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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Ramsay's Round - 12th June 2015


It was early on Thursday 11th June when this whole thing came to life. Gemma and I were up early ready for our flight to Glasgow and onward journey north to the Highlands. It felt like a slightly extravagant way to travel, but after too much time spent at a standstill on the M6 over the past couple of months, it wasn’t a hard decision to justify.

Like each of the preceding 10 days, the first thing I did on waking was to check the weather forecast for the Lochaber area, to see how it was all panning out for the big day. Surely I was due a bit of luck after the two previous weather related postponements? The long range forecast for Saturday had looked reasonable earlier in the week, but it was now deteriorating with the midweek band of high pressure and settled conditions now forecast to move away earlier on Friday night. Saturday’s forecast was for cloud, mist, light rain and cooler temperatures on the summits with increasingly brisk winds. It didn’t look conducive to a fast Ramsay Round, so I was again re-considering my options. Ultimately I needed good visibility, dry ground underfoot and light winds to give myself any sort of chance of realising my goals. Such a day had barely existed in the Scottish mountains so far this year, after a somewhat protracted winter and unseasonably cold spring.

Roll back a week and I had been faced with a similar dilemma. The advice I had been given by Ramsay veterans was to ‘do what’s right for me’, essentially not to worry about the impact of a postponement on the wider team. The theory is that a skeleton team would almost always come together, and the advantage of favourable conditions would far outweigh the smaller support team. But to re-schedule three times – really a good idea? Would the team not start losing faith?

This cloud did however have a nice shiny silver lining - there was a really good looking forecast for Friday – dry, sunny and light winds. So with no time to think through the scenarios in too much detail, I set about sounding out members of the team, to see whether they could support an attempt 24 hours earlier. It was a spontaneous decision which I’m fairly renowned for, but it just felt like the right one at that moment. Numerous texts were exchanged before take off, and by the time we landed in Glasgow just over an hour later, I had confirmation that all but two of my original team could still help, albeit we would need to shuffle around the order a little. We were on for early start on Friday 12th. I duly sent a confirmation note to the team and that was that - no going back now – time to get on with it.  But it was now late morning, we were still in the suburbs of Glasgow, and in a little over 15 hours time I would be setting off on my long-planned Ramsay attempt. Cue a rather sizeable surge of adrenaline and some hasty plans to pick up last bits of kit and sustenance for the run.

I am sure every team member has a story to tell in terms of the re-jigging of plans. For example my main man on the ground was Charlie Ramsay himself, and the earlier start time meant he had to set off for the Highlands immediately after his Thursday evening dinner party at home in Edinburgh, to be waiting at the start just a few hours later, with no sleep. Cameron Burt was originally due to run the 4 hour middle-of-the-day Leg 2 with me, but I now relied on him to lead me out on the first section over the bigger and more technical 4,000 footers, with not much more than 12 hours notice. Both perfect examples of the level of commitment shown by everyone, but also the favours I called in. No pressure then. Just don’t muck it up Jez.

When you also consider that I hadn’t even met several of my support team members before the big day, you will soon get a sense of the strength of the Scottish hill running community, and their enthusiasm for this particular challenge. It was all seriously warming stuff.

Despite the fact I was setting off in a somewhat hurried manner, I increasingly got a sense that it was all clicking nicely into place, and it made me feel comfortable and calm with the whole situation. Sometimes you can drift into these challenges without the sense of purpose and excitement required, but events as they unfolded and the endless goodwill shown by the team seemed to ignite a fire within.

As an all important part of my preparations, I had written a schedule which was shared amongst the team and used to break down the Round into small sections for the benefit of support runners and those manning static re-supply points. They would then know when and where to expect me, and I would know the splits I needed to run in order to achieve my goal. Easy, right. So then, on to my goal. Put simply, I just wanted to have a proper crack at this thing, not least because these opportunities are typically few and far between.  If I failed at this attempt, it would be another year at least before a re-attempt would be feasible. And after spending so much time learning the lines and getting everything ready, I had to be bold and give the record a go.

One of the ways a Round differs from a race is that you have to commit to a set of split times beforehand, and essentially you are measured against those splits all day. As soon as the schedule had gone out to the team, that was it, the commitment had been made. The target time for the schedule was 18hrs 20mins, a few minutes inside Adrian Belton’s famously tough record that had stood untouched since 1989. Crikey, what have I done….

