Going solo: how athlete and adventurer Jenny Tough ran six mountain ranges alone
As Jenny embarks on a tour with her film SOLO, we ask her about the experience of running six mountain ranges
Athlete, adventure traveller and endurance challenger Jenny Tough is about to go on tour with her film SOLO. The documentary, which has been created by Summit Fever Media Films and is presented by Montane, chronicles Jenny’s five-year journey to run solo and unsupported across mountain ranges on six continents.
The film follows her across the Tien Shan in Asia; the High Atlas in Africa; the Bolivian Andes, South America; the Southern Alps, Oceania; the Canadian Rockies in North America; and the Transylvanian Alps of Europe, as she learns lessons in resilience, self-esteem, bravery and more.
Jenny calls both Scotland and Canada home. She is a #TeamMontane athlete and specialises in fast and light expeditions. She is a full-time athlete, adventurer and writer, and author of the book SOLO: What Running Across Mountains Taught Me About Life.
With the SOLO film tour set to be presented in four UK locations from April 16 to 20, we asked Jenny to tell us more about her story.
When did you decide to embark on such an epic challenge, to journey across so many mountain ranges?
I have a serious love for looking at maps. I was looking at a map of Kyrgyzstan one night and (wine-fuelled) decided I would run across the entire Tien Shan mountain range. It was actually months after completing that goal that I decided to make it 'a thing' and do a mountain range on every continent.
What defines the route and distance of running across the mountain ranges?
I start at the beginning of the mountain range, whether that’s an obvious geographic point, such as the start of the Atlas Mountains, which rise out of the Sahara, or a more cultural point, such as the Rockies, where I only did the Canadian segment starting at the Canada/US border.
Why did you choose each mountain range?
They were mainly selected on places I simply wanted to go. There were other factors like length. I wanted it to be long enough to be a journey, but not so long it would take more than one season. Plus there were feasibility and safety considerations.
What were the statistics of each mountain range?
Asia: Tien Shan, September 2016. 980km, ~+30,000m, 25 days
Africa: Atlas Mountains, October 2017. 860km, +25,000m, 22 days
South America: Bolivian Andes, October 2018. 600km, +40,000m, 17 days
Oceania: Southern Alps, February 2019. 850km, +17,000m, 23 days
North America: Canadian Rockies, July 2020. 877km, +24,350, 21 days
Europe: Transylvanian Alps, September 2021. 450km, 11 days.
Which was your favourite, if you can pick one?
That’s like choosing a favourite child! I could never answer that question! They all have a very special place in my heart and each of them gave me completely different experiences and life lessons.
What is it that you most like about solo and unsupported journeys?
Going solo puts you entirely in the driver’s seat of your adventure. You have only yourself to rely on and that can be a really exciting thing and also completely terrifying. I started going solo when I was 21, and at the time I realised I had never been entirely independent; I'd never really learned how to solve my own problems, find my own happiness and give myself confidence.
There are so many positive lessons that only come from going completely solo and I strongly believe they are beneficial experiences for any age.
What were the biggest challenges?
Each mountain range posed its own unique challenges, but there were some that encompassed each of them. The physical task itself was, of course, monumental. The simple size of the runs were very intimidating.
But going solo was also a huge challenge because I had to manage myself, organise all of my own logistics and safety, and put up with myself on a daily basis, sometimes for very long stretches without speaking to another person.
What was the toughest challenge?
Again, each of the six chapters had its own toughest challenge, but, I guess, overall the toughest is really believing in myself enough to get out there and do it. I think bravery was a really big lesson that I learned by the end – to know that I could technically do it, but to just be brave enough to go put myself out there and try.
I think so many of us get mentally blocked on what we believe ourselves to be capable of – or literally hear it from other people, which most women have certainly encountered – and being able to ignore all that and find the mental bravery to move forward is huge.
Are there more challenges because you are female?
Absolutely, yes. In some parts of the world, we may believe that we’re past that, but around the world, we are truly not. I went through some places with cultures where women have extremely different lives from men – and I was treated differently and even harassed in many places.
Safety is a slightly different concern for women travellers in any country and I don’t think we help the matter by not talking about it. I also have a very memorable experience of getting my period deep in bear country, where there were grizzly bears sharing the trail with me.
What were your most important lessons learned?
To believe in myself; to do things on my own terms and not anyone else’s; to endure and persevere; and to be brave.
Has this five-year challenge changed you?
Well, I think if we’re living a meaningful life, then anyone changes significantly within five years. But, of course, this challenge really changed and shaped me. I learned some significant life lessons and grew a lot as a person. It’s hard to sum up, hence I had to use up a whole book to explain it! Anyone who takes on a life of adventure will be hugely changed.
Jenny Tough's SOLO film tour
The tour visits:
- April 16: London
- April 17: Bristol
- April 18: Manchester
- April 19: Edinburgh.
Jenny says: “I’m very excited to take SOLO on tour and to share the project that has taken many years to complete.
“Going on a solo adventure adds so many layers of challenges to an expedition that I think brings integrity to the pursuit. It is great to be able to share this launch as part of #TeamMontane and help to inspire people to get out there and take on their next challenge.”
See tour details.
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Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.