I was standing at about 1,300m, blinking up through the mist and drizzle at the small rocky outcrop that I know marks the top of the steep climb from the end of CMD Arête to Ben Nevis’s summit plateau. All I wanted to do was put my head down and get the ascent done. But I couldn’t. Behind me were my two clients. It was at this moment that a thought dawned on me: is this – working as a Mountain Leader – why my mental strength for big endurance events is so much stronger than I had previously realised?

On the 11th May I ran a Tranter’s Round. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but I did it.

The day began well, setting off from Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 3am with a strange silvery glow in the sky which I later realised was the northern lights. I was on the summit of Ben Nevis in two hours, quickly along CMD Arête as the sun rose, and even the big descent and re-ascent onto Aonach Mor passed much more pleasantly than I was expecting.

I’d only ever done Spinks Ridge in ascent, and descending it to get onto the Grey Corries is definitely a no-trip-zone. Once down, I was glad to be on less exposed terrain but it was here that the wind began to take its toll. It was a steady 30-35mph wind that didn’t seem to be on my back until I reached the climb onto the final Munro of Mullach nan Coirean. Other than the wind, traversing the Grey Corries felt alright. My body was responding to what I asked it to do, I was eating and drinking well and I seemed to be making reasonable progress. And then it all started to go a bit pear-shaped.

The Grey Corries were done. Next was the big descent into Glen Nevis and out the other side onto the Mamores. The initial run down off Stob Ban was lovely. Then it turns into heathery, tussocky, boggy pathless terrain, getting hotter and hotter as I got lower and lower. Reaching the Abhainn Rath was absolute bliss, cooling my feet, drenching my cap and replenishing my water. The long slog up to Sgurr Eilde Mor was the complete opposite. Why was it taking so long? Why won’t my legs move any faster? Why do I feel so tired already!? It was probably something to do with the heat, the wind, and the 11 hours I’d spent guiding on the Ring of Steall just four days previously. That was NOT part of the training plan, but my partner Caspar had come down with food poisoning so I’d offered to cover his day of work. I knew it would affect my Tranter attempt but I wasn’t expecting this.

​Ticking off the two outliers of Sgurr Eilde Mor and Binnein Beag was seriously tough. A message to Caspar. A few tears. And then eight Munros along the main ridge. Standing on Binnein Mor, Mullach nan Coirean looked so far away. But there was only one way to go now. There was absolutely no way I was going to quit. Jasmin Paris’ recent words about the Barkley Marathons echoed in my mind: “Then I’d have to come back and do it all again.” The only way was forwards, focusing on each little section at a time. The next bealach. The next summit. On and on. The descents were fine, but on the ascents my body just wasn’t responding. My heart rate was so low compared to how hard I felt I was working. I was exhausted.

An Gearanach. The first out and back. From there it’s an easy descent to Steall Falls. A quick message to Caspar for a lift and it would all be over. Not. A. Chance. I tagged the summit, turned around and headed for Stob Coire a’ Chairn. The turnaround at Sgurr a’ Mhaim was an even easier one. The descent from there to Lower Falls is horrendous. So bad that running over two more Munros was much more appealing.

As I reached Stob Ban the sun was setting. I had been hoping to be done and finished before it was dark so still being on the ridge with one more Munro to go was pretty disappointing. However, the light was incredible and I couldn’t help but pause on the summit to take it all in. The golden clouds. The alpenglow on all the mountains I’d just been over. If I’d been faster I wouldn’t have had this moment.

Finally, finally, I was on Mullach nan Coirean. I touched the summit cairn as darkness fell, dug out my head torch and began the long descent and run along the track back to the Youth Hostel where Caspar and Ru were patiently awaiting my arrival.

So where does guiding come into all of this? Chatting to my coach Jon (E3Coach) afterwards he pointed out that it must have taken an incredible amount of mental strength to keep going when I was so tired so early on. Yes, there are times when I go out running and training when I don’t really want to, or when the weather’s bad, so that will have helped, but I feel like there’s more. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly mentally resilient so where has this come from? Thinking back, this wasn’t an isolated occasion either. When I did an Ironman the swim went so well that I got excited and set off too fast on the bike. By the time I got to the run I felt empty, but quitting never crossed my mind. When I did my first ultra the last 15km were painful. My feet hurt, my ankle hurt, I was hot and tired, but again, quitting never crossed my mind.

I work as a Mountain Leader in the Scottish Highlands. I love my job, but as with any job, there are times when it is tough. When the weather’s awful, when I’m tired, when I’m moving at a pace that isn’t my natural pace, or when I’m at the point in my menstrual cycle where the last thing I want to do is spend the day talking to people I don’t know. It’s hard. But I can’t just magic tired clients to the summit, or to the bottom, or turn the rain off, or turn my hormones off. I have to find a way to get through it. Perhaps it’s all of these experiences over my nine years of guiding that have helped my mental game to such an extent that if I can keep moving forward then I will keep moving forward.

We’re all stronger than we think we are. I wouldn’t have realised my mental strength if it wasn’t for doing a Tranter’s Round. You need to push yourself to find out where your limits are. Challenge yourself. Do hard things. Things that are hard for you. You don’t have to go and do a Tranter’s Round. Hard for you might be a 5K or cycling 100km or deadlifting 50kg, or it might be a Tranter’s Round. It doesn’t matter what it is. But go and try.

Have I found my mental and physical limits? I don’t know. And I won’t know until I try something harder…

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