The Mountains are Calling: Running in the High Places of Scotland

The Mountains are Calling: Running in the High Places of Scotland is a new book that explores the sport of hill running.

As well as characterising a sport that eschews commercialism and heralding its characters and culture, the book covers the history of Ramsay’s Round, Scotland’s 24-hour classic mountain run. In this guest post, Jonny Muir, the author of The Mountains are Calling, explains what it takes to be a ‘Ramsayist’.

Ramsayist (noun) – A person who has completed Ramsay’s Round

Ramsayists (collective noun) – The 105 people who have completed Ramsay’s Round

The Mountains are Calling cover

As the minutes ticked down to midday on 9 July, 1978, Charlie Ramsay tore down the lower slopes of Ben Nevis. He crossed a footbridge over the River Nevis and halted by the glen’s youth hostel. The clock stopped. In the previous 23 hours and 58 minutes, the runner had passed over the summits of 23 Munros – Scottish mountains of at least 3,000 feet (914 metres) – in an immense loop, starting where he had finished. No-one had climbed so many Munros in a day; nor would anyone do so again for almost a decade. Scotland’s classic 24-hour round – encompassing 60 miles of rough and wild mountain running, and an Everest-amount of ascending and descending – was born. Unashamedly, the originator called it Ramsay’s Round.

Nine years passed. Others tried; they all failed. Finally, in 1987, a second runner, Martin Stone, closed the circle, and by the end of the 1980s there were a further four successes, taking the number of completions to six. At the same time, 656 people had already achieved the Bob Graham Round, England’s equivalent 24-hour mountain running challenge. At the start of 2000, Ramsayists numbered just 26, with every victory in these capricious mountains hard-fought. Nine of the 20 completions in the 1990s took at least 23 hours. The first winter round came in 2002 – in an astonishing 55 hours. It would be another 11 years before anyone could breach 24 hours in the winter months.

Ramsay’s Round is, indisputably, the hardest of the three classic rounds – the jewel in the crown: the highest, the hardest, the roughest, the toughest, a place of superlatives, a place of devastating unpredictability at any time of year. Today, there are 105 Ramsayists. Even then, the round has never been accomplished in March, October or November. Some years – most recently in 2001 and 2012 – no-one made it around. Of the 105, only five – a hill running who’s who: Belton, Spinks, Bragg, Ascroft and Paris – have dipped under 20 hours.

So what does it take to be a Ramsayist?

The would-be contender need not look beyond the preparation of the round’s pioneer. After switching from the road, Charlie Ramsay ran the Bob Graham Round and twice completed Tranter’s Round. He was highly-competitive in hill racing, finishing the Ben Nevis Race in a time that would place him in the top 10 in recent races. In the six months prior to his attempt, Charlie amassed 1,600 miles of running and walking, and climbed a cumulative 80,000 metres, with much of his training spent in the high mountains of Lochaber rehearsing his pathless route. Even then, Charlie was two minutes from being timed out.

There is no secret to running Ramsay’s Round – 105 people have proved that. It is gained by effort, by resolve, by obsession – and a willingness to suffer. There is no other way it can be done.

In the list of Ramsayists, Charlie is number 1; some 39 years later, I would become number 101. After 14 hours, as I began what is known as the Lochaber Traverse, the eight-Munro stretch from Stob Bàn to Ben Nevis, I was suffering in a way that was both predictable and awful. I was sleep-deprived, weather-beaten, utterly exhausted, frustrated and unable to stomach food. I struggled on, over Stob Bàn, then down and up again to the first of the Grey Corries, Stob Coire Claurigh.

As I touched the highest stone on the cairn, I was imbued with a sense of certainty. The idea of returning to the start within 24 hours – a notion that was preposterous an hour earlier – was suddenly no longer a question. There seemed no way I could not do it. At the time, it was as if a decision was made there – as I lingered on the quartzite crown of Stob Coire Claurigh. The reality was far more complex. This ‘decision’ was the consequence of hundreds of decisions: the many hours spent in these mountains, the thousands of miles over two decades of running, and countless metres of ascending – always ascending. Ultimately, it boiled down to those three words: effort, resolve, obsession – and an acceptance that the doing would hurt.

Ramsayist number 100 is Alicia Hudelson, an American ultrarunner who finished her round some six hours before me. She is another who knows what it is to suffer. As she made her way along ridge and rubble between Carn Mòr Dearg and Ben Nevis, she too wondered how she would ever make it back to Glen Nevis. Again, there was no secret. ‘Sometimes even the boring approach of simply trying harder can work,’ she concluded.

When I spoke to Robbie Simpson for The Mountains are Calling, in the months before he had even gained a qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games, let alone clinched a bronze medal, he offered a metaphor for the sport of hill running – and Ramsay’s Round in particular. ‘If was easy,’ he said, ‘everyone would do it.’

It is not easy – but to be among the company of Ramsayists is not the preserve of a hill running elite.

In 2016, John Parkin, a West Yorkshire primary school teacher, came to Glen Nevis seeking to complete the ‘big three’. His hopes seemed fanciful: he had concluded Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley rounds with just 20 minutes to spare across the two. However, descending Mullach nan Coirean, the last summit on a clockwise round, John realised he was going to get around within 24 hours, becoming the 44th person to complete the three classics.

‘I look at the names on those short lists and see race winners and fell champions,’ he reflected after. ‘I have raised myself to exalted company.’

John Parkin was not in exalted company. He was exalted company. He was a Ramsayist.

photo of Runners on Ramsay's Round

Runners on Ramsay’s Round (Mark Hartree)

About the author:

Jonny Muir was a nine-year-old boy when the silhouette of a lone runner in the glow of sunset on the Malvern Hills caught his eye. A fascination for running in high places was born – a fascination that would direct him to Scotland. Running and racing, from the Borders to the Highlands, and the Hebrides to the hills of Edinburgh, Jonny became the mountainside silhouette that first inspired him.

His exploits inevitably led to Scotland’s supreme test of hill running: Ramsay’s Round, a daunting 60-mile circuit of twenty-four mountains, climbing the equivalent height of Mount Everest and culminating on Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak – to be completed within twenty-four hours.

