The Hartley Slam

Like nearly everyone, my 2020 plans were pretty well wrecked by Covid19. I’m still hoping to cram in a couple of big challenges, though. I’ll be chasing a Pennine Way FKT and giving another attempt at my Grand Round project, barely a month apart. As alluded to in my previous post, I’ll be raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (now Blueprint For All) through these efforts.

If able, please consider a donation at the link below (if in the UK, please add Gift Aid).

Update: I’ve completed The Hartley Slam. Reports from my adventures are posted at the links below.
A New Pennine Way Record
The Grand Round 2.0

The Pennine Way record, or Fastest Known Time (FKT), has been held for three decades by Mike Hartley, a fell running legend. He was also the first (and I believe only) person to do all three of the big rounds consecutively – last year I just added in the idea to cycle instead of drive between them. It’s not that I’ve tried to copy Mike, or that I’m trying to one-up things he’s done. It’s just that for pretty much everything I’ve thought of here in the UK and set my sights on doing, I’ve started doing research and then found out “wait, Mike Hartley pretty much already did this!” 😄

Fell running has a rich history that I’ve enjoyed learning about. The achievements, stories, and places to explore are incredibly numerous – especially given the geographic size of the country compared to somewhere like the US. People like Mike have laid a solid foundation to build, dream, and challenge what is possible, and in honour of him and others who have come before, I’m calling this crazy challenge of mine The Hartley Slam. (You know I must mean it when I go and spell honour with a u. 😉) I’ve discussed this challenge and the name with Mike and am thrilled to have his support.

A note on Covid19

First, a big part of this challenge has obviously been fitting it in with Covid19 restrictions (and before a new addition to our family arrives in September). The 4th of July (Independence Day!) is the first day that we’re allowed to be away from home overnight in England, and the 3rd is the first day that travel restrictions in Scotland will allow me to cross a few miles over the border to the finish at Kirk Yetholm.

Please, please do not come out to join or to cheer in any sort of potentially crowded area if you haven’t spoken with me beforehand. Especially please do not come to the finish if it looks like I might be successful. I intentionally plan on finishing late at night so that hopefully most people are asleep and can wake up to check once I’m already finished and back in England. I sincerely appreciate the support, but do not want to do anything that might jeopardize the effort itself, other people’s similar adventures, or most importantly anyone’s health.

Please, none of this. I expect to see nothing at The Border Hotel other than hopefully my good friend the plant pot that I can sit in and relax for a bit. Photo: Mick Kenyon

We’ll be distancing as best we can and trying to keep no more than 2 people. I’ll be forming a “support bubble,” adhering to government guidelines, with the main person on road support, who I will inevitably have some close contact with.

The challenge

The Pennine Way

Update: A New Pennine Way Record

The Pennine Way totals 268 miles up the middle of England from Edale to Kirk Yetholm, just across the Scottish border. The current record has stood since 1989, set by Mike Hartley in 2 days, 17 hours, and 20 minutes. The route is used by The Spine Race in the middle of winter, with the course record for the race held by Jasmin Paris in 3 days, 11 hours, and 12 minutes. In my own win at the Spine this year I finished in 3 days, 15 hours, and 53 minutes.

Fortunately, I expect much better conditions than I had in January, with more solid ground, less rain, snow, and wind, and approaching 20 hours of light per day as opposed to around 8. I also won’t have to carry the large amount of essential or mandatory gear that I did during the race, and I’ll be running for time instead of racing for place. I will be adding the out and back to the peak of the Cheviot, as Mike Hartley did, which is not a part of the Spine course, but without some of the out and backs to checkpoints on the Spine and the alternative routes included in the official Pennine Way mileage the route should actually be a bit shorter than 268 (by just how much, I’m not sure yet).

Hopefully the conditions will be a bit better than the Spine. Photo: Mick Kenyon

The tracker page will have times at various points along the route for record pace, if I were to run at a 100% constant effort the entire time. Needless to say, that won’t happen. My real schedule has a buffer built in for random naps, bad stretches, fatigue, and other things that aren’t quantifiably predictable but *will* happen in a challenge of that distance.

