As someone who has competed in a wide variety of endurance sports, I can honestly say that the toughest races for me are those where I race against time versus competitors. When I race against the clock, which is an invisible opponent, I struggle to maintain a sense of urgency – there are no racers to chase, pass or escape from. It is the truest test of an athlete’s ability because it demands so much more from the mind. When we race against others, it’s much easier for the mind to push the body because each athlete we pass or hold off is a reward and, as science has shown us, we all respond favourably to being rewarded. Time has no emotion attached to it and there is no direct reward. For this reason alone though, it is always good to challenge the clock, when the only one who can push you is you.
My most recent challenge against the clock was the Charlie Ramsay Round, run in the Scottish highlands near Fort Williams. The “Round” is a gruelling challenge that was first completed in 1978 by Charlie Ramsay. To officially count, one must complete the round (a 100K loop over 24 1,000m peaks, with 28,500 ft elevation gain) in less than 24 hours. To date, just 73 people have finished. To put that in perspective, more climbers make it to the top of Mount Everest every year. The route starts and finishes at the foot of Ben Nevis (the highest peak on the British Isles), just outside of Fort Williams and can be done clockwise, or counter-clockwise.
I tackled this challenge purely for the adventure. Races have a certain intensity, but all but the most extreme events have a safety net that takes the edge off. The Round, does not. The only safety nets used in The Round are pacers, which are there to help runners stay on schedule. I quickly learned that the Scottish highlands, while not as tall as the Canadian Rockies, are not for the ill-prepared. The decision to begin this challenge is not one to be made whimsically. So, with a complete understanding of the many potential risks, I chose to tackle the adventure and push myself in a way I had never before.
Mother Nature is a cruel mistress. She threw every type of bad weather she had at me. But she’s also an incredible teacher. Here are five of the lessons I took away from the experience:
Before tackling any big challenge, it is worthwhile to acquire local knowledge. In this case, it would be clothing, types of running shoes and gear.
A runner’s success or failure on the Round depends as much on the quality of planning and preparation that goes into their attempt as their fitness and stamina.
As the hours passed on the Round and the weather worsened, self-doubt began to creep in. I countered these negative thoughts by consciously being realistic but optimistic.. Generate optimism by not dwelling on any negatives. Focusing on the positives of the experience will help drive you forward toward success.
Create your own carrots and win the little battles
With the finish line over 100K away, I was forced to recognize my own little wins. On the Round, this meant breaking the summits down one by one, and focusing on small blocks of time or distance.
Know what is important
The Round is simply an athletic challenge. While my desire was to complete the loop in under 24 hours, it was tempered with the realism that my reputation as a runner would be neither tarnished, nor validated based on one event. Going into it, my measure of success was being able to honestly say that no matter what the outcome, I gave it my best effort.