While Ramsay’s Round demands extraordinary endurance, the challenge is underpinned by simplicity and tradition, in a sport largely untainted by commercialism. The Mountains are Calling is the story of that sport in Scotland, charting its evolution over half a century, heralding its characters and the culture that has grown around them, and ultimately capturing the irresistible appeal of running in high places.

Jonny Muir, author of The Mountains are Calling

Jonny Muir, author of The Mountains are Calling

 

Additional information:

Jonny Muir is a writer, runner and teacher. He lives in Edinburgh. The Mountains are Calling is his fourth book.

The Mountains are Calling is available from Amazon, and other good bookshops e.g. Waterstones

I completed the Charlie Ramsay Round myself in 2016, you can read about my experience here http://fellrunningguide.co.uk/charlie-ramsay-round/

Heart Rate Monitors: chest strap versus wrist based.

Heart Rate Monitor watches come in two forms: chest strap and wrist sensor – but which is best?

Advances in technology mean that watches which measure heart rate are no longer the preserve of sports scientists, and now many moderately priced sports watches offer a heart rate monitor (HRM) feature. The first generation of such watches rely on a sensor that is worn around the chest, next to the skin and which measures the heart’s electrical impulses and sends a signal to the watch. However it is now possible to get a watch with an inbuilt optical sensor that measures heart rate through the skin and so dispenses with the need for the chest strap. These sensors are built into the back of the watch, which is worn against the skin and can measure the light being refracted at different rates as blood pulses through your veins. So, which of the two versions is best? Here are my pros and cons:

Wrist based (optical) monitors

In my experience watches using the wrist based optical sensor give less accurate readings than chest straps. However this doesn’t mean that everyone will experience the same issues; skin tone, visceral fat, body hair, and skin temperature can all affect the optical reading although advances in technology may iron out some initial problems with early model optical sensors. This photo shows me wearing two wrist based HRM watches, one showing a heart rate of 118 beats per minute, the other 147, a big discrepancy! Which, if any, should I believe? Note I also wore one watch on each wrist and tested them several times, seldom getting the same reading.

photo of wrist based heart rate monitors

big discrepancy between watches!

On the plus side, wrist based monitors dispense with the need for the chest strap that some people find irritating and uncomfortable.

Chest strap monitors

As mentioned above, both from personal experience and other anecdotal evidence, if you want accurate readings you’re better opting for a watch that uses a chest strap. However these are not without their shortcomings: my old chest strap would only work if it was moistened before wearing – licking it seemed to work (my current strap which came with the Garmin Fenix 3 is much more reliable); they can be uncomfortable and can slide down whilst running if they aren’t tight enough and they get sweaty and start to smell if not washed regularly. Also the battery needs changing occasionally although this is a fairly straightforward procedure.

photo of HRM chest strap with transmitter

HRM chest strap with transmitter

One bonus of the chest strap version is that some of the more sophisticated watches use the transmitter to measure “running dynamics” such as ground contact time, vertical oscillation and left / right ground contact balance. Whilst this might be more information than many runners might need I find it really interesting from a coaching point of view and also to analyse my own training, for example comparing ground contact time at different stages of a run or race.

picture of running statistics graph

geeky stats comparing ground contact time etc.

I also find it interesting to compare ground contact balance (the percentage of time each foot is in contact with the ground during a run). I’ve noticed that injuries or niggles lead to changes in the balance, a sore left hamstring for example will mean more time in contact with the ground on the left foot.

ground contact time comparison

more geeky starts – injury on right leg?

Another major reason that I prefer the chest strap over wrist based monitors is to do with how easy it is to see my watch during a run. I often glance at my watch whilst training, for example to check my heart rate so that I’m not running too fast on what is supposed to be an easy paced run, or if I’m doing intervals to know when to stop (e.g. 4 minutes fast, 2 minutes jog). Or it might simply be that I want to know how far I’ve gone or how long I’ve been running for. I prefer to wear my watch over my jacket or long sleeved top meaning that I can simply glance at it whilst running. It also means that the buttons are easily accessible to switch screens or record a lap.  If I was wearing a watch with optical HRM then the heart rate recording wouldn’t work if it was worn over layers of clothing. I’d need to pull back layers of clothing to see it and access the buttons or wear my sleeves pulled up slightly which would mean getting cold or wet wrists and arms in bad weather. In summer when wearing short sleeves this wouldn’t be an issue – but for most of the year it is!

photo comparison of heart rate watches

under or over? optical sensors need to touch the skin to work

Verdict

So for me the accuracy, the additional running dynamics offered from the transmitter and the fact that I can wear the watch over layers of clothing whilst the HRM is recording mean that I would choose a chest strap device over a wrist monitor.

fell running guide logo

DIY Ice Studs for Running Shoes

Running in snow and ice is difficult and it can also be hard to know what shoes to wear.

In soft snow I find that my usual trail or fell shoe with a decent tread works well enough. On paths where the snow has been well trodden and compacted down and then frozen hard or where snow has started to melt and then refrozen again then I’ll opt for Microspikes which give excellent traction.

photo of runner wearing Microspikes

Microspikes are great for very icy conditions

But what about mixed conditions; say where there hasn’t been any snow but very cold temperatures have resulted in icy patches? Here you can find yourself running fairly quickly on firm ground with a good grip only to be suddenly confronted with a patch of treacherous ice. In this case Microspikes would be overkill for the majority of the run and yet you wouldn’t want to be stopping to put them on just for a few metres of frozen ground. For these conditions you need a shoe that can deal both types of terrain. Some running shoes have tungsten spikes built into the tread – the Inov-8 Oroc is a good example. These type of shoes with the tungsten “dobs” have been widely used by orienteers as they give good grip on wet roots often found in forests.

photo of runner on ice

caution, grip needed!

I’ve got a huge collection of shoes and couldn’t really justify buying another pair so I had a think about improvising and making my own studded shoe for the winter conditions!

You will need:

One pair of trail shoes that you don’t mind experimenting with! – I chose a pair of Mammut shoes that I rarely wear.

