What happened on the National Trails in 2020 – a summary

With so much of Britain locked down for so much of the time in 2020, you may think that little happened on the national trails over the past 12 months. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Though plenty of people made good use of the paths in order to get out of the house and get some fresh air, there wasn’t much in the way of news.

But there were some developments that may have slipped your notice. These are some of the more interesting ones:

Record breaking on the Pennine Way…

On the Pennine Way, people were setting all kinds of records. On September 15th Sabrina Verjee broke her own record for the Fastest Known Time (FKT, to use the lingo) for a woman completing the trail, taking a mere 74 hours, 28 minutes and 19 seconds. This beat the previous record – which, by the way,  she’d also set, back in 2019 – by almost 8 hours.

I don’t know about you, but much as I admire Sabrina’s achievements, it does make our own efforts on the Pennine Way (a trail that I had, previously, always been proud to have finished) look a little paltry.

That’s not the end of the record-breaking on the Pennines either, for two months prior to Sabrina’s trek, on 24 July, Damian Hall broke the men’s record for completing the trail, having skipped along the Pennine Way in just 61 hours and 34 minutes.

While we must congratulate Damian, do spare a thought for John Kelly, who only eight days earlier, on the 16th July, had set the record that Damian broke, having run it in 64 hours and 34 minutes.

Given that, prior to his run, the record he broke had stood for 31 years, I am sure Damian was expecting his achievement to remain on the record books for longer than just eight days!

But to their credit, both John Kelly and the previous record-holder, Mike Hartley, who had set the record in 1989, were there to greet Damian at the end of his adventure.

For those looking to break either of the above records, it might interest you to know that both Sabrina and Damian ran the trail from north to south, ie from Scotland to Edale.

…and on the South-West Coast Path

It wasn’t all good news for Damian Hall in 2020. For having gained one record, he lost another – that of the fastest time to complete the South-West Coast Path. Damian had set the record for this trail back in 2016, when he completed the entire South-West Coast Path in just 10 days, 15 hours and 18 minutes.

But in September this year that time was bettered by Kristian Morgan, from London, who shaved three hours off Damian’s time, completing the entire South-West Coast Path in a trifling 10 days 12 hours and 6 minutes.

Kristian’s comments after he set the record are illuminating. As he explains,

“Having lost a little bit of my lead at the end of day nine [following an injury to his leg], I knew I would have to go for a big push on day 10 and so I ran over 100 miles on the last section in one push with only a 30-minute power nap.”

So there you have it: proof, if you needed it, that the kind of people who set these records don’t seem to be people at all, but some sort of weird super-human. But there seems to be lots of them about: the South-West Coast Path Association has already been contacted by eight ultra-runners looking to attempt to beat the record in 2021.

(In case you’re interested, the woman’s record is 14 days, 14 hours and 44 minutes, established by Julie Gardener in 2013.)

Half a century up for the Cotswold Way

Over on the Cotswold Way they were celebrating 50 years since the trail’s foundation. I know we’re a bit rude about Cotswold Way on this website, but it is a shame that many of the celebrations that they had planned to mark the occasion were cancelled due to COVID. Let’s hope they haven’t cancelled them, but merely postponed them to 2021, when they can expect a bumper year.