US runner Jack Kuenzle sets new Tranter’s record
American runner Jack Kuenzle has set an impressive new record for a Scottish mountain circuit known as the Tranter’s Round. The 26-year-old’s fastest time came just a day after Scottish runner Finlay Wild broke his own record on the same route.
Jack ran 8:38:23 for the 37-mile round with almost 20,000ft of elevation. He was almost 14 minutes faster than Finlay’s Tranter’s round on July 27, when he reduced his record of 2020 from 10:15 to 8:52.
What is the Tranter’s Round?
Tranter’s Round is named after Philip Tranter, who first completed it in 1964. It is acclaimed as Scotland’s original 24-hour challenge, before being extended by Charlie Ramsay in 1978 to become the Ramsay Round.
The Tranter Round extends to around 37 miles and has some 20,000ft of ascent taking in 18 Munros (and a Munro Top, Sgurr an Lubhair), including all of the Mamores, the Grey Corries, the Aonachs and then Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis, which is Britain’s highest mountain. The start and finish are at Glen Nevis, next to the youth hostel.
Who is Jack Kuenzle – and why Tranter’s?
Jack is a keen chaser of FKTs (Fastest Known Times.) Hailing from Connecticut, he was in the US Navy and living in Virginia until November 2021. Jack then travelled around California, Oregon and Washington, chasing some some ski mountaineering records, until April this year.
From there, he moved to New Hampshire and raced a 100-mile trail FKT before arriving in Scotland this summer. He is also an endurance coach.
Jack revealed that he had been planning to run the Ramsay Round but during recce outings he decided to focus on the Tranter’s Round. He says: “I didn’t like the far eastern end of the Ramsay route.”
Training for the Tranter’s has been intense for Jack. He focused on the route for a month and ran it in sections some three or four times.
He says: “Half the process has been learning the physical nature of the running in Scotland. You don’t need so much explosiveness but rather you need to be good at running really steep grass, off trail and scree.
“The second aspect is mental and because a lot of the route is off trail, you have to learn the lines perfectly. In most areas there is at least a faint scar of a trod, but you have to know all the short-cuts.
“I was lucky enough to have Finlay’s GPXs from 2016 and 2020 and I just tried to follow them as best I could.”
Jack’s Tranter’s record run
Jack, who ran solo and unsupported, described the Tranter’s round as “really, really hard”. He reports: “I had scouted Finlay’s 2020 Tranter’s splits but then he went rogue and ran a new record the day before I raced. I only saw it at about 10:30pm and I then generated new splits from his effort and examined how he did it differently from 2020.
“It appeared he was about five to six minutes faster at Sgurr Eilde Morr and then lost a couple minutes between there and BenNevis, and then ran the Ben downhill four minutes faster.
“My plan was to go out and match his splits for the first half and then pick up time on the back half. I was way too nervy though and I just hit it hard from the start.
“I ended up picking up a couple of minutes going to Mullach, another going to Stob Ban Mamores and another going to Sgurr a Mhaim. I then maintained the same level of effort to Sgurr Eilde Morr – the last peak on the south half/Mamores side – but then I bled a minute to Finlay.
“I was fighting for every second, cutting every switch back and I felt like I was nailing everything but he was still gaining a bit. Three minutes feels like a mile when you’re behind, but an inch when you’re ahead.”
This is when the heat became a problem for Jack. He says: “The run down to the river was fine but the uphill was just completely still and in the sun. I doubt the temperature was much over 70-75F, but I have zero heat acclimation and there was no wind down low and the sun was baking me.
“I picked up 4:30 on that section but lost 1:30 on the next split. From there I was able to shave a minute or two on most sections to the Ben.
“At a little past CMD, it started to rain and the rocks/grass were pretty wet. I imagine this only cost me a minute or two running down from the Ben, but that may be an over estimation. Coming down the Ben, I was just focused entirely on not falling.”
Challenging times on the Tranter’s
Jack describes some of the toughest times. He says: “Going up Stob Ban was incredibly hot and awful but at least I knew I was up on the record and I would probably get it.
“Likewise, it was hard on the climb up to Aonach Beag, especially due to horrible muscular cramping.
“In the Mamores, I felt my pace was unsustainable and I felt very under the gun so I was just running super scared.
“Overall this was so painful… I don’t know if I ever had flow. This run was more like falling down a set of steps with giant stairs.
“There is no way I’d come back and race it again and it’s going to take a while for me to shake the mental trauma of pushing so hard on it.”
Highlights of Jack’s Tranter’s Round
Amid the hard work and tough conditions, there were some highlights for Jack.
He says: “I found the descents in the latter half of the route very pleasant. I had a little Spotify portable player with me and some headphones and I was really vibing on the downhills.
“The best bit was afterwards. I think I lost my ability to feel much during the round but then, when I finished, I just collapsed on the grass in front of the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel.
“Finlay showed up about 20 minutes later with beers and that was a ton of fun and then we went to his house and he made me dinner. He’s a great guy.”
How to run a fast Tranter’s round
Jack believes there are a number of reasons why he was able to run faster than Finlay. He says: “I train a lot more volume than Finlay does and I focus on these longer efforts. He does a ton of the shorter stuff.
“He also raced on the Saturday before his new Tranter’s record – the Two Mamores race – which definitely didn’t help him.
“And, because the US trail running scene is so ultra-marathon focused, I think I have more exposure to effective strategies for these longer efforts. In the same way, Finlay would have roasted me if I did a shorter race.
“No one had really challenged Finlay’s FKTs so I think he probably didn’t feel a ton of pressure to sell his soul in 2020 to get the time down. When he attempted Tranter’s last week, he probably felt more drive to go faster but he wasn’t trained or optimised for it.
“I think if he focused on it and trained to do it, he could get my time no problem.”
Jack also believes that because he specialises in FKTs he has learned useful techniques. He says: “I think the skills required for memorising and time trialling a specific route are a little different from racing a conventional race.”
While Jack followed much of Finlay’s Tranter’s route he did plan some strategic differences. He says: “The only place I confidently, intentionally deviated was from the river to Stob Ban. I don’t think Finlay’s 2020 line is perfect here. There were also tons of micro route adjustments such as cutting small switchbacks etc.
“I still probably have more to learn here and those cuts could maybe make a 1% difference at least.”
Finlay’s thoughts on Jack’s Tranter’s record
Finlay was delighted for Jack. He says: “Jack has set a fantastic time. He set off hard with intent and kept at it. It’s really impressive the way he has dedicated time to getting to know the route and the Lochaber terrain intimately.
“I’m delighted to see my local favourite round getting some much deserved international attention. It’s a cracker.”
Jack’s new-found love of Scotland
It’s Jack’s first trip to Scotland. He says: “The Scottish mountains are a lot like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York. Our highest mountains there are 4000ft to 6300ft. Between those states there are a little over 100 mountains above 4000ft.
“But due largely to how far north Scotland is, 1000ft in Scotland is similar terrain, vegetation and rock to 4000ft in New England, so it’s less wooded trails and more grass and rock here.
“I love it though. It’s so awesome. I really hope more American trail runners come over from New England to Scotland. The mountains were once the same range and the people, I imagine, share a ton of common ancestors and our hiking culture there I think is heavily influenced by that of Britain.
“Plus with a little specialisation, the same runners that perform well in British mountains should do well in the mountains of New England. It’s similar steep, rocky and technical running.”
What next?: Jack has his sights set on a Bob Graham Round next.