Ultra runner Jez Bragg breaks Ramsay’s Round record

An ultra distance fell running challenge, Ramsay's Round is a brutal 58-mile circuit near Fort William in Scotland. With 24 summits and a total climb of 28,500 feet, it's not for the faint-hearted. The challenge was first completed in 1978 by its namesake Charlie Ramsay and multiple runners have attempted the mammoth mountain marathon in the 37 years since, not always successfully. 

The rules are straightforward; runners must start and finish at the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. They can run the route in either a clockwise or anticlockwise direction, taking in Great Britain's highest peak Ben Nevis and 22 other Munros along the way, provided they complete the course in under 24 hours.

The previous record, held by Adrian Belton from Baslow in Derbyshire, stood for 26 years until Bragg smashed the record books in 18 hours 12 minutes last week, beating Belton's time by 11 minutes. Nicky Spinks still holds the women's record with 19 hours and 39 minutes.

So what made Bragg decide to attempt a new Ramsay Round record and run such extraordinary distances? We speak to the man himself about running, preparation and race day strategy.

'I’ve always fancied having a go at one, and the Scottish Highlands is one of my favourite places to run, so it was the obvious choice,' Bragg told Runner's World. 'I first ran the route over two days in preparation for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc a couple of years ago, and that trip sowed the seed to have a proper go at it. This year I’ve decided to try some different challenges and races, so it was a good opportunity to schedule in a Ramsay attempt.'

Preparation for the challenge is key, as it's important to learn the route in advance. 'I’ve done a lot of long hill racing this year which has given me a decent base fitness, and then it was a case of learning the route intimately through lots of visits to Scotland,' said Bragg. 'My wife and I live on the south coast, so logistically it is difficult, but it was the perfect excuse for us to get up there. I made five separate training trips to recce the route, so by the time I came to it, I knew it all well enough to not need a map. It’s essential to be familiar with all the fastest lines between the summits - every minute counts.'

Training is essential. 'I did as much running on the hills as possibly, both locally and in Scotland,' added Bragg. 'It’s all about getting hill strength into your legs for relentless climbing and descending.'

Although it's an enormous undertaking, Ramsay's Round has its highlights. 'Watching the sun rise from the top of Ben Nevis was magical to say the least,' said Bragg. 'The top of the Ben was all snow covered, the skies were clear and winds light, so it couldn’t really have been more perfect. The sun then shone all day.'

And there are ample challenges along the way. 'Whilst the cloudless skies were ideal from a visibility point of view (for navigation) it was probably a bit too warm, and the heat really started to wear me down, particularly in the middle part of the day,' explained Bragg. 'It would have been lovely to have taken a dunk in the streams, but I refused to allow myself the time!'

'The middle third of the run was particularly tough in the heat, and forced me to slow down quite a bit. I could feel it all slipping away as the time buffer I had built up started to drift away,' he added. 'It required a lot of soul searching in the latter stages to make sure I didn’t give in to my body’s deep desire to stop. There was then a tipping point on the last few summits when I simply would not let myself fail. Concentration is definitely required on some of the ridge sections where there are bits of scrambling, and you need to make sure you get the scree descents right.'

Fortunately Bragg had plenty of support to keep his spirits buoyed. 'I had a team of five support runners and four static supporters for the re-supply points. I had a support runner with me the whole time, which was great for morale, but also safety and to help keep the pace up as best as possible.'

Beating the previous time by an impressive 11 minutes, Bragg had plenty to celebrate. 'To finally be to the one to have cracked feels rather good,' he said. 'No one has really come close to doing so for that whole period, so it is certainly significant. We celebrated with Champagne! Then tea and some ‘normal’ food. The team of 10 folk who supported me were all there at the end. We celebrated together, but didn’t hang around too long because the midgies were out. We retired to a cottage locally to chat and share stories about the day.'

Next up Bragg will be taking on The Dragon’s Back Race starting on Monday 22nd June. 'It’s a five-day stage race down the spine of Wales - around 300K with many thousands of metres of climbing. No rest for the wicked! They weren’t supposed to be so close together, but my Ramsay attempt was postponed twice due to bad weather. I decided I still wanted to take the opportunity to have a go, despite the fast approaching DBR which is a bit of a monster in itself. There was so much preparation involved in the Ramsay, it was now or never.'

For a full Ramsay's Round race report, head over to Jez Bragg's blog.