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Martin Moran Round

On the 29th May I completed the Martin Moran Round in Torridon, in a time of 21 hours and 45 minutes, becoming the first person to repeat the round since it was created in 2022. 

In August 2022, full time staff nurse and athlete Robin Downie became the first person to complete the 'Martin Moran Round', an endurance challenge set amongst the rugged peaks and wild glens of the NW Highlands of Scotland.

Inspired by the local mountains of his youth and Martin's own record breaking Munros round back in 1984, Robin dreamt up this epic challenge to raise funds for the Martin Moran Foundation and push his own personal limits.

'These were Martin's local hills, he knew them better than anyone and shared them with many of us throughout his life. Martin spent lots of time investing in the community he lived in, especially in the young people. Hearing about his adventures and reading his books has inspired me to push and challenge myself even further in my love for hill running.’ - Robin Downie

Martin was a mountain guide who had been based out of Lochcarron for over 25 years, guiding in these local hills and across the world. He tragically lost his life on an expedition in India in 2019. 

I had the pleasure of working for Martin for a number of years, in the spring on his Skye Cuillin courses and through the winter, mountaineering and winter climbing in the North West Highlands. These weeks of work were extremely formative in my career as a Mountaineering Instructor, some of the most challenging and rewarding work I have ever done. The nature of the terrain we worked in meant that I was often alone with my clients in extremely remote and serious terrain, the northern corries of Liathach and the high crags of Glen Sheil. Martin also had a way of raising everyone’s expectations of what was possible, setting ambitious goals for his guides, but also his clients. He always knew that they were capable of more than they realised, so long as they were given the right support. 

Physically these were tough weeks of work. I remember getting off the hill after 10 hours climbing on the triple buttress of Beinn Eighe in the winter and returning to base. When my client said he was exhausted and wanted a day off the next day, Martin was straight on the phone to another client, lining me up for another massive day climbing The Resurrection in the Fannichs! 

The round is also a great way for me to share and support the work of the foundation that Martin’s family set up in his name. The foundation offers fully funded places on mountain adventure programmes for young people who face barriers to participation. If you know a young person who would benefit from the programme, get in touch with the foundation. Also if you feel you can help support their work, please consider donating here

Screenshot 2024-06-05 at 15.01.13 
The round that Robin created is a fitting tribute to Martin in its ambition and challenge. It is very different from the other big rounds in the terrain it covers. The nature of the Torridon hills means that they are not easy to link together. This route challenges a whole range of mountain skills as well as the runner’s resilience and determination. 

I chose to alter Robin’s original route in a few ways. Firstly I chose anti-clockwise where Robin had gone clockwise. Watching the film of Robin’s round it was clear that some of his descent lines were extremely steep, reversing the route meant I would be tacking the steepest parts in ascent rather than descent. I made a few small variations to Robin’s line choice on a couple of hills and I also decided to add in the two extra Corbetts south of the road, Sgòrr nan Lochan Uaine and Sgùrr Dubh. These sit logically within the loop of Robin’s round, but I can see why he missed them out! Robin had set the bar high with his round, but to honour Martin I felt I should push myself to go that little bit further.

Despite having already completed four other big 24 hour rounds over recent years, including two solo and unsupported, I knew that this challenge would need some support on the hill, so I had a team lined up. The disadvantage of this strategy is that once you have picked a date, you are set to it, rather than being able to watch the weather and choose a day at short notice. I had made an attempt in August last year, but set off into awful weather, hoping for an improvement as the day went on. Despite the forecast, it showed no sign of improvement, so after Beinn Eighe I called it a day. 

This time around the forecast was only marginally better, another damp start, drying up with the chance of some showers mid afternoon. What the forecasts couldn’t agree on was the amount of cloud and the chance of any views! Knowing my opportunities to find a gap in the diary that worked for me and a good support team were limited, I decided to commit, whatever happened with the weather this time, I had to complete the round.  

Running with Ally, I set off at  3am from Torridon community hall, and we were very pleased to have a dry day. The road to the Torridon Inn passed quickly and we were moving well up to the first peak, Beinn Damph. There wasn’t a breath of wind, so I was comfortable in a base layer, ideal running conditions. As it got light enough to pack away the head-torches we hit the cloud. The cloud base would sit stubbornly at 800m all day, so I didn’t get a view from any of the summits. This also made route finding more difficult, so I was glad to be familiar with the descent from Beinn Damph. From the summit I was dropping down the south east ridge, which from above, in the mist, looks totally ludicrous! This first descent set the tone for the day, many of the climbs and descents are on ‘unconventional’ lines. Steep grass and heather, with sections of boulder fields or scree. 


Beinn Damph at dawn

The next few peaks went well, finding better lines than last year and definitely moving quicker. Dropping down into Coire Fionnaraich we were met by Robin and Sam who had run in to support. I had met Robin before, but it was really great that he could join for some of the round. There is something very special about the ethos of the hill running world, that people make great efforts to support the person who is trying to break their own record!

Approaching Maol Chean-dearg summit
Photo: Ally Beaven

After a big climb we hit the ridge of Fuar Tholl. Here I chose to make an out-and-back to the summit. An obvious large boulder by the path seemed a good spot to drop my pack, saving the weight for the 40 minute journey. The summit successfully tagged and we were running back to the bags in the mist. Inevitably the obvious boulder wasn’t so obvious from the other direction and we overshot! Confident that we had gone too far we headed back up the hill, grateful for the gps trace on the watch. It cost us less than 10 minutes, but it was still an enormous relief when Ally shouted that he had spotted the bags. Losing an hour to a bag search would have been a really stupid way to spoil the day!

