It was great to have the opportunity to work on Anna’s training for this round, given her amazing confidence in the mountains, we were able to focus in on the specific fitness elements needed to get this round done before her busy guiding season kicked off.
The Tranter’s round is a high-level circuit in the West Highlands near Fort William. It links 18 Munros; Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg, the Aonachs, Grey Corries and The Mamores. First completed by Philip Tranter back in 1964 it was then the most Munro’s anyone had ever completed in a day. Today Tranter’s round has become an established goal for many mountain runners and walkers choosing to enjoy the route in a single push or in a more leisurely nature over several days. The round covers around 60km of wild and rugged terrain with technical trails, much of it entirely pathless.
At this point I feel it is important to point out that I am not an elite athlete, I don’t race competitively, and my running is sporadic at best. I live a busy life filled with the hecticness of being self-employed and having a young family. I am, however, someone who likes to challenge themselves, to push my limits and see what pushes back. On the 3rd May 2023 I set out on the route, not knowing exactly what would unfold. 18 hours, 10 minutes and 32 seconds later I collapsed in an exhausted, emotional heap back at the start. Amazed at my mind and body and how it could carry me that far.
The Back Story
The Tranter’s round first caught my imagination when I moved to this area and started spending a lot of time in the hills that make up the route. I got to know their well-worn trails, rocky crests, ups and downs. Over time the wilder sections that link the different mountain ranges also became familiar. These places especially I grew to love, where human traces are less profound. On moments stood in the heart of these mountains, looking at the route laid out before me I couldn’t help but wonder if I had the capacity to do it, to cover all that ground in a single push?
Me & running
My relationship with running is only a decade old. 10 years ago I couldn’t run a mile. I vividly remember being on a weekend away in the Cairngorms with friends. A group of us set out for a slow hike to the summit of Ben MacDui, challenge enough for me. Meanwhile one of our friends set off solo into the mist, to complete a multi-Munro circuit, in her trainers, with the tiniest pack I had ever seen. I was literally dumbfounded – how was this possible? You can’t run mountains, can you? I never for a moment thought that person would become me.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was persuaded to run a 10km race by my work colleagues. I’m not one to do things by halves so I downloaded a training plan and was surprised when I found myself enjoying the miles. From there I discovered trail running and the joys of getting off the tarmac and going fast in the mountains and i was hooked.
Setting a goal
Since pregnancy and my daughter’s birth in 2019 I had lost all focus to my running, that combined with starting my business and busy summers working as a guide meant my motivation when it came to moving fast was low. Time is always short and prioritising training just never seemed to happen. Going into last winter I felt I was ready for a goal, to bring some structure back to my weekly routine and a focus for those long winter months. The Tranter’s Round kept playing on my mind and I made the commitment to myself to at least give the training a go. I asked the wonderful Jon Fearne of E3Coach to help and the plan was launched.
I will fully admit I was not the best student, probably completing about 70% of the set training plan and always asking for changes which Jon was great at accommodating. I knew I had a small window of opportunity to try the round; after the winter’s snow had mostly melted but before the busy summer work season kicked in. As that window approached, I did not feel at all ready. Too much to do and not enough training, it just didn’t feel like it would happen. Both Jon and my partner Simon nudged me to stop procrastinating and just give it a go. In the end despite a whole winter of holding this goal in mind when it came down to it, it all felt rather sudden. On Monday it definitely wasn’t happening, on Wednesday I was standing on the start line very much feeling like I was winging it.
I left the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis at 4:30am, as one foot fell in front of another on the familiar cobbles of the Ben Nevis mountain path I genuinely didn’t know how the day would pan out. I had set myself a fairly arbitary target of 18 hours, it seemed possible, but was it? Taking a straight line up the UK’s highest mountain is certainly one way to wake up the legs and as the sky turned pink around me, I settled into a what felt like a sustainable rhythm. By the time I reached the summit I was engulfed in the clouds, concentrating hard to reach the summit cairn in the white out and not lose too much time. Before I knew it I was back on rock and skipping along the Carn Mor Dearg Arete to the second summit of the day. From there it’s a long down before the steep, lose ascent to gain the Aonachs. Scrabbling my way upwards, legs burning, it felt impossible that I could keep doing this for another 16 mountains. I made a conscious effort to push those thoughts aside and just take it one section at a time.
The descent from Aonach Beag is one of the most technical sections of the route and in the thick mist I knew finding the most efficient way would be tricky. It’s worth reccie-ing if you are thinking of doing the round and I was very glad I knew it well. Climbing the grassy slopes to Sgurr Chonnich Mor in the Grey Corries I felt a sense of calm knowing that some of the biggest climbs and tricky route finding were out of the way. Even in the thick mist I felt at home in the Grey Corries, familiar with the ups and downs, twists and turns along the ridge. Time passes and I stop paying too much attention to my watch, just focussing on moving as quickly as possible. Before too long I’m past Stob Ban and happily running down its southern flank towards the Abhainn Rath, the river that splits the two sides of this round. I emerge from the clouds to a herd of deer as surprised to see me as I am them and for a moment, we move together across the hillside. The sun warms my face and I’m glad to feel it. By the time I’m splashing across the river the clouds have lifted and The Mamores are laid out before me. I’m equalled elated to be able to see them and overwhelmed by the distance still to go.
