This post is about my preparations for the Scottish Mountain Marathon and the Charlie Ramsay Round that I plan to attempt this June.
Tomorrow, I head off on the 0720 ferry from Harris to Skye. I’ll be on my way to Strathcarron in the Scottish Highlands, where the inaugural Scottish Mountain Marathon will be taking place this weekend. I’ll be meeting up with my partner Iain to take on the Elite course following our success at the LAMM last year. Following this event, I’m down in Fort William for the week – eating, resting, and spending some quality time with Mum and Mika in a caravan in Glen Nevis, before a first attempt at the Charlie Ramsay Round at the weekend.
The mountain marathon is a two day hill running and navigation race, entered in teams of two and requiring participants to navigate their way via checkpoints to an overnight camp. Teams are self-sufficient for the duration, and spend the second day running back to the event start via a different route, hopefully having a jolly time and avoiding getting a good soaking. The Charlie Ramsay Round is a 58 mile route encompassing 23 munros (Scottish hills over 3000 feet) and 8000m of ascent that should be completed in under 24 hours, and can be attempted at any time of year in either direction.
These ten days have been looming large on the calendar ever since I sat down to plan 2019 back in early January, and it’s suddenly starting to feel ‘real’ as I lay out all my gear on the bedroom floor before I pack it into the car. It’s been a fantastic few months of hill running – from the early morning sprint sessions to the eight hour epics, and I can’t wait to find out how it manifests in a couple of days time.
I had a pretty relaxed November and December, with some trekking in Nepal and leisurely travelling in India, and come early January I felt really sluggish on the hill. I thought I’d spend January building a base of shorter faster runs, but these intentions were swiftly terminated when I met my friend James for an evening run. He announced that he had a 17 mile route to the Pentlands and back lined up, and that it was ‘already in the GPS’. Not being one to disrupt well-made plans, I enthusiastically accepted. Predictably, I picked up an ankle niggle and the couple of weeks that followed were far more restful.
Knowing that success on the Ramsay Round would depend on a good knowledge of the route, I set about breaking it up into chunks that could be scrutinized with friends at the weekends, in the months prior to the attempt. In early February, Mika and I headed up to Spean Bridge for a magnificent winter traverse of the Grey Corries in clear but cold conditions. Unfortunately our exuberance was tempered; conditions on the roads were treacherous and some black ice saw us glide clumsily into the side of a bridge as we attempted to turn onto it, to the detriment of the car’s bodywork.
Steadily increasing the mileage through March, I worked in a bit of squash with some old friends from The Grange Club in Stockbridge, and put in plenty of miles on the bike. I became less interested in distance and more with height gain, knowing that 8000m of climbing in a day would require significant endurance in the legs. Louis and I got up into the Mamores (the first section of the Round) for another fantastic walk, but as much as I loved the wintry conditions, I became ever keener to get some fast, dry running in along the high tops.
My opportunity came at the end of April, when I was back in Fort William for a 6 day Mountain Leader course with Mountain Motion. I stayed at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel – the start and finish point of the Ramsay Round, which underwent a serious face lift in 2018 and provides excellent accommodation for the most discerning of hostelers. Here, I could munch my morning porridge looking out over Ben Nevis and visualise myself trotting down the tourist track at the end of the Ramsay Round in 6 weeks time. It also gave me a great base for evening excursions, most memorably around the famous Ring of Steall in the Mamores.
Others were returning to the hostel from a long day in the hills as I laced up my running shoes around 6.30 p.m., and I could sense the unease of the receptionist as I informed him of my plan. But the seed had been sown; after lengthy observations of the map the previous evening I was convinced it was doable before the light completely disappeared and there was no going back. Trotting along the exposed ridges in the dusk and racing the darkness off the summit of An Gearanach back to the Glen really distilled down what hill running is all about to me – moving light and fast in beautiful places with absolute freedom, completely aware and alert of one’s body, mind and surroundings. I felt as alive as I ever have up there that evening.
My toughest test came a few days later with a circuit of the Loch Treig peaks, section 2 of the Round. Meanach Bothy was a lovely remote spot to overnight (Mika had ridden in from Corrour Station the previous evening to meet me), and after a good rest I made my way around the five easternmost munros of the Round, feeling good after a five hour route the previous day. Blizzard conditions over Beinn na Lap had me questioning the omission of waterproof trousers from my pack, but by the time I ascended Chno Dearg I was back in the warm spring sunshine; a stark reminder of how changeable conditions can be in the Scottish Mountains. Eight hours later, I arrived back at Steall Falls at the top of Glen Nevis, and the resulting hordes that had made their way up from the car park. Around this time I felt a tightening in my chest and got the sense that my body had had done enough running for the day. Mika was waiting at the road end and we wasted no time in heading to the supermarket to acquire copious supplies for evening feeding. Listening to the gas stove purr as we looked out over the Grey Corries from the bed and breakfast was a very special end to the trip. However, the pain that I had felt on the run persisted for a couple of days, so with mild concern I visited the GP on my return to Harris. After a thorough examination and ECG (electrocardiogram), he confirmed that the pain was musculoskeletal and not heart-related as I had previously suspected, and his advice to get back into the hills was keenly observed.
By this time, we were right back into sea kayaking season, and the glorious May weather kept me busy with Roam Outer Hebrides. Washing wetsuits from one trip and making soup and rolls for the next is not conducive to relaxation and recovery, and as such stretching had taken a back seat. Ultimately, I paid the price, and the achilles niggles that I’d starting noticing in the morning demanded more and more of my attention. I had no choice but to stop running and start the icing, stretching and resting process, something I found difficult as my ‘weekly ascent’ chart plunged steeply downwards. I even missed the Trotternish Hill Race on the first weekend in June, the nearest category A hill race to the Isle of Harris!
As we approach race day, my mountain marathon partner Iain has confidently reassured me that my training, at least quantity-wise, has been more than adequate. His knowledge and experience has put my mind at ease and helped me enjoy the last few lazy days where I feel like I should be out running miles. The achilles problems are still lurking in the background somewhere but today’s sprints along the Scalpay Lighthouse track have been entirely pain free, so I’m feeling optimistic about the body holding up. The same cannot be said for the weather, which looks wet for the much of the weekend!
So, all that is left to do is arrange logistics, pack the gear and bake the flapjacks, trusting that the work has been done and accepting that the weather is entirely out of one’s hands. My intention is first and foremost to enjoy the time in the hills with friends, and if I can bring back some results come the 17th June then so much the better! Watch this space!