It takes most people many years to complete a round of all 282 Munros in Scotland – yet today ultra runner Jamie Aarons set an impressive new record of 31 days, 10 hours and 27 minutes. She was 12 hours and 35 minutes faster than the former record holder Donnie Campbell.
The previous female record was 76 days and 10 hours set in 2017 by Libby Kerr and Lisa Trollope.
Jamie, 43, started the challenge on Ben More, Isle of Mull, on May 26 at 6.30am and finished on Ben Klibreck, Sutherland, on June 26 at 4.57pm. Her round was non-stop and self-propelled, which means she ran each mountain and cycled or kayaked in between.
The social worker, an adopted British citizen who moved to Scotland from California in 2005, said: “It was my toughest and most ambitious challenge to date. It was also a challenge with the most uncontrollable variables.
“So many things could have gone wrong but I planned for two years beforehand to control as many of these variables as possible.”
She added: “While it was never about beating a record, I am very happy to have done so. That has been a bonus.
“My aim was always to do the best I could and because of this I set a schedule that was ambitious.
“It was very tough and my feet have been extremely sore at times but at no point did I think about stopping.”
Jamie’s fastest Munro round
A Munro is a Scottish mountain with a height of more than 3000ft (914.4m). They are geographically spread across Scotland’s mainland and on the islands of Mull and Skye.
During her Munro round, Jamie ran 1315km, cycled 1249km and kayaked 11.5km across lochs and the sea. Her total ascent was 135,366m, including 121,123m of climb on foot and 14,243m on two wheels, which is equivalent to more than 15 times the height of Mount Everest.
In comparison, Donnie, of Inverness, followed a route that totalled 1422km on foot and 1443km by bike. He ascended 126,143m on foot and 14,251m by bike. He did two kayak sections.
Jamie journeyed widely across Scotland, reaching the most southerly Munro of Ben Lomond in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park on the morning of May 31.
She bagged the most easterly Munro Mount Keen in Angus just after midnight on June 8 and the most westerly Munro, Sgùrr na Banachdich on Skye on June 16. The most northerly Munro, Ben Hope, was Jamie’s penultimate in her round.
She summited multiple Munros every day and throughout each night. On June 7, she reached the most Munros in one day, including Dreish and Mayar in Angus and Lochnagar and 10 more in the Cairngorms.
Jamie, who is originally form California, America, slept for no more than four hours at any one time, preferring to nap when needed. At times, she allowed herself only 60 seconds of sleep.
In one 78-hour stint, her total nap time was only a few hours. During this time, she reached 26 Munros, including some of the most remote in the Knoydart, north-west Scotland, and 11 Munros on the highly technical Cuillin Ridge on Skye. The statistics show she ran 121km, cycled 112,5km and kayaked 4.6km.
Micro naps are my super power
Jamie refers to her ability to go for long periods on very little sleep as her “super power”.
She says: “I was inspired to do the non-stop Munro round was when I listened to an interview with Donnie Campbell after he set his record. I heard him say he had slept for eight hours each night, except for a final 48-hour push. He was on the mountains for 12 hours each day and recovering or sleeping for 12 hours.
“While I knew I’d never be as fast as Donnie on the hills or on a bike, I’ve got other skills and one of these is the ability to keep going with only micro-naps.
“This was the start of an idea that I couldn’t let go of. It seemed like a silly idea at the start but friends, especially the late John Kynaston, encouraged me.
“I was keen to see what I could in the mountains of Scotland that I love so much and on a route that I believed would be as efficient as possible.
“I liked the idea of a goal that suited my personal capabilities and that would push me to go further than I had before.”
Who is Jamie Aarons?
The record Munro round was Jamie’s third completion. In 2013, she did a round with Andy in a year while working full-time. Her second round she did with her rescue dogs, Pirate and Hope, and finished in 2020.
Other athletic successes include winning the 95-mile West Highland Way Race in 2015. She also holds the female record for the Cateran Trail Ultra and has twice won the Snowdonia 100-miler.
In 2018, she won the 100km MaXi Race Madeira and she was the second-fastest female in the 340km Tor des Geants in Italy in the same year.
See Jamie on Dumgoyne.
Lows and highs on record Munro round
A major concern of the long-distance challenge was how Jamie would cope physically. She says: “It was impossible to train for the physical unknowns and to predict difficulties and injuries. Instead, I focused on building resilience. I knew I needed to be unbreakable. I just did what I could to control as many variables as possible.
“I suffered very painful sunburn on my lips and inside my mouth.
She says: “It was impossible to train for the physical unknowns and to predict difficulties and injuries. I suffered very painful sunburn on my lips and inside my mouth. Very early on, I was also worried about a knee niggle and I had a sore hamstring at one point, too.