The story of the run itself is told here through a collection of accounts by members of the support team, hopefully adding some interesting angles.

The Start @ 0300hrs. Leg 1: Ben Nevis, Cairn Mor Dearg and the Aonachs

Jez: Cam Burt was the man who had landed the job of getting me through to the start of the Grey Corries at least, ideally a bit further. Cam was literally the only person who could make it to Glen Nevis for the start time, but with a little arm twisting, seemed up for the challenge. We had never met or run together before, but thankfully there was the chance for a bit of dinner and a chat the night before, and we got on well from the off. We would soon share some rather special moments ‘on the hill’ as we climbed the Ben under clear skies and a gently rising run. I have had few more spectacular experiences in the hills than our brief moments atop of the Ben – what a great start for the big day ahead.

Cam Burt: I was probably more nervous than Jez at 3am as I had been tasked with pacing him through the first leg, hopefully helping to set him up well for the rest of the day – quite a task for someone who never plays at the sharp end of the field! At 3am Charlie Ramsay himself set us off. 

The start. Glen Nevis YH, 0300hrs. Myself, Cam, Charlie & Gemma holding the camera.

I made nervous conversation for a bit before we settled into a steady rhythm. Head torches were turned off after half-an-hour and we were soon past the Red Burn and making great progress to the summit of Ben Nevis. It was a still, clear morning so I knew we were in for a treat, but the next few hours turned out to be the most inspiring running I've ever had! We reached the snow-line as the moon set over the summit and the sky was burning with the rising sun. Pleasingly the legs weren't! A quick time check over the summit and I pulled out the ice-axes and we hurtled down the snow towards the CMD arête like a couple of children released from school early. We probably should have had a responsible adult with us as Jez did cut his hand – not sure how but it bled quite a bit and would be black and blue by the end of the day.

Reaching the summit of Ben Nevis at sunrise

Descent off Ben Nevis to CMD arete

Closing in on CMD summit
The ‘chicken run’ was quickly found and we made lightening progress along the ridge, only briefly deviating from the track to avoid some snow patches as the axes were stowed once again. Jez asked for some fuel at the CMD summit so I pushed on a little and got the menu ready. After packing supplies away I had to work hard to catch back up but knew I needed to be there before the nasty snow patch near the col. Using the snow patch was definitely the quickest route but Jez would need the axe again to have the confidence to go for it.  

Once up on the Aonachs with the summit cairn in sight I let Jez go ahead and bag the Aonach Mor summit alone as I refueled myself – something that is easily forgotten as a support runner. Re-united we trotted onto Aonach Beag with shadows 3 times longer than our height. There was no-where I would have rather been at that point as we both took some time to enjoy the stunning morning unfolding around us. 

Aonach Beag summit
Spinks’ Ridge was successfully negotiates with a few cheers from Anna and Chris waiting at the col below. While Jez got some rice pudding down I offloaded the ice-axes, spikes and head-torches to Anna and scoffed a sandwich myself. Anna kindly took the metal back to base camp and Chris Busby joined us for the rest of leg 1 – phew, I could share the pacer responsibility!

The Grey Corries

Chris Busby: Just past 4 in the morning on Friday 12th June and Anna and I were leaving the Steall Falls car park to make a 6 a.m. rendezvous high in the hills with two men we’d never met.  Despite minimal sleep, our anticipation at the day ahead was high as we jogged through Glen Nevis in the still morning air; the peaks which make up the Ramsay Round rising to the left and the right of us.  We’d left ourselves plenty of time and two hours later we were relaxing in the sun when Anna spotted figures above us, moving swiftly down the ridge, the figure in the yellow t-shirt leading the way and whooping in response to the arms we raised in greeting.  Quick handshakes all round were sufficient introduction as Jez (in yellow) and Cam unburdened themselves of axes and spikes and Jez stuffed some rice pudding into his mouth. Good news, I thought: one less thing for me to carry. 

The running felt easy to begin with, fresh legs carrying me lightly over the hills of the Grey Corries on generally easy ground with some soft snow slopes to descend. On the descent from Stob Ban I stopped to replenish water, losing a minute or so and had to push in order to regroup at the start of the long and leg-sapping climb up Stob Coire Easain. 

