“Running uphill? I’m so bad at it!” laughs Emily Scott. “I enjoy hiking uphill and I can go quite quickly. But when I try to run, I just feel like I’m dying.” True as this might be, we suspect she’s being somewhat modest. The 31-year-old adventure athlete is not talking about a gentle incline in a local park. The hills she refers to happen to be Munros – Scottish mountains over 3,000ft in height. There are 282 of them and last summer Emily climbed them all. In one continuous round. Solo. Self-supported. And self-propelled. So, considering she was carrying all her kit and food, and having cycled, canoed or paddle-boarded to reach each one, we can forgive her for not going hell for leather up the side of mountains. In at the deep end Emily boasts an impressive adventure CV. She has completed everything from marathons to adventure races and Ironman triathlons. Her first ever adventure race in 2013 was “a proper baptism of fire” and still the toughest thing she’s done to date. Competing as a team of four, the race comprised of 10 stages and took six days, on just six hours’ sleep. “It involved kayaking, mountain biking and foot stages, but the lack of sleep – that was the killer,” she remembers.
It’s clear adventure is of huge importance to Emily. At the moment, she is splitting her time between working in London as a chartered accountant (“That always throws people!”) and heading for the mountains as often as she can. What does adventure mean to her? “It’s is such a hard thing to define, but for me it’s about finding the limits of your comfort zone, seeing what you can do beyond it, and realising you’re probably always able to do more than you think you can. “It doesn’t have to be climbing a mountain; it can just be testing your limits. It’s a personal thing. For one person, it could be camping in a campsite – that could be a big adventure. For me, camping in a campsite is a luxury! But that’s why I like it – it can be inclusive; it can be broad. For me, adventure generally involves some element of suffering, but it doesn’t have to for everyone.”
Emily’s criteria of ‘suffering’ came into play when she dreamed up Project282 (climbing all 282 Scottish Munros in a continuous round, solo, unsupported and self-propelled). How did she come up with the idea? It was one of those ideas that brewed quietly in the back of my head. I had started Munro bagging and I thought it would be cool to do all of them, then I started wondering whether you could do them all in one go. And then whether it would be possible to cycle between them.” An adventure was born. So began an epic 120 days of hiking, trail running, cycling, canoeing and paddle boarding, sometimes carrying all her kit and food in her 65l backpack ready for a five-day expedition, other times carrying only what she would need for a day outing. “Before I started, I thought I would trail run quite a lot. But quite early I realised I was opening myself up to the risk of injury by pushing too hard, too early. I couldn’t run on the days I had all my kit with me, but as the days went by, I got more conditioned to it, and started running more of the flatter and downhill sections.”
Despite undertaking the adventure as a solo challenge, Emily wasn’t entirely alone. “I was alone for about 80% of the summits, but I had company for 20%,” she remembers. “Either friends would come to join me, or I’d meet people along the way and end up walking with them. Five people joined me for the final Munro – people I’d met throughout the trip who kept in touch.” What were the toughest moments? “The final week was just something else!” she recalls. “By the end it was like I was in a race against myself, because I’d said I was going to finish by a certain date. The last 48 hours felt like an adventure race on my own. Also Storm Ali hit the UK, so on the Wednesday I went out in torrential rain. It was one of those days when normally there would be no way I would go out. There were forecast gusts of 100mph. I got up a Munro that day – I don’t really know how – it was more luck, because the mountain was protecting me from the worst of the wind. But when I got to the top and tried to make my way over to the next one, I realised there was no way I was going to get there. I was conscious there was no way I could call for rescue if I needed it.”
Emily has a deep love of being in the mountains. “I don’t know how to say it without being really corny, but it’s good for your soul,” she says. “Even if it’s raining, when you get to the mountains, everything feels instantly better. The mountains are my happy place. I just feel amazed constantly. “When the weather’s bad, you obviously won’t see much, but then suddenly the clouds will move and you’ll see a glimpse, and it’s just… wow… you can suddenly see layer upon layer of mountain and that amazing definition and landscape.” What adventures does Emily have lined up for the year ahead? “I’ve not raced for a while, so I really want to bring racing back in a little more. There’s something racing brings that you maybe don’t get from doing things on your own. I definitely don’t push myself physically in the same way, because when you’re in a race, you’re in a much safer environment. Over the summer, there were times when I’d have preferred to be running, but if I’d had a fall, there would be big consequences. When you’re in a controlled environment, you’re more able to push yourself.”
Emily also has her sights set on Evergreen – an environmentally responsible Ironman-distance event in the Alps. She first attempted the race in 2017, but she sadly had to pull out after the bike stage due to extreme cold in snowy conditions (“the dropout rate was huge”), so she feels she has some unfinished business with the event. “I really want to go and try it again. A DNF is such a horrible feeling.” Emily’s achievements are undoubtedly inspiring – as is her mindset. “I mean, I’m pretty normal. I just like doing long-distance stuff, but I’m never going to be a super athlete or anything like that. I’m just a bit stubborn and I’ll just keep going. Certainly that’s partly what I was trying to do in the summer – to encourage people and show there’s loads of stuff that is really accessible. And you don’t have to go and climb all the Munros in one go, but why not go and climb one Munro? It doesn’t take long to surprise yourself and realise you’re way more capable than you think you are. And you’ve got way more in you.”
To hear more from the inspiring women we meet head over to womensrunninguk.co.uk/category/inspiration