The long ascent to Sgurr Eilde Mor, the first summit on this side of the round, was one that I had been dreading. I was delighted that when it came I felt strong, my legs moving well and the summit came with ease. Unfortunately, it didn’t last, by Binnien Mor my energy had plummeted and although my legs still felt willing, I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep my pace up. My heart rate was stubbornly low and suddenly I felt very vulnerable. Being alone on this round was important to me, to test my mental strength just as much as my physical but in this moment I craved the comfort of another human by my side. There was still over a third of the round to go and I just wanted to sit down and cry.
Doubt sets in
After an hour or so of metal tussle; should I carry on? Could I carry on? Is it safe? I still didn’t know the answer but despite the odds I was still moving. The easiest option seemed to be to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and so that’s what I did!
In thinking about the round I had been looking forward to the Ring of Steall, a classic ridge circuit that I have done countless times. I thought there would be comfort in the familiarity, instead I was frustrated at how slow I was going, how clumsy my limbs were. I underestimated how difficult moving on technical terrain would be when exhaustion set in. Something I’m normally so comfortable with became a mental and physical battle. I was cross at myself for not doing more practice on tired legs. Just when it was getting hard to keep the negativity at bay nature stepped in. A mountain hare appeared at my feet, its beady eyes watching me but not seeming to mind my presence. A pair a Ptarmigan guarding an unseen nest but tolerating my passing steps. I remember Jon’s advice on ‘mindful running’ and taking energy from your surroundings. These encounters jolted me back to the moment, reminding me to focus on what I love about the mountains, fuelling my legs with the landscape.
The end is in sight
Progress still felt impossibly slow but now I knew I could make it if I focussed on the rocks beneath my feet and not the voice in my head. I hadn’t been paying attention to timings and I was sure I was hours behind schedule. As I hauled my tired heart to the final summit I was shocked to see I was only 10 minutes behind my target time – how was that possible? I still don’t know!
The final descent back to the Youth Hostel was mind over matter. As darkness fell, I scrabbled through the felled pine forest, tripping over roots, falling onto the track below. The final 3km along the track nearly broke me. Metres felt like miles, and I shouted angrily into the dark ‘I don’t want to run anymore’ tears streaking my face whilst simultaneously laughing at myself for behaving so much like my 4-year-old. Then Si’s torch beam appeared at the roadside, his voice so welcome, the end was here.
Your questions answered:
Did you enjoy it?
It’s a funny kind of enjoyment. I enjoyed the planning and preparation and the structure that training gave me. I loved reaching the finish line and the overwhelming sense of amazement at what my mind and body can do. Did I enjoy it in the moment? For some of it yes, but mostly it was really hard and didn’t allow for time to really ‘be’ in the mountains. This is why this sort of adventure will only ever be a small part of the way I spend time in these places.
How did you manage the mental struggle?
Mentally I found it ok, I has moments of weakness and there were definitely tears but in general my mindset remained positive. I have had a lot of practice at putting myself in the way of discomfort on previous adventures and so I know I can be strong in the face of adversity. I talk to myself a lot and try to actively move on negative thoughts when they arise
Were there scary bits?
I wouldn’t say I was ever scared but I definitely felt vulnerable at times. There is quite a lot of technical trail on the route which I normally wouldn’t even think twice about but I was hyper aware of the risks of a fall when exhaustion started to set in.
What were the highs and lows?
The weather was challenging in the first half, being in thick mist was frustrating and slowed progress at times. A high was the cloud lifting and the sun almost coming out. Quickly followed by a low of suddenly seeing how far I still had to go!
I think at about ¼ and at about ¾ of the way round I had lows in relations to how far it felt there still was to go.
Big highs were the fleeting encounters with nature – deer, ptarmigan, hare. Reminders of why I go to the mountains which gave me energy to carry on.
Did you go clockwise or anti-clockwise?
I went clockwise, Ben Nevis first. There are pros and cons to both ways but because there was still some snow around I wanted to do the bigger hills first and then ditch the winter kit. I also preferred to do the most technical sections early on. The out and backs at the end of the Ring of Steall were tough mentally and the 4km of track to the youth hostel nearly broke me!
What did you carry with you?
I carried a lightweight waterproof top and trousers, small first aid kit with plasters, self-adhesive bandage and tape, a torch, Garmin Inreach, insulated jacket and emergency bivvy bag
I also had a lightweight axe and microspikes as I wasn’t sure what the snow conditions would be like on Ben Nevis and the Anonachs. I didn’t use them and dumped them after this section.
What was your food/fuel strategy
This was my wrappers at the end of the day. It doesn’t look like much but combined with energy drink I had around 3000 calories in total. I was aiming to take in about 200 per hour which I didn’t quite manage towards the end of the day. I couldn’t face anymore sweet food and if I did it again I would take more savoury items.
What shoes did you use?
A very battered pair of Salomon Speedcross
Was the river crossing ok?
Yes no problem, its flat and wide at the section where you cross. Unless it’s in spate (in which case I guess you might not be attempting a Tranter) I think it will always be straightforward just to walk across.
Did you find enough water on route?
Loads. There were more opportunities to fill up than I needed but I was carrying two 500ml flasks and filling them both at once. I filled up between the Aonachs and The Grey Corries, at the Abhainn Rath, on the approach to Binnien Beag and in the corrie on the approach to An Garbhanach.
Haha, who knows! Maybe something shorter and rockier on a nearby island…
But my focus the next few months will be on the busy summer work season. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the things learnt from this experience through my guiding. Especially the new three-day Mountain Skills courses; Rocks & Ridges and Maps & Mountains. Check them out if you’d like to gain new skills and boost your confidence for your own adventures.
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