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Donnie Campbell two-thirds through Munro round record bid

Written by Fiona

August 22 2020

It is day 22 of Donnie Campbell’s bid to set a new fastest Munro round record – and he has finally decided to allow himself a half day off.

With a phenomenal 186 of the 282 Scottish mountains over 3000ft summited already (66%), the successful ultra runner and coach from Inverness did a short three-Munro outing – Sgurr a’Mhaoraich, Gleouraich and Spidean Mialach – this morning before putting his feet up.

Speaking from his motorhome parked in Claunie in the Scottish Highlands, Donnie, 35, sounded very weary. He confessed: “My schedule and the weather have finally beaten me.

“I have a number of reasons for cutting today short but mainly it is because my left ankle needs a rest. 

“I also knew I would need a break at some point and rather than do that when the weather is good, I am taking advantage of miserable conditions.

“It feels like the right decision to recharge now before the final big push towards Ben Hope.”

Donnie on the Ring of Steall route on Thursday. Credit: Steve Ashworth

Fastest Munro round record

The record for the fastest self-propelled Munro round stands at 39 days and nine hours. It was set in 2010  by Stephen Pyke.

“Spyke”, of Stone in Staffordshire, broke the previous record set in 2000 by Glasgow postman Charlie Campbell, who completed a full round in 48 days and 12 hours.

Donnie, who set a record for a winter Ramsay Round in 2016 , is hoping to finish in 33 days. To achieve this he must run, walk, cycle or kayak between every Munro. 

He said: “I have been planning this round for a year. I have not done a round of Munros before and I wanted something to motivate me to do so.

“There are some Munros that are very remote and others that I know are really boggy and with tough terrain. I liked the idea of doing a continuous round because that would make me do all of the Munros, even the ones I didn’t want to do so much.”

Donnie’s meticulous planning took into account Stephen’s schedule, as well as plotting his own routes on OS Maps. 

A general overview of the route sees Donnie starting on Ben More on the Island of Mull, before kayaking to Glenfinnan, then a traverse of the Cairngorms and the most easterly Munro of Mount Keen, before heading to the southern Highlands, including the most southerly Munro of Ben Lomond. 

He has now returned to the north-west of Scotland, with the most westerly Munro of Sgurr na Banachdich to come on the Island of Skye and a finish on Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro. 

He decided that 33 days would be his goal.

Donnie said: “Stephen’s record  is an incredible time but I wanted to push my limits and see what I could achieve. The 33 days was simply the outcome of my planning.

“I know my schedule is very ambitious but it excites and scares me and I think it’s the right thing for me. With the right conditions, I thought it might be achievable.”

Donnie starts his record breaking Munro round attempt.

Training through lockdown

His training was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. He said: “I am fortunate to live near Dunain Hill on the outskirts of Inverness. That became my training hill.

“Once lockdown restrictions lifted a bit, I was able to get out further afield. I did what I was able to.”

However, Donnie can rely on many years of training and racing. A former shinty player, he joined the Royal Marines as a teenager before returning to his home of Skye.

He then turned his sights to the island’s famously steep and rugged Cuillin mountains. He said: “My favourite mountains in the UK are on the Cuillin ridge. I am looking forward to a Munro traverse next week with my friend John Smith.”

Donnie’s running achievement include winning the British Trail Championships in 2016 when he ran a record-breaking time for the 53-mile Highland Fling in 6:51:06.

He has also crossed the Namib desert on foot and run from Glasgow to Skye.

In 2015, he was sixth in the Mont Blanc 80k Skyrunner World Series Race and the winner of the Iznik Ultra Race. In 2018, he took third place in the Mont Blanc 80k.

Day 2.
Day 6.

Donnie’s Munro round so far

Donnie started his Munro round on August 1 and has averaged almost nine Munros each day so far. 

His longest was Day 13 when he completed 12 Munros between Glen Shee and Blair Atholl. This included 80km on foot and 20km by mountain bike over 16 hours. 

