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Ultra runner Ian Stewart completes Martin Moran Round PLUS 

Written by Fiona

June 17 2024

Ian Stewart has become the first person to repeat a so-called “Martin Moran Round” since it was created in 2022. On May 29, the 41-year-old runner from Aviemore took 21 hours and 45 minutes to complete the circuit of nine Munros and eight Corbetts. He added an extra two Corbetts to the original course.

News update: A new record was set on June 23 by Doug Bartholomew June in 21:43:36. Doug completed the same route as Ian but solo and unsupported. He had one food stash at the road crossing with Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine and Sgurr Dubh.

Ian Stewart during the Martin Moran Round.

What is the Martin Moran Round?

In August 2022, Robin Downie became the first person to complete a Martin Moran Round in the Torridon mountain, north-west Scottish Highlands.

His clockwise route, starting and finishing in Torridon village, included nine Munros and six Corbetts, including:

  • Beinn Alligin (2 Munros, Sgùrr Mòr & Tom na Gruagaich), 
  • Baosbheinn (Corbett), 
  • Beinn an Eoin (C), 
  • Beinn Dearg (C),
  • Liathach (2 Munros, Spidean a’ Choire Lèith & Mullach an Rathain),
  • Beinn Eighe (two Munros, Ruadh-Stac Mòr and Spidean Coire nan Clach), 
  • Beinn Liath Mhor (M), 
  • Sgorr Ruadh (M), 
  • Fuar Tholl (C), 
  • Maol Cheann-dearg (M), 
  • An Ruadh-Stac (C), 
  • Beinn Damh (C).

The round was inspired by the mountains of Martin’s youth and his subsequent record-breaking round of the Munros in winter. In 1984, Martin, a  mountain guide, became the first person to complete a round of all the Munros – there were 277 then – in a single winter. He was supported by his wife Joy.

Martin died in 2019 while attempting to climb India’s second highest peak Nanda Devi.

Robin wanted to create a challenge that would raise funds for the Martin Moran Foundation, a charity set up after the adventurer’s death to promote the positive impact of mountain adventure on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The Martin Moran Foundation provides all-expenses-paid training programmes for 16 to 18 year olds across the UK. 

At the time of the first Martin Moran Round, Robin said: “These were Martin’s local hills. He knew them better than anyone and shared them with many of us throughout his life. 

“Martin spent lots of time investing in the community he lived in, especially in the young people. Hearing about his adventures and reading his books has inspired me to push and challenge myself even further in my love for hill running.”

Ian’s Martin Moran Round bid

Ian, who runs Trail Running Scotland, vividly remembers working for Martin, supporting mountaineering and winter climbing courses in the Highlands. Ian said: “The weeks of work were extremely formative in my career as a Mountaineering Instructor – and some of the most challenging and rewarding work I have done. 

“The round that Robin created is a fitting tribute to Martin in its ambition and challenge. It is very different from other big rounds in the UK in the terrain that it covers. 

“The nature of the Torridon hills means that they are not easy to link together. This route challenges a whole range of mountain skills, as well as a runner’s resilience and determination.

“I also wanted to do the round as a way to share and support the work of the foundation that Martin’s family set up in his name.”

Ian chose to change Robin’s original route in a few ways. Firstly, he travelled anti-clockwise, instead Robin’s choice of clockwise. 

Ian explained: “Watching the film of Robin’s round it was clear that some of his descent lines were extremely steep. Reversing the route meant I would be tackling the steepest parts in ascent rather than descent.”

Ian also made a few small variations to Robin’s line choice on a couple of hills and he decided to add in the two Corbetts south of the A896 road, Sgòrr nan Lochan Uaine and Sgùrr Dubh. 

Ian said: “These extra mountains sit logically within the loop of Robin’s round, but I can see why he missed them out.

“Robin had set the bar high with his round, but to honour Martin I felt I should push myself to go that little bit further.”

Ian has completed four other 24-hour rounds, two solo and unsupported. He decided to do the Martin Moran Round supported.

He said: “One of the highlights of the round was having people with me, including Robin who joined me for a section. There is something very special about the ethos of the hill running world, where people make great efforts to support the person who is trying to break their own record.”

