So let’s get one thing straight right at the start of this post… we’re talking about an absolutely elite hill-running challenge in Ramsay’s Round, and one that’s maybe beyond me even at the top of my game. It’s certainly something I’d regarded firmly as the preserve of altogether better runners before reading a few years ago of Richard Askwith’s long battle with the Bob Graham in Feet in the Clouds. But that got me thinking that maybe these things are just about possible for the more average of us (NB Richard finished immediately behind me in my first Ben Nevis Race) and, despite Ramsay’s generally being regarded as the harder challenge, concluding that perhaps I could do it if he could!
Now, in case you’re wondering why I’m talking about it here, it’s because I’ve been guilty of some speculation in the run-up to this year’s West Highland Way Race that I may never have a better chance at it (see all those months of rough hill and trail miles in the bank?) if I can arrange a swift recovery and some more good training for a mid/late July attempt. But of course it’s not as simple as that, so let’s look at some of the factors that might influence my chances either way…
For a start, I’d need to maintain something like the pace that took me briskly over the Mamores on my 2005 Tranter’s Round without the later loss of time over the Grey Corries (attributable to night running with an inadequate headtorch), descending from Ben Nevis (for which we can blame the tortuous descent to Achriabhach that forms no part of Ramsay’s Round) or, perhaps most significantly, just general, cumulative fatigue. To put all of that another way, an 18 hour Tranter’s is no way good enough for Ramsay’s and you’d really need to be looking at no worse than the 16 hour round I should have done as a marker for the bigger challenge. But then again, my 2005 Tranter’s came just 20 months or so after saying goodbye to my overweight thirties and before I’d run two decent West Highland Way Races, a good Cateran Trail and (my first really big distance) a quadruple Lairig Mor.
To continue balancing negatives against positives, I’m well aware that the great sextuple Ramsay’s completion of 25 June 2005 (in times ranging from 23:30 to 23:58) includes Mick James (who I’m not sure I’ve ever raced anywhere but has a significantly quicker WHW time), Olly Stephenson and Jamie Thin (both significantly quicker in any normal hill race but with slower WHW times than either of mine). So make of that what you will… to me it means I’m maybe out of my depth and maybe not! And, to keep musing in a similar vein, hardly any of our good Lochaber hill runners have done it (or even tried it to my knowledge), but it’s probably also true that equally few have done the big ultra trail races that I’ve done. So who knows?
To look on the bright side for a moment, covering c.60 miles with 28,500 ft of ascent (it’s always the ascent that tells in the end) in 24 hours surely requires good pace judgement rather than outright speed and I’m supposed to be good at that (or was before this year’s WHW!). So let’s take 18 hours to triple this year’s greater traverse of Cruachan (with its similar severity of terrain), give myself the remaining 6 hours to let the pace slow and consider whether it sounds possible?
To conclude the rationalisation on a fairly positive note, I’ve done all the hills before (most of them multiple times), know the route from Luibeilt to Corrour well and would only really be needing to recce the optimum route over Beinn na Lap and its neighbours round the north of Loch Treig to the Easains (likely to be done at night with the long eastern section being the most obvious place to be during the hours of darkness) to be sure of where I’m going. But then I’d still be needing that swift recovery from the WHW (looking reasonably likely after surviving a premature 2.9 mile jog last night and easier 4.6 mile walk up to the Penstock and back tonight) and some help from running friends to provide the pacing, support points and backup now regarded as both legitimate and highly desirable for this particular challenge.
So what to do, and how soon to start actively seeking assistance when I might just be wasting everyone’s time if I’m not fit to go? Anyone want to consider the case for and against before trying to talk me into or out of it? :-/
The new WHW pics below are from Angus…