As Andy Berry climbed the final feet back to Newland’s Pass, he knew he had achieved the incredible. He had just broken the record for the Lake District 24-hour record and was crowned King of the Fells.
The Lake District 24-Hour Fell Record dates back to 1904 and sees athletes attempt as many summits within 24 hours. Andy aimed for 79 fells, just one more than the previous record holder and his coach, Kim Collison.
“I guess with the big rounds; I’ve always found them a very personal challenge, which makes it very easy to concentrate just on yourself, your progression and not worry too much about what everybody else is doing. You can suit yourself, do it whenever.
“If I hurt myself and I need to put it off two weeks, then you put it off for two weeks. I also love the community around it as well. I love the fact that people come out and support each other. I go out and support myself quite often. Not as much as I used to. I think my peak days of 2019, where I supported something like two rounds a weekend for nine weeks and looked like a complete zombie.
“And that was a bit much. But, the big rounds are where my heart pulls me. I’d say probably that’d be the best way of putting it, but obviously, I will run out of them at some point, so I might have to come into some trail races.”
The weather was warm for the end of May, but when Innov-8 athlete Andy Berry set off at Midnight on May 23rd, surrounded by friends and local fell runners, he was several hours away from daylight.
“I think that you’ve got a whole roller coaster. I believe the first it hit me was lying in bed at like seven at night, and I had this moment where I’ve supported every kind of round from Jack Kuenzle, Bob Graham to people just looking to scrape, get under 24 hours.
“I was lying there, and for the first time, I fully appreciated what it must feel like to be on that because I was facing that same pressure. It was precisely the same, like 24 hours and 1 minute, and I was done. And that was the first moment of the day when I felt pressure myself.
“I started at midnight, so that was like 5 hours before, and that was the first real-time I felt, oh my God, it’s going to happen. But then I just had to calm myself down.
“You’re going to start, and you’re going to go and have the best day you can. At midnight, I started the first leg with Mark Lamb and Harry Bolton from Keswick AC. Top fell runners, so there would never be any worry about pace or anything like that. It was pretty relaxed, actually, and the conditions were perfect. It was a nice, clear night, and we had solid head torches.
“This part of the day, it was just a kind of a cruise of not working too hard. Make sure you’re eating, make sure you’re drinking, nothing stupid. Early doors. Let’s get the first leg out the way and build up off that because I knew that first leg would be fast enough, because it was Kim’s last leg, because I started at a different point and so had less already in the legs.
In the 24-hour challenge, you can start from any point as long as you hit the same place for the finish. He ran past Braithwaite, where his second leg started, as he still felt solid.
“So then I had Matty Atkinson and Steve Hebblethwaite, also from Keswick. Again, never going to be a bother with pace; we were going to run it, but I was always going to lose time on this leg. I would always lose time because Kim came out of the blocks like a rocket.
“I’m just like, it’s fine, don’t worry, don’t worry. I’d built in that we could lose probably twenty to thirty minutes over the second leg, and it wouldn’t be a disaster. There was one particular bit in the northern fells, and it’s a climb on either side, a big dip in between, and he’d split it in 31 and a half minutes. I’d tried it multiple times. This climb has rented space in my brain for the last twelve months. The closest I got was 32 minutes, and I was thresholding on the climb.”
Inov-8 athlete Andy cleared the section in 33 minutes, qualifying it as his first test: “I just absolutely put the hammer down in as sensible a way as I could. We lost a couple of minutes, but it’s the first time that I was like, okay, you’re not losing loads of time here; you’re moving. All right. Then we finished that leg.”
“The weather was spot on; it was nice and cool. I went straight through Threlkeld. And then the next leg is very similar to the Bob Graham leg, too, from Threlkeld down to Dunmail. I had Alastair Black, Tom Dobbing and Gavin Dale on that leg, who were all particularly amazed by my vegan sushi selection for food down there.”
After some tummy troubles after reaching his 30-mile point, he began relying on his support crew, especially his partner Jess: “She just said look, you’re moving great, you’re looking great, you’re still eating. If you’re not sick and you’re drinking plenty, crack on.”
His support crew included a celebrity list of fell runner names, including Carol Morgan, Steve Bergenshaw and Jacob Tonkin.
“You can’t do it without them, really. Everybody has a different role. You need the speed at the front, and then you need reliability and experience, probably from the middle on, not that anybody isn’t fast from the middle on. I started feeling better and better.
“Then shot down in Landale down this beautiful Scree gully, which Steve Birkenshaw said he added to the round because they used to go down the side and around, but he cut off about 2 miles just pointing your nose straight down and hope your feet hit the ground on the way!
“I picked up Damien Hall, Tim Wiggins and Duncan Archer in Langdale, and then the climb that will live long in the memory up the side of the pike o Blisco. You look at it straight up, but it was an oven in Langdale that day. It was so hot. We got pretty fried up there. Once we got moving again on the tops it wasn’t so bad, but I was losing time, and I knew I was losing time. Upon reflection afterwards, however, you can see that I was losing less time. Mine and Kim’s times were coming closer and closer together. So by the end of the leg, I was actually about matching.
“I had this theory that Yewbarrow wasn’t that bad. It just comes at a bad time in the round because you have to look at it all the way down Scafell, and it looks huge and scary, but actually, it’s over quite quickly, and all of that went out the window.
“I hated Yewbarrow. I had a right grump, and I was grumbling away to myself. I told Kim, Damo and Steve Jack, who was with us, ‘why are you making me do this? I can’t do this.’ They’re just ignoring me and saying to crack on. About five minutes later, I was like, Andrew, you are whining. What are you doing? There’s a bit right next to a stream. I just threw my sticks down, washed my face, cooled my neck, washed my hands again, picked my sticks back up and went, Right, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it as well as we can.
“By the time we hit Red Pike, we had our two minutes, and then by the time we got round to Great Gable, the decision had already been made about Haycock. We had a cut-off time, but that had gone. So it wasn’t even a decision to make.
“Kim just turned around and said, ‘It’s your round again. You’re not chasing me. This is yours now.’ He just knew what to say at the right time to get me fired up. And we just finished it off just super strong,”
Andy completed 78 peaks in 23hrs 23mins, a full 20 minutes faster than previous record holder Kim Collison.
“Honestly, I was more damaged from failing at Lakeland 50 last year than I was off this. I’ve been really lucky, I think. Talked to Kim about it, and he’s kind of like, well, yeah, it’s probably more a testament to how well nutrition went on the day and how well I was pretty well conditioned for it.”
Andy is currently preparing for the Lakeland 100, where he will once again take on Kim Collison and other incredible athletes battling for podium positions.