En route to Stob Ban, the last of the Grey Corries
Now Jez was setting the pace, I was hanging on through the rough heather, knowing that Cam was falling behind due to the additional four hills in his legs. I could feel the beginnings of cramp in the hamstrings as we neared the summit but careful pacing kept it at bay and once we summited I knew my job was nearly done. The short climb up Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin was over in minutes and there was even time for brief conversation on the descent to Loch Treig, Graham Nash meeting us at the pillar to guide us in on the final descent to the handover point.

Cam: I was still feeling good, but knew pacing Jez all the way to Fersit would be difficult alone. The Grey Corries went in a flash. Jez, Chris and I worked well together, each taking the pace at different points and generally finding the optimal route. However, as we summited Stob Ban, the final Grey Corrie, I knew my time was up so I made Jez aware I was expecting to fall back. We were all together as we crossed the Lairig Leacach path but I would drop 5 minutes to Jez and Chris climbing the seemingly never-ending Stob Coire Easain. Once over I regained my rhythm and was soon running off Stob a'Choire Mheadhoin trying to get back in touch. It is a belter of a descent and I thoroughly enjoyed it arriving at Fersit Dam as Jez was departing after his 4 minute break. He was still moving smoothly and looked strong – I was in pieces!  

Pit stop at Fersit - all hands to the deck. 4 minutes.

Leg 2: Fersit to Loch Eilde Mor

Jez: The first leg couldn’t really have gone any better. I felt strong throughout, enjoyed some quick glissades down snow covered slopes, and managed to negotiate bits which I hadn’t practised much beforehand such as the CMD arête ‘chicken run’ and ‘Spinks’ ridge’. In fact, on reaching Fersit and feeling as good as I did, the biggest danger was over-confidence and subsequently making pacing or other silly mistakes. After a couple of minutes re-stocking my pack and water bottles at Fersit – the static support guys did a great job of turning me round quickly - I headed off on Leg 2 with Olly Stephenson. Olly continues the story.

Olly: Jez’s splits were already streaming in as text messages, and he was 20 mins ahead of schedule by the time we met him at Loch Treig/ Fersit, the first of the two 4 minute breaks that he’d allowed himself throughout the day.

Jez and I set off on Leg 2 at a fair clip, the previous seven hours and ten Munros had obviously done little to tame his determination or speed. Loch Treig reflected the surrounding peaks like a mirror as we worked our way up the steep and unforgiving Stob Choire Sgriodain, before popping over the top to Chno Dearg and then a big descent/re-ascent to the summit of Beinn Na Lap, the most distant point on the Round and consequently blessed with one of the most humbling views – Ben Nevis looks miles away to the west, with a multitude of peaks in-between, most of which Jez had now climbed, or would soon climb – it’s perhaps a scale and perspective that would more normally be associated with a space station than a run.

Choire Sgriodain summit. I had already climbed pretty much everything behind me!
From Beinn Na Lap we had 1:50 to descend to the track and then run along the gently ascending track/moorland to the second static support point at Loch Eilde Mor, which we reached after ~4:30 of running in increasing heat. Jez kept it together very well, staying focussed and generally only displaying the faintest glimmers of suffering by occasional periods of silence, but if he was suffering he never said anything.

At Loch Eilde Mor we were met by the world’s finest support crew of Gemma Bragg, Murdo McEwan and Charlie Ramsay himself (the same team as Loch Treig/ Fersit), who busiest themselves like a Formula 1 pit crew to turn Jez around in 5 minutes, and he was off again with the fresh legs of Graham Nash to chase.

Leg 3: The Mamores

Jez: Leg 2 had been a real slog. The change from feeling strong and confident, to weary and disheartened, had happened worryingly quickly. It was probably a direct result of the heat in the middle part of the day, and not allowing myself the time to cool off properly in the streams when the opportunity arose. It was an aggressive and probably quite risky approach I was taking. I feared letting my guard down to do anything other than move forward as quickly as possible. The section as a whole had felt frustrating – I was leaking minutes hear and there - and the cumulative result was a loss of my 20 minute cushion. I was now neither ahead nor behind schedule and at the start of the crucial final third of the run, with a big set of 11 Munros ahead, and zero fat in my ambitious schedule.

Graham Nash: “That’s 5 minutes”, said Murdo. Jez had been at the support point at the Loch Eilde Mor ruin one minute too long, having arrived at 14.28 on schedule.

“Lets go”. And so the climb up Sgurr Eilde Mor began. First of the final eleven Munros. We had 43 minutes to get to the summit. My job to support Jez on the final leg on his attempt on the record for Ramsay’s Round. Olly, who had run leg 2, was close behind carrying some of Jez’s supplies.

