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

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015) Review

I’ve had numerous pairs of Inov-8 Mudclaws over the years.

For me they are the shoe for winter training and racing in boggy conditions (and there are quite a lot of those in the Peak District!)  My present pair, the yellow version of the 300 have served me well having done almost 1400 km and so I was interested to see that Inov-8 had introduced a new version for 2015.

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015 edition)

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (2015 edition)

What’s New?
Well straight away the garish yellow has been replaced by a sporty blue / red colour scheme but this isn’t just the same shoe in a different colour.  Closer inspection reveals the main difference; the sole and heel design.  The latest model shares the same platform as the Mudclaw 265, having a flatter sole profile and without the flared heel of the yellow 300.  The distinctive bulge under the heel has gone.

flatter sole / heel profile on the new Mudclaw

flatter sole / heel profile on the new Mudclaw

The heel cup is less rounded and slightly lower and I found that that it doesn’t extend quite as high up the achilles tendon.  This could well be good news for runners who suffer from achilles pain.

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

different heel shape, good news for tendon sufferers?

The rand around the lower part of the upper is now stitched rather than glued / bonded as on the 265 and previous 300 model and I wonder whether this will stand up to abrasion from rough Gritstone boulders and abrasive heather as well as the bonded upper does.  Time will no doubt tell.

Mudclaw 300

stitched uppers replace bonding – will it last?

What’s Not New?
The legendary grip from the distinctive 8mm lugs remains as does the 6mm drop as indicated by the double chevron.  The synthetic uppers are again treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating and the precision fit (ideal for runners with a narrower forefoot) of the previous Mudclaw 300 is retained.

The shoe gets its name from its weight, the standard size 8.5 weighing 300g hence Mudclaw 300.  On the scales my pair of size 6.5s weighed 483g (does that make mine Mudclaw 241 and a halfs?)

Mudclaw 300 on scales

size 6.5 weigh 483g a pair

The shoes felt comfortable straight out of the box and reassuringly grippy on my first run with them over waterlogged, muddy fields (noticeably more so than my well worn current pair!)

Conclusion
To me the new Mudclaw looks more like the 265 than the existing 300.  It has a different sole and thus feels a little more stable particularly when descending. However I felt that the previous rounded heel was a bit better for steep contouring – I suppose you can’t have both.  To wear, it feels like the 265 too.  The 6mm drop is the main thing that sets it apart from its lighter stable mate and more in common with the previous 300.  I guess in reality it sits somewhere between the two.

the new Mudclaw sits between the 265 and the 300

the new Mudclaw sits between the 265 and the 300

Whatever version it is, whatever you want to call it, it is undoubtedly a Mudclaw.  It gives great traction allowing you to keep going on steep, slippery, muddy climbs and the confidence to tackle muddy and wet, grassy descents at race pace.

Mudclaw 300 new

doing what they do best – clawing at mud!

The Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 is a great shoe for wet, muddy, boggy conditions.  I shall certainly be wearing it this season.
The range of Inov-8 kit can be found at www.inov-8.com

fell running guide logo

High Peak Marathon

“Dave, do you want to be in our team for the High Peak Marathon?”

Damn, I’d been avoiding that for a few years, I’d always had a niggling injury or something else in the diary but this year there was no excuse for saying no.

But what’s the big deal? you ask, everyone does marathons nowadays don’t they?  Well this isn’t exactly a marathon, it’s actually 42 miles.  Over some of the remotest, boggiest and most navigationally challenging parts of the Peak District.  In February.  Overnight.

And so the dialogue between the devil and the angel began:

“Yeah that would be great, who else is in the team?”
“Stu Walker! – 2nd in the Ultra Tour of the Peak District and he’s just set the record for 15 Trigs!  He’s a monster!”
“Yeah it will be great, I’ve been secretly hoping someone would ask.”
“Jeez Dave are you mad, you’ve never run that distance before, you’re out of your depth.”
“Yeah put my name down, can’t wait”
“Jeez Dave you prefer short sharp stuff, this is going to be a night of pain.”
“Yeah, count me in 42 miles can’t be that bad.”
“Dave seriously, the other 3 guys have done it before, they’re good at this kind of thing, this will break you!”

