An Interview With Finlay Wild | The Record Smashing Scotsman
Last year, Finlay Wild ran the Ramsay Round in an astonishing 14 hours 42 minutes and 40 seconds
If you’re a runner, you may well have heard of the Bob Graham Round. It’s a secret-handshake-type endurance challenge with no official route linking together 42 Lake District peaks in one continuous loop within 24 hours.
What you may not know is that Scotland has its own version. Called Ramsay’s Round, the challenge takes in 24 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft) to be completed within 24 hours. However, as hard as the Bob Graham is, Ramsay’s Round is regarded by many as a more tricky foe to conquer.
“As hard as the Bob Graham is, Ramsay’s Round is regarded by many as a more tricky foe”
For Scottish runner Finlay Wild, the challenge had been on his radar for more than 10 years. “For a long time it seemed too big for me – my longest run before doing it was 60km, which felt long. It seemed such an unknown.”
At the time of writing, only 187 runners have officially completed the challenge since its inception by Charlie Ramsay in 1978 (compare that to the Bob Graham’s 2,468 finishers).
This low number of completions is due to a number of factors, one of the main ones being the weather. Scottish mountains are famous for thick, heavy clag descending on the peaks with no warning, leaving you struggling to see your hand in front of your face.
In his book on Scottish mountain running (The Mountains Are Calling), Jonny Muir pays tribute to Charlie Ramsay’s imagination in forming the round. “Charlie’s route was indisputably more testing than travelling through the hills of the Lake District. The terrain, altitude and isolation of the Lochaber mountains made sure of that.”
This isolation makes it difficult for support crews to get in to supply aid. There’s energy-sucking bogs, and the elevation is hard to wrap your head around. The route takes you through the undulating terrain of both the Mamores mountain range and the Grey Corries, including the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, at 1,345m.
For most, this is the last peak they tackle in a gibbering, sleep-deprived, near-crawling state of exhaustion. The combined elevation is over 28,000ft – higher than Everest – and the distance, depending on how you navigate, is around 90km. The challenge defines the word ‘brutal’.
The record for completing it stood at 16hrs 13mins, set by Jasmin Paris in 2016. Es Tresidder managed to chip one minute off it in 2019. Then Finlay Wild decided it was time to give it a crack.
“Running is the balance in my life”
“The Ramsay’s not something you just go and do,” he says. “At the start of 2020 I had a plan to race the same short and medium races I’d been doing, and then do Ramsay’s in 2021.”
When Wild says ‘short and medium races’ he means Scotland’s most famous mountain races, of which he’s won almost every one, including taking victory at the Ben Nevis Race 10 times, as well as smashing a long list of FKTs in the Scottish mountains.
But, like everyone, his plans changed when the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe.
“When we realised the lockdown wasn’t just going to be two weeks, pretty soon the Ramsay Round became my goal,” he says.
Living in Fort William in the shadow of Glen Nevis meant that Wild could step out of his door onto the perfect training ground. “I built up the distance by doing progressively longer runs in the hills that make up the Ramsay Round.”
After working on building volume in his legs, and more importantly the mental confidence to tackle the distance, Wild felt like he was ready to give the record a try.
“I’m lucky as my job as a locum GP is rewarding, but it also gives me the flexibility to book time off to go running,” he says. “It’s definitely been a factor in my in my success.
“Running is the balance in my life,” he adds. “It’s de-stressing time – a break from work when you let your thoughts roam. You might be thinking about the view, but you might also process stuff from work. The subconscious has a good way of working things out while you’re physically active.”
As if the challenge wasn’t taxing enough, Wild made the call to run it completely unsupported. “I liked the simplicity of going on my own,” he says. “I also didn’t want to be committed to having to go in sub-optimal weather.”
On the day he chose – 31 August – the weather was “a wee bit windy”, but other than that was perfect. “I didn’t have to take my map out once – I could see exactly where to go and which lines to take.”
“I didn’t have to take my map out once – I could see exactly where to go and which lines to take”
Having no food drops meant he had to carry his fuel with him. According to his blog, he took “a dozen raw bars, a dozen gels, fruit and nut mix, energy chews and Tailwind energy drink powder” and a bare minimum of kit. His bag ended up weighing 3.6kg and he used streams to refill his water.
“I liked the aesthetic of just going out myself,” he says. “You’re doing everything – navigation, pacing, feeding. It was my day.” This echoes the reasons many runners tackle the route. John Fleetwood, describing his winter Ramsay’s Round attempt, said, “This is about survival, nothing else: no one else can get me out of here but me, and I guess therein lies the attraction – me against the mountain.”
For Wild, setting off from the official start point of the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel at 4am was a highlight. “It’s a cliché, but simply starting was great because the Ramsay has been on my mind for years. I’d been primed and waiting, and the night I before got too excited, packing my bag, working out what to take. So actually starting was really good.”
He ran with a headtorch for an hour and a half until the sun rose, and completed the Mamores Munros without issue, hitting each planned split ahead of schedule.
“Everyone likes a good story of something massive happening and you having to dig in to overcome it”
This would be a theme for the entire round – everything went exactly to plan, which Wild acknowledges does not make for the most interesting re-telling. “Everyone likes a good story of something massive happening and you having to dig in to overcome it. But on the opposite side of the coin, preparation is key. I was prepared mentally for it. I knew the route well, so I could visualise it. The only thing that would have made me bail would have been if I was slowing because of the weather.”
Combined with this obsessive preparation is the simple fact that Wild moves effortlessly through the mountains. His style is graceful, his pace rapid and steady, climbing relentlessly and descending like a bouncing boulder, giving himself fully over to gravity.
At Firset, which marks the final point where supported runners have a chance to pick up supplies, Wild was well up on the record. “Reaching that point was bittersweet. I could see the support point and there was no one there. I wasn’t sad that I didn’t have support, but it was an anticlimax from what some people get.”
He ran straight through into the Grey Corries, an intimidating section that includes five mountains over 1,000m. “I’d run them five or six times in 2020, so getting onto the home stretch and knowing that I just needed to keep going – that was a great feeling.”
For a man who’s triumphed on Ben Nevis so many times, coming to the final peak was not intimidating. “The Ben is a special mountain to me. I train on it a ton. I saw one of my running clubmates when I was coming down and he didn’t know what I was doing. Afterwards, he said he thought I must have been up to something big because I was ‘hangin’’. A truly Scottish word.
“As I came down to the finish the sun came out. That was probably the most special point”
“I was working pretty hard, but as I came down to the finish the sun came out. That was probably the most special point.” Wild experienced the huge euphoria of finishing, but physically he was totally spent. His remarkable time of 14hrs 42mins will take some beating.
“It was an amazing experience,” he says. “My most memorable running day ever.” And it’s something he’d recommend anyone having a go at. “Do it your way, get to know it, don’t feel rushed or pressured into doing it on a certain date and, most importantly, try to enjoy it.”
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