“However, my main injury was very painful blisters on the outside heels of both feet. In the later stage of the round, these were incredibly painful and it was agony to take each step.
“I was grateful when my medical support was able to treat the blisters and that gave me some relief in the last few days, but then I also had nerve pain in my forefoot.
“While I had no pain in my legs for most of the round, the foot problems slowed me down.
“I had hoped to finish in under month but my painful feet mean that wasn’t possible, which is frustrating.”
Jamie also faced some tough weather and the inevitable midges. She says: “It was very hot at the start of the round. At one point, it was 26C at 8am.
“Later in the round, there were strong winds and rain. I was also forced to stop for a while to let a thunderstorm with lightning pass through.
“The midges were very bad at times, too. One day in the west Highlands area, it was warm and completely still and and the midges were swarming on my face, in my mouth and up my nose. I was screaming to try to get the away.
“But it was my support crew that faced the worst of the midges, often while they waited for me at transitions.”
One of Jamie’s lowest times preceeded one of her highlights. She says: “One of the hardest parts was descending from my last Munro in Knoydart. I was with a friend, it was dark and we were bashing through heather up to our armpits. We were falling over all the time. It was really slow going and very tough and I am surprised we didn’t get injured.
“But this was immediately followed by one of the best times. I did a solo kayak in the dark on flat calm water across Loch Hourn. I could see my next Munro, Beinn Sgritheall, where I would be at the summit for sunrise, and it looked stunning.
“As I approached the shore at Arnisdale, I could smell a pizza being cooked for me by Andy in our outdoor pizza oven. I was extra motivated to get there. It was such a beautiful things after one of the hardest sections of the challenge.”
Other highlights included “so much fantastic scenery, many amazing sunsets and sunrises and a host of incredible wildlife”.
An adventure with friends
While undoubtedly gruelling, Jamie was keen to enjoy an adventure with friends. She says: “I didn’t take so many weeks off my work to endure time in the mountains, but rather I wanted it to be a fun experience.
“Key to this was being with friends and I set out to build a community of likeminded people who would join me on the round. As the challenge progressed, I also met many new people, who had heard about my challenge and wanted to join me.”
A core support team took care of an extensive range of behind-the-scenes logistics, especially her partner Andy Taylor, who drove a support van supplied by ACL HIRE.
Jamie says: “I could not have done my round without the support, expertise and generosity of so many people. In particular, Andy was incredible, making sure he was at each transition, moving bikes around, feeding me and getting me up and out the van when I wanted to sleep on.
“My good friend Jenny Allen was the project manager and I am also indebted to her and many other friends for keeping the Munro machine well-oiled.
“It was a shared goal with friends and for people who have a shared passion for adventure.. It was a a really beautiful thing to be a part of. I am really proud of all the work I put in and all the work the team did.”
Praise from previous record holder
Donnie, who joined Jamie on the Munro Beinn Dearg on day 30, revealed he was “hugely impressed”.
He says: “Jamie’s new record is an absolutely amazing achievement. I am very impressed, especially how she has managed to keep going on so little sleep.
“It looks like it has been a massive team performance from planning to execution. Congratulations to her and her team.”
Jamie’s final summit: Ben Klibreck
As Jamie reached her final summit at 961m elevation, with dozens of friends surrounding her, she was emotional. She said: “It feels very surreal. I am so thankful to so many people, especially Andy.”
The one thing she said she was craving was sleep!
Ultra runners are always seeking a way to improve and set new FKT records. One method ultra runners are exploring is virtual health coaching, which connects athletes with experienced coaches.
Challenge for charity
By the end of her round, Jamie had raised more than £12,000 for World Bicycle Relief. The charity helps individuals to overcome the barrier of distance and improve access to education, health care and livelihood in rural parts of the world.
Jamie says: “This is awesome. This means we have raised enough money for 100 bikes to help people to access education and other help and care. It’s such a good fit because I have really enjoyed the bike sections between my Munros.”
Find out more Jamie’s Munro Challenge.
The stats: Donnie vs Jamie
Donnie ran 1422km, cycled 1443km and ascended 126,143m. He did two kayak sections.
Jamie ran 1315km, cycled 1249km and climbed 121,123m of ascent. She did five kayak sections.
Thanks to sponsors:
- ACL HIRE
- Keep It Simple Timing
- Appin Sports
- Beta Outdoors
- Moonlight Torches
- Ultimate Direction
- Missing Link Coaching @PaulMissingLink
- LUC (Land Use Consultants) UK
- SSE Renewables
- Visual Bike Fit
- Mike Lates @Skye Guides
- Andrew Stark of Stark-Images @Bridge of Weir.