Having recced the Mamores with Jez 3 weeks earlier, I knew the pace would have to be quick. Olly started to drop behind and shouted he would see us on Binnein Mor, I grabbed a bottle of flat coke from him and Jez was already 20 metres ahead, climbing strongly.

“I need sugar”. Jez downed the coke and soon we were at the summit. 43 minutes.

Jez hurled himself down the scree run. On the recce he had cautiously descended. Not today. Rocks and stones were flying in all directions. A fall would lead to serious injury. Off the path and the line to pick up the track to the summit of Binnein Beag was perfect.  At the summit: “you’ve gained 2 minutes”.

Next the scree run off Binnein Beag. This time Jez was even more reckless. I kept back, fearful of hitting him with an airborne stone.

At the bottom he stopped to get stones out of his shoes, he took the left shoe and I did the right. We joked about ignoring the advice of wearing ankle gaiters. I secretly hoped these 2 minutes wouldn’t prove costly.

I went ahead to refill the water bottles from the melting snow. For the ascent of Binnein Mor we headed for the North ridge – the corrie still full of snow, preventing the normal direct route. Jez had recced this previously and thought it was just as quick. He was right, we gained another minute.

Olly was waiting at point 1062 and I called ahead for more flat coke. We were going at a good pace, but I was conscious of how aggressive the Mamores schedule was. I hurried Jez along telling him to run anything that was remotely runnable. Na Gruagaichean in just 19 minutes. Another minute gained.

Ahead at the bealach was Jon Gay running towards us with carrier bag in hand. Jon injected more speed and we followed around the traverse into the corrie below An Garbhanach. We’d agreed previously that only one support runner would do the out and backs on the narrow ridges – theory being a team of 2 would move quicker than 3. Actually I was glad of the break, and took the opportunity to replenish the water bottles. It was a shame there were no rivers of flat coke as this was Jez’s preference.

The Mamores - spot the runner

The Mamores with Ben Nevis far right

Graham leading me off Binnein Mor

The Mamores with Ben Nevis, CMD & Aonach Beag in the background

Solo, on the summit

Suffering in the final stages

The all important touch of the summit cairn

The Mamores 'freight train' in full flow
Jon Gay: Waiting on the col under Na Gruagaichean I was able to reflect on how long the route is and what Jez would be going through. It must have been hard in the heat. Like many I had been following the Tracker religiously (a Friday at work). Spot on schedule, figures appeared on the Binnien Mor skyline. Having not run with Jez but seen him winning the West Highland Way Race I had a fair idea that the pace would be relentless. It was, and often not too far from a longer race pace; especially downhill and on undulating ground. The bag of goodies was being consumed which was reassuring, flat coke being the popular item which we ran out of. We had been encouraged to give a 'metaphorical kick up the arse'. Graham and I offered some robust encouragement; I'm not sure how appropriately.

Chris Busby: Seven hours on from last seeing Jez, and the sun was still shining as Anna and I waited on An Gearanach with flat coke, water, chocolate, caramel shortbread, rice pudding and gels laid out waiting for Jez and co to arrive. Jon Gay appeared first, Jez a couple of seconds later. After 15 hours on the go the effort in his face was obvious but he was still moving well, having made up several minutes on his schedule since the previous peak.   Watching them descend to re-group with Graham Nash and start the next ascent I knew the record would be tight but the support team was strong and experienced, they moved smoothly together and I knew they would give Jez the best of chances. 

Graham: Jez and Jon soon reappeared – they had gained 7 minutes. Olly was at the summit of a’ Chairn (one minute lost), “any flat coke?”, “nope just water”. Am Bodach came quickly but we lost another 2 minutes. We hurried Jez along the ridge, always Jon in front, running and rummaging in the carrier bag “can you manage a banana?”, “No”, “shortbread?”, “no”, “gel?”, “yes”.

One downside of a day’s diet of sugary snacks is backwind. Jez guffed one in my face and it caught in the back of my throat. I coughed and dry wretched, thinking it would bad form for the support runner to hurl.

Next the Munro top of Sgurr an lubhair – I kept encouraging Jez to make the most of the runnable bits. “stay on Jon’s heels”. The only reply was a loud fart. At the summit we had lost another 2 minutes. We needed to up the rate of progress.