Anyway the devil won and a few months of long training runs and recces of the tricky sections began.  My anxiety wasn’t helped when it seemed that, not content with simply completing the race, my team mates were hoping for a top 3 finish.  Too late to back down now!

After the wettest winter since Noah’s day the forecast suggested we might actually be lucky and get a clear night.  Not that it would improve the man eating morass that is the section from Cut Gate to Swain’s Head but it would be nice to stay dry from the waist up.

And so to race day.  We weren’t due to start until a quarter to midnight and as there’s no such thing as stocking up on sleep there was plenty of time to pack my bag, change my mind, repack my bag, change my mind…

Driving to Edale, stars shone bright.  The clear night offered a faint hope of frozen conditions underfoot, a vain hope, the cold air merely resulted in fog on Bleaklow and Brown Knoll and some treacherously slippy flagstones on the Pennine Way.

I hate the hours before a race, I just want to get going and knowing that I wasn’t just racing for myself but had 3 team mates who were relying on me didn’t ease the nerves.  10.30 pm, all 4 of us present, time to register, sign in, no way out now!  Into the back of John’s van to divide up the team kit and go over the route, last minute nerves and decisions: which gloves to take? “How much food are you carrying?”  “Do you think I need this much water?”

“5 minutes boys.. where’s John?  Come on we’re going”  And off, into the night, an easy pace up through the fields towards Hollins Cross following a line of twinkling lights up onto the distant ridge.

Ten minutes in, damn I’m too hot, I’ve got too many layers on!  I unzip my windproof and roll up my top, I knew I didn’t need two merinos!  I’m sweating, I don’t normally sweat this much, I’ll dehydrate, I’ll get cramp, they’ll have to carry me!

Significant Moments:

Sheepfold Clough.  No sign of the checkpoint, we run on then change our minds and turn back to have another look.  It’s not there, we’ve dropped lower than we needed and are faced with a brutal climb up a near vertical slope.  Wasted time, wasted energy.

Lost Lad.  My batteries fail even though they were fully charged, thankfully the spare set are easily accessible.

Far Black Clough. A slight panic as we seem to be following a stream west when we should be going south. A quick check of the map gets us back on track – not the one we wanted to be on but in the right direction.

Bleaklow Stones.  We emerge at the checkpoint into fog and slight snow, just what you need on the trickiest navigation section!  We slow to a fast walk sticking to compass bearings.  Not the quickest crossing of Bleaklow but we emerge bang on the cairn and know it’s only 200 metres to the checkpoint.  We shouldn’t get lost now!

Snake Crossing.  After Wain Stones we notice a lightening in the sky, dawn, and can turn torches off by the time we hit the road.  Good job as my second set of batteries are spent!*  We’re told there’s only 4 teams ahead of us. I scoff a jam butty and some Soreen (I’d love to take up the offer of a cup of tea but have to make do with a refill of water) and we’re off in pursuit.

Mill Hill.  We catch and pass one team, reeling them in along the interminable flagstones and when we get to Kinder I suddenly realise that I’ve only got a medium distance fell race to do!  Both the devil and the angel are in agreement now “You’re going to do it Dave”

Edale Cross.  It looks a bit different in the fog, I know where I am but not where the checkpoint is.  A quick check of the map to confirm, don’t want to cock up now.

Brown Knoll.  We get a slightly bad line, missing a trod and Nicky Spinks under cuts us. She’s going strong: “encouraging” the men in her team and relieving one of them of their bag.  “Simes, will you carry my bag?”

Hollins Cross.  “All downhill now boys.  Just the cow muck to negotiate and we’re home!”

Edale Village Hall:  Nine hours and fourteen minutes, sixty nine kilometres, two thousand four hundred metres of ascent.  4th place overall – not a bad night out!

High Peak Marathon statistics

69km and 2,400m climb. A good night out!

N.B. GPS units are not allowed to be used but can be carried in a sealed bag to record your route.  Ours is shown above.

