Prologue

It all started with sightseeing the Charlie Ramsay Round with Saki and supporting Natalie on her Ramsay Round attempt in 2020. Since then, Ramsay Round was something in back of my mind – a challenge I fancied as it involved a long day on the hills I grew to love and know very well. Later in 2020, Drew and I did the Tranter’s Round which cuts out five Eastern Munros of Ramsay Round. It was a good day in the hills but it left me longing for more.

In the beginning of 2021, I entered the Ultra Trail Snowdonia 100K for June 2021 that had similar enough elevation profile. It meant I could train for the race and if it does not go ahead, I could do Ramsay Round instead. It got cancelled, so Ramsay Round was inevitable! 12th of June, 2021 was the provisional date for the round.

Preparation

Trying to find a positive side of the pandemic, it was not all doom and gloom. The lack of races has allowed to make a self-organised event the main focus. I have spent time on hills with a consistent mileage, some speed sessions as well as a new routine of weighted strength & conditioning and yoga.

The travel restrictions put some spanner in the works though. We had to stay within the local (Glasgow) council area for quite some time. Campsie Hills were not too bad to get some elevation in, but it was not quite the same. It was difficult to find a long route with a substantial elevation change without having to go up and down the same hills. While I found myself fitter running in Campsies, I have learnt that long uphills and downhills are necessary to condition both the legs and the mind.

As soon as we were allowed out, it was all about regular trips to Fort William again! As part of the training, I have ran Mamores Round (7 weeks out) and Tranter’s Round (4 weeks out). While hoping for a sub-12:30 finish for Tranter’s Round, I slowed down in the second half and finished at 12h54m55s, shaving off over 3 hours from last year (16h03m50s).

As I only picked up hill and ultra running in late 2019, I have not done a hill or an ultra race before. Having time targets for Mamores and Tranter’s rounds helped me to learn more about myself and how to perform the best to my ability on the hills.

About the sub-20 attempt

Fast forward a bit to the actual Ramsay Round day, Josh asked me why I had a 20 hour goal for the Ramsay Round. I just said one word, “ego”, giggled and then explained myself. I remember mentioning to Saki a year before, I would not attempt the Ramsay Round if I could not get a finish under 20 hours. It was subconscious, but I hoped it was not about a big ego – there were few reasons for this.

Firstly, I wanted to have an adequate training prior to the day. I wanted to feel confident in finishing it. Some parts of the round are difficult to access and having to retire would mean a long hobble to any public road. Trusting my own ability allowed me to travel lighter and hope for very little running in the dark. Perhaps more importantly, I felt like I would struggle to come back and attempt it again if I finished in over the 24 hours – hence a goal with plenty to spare. Little did I know, there have only been nine sub-20h finishers up to 2021. It came back to bite me when I have learnt that, second guessing whether I am overly ambitious or just plain delusional. A bit stubborn, too? It was too late to back out from my own claim.

I took the map and reluctantly wrote down the expected times for a 20 hour finish. It had expected times for each checkpoint, either the summits or some crossings. Alongside, there were splits from Tranter’s Round (green) as well as some notes on water stops and a note where I would be expecting to make some carbohydrate-dense drinks. This way, having a folded map was enough for me to know how I am doing on the day. It would also help me to stay on top of my nutrition plan.

Markings on the map

Beginning of the Ramsay Round

We drove up to Fort William and stayed in a lovely Achintee Farm that is just by the Ben Nevis Inn. The alarm was set for the midnight with a start of 2AM, letting me digest the breakfast before I start. I managed to get few hours of sleep.

The start, 2AM.

Mamores in the morning

We did the countdown to 2AM – precise start time makes it feel like it is more than just a wee run and makes time calculations easy if the watch fails. After summiting the Mullach nan Coirean I did not need a headtorch anymore. If all went to the plan, I would not be going through the night again which can be quite daunting as I would have to slow down in the dark.

Sun rays over Eastern Mamores. 5:43AM.

I did pace myself quite well with only few minutes being ahead of the schedule. The effort felt good, hiking most of the uphills. Somewhere midway of the Mamores, my legs started to feel a bit fatigued. It did not quite feel right, but it was a good reminder to stay relaxed and just keep on going. Banking time was not part of the plan.