One pack of 3/8″ Slotted, Hex sheet metal screws. You could use different types, I chose the slotted head as I thought they would give more grip. Obviously they need to be short enough that they don’t protrude through the sole and stick into your foot! (I couldn’t find any from UK suppliers so had to get them from the US via Amazon, they only cost about £8 for a pack of 100 including shipping.

One screwdriver with 1/4″ hex drive adapter.

photo of DIY ice studs

DIY kit

photo of 3/8 inch slotted hex screws

3/8 inch slotted hex screws

I simply screwed the screws into the shoe at various points around the out-sole on both the heel and forefoot. In all I attached 12 studs on each shoe which probably took less than half an hour. The screws don’t really damage the shoes so I knew there was nothing lost if the experiment didn’t work.

photo of trail shoe with DIY ice studs

DIY ice studs!

Testing:

This winter has been prolonged so has given me a good opportunity to test them out. The first run was on the hard packed trails of the Longshaw Estate in the Peak District followed by some rock hopping on snow covered gritstone boulders. I was really pleased with the grip they afforded on the rocks, although I did slide a couple of times on the snow covered grass.

photo of runner on rocks

grip testing

I then wore them for a road run (shock horror – I thought you were a fell runner!?) when the snow was so heavy that a drive out to the Peak District was impossible. There was hardly any traffic on the roads due to the conditions which allowed me to run in the tyre tracks rather than in the deeper snow. The studs gave a really good grip where they contacted the tarmac (and a satisfying sound!) and it was amusing to see people watching me run fairly confidently as they slithered along the pavements. The real test came in the park where the tarmac path rises very steeply in places; there was just enough of the path showing to let the studs bite and grip to allow me to continue running rather than slipping. By the end of the run I felt fairly confident running at a decent pace on snowy tarmac.

photo of runner in show

good traction on snowy tarmac

I can’t say that I’ve hammered down any hills whilst wearing them, I’ve kept to a fairly well controlled pace. A few times, especially when jumping the rocks, I’ve wondered if I’d lost any studs but so far so good, three runs and almost three hours of running and they are all still there.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the results. The screws probably won’t last as well as shoes that have an inbuilt stud and I can envisage having to replace a few but for half an hours work and less than a tenner spent I think they’re pretty effective.

Bob Graham Round – schedule and planning

Last summer I completed the Bob Graham Round and in doing so ticked off the “Big Three” the others being the Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay Rounds. What I learned along the way might help others in their planning.

Timing

Many people choose to start their Bob Graham attempt in the early evening with six or seven o’clock being popular start times. This doesn’t make sense to me. By that time there’s a good chance that you have been on your feet or at the very least awake for almost 12 hours before you set off on an arduous 24 hour challenge! I chose to set off at 8 am, the idea being to get a decent night’s sleep, get up early and have breakfast then set off. This allowed me to set off fully rested and following my normal body clock. I can understand the psychological benefit of getting the night time section done when you are relatively fresh but the converse to that is that when dawn breaks you still have a long way to go if you’ve set off in the evening. I finished the Bob Graham at around 5 am meaning that I’d been awake for less than 24 hours. Had I done the same time but setting off at 6 pm I’d have been awake for 36 hours!

Start times dictate when and where on the route you are going to be in the dark. For many the evening start is favoured because it means that the relatively straightforward navigation of leg two from Clough Head to Seat Sandal is done in the dark. However none of the legs are particularly difficult to navigate. I was in the dark from Yewbarrow to Robinson and other than missing the best line and spending some time amongst the boulders coming off Great Gable it didn’t feel any harder than navigating leg 2 in the dark. Remember that some people do the BG in winter when there is considerably less daylight!

photo of Bob Graham Round runners

Where do you want to be in the dark? Changeover on the Bob Graham Round

Aiming for a late June attempt means that you will get maximum daylight but it is also worth looking at the phase of the moon as a full moon on a clear night will make the navigation easier. On both the Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay Rounds I set off around midday based on which sections I wanted to do at night, unfortunately the moon didn’t help because both nights were cloudy.

Weather

Bad weather is probably the main reason why people fail in their attempt. It is easy to put all your eggs in one basket and go for it regardless but if possible try to be flexible with your start date and time to account for bad weather. I put my Ramsay attempt back a couple of times because the forecast was bad and in the end was rewarded with sun and blue skies. This might not be possible for people with busy work schedules and it means that your support crew have to be flexible too, however a skeleton crew in good weather is better than a big crew in strong winds and heavy rain. If the weather is extremely hot then that is another reason why you might want to consider a morning rather than evening start. The hottest part of the day will be mid afternoon and you’ll be in better shape to deal with the conditions if you’ve only been on the go for seven hours rather than twenty.

Schedule

There are plenty of resources available to help plan for the Bob Graham Round including Excel spreadsheets that allow you to calculate split and leg times http://www.gofar.org.uk/bobgrahamround.html but you need to tailor these to yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses. For example, depending how comfortable you are on steep descents then you would want to adjust the split time for the section from Scafell down to Wasdale on leg 3. Also bear in mind which section you are going to be covering in the dark and adjust your schedule accordingly. Factor in bad weather which will inevitably slow you down and remember that you will move much more slowly if the rough, rocky ground around Broad Crag and Ill Crag is wet and greasy compared to if it were dry.

It is also worth thinking about how much time you will spend at the end of each leg. Do you really need to stop at Threlkeld? On the Ramsay Round the first leg (clockwise) ends at Loch Treig dam – over 8 hours of running before getting support so I planned not to stop at Threlkeld at all, just pick up a water refill and grab some food. On the day it was absolutely chucking it down and I was soaked so I stopped for long enough to change into a dry baselayer and waterproof but then got going again straight away rather than stopping to eat and drink.

Food and Drink

Along with the often quoted advice not to eat anything you haven’t tried before I’m a strong believer in little and often rather than gorging at the end of each leg. Personally I don’t really like sweet stuff so I used baby food sachets rather than gels and had spicy pot noodle at some changeovers. I’ve been lucky in never feeling sick or not hungry during the rounds so haven’t had the problem of bonking. If you do lose your appetite it is still easier to nibble on things rather than be faced with a big serving at the changeovers.

photo of Paddy Buckley food stop

Bombay Bad Boy!

