancelled) in the build up, did this aid your training block, focus and specificity?
I think it did. Or rather, I was away less and travelling less for work and just generally enjoyed a slower pace of life. Training seemed both less important and more precious than before.
What daily habits have you practiced this year to reduce your carbon footprint?
I’ve given up beef, lamb and dairy, decided to fly less and travel less by car – obviously lockdown has helped here. Also trying to reuse and repair things more, and just buy fewer things wrapped in plastic (getting milk delivered rather than from supermarkets saves a lot of plastic). And I always use the eco cycle on the dishwasher. Thats the big one. That makes me a bona fide eco warrior.
Im sure many will be wondering about your sleep, or lack of, when on the Pennine Way. Was there a strict schedule, a minimum requirement for the crew to make sure you had or did you play it by ear?
My schedule had no sleep stops, but I was open minded about that and knew I would probably need a power nap or two. In the end I had three, which totalled about 40mins sleep.
Given John’s record breaking run the week before, did this throw extra incentive to move fast from the off?
John’s amazing run didn’t change my approach at all. I always planned to be more conservative and hoped to move well on day 2, which I saw as the crucial time. However, I just felt brill early on and simply went with it anyway and got ahead that way. I’m more of a run to feel than a spreadsheet runner. If I feel good, I tend to go with it. If I feel less good, it’s just time to hang in there.
Your new green daps as you’d say, did you wear the same pair throughout?
inov-8’s TERRAULTRA G 270 are ace in the hole. The midsole has a responsive squish, they grip’s better and they’re more comfortable. I didn’t have any real foot issues (one toe was grumpy from kicking a rock). I did swap shoes about halfway simple because I’d had wet feet for a long time, but into an identical pair.
My sponsors aren’t directly supporting my plans to be carbon negative – that’s on me – though they are both broadly supportive. They are both companies who care about the right things, or I wouldn’t be working with them. There’s plenty of work to be done! But they’re both making progress. You’ll hear more from inov-8 on this next year. Surprisingly not all companies see that as important. I had a technology company approach me about being an ambassador recently but they had no environment/sustainability policy and when I pointed that out to them they refused to consider even having one. We won’t be working together. I hope soon, companies will publish their carbon accounts of footprint, so we can make informed ethical choices as consumers.
Any lucid hallucinations or strange encounters on the night sections?
Yes. Nicky Spinks made me eat a coffee bean (I hate coffee). She told me “it didn’t really taste like coffee”. It did and it was almost as disgusting as iced tea.
Iced tea, any closer to giving it a whirl?
That stuff should be illegal.
So if you’ve had you’re sat reading this, wondering what really went down on the Pennine Way, the daily updates not quite getting that deep and satisfying scratch to that ultra endurance itch. Fear not.
Totally FKT – i’m sorry, but I have to say what a title, if you know anything about the state of people when they finish ha! – is available to preorder, will be around 45 minutes and will be out November 2020.
Until then make sure you check out inov-8’s YouTube channel for a series of short films produced during the FKT.
And finally – Damian fuelled his Pennine Way FKT without the use of animal products or plastic waste, running a fundraiser for Greenpeace – if you’d like to contribute the link to the JustGiving Page is here.