Sasha, 23, sets new 24-hour Munros record
Like many athletes in lockdown, Sasha Chepelin and his friend Ali Masson, both from Edinburgh, were looking for a challenge to replace the race calendar. The result was a record-breaking 24-hour run to 32 Munros.
Sasha, 23, says: “The 24-hour Munros run just seemed like a plausible challenge to try!”
He explains: “Previously we had been looking at doing a Bob Graham Round in the Lake District. But lockdown meant we couldn’t travel and then we came across a mention of Jim Mann’s 24-hour Munro record .
“We compared the 24-hour challenge to a Bob Graham Round and saw that it was around the same total ascent but longer.
“Like Jim had found in 2017, a route in the Cairngorms National Park had very little climb for its distance.
“So, we did a bit of research and planning and we thought we might be able to reach three extra Munros in the given time without gravely affecting the necessary 24-hour pace compared against Jim’s 22 hours.
“That was the seed sown.”
The challenge gave Sasha the motivation to start training again. He says: “While Ali had been consistently running and training in lockdown, I really struggled. I don’t know why, but I found it hard to get out and run.
“However, with a goal to focus on, I was able to do more. I didn’t do as much training as Ali, not even close, but I knew I could manage longer runs of about five to six hours so I just hoped I could keep going.”
‘A fun day in the mountains’
Ali and Sasha chose the first weekend in August to attempt the record. Ali had created a spreadsheet of mountains and pacing.
Sasha, who is originally from Aberdeen, said: “Ali’s spreadsheet was awesome. We had done some recce runs and we started to realise we could keep the right pace for different sections, often going faster than we hoped we would.”
They were supported by many friends and family. Sasha says: “We had at least two runners to support us on each leg of the run. Because we didn’t need to carry very much at all – our support team brought us anything we needed – we could run at good pace. It is so freeing not to have to carry much on your back. We felt pampered!
“For us, the run was the chance to spend time in the mountains with lots of friends joining us on different legs and to hopefully set a new record.
“We weren’t sure if we could and we didn’t really make a big thing about it, we just went out and ran.”
The 24-hour goal
It was Jim Mann who had changed the location of the 24-hour Munros record when he moved it from the west coast to the Cairngorms.
Sasha says: “Previous to Jim’s record, the challenge had traditionally started in Lochaber, following the Ramsay Round before moving north to Glen Affric.
“When another runner Phil Clark had caught wind of his attempt, he messaged Jim with a suggested plan for the Cairngorms.
“Jim then decided to reverse Phil’s idea and start with the Lochnagar and Glenshee summits, prioritising bagging as many Munros as early as possible. He would then see how much time and energy he had at the end in the Northern Cairngorms.
“Jim reached 30 Munros with a couple of hours to spare. It was an impressive record in a new mountain range. The round was far further than the Ramsay, Graham or Buckley, but curiously had less total ascent than any of these.”
Ali and Sasha liked the look of Jim’s route but they decided to reverse it, starting (and finishing) at the Bridge of Dee.
Sasha explains: “We decided that the two new additions that we had planned, Ben Avon and Beinn a’Bhuird, could be added in first.
“Also, the worst of the climbs and the highest summits and most technical sections could be finished in the first half and in daylight.
“In addition, there are good and soft descents off the rough slopes of Beinn a’Chaorainn, Carn a’Mhaim and Beinn Bhrotain, while the climbs up Beinn Mheadhoin, Devil’s Point and Carn Bhac seemed more accessible and hence optimally done by ascending.
“The night section would be in west Glenshee and, although this is rough, it can be navigated fairly easily with the right support.
“The downside of our plan was that we would have 11 Munros in the last six hours to reach and a rough final descent down Lochnagar at the very end, but this density conversely meant that the 31st and 32nd Munros would be nicely nearby by that point.
24-hour Munro summits route
Start: Invercauld Bridge (also known as the Bridge of Dee)
1 Ben Avon
2 Beinn a’Bhuird
3 Beinn Bhreac
4 Beinn a’Chaorainn
Support Change in valley
5 Beinn Mheadhoin
6 Derry Cairngorm
7 Ben Macdui
8 Carn a’ Mhaim
Break at Lairig Ghru + Support Change
9 The Devil’s Point
10 Cairn Toul
11 Sgor an Lochain Uaine
12 Monadh Mor
13 Beinn Bhrotain
Break at White Bridge + Support Change
14 Carn Bhac
15 Beinn Iutharn Mhor
16 Carn an Righ
17 Glas Tulaichean
18 An Socath
19 Carn a’Gheoidh
20 Carn Aosda
21 The Cairnwell
Break at Glenshee + Support Change
22 Creag Leacach
23 Glas Moal
24 Cairn of Claise
25 Carn an Tuirc
26 Tom Buidhe
28 Broad Cairn
29 Cairn Bannoch
30 Carn an t-Sagairt Mor
31 Carn a’Choire Bhoidheach
Finish: Invercauld Bridge.
