Scottish endurance athlete Donnie Campbell set a new record for the Scottish An Turas Mor route. This article was published in The Scots Magazine.
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A Change of Pace: Munros to cycling
Record-breaking Scottish endurance athlete Donnie Campbell has swapped running mountains for cycling this summer.
Last year, the 36-year-old ran a fastest time of 31 days and 23 hours for a non-stop round of the 282 highest mountains in Scotland known as the Munros.
Now he has cycled into the record books again with two impressive rides in Scotland .
In June, Donnie rode what is known as the Badger Divide, an off-road route from Glasgow to Inverness.
He completed the 200 miles in 19 hours and 14 minutes – and more than four hours quicker than the previous fastest cyclist.
The following month, he pedalled from Glasgow, again, to remote Cape Wrath in Sutherland.
Donnie finished the 354-mile An Turas Mor route, including a total ascent six times the height of Ben Nevis, in just 33 hours and 31 minutes.
The previous Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the mostly off-road An Turas Mor was more than three days. Usually cyclists spend eight days riding the long-distance trail.
A spokesperson from the group that created An Turas Mor, which means “the longest ride” in Gaelic, says: “It’s an exceptional effort.”
Donnie, who lives with his wife Rachael in Inverness, has enjoyed the change in mode of transport. He says: “Cycling has been a new sport for me and it has opened the door to some great challenges this year.
“I have cycled in many places that I wouldn’t have normally run and it feels like a welcome break from all the running of last year.”
The former Royal Marine, who grew up on the Isle of Skye, is no stranger to long-distance challenges.
In Scotland, he set a winter record for a 56-mile 24-mountain Ramsay Round in 2016. The same year, he ran a record-breaking time for the 53-mile Highland Fling ultra distance race on the West Highland Way. He has also run more than 200 miles from Glasgow to Skye.
His Munro round was his most audacious challenge on foot. It was his debut round and to set the record he ran and “power-hiked” a total of 884 miles to reach the mountain summits and cycled and kayaked in between.
On finishing on Ben Hope on September 2, 2020, the most northerly Munro, he said: “There are no words to describe how I feel. I had dreamed about this moment for 12 months and for it to finally come true in a fastest time feels surreal.”
Donnie’s switch from two feet to two wheels came about earlier this year due to an injury, although it has resulted in a welcome new hobby.
He says: “I had been training to run the Cape Wrath Trail but there was a lot more flatter running than I was used to and this caused on old injury in my lower back to flare up.
“I had been totally fine doing the Munros round but flatter running doesn’t suit me so well.
I decided instead to get on my bike to keep fit. That was when I started thinking about other goals.
“I have asked myself why I am driven to do big challenges. I often wonder why I appear to be wired differently to other people.”
Second time out for Donnie
His first attempt at cycling the An Turas Mor in May was thwarted by a broken wheel spoke just after setting out on the Kelvin Way from Glasgow .
A quick change of plan overnight – and a new wheel – saw Donnie ride from Glasgow to Inverness on what he thought was an off-road route called the Badger Divide.
It was only after finishing in less than 20 hours that he realised he had followed a race route that is similar but misses out a couple of rougher, hillier sections of the official Badger Divide, devised by Scottish mountain biker Stu Allan.
A few weeks later, he took to his bike again and this time set a new FKT on the right route. He says: ”I had no idea there were two Badger Divide routes and unfortunately I picked the wrong one, probably because I was rushing to set out.
“That first attempt was very wet and and mostly unenjoyable anyway so I was happy to go back and do it again on the official route.
“The weather was much better and it was a really good experience the second time. My Glasgow to home ride was always meant to be a fun adventure and I’m pleased I also set a new fastest time.”
But the An Turas More route was still playing on his mind. He says: “I had long wanted to go to Cape Wrath and the cycling idea seemed like a great plan if I couldn’t run there. The idea just stayed there – and when I saw a good weather window a month later I just decided to give it a go.”
In mid-July, Donnie cycled north from Scotland’s largest city to the most north-westerly corner of mainland Britain. The An Turas Mor follows existing paths, trails and tracks. Only two per cent is on road.
He says: “It was a very enjoyable ride with great scenery and lots of wildlife although I did suffer with vibration form my rigid gravel bike design on the rugged trail.
“I had a painful left hand and arm throughout and got saddle sore. The terrain was unforgiving at times.”
Donnie rode continuously on the route that passes through wild mountainous landscapes and crosses numerous mountain passes. He took only a 40-minute minute nap.
He reveals the weather was “the usual Scottish mix”. He says: “The conditions were pretty good for Scotland and started off dry and warm.
“It got really hot just as I cycled a long climb from Glen Lyon over to Kinloch Rannoch. Then it began to drizzle and rain on the Sunday morning.
“The wind was quite tough at times, too. It was a westerly mainly and that meant I had a side wind most of the way and sometimes a headwind.”
A challenging route
The toughest section came towards the finish point at Cape Wrath Lighthouse. Donnie says: “Near the northerly mountain of Ben Hope there was a climb up to a height of about 450 metres. The Landrover track was so rutted that I was forced to get off my bike to push. I was really fatigued by this point after riding so far.
“Then I had to descend on a steep and rugged track and go along a boggy loch shore. I was walking more than cycling. The ride lost its sense of fun then and I just wanted to get to the end. It was a relief when I did.
“I’m pleased I’ve finally done the An Torus Mor route because it has been my goal for this summer and I am really happy with the time.”
Donnie reckons cycling is easier than running. He says: “When you are on a bike you are only working hard half the time because the other half of the time you are free wheeling downhill.
“I still enjoy running, especially in the mountains, and I have some challenges planned but I’m very content with what I have achieved on foot over the last 12 years.
“Because cycling is new to me I feel less pressure to perform as a cyclist because people know me for my running. For now, I am really enjoying something different.”
Fact: Obscura Mondo Cycle Club is the group that created An Turas Mor. The vision for the route is to encourage cyclists to responsibly explore the hidden beauty of Scotland away from motor vehicles. See An Turas Mor.