It has taken 39 years, but very soon the number of completions of Ramsay’s Round will reach 100.
Successes 98 and 99 came last week, as Damian Hall and Charlie Sproson got round in the allotted 24 hours.
Someone has to be number 100. It could be me.
In the early hours of Saturday – unless the weather forecast significantly deteriorates – I will step onto the slopes of Mullach nan Coirean, the first of the 23 Munros of Ramsay’s Round.
What is Ramsay’s Round?
Pioneered by Charlie Ramsay in 1978, the eponymous circuit is Scotland’s 24-hour mountain round. While it is roughly comparable to the English version, the Bob Graham, in terms of length and height gain, the Ramsay is considered to be more committing, more technical, and – due to the greater altitude – at the mercy of the elements. While more than 2,000 people have finished the Bob Graham, the number of completions for the Ramsay will take almost four decades to reach 100.
Inspired by the fast and light approach of Bob Graham runners in the 1970s, Charlie devised the Scottish equivalent by adding five Munros around Loch Treig to the existing loop of Tranter’s Round to create a 56-mile expedition, ascending and descending some 8500 metres. Should you proceed anti-clockwise, as Charlie did, the route ends with a 1300-metre vertical descent to the start/finish at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel.
When Charlie ran the route for the first time, in a time of 23 hours and 58 minutes, he racked up 1,600 miles of running and walking, along with 80,000 metres in height gain in the six months leading up to his round. My figures are more modest: 900 miles and 43,000 metres. Am I ready?
I could delay: wait for a month or until the summer or next year. But these opportunities do not last forever. In a 19-month period spanning 2011-13, there were no completions of the round such was the tenacity of the Lochaber climate. At the same time, there were probably around 100 successful attempts on the Bob Graham.
Now seems to be my moment. I am injury-free and fit; I am confident yet pragmatic. The Ramsay is my sole aim in 2017; there are no distractions, no hangovers from other racing. Conditions look like they will be right: dry and (hopefully) cloud-free mountains. In preparation, I have ran almost every step of the route. That I have not climbed the ridge from Coire Giubhachan to Carn Mor Dearg will little matter after 20 hours of running. And as the writer of a soon-to-be-published book on hill running in Scotland, I have read just about every word written on the round.
Inevitably, as the day comes closer, anxiety grows. The same happened in the run up to my Bob Graham five years ago, when I spent three weeks worrying about an ankle injury that did not even manifest itself in 19 hours of round-running. Then I was training in London, running up and down the Norwood Ridge in search of elevation. Now, based in Edinburgh, I have the Pentlands, and while they may not exceed 600 metres, they are the hills where my Ramsay will have been won or lost.
Whether I am number 100 or 101 or 102 – an Amercican, Alicia Hudelson will attempt for a second time in the next fortnight, while others may be keeping quieter in their intentions – is irrelevant. With the Ramsay, I have been told, ‘the glory is in the doing, not in the having done.’
What could go wrong? Everything and nothing. I remember a running acquaintance emailing me last year, saying he had abandoned his round two-thirds of the way through, citing ‘a lack of moral fibre’. There lies the greatest fear. Not a lack of physical preparedness or the weather turning or the sickness that can accompany long-distance running, but a weakness of will, that dreadful moment when desire, obsession and compulsion is overtaken by something feeble yet immensely powerful and, ultimately, devastatingly human.
It is the realm of the great unknown. But then is that not what makes these journeys so terrifyingly beautiful?
Postscript: Jim London and Matt Beresford are also attempting the round this weekend, starting at midnight on Saturday. Follow their progress here.