As I was approaching Sgurr Eilde Mor, I still have not seen anyone since the start. Few tents and few people appeared by the lochain, a good distance away. I was wondering if they have seen me and were wondering what that guy (me) was doing at 8AM, on quite a remote side of the Mamores. That was me going up a 10th Munro of that day. Coming from a hillwalking background, it made me appreciate how quickly I could cover multiple Munros with lighter shoes and a running vest instead of heavy boots and a rucksack.

Glen Nevis

Covering the section of the River Nevis is not very exciting. It is a flat section with a decent path, which meant I would actually have to run more! However, I was not expecting to see the cows on the path, with some younger ones around too. I was wary of coming between a calf and its mom, so I gave them a wide berth. I also employed the technique of shouting “hey bear!” (thought it rhymed better than “hey cows!”), slowing down (the excuse of losing some time, of course), walking round them and going off the path (another excuse!). It worked, but few of them looked annoyed by having their morning disturbed. Sorry!

It felt like everything was going according to plan. I consumed more simple, running food at that section as I knew I would be moving faster.

As I was approaching Loch Treig, I finally saw the first people of the day. I have asked if they have seen a man with long hair (Josh). A woman passed the message to me from Josh, wishing me well, and told me that he is waiting somewhere on the track. It was good to know Josh made the train from Tulloch to Corrour okay and there is some food waiting for me.

Railway to Loch Treig Dam

I met Josh reading the book under the railway bridge. He looked cold and had to put some layers on. I marched on while he packed and caught up. Josh is a well versed mountain man as a rock climber, mountain biker and a runner on all sorts of terrains. Josh also passed me some food and flat coke. It felt good not having to carry that from the start. We were having a good chat and ascending the Beinn na Lap felt easy. I was already moving for 9 hours by then and I appreciated some company. We talked about his future plans doing the Tranter’s and Bob Graham rounds. At that time, it felt like we picked up the pace but the effort level of keeping up with Josh did not feel too much of an effort. Thanks man!

As we were going up Chno Dearg, I had a look at my watch and my timings, realised we had plenty of time and I made a choice to slow down a bit. It was still only half way. My longest run beforehand was 50 miles and longest day so far was 18 hours – both being shorter than the Ramsay Round. I was going to step into the unknown territory and preserving the energy was still the primary goal. Even though we slowed down, we have gained time and we were 12 minutes ahead of schedule. Josh made a remark that this is an enjoyable pace of hiking uphills and jogging the rest. It is, indeed – you just need to be moving for quite some time!

Away from Chno Dearg, Josh’s photo

When Saki and I did the route over two days in 2020, we did this section in the dark while being tired and exhausted from the heat. I was hoping to recce it again prior to the Ramsay Round, but the travel restrictions did not allow that. Coming down Stob Coire Sgriodain is a rough, pathless ground with some rocky outcrops. The restrictions were lifted only a week before my Ramsay Round attempt and I decided to risk having a long day (3h30m) and recce that section again. Josh and I were descending quite well and we met another man doing a Ramsay recce. He had a right idea to come there for a recce as it is a tricky section.

Refuel at the Loch Treig Dam

Loch Treig Dam, Saki’s photo

Saki and Frances were waiting for me at the Loch Treig Dam. It was a very well equipped aid station! Two pairs of shoes, spare clothing, mashed potatoes, rice balls, more flat coke, coffee, fruit, extra food for the run, watch charger, etc. I sat down briefly (~5 minutes) and only had few spoonfuls of mashed potato, watermelon, few sips of coffee and downed the 500ml bottle of coke.

It was good to have the choice to fix any problems. Apart from exchanging some solid fuels for gels, I did not change anything else as everything was working fine.

It was the end of the run with Josh. I really enjoyed the company and few hours zipped by. Frances and Saki joined me for a short run on the track. It was nice to meet another Westie I have only talked to.

I did not remember it well, but I knew there was a shortcut from the track onto the grassy slopes, missing out few zig-zags. As I had the route loaded on my watch, it beeped to warn me about an upcoming turn. I miscommunicated about taking a shortcut and told them they can stay on the track. They thought I needed some privacy for bodily functions! The track has few zig zags so it made sense to take a shortcut, but that meant I unintentionally dropped two people that came out to help me. I saw them in the distance, we exchanged few words and so I went up.

Stob a’ Coire Mheadhoin and Stob Coire Easain

I love long days on the hills on my own. However, being on my own again felt harder to keep going. My stomach was quite full and it is a long uphill section. I picked a line down to Lairig Leacach, looking forward to meeting Luke. I was just about on schedule, but I had to traverse back on the track. It was the only time so far I was behind the schedule – albeit only by a minute.