Recce Recce Recce

It makes sense really that training over the actual route is going to stand you in good stead for your attempt. I see recces as having two main benefits. One is the actual physiological training; getting your body used to the stresses of long hours of ascent and descent over rough ground – and yes the descents are just as important to train for as the climbs. The second is that it allows you to learn the route and practise the navigation and can give you a good idea of how long particular sections will take. During any recces I took split times from summit to summit to compare them to those on the schedule. On clear days it was easy to think that the schedule was generous but in bad weather or bad visibility it is easy to see how time can slip away. This gives you a clearer picture of how realistic your schedule will be given bad conditions and will allow you to tweak the split times in the schedule as you see fit. Remember that if you use a schedule it will be based on someone else’s split times and is only a guide.

I did a lot of the recces for the Bob Graham on my own as I wanted to get a feel for the navigation myself. Personally, during a round I like to know exactly where I am and be involved in the navigation rather than putting that pressure onto someone else.

photo of runner in Scottish mountains

recce day on the Charlie Ramsay Round

Don’t be complacent! The only section of the Bob Graham round that I didn’t recce was from Grey Knotts down to Honister. I had run it several times before (but not for a few years) and thought it would be easy. However in the dark and the rain I wasted time and headed too far west. Not a big deal but worth a few minutes. Similarly on the Paddy Buckley I reccied everything except for a small section from the final summit down to the Capel Curig road thinking that it would be straightforward. In reality I found myself waist deep in heather unable to find the narrow path that was there somewhere! These incidents only accounted for a handful of minutes and if you have time to spare aren’t a big problem but what if you don’t have those minutes to spare?!

photo of runners in fog

recceing in bad weather is great navigation practise!

Back to back recce days allow you make the most out of your trip to the Lake District as well as giving you the training benefit of two (or more) long days out. I’d advise that a long day out covering the route whilst walking is better training than a 3 hour run elsewhere.

Equipment

Use your recce days to try out the shoes, pack and clothing that you will be wearing on your attempt. Fill your pack with the kit that you intend to carry on the day (you are going to carry your own pack aren’t you!) Work out which pocket you are going to put your food, compass, head torch etc in. Little bits of preparation can save faffing around on the day and every little faff adds time. Think – do you need to take spares of anything? Have you got a spare pair of shoes in the support vehicle in case yours split (don’t wear old shoes!) or give you blisters (don’t wear new shoes!) Have you got a spare torch? Are you planning to use walking poles? If so you need to practise running with them, and not just a few days before!

photo of runner with poles

to pole or not to pole? If so then practise!

On the Ramsay Round I got lucky. I had a fully charged Petzl Nao programmed to last 6 hours on reactive mode. I was confident that this was sufficient to get me through the night. At about 2.30 in the morning the torch flashed a warning and went into reserve mode which is a dim light of around 20 lumens! I was on my own and hadn’t taken a spare. Thankfully I was on a good land rover track and only about 20 minutes from the end of the leg so was able to keep going at a reasonable pace to my support and then borrow a torch for the next leg. If I’d have been descending rough ground this would have been disastrous in terms of losing time or even dangerous – a lucky escape!

I like to mark up my maps with important details such as bearings, elevation and timings which makes navigation much quicker especially when you are getting tired. I also enlarge sections where the navigation is a bit more tricky so that I can see it more clearly. Although the Petzl Nao didn’t last the distance the Reactive setting is really useful when map reading, particularly with a laminated map which reflects the beam and can be dazzling.

Ramsay round map

route notes marked on the Ramsay Round map

I used the official Harvey maps for the planning then added my own notes to the 1:40,000 and 1:25,000 scale maps that I had on computer before laminating them to protect them. I also printed and laminated my target split times for each leg showing both the summit split times and time of day I was due there. This was useful for myself and for waiting support crew.

Bob Graham split times

laminated split times for each leg

Training

Everyone is different in terms of their training history and the amount of miles they have in the bank. A large aerobic endurance base and the ability to deal with steep terrain, both up and down, is the key. Spending time on your feet over similar terrain is the best way to train. Being good at fell races doesn’t necessarily translate to being good at moving briskly over mountainous terrain for 24 hours! My completions came after training for and racing the High Peak Marathon early in the year and so having a long lead in of training over rough ground. Apart from the HPM none of my training runs were much over 20 miles, instead I preferred back to back days of 5, 6 or 7 hours on the route itself. Doing the Wasdale fell race the month before the Bob Graham is useful as both a training run and a recce for leg 4!

photo of Bob Graham route

leg 4 of the Bob Graham round

Conclusion

Everyone is different and what suits one person might not suit another. I’m not claiming that my approach is “the” right way, just that it worked for me. However you go about things, good luck in your attempt!

Inov-8 Get a Grip Competition

News of a great competition from Inov-8 which will give seven lucky runners a 5 day, all expenses paid trip to the Lake District. As team “Get a Grip” the winners will have the chance to learn tips from Inov-8’s top runners, test out new kit and take part in the classic Skiddaw fell race.

It sounds like a fantastic way to spend the week!

win a week with Inov-8

win a week with Inov-8

Full details of the competition here – https://www.inov-8.com/getagrip

Good Luck!

 

High Peak Marathon – what kit and why.

The High Peak Marathon is a 42 mile fell race done in teams of four, overnight, in winter and covers some of the boggiest, pathless and most remote parts of the Peak District. In addition to the usual personal kit required for a long, winter fell race there is a certain amount of mandatory kit that must be carried by each team.

Deciding on the what items of kit to use can take almost as long as running the race itself.. “10 litre pack or squeeze it in to the 5? Two thin base layers or a thick one? Start in a windproof or waterproof? Thick leggings or thin? and will I really need all that food?”

This is what I wore, carried and ate on this year’s event with some reflections on whether it was the right choice or not.

High Peak Marathon team

all the gear…. (photo Jen Scotney)

Pack

My pack was always going to be a Montane but I couldn’t decide between the old style Jaws 10 litre with rigid bottles or the new Via series Fang 5 litre with soft flasks. After much packing, unpacking and repacking I opted for the Fang. With more pockets than the old Jaws the Fang actually takes almost as much kit despite its smaller size. It was important that I had easy access to certain things whilst on the run and it was this that finally swayed my choice.

