Wainwright Staircase

A number of events have conspired to force me to undertake what the rest of my family have come to consider as an eccentric, if not bizarre undertaking.

The first was being made redundant last year.  “Not having time” was no longer an excuse as I found myself with more time than I wanted or could have imagined.  The second was the repeated urging of my Doctors to lose weight to reach the recommended weight for my height to bring my BMI from significantly overweight to an “ideal” level commensurate with my age and height.  

So I joined a local gym.  I have the benefit of several years as an oarsman in the 1980s, when I used to train 20 to 30 hours a week so the prospect of spending the time and effort necessary to lose the weight was not daunting and in fact I was happy to start training properly again.

The second event was the virus.  My gym was shut down and movement outside was restricted, if not to say difficult anyway because wearing a mask is compulsory where I live.  I should say that my home is Singapore and I live in a 40-storey apartment block.  That was the end of that.

With a sudden inspiration I thought of climbing the stairs in the fire escape of my apartment block.  This was ideal because I did not need to wear a mask, it was on my doorstep and it was isolated from other people who are in considerably better shape than I am.  There was no one to laugh at me.

Every day since the end of April, I climbed the stairs without any meaningful objective.  I set targets, met them and progressed favourably but I did not have any established goal other than the loss of weight.

The final event in the conspiracy was the cancellation of my holiday back in the UK because of the virus, during which I had intended to drag my family up some of the fells and introduce them to the pleasure that I have derived from them since a child.

Then the most obvious thing struck me.  Why not simulate climbing the Wainwrights in the staircase?  This appears a most irrational exercise, but the old athlete in me kept telling me to do it and it provided the goal that I was otherwise lacking.  I do have some experience in this as up until 2010 I had been working through Book One before I moved to Singapore and have five fells to climb to complete that (an achievement that I had hoped for during my holiday this year).

I started with the only copy of the Wainwright books (Book Seven) here with me.  I listed them out on a spreadsheet in order of height and worked out how many times I would have to go from bottom to top or part thereof of my apartment block to climb each of the 33 fells, based on the 110m height of the building.  I climbed one every day since with scheduled rest days, completing the book on 21st August.  I then moved onto Book One, having purchased that whilst doing Book Seven.  As of 8th October, I have completed all but three of the fells whilst somehow managing to fit in Ben Nevis on the way.

There is no need to say that there is no comparison.  There is quite a view of the island from the top, but of course it does not compare and besides, on the way up I am in a concrete box that has no view except I have become familiar with every mark on the walls so that I can identify every floor.  I cannot get lost or come down the wrong side of a mountain (a feat achieved with my father in 1980 when we both assumed the other had the map and compass, resulting in us coming down the wrong side of Helvellyn in thick fog), but above all the difference is doing each climb in 95% humidity and at 33∞C.  Ben Nevis resulted in a water loss of 3.8kg over the four hours it took me to climb it.

Where is the pleasure?  Again, I refer to my time as an oarsman when it was sometimes difficult to train hard because of distractions from other people, noises, boats, equipment failures or any number of other things.  In this respect, climbing the stairs is pure.  Just me against the task with my willpower being the only moderator in my determination to complete each day’s task.  The reward?  Some day I will be back in Lakeland for real and I will be ready to complete Book One.

And I have lost two stone.