Run Epic: behind the scenes with Gary Tompsett, ‘Architect of Adventure’

‘Architect of Adventure’ Gary Tompsett is the brains behind some of the UK’s most ambitious and imaginative running events. His latest creations include Skyline Scotland – including the Glencoe Skyline, Ring of Steall Skyrace and Mamores VK; Rat Race: Man vs Lakesthe Heb and the Cape Wrath Ultra. Over the years he has designed numerous events for Rat Race and Ourea Events, as well as Wilderness ARC Adventure Race (Lochaber) which culminated as the World Adventure Racing Championship in 2007, and Red Bull Northern Exposure.

For his own part, Gary’s twin passions are trailrunning and MTB. A committed mountain marathoner, he’s completed around 50 in the last 15 years, of which he’s won ‘several – with various running partners, all mates’. He’s completed the Ben Nevis Hill Race, finishing 21st in 1997; the Paps of Jura (10th), Stuc a Chroin and Glamaig, as well as the 54 mile Caledonian Challenge (where he finished 2nd) and too many MTB events to mention.

In his interview below, Gary took us through a whistlestop tour of his life to date on the trails:

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TF: When did you start trailrunning?
GT: I’m a life-long trail runner it seems. I started orienteering aged 16. So, that is, ahem, 1982. By about 1985 I was regularly travelling from Kent to Wales to run hill (fell) races, and at the same time MTB XC races (and orienteering). Oh yes, and Mountain Marathons. This actually then meant that very few trails were actually involved! And I hardly ever ran on the road.

TF: What do you run for?
GT: The sensation of being outdoors in the elements, exploring. Also of course for Event Reconnaissance, and to compete.

`TF: What’s your proudest running (or running-related) achievement/moment?
GT: I reinvigorated the Ramsay Round in winter, back in 2003. Lopped 20hrs off the record time for this 24-Munro, 60-mile winter route, by completing it – including 60,000ft of ascent – in 32hr 48mins. That time has since been systematically bettered, until it was finally completed in sub-24 hours two winters back by Jon Gay.

TF: What’s been your darkest/bleakest moment, running?
GT: I don’t ever recall anything bleak, ever – not even during pain or misadventure. I relish these as challenges rather than dark moments. I never feel exposed in the outdoors – on land at least …

TF: What did you learn from this?
GT: That I am fortunate? That I plan well for all eventualities? Some people have commented that I seem to ‘leave nothing to chance’ …

TF: What do you think of when the trails get tough?
GT: I think; “It’s just a phase. It’ll get better.” It’s not the trail that’s tough, it’s just the body having a dip. Maintain and take care of the body, and the trail will improve too.

TF: What is your next big project/goal/race/adventure?
GT: My next project is always making sure that the next event goes well. We might be judged by our last work! Personally, though … I have my eyes on a inaugurating a solo unsupported multi-day ultra ultra run. It might require me to forage for blaeberries!

TF: Who (or what) is your running inspiration?
GT: When I first saw ‘Elite’ category runners’ gazelle-like progress across the fells in Mountain Marathons. It seemed unfeasible, but tantalizing: I could actually see what they were doing with my own eyes, so however incredible it looked, it must be real.

TF: What three words would you use to describe your relationship to running?
GT: 50% (the other 50% of my life is about MTB!), rough, steep.

TF:What one piece of advice would you give to others?
GT: Dig deep. We all have plenty of depth, some of which is untapped.


Gary joins us at TrailFest2 to present Run Epic: a behind-the-scenes insight into some of the UK’s toughest races and Run Smart: navigation for runners.

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