Running man on his marks for Munro marathon

Charlie Ramsay running in 1978. Picture: Jane Barlow
Charlie Ramsay running in 1978. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT IS one of the toughest challenges in the UK and involves completing a circuit of 24 Munros within a day.

Now a veteran fell runner is to mount a fresh attempt on the most extreme version, running Ramsay’s Round in winter under the designated time.

The circuit was first recognised 35 years ago when Edinburgh athlete Charlie Ramsay ran the first sub-24-hour route along the summits in the Lochaber area of the Highlands in mid-summer.

However, although the feat has never been completed in the winter, Cornish runner Shane Ohly is waiting for suitable weather to make another attempt. His previous record of just under 30 hours in 2008 was only beaten last year and he now wants to try to both ­regain his crown and beat the 24-hour barrier.

A champion fell runner with 10 years’ experience, Ohly said the attraction of Ramsay’s Round was in the real challenge and risk it represents.

“It’s about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for yourself,” said 36-year-old Ohly. “Ramsay’s Round is great because nobody has ever run it during winter in under 24 hours, so it’s a big attraction for me, doing something that nobody else has ever done.

“Also, there are very few challenges out there where there’s genuine risk and, I suppose, genuine reward as well.

“Society nowadays is so safety conscious, there are countless rules and regulations about what you can and cannot do. But here’s this amazing, totally natural challenge that you can just go and pit yourself against, and nobody is there to tell you when to stop or start.”

The bare statistics for Ramsay’s Round are intimidating enough: the route covers 56 miles and involves climbing 28,500 feet and running through the night in order to hit the target. It takes months of meticulous planning, dedicated preparation, physical stamina and mental fortitude to complete, let alone finish in under a day.

Only 69 people have achieved the sub-24-hour challenge, none of them during winter, while Ramsay himself completed it by the skin of his teeth, arriving back at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel starting point in 23 hours, 58 minutes. He will be giving a series of talks this month to mark the 35th anniversary of his achievement.

The current summer record stands at 18 hours, 23 minutes, set in 1989 by Adrian Belton while the significantly more arduous winter record was set last year by 49-year-old Tom Phillips from Lancaster, who fought sub-zero temperatures and snow to complete the route in 26 hours, 56 minutes. The route was only formally set down last October by Scottish cartographers Harveys. Until then, runners had to navigate using two separate maps, sometimes in different scales and the Round is now recognised by Ultra-Distance Challenges as one of the UK’s Big Three mountain marathons.

A life-long athlete and a member of Lochaber Running Club at the time, Ramsay was inspired to attempt the route by Philip Tranter, the son of Scottish author Nigel Tranter, who in 1964 had established his own challenge to bag 19 Munros in the Lochaber area in 24 hours. Ramsay added ­further Munros but set himself the challenge of completing them within the same time limit.

“On the day I was as high as kite,” Ramsay said. “I had a fantastic support team, they carried my rucksack and they kept me in good spirits.”

However, while the early stages of the run may have been relatively pleasant, nightfall saw the runner’s mettle tested: “When the light faded, things started to get tricky, because normally when that happens you go home.

“You go through this horrible spell, but then you reached the halfway point, and you look at your watch and realise this could be done.”

But even heading into the ­final straight, and with victory in sight, things went awry. To his horror, Ramsay discovered he had taken a wrong turning: “I was so obsessed with going west that I forgot I needed to turn north for a stretch, so I thought I’d blown it. Eventually, I got back on track and made up the time, and I managed to get up to the top of Ben Nevis. After that, all I had to do was run down it and cross the line.”

Despite this feat of human endurance, the route remained relatively unknown for almost 10 years. It was only in 1986 when a English runner called Chris Brasher paid Ramsay a visit that its reputation started to grow: “He went back down south and told his running mates about it, and that set the whole thing alive. We started getting a stream of hardcore runners coming up to have a go. It’s still a much sought-­after prize.”

Though he has not met Ramsay in person, Ohly expressed his respect for the man: “The great thing is the imagination he had in the first place to visualise the Round. There would have been other people capable of running that distance in that time but the imagination to envisage the Round, then to go and do it. It’s an impressive achievement and he rightly deserves to have it named after him.”