At the Devils Ridge out and back to Sgurr a Mhaim I again volunteered to wait it out. The temperature was dropping quickly and the clouds building. The final 2 summits had very aggressive split times, 40 minutes to Stob Ban, and then a mere 30 minutes for the long haul to the Mullach.

Jon: The last out and back was fast. The cooler breeze must have been welcome. I remember how sick and awful I had felt here in the past but encouraged by the view of the finish. Jez looked confident and I was guessing that the schedule was safe. It must have been stressful though. It was obvious at Stob Ban that Jez was preparing for an all out effort at the end. Again the undulating ground was covered rather effectively. By Mullach it was still 'exciting'. I wasn't expecting we would descend so quickly, a very brave effort with burning legs. After only 4 hours for me it was important to remind myself of the pain. Crossing the forest stile did look very uncomfortable.

Jez: The team effort across the Mamores was perfect. It wasn’t rehearsed, but Jon, Olly and Graham just knew exactly what was needed to get the job done. The opportunity was there, but it was far from in the bag. I had reassured Graham previously that I’m pretty good at ‘hanging on’ towards the end, when others might start to fade, but it was easier said than done in this instance. My climbing legs felt trashed. The rough and steep pull up  Sgurr Eilde Mor felt so hard, it was a hands on knees job to support my legs. I really wasn’t sure I could even run again after summiting. But as ever, the change of muscle group into descent (the scree) brought me back to life momentarily. And that set the tone for what became the mental and physical rollercoaster of the Mamores – my semi-tortuous world for the next six hours.

Graham: Sooner than expected I heard a shout and Jon was leading Jez down the grassy slope toward the top of the zig zag path. One minute gained. Well done Jon.

At the lochan, Jez really picked up the pace – he knew how tight it was. Jez asked for food. Gemma’s millionaire shortbread hit the mark, “made with love”. The final climb to Stob Ban is short and steep. We’d lost another minute. Jez had a mere 5 minutes cushion.

The last climb – Jez was giving it everything, the pace was getting quicker. He was asking for flat coke, but it was long gone. Jon handed me some powdered glucose drink and I dissolved it in one of the water bottles. It seemed to do the trick. At the summit we’d lost 3 minutes, Jez asked me to send the update text – the time was that tight.

Again Jon led the charge down. “Let’s ****ing do this guys”.

I had timed the descent from the summit to the Youth Hostel last year and managed 53 minutes on fresh legs. Jez had 55 minutes on his schedule, but he’d been going for over 17 hours. I was nervous, and wasn’t going to let him miss the record by a few minutes.

“Pick it up to the fence, Jez”, “stay on Jon’s heels”, “you’re doing great”, “not far now”, “last descent” – all the bullshit cliché words of encouragement I could think of.

Jez slipped on some loose rocks and yelped in pain, but didn’t slow.

The tension between the three of us was building. Every few yards glancing at our watches.

Then suddenly Jez stopped and took a pee. “You haven’t got time for that” I shouted. Jez snapped back at me deservedly, saying something like “a man’s gotta pee”. It broke the tension.

Over the stile, and into the forest. On the track. Off the track and down into the forest again, through the maze of windblown branches, any of which could break an ankle. Back on the track. “Go Jezza”.

As we approached the point where the track is left, and the road joined, Jez asked how far the road section was. “1 mile”. 

We hit the road and glanced at our watches. It was in the bag, but there was no let-up in pace.

And then the Youth Hostel and finish was in sight. The descent had taken just 49 minutes. Awesome performance. Job done.

That's what it means!
Closing Thoughts:
Graham: The record was thoroughly deserved. Jez started this journey 2 years ago and has put in a lot of hard work with many recces in recent months. Having postponed twice due to the weather, and then seen the great forecast 24 hours before his third scheduled attempt, he saw the narrow window of opportunity and took it, albeit with a reduced support team. Huge respect.

Jon: Thanks very much Jez for the opportunity to be involved. Hugely well done.

Olly: Within a few hills the pace ratcheted up again as the fresh legs of Jon Gay joined the party, at which point the three of them (Jon, Jez and Graham) looked more like a freight train than a group of hill runners, and I straight-lined it to the finish to see Jez complete in record-breaking time. Hill days simply don’t get any better than this. It was an honour and privilege to be a small part of Jez’s big day; I loved the way a random group of people came together at such short-notice to help make it happen, and that we all got to share in the warm glow of his success. Maximum respect to Jez, I suspect his record will last a while.

