Ben Nevis Report

Last weekend Anita, Peter and Sean went to Fort William to take part in a classic British race up Ben Nevis. The route is anyway you please, between Claggan Park, the summit and back to Claggan Park, but almost everyone erodes their way up and down shortcuts between the zig-zags of the tourist path from the end of the road at Achintee.

The 1st September was warm and damp with low cloud all along the west coast. We couldn’t see the sea from our bunkhouse, never mind the top of the hill! With the race not starting until 2pm, there was plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before dropping the car off at Claggan Park, thus avoiding the mahem of parking on the verge, between the police cones!

When the field began to assemble, it became apparent how many folk turn up (up to 500) and from all over the country. When we found Peter, he was already preparing by psyching himself out of a good race. ‘It’s a long way, but we’ve done bigger and longer’ was the general feeling. A bit of mutual fear may have helped in the end. Eventually, the pipe band began to march and we all filed in behind them for a walk round to the start. We handed over our starting cards and soon were running around the field before joining the road to Achintee. The field didn’t really have much chance to spread out on the road as it was choc-a-bloc, nevertheless there was much overtaking and being overtaken. As the path narrowed, we all ran two a breast and tried not to get left behind by those around us. The path stays wide most of the way up, but old hands and following newbies (i.e. me) cut off up steep, narrow, muddy short cuts, gaining higher sections of the path. There was no time to look around, so I’ve no idea how much distance we saved…

The ascent goes on for some time. Anita got ahead of Peter and Sean early on and Sean didn’t finally leave Peter until about half way up. Dodging tourists and trying to stay upright on wet, loose rock are common difficulties for a hill runner, but they all seemed more sustained on The Ben. Particularly, tourists and walkers were definitely out in force and were a blessing and a curse as they applaud and feed you, but get in the way when trying to overtake.

After 57 minutes, Ian Holmes runs past me (downhill) and collectively all the runners nearby mutter ‘bloody hell’ under their laboured breath. From now until the summit, the biggest hazard is oncoming runners and any rocks they might kick down. This lasts for 20 or so minutes, when suddenly the path becomes wide and shallow and we all start to run. Some folk are definitely struggling and others are getting food and drink down, but most just want to get up and then back out of the colder air on top. It took me 1h35m ish to get to the top.

The way down is definitely harder than the ascent, particularly high up in wet weather. The rock is very loose and slippy, with lots of small drops of 0.5-1m or so to weave around while over taking. At one of these I managed to catch Anita up. Eventually, this gives way to a path, which we leave at the first zig-zag. The route down to the various burns is mostly grassy, which feels very steep and slippy after the forgiving(?!) rock. Below the grass we cross the biggest river (Red Burn?), where tourists and marshals watch us. Beyond this we can scoot easily back on to the path for another good part of the descent, before again getting into the muddy short cuts. The short cuts are by now just a torrent of mud and a mixture of techniques is used – clinging on to bracken, diving through the bracken, or sliding through the mud. After the final shortcut, there is a couple of hundred metres of downhill track before the road and already the legs begin to sense that gravity is no longer their friend – they have to work! Feeling like jelly, they wobble past the even bigger crowds at the Achintee car park and desperately chase the few runners we can see. By now, runners are spread out, about 10m apart. After what seems like endless road (about 1 mile), we get back in to Claggan Park. With just 3/4 of a lap to go, my name is read out and the legs give everything they’ve got, chasing down that last runner before the finish. All of a sudden it’s over…

Anita and Peter finished shortly after me, both being in the zone through the park, putting in excellent performances. In summary, a great race and well worth the effort of entering 11 months before hand! Lets hope for more Cosmics next year.

Sean

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