Donnie breaks record for winter Ramsay Round
Last weekend, Donnie Campbell decided to run the epic Ramsay Round – a celebrated route of 56 miles over 24 mountains – as “a bit of end of season fun”.
Impressively, the 32-year-old broke the winter record by 12 minutes running the tough route over a total ascent of 28,000ft in 23 hours 06 minutes.
He is only the second person to complete the challenge in less than a day in winter.
Donnie, an ex-marine of Edinburgh, told me: “It was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was brutal.”
What is the Ramsay Round?
It was Charlie Ramsay, who in 1978, first achieved the round of 23 Munros, which are mountains over 3,000ft (914m), and one smaller summit, in the Lochaber area in less than 24 hours. His time was 23 hours 58 minutes – a record that was unbeaten for the next nine years.
(Note: When the idea of a Ramsay Round was created there were 24 Munros. Since then, Sgor An Iubhair in the Mamores, has been demoted from the list. It’s still a big mountain, however!)
There are 56 miles of rugged terrain and 28,000ft of total ascent between the start at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel and the end, after summiting the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis. You can opt to run clockwise or anti-clockwise but all summits must be ticked off in order.
The 24-hour route has since become a classic challenge for fit runners but most attempt it in the summer.
The fastest men’s completion time (summer) of 16 hours 59 mintues was recorded in 2015 by Jon Ascroft.
The fastest lady and overall fastest completion time of 16 hours 13 minutes was recorded in June 2016 by Jasmin Paris.
In 2013, Jon Gray set a winter record of 23 hours 18 minutes.
Last weekend, Donnie recorded 23 hours and six minutes.
Why run the Ramsay Round in winter?
For Donnie, a winter attempt of the Ramsay Round was “my only option”.
He explains: “I have wanted to try the Ramsay Round for a while but I am busy with training and racing for specific ultra events during the summer. A Ramsay Round would take me a couple of months to recover from, as well as the specific training for it, so I knew that if I wanted to do it, it had to be in the winter.”
Donnie was sure he would complete the Round but he did not know if he would go under the 24 hours.
He says: “I knew the conditions would be tough, with ice, snow and cold, but I was 100 per cent sure I could make the distance and cope with the terrain. What was less certain for me was whether I could go under 24 hours and also break the record.”
Donnie’s Ramsay Round record
Donnie had enjoyed checking out most of the route during the summer months. He says: “I love to get out in the mountains to run and it was great to have a challenge to aim for.
“I ran the route in different sections so I knew what I would be up against. And I was actually hoping for less wet and boggy ground compared to my summer outings because I thought the ground might be harder due to the winter cold.”
In the run up to the Ramsay Round bid, Donnie kept a close eye on they weather. He says: “It was meant to be a lot calmer and warmer than it was and I was slightly alarmed to receive a storm alarm on the first summit.
“Suddenly, there was a fresh coating of snow higher up and this led to really difficult conditions underfoot.”
Snow on top of hard-packed ground and ice meant it was difficult to walk in many places, let alone run.
Donnie says: “I’d hoped for a lot more runnable terrain but there were times when it was all I could do to stay upright. The ground was so slippery, especially on steep descents in the Mamores Munros.”
Lower down, in the glens, the weather was a little warmer but fog descended. Donnie says: “The ground was very boggy and it was difficult to see where I was going. One section, near Loch Eilde Mor and all the way to Corrour Station, was particularly tough.”
Donnie also suffered with nausea and an inability to eat. He says: “In the Grey Corries, on about Munro 18 or 19, I started to feel ill. I couldn’t face any food or water and I felt sick.
“I forced down a gel and then I was violently sick. I brought everything up, even though there wasn’t much in my stomach by that point, and this made me really worried. I was totally running on empty and that was incredibly difficult.”
Doubt about finishing in less than 24 hours crept in. He says: “In the Grey Corries I was still sure I would finish the round but I wasn’t sure at all that I was going to go under 24 hours or get close to the record.
“I felt so ill and awful. I had to push myself on and through the hurting and I had no idea how fast I could go.”
Ramsay Round highs
Despite the pain and difficulties, it’s clear that Donnie has incredible determination – and there were many highlights during his Ramsay Round.
Donnie says: “I started at 9pm on the Friday and the first night was just amazing. I felt fresh and I was excited by the adventure. I love being out and challenging myself in the mountains.
“I was listening to music and there was no one else around. My head torch was lighting up my way with the light reflecting off the snow higher up and it felt fantastic.
“I was also recording some video footage for the Adventure Show and I really enjoyed doing that.”
Donnie was also grateful to his support team, including his wife Rachael, her mum and his parents, who assisted with food and motivation. Runners Tom Owen and Andrew Murray accompanied Donnie for some of the challenge and a friend, Dave Murdoch, rode sections on his mountain bike while Donnie ran.
Donnie says: “I could not have done this challenge without the support. It meant a lot to me to see them at different points on the route. I am very grateful.
“Tom, in particular, kept me going when it felt so very tough. It was god to be able ot chat to him during the last section.”
The final descent, from the UK’s highest mountain Ben Nevis, was completed with mixed feelings. Donnie says: “I hadn’t been feeling good for a while and I was totally running on empty but then I ran with all my heart on the last section. I don’t think I have ever run so fast over 400m as I did on that last part of the Ben descent.
“It felt incredible to finish and to find out that I had broken the record. I then fell flat on my face in exhaustion.”
Two days later and it’s not Donnie’s legs that are sore but his shoulders and arms. He says: “My sports masseur was amazed by how my legs had coped but I was using walking poles for the first time and they have left me with aching shoulders and arms. My legs would have been worse if it wasn’t for the poles but my upper body is suffering.
“My record Ramsay Round still feels so fresh and vivid in my mind and it was, for sure, my hardest challenge to date.”
Donnie’s other achievements
This year, has been a great one for Donnie, a personal, who also won the British Trail Championships when he ran a record-breaking time for the 53-mile Highland Fling in 6:51:06.
Donnie has taken part in other endurance challenges since he began ultra-running in 2009, including crossing the Namib desert and running from Glasgow to Skye.
He was sixth in the Mont Blanc 80k Skyrunner World Series Race in 2015 and also the winer of the Iznik Ultra Race in the same year.
See Get Active Running, Donnie’s business website.