Stob Ban to Carn Mor Dearg

On the way up to Stob Ban, Luke’s photo

I was going up Stob Ban and I saw a figure standing about, in waterproofs and gloves. Someone is waiting for me! I have heard a lot about Luke, but I have not met him before. It was nice to finally meet the legend.

We exchanged few words as the wind picked up gaining elevation. Luke kindly agreed to do the last eight Munros together. Although I felt tired, Luke paced me really well and pushed all the right buttons. He was gliding through the bouldery obstacles, staying light on his feet and making it look effortless. Meanwhile, my footwork became quite sloppy. On the downhill from Stob Ban, I have dislodged a boulder that almost hit Luke. I should not be injuring someone I have just met!

A reluctant smile while Luke asked to say “cheese” at Grey Corries, Luke’s photo

Somewhere in the middle of Grey Corries, I felt like I was struggling to keep up with Luke. He would run in front, let me catch up and then run away from again. Around that time, he asked me if he should push me towards the end.

Internally, I knew the answer straight away. However, I was not keen to admit that I was struggling, even if it was becoming more and more obvious. Instead, I told Luke that perhaps by Carn Mor Dearg, we could try and pick up the effort.

Luke looked after me. When asked if I am eating enough, I always told him I did, but then I would sneak another gel into my mouth or sip on an energy drink when he looked away. As it got colder, we moved closer together and started to chat more. We talked about John Kelly’s Grand Round (Luke supported him on the same section), shoes, GPS watches, etc. I have been moving for 17 odd hours. Talking about people you admire or chatting about the gear distracted me from that fact.

Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis

Carn Mor Dearg Arête, Luke’s photo

Luke told me that I can drop him if I felt good and wanted to pick up the pace. Little did he know, his company was the reason I was still moving half-decently. No way I am dropping him! We got to the top of Carn Mor Dearg, with the arête awaiting us. It was still claggy and quite blustery with the wind direction changing constantly. Luke picked a good path up Ben Nevis and he told me we had only little to go.

When I saw the very first structure that resembled a big cairn or summit shelter, I immediately asked Luke if it was the summit, and he assured me it was not, but we were close. It did not take long to get there. At the summit cairn, a group was hiding from the wind. Luke told them that this man has completed the Ramsay Round. I am not quite sure if his intention was to share the observation or boost my mood, but he pushed another button to keep me moving. When we left the summit, I looked at my watch and it said 18h59m. Even though I planned 49 minutes for the descent, I told Luke that a 19h30m finish might be possible if I was lucky. So we went.

It was still foggy and it was difficult to find the best line down. I stopped for a brief moment to find the best line, but my legs would seize, so I had to keep moving. I picked up the pace on the scree of the foot race route. Even though I am sure it did not look like it, it felt like I was gliding down. The tourist path appeared. I kept an eye on the time but the new target felt too optimistic.

I heard Saki’s voice close to the Glen Nevis, we were a shouting distance away. A quick but inelegant hop over the stile and then the road crossing, I stopped my watch at the sign and collapsed. It was a massive relief. I have done it, I am still in one piece and well under the target time.

Luke was more sensible coming down and took few more minutes to come down.

Good mood all around with Luke at the finish, Saki’s photo

Aftermath

It felt good to get the time I wanted and join the sub-20 club with a time of 19h38m54s, making me 9th fastest finisher of the round!

It was a great day out in the hills and I felt like I gave 100%. Due to extensive time spent on these very same hills, navigation was not a problem. Everything else worked as well as it could have.

Analysing splits (see below), the greatest gains in time I made was when I ran with someone. I came to realise how invaluable it was to have the support.

Acknowledgments

Most importantly, I wanted to thank following people:

  • Saki Nakamura for her every day support, training chats, recce’ing of the route, helping me with organising the run and support crew, seeing me at the beginning and the end,  as well as setting up the aid station and company.
  • Josh Ring for the company and help on running together, bringing me some extra food and keeping the spirits up.
  • Frances McCartney for the ferrying duties, helping with the aid station and running for a bit.
  • Luke Arnott for the extensive support on the last section. Not only he kept me safe, but made it possible to finish. In a good time, too.

Without them, I would not have been able to finish.

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