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

Paddy Buckley Round

The Paddy Buckley Round covers 61 miles and ascends around 28,000ft as it crosses 47 peaks of North Wales.

Moel Siabod leg in beautiful weather

Moel Siabod leg in beautiful weather

As well as the obvious investment of time spent training to get fit for the challenge it also requires a large amount of planning in terms of route choice, (it can be started anywhere unlike the Bob Graham Round which always begins in Keswick) equipment, food and support crew.

Planning the route:

The Paddy Buckley can be broken into 5 main legs, each finishing at road crossings where support can be accessed. I chose to run on a 23.30 hr schedule starting at 11am from Capel Curig, the idea being to get the longest and arguably most complex navigation leg over whilst I was fresh.  The 11am start meant that if I was on schedule I would be into the Snowdon leg as it went dark and would see dawn as I approached the Glyders.

Getting to know the route is important and so I made a number of visits to Wales paying particular attention to the section between Moel Siabod and the Moelwyns which features a number of knolls that have to be visited.  This part of the route is also particularly boggy and knowing the least wet line can save time and energy.  I also carefully reccied the Elidir’s section including the line to Mynydd Perfedd as I knew I would be running this in the dark.

I also chose to have support at the old quarries at Croesor where friends would walk in with more water and a little food.

Planning the kit:

kit for Paddy Buckley Round

do I really need all this?

One thing I found really difficult was deciding what kit to take: bottle or bladder? bumbag or back-pack? waterproof or windproof or both?  The weather is obviously an important factor and so with a hot, dry forecast I opted for an Inov-8 race pac4 with a 1 litre bladder that I would refill at the end of each leg.  I carried a Montane Minimus waterproof smock and Featherlite windproof bottoms.  I also had a dry bag containing my emergency kit consisting of OMM Rotor Smock, hat and gloves plus spare torch batteries, plasters, bog roll and paracetamol (thankfully the bag remained unopened!).  For the last couple of legs I swapped the sack for a small Inov-8 bumbag.

hot sun and steep hills

hot sun and steep hills – race pac and bladder

I wore a light coloured buff for sun protection rather than warmth and a new pair of wool socks.  Shorts were Mammut MTR 141 whilst my top was a short sleeved cycling shirt which I use for longer distances as the rear pockets allow easy access to gels, map compass etc.  I also carried a long sleeved top to put on if it got cold (I put this on at the start of the night leg).  For footwear I chose my trusty Inov-8 Roclite 285 shoes and had a pair of Inov-8 X Talon 212 in the support vehicle as back up just in case.  The leg over the Glyders has a couple of sections of loose scree so at the start of this leg I changed socks, putting on Inov-8 debris socks.  These worked well, it’s just a shame that the leg starts by crossing wet ground to the comfort of dry socks only lasted a few minutes!

For the night legs I used a Silva Cross Trail II kindly loaned by Matt at Lumenator.  I used the torch on medium power with just a couple of bursts on full power for route spotting.  The 3xAA batteries in the external pack easily lasted the 5 or so hours of darkness.  I also wore an Alpkit Gamma torch around my waist, angled down to shine just in front of me.  I find this helps maintain some depth perception and was really useful over the rocky ground after Crib y Ddysgyl and on Elidir Fawr.

on leg 4 in the dark

on leg 4 in the dark

I made laminated maps of each leg with split times and any important route notes annotated on to them.  I used the Paddy Buckley 1:40,000 for general planning but used a 1:25,000 scale on the actual day (for me particularly important for trying to map read at night or with rain on the map).

Planning the food:

I was pretty clear about the food that I would eat whilst running: a mix of gels (SIS and Mule), Clif Shot Bloks, baby food pouches (Ella’s kitchen) and Nakd bars.  This was washed down with High 5 Zero electrolyte.  What I wasn’t so sure of was what to eat at the support points.  I managed a couple of bananas but also knew I would want something savoury to counteract the sweet stuff so I opted for tuna sandwiches, boiled potatoes with salt & butter, Bombay Bad Boy spicy pot noodle and spicy rice crackers.  I also had a few cups of licorice tea.

support point Paddy Buckley

Bombay Bad Boy!