The most Munros bagged in one day was 14 on day three. They includedStob Coire Sgriodain, Chno Dearg, Beinn na Lap, Carn Dearg, Sgor Gaibhre, Beinn Bheoil, Ben Alder, Beinn Eibhinn, Aonach Beag, Geal-charn, Carn Dearg, Beinn a’Chlachair, Geal Charn and Creag Pitridh.

Day six was a 13 Munro day, taking in Sgor Gaoith, Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, Beinn Bhrotain, Monadh Mor, Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Cairn Toul, The Devil’s Point, Carn a’Mhaim, Ben Macdui, Derry Cairngorm, Beinn Mheadhoin and Cairngorm.

He said: “I am out in the mountains for at least 12 hours each day and it has been hard, especially the boggy and rough terrain, but you kind of get used to it. Your body gets into a groove.

“This type of challenge is different from racing and training because I am going at a slow pace but I have to keep going. I walk the uphills and then run the flats and downhills.

“The main challenge is being able to eat enough. It’s a war of nutrition.”

The weather has been “generally great” thanks to a recent period of high pressure, although the first four days featured poor conditions. Donnie said: “The horizontal rain for 10 hours one day was unpleasant.”

Painful right ankle on Day 7.
Painful left ankle in more recent days.

He has also suffered with painful ankles. He said: “The right ankle was affected badly in the first part of the round. The tendons were inflamed and it was sore for a few days.

“I was aware that I was then favouring my left hand side to cope with the pain of the right ankle. Now, inevitably, I am sore on the left side and again it is the ankle tendons that are painful.

“I need some time to rest up and hopefully it will not be so sore for the last push.”

Day 7 on the run.
Donnie and Rachael enjoyed a run together on Day 9.
Donnie’s wife Rachael is his main support.
Their motorhome.

Solo and supported

For much of the round, Donnie has run the Munros on his own. His wife of five years, Rachael, is his main support crew. She has run on one day with her husband.

For logistics, the motorhome follows Donnie so he can sleep each night. His bike is also shuttled around  for him so he can follow a linear route.

Donnie said: “Rachael has been amazing. She gets me in the van when I finish each day and does everything for me.

“All I have to do is eat, sleep and run. I could not be doing this without her.” 

Friends including Ally Beaven, Holly Page, Andy Bryce, Björn Lans have run some of the sections with Donnie. He has had kayaking support from Ross Lawrie and Simon Willis. Other support has come from Barry McLaughlan and David Gow.

Donnie said: “I’d also hoped that a friend from Aberdeen would have been with me in Knoydart but the city is in lockdown. That was a hard day because the terrain is rough and I was out for 14 hours on my own.

“Carrying all the food I needed made it much harder than it would have been with a support runner.”

Day 16.
Day 18.
Running on the 18th day.

Two top runners meet

The week, he and John Kelly, another respected ultra runner, passed each other on the Ring of Steall route near Glen Nevis. John, who set a Pennine Way run record (which was then beaten a week later by Damian Hall) was completing another challenge to do all of the UK’s Big Rounds connected by a cycle in between.

Donnie and John Kelly pass on the Ring of Steall Munros. Credit: Paul Wilson

Donnie said: “John was doing his triple rounds and we passed each other on the Ring of Steall. That was pretty cool. I wished him good luck and we just pushed on. We were both against the clock so there was no time to stop to talk.”

Cycling on Day 19.
More cycling on Day 19.
Very wet weather today.

Heading for the finish

With the push for a finish, the 33-day target is still within Donnie’s grasp.

Tomorrow he will start with the South Glen Shiel Ridge with its seven Munro summits of Creag a Mhaim, Druim Shionnach, Aonach air Crith, Maol Chinn-Dearg, Sgurr an Doire Leathain, Sgurr an Lochain and Creag nan Damh. These Munros, as well as Sgurr na Sgine and The Saddle, had been scheduled for today so Donnie is planning a catch up.

He said: “I am heading towards the finish now. But, for now, I will rest up and see what happens next.”

Follow Donnie’s record bid and his Open Tracking route.

  • Donnie is sponsored by Salomon Running, Run4It, Active Root, Suunto, Red Bull and Teko Socks.
  • He is  raising money for the British Red Cross.

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