My compass needed to be close to hand so went in the top front mesh pocket with its lanyard attached to the pack so that I wouldn’t lose or break it in the inevitable event of a trip or tumble. It was easy to reach when needed and also importantly easy to put away again when not required rather than constantly running with it in my hand. Maps likewise needed to be close to hand but not needed until the Bleaklow section. These easily fitted into the lower front zipped pocket. The lower front mesh pocket held a 500ml soft flask with a straw which allowed me to drink on the move rather than have to take out the flask and faff around trying to put it back in the pocket. Also in this pocket was a small ziplock bag with 2 electrolyte tablets for refills at the two food stations. The smaller, top front zipped pocket had three gels. One side mesh pocket held my Shot Bloks whilst the other had my GoreTex overmitts in and I used to stash my gloves when my hands got too hot and at the food stations.

The main rear compartment contained kit that I was less likely to need i.e. my waterproof trousers, group shelter and emergency primaloft smock whilst the smaller rear zipped pocket held my personal survival bag.

Montane Fang backpack

Montane Fang and what went in to it

Waterproofs

It had been raining for most of the day and was still doing so an hour before we started. It was also forecast for more rain overnight so even though it was dry at the start I set off wearing my waterproof jacket, the OMM Kamleika Smock. I do have lighter, more compact waterproof jackets such as the Montane Minimus and Alpkit Gravitas but I feel the Kamleika is a little bit more robust and likely to withstand being worn underneath a pack. I also carried Kamleika waterproof trousers which weren’t needed.

Clothes

I chose a thin merino wool short sleeved tee shirt under a thicker, long sleeved merino wool cycling top. I specifically chose the top for its rear pockets in which I carried some food and also the zip which would allow me to cool off if it got too warm. My leggings were a cheap pair of medium thickness tights. I have thicker and thinner pairs but these seemed just right. I wore a buff around my neck – really versatile to pull up over your face if the weather gets nasty and a windproof beanie as a hat. In my pack I carried an OMM Rotor Smock Primaloft top as an extra, emergency layer. This was compressed down and carried in a dry bag and wasn’t used.

cycling top with rear pockets for food

cycling top with rear pockets for food

Socks

I chose knee length compression socks which offer great protection against the cold, and to some extent against the knee deep immersion into the peat bogs that was to come. Over these I wore 3mm neoprene socks made by Rooster Sailing. I have recently converted to these from Sealskinz.

Shoes

Extreme grip over such boggy terrain was essential so the first thought was to wear Inov-8 Mudclaws. However I’ve also got a pair of Inov-8 X-Claw 275s which offer almost the same grip as the Mudclaw but have a bit more room and a bit more cushioning. This made them the ideal choice to accommodate the 3mm neoprene socks and the long sections of flag stones.

photo of Inov-8 X-Claw 275

Inov-8 X-Claw 275 for a mix of grip and cushioning

Gloves

I wore a pair of Rooster Sailing liner gloves and carried a pair of Tuff Bags Goretex mitts.

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Rooster Sailing liner gloves

Torch

My main torch was a Petzl Nao, programmed to give 8 hours light on reactive mode. I also carried a second torch, a LED Lenser SEO 7R worn around my waist (I’m thin!) I do this in foggy conditions as it illuminates the ground much better than a head torch as the light source is closer to the ground and you don’t get the bounce back effect off the fog. It saves carrying a hand torch, leaving your hands free to do important things like hold the map and compass.

head torch on waist

err Dave, it’s meant to go on your head!

Map & Compass

I used laminated sections of the 1:25,000 map (printed from Anquet software) with checkpoints and route notes annotated on them and a Silva Ranger compass.

Watch

I wore a Suunto Core watch with altimeter. This is a non GPS watch so there was no way of using it to aid navigation other than by knowing our altitude and time running. I calibrated the altimeter at Edale and also checked it against a known height at Swain’s Head. I knew how long we should run past Swain’s Head before turning south and also at what elevation to exit Far Black Clough.

Suunto Core showing altitude

Suunto Core showing altitude

Emergency Kit

I carried an Adventure Medical Kits / SOL emergency bag as my personal kit and a 4 person group shelter as the team emergency kit. Other members carried a Blizzard Bag and small first aid kit. I also carried 3 spare AAA batteries, some Ibuprofen tablets and a few sheets of toilet roll – none of which were needed thankfully!

Adventure Medical Kit emergency blanket

Adventure Medical Kits emergency blanket (personal kit)

Food

I took 2 packets of Clif Shot Bloks, (already opened and put into a ziplock bag as they are a pain to open) 3 Clif Shot gels (including one double espresso which I ate just as we got to Kinder to give me a caffeine boost for the last leg) and 2 Ella’s Kitchen baby food sachets (the Mango Baby Brekkie ones taste much nicer than gels and contain over 100 calories per 100g). I also ate 1 slice of malt loaf at Moscar feed station (actually it took me until the heather climb after Cutthroat Bridge to get it down!) and half a ham sandwich at Snake feed station (which was delicious and left me regretting not having picked up the other half all the way to Mill Hill!)

I started with 250ml of electrolyte drink and refilled 500ml at both Moscar and Snake. I also gulped a cup of juice at each feed station and had a few quick sips of tea at Snake.

Cliff Shot Bloks, gels and baby food

Baby food, Clif Shot Bloks and gels (double espresso for the wee small hours)

What worked and what didn’t

The pack was definitely the right choice. Four front pockets plus two accessible side pockets meant that I could reach everything that I wanted and stow any kit that I didn’t need in my hands. It didn’t bounce and always felt comfortable. Being able to drink whilst still running without really breaking stride was really beneficial.

