When you’ve already run 7,000 metres up 18 different mountains, your stomach is empty from intense vomiting and you feel like your foot is being stabbed with a roasting hot iron, you might think it’s time to stop. But for Donnie Campbell, stopping is never an option.
This is the kind of pain Donnie had to push through in order to set the record for the Ramsay Round, the race that sees participants conquer 24 Munros in 24 hours.
Donnie knows all there is to know about pushing himself to the limits. We spoke to Donnie to hear more about his story Reaching my Peak, to understand how he is able to continually demonstrate his incredible powers of stamina and endurance.
How did you get into running and when did you decide to take it to the ‘next level’?
I didn’t properly get into running until 2008/2009 after university. Growing up, my main sport had been Shinty (a team game with sticks and a ball, played mainly in the Scottish Highlands), but I started running more after University to lose some weight and get fit in order to play to a high standard again.
It was at this time that a friend suggested a 150-mile race over 5 days on the Isle of Islay and Jura. I agreed to it, loved the race and the training for it, and ended up finishing 4th. That was my first step into ultra/mountain/trail running. I never got back to playing Shinty, as trail/mountain running became my passion.
What is it about trail/mountain running that you really enjoy?
That’s a hard question! There is so much I like about trail and mountain running; it is a great way of exploring the hills and taking in amazing scenery. I like how it gives you the opportunity to explore yourself and your limits, and it also keeps you honest and humble.
If you don’t respect the mountains you soon get into trouble. Trail/mountain running for me is also a way of de-stressing, clearing my head and connecting with nature. I actually find road running boring. I have only ever run two road races, and I was so bored in the second one that I vowed I would never run a road race again.
You generally run in properly managed and organised races rather than undertaking individual expeditions. Is the racing element of endurance running something that motivates you to push yourself more?
For me racing is what gives my training focus, motivation and an excuse to travel. I normally choose races in places where I want to go and explore. Racing is also an easier way of exploring your limits as planning an expedition, adventure or challenge requires a lot more on the logistical front, whereas with races you just turn up and run as fast as you can!
What’s the most challenging race you’ve ever done?
The most destroyed I have been at the end of a race was the Transvulcania Ultra Marathon in 2014. It’s not the toughest or longest race I have completed – it is about 74K with 4000m of climbing. The year I ran it they made an error about distance between aid stations, so I ran past one aid station thinking the next one was only 5K up the trail. It turned out to be about 14K.
At this point, I’d run out of fluid in +30°c and was severely dehydrated. I can remember taking in all my gels at that stage just to get some fluids in! I filled my water bottle up at the aid station and kept going, but it was too late. I was never going to properly recover so I staggered the last 30K to the finish where I collapsed and got rushed off to the first aid tent. I was put on a drip and given some drug to stop my body cramping, which was happening uncontrollably.
How are you able to carry on and finish, when you are under such intense physical pressure?
Mental strength, toughness and experience. If you have a high level of motivation to succeed, you will normally find a way to keep moving, sometimes it involves a real battle with your mind but if you know how to control your mind then you can normally make the right decision and keep going. A book I find really helpful in winning that battle is The Chimp Paradox* by Dr Steve Peters, who has worked with Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton.
Do you think taking on punishing endurance races is something everyone has in them? Or do you think you have to be a certain type of person?
That’s a really hard question. Everyone is an individual and has their own reasons for doing what they do. People that tend to do well in endurance sports are highly motivated individuals that seem to have a high level of enjoyment for the endurance sports they partake in. It’s hard to imagine that people would do it if they didn’t enjoy it!
As an experienced endurance runner and coach what would you say to someone who aspires to compete to the levels and standards that you do? What are the key lessons for improving stamina and endurance?
To improve stamina and endurance in running terms requires consistency in training and a gradual progression. With my students, when it comes to racing and pushing themselves, I remind them how important the brain is in the process and how sports psychology can help them push a bit harder.
For you personally, what continued ambitions do you have? Are there any races that you’re planning on entering soon?
I have entered the Tor de Geants which is a 330K race around Valley Aosta in Italy, involving 2,800m of climbing. I am really looking forward to the race as I’m excited to see if I can be competitive over this distance. There are loads of other races I would like to go and experience and race, but for the moment I can’t really think of anything past the Tor de Geants.
To read more about Donnie’s experiences with endurance racing, click here.
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