I also know that there are a couple of extremely good runners planning attempts on the route later in the year, so if I am successful in breaking a record that has stood for over three decades my own might be one of the most short lived ever. 🙂

Regardless of the outcome, I’m going to get to see places like this again! Photo: Steve Ashworth

The Grand Round

Updates: Still Seeking Grand Challenges, The Grand Round 2.0

I came up with the idea of the Grand Round shortly after finding out that we would be moving to the UK. My original reasoning behind the challenge is here and the outcome (spoiler: I came up short) is here. The totals are about 185 miles of running with 84K feet of elevation gain over 113 summits, plus over 400 miles of biking.

I knew as soon as I failed that I would try it again, and really I still feel like that outcome is what makes it the perfect challenge: if I had been able to execute it perfectly the first time and complete it, then I may have wondered whether it was enough of a challenge. Instead, I found that it was achievable but just out of reach with my initial approach. I learned and I’ve improved my plan, trying to optimize the many variables in play.

Again, the conditions weren’t really, umm, favorable, last time. Photo: Damian Hall

Originally, I planned on attempting it in June of this year. I never imagined that I would be doing it in August, much less barely a month after attempting a Pennine Way FKT, but one of the parts I enjoy most about ultrarunning is constantly trying to make the best out of the conditions given – there’s no such thing as perfect. In the past, I’ve actually done quite well with two big efforts about a month apart. Things have started to fall apart if I’ve tried to stack a third or fourth thing on top of that, but with the baby on its way I’ll at least have a good amount of forced (physical) rest.

Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

I’ve always wanted to connect my running challenges directly to something a bit more meaningful than running around the mountains or the woods, but I’ve always had internal excuses as to why connecting my efforts to some sort of fundraiser wasn’t a good way to do that. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve set those excuses aside and have decided to ask for donations to Blueprint For All (formerly Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust).

When looking at causes I could support, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust’s mission statement resonated perfectly with me. I’ve always had a huge passion for kids, particularly those who have the cards stacked against them just by where, when, and how they happen to enter the world. I’ve been working with kids since I was one myself in high school, and I’m now soon to be a father of four. I’ve had the enormous fortune of always knowing that my kids were going to come into a situation where I could provide for them, financially, educationally, and emotionally.

But with that fortune comes the disheartening knowledge that that’s pure luck for them while others get written off and have an uphill battle, whether due to their home situation or due to the system being biased. Life might not be fair, but giving people a fair start is something we should all aspire to, and that I hope any runner can relate to.

Originally I wanted to set up some fancy fundraiser with pledges based on distance or per milestone completed, but that turned out to be overly complicated, require taking a significant chunk out of the donations to go towards the platform hosting the fundraiser, or to make things ineligible for UK Gift Aid. So I’ve decided to keep it simple and am asking just that, if able, please consider making a contribution at the link below.

Barring severe injury or other unforeseen prohibitive circumstances (e.g. new Covid19 restrictions), I will complete these challenges. Even in those circumstances I will complete them, it just might need to be at a later time. I of course can’t guarantee an FKT, but I will finish the Pennine Way in either case, and the same will go for Grand Round. The donations will most importantly go to a great cause, but they’ll also provide substantial motivation in the low points that I’ll inevitably encounter out there. They will be incredibly appreciated for both.

How it came to this

None of this is really all that relevant to the attempt, but, I’ll be out there a while. If you want something to read while I am, here’s how my year evolved to create The Hartley Slam. I didn’t lay out specifics of my original 2020 plan in my 2019 Recap, 2020 Goals post, but basically it was: Spine, Barkley, Grand Round, Tor Des Geants.

First, just a couple of days after finishing Spine, Jessi and I found out we would be adding to (and completing) our family in September. Tor Des Geants was out. I decided to replace it with a Pennine Way FKT attempt.

Then just before Barkley, the Covid19 escalation began. The race was canceled, but as I was already in Tennessee with family I did my own “No Barkley Barkley” – 5 daylight on trail park loops totaling just over 100 miles in under 60 hours, with the flags of everyone who would have been at the race on my pack.