Getting the clothing right is always the trickiest thing for me. We were aiming for a fast time so I didn’t want to be faffing around putting layers on and off and thus slowing down. The forecast was for more rain and I expected to feel quite cold on the high, exposed section to Swain’s Head when the pace would be slow. However the clothing you need for that section isn’t what you need for the immediate steep climb up to Hollin’s Cross and inevitably I felt I had too many layer on early on in the race! In hindsight I would have skipped the short sleeved tee shirt and been warm enough with just one base layer. Although it never rained save for a few spots I think wearing a waterproof from the start was ok, however a full zip rather than smock would have been better. This would have allowed me to unzip it fully on the climbs to vent more heat. We encountered lying snow on Derwent Edge and Kinder and my feet were wet for most of the night, however the neoprene socks worked fine and my feet never felt cold. Likewise, my hands were fine, I took the liner gloves off for a time early on and the Goretex mitts were never needed. The X-Claws were definitely a good choice; loads of grip on the sloppy stuff but no discomfort on the flag stones (although hats off to team mate Marcus who coped with the conditions in his Hokas!)

I was a bit disappointed with the Petzl Nao. I had fully charged the (fairly new) battery and programmed the reactive setting to give 8 hours power, however crossing Bleaklow I got the dreaded “flash, flash” warning and a couple of minutes later the Nao dimmed to emergency mode. It had only lasted 6 hours (not bad in itself but still 2 hours short of what the computer software had told me to expect!) Thankfully it was approaching dawn and I also had my second torch. The waist torch definitely helped over the foggy sections as it meant I didn’t need to carry a hand torch so still had hands free for the map and compass.

Of the food I took I ate everything apart from half a packet of Shot Bloks and one gel; I was looking forward to the stew at the end though! I did feel thirsty at some points but not enough to warrant taking a second soft flask.

So nothing major that I’d change, maybe just a few tweaks for next time – but then the weather might be completely different next year.

High Peak Marathon team (photo Jen Scotney)

9 hours later! (photo Jen Scotney)

 

Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

The Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (SHAFF) takes place from March 17th to 19th 2017 and this year features a varied selection of running films from both here in the UK and overseas. With 14 films being shown over three days there will be something of interest to most runners and particularly those who aspire to tackle longer distances. The films focus on a wide cross section of runners of all abilities, from sponsored athletes to recreational runners. Films to look out for include:

Mira

The story of a young woman from small Nepali village who ran away to join the army where she discovered that her tough upbringing had given her a talent for mountain running. The film follows her as she travels to take part in her first year of racing in the International Sky Running Championships and compete against some of the best female distance runners in the world. She then returns to her village to share her story with her family.

Mira – from Nepalese village girl to world recognised mountain runner

Outside Voices

This is an arty black and white film following the slightly crazy American Ultra Runner Jenn Shelton (one of the characters featured in the book Born to Run). Shelton is a straight talking, hard living 31 year old who travels and lives in a small camper van. She likes to party but is also one of America’s top female ultra runners. Look out for the party game that involves running, beer and shotguns!

Outside Voices – follows unconventional American ultra runner Jenn Shelton

Films from closer to home include:

Cape Wrath Ultra

This follows the progress of some of the competitors on the inaugural Cape Wrath Ultra as they tackle 8 days, 400 kilometres and over 11,000 metres of ascent through some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in Britain.  The film captures stunning scenery from the Scottish Highlands and talks to competitors about their backgrounds, motivation and their feelings and experiences as they take part in the event. It shares the emotional highs and lows, the injuries, exhaustion and elation as the runners make their way from Fort William to Cape Wrath.

Cape Wrath Ultra – 400km through remote north-west Scotland

Run Forever

Run Forever tells the inspirational story of how Yorkshire farmer Nicky Spinks attempted to become only the second person to complete a back to back Bob Graham Round in under 48 hours. The feat of endurance; 132 miles with 54,000 ft of ascent had only been done once before – and that was 37 years previously. Footage of the attempt is mixed with interviews telling of Nicky’s early years, life on the farm with her husband Steve and how she battled to overcome breast cancer.

Run Forever – the story of Nicky Spinks’ back to back Bob Graham Round

Beauties and the Bog

This short film follows 4 young women as they train and prepare to take on the gruelling High Peak Marathon; a 42 mile race through the remotest parts of the Peak District…. overnight in winter.

Beauties and the Bog – 4 women prepare for the High Peak Marathon

So, experienced runners and beginners alike will find something to interest and inspire them at SHAFF 2017

A full list of the films at SHAFF can be found here https://shaff.co.uk/shaff17/sessions

Staying Motivated for Winter Running

Grey, dull days, bad weather, long dark nights… It’s not very inspiring for running!

Inov-8 Stormshell in the rain

grey, dull and not very inspiring!

So with the long winter months ahead of us how do you stay motivated to get out running? Here are 5 tips to help get you off the couch and onto the trails, even on the darkest of days.

Treat Yourself

New kit always inspires you to use it so get set to tackle winter with some new toys! Go on you deserve a new waterproof, grippy shoes or even that fancy watch that counts how many calories you’ve used. Or if you don’t want to spend that much then just a nice new base layer, warm gloves or even some new woolly socks will give you more reasons to get out running whatever the weather.

Inov-8 Mudclaw grip

new shoes for winter!

Embrace the Dark

Just because it’s dark by the time you get home from work doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and run on the trails and fells. A reasonable head torch will give you enough light to carry on running through the winter months. What’s more night running is exciting, your senses are more alert to sights and sounds that you might not notice in the day time. A run on a clear, cold night under a full moon is a fantastic experience!

night running on technical terrain

night running fun

Buddy Up

When it’s chucking it down outside it’s easy to make an excuse for not going for a run. But if you’ve made a plan to go and your mates are waiting for you then you’re more likely to make the effort to get out and not let them down. Having a regular slot in your diary each week for a social run gets you into the habit. If it chucks it down then you’re all in it together rather than struggling on alone. If the run finishes at a pub or cafe with a cosy fire you’ll soon forget how grim the weather is!

singing in the rain?

singing in the rain?

Find New Routes

My favourite runs are out on the Peak District fells. However when the weather’s wet and wild running there can be a real struggle so I head for more sheltered areas. Running in woodland can give you shelter even on the windiest days whilst choosing low level valley routes will also keep you out of the worst of the elements. So if the forecast is bad then check out some new, less exposed places to run, you might even find some hidden gems that you would never know about if you stuck to your usual routes.