After Sgorr Ruadh, Ally swapped out with Aaron, who arrived at the col a minute before we got there. My schedule for the day had been worked out on a very simple pace of 400 meters of climb and descent per hour. Enough to give a rough estimate for planning logistics. We were nearly half an hour up on this schedule at this point, so could have very easily missed Aaron. 


Photo: Ally Beaven

Over Beinn Liath Mor and on to my two extra Corbetts. The ground on the ridge linking them is really complex, with loads of lumps and bumps as well as continuously rocky terrain underfoot. The summit of Sgurr Dubh is one large boulder field, with small angular blocks that make for extremely tiring and slow running. My legs were starting to feel the effects of the terrain and I could feel the first warning signs of cramp in my adductors. 

It wasn’t a surprise to lose some time on the schedule across these peaks, so I was happy enough getting to the carpark for Beinn Eighe, 20 minutes behind schedule. My only real stop of the day was 10 minutes here to get a change of clothes and a refuel. Knowing I was back onto the standard munro bagging route for a while I was looking forward to a straightforward 800m steep climb for a bit of a recovery!

The Beinn Eighe ridge passed relatively quickly with Ben in support. Just a cold wind whipping up from the northern corries added a seed of doubt. Another wild descent into Coire Mhic Fearchair went well, with a reasonable line of scree and steep grass. 2km of rocky trail here was probably the only bit of real straightforward running on the round aside from the road sections. 

WhatsApp Image 2024-05-30 at 07.26.32 (1)Photo: Ben Gibson

Likewise the climb up and traverse of Liathach passed quickly enough. The distraction of the pinnacles adding some fun to the afternoon. 

When I had first come to test the descent from the north side of Mullach an Rathain I thought it was a rough, hard and quite serious descent, but on the day it felt pretty easy compared with what had come before!

Dropping down into the glen, I was hoping to spot Luke, my final supporter. I hadn’t met him before, but knew he was driving across to run with me after finishing work. With no sign of him, I started planning what we would do if he hadn’t made it. Running the last section on my own was one thing, but Luke was also carrying in my food for this last leg, I would have 6 hours to do on what was left in my pockets, that just wouldn’t be possible. 

Incredibly we hit the path, over 14 hours into the day, exactly on the fastest version of my schedule, to see a lone figure running up the trail towards us, perfect timing again! Having come third in the Jura hill race the weekend before, Luke was the ideal supporter for this last rough leg. Obviously super fit, I emptied my bag for him to carry the load. Throughout the leg Luke was on hand to fill bottles, provide food and faff with waterproofs and head torches when we needed them. Again I am blown away by the hill running community. A 7 hour slog across some really rough terrain, finishing in very dubious weather at 1am, to support someone you’ve never met, isn’t how everyone would choose to spend a Wednesday evening!

The low point of this leg, if not the whole day, was when Luke handed me my foil wrapped pizza. I was pretty hungry, fighting hard to eat enough to keep my legs working. As I opened the foil there was a big round hole in the pizza, mice! I had left the food in a bag by my van in Torridon for Luke to pick up on his way through and a wee beastie had taken advantage for a quick snack! Luckily Luke had some extra food, so between us I managed to keep fuelled for the final few peaks. 

I knew that my schedule planning of 400m/hour would slip away at this point of the round, there were a couple of long, rough, flatter sections between the hills that would cost me some time, so by Baosbheinn I knew I wasn’t going to beat Robin’s time. My main aim then was to get finished as quickly as possible, so that Luke didn’t have to be out any longer than necessary. 

We put head torches on as we started the climb up the gully onto Beinn Alligin. By this point the cloud base had dropped to the ground, with light drizzle and the temperature had dropped. It was ok while we were moving, but I wouldn’t have fancied having to stop for any length of time. 

This section of my route is possibly the technical crux. A steep grassy gully that constricts at the top, forcing you to traverse around some exposed grassy ledges. I had looked down it on a dry sunny day a few weeks before and thought, “aye, that’ll be fine”. Now nearly 20 hours into my day, in the dark and rain it was a very different prospect, so it was with huge relief that I popped out onto the ridge with Luke right behind. The risk and uncertainly of the day now behind us, it was just a case of pushing on over the two summits to get the day done. 

Finishing the round with 5km of undulating road running was a shock to the system, but it felt surprisingly easy after so much rough terrain. Watching the lights of Torridon village reflected in the Loch get slowly closer I had time to reflect on my own day out. It is a ridiculous route and although I was quicker than my other rounds, I am in no doubt that it is significantly harder to complete than the others I have done. The mountaineering experience needed to be comfortable in the steep and serious terrain, the movement skill needed to move efficiently across all the rough stuff and most importantly the conditioning needed to take 20+ hours of getting beaten up by it all. Along with Robin, I would love to see further repeats of the round and see who can raise the bar further. This isn’t a round for the casual hill runner, but for those with the experience who are willing to put the time in to learning the route, it is a fine adventure!

Arriving back into Torridon Village I was amazed to see Joy Moran waiting to see me finish. She had been watching my tracker through the day and had made the effort to drive round from Lochcarron to congratulate me. Slightly distracted by this, I tripped on the final step of the hall, landing in a heap at the door,  21 hours 45 minutes and 28 seconds after I had left it. 

A note on stats

My final stats came in at 87.1km 8036m of ascent. These are quite different from Robin’s, who recorded 8982m of climbing. Although I took some different lines to Robin, I did two more peaks, so my stats should be greater than his. I am not saying that mine are right and his wrong, or indeed the other way around. It is the nature of the complex and steep terrain and the limitation of the technology we use, that gps tracking can’t be 100% relied upon for accurate information on this round. The truth probably sits somewhere between the two sets of stats, but is ultimately irrelevant as it only tells a very small part of the story of the day!


For more information on the round, check the Martin Moran Foundation page


My strava is here

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