Kit I used

I wore:
Icebreaker merino short sleeved T
Planet X merino long sleeved cycling top (used rear pockets to carry food)
Lowe Alpine powerstretch tights
Montane Litespeed windproof jacket
SealSkinz socks
Extremities windproof gloves
Windproof beanie
Buff round neck
Suunto Core watch
LED Lenser H7R head torch*
Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

* Six and a half hours and two fully charged sets of batteries.  I wasn’t even using full beam.  The torch (LED Lenser H7R) has been sent back!

I carried:
Blizzard Bag (part of team kit)
Adventure Medical Kit survival bag
Montane Minimus waterproof smock
OMM Kamleika waterproof trousers
OMM Rotor Smock insulated jacket
Buffalo Mittens (these were stuffed up my jacket sleeves for the whole race!)
Laminated map sections
Small Silva compass and whistle
OMM Last Drop 10 litre rucksack

Food and Drink:
500ml electrolyte, topped up with 1 Nuun tablet at Moscar and Snake Summit feed stations
2 SiS gels
2 Ella’s Kitchen baby brekkie pouches
2 Clif Shot Blocks – 1 not eaten
2 Nakd bars – not eaten
1 Coconut bar – not eaten

Plus emergency food 1 Cliff Shot Blocks, 1 Cliff Bar (not eaten)

This was supplemented by a quick bit of cake / flapjack at each feed station.

High Peak Marathon equipment

You’re not taking all that are you!

Hardest Moments:

Between Swain’s head and Bleaklow Stones I thought my torch was playing up as it appeared to be flickering.  The others said it looked fine to them and it was actually my eyes!  I was a bit worried by this and tried to run with the torch in my hand.  (I have read about head torches being bad for your eyes).  Holding the torch made running whilst keeping an eye on the compass particularly difficult and I put it back on my head after about 10 minutes.  The drag up to the checkpoint was probably my lowest moment of the whole race.
The flagstone section to Mill Hill seemed to go on for ever but it was light by then and although there was still a long way to go, psychologically we were over the hardest bit.

Foggy Dawn

foggy dawn – approaching Brown Knoll (photo Ian Winterburn)

Final Thoughts:

Probably the hardest thing to get right was carrying just the right amount of kit.  The forecast was for a cold, frosty night.  It was accurate and quite calm which meant it didn’t feel cold.  I wore too many layers (only needed one shirt). I didn’t need my Buffalo mittens but don’t regret taking them as the threat of 9 hours with cold hands is too much to suffer.

I took too much food.  I didn’t want to run out but being able to grab stuff at the feed stations meant that I carried more than necessary.

A top 3 finish would have been good and was definitely achievable if we hadn’t faffed around in Sheepfold Clough.  However just to get round in one piece and not let the side down is what I would have settled for when the devil said yes.

Finally, thanks to my team mates from Dark Peak Fell Runners: Simon, John and Stuart for a good night out.

Will I be doing the High Peak Marathon again next year?  You’ll have to ask the devil!

Inov-8 Muclaw 300. One thousand km and still going!

This weekend I clocked up my one thousandth kilometre in my Inov-8 Mudclaw 300’s.

For a shoe that has to put up with the harshest of treatment; the acidic peat of the Peak District and the abrasive gritstone and rough heather moorland that’s some going!  Not to mention being left outside the back door on winter nights.

I use SportTracks software that automatically clocks the mileage (kilometre-age) so I know it’s an accurate count.

SportTracks software

SportTracks software keeps count

I’ve had them since October 2010 (again thanks to keeping a training diary with SportTracks) and remarkably the shoes have still got a good amount of tread left on them, particularly the heel studs which can be prone to coming off. Admittedly they’re not quite as yellow as they once were – but who wants bright yellow shoes! The only real sign of wear is in the heel cup.

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300

1000km and still going strong!

I do have a new pair put aside for racing but I reckon I’ll get a good few months more out of these as my winter training shoe and for running guide work.

Do I have a secret for getting such a good life span from my shoes?  Well warm soapy water works – and I suppose only being 8 stone helps too!