Physically, it went quite well – I was doing double loops at a pace I wouldn’t have felt 100% confident doing a single loop at only a year earlier. That was great, but also a bit disappointing that I wasn’t able to use that fitness for the actual race. If you’re interested in the Strava, it’s here, here, and here. A few weeks later I also went back out to grab my best time on one loop by itself:

Of course I wasn’t able to put that fitness towards any actual race or big challenge, so I occupied myself with other projects and smaller challenges. I made a delicious brown sugar Moxie soda cheesecake using the Moxie intended as a Barkley entry fee, and I put together a video (my 3rd ever!) of some ultrarunning things you can practice at home.

I explored more of the Cumberland Trail, and put together a route I had always wanted to do going from Frozen Head to Cove Lake State Park through the New River area.

After our lockdown transferred from my family to Jessi’s family and I no longer had mountains, I went back and finally achieved my high school goal of running 3 miles in under 16 minutes, and of course more importantly beat my brother’s best time by 12 seconds. It was just, you know, 2 decades or so too late. (sub 2 minute 800 next? 😅)

All the while, I was scheming how to still fit in some of my big challenges like Grand Round and Pennine Way. We were finally able to make it back to the UK in early May after being with family in the US for nearly 2 months.

Still, the Pennine Way and Grand Round were uncertain. We still weren’t allowed to be away from home overnight, which meant multi-day challenges weren’t possible. I spent some quality time in the Mendips and also focused on my own local round, the Somerset Three Peaks Circular Walk, achieving my goal of a sub 2 hour run on it (the route for the loop can be found here).

Then, after distracting myself with months of smaller goals, confirmation finally came late in June. We would be allowed to be away from home overnight starting on the 4th of July and I would be able to cross the border into Scotland. Time to put The Hartley Slam plan in motion, cut my hair, and get to it!

Nearly two months ago I sent this to one of my sponsors for my website bio. It still hasn’t been posted. I can’t ever imagine why. I mean, maybe they were waiting to see how bad, I mean good, it would get so they could post that? Yeah, that must be it. I’ll send them an update before cutting it.

12 thoughts on “The Hartley Slam

  • 2020-06-30 at 9:00 AM

    First of all, many congratulations on the new arrival news. Hope all goes well.
    Secondly, best of luck for your challenges. I will dot watch on the tracker when I can!

  • 2020-06-30 at 10:03 AM

    Always good to hear the update John and for setting high ambitions. Looking forward to seeing them attempted.
    Just for clarity, are you happy for an individual to cheer you on at say a remote spot, observing Covid rules that apply at the time?

    • 2020-06-30 at 12:10 PM

      Thanks Leon. I think that would be fine, and could provide a nice boost. 🙂 Just probably best to avoid actual towns, road crossing, etc.

  • 2020-06-30 at 12:25 PM

    Firstly congratulations to you both on the impending arrival, secondly after your performance in the spine, it occurred to me that with minimal kit and an attempt in summer here is someone that could potentially break the FKT for the Pennine Way. I wish you the very best of luck and God speed for your attempt and also the grand round.

    • 2020-06-30 at 2:11 PM

      Thanks very much for both! Hopefully the conditions will be favorable – it will definitely not be easy or assured.

  • 2020-07-01 at 3:10 AM

    All the best John,I enjoy reading your blogs and following your endeavours. Congratulations on the impending family addition

  • 2020-07-01 at 10:33 AM

    Best of luck with the FKT John, even when it gets beat it will still have been an FKT and that can never be taken away 🙂
    Particularly brave attempting the Grand Round only a month before the due date though! Impossible to do these things without the support of our families.

    • 2020-07-03 at 7:22 AM

      Thanks Jeremy, and yes that’s very true on family! It’s more than a month, though (can be 8 weeks apart but still in consecutive months), and trust me I’ve looked at the stats. A lot. 🙂

  • 2020-07-17 at 2:10 PM

    That time on the CT is incredible. I went out there wanting to go Smokey Creek to Garden Spot and back one Sunday and I couldn’t stay on trail to save my life. I can’t believe you were running that section when I was just standing around trying to figure out where to go half the time and eventually gave up.

    • 2020-07-18 at 3:29 PM

      That’s pretty tricky up near Garden Spot. Seems they tried too hard to make actual trail rather than just use the old logging / mining roads already up there. It needs more traffic for sure.


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