THESE days Stephen Pyke spends his days working behind a desk at the University of Sheffield but last spring for weeks on end he was to be found running up and down the highest peaks in Scotland.
The ultra-runner known as Spyke had set himself the challenge of climbing all 283 of Scotland’s 3,000 ft hills, better known as the Munros, in one go, which he achieved in just under 40 days, beating the previous record of 48-and-a-half days.
The university business development manager, who lives at Hathersage, will describe his epic run at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival next weekend.
The opportunity to attempt the feat came when he took redundancy from his job as a research scientist at Rolls-Royce at Loughborough which gave him the freedom to factor into his life the 40 days (plus several more in preparation time) to concentrate exclusively on the challenge.
But what gave him the urge to take on something so gruelling? “I had been fell running competitively for a long time and had undertaken quite a few ultra distance events and challenges,” he says.
This included a feat in 2007 when he and another Brit, Lizzy Hawker, ran 190 miles over the mountains from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu in just over three days, beating the previous world record of five days.
To put the Munros adventure in perspective, he cites the Three Peaks Challenge in which people attempt to climb the three highest points in Scotland, England and Wales in the same day.
“I was doing the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon every day with the additional element of fairly rough terrain – boggy moorland and heather and rocky peaks and ridges. After the severe winter last year there was an awful lot of snow still on the ground, too.”
He averaged seven Munros a day, varying from one day when he only managed one to completing 12 on three of the days.
He believed it was important to do it all “under my own steam” and used a bike to travel between the peaks on several occasions and paddled himself by kayak a few times.
His support crew consisted primarily of a retired neighbour from Stone in Staffordshire who drove the camper van in which he stayed overnight.
On around half of the climbs he was joined by one or more friends.
At 45, Spyke is older than the previous record-holders who were in their early 30s. At one point he did have concerns about whether he could stand up to it physically when he became troubled by a sore achilles tendon. He eventually realised it was caused by the fact that he had accidentally ordered running shoes half a size too big…
“So I did a bit of surgery on the shoes and chopped off all the heel tabs and iced my achilles and covered it in Ibuprofen gel each night and it eased off,” reports the runner, whose exploits raised funds for the Scottish wild land conservation charity the John Muir Trust.
lStephen Pyke’s lecture, Around the Highlands in Forty Days, is at the Showroom cinema in Paternoster Row on Sunday, March 6, at 6.30pm. Tickets are on sale at the Showroom (www.shaff.co.uk).