Tracy Dean is believed to be the first women to complete the Rigby Round -an epic 75-mile Scottish mountain running challenge set deep in the Cairngorm wilderness. In her latest inov-8 blog, Tracy tells the story about how she conquered one of Great Britain’s toughest mountain rounds in less than 24 hours.
Exhausted yet elated, we touched the telephone box for the second time, lent forward and put our hands on our knees. We’d done it -The Rigby Round in less than 24 hours!
It was 1:31am outside the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel on a cold, damp Scottish morning. There was not another soul around but that mattered little. In fact, it was the perfect way to end one of the most epic journeys of my running life.
Exactly 23hrs and 31mins earlier the three of us had stood outside the same hostel with maps in hands and anticipation filling the air.
First there was Jonathan Whilock, one of only a handful of people to complete all four of the Great Britain’s ‘big’ rounds (Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley, Ramsay’s Round and Rigby Round), stood next to him was Jonathan Gay, the winter Ramsey Round (unsupported) record holder, and then there was me, someone who had never run longer than 13 hours in the mountains!
The Rigby Round takes in the summits of 18 Munro mountains over a distance of about 75 miles and with a total elevation gain of 19,000ft (5,791m). Famous fell and mountain runner Mark Rigby was the first to complete the round in 1988.
The round is undertaken solo, unsupported and without any prior reconnaissance. This essentially means that you get one shot at it.
Half a dozen people, all male as far as I am aware, have completed it successfully. Others have tried and failed.
Knowing I could potentially be the first woman to complete the round was a huge incentive. Nonetheless, my previous experience of running in the Munros left me in no doubt as to the enormity of the task ahead.
The three of us had agreed that we would initially run together but that if anyone dropped off the pace, for whatever reason, then they would be totally responsible for themselves.
I was in good spirits over the first few hours as we made our way up Braeriach. The mist was down for most of the morning, which meant much of the navigation was on compass bearings.
Next came Sgor Gaoith, and with the guys running strong, I started to doubt my own mountain strength. Determined not to let doubt take a firm hold, I refocused and told myself ‘just get on with it’.
Running over unmarked ground covered in heather, bogs and boulders meant it was really tough and by the time we got to Monadh Mor (our fifth summit) we had already done seven hours.
Five summits in seven hours… wow… in any of the other big rounds you would expect to have visited a lot more peaks by this stage. But I guess that is what makes the Rigby so different. It is more about dealing with getting from peak to peak rather than simply bagging them. There are no paths to get you there. It is just vast wilderness.
It was around this point that I had my first real lull. For about an hour I lacked energy and felt really tired. I began to think about stopping and finding my way back to civilization. I had to dig deep, and rather than complaining about my tiredness I instead focused on getting the fuel in and riding out the storm.
We all had our respective lulls throughout the round. Mine came every six hours, JW every 11 hours and JG had just one, after 16 hours, though he had us believe he had more!
It was an obvious route choice from Monadh Mor to Sgor an Lochain Uaine and once up there, the next two summits of Cairn Toul and the Devil’s Point came fairly quickly.
As water sources on the ground became less frequent, especially later in the round, we took to eating snow. We also found the snow useful for descending quick, sliding down on our backsides!
Ascending Carn a’Mhaim, I fell behind the two guys and had to work really hard to keep in touch. Once the ground levelled out a bit I was able to close the gap.
As we hit Ben Macdui (the second highest summit in Great Britain after Ben Nevis at 1,309m), JW had his first lull. This was the first and only time I passed him on a climb! He soon perked up and normal service was resumed.
As the mist lifted and the rain stopped I was able, for the first time, to appreciate the vastness of the Cairngorm range. With the Munros standing tall and proud, it made for both an intimidating and beautiful environment. I struggle to put into words exactly how it made me feel.
From Derry Cairngorm to Beinn Mheadhoin it was very rough underfoot and, already nursing a gashed leg suffered earlier in the round, my running was tentative.
Not to worry I thought, as the route choice to Beinn Bhreac looked set to be fairly runnable. Not so fast young lady! Despite being relatively flat, the ground was almost all peat bog. It was near impossible to find a comfortable pace and running groove.
The peat sapped my energy. JG, meanwhile, entered his first lull. We left him sitting on a rock, delving deep into his backpack. A few mouthfuls of honey later, he was back on the pace.
I found it unusual that I didn’t want to know what the time was, or how long we had left. I just didn’t want that pressure. I figured that I was going as best I could and nothing would make me move any quicker.
It was a long haul from Ben Avon to Beinn a’Chaorainn through rough and boggy ground and I began to allow myself the thought that we would soon be finishing. ‘Two more peaks and we’re done,’ I thought. Then I realized, ‘Two more peaks on the Rigby Round means another five or six hours!’
On the way to Bynack More the weather changed again, with the mist and rain returning. Visibility was once again poor but our pace remained strong.
The last climb of the round was definitely the hardest. We basically straight-lined it up to top of Cairn Gorm. This was essentially a pull up through thick heather. I felt so, so sick. That wasn’t, however, going to stop me. By now all three of us were on all fours, heaving our way upwards like demons.
I touched the summit and flew (relatively speaking) down onto the piste and to the road.
All that remained was the run to the telephone box from where we had started and complete a truly epic mountain adventure.
I was absolutely shattered, having given everything to the round. I pushed myself to the limit, but in doing so reaped some amazing rewards.