Donnie Campbell is on top of the world. On 2nd September, the 35-year-old ultra runner from Inverness completed the fastest non-stop Munro round in just 31 days, 23 hours and 2 minutes - almost 8 days faster than the previous record holder. We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with him following his record-breaking achievement and hear more about the highs and lows of the ultimate adventure.
Scattered across the rugged Scottish wilderness, the Munros are a series of 282 mountains, all reaching over 3,000 feet high. First officially listed by the late Sir Hugh Munro in 1891, since then nearly 7,000 people have walked and climbed a 'round' - taking about two decades to complete on average.
Having grown up on the Island of Skye, Donnie has always enjoyed being outdoors and the sense of adventure that comes with it. 'I've always enjoyed pushing myself,' he says: 'I took up running once I left uni to improve my fitness and ended up doing a 150-mile endurance race shortly after, which I really enjoyed - that's where I really fell in love with running in the mountains.'
With the previous record of 39 days set a decade ago by fell runner Stephen ‘Spyke’ Pyke, Donnie knew the standard was high. ‘My original goal was 33 days,’ says Donnie: ‘Spyke’s record was an incredible time, but I wanted to push myself and see what I could achieve. The 33 day target was simply the outcome of my 12 months of planning. I knew my schedule was very ambitious and it both excited and scared me. With the right conditions, I thought it might be achievable.’
As well as completing the summits of each Munro, Donnie chose to attempt the round completely self-propelled - kayaking and cycling between each of the Munros and covering a distance of over 2,800 km in total, with around half of the total distance covered on foot.
Beginning his attempt on 1st August on Ben More on the Island of Mull, Donnie then kayaked to Glenfinnan, before traversing the Cairngorms and reaching the most easterly Munro of Mount Keen. Next came the southern Highlands, including the most southerly Munro of Ben Lomond. Finally, he returned to the north-west of Scotland, with the most westerly Munro of Sgurr na Banachdich on the Island of Skye before finishing with Ben Hope.
Throughout his attempt, Donnie was supported by his wife Rachael, who drove the motor home which he slept in. ‘This allowed me to follow a more linear route,’ Donnie explains: ‘I spent around 12 hours per day running, cycling or kayaking and usually managed 8 hours sleep each night - with a couple of exceptions!’
Two weeks into his attempt, Donnie started to struggle. ‘Day 17 was a real low point. I felt so physically and mentally fatigued,’ he says: ‘I’d done several tough days back-to-back and I was questioning what I was doing.’
‘Despite that, at no point did I think I would give up. I told myself it wouldn’t last forever and focused on the routine of eat, run, sleep, repeat. Of course, it did get easier mentally the closer I got to the finish.’
On day 29, with the finish drawing ever closer, he was forced to climb the same Munro twice. ‘I realised at the bottom of Moruisg in Glencarron that I needed to go up again,’ he said: ‘It was my own fault due to the clouds and a lack of concentration. I reached a large cairn which I thought was the summit, but my tracker showed afterwards that I actually needed to go another 200m to a small pile of stones. It meant another 90 minutes of climbing and 600m of ascent on the end of an already long day.’
Donnie finally completed his attempt at 5.02am on 2nd September, at the summit of Ben Hope - after just 30 minutes of sleep. 'I felt a real mixture of achievement and relief when I finished,' he says: 'It was great to have completed it, but I was glad I wasn't going to be running the next day!' he laughs.
‘I still can’t really believe it is over after all the days I spent in the mountains, but it feels great to have done a Munro round finally’ says Donnie: ‘I’m enjoying being able to put my feet up and being back home. I want to thank my wife and all my friends who supported me on the round - I could not have finished it without them.’
Donnie raised money for the British Red Cross as part of his attempt, raising over £9,000 so far.