P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P - A lesson in the 8 P's

I got away with this one by the skin of my teeth. Runs like the Charlie Ramsey Round demand respect and the slapdash nature in which I approached my attempt was evident from the start.

The Charlie Ramsey Round is one of the UK's three "big rounds" - the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley being the other two. The Ramsey consists of a loop of 24 Munros (what they call hills over 3000ft in Scotland), starting and finishing at the Glen Nevis youth hostel in the highlands. The round is about 90km long with about 8700m of ascent and what makes this round unique is how remote it feels. Whereas the other two rounds often drop down to roads, making it easy to get support, the Ramsey doesn't and if you want support or pacers then they either have to hike or bike to meet you along the way.

Proper Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Let's kick off by talking about my planning and preparation. This section will basically be a list of excuses. It's good to get them out of the way early and it also quite neatly sums up why I will never be a very good runner.

This summer has been busy. After a long and enforced sabbatical, now that life has regained some degree of normality, I have been chomping at the bit to do some work. Trying to claw back a bit of cash took priority over any kind of structured or consistent training - those of you that enjoy a bit of Strava stalking will see as much. Originally, I had planned on giving the Ramsey a punt much earlier in the summer but as many freelancers will understand, when the work keeps on coming, sometimes it's hard to say no. So, inevitably, the run kept on getting shifted back until I just had one window of opportunity left - I was backed into a corner.

The week before my attempt was a bit of a blur and not how I would advise anyone to taper. This is what my diary looked like:

Wednesday - 2nd covid jab

Thursday - Feel shit. Drive to North Wales

Friday - Guide a group up Snowdon in the pissing rain. Drive to Pembroke.

Saturday - Easy 10km run, surf, swim, BBQ

Sunday - Shark Snorkeling trip. Get intensely seasick for the majority of the trip. Spend the day in the fetal position. Drive to North Wales

Monday - 5 phone call's with runners I coach. Catch up on work. Pack for Ramsey.

Tuesday - Drive to Fort William

Wednesday - Ramsey Round

Thursday - Drive to Lake District. Bath

It was not an ideal lead-in but that's life and I guess you can argue that at least I didn't waste hours pouring over schedules, route choices, equipment and nutrition? As far as planning for the round, things went a bit like this:

  • Go to Tescos, buy 6 vegan sausage rolls, a 6 pack of hula hoops, some malt loaf and dig around in the back of the van for some gels...nutrition sorted.

  • I got the Harveys route map the day before I drove to Scotland and studied it in the back of the van in Fort William while I was eating dinner the night before the run.

  • Throw some rain gear, head torch, an emergency shelter and a spare layer into a sorted.

  • It struck me that it would be a good idea to have a schedule so I knocked one up before getting my head down for a few hours sleep.

"Keep it simple", that's my motto...or maybe it's more like, "run out of time, frantically cram everything, be unnecessarily stressed"? Either way, I was ready and all that was left between me and 24 hours of running was 4 hours of sleep, which the family outside my van seemed intent on destroying as the parents let their feral little children run screaming and shouting around the car park at 9pm!

The hard bit

Over the previous months, I had employed my standard strategy of mouthing off to people that I was going to "make an attempt". This tends to hold me to my word and actually turn up to the start line. So, at 2.30am I left my van and wandered the 2km's down the road to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel - I appreciated this little warm-up but not the cool down later.

Just before 3am I set off up 'The Ben'. I had decided to go clockwise simply because that's what most people seem to have done. Was it the right decision? Probably not...but I would find that out a bit later.

I was hoping to run the round in sub 21hrs and over the first few hours, as I bounded my way around the CMD ridge, across the Aonach's and into the Grey Corries, things seemed to go to plan. My bag felt heavy but that was my only notable complaint.

I had decided to carry 1tr of water. My thinking was that Scotland is always wet and I didn't want much extra weight. As part of my lengthy planning session, I had spotted quite a few places along the route where it looked like it would be easy to fill up. After about 5 hours I was getting pretty thirsty, I had found no water along the way...this would be a bit of a theme throughout the rest of the day.

It was a relief to drop into the Lairig Leacach and I plunged my head into the river running through the glen. A quick 5mins to fill up bottles, force in a sausage roll and load a bit more food into my pockets and I was refreshed and ready to go.

The climb up Stob Coire Easain was shit. Wet, heathery and long. This is again where the Ramsey really differs from the other rounds - the climbs just feel so much bigger. You look ahead and every climb looks like Yewbarrow on steroids. You can also guarantee that you will be climbing through heather, the most energy-sapping of all running surfaces. But so it goes, and once on the summit, it was a nice cruise down towards the Dam at the head of Loch Treig.

At hour 8 (behind schedule already), I jumped onto the train tracks on the other side of the Loch. I debated what the best course of action was and after a brief skirmish into the woods on the other side it was clear that the best course of action was to run along the tracks until the end of the forest. This was probably the fastest 500m of running I did all day!