It was Ian’s second attempt at this round. Last August, tough weather conditions forced him to stop after Beinn Eighe. Although the forecast for a second attempt didn’t look settled, Ian decided to give it another try.

He said: “The weather wasn’t great and the cloud base sat stubbornly at 800 metres all day so there were no views from the summits. This also made navigation difficult. However, it was better conditions than my previous attempt.”

He started at 3am on May 29, 2024, with the hope of being on Beinn Alligin, the final summit, in daylight. 

Ian described the Martin Moran Round as a “test of the full gambit of mountaineering skills”. 

He said: “The easiest part of the route was the Liathach ridge. I enjoyed the scrambling and there was a more obvious route.

“Much of the rest of the route is on rough ground and there is very little that is runnable. There are few obvious lines between the mountains and there is a lot of ascent and descent and on ‘unconventional’ lines. 

“I faced steep grass and heather, with sections of boulder fields or scree. I needed to make sure I protected my ankles on the loose ground.”

Ian also recalled a low point later in the round when he discovered a mouse had eaten into one of his food stashes. He had been joined by runner Luke Taylor, who handed Ian a foil-wrapped pizza. 

Ian said: “I was hungry and fighting hard to eat enough to keep my legs working at this point. As I opened the foil there was a big round hole in the pizza. It was mice. I had left the food in a bag by my van in Torridon for Luke to pick up on his way through and a wee beastie had taken advantage for a quick snack.

“Luckily, Luke had some extra food, so between us I managed to keep fuelled for the final few peaks.”

Despite adding in the two extra Corbetts, Ian had still hoped to beat Robin’s time for the round. But by Baosbheinn, the second last summit, he knew he would be slower overall. 

The pair needed head torches for this section and as they climbed the gully on to Beinn Alligin, the cloud base had dropped to the ground, with light drizzle.

Ian said: “This section of my route is the technical crux. There is a steep grassy gully that constricts at the top, forcing you to traverse around some exposed grassy ledges. 

“I had looked down it on a dry and sunny day a few weeks before and thought, ‘Aye, that’ll be fine.’ 

“But almost 20 hours into the round, in the dark and rain, it was a very different prospect. It was a huge relief when I popped out on to the ridge with Luke right behind.

“With the risk and uncertainly of the day now behind us, it was just a case of pushing on over the two summits to get the round done.” 

The final 5km of the route is on undulating road, which Ian described as “a shock to the system, but surprisingly easy after so much rough terrain”. 

Arriving back into Torridon village, Ian was amazed to see Joy Moran.

Ian said: “Joy had been watching my tracker all day and had made the effort to drive round from her home in Lochcarron to congratulate me. 

“Slightly distracted by this, I tripped on the final step of the hall, landing in a heap at the door. My watch said 21 hours 45 minutes and 28 seconds after I had left it.”

Ian’s thoughts on the Martin Moran Round

In summary Ian said: “The Martin Moran Round offers a ridiculous route and although I was quicker than my other rounds, I am in no doubt that it is significantly harder to complete than the others I have done. 

“It requires mountaineering experience to be comfortable in the steep and serious terrain. You also require movement skill to travel efficiently across all the rough stuff and, most importantly, you need the conditioning to take 20-plus hours of getting beaten up by it all. 

“Along with Robin, I would love to see further repeats of the round and to see who can raise the bar further.

“However, this is a very niche round in a very niche sport and it isn’t a round for the casual hill runner, but for those with the experience and who are willing to put the time in to learning the route. For me, it was a fine adventure.”

The stats of the Martin Moran Round

Ian completed 87.1km and 8036m of total ascent. Meanwhile, Robin had recorded 8982m of ascent. Ian said: “Although I took some different lines to Robin, I did two more peaks, so my stats should be greater than his. I am not saying that mine are right and his wrong, or indeed the other way around.

“It is the nature of the complex and steep terrain and the limitation of the technology we use – and that GPS tracking can’t be 100% relied upon for accurate information on this round.

“The truth probably sits somewhere between the two sets of stats, but it is ultimately irrelevant as it only tells a very small part of the story of the day.”

See Ian’s Strava.

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