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Meet the Black Trail-Blazers

Black people are under-represented in trail running today - less than 1% of the field in a nation where 4.5% of the population is Black. When Charlie Ramsay first nailed the Ramsay Round back in 1978 he was lighting a torch currently held by Sabrina Pace-Humphrys and the Black Trail Runners. You can watch their new film: Representation Matters: Taking on the Ramsay Round in our LMFF Club this week.

The Ramsay Round is a sub-24 hour mountain running challenge around Lochaber including 24 summits, one of which is Ben Nevis. It's Scotland's equivalent of the Bob Graham Round (Cumbria) and Paddy Buckley Round (Snowdonia).

We had a few questions for Charlie about 1978, and you can read his story below.

Sabrina Pace-Humphrys takes advice from Charlie

Q: Where did the idea for the Round come from?

The year before I was in the Lakes with Chris Brasher who was attempting the Bob Graham Round for the third time. I was an unofficial helper, but as Chris retired I got his place and continued as a contender to the finish with a time of 21h 55m.

Chris invited his entire team for dinner including my wife and two kids. During the meal he asked "Do you have anything like the BG in Scotland?" The answer was "No", at which point Chris challenged me to set one up.

I was mindful that Philip Tranter's Round in Lochaber was too short - only 36 miles in distance which was not worthy of sub-24h mountain challenge status. So I decided to extend Tranter's Round, adding the Munros around Loch Treig, so taking the total miles up to 56 and the Munros up to 24 (now technically 23 as one has been re-classified).

I would attempt it, using the same guidelines and principles as the Bob Graham.

Q: It’s 43 years now since you clocked in just 2 minutes ahead of your 24-hour target for the Lochaber mountains - can you still feel it?

Yes, there was a lot of pressure on me throughout the challenge from family, work colleagues, club-mates, Lochaber MRT and individuals that had very kindly supported me before and during the challenge etc. The list goes on!

Q: What were the key moments?

At times I thought I'd blown it and at times I thought I was OK.. I did not enjoy the night section due to the Loch Treig hills, which I had only been on a couple of times before. However, when the transition team saw our head torches during our final descent into Fersit they responded by flashing their car headlights. We all raised our game as we reached our support team, family and friends. There we had a change of pacers, clothing and footwear plus food and hot drinks including the knowledge that it would soon be daylight again. So for the last ten Munros we would have an east wind and the sun at our back.

The down side was that I only had one pacer as the other contender pulled out due to a leg injury. We were going along very well until my pacer started to struggle. We had to sustain a much faster pace in order to hit 24 hours with 4 tops still to go. We decided that the only wise decision available to me was to continue on my own.

Then with two Munros including Ben Nevis still to complete, I got it into my head that, as the Ben was over 4,000 feet I would be out of time. However, it did occur to me that I was already standing at 2,500 feet so the sub-24 hours was back on again.

As I climbed on to the Ben, I could see some of Lochaber Mountain Rescue on the summit, spirits raised once again - it was game on. I could not stop to say hello, I had to get onto the descent and fast. No more climbing, all downhill, I would finish at the Youth Hostel.

The descent was great. I was on very familiar ground and there were people on the mountain path. I turned another corner and could see the Youth Hostel, headed to it, crossed the bridge over the River Nevis and got there in a time of 23h 58 mins which was confirmed by our timekeeper.

Job done. I had not let anybody down. A few refreshments, hugs and kisses followed by a short kip in my tent!

Q: What will create problems on the Ramsay Round that are less likely to happen on the Paddy Buckley or Bob Graham rounds, for example?

The Ramsay Round is much more technical than the other two, with more height and descent on very narrow ridges. And the weather on the summits can be pretty nasty, with the weather in the valley section often too hot and humid.

In addition, due to the remoteness of the area, accessing support points or transition areas, looking for escape routes, gaining route familiarity and scheduling .. these are all challenges in themselves.

Q: How do you feel about its popularity, the record-breaking, and have you had to 'modernise' the Round?

I was always mindful that individuals love a challenge. Records are there to be broken and we've seen some very inspiring records fall over the years and for me that is healthy.

What I have had to do in order to provide everyone with an equal chance of success is highlight certain guidelines to ensure a level playing field: Start and finish points are the same for all; I've clarified the guidelines relative to solo unsupported attempts; the direction of travel clockwise or anti-clockwise have both been accepted; and I've also clarified the definitions of winter season v winter conditions.

In recent times, I have made reference to the stress and pressure that may be applied to the NHS and Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team. Safety should be everyone's guidance and mindset throughout.

Q: You’ve also climbed all the Scottish Munros - any favourite mountains, areas or special days stand out for you?

I would always claim that the Lochaber Hills and Mountains are my favourite choice.

The Black Trail Runners filming on Ben Nevis - in June!

Q: You recently met up with the Black Trail Runners who - inspired by you - spent three days on the Lochaber circuit - what advice did you have for them?

As they were a group of mixed fitness and skill I advised them to make contact with Girls on Hills, a company where the staff are all trained and fully qualified to lead individuals on these mountains which they are very familiar with. The proof of the pudding is in the film.

Q: Having once set the pace, what are your hopes or concerns for the future of fell or mountain-running challenges such as the Ramsay Round?

Only that the challenges made available by these Rounds will be respected by individuals that use these hills and mountains for their sport and recreation. That they will engage with all the challenges that are out there and function within the bounds of safety, their own training and skill base.

One of the most exciting features about visiting the hills/mountains is getting home safely.,.

Find more great films, running inspiration and stories at THE RUNNING CHANNEL

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