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

woodland offers shelter in bad weather

Set a Goal

Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to run if you don’t have a purpose. If you know that you are training towards something then you’re more likely to keep at it. So, rather than just going through the motions have a look at the race calendar for next year and pick out an early event. That way, even in the depths of winter you will be able to tell yourself that your run is preparation for the race.

set a goal

set a goal

So with a little bit of self motivation you can make it through the dark winter months, and whilst there might be plenty of dull days there will be the odd day like this to look forward to!

running under winter skies

stunning winter running

fell running guide

Run Forever – Nicky Spinks’ Double Bob Graham Round

In May 2016 Nicky Spinks made fell running history.

Whilst most people are happy to complete the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours Nicky did a “double” (doing it twice) in a time of 45 hours 30 minutes, the fastest time ever!  She beat the previous record – which had stood for over thirty five years – by more than an hour and so became only the second person to do the “double” in under 48 hours.

Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round

Nicky on the Bob Graham Round

As well as her remarkable running achievements Nicky has also battled cancer and her record breaking round marked ten years since her diagnosis.

Her inspirational story is told in a film, Run Forever which premieres at the Kendal Mountain Festival this November before general release. See trailer:


fell running guide

Charlie Ramsay Round

The Charlie Ramsay Round is a running challenge in the Scottish Highlands, the aim being to cover 56 miles, 24 Munros (mountains over 3000ft) with a total of over 28,500 feet of ascent in under 24 hours.

Ramsay Round

56 miles, 24 Munros 28,500ft

Standing outside Glen Nevis Youth hostel on a sunny day in late May I was feeling a little nervous.  The plan was to tackle the “round” with my mate Ian with only limited support; a couple of people meeting us at Loch Treig (about eight and a half hours into the run) with food and supplies for the next leg, and someone at a remote point by Loch Eilde Mor another 6 hrs later, again with food and enough supplies for us to get to the finish.  We would have no support on the hill so would have to navigate ourselves and carry all our own kit.  This also meant that we would have to “manage” ourselves i.e. keep an eye on our schedule, make sure we were eating and drinking enough and motivate ourselves when the going got tough.

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery

a flavour of the Ramsay Round scenery on a previous reccy

My main concern wasn’t the physical difficulties of the Ramsay Round but the fact that I’d only managed one reccy of it and had no knowledge of the route through the Grey Corries. This was going to make route finding a bit more difficult and meant that we hadn’t had chance to check out the quickest lines. I was pretty confident that we could navigate the route but we couldn’t afford to spend lots of time studying the map. Choosing a bad line would be costly.  Not having run the first section also meant that it was difficult to know what schedule to use as we had no idea how hard it felt.

Starting the Ramsay Round

and they’re off! Leaving Glen Nevis Youth Hostel (photo Masa Sakano)

We set off clockwise just after midday on Monday (our original plan for a weekend attempt had been postponed by bad weather) in warm sunshine. The forecast was for dry weather and equally importantly light winds. After 15 minutes of jog / walking up the Ben Nevis tourist path we passed a group of lads looking hot and tired who asked us “how far to the summit?” Not sure they believed our “a few hours!” reply!

Things went well for the first few hours, the rock was dry, visibility was good and navigation was straightforward. After Aonach Beag we found a good line down “Spinks’ Ridge” named after the line Nicky Spinks took on a previous round. We were slightly behind our schedule but had heard that it wasn’t a big deal to be slow on leg one and not to worry if we were 15 minutes or so down. However towards the end of the leg Ian wasn’t feeling too good and by Loch Treig we were over half an hour down. Helen and Pawel our 2 support crew were sheltering on the dam wall from the un-forecast rain shower (thankfully the midges hadn’t yet emerged) with our supplies and we were soon wolfing down some real food.

pit stop at Fersit

pit stop at Loch Treig (photo Pawel Cymbalista)

Ten minutes goes very quickly and no sooner was my chilli con carne scoffed than it was time to go again, picking up fresh drink, food, map and head-torch for the night leg.

We’d had the chat beforehand about splitting up if one of us was struggling and so as we headed up the lower slopes of Stob Choire Sgriodain Ian did his “Captain Oates” impression and urged me to press on. That was definitely the lowest point of the round, leaving my mate who was struggling and heading off into the gathering gloom alone. It was going to be a long night!

I hit Sgriodain on schedule and turned my torch on. The good news was that I was back on schedule for that summit and confident that I could make up lost time, the bad news was that low cloud was covering the summit and navigating to Chno Dearg was going to be tricky. I wasn’t looking forward to the next section, I had reccied it and knew it involved a rough, steep descent off Chno Dearg and an awful, steep climb through heather up on to Beinn na Lap. In daylight I had been able to pick out the lines of least resistance but it would be harder in the dark.

Coming off Beinn na Lap in the dark I was trying to run on a compass bearing but managed to get myself into some thigh deep heather with large boulders that hadn’t been there on my reccy! Thankfully it didn’t last long and I was soon on the good track leading to Loch Treig and I knew I could make up time with some fast running. I’d opted for support at the ruin at the NE end of Loch Eilde Mor which meant crossing the river (Abhainn Rath). I hadn’t reccied this bit but had marked the exact crossing point on the map based on a friend’s attempt. Once I’d successfully negotiated this I could again run quickly on a good track to the support point. I was relishing the thought of a welcome brew when my head torch flashed, warning that the battery was failing! I was still a good 10 minutes away from support, track or no track; “Please don’t fail on me now!”

Masa had cycled in from Mamore Lodge the previous evening and was waiting by the ruin in his tent with hot water and my supplies for the next leg. I struggled with my ration pack bacon and beans but the licorice tea was fantastic! I had made some time up on the previous leg despite being solo in the dark and with a grey hint of dawn in the eastern sky I knew that the worst was behind me. I’d reccied almost all of the next leg through the Mamores and as long as I kept eating and drinking I felt I could continue to make up time.

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor

brew stop at Loch Eilde Mor (photo Masa Sakano)

Refreshed and resupplied and with Masa’s spare head torch I set off on the long haul up Sgurr Eilde Mor. By the summit the torch was off and I’d whacked 9 minutes off my schedule without killing myself. With the night behind me and the sun rising into a cloud free sky I knew that I could do it. It was just going to be a long run, in lovely weather in the glorious Scottish mountains – what was not to like!

