As a runner that likes running a short distance over nice flat tarmac, Where There’s a Hill, Sabrina Verjee’s book about her four attempts at running the Wainwrights (214 hills covering 325 miles and 36,000 metres of assent in the Lake District) probably doesn’t sound like it is for me. But… ultra-runners fascinate me – partly for the psychology of how to push yourself into such deep levels of discomfort and partly because the ultra-running community is one of the most welcoming environments I have ever encountered. Where There’s a Hill absolutely covered both.


I could summarise much of her psychology with the quote on page 111 where she says the conditions were exceedingly dangerous. “I loved it! How can you ever feel more alive than when the elements are doing their damnedest to throw you off this Earth and you are winning. The more the wind blew, the more I charged up that hill.” But despite that I loved how much perspective she had – she spent the night before a record attempt looking after a friends dog (she is a vet) and twice on the route stopped to check it was recovering well!

I found Sabrina’s discussion of the psychological advantages she had compared to those who had set records before her interesting too; being able to manage sleep deprivation, ability to maintain pace, route optimisation and self-belief were all felt to be important.


The welcoming enthusiasm of the community really shone through the whole book as Sabrina discusses the importance of pacers and support. The list in the acknowledgements of those who helped during her attempts came to 115 people! She regularly covers the importance of the pacers for keeping her company, motivated and safe (and often bought cake too!) but it wasn’t just that they came to help and support but it was the passion and excitement that they came to do it with. There is a particularly lovely line in the book where, just a few weeks after breaking the Wainwrights record she says: “I had no time to rest. The next outing was to support John Kelly on his first bid to break my Wainwrights record. I wanted to help in any way I could.” In how many other sports would someone who has just set a record be first in line to help someone else break it?


An area I found really interesting was around food and nutrition. Many ultra-running clients I have worked with have struggled to eat enough in races or record attempts. A lot of mental skills are needed to help you eat when your body and brain are saying no. So many races and challenges fail because of this so her reflections and insights will be invaluable for ultra-runners to read. It is also helpful for anyone attempting the Wainwrights to read her discussions on the conditions most favourable to an attempt.

Gender differences

Sabrina also touches on the issue of gender differences in ultra-running. In most sports we tend to see about a 10-12% difference in performance outcomes between male and female. In ultra-running there have been some races where women are winning overall. I enjoyed Sabrina’s discussion on why she thinks this is.

Self-Determination Theory

Finally, there is a psychological theory of motivation called Self-Determination Theory. It suggests that to have true intrinsic motivation (the type that means that you love the process and feeling of doing your sport so much you will do it even without timing, event, medals or accolade) you need three pillars in place: mastery (feeling super competent and skilled), belonging (knowing you are part of that sporting community) and autonomy (Having a choice and voice over what you do and how you do it). What I love is that Sabrina’s book inadvertently highlights that her running thrives when she has all three. When one was missing (she lost autonomy in the first and mastery from injury or illness in the second and third) her Wainwright attempts were not to her satisfaction. She only felt pride and full enjoyment when she had used mastery, belonging and autonomy.

There is so much that ultra or fell runners can take from Where There’s a Hill; advice on running, training, nutrition, navigation, psychological approaches, pacers and community. None of it is packaged as a training guide – but is written in such a nice way that you will pick up many many tips on your journey through the 160 pages. And if you are attempting the Wainwrights yourself then it is without doubt essential reading.

Where There’s A Hill is published on 15th September and you can buy it from