On Saturday 6th July Es Tresidder set a new record for the Ramsay Round, the classic 58 mile challenge taking in 24 west highland peaks. The Lochaber-based runner, one time record holder for the Cuillin Ridge, ran the route, which includes Ben Nevis, the Aonachs, the Grey Corries, the Easains and the Mamores, in a time of 16 hours 12 minutes 32 seconds.
In a result he described as "too close for comfort" Es knocked just 81 seconds from the previous record of 16:13:53, which was set by Jasmin Paris in 2016. It's a sign of the supportive spirit of the hill running community that Jasmin actually turned out to pace him at one stage.
"I started at Glen Nevis youth hostel at 7am on Saturday 6th July and ran anticlockwise" Es tells us. He eventually finished at 11:12pm that night.
"I originally planned to start at 3am so that any darkness could be early on and going uphill so it didn't slow me down too much, but then the weather was bad the day before and wasn't forecast to clear properly until later. The timings are a bit intricate because you want to arrive at the railway crossing north of Corrour station in time for your support team to get there but not so late that they miss the next train back!
Es hadn't run a Ramsay Round before:
"I attempted it once, in winter, on skis, unsupported and largely onsight. I got as far as Fersit dam going clockwise before bailing in a storm. I wasn't on sub-24h schedule but it was an amazing experience. This time I was going the other direction, in summer, without skis but with support!"
"I've had it in mind for a long time, but my list of potential projects is quite long! I've been thinking about it properly for a couple of years now, pretty much since moving here in 2016. I wanted to try it last autumn but I didn't feel fit enough. Along with a few favourite races (Scottish Islands Peaks Race and Jura) it's been the main focus of my running this year so far."
Intimate prior knowledge of the route is extremely useful, Es thinks, but not easy to get even though he's local.
"Some of the route I know really well as they are my local hills, but the hills further east are quite remote and I never normally run in them" he says.
"I only got to see them in recces. I reccied from Glen Nevis to Corrour once (but knew the early hills very well), from Corrour to Fersit twice, from Fersit to Lairig Leacach once and the Lochaber traverse (Grey Corries to Ben Nevis) twice. I hadn't reccied Lairig Leacach over Stob Ban and onto the grey corries, and had only climbed Stob Ban once before, 11 years ago, in the dark and on skis, so that wasn't much help! Luckily I had excellent support and they found good lines on that bit."
"The bit I should have reccied more was the descent of Sgurr Eilde Mor into the glen. When I had reccied it I went the wrong way. I looked at Jasmin's route afterwards and realised my mistake, but didn't go back. My pacer on that leg was also doing that bit of the route for the first time (he'd done the Ramsay but had gone a different way). He did really well on the navigation and we got an OK route on the day but I suspect it could've been better; I had a five or six minute advantage on the top of Sgurr Eilde Mor but had lost it all and was exactly back on Jasmin's splits when I reached Corrour."
Inevitably some sections felt 'rubbish', notably the climb up Sgurr Eilde Mor and most of the section between Corrour and Fersit.
"The three hills to the east of the railway I found really hard. They're not so rocky and fun running as the others and they felt like a bit of a slog. I did see a golden eagle here really close up when reccying though, so that was special!
"But I was expecting these to feel hard as they are the sort of terrain I really dislike" he says, "steep, no path, heather and grass. But mostly I felt strong the whole way round, which I was really pleased with. I've only done a few races/challenges longer than 4-5 hr before, and they've always ended with me blowing up spectacularly, so I was really pleased that by preparing better for this one that didn't happen."
Though he was far from confident of the record for much of the day, there were still some notable highs, Es says:
"Meeting a friend in the Mamores who was coincidentally doing a Tranter round on the same day; seeing Hil (my wife) and kids at Corrour and Fersit; all of the Mamores where I was still fresh and the running is great - technical enough to be fun but fast enough to feel like you're eating up the ground. Plus I was slowly moving ahead of the record splits here so that felt very encouraging.
"Running the final bit along the grey corries with Jasmin pacing was really special. The running is so good there and I was feeling good enough to still enjoy it, and she was admirably focussed on helping me go as fast as I could.
"And the final sprint finish to the bridge was memorable, if a little too close for comfort! The whole way the pace just seemed completely audacious. This sort of distance is new to me and I was surprised at how fast I was having to go to match Jasmin's splits. When she did it she had a 50min advantage over the previous record when she got to Fersit, and I remember feeling that would have been very nice to have! I was within a few minutes of her splits all day which was really stressful but also really exciting and kind of cool
"Setting off I was 50/50 of my chances. In shorter races I'd be confident of being faster than Jasmin but I knew how good she is at the longer stuff and all my previous experiences of long stuff had ended badly. Having reccied all of the sections I had an idea of the pace, but some of it felt incredibly fast, most notably on the first leg (when I ran it in training I couldn't match the splits!). The later splits felt more reasonable in training but there's a world of difference between doing them as part of a 4 hour run and doing them when you've already been on the go for 10 hours. So setting off I really wasn't confident I'd do it at all, I was hopeful I could have a strong performance, and I thought if I did that I might have a shot at the record, but there was a big element of doubt which kept things exciting!
"During the run the only place I was confident I'd get the record was on the summit of Ben Nevis. I'd been working hard all of the Grey Corries to try and get a cushion, and I think I'd built up about 8 or 9 minutes by the summit, which was the furthest I'd been ahead by all day. Ironically a short while later, halfway down the Ben, that confidence evaporated and suddenly it seemed like I might not do it at all. I'm not sure what went wrong on the descent. I haven't been able to get the splits off the watch yet (I borrowed Finlay's watch as mine died recently, and haven't managed to get the splits from him yet) so perhaps I wasn't as far ahead as I thought. It got dark halfway down so I chose not to take the race route as I was worried I'd miss the key trod and waste time, so that probably cost me a little time, and I guess Jasmin must've been going really well there on her round!
Conditions on the day must have helped - it was cool with high cloud and light winds.
"Perfect conditions to be honest" says Es. "It has been quite rainy recently but most of the ground is on ridges that dry out quickly, and I suspect the bits that are wet are always wet."
Logistical and other support was invaluable on the day, too.
"I had pacers with me on each leg" Es says, "two from Glen Nevis to the col between Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag, one from there to the railway crossing north of Corrour, one from there to Fersit dam, two from there to Stob Coire Claurigh and then four from there to the finish (my pacers from the previous leg decided to carry on!). I also had invaluable support from my dad ferrying the various pacers around and at Fersit and from Hil and the kids at Corrour and Fersit.
"This is the first time I've done something with really big support like this, and I actually really enjoyed that aspect of it. Most of my pacers I knew but not that well, so it was nice to get to know them a bit better and to share some of the excitement with other people. It felt a bit like organising a wedding - you're asking people to give a lot of themselves to make your day as smooth and special as possible. In the end I hope they had a good time too! Pacers on something this long make a massive difference, both in practical terms - eating and drinking is much easier if you have someone to hand you whatever you ask for and to refill bottles etc, and navigation is taken care of by someone else, but also in motivational terms. Just having people there chatting to you, or listening in on their conversations with each other is nice and helps keep you upbeat."
- Es is raising money for the replacement of his local kids' playground, and Extinction Rebellion ("both organisations working to improve my kids future!") - see Justgiving