Chris: Back in Glen Nevis when the text message arrived telling us he was two minutes ahead of schedule on the final summit I knew that with a target to aim for he was not going to miss. So it proved. 18hr 12 mins. Awesome.

Cam: Fast forward 11 hours (plus a shower, some cooked food and a snooze for me) and the support team are anxiously waiting at the Nevis Youth Hostel for Jez to appear. He was carrying a GPS tracker and we were getting text updates from each summit. We knew the record was still on, though going to be tight. As each minute passed we got more nervous until the yellow t-shirt finally appeared, Jez raised his arms and broke the tape Charlie was holding in a time of 18 hours 12 minutes. A new course, beating the 26 year old record by 11 minutes! It was a heroic effort by Jez and thoroughly deserved after 3 cancelled attempts due to weather and this attempt only organised at lunchtime the day before!

Jez: Running with guys like that, it’s not hard to see where the inspiration comes from. Words exchanged were relatively few, but some life-long bonds were formed. How to make a bunch of great friends in a weekend.  Maybe there are easier ways!

The Mamores required the deepest imaginable soul-searching to keep to schedule. It was aggressive and tense, but magical at the same time. The more I held on, the more resilient I managed to become, and with fresh bursts of energy and support from Jon, Anna and Chris midway through the leg, there was enough to lure me along to the part when I simply wouldn’t allow myself fail. It was an incredibly special day out. There had been a glowing sunrise, clear skies, snowy descents, dry ridges, endless vistas, soaring Golden Eagles, remote Glens, great company, and a body that had just about played ball. It doesn’t get much more memorable than that.

The Team
Back row, L to R: Chris Busby, Cam Burt, Olly Stephenson, Gemma Bragg, Anna Busby
Front row, L to R: Murdo 'The Magnificent' McEwan, Pete Duggan, Charlie Ramsay, Jez, Jon Gay, Graham Nash.
Open Tracking - actual route

Reflections from the Static Support Team:

Murdo McEwan:  Jez adventures, from much experience, tend to be very high in energy, adrenaline, susceptibility to late changes of plan at short notice, potentially going pear shaped without much warning, and weather. Conversely, they are very low on sleep, predictable routine, and normal food intake. His Ramsay Round Record was to be no exception to the norm; and all these boxes were ticked in spades. I was not to be disappointed in my expectations.

Establishing a suitable date set the scene. 23 May. 30 May. 13 June. All cancelled due to horrific weather. The last of these, 13 June, being changed @ early afternoon on the 11th, to the 12th. So, the 12th it was, with an 03:00hrs start. I was scheduled to rendezvous with the rest of the static support team at the car park at Fersit at 09:45 hrs, a few hundred yards walk from where we would be tending to the needs of Jez and his co runners Cam & Chris. I set off on the c 130 mile drive accordingly. Mixed messages then started pinging through that Jez had actually started @ 02:31; and that they were 20 minutes up on schedule. Somehow I made up most of these 49 minutes, and hooked up with the team.

Morale was high all round; the birds were singing; a slight breeze; no midges. Jez was looking great; the 4,000ft high hills, and 6 more, had all been conquered successfully; slick servicing of all his requirements. He and Olly set off towards Munro number 11. Relieved at everything going so well, I thought we were now setting off for copious cups of leisurely tea and flapjack prior to the next rendezvous by the ruin @ Loch Eilde Mor. Wrong!

Straight back, very briefly, to Jez and Gemma’s run HQ chalet in Glen Nevis; then straight off again to Kinlochleven. Charlie driving, along with Gemma, myself and Graham (final 1/3 of the Round support runner), and the symbolic  Scotland flag. Discussion about a gate across the road. “It’s never shut or locked” (quote, several times, convincingly, from Charlie). This time it was very shut, and very locked. Ouch. Potential disaster. Very very fortunately, we managed to get it open, and to drive up the hill. If we hadn’t, we would never have got to Loch Eilde Mor in time for the rendezvous, and the whole object of our presence on the adventure would have failed. Oh dear. On such small twists of fate the whole venture can succeed, or go down the pan....... (Worth bearing in mind for future similar challenges.)

