As the year draws to a close it’s a good time to reflect on the past years running achievements and look forward to next years. Signing off this year is a race report from Iain Armstrong from the Ben Nevis Fell Race he completed earlier in the year – hope you enjoy it and happy new year to everyone.
Saturday 6th September 2014
Ascent/descent – 1300m (approx)
Distance 9 miles (approx)
I had always fancied doing this race as it is one of the “classic” fell races. So, in January I got my entry in as soon as possible (the race always fills up straight away).
This gave me plenty of time to train doing a few fell races over the Spring and Summer along with a lot of training.
The good thing about this race is that it provides an opportunity to stay for a few days in the Highlands with the family and we had a good few days in the Fort William area.
The race starts from the football ground (Claggan Park) in Fort William, with a lap of the pitch then a mile or so along the road to the foot of the mountain, straight up to the summit and back again. Sounds simple but you have to remember that Fort William is at sea level so you have the full 1300m climb to the summit and all the way back!
Arriving for registration there was a real buzz about the place, with lots of runners hanging around and other events going on such as a Shinty match! Picked up my “goody bag” which included a t-shirt and best of all a miniature bottle of whisky which I was tempted to take a swig of to give me some bravado for the race! Conditions were pretty good with it having stopped raining shortly before the start and temperatures being coolish. However, the tops were all shrouded in cloud.
Anyway, to the race and first of all you have to march behind a pipe band to the start line in true Braveheart style, then the starting gun went and we were off! The first section of the race is pretty easy running along the road and the initial climb up the mountain is not too steep and pretty runnable although there are some sections of scrambling up earth banks to cut out the switchbacks of the path.
At around 600 metres you cross the Red Burn at just under halfway up. From here the race route leaves the main footpath which has a gentler gradient and goes directly up very steep ground. From here it is hands on knees and trying to ignore your screaming lungs and calves! The ground is very rough with a mixture of scree and boulders. My stomach sank at the thought of having to run down this!
Nearer the top you start to see the leading runners haring down at breakneck speed which gets the adrenaline pumping even further! A around 1100 metres the gradient starts to ease off which made going a bit easier, although you feel the full force of the wind, and I was able to run the rest of the way to the summit before handing my race band into the marshall and heading straight back down.
Now comes the hardest part of the race and I tried to put in action the fell runners mantra for running downhill fast – “brakes off, brain off”! Unfortunately I had my first fall on the first steep section after the summit which resulted in a couple of spectacular rolls and some nice cuts and bruises. Fortunately no real damage done and I got down to the Red Burn ok on the very difficult ground. After the Red Burn you descend the famous “grassy bank” which is exactly as described but with a ridiculously steep gradient. I managed this section mostly by my newly found method of sliding down on my backside!
I was then back to the main tourist path and had my second fall when I embarrassingly went over spectacularly in front of a handful of alarmed tourists going up and down the mountain at a more sedate pace! Again, thankfully there was no real damage apart from some more cuts and some wounded pride. It was then a simple run back to the road. I had been warned about the road section on the descent by Keith Wood with stories of legs turning to jelly after the stress of the descent! Thankfully I coped better than I expected and reeled in a few other runners in the mile or so back to the finish.
I felt a good sense of pride at the finish, particularly being proud of my “war wounds” and having to visit the first aid tent to get my cuts cleaned up. My finishing time was 2 hours 57 minutes which achieved my aim of getting under 3 hours but I still had a niggling disappointment as I felt I could have got closer to 2 hours 30 with better descending and starting nearer the front as the field gets bunched.
Anyway, I would thoroughly recommend this race, great atmosphere and camaraderie amongst the runners plus immense satisfaction of going up and down the highest mountain in the British Isles!