The record-breaking challenge
The first few hours of the run turned out to be the toughest for Sasha, while, later on, injury caused the agonising end to Ali’s record attempt.
Sasha said: “I had not slept well the night before and I felt nauseous to begin with. I wasn’t confident of my fitness either, compared to Ali, so at the start my mood was low.
“I felt that the least I could do was to support Ali in his attempt and to see how long I could keep up with his pace.
“However, after a few hours we settled into a good pace and we realised the schedule was very achievable if we could keep going.”
There were more tough times to come, too. Sasha says: “Cairn Toul and that ridge was a low point for me. The weather had not been good and I was feeling low again.
“There was a lot of ascent and I think I got the eating wrong because I felt terrible. I thought I would have to pull out because I wasn’t sure I could keep going.
“Ali kept me going, telling me I’d be fine, and as the rain dispersed my mood lifted.”
There were many highlights, too. Sasha and Ali enjoyed meeting with different friends along the route, chatting and laughing with them
On leg two, a surprise can of coke from a friend lifted their spirits. Sasha says: “The rest of the leg was well-pathed and filled with dramatic views running across of Derry, Macdui (for once cloud free) and Mhaim.
Everything changes in five minutes
Heading up Carn a’Gheoidh – the last big climb before the final changeover and about three-quarter of the route – everything suddenly changed in the space of five minutes.
Sasha says: “Ali had been quiet and slightly off his regular position in the pack for a while, but there had been so many waves by this point that no one thought much of this. But then it became clear he was in pain.”
Ali’s hamstring was very painful and he found he couldn’t run on it anymore. On reflection, Ali believes the injury had probably been caused when his foot went down a rabbit hole earlier in the run. It turns out he had a tear in the muscle.
Sasha said: “Ali’s hamstring got progressively worse. He urged us to continue on without him. We argued for a while and on my way to Carn Aosda I wondered what the hell had just happened.
“The guy who had spent all day convincing me I would get round had been forced to stop. The guilt of carrying on was already enormous but he convinced me someone had to finish it for the supporters’ sake. I begrudgingly agreed.”
Meanwhile, Sasha found his hip flexors, which had been tightening, started to ease. For the last section of the challenge, he was without his friend Ali but determined to finish.
Sasha says: “I had about five or six hours to finish and I was fortunate to have great support from a friend Gregor Malcolm and also my brother Oleg.
“I kept going and I reached a total of 32 Munros. We paused on the summit of Lochnagar to celebrate the final Munro with a drink of heavenly flat coke alongside Gregor’s selection of jelly sweets.
“Lochnagar holds a special place in my heart as my first Munro, and some of my earliest memories involve climbing it with my family. Having my older brother there to help guide me to its summit and to the finish seemed very appropriate.
“But Ali was missing and the guilt of continuing remained to the point that I almost hoped everyone had got the timings wrong to the finish. Perhaps this round could be finished but quickly swept under the rug until we could both go again, together.”
A successful record bid
Sasha is still absorbing the fact that the day was success. He says: “It is hard to believe it went to plan, sort of, although without Ali there at the end. For me, it was a very unexpected record run.
“That final leg of Sunday morning will always be missing someone and I’m keen for Ali’s name to be associated more to this round more than anyone else. There would have been no success without him.”
Experience and age
Sasha is young compared to many who achieve success at long-distance running. He says: “I guess I don’t have a lot of experience of longer distance running but I have enjoyed doing five to six hour mountain runs with friends for a while.
“I really like being out in the mountains and I want to do more. I thought I might be satisfied after the 24-hour Munro run but it went well and my body has recovered well and so I think I’d like do more. Probably the Big Rounds will come next.”
Sasha is keen to see an official female Munro 24-hour record set. He says: “The record currently stands as the quickest Ramsay Round (by default), to the best of my knowledge, but more than 23 Munros in 24 hours is well open for the taking.
” It would be good to continue addressing the male-dominated long-distance records that are still seemingly somehow the norm.”