A 1 ½ hour, 4 ½ mile, walk, with all supplies that might be needed, along the dirt gravel road to the ruin by Loch Eilde Mor. Lovely! Again, sunshine; breeze; no midges; views to die for. All this was great. But we were in the middle of nowhere, with no communications signal of any sort. While the rest of the world was able to follow Jez progress via the online tracker, we hadn’t a clue where he was or how he might be getting on relative to his schedule. This, to me, was quite disconcerting and worrying. Maybe something had gone horribly wrong, and the whole venture was kaput ~ with us in complete ignorance of the fact. All we could do was to get to the rendezvous c 15 minutes ahead of the allotted time, and hope he’d turn up.

We did so; all seemed well ~ from our perspective. But we could only see c 200 yards in the direction he would approach; not much notice of his actual arrival. So I headed off the c 200 yards to the corner, with the Scotland flag, from where I could see about another 200 yards. And wait. Then they popped into view, Jez and Olly, spot on time schedule; much flag waving both to them, and to the guys at the RV point.

Reunited! Morale high. Again. Jez and Olly tuck in voraciously. Everything is slick and efficient; but reasonably relaxed and not over-hasty or stressed. But..... time does not stop. Jez is looking a little cosy and comfy on the bench. Fortunately I know him well enough to basically say “Oi, you’ve been here 5 minutes; it’s time you got moving!” The penny dropped. Quickly. Jez and Graham (and Olly ~ keen to keep on going, and not miss out on anything) stride away up the long ascent of Munro number 14, Sgurr Eilde Mor. We in the support team were in now in no hurry; job done; and could watch their relentless c 45 minute ascent until they disappeared over the skyline.

A leisurely 1 ½ hour walk back to the car, no pressure on us (as long as we could get out through that locked gate). Back to the HQ chalet in Glen Nevis where we could at last drink copious cups of tea, guzzle flapjack, and follow progress on the online tracker. (That tracker was a wonderful facility!)

But time was marching on. Jez’s cushion on the record seemed to be slipping. Mixed messages coming through; he seemed to only have 3 minutes in hand on the record at the summit of the final Munro, the Mullach. We go to the finish by the Youth Hostel; no longer having access to the tracker. The rest of the world, following progress online, knows more than we do. We wait. Anxiously. We’ll only actually see him approach for the final c 50 yards. The midges come out, and start biting. Part ‘n parcel of summer in Scotland. Then Jez breezes into sight, grinning from ear to ear, closely followed by support runners Jon and Graham. It’s in the bag. Phew!

18:12. 11 minutes off Adrian Belton’s amazing record that has stood since 1989. And no one has ever got near it in the intervening 26 years. Today everything seemed to fall into place ~ the remarkable weather window playing a major part; a great team; and a stellar performance by Jez pulling out all the stops on the big day. What a performance! A pleasure and a privilege to play a small part in it all.

What’s next on the agenda..... ?

Charlie Ramsay: Supported contenders will require the services of a carefully selected support  hill crew, chosen for their suitability to support the contender whilst on the round, they  are responsible for pace setting , navigation, carrying equipment and generally keeping the contender motivated and within the bounds of safety.

The round is divided into 3 key sections of approx. equal distance that are comparatively easy to access.

Leg 1 (Start) Glen Nevis Youth Hostel to Fersit Dam
Leg 2 Fersit Dam to Loch Eilde Mor
Leg 3 Loch EildeMor back to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (Finish)

Support runners would in normal circumstances support a contender for 1 section only with the remaining sections managed by additional support runners. The minimum support required per section would be 1 only.

The key to a successful attempt is a quick change over of hill crew at these transition areas (T As)  taking on board adequate refreshments,  plus additional refreshments for use during  that section, and  the disposal of non-required equipment to include the uplifting of suitable equipment for the next section.

This is the where the Ground Crew come in. They must have access to the contender’s schedule which will include arrival and departure to and from the T A.

They must make sure that they are at their T A point and set up for the contender and support runners coming in, to facilitate as smooth a change over as possible.

Jez had scheduled a 4 min stop at each T A.

In addition, he had enlisted his wife Gemma to be his lead ground support person for each section aided by Murdo McEwan and Charlie Ramsay who worked as a team throughout.

One of the key elements of the challenge was the weather forecasts, part of the planning was waiting for the correct forecast, select a date and go. The start date was amended 4 times until we had a perfect forecast, leading to a perfect outcome.

Gemma had spent ages prior to the start ensuring that all the correct drop bags were in the right place at the right time to ease the transitions.