A stream on this next climb up to Stob Coire Sgriodain had been my next planned refreshment stop but when I got there all that I found was a dried-up stream bed with a couple of small pools of stagnant muddy water. You know, the stuff that has a brown oily sheen to it. Not the stuff that dehydrated dreams are made of! Approaching 9 hours of hard work with 2ltrs of water was starting to get to me and I wasted quite a bit of time on this climb poking around in every little crevice I could find trying to sniff out some running water. I was struggling to eat as my mouth was so dry, so I made do with squeezing the liquid out of a patch of sphagnum moss which lubricated my mouth enough to choke down a bit more vegan sausage.

I felt weak on this climb but on the summit I found a little puddle of rainwater that had pooled on a rock and after slurping up as much as I could (all very Joe Simpson and touching the void) I felt the life come back into my legs and I knew that only one more climb and I would be descending towards running water again.

At 10 hours, very much behind time, I descended into the beautiful glen below Chno Dearg. I took 15mins here to sort myself out. I properly watered myself, stuffed my face and had a good audit of all my food. This is probably the point at which you are most committed and furthest away from the start. Giving up here would require a long walk back to the van but despite the lack of fluid I was still feeling like I could move well enough to get me around this thing, so I pulled myself onto my feet and started the climb up Beinn na Lap.

This is probably the summit that I remember the most clearly for two opposing reasons. Firstly, that it has a hilarious amount of false summits. After the 7th time of thinking I had reached the top I just started chuckling to myself, enjoying the sick joke that the hill was playing on me. Secondly, I remember thinking that I had turned the corner and that I was now on my way back home.

Around hour 12, I reached the service track that brings you back around to Loch Treig and about 11km's of pretty flat running. Anyone that knows me will know that I'm not a proper runner. Put me on the flat and you will see me for the fraud that I truly am. Inevitably, these kilometres were the hardest of the whole round. I would run (stagger) for a few minutes then have to walk for a few more. I repeated that process in a vain attempt to move as fast as I could but I found it all very demoralising. At least I was next to a river and could get my dehydration under control.

After a couple of hours, I was back in my element and crawling up the steep sides of Sgurr Eilde Mor. I treated myself to a 5min sit-down and a cherry pie that I had packed as a little treat to get me through the last leg. It did the trick and standing on the summit I felt ready to take on the Mamores and get the job done. I briefly thought that if I was Finlay Wild I would be finishing right around now - what an unbelievable hero! I bet he didn't stop for a cherry pie or make as many excuses as I have!

Considering thunderstorms had been forecast for the afternoon I had been super lucky with the weather and it was only as I headed across to Binnein Beag that the heavens opened and I got a good soaking. Being a natural pessimist, I resigned myself to a wet few hours but luckily it was short-lived and as I dropped my bag for the out and back to the summit I stashed my raincoat away too.

The business end.

Time seemed to be slipping away from me by this point and I got that horrible feeling in my stomach that I might not finish in under 24hrs...or maybe it was just all the sausage rolls? Either way, it was time to grit my teeth, shout at myself for being a weak fuck and try really hard.

My little pep talk did the trick and I started picking up the pace. The lack of water was catching up with me again and I was finding it hard to eat anything other than gels. At this point, I had managed to take on about 5ltrs of water and as a prolific sweater, that is probably not enough for 18hrs of running. I remember stopping and looking at the map and spotting a little pool of water between Sgurr an Lubhair and Stob Ban and that gave me just enough hope to keep on pushing hard.

Before I reached that refreshment stop I had to deal with the two out and backs, that at this point in the day seemed like the cruellest of route choices. This is when I started doubting my choice to go clockwise. The feeling of having to run back over ground that you have already covered, especially when that ground is technical and slow going, is a hard pill to swallow when time is slipping away.

I gave myself another talking to on the Devils Ridge. The night had set in and as I'd had to ration my gels, being the only thing that would slide down my parched throat, I was feeling a bit wobbly. "Concentrate!" That out and back cost me more time but I had to make a pit stop at the little lake en route to Stob Ban.

I curled up, in the dark, next to the first bit of water I had seen in hours and forced in as much liquid as my tender stomach could handle. The lubrication meant that I could drive in the last of my sausage rolls. This would be enough to get me to the end. I looked at my schedule and relaxed a little. I had clawed back a bit of time and I knew that I would get into Glen Nevis before the 24hr cut-off.

I love the cat and mouse game that your mind and body play at this point in a run. "I'm tired," your body says as you start to slow down, "errrrrrmmmmm, no you're not. Stop being weak and get moving", say's the brain. "But my legs are really sore when I run down hill", pleads the body. "Couldn't give two shits mate, shut up and run faster", demands the brain. I find it fascinating how much control your head has - if you want to do something, just tell yourself you want to do it. The brain is the boss!

So there I was, standing on the last summit, gagging as I tried to force down my last gel, knowing that the adventure was almost over. I pushed as hard as I could and stumbled down that last hill and onto the road below.

I arrived at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel 22hrs and 45mins after I had started. I smiled a big satisfied smile, took a quick photo and that was it. No beer, no hug, just me - just some dude with a slightly crazed look in his eye stumbling around outside a youth hostel in the middle of the night. That is