The Mamores passed without incident apart from meeting two people!  At each summit I looked ahead and identified my next target, then looked at the schedule and said to myself “No way!” The time allocated seemed impossibly short “It will take me loads longer than 35 minutes to get up there!” But it didn’t, I was knocking time off at every Munro. Feeling strong towards the end I was able to push on and when I managed to take 12 minutes off the Stob Ban split I knew that barring disaster I was home and dry.

Equipment I used:

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried on the Ramsay Round

a selection of the equipment & clothing carried

The route is a mix of different terrain: rocky, heather, track, short grass so for footwear I chose Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 which I knew would cope with everything. My feet were sore at the end and I had a couple of bruised toenails but no blisters. The only time I noticed my feet hurting was coming along the hard track and road at the end – you could possibly consider changing into something more cushioned for the last 30 minutes or so.

Running for over 23 hours with a backpack means that it needs to be comfortable! I used the Montane Jaws 10 which was big enough to fit in enough kit for a solo attempt. Mine is the older version with rigid bottles and I carried one bottle which was easy to refill from streams. The front pockets carried my compass, folded map and emergency phone whilst I adapted the pack by using an attachment from another bag to carry my Garmin Etrex GPS.

I wore a short sleeved cycling top with rear pockets to carry my food for the hill and long socks to protect my legs when in long heather (also in case I encountered any snow patches, again to protect my shins). Shorts were Ashmei 2 in 1 Merino (expensive but wonderfully comfortable!)

I chose the Petzl Nao head torch for 2 reasons; its long battery life and its reactive capability which would make map reading more comfortable (it automatically dims and so doesn’t dazzle with reflected light from the map). Unfortunately I made the mistake of selecting high power reactive rather than low power reactive which meant I only got four and a half hours from the battery rather than the anticipated 6 hrs +. Thankfully it got me through leg 2 – just!

I carried OMM Kamleika waterproofs (top & bottom) and had to wear the jacket (smock) when it started raining towards the end of leg 1. I kept this on until dawn, the deep zip allowing me to vent the smock when working hard. I wore thin gloves for the night leg and carried a buff (not worn). I carried an OMM Rotor Smock as an emergency layer as well as a long sleeved base layer (not used). Other emergency kit incluced a SOL emergency bivvy along with a small first aid kit comprising of bandage, plasters, paracetamol and 2 sheets of toilet roll – not needed! – and a mobile phone. I also took 2 spare batteries for my GPS.

I laminated sections of map, annotated with route notes and compass bearings. Having these back to back meant that I needed 5 separate maps for the whole round.

Ramsay round map

laminated map with route notes

I recorded the run on an old Garmin Etrex hand held GPS (I changed the batteries after 15 hrs) and recorded the split times on both a Garmin 910XT (which lasted about 16 hrs) and a Polar 610 sports watch (non GPS).

Food & Drink

Being unsupported on the hill meant carrying my own food and so was a balance between taking enough and being overloaded. I found on the Paddy Buckley round that I took too much and the same was true this time.  Food for the hills was a mix of Nakd bars, Aldi pressed fruit bars, Cliff Shot Bloks, assorted gels and my secret weapon: baby food in the form of Ella’s Kitchen pouches. I used Elivar Endure and Hydrate Plus powder mixed with water that I found on route and from the 2 resupply points. I ate “real food” at the resupply points: Adventure Food chilli con carne with rice and bacon and beans.  I was planning to have my favourite Bombay Bad Boy pot noodle in the middle of the night but as I was behind schedule I didn’t want to wait for it to rehydrate (it tasted good at the end though!) I had a bottle of Lucozade at Loch Treig support point and cup of licorice tea at Loch Eilde Mor. Water was plentiful on the route. I started fully hydrated and rather than carrying drink from the start I put powder in my bottle and filled it when I got to the Red Burn.

Navigation

This was by good old fashioned map and compass with pre prepared maps annotated with split times, heights of significant points, important compass bearings etc. I also had most of the summit waypoints loaded onto my GPS so that I could confirm that I was in the correct place if needed.  I only used this twice, to check that I had reached Chno Dearg in the dark and clag and to confirm the correct location for the river crossing on the night leg. There was still a bit of snow on the Ben and on a couple of north facing slopes but nothing that caused us to deviate from the planned route.

Schedule

We planned to start soon after midday going clockwise. The thought process behind this is that you’re starting having had a decent night’s sleep and have only been up for 4 hours or so (an evening or early morning start means that you’ve been up for hours already and are starting “tired”). A midday start also meant that we would run the long flat section after Beinn na Lap in the dark. Navigation on this section would be easy and the terrain conducive to fast running, lessening the need to slow down in the dark. Also psychologically dawn is a good morale boost which is more welcome after several hours of running. We were hoping for a 23.30 round looking to start on schedule and pick up time on the last leg. The chart below shows the schedule times and indicates where I was behind (red) and up (blue) on schedule.

Ramsay Round schedule

schedule with split and actual times

Lessons Learnt

The schedule wasn’t realistic. In hindsight I’d add time to leg 1 and take some off leg 3.
Know thy torch! I chose the Petzl Nao for its long battery life – having it on full power defeats the object!
I took too much kit. I could have done away with the long sleeved top and about a quarter of the food.
It is very unlikely that two people running on the same schedule will be evenly matched; one may be finding it easy whilst the other is struggling so it’s good to have a plan for that situation.

Low Point

Leaving Ian, behind schedule and setting off alone into the night.

High Point

Approaching Binnein Mor around 5am and getting back on schedule. The sun rose into a cloudless sky and a little bird was singing away. I felt then that I was going to do it.

Thanks

A big thank you to Helen Smith and Pawel Cymbalista for supporting us at Loch Treig where they waited in the rain, optimistically arriving early in case we were up on schedule! Also to Masa Sakano for cycling in to Loch Eilde Mor at night with a tent, stove and food for both of us (and for loan of his torch) and for waiting for Ian to arrive and lending him his bike to get back to Kinlochleven. Also thanks to Ian Loombe for his company on leg 1 and for encouraging me to press on when he was struggling.

Ramsay Round finish photo

back where it all began 23 hrs 18 mins later (photo Masa Sakano)

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fell running guide