I felt that the team did an excellent job in completing that role much to the satisfaction of both Jez and all of the support runners the whole operation unfolded with military precision with the minimum of effort and with maximum efficiency.

That exercise sits with the overall fastidious attention to every aspect of the challenge over the past 2 years leading up to the attempt, It highlights the level of preparation, practice and planning that led to this remarkable performance.

Well done Jez and all of the support crew, on the hill and on the ground; it was such a pleasure to be part of such a great with a fantastic outcome day.

Team thank you:

There is only one way to close, and that's with the biggest, sincerest and most heart-felt thanks to the amazing team that made this whole thing possible. You helped make a crazy dream, a reality. Thank you.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Ramsay's Round - a few initial thoughts

I knew it would be tight, but didn't quite imagine it would be that tight. Adrian Belton's record stood since 1989, and for very good reasons. It was a famously solid record illustrated by the fact that no one has really come close to threatening it in 26 years. 

I wasn't really sure I would be able to change that, but you don't know until you try, and I knew full well this could be my one and only opportunity to (a) complete a Ramsay Round, and (b) lay down a solid time. So I prepared a schedule to get me round a few minutes inside the record (shared only with my support team), and set off from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 0300hrs yesterday in near perfect conditions - blue skies and just a slight breeze on the tops. The opportunity was there.

I was 20 minutes up after Leg 1 and feeling confident and in control, but the heat in the middle part of the day sapped my strength and chewed away at the 20 minutes to the extent that I was only on par with schedule at the end of Leg 2. No contingency time to play with at all, and some ambitious split times to achieve on the final Leg across Mamores involving 11 munros. It would be quite some battle to get the job done.

As a result the intensity of the whole experience cranked up significantly on Leg 3 - I clawed back a few minutes here and there - but in reality I was right on the cusp and it could have gone either way. 

With the margins so tight I kept thinking what it would feel like to miss out by a few minutes - it would be a difficult thing to live with. I genuinely didn't know the record was achievable until the second half of the descent off the final summit, Mullach nan Coirean. I've never thrown myself down a mountain so recklessly, but boy was it worth it. In training I ran the last split in just over 60mins, the schedule said 55mins, and we ran it in 49mins. That's what adrenaline does for you.

I arrived back to the Youth Hostel and the record was mine - 18hrs 12mins - knocking 11mins off Adrian's time.

It's impossible to put into words the emotions involved in a run like that, and how it felt at the end. A huge relief obviously, but it was an experience so epic and dramatic that it's almost too much to digest. I guess in time that will happen and I will gain a bit more perspective, but all things considered it certainly feels like a real career highlight.

I will put together a more detailed write up in the next few days along with some insights from my support guys, but for now I just want to say a massive thank you to my brilliant team who made it all possible:

Leg 1: Cam Burt, Chris Busby
Leg 2: Olly Stephenson
Leg 3: Jon Gay & Graham Nash
Static Support: Gemma Bragg, Charlie Ramsay, Murdo McEwan & Anna Busby.

Selection of photos (Photo Credits: Olly Stephenson, Cameron Burt & Gemma Bragg)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Ramsay's Round

High pressure across Scotland. Hello. It's taken a while, well two cancelled attempts and a slight re-schedule to be precise, but the weather and conditions are now looking good for a crack at Ramsay's Round tomorrow. My start time is 0300hrs, Friday 12 June. 

Ramsay's Round is a 24 hour hill running challenge based around the Glen Nevis and Lochaber Mountains in the Scottish Highlands. It's probably not a concept many runners will be familiar with, but essentially it's the Scottish equivalent of the increasingly popular Bob Graham Round in the Lake District, and is a classic for sure. 

Due to the rather drawn out Scottish winter this year, I've already had to postpone the attempt twice, now meaning it falls just a week before the Dragon's Back Race ! Not ideal, but with all the hard work completed via numerous recce trips and setting up a brilliant support team to help - it's now or never. So I'm going for it.

The Highlands always offer such an epic day out - it's going to be one heck of an experience whatever happens.

I will be starting at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel in the early hours, running the route clockwise, and will be aiming to complete in xx hours - you'll have to wait and see....

You can follow my progress here. Thanks to the generous guys at Open Tracking for suppling the tracking facility. 

That is likely to be the one and only way to follow given the lack of mobile data coverage up here.

Enjoy following and I will enjoy running.