Published 12th September 2020, 08:33

    THERE was a day last week when I had planned to go out on the hills but in the end decided a longer lie in bed was more important.

    It's happened before and it will happen again. But what made this seem even more pathetic was that just two days earlier mountain runner Donnie Campbell had just completed his astonishing record-breaking solo round of the Munros.

    He hadn't just broken the record – he had shattered it. All 282 Munros in 31 days and 23 hours. Eight days faster than the previous record, which had stood for ten years. Donnie started on Ben More in Mull and finished on Ben Hope. It's the equivalent of climbing Everest 14 times. He ran, walked, cycled and kayaked between climbs, sleeping in the camper van driven by his wife, Rachael.

    It's a feat so far outside the comprehension of the majority of mountain walkers it seems nothing short of superhuman. There's more to this than simply supreme fitness: the discipline and mental toughness required to tackle 32 massive hill days in a row, the ability to keep going when your body is begging you to stop. Every day was huge but the last two in particular were mind-boggling. On the final push to the finish he ran for 48 hours without a rest.

    The penultimate day saw him rack up 18 Munros: Slioch, five in Fisherfield, An Teallach's two, the nine Fannaichs and Ben Wyvis. That's a seven-day programme for all but the fittest walkers. His final day took in ten Munros, again a four or five-day expedition for most. As if that wasn't enough, he had to climb one hill, Morusig, twice after realising that he had missed the summit cairn at the first attempt.

    One point to ponder: there are some who have been doing the Munros for 32 years and still haven't reached the end.

    Records are there to be broken and the rise of the ultra-runner is seeing them tumble on a regular basis. In the same week as Donnie Campbell's finish, Finlay Wild set a new record of 14 hours, 42 minutes for the Ramsay Round, the 58-mile, 24-mountain challenge near Fort William. This has been whittled away over the last five years from a time of more than 18 hours.

    The West Highland Way time has also been vastly improved on and now stands at 13 hours, 41 minutes, while the current best for Skye's Cuillin ridge traverse is under three hours. But the way the continuous, self-propelled Munro round record has tumbled in recent times is particularly remarkable.

    In 1992, when my mountain bug was really starting to bite, I watched a documentary about an attempt by Scots triathletes Andrew Johnston and Rory Gibson to complete the Munros in 50 days. 

    The record at that time was held by Yorkshireman Hugh Symonds. He ran all the way taking in the then 277 summits, starting from Ben Hope and taking 66 days and 22 hours. Just for good measure, the legendary fell runner then added all the 3,000-ft peaks in England, Wales and Ireland, finishing in a total of 97 days.

    Johnston and Gibson, who had trained in the Himalayas and were advised by Symonds, set a new record of 51 days and 10 hours, but were still disappointed to have failed to hit their 50-day target. They had been plagued by poor weather and fatigue, with Johnston having run most of the way with a swollen ankle and Gibson suffering from a stomach virus.

    There's one memorable scene when the pair are at their lowest after it has become apparent they are going to miss their target. The image of them sitting dejectedly eating a midge-filled rice pudding breakfast at their camp site is one to which we can all relate.

    In July, 2000, Charlie Campbell, a former postman from Glasgow, completed a round of the 284 summits in 48 days and 12 hours, a feat recounted in the excellent but ultimately poignant memoir, Millennial Munros: A Postman's Round.

    That record stood for ten years until fell runner Stephen Pyke, from Staffordshire, completed the round (of 283) in 39 days and 9 hours. Now, another ten years later, his record has fallen to Donnie Campbell.

    Perhaps the most astounding thing of all about Donnie's achievement is that he has said he believes someone will eventually manage to do the round in less than a month. It will be interesting to see if it takes another ten years before someone proves him right.