I found the sandwiches were a mistake, I simply couldn’t chew the bread and ended up just eating the tuna.  The potatoes were fine and the pot noodles were brilliant with the hot sauce being really welcome after hours of sweet tasting food.  I decanted the tea into a bottle to take with me and swigged it with the rice crackers as it cooled.

The schedule:

I worked on a 23.30 schedule factoring in 10 minute breaks on each leg.  The schedule and split times can be seen here Splits.  (the last 3 spits are estimated as my watch ran out of memory)

How did it go?

The weather on the day was hot and sunny giving the advantage of excellent visibility but adding to the risk of dehydration and hyperthermia.  The night leg was partly cloudy with a little hill fog over the Glyders at dawn but on the whole giving no problems with navigation.  Even overnight the temperature was mild and the sky never seemed to get fully dark, the distant hills always a faint silhouette.

starting the night leg

starting the night leg

I made one glaring error coming off the Glyders and descending the wrong gulley which cost me half an hour and a lot of stress!  Apologies to my supporter Mike who was even more stressed – an introduction to down climbing wasn’t on the agenda when he agreed to help out!  I also lost time on the last leg, coming off the very last hill where I lost the path and ended up in deep heather, not having reccied this section.

I completed the round in 23.05, twenty five minutes up on schedule.

Lessons learnt:

Route finding on a recce when you are fresh is totally different to doing so when you’ve been on the go for 18 hours.  Don’t assume you know it.
Recce as much as you can and in different weather conditions.  The only section I hadn’t checked properly cost me time.
Stay hydrated.  Using a bladder meant that I drank little and often which seemed to work, particularly in the heat of the day.  I chose an electrolyte drink rather than electro / carb mix and this seemed to work fine.
Keep eating, even if you’re not hungry.  Towards the end of the run I used Clif Shot Bloks in the side of my mouth, letting them dissolve rather than having to chew and swallow. Take a spare map: mine fell out of my pocket on leg 1 but thankfully we had a spare.

Thanks:

I had a great time on the round, helped mainly by excellent (if a little too hot) weather conditions.  It would not have been possible without the support of friends so thanks to Ian L, Tim, Ian F, Jules, Mike, Neil, and particularly Lynn and Darrell who drove lots of miles and met me at every support point.
Thanks to Ian F, Mike and Tim for the photos.

23 hours later!

23 hours later!

Baby Food for Distance Runners?

Do you use energy gels for your long distances runs and races?

I do but I tend to find them a little too sweet and sickly.  I use Science in Sport gels and like the fact that they can be taken without a drink making them easy to swallow; particularly important when racing as I don’t like chewing things when I’m breathing hard.  However, sometimes I would prefer something that gave me the energy but with a less sugary taste. Also some people find that gels have a tendency to upset their stomach – ever seen people disappearing into the bushes or diving behind a wall on a long race? Not ideal is it!

So, is there an alternative to energy gels?

One thing that I have found to work quite well is baby food!  Yes those little pouches of mushed up food that I always thought must taste disgusting.  Well a little bit of trial and error with the flavours has led me to one that is actually quite pleasant!

baby food for runners

baby food for runners!

I have tried several brands and prefer Ella’s Kitchen; I particularly like the mango, yoghurt and rice baby brekkie. The mix of fruit and yoghurt gives a tangy rather than sweet taste and the rice means that is slightly thicker than a SiS gel (which is designed to be taken without water) although they are still easy to swallow. It has no added sugar and the 100g pouch contains 112 kcal compared to 87 kcal in a 60ml gel.  They cost around £1, the same as a gel and the twist top means that you can reseal the pouch if you don’t want to swallow it all in one go.  This also prevents the remnants leaking out into your bag when you’ve finished it.

baby food for runners

baby food: 112 calories and 20g of carbohydrate

SiS gel

Gel: 87 calories and 22g of carbohydrate

I use baby food as fuel on long training runs and also on very long races such as the High Peak Marathon whilst on both the Paddy Buckley and Ramsay rounds I carried baby food pouches as an essential part of my nutrition strategy. There are other flavours and other brands, I suggest you check which has the most calories per 100g.

High Peak Marathon equipment

essentials for the High Peak Marathon include baby food pouches

I put the baby food to the test on a long run, you can see what I found in the video.  Before you go though, a quick word of warning – give the fish pie and mashed potato pouches a miss – YUK!!

 

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fell running guide