Don’t even know to start with this one. So I will start with the stats. 9 miles and 4.5k feet of climb up and then descent across mind boggling gradients and sliding scree and rocks. Apart from that it was sunny…
“Man alive” I need my head examining whilst writing this blog entry after the weekend shenanigans up Ben Nevis. To start with it’s a 350 mile drive on a Friday in Minty with Nick “Carefree” Haynes to the Glen Nevis campsite outside of Fort WIlliam. You also have to be lucky enough to get a place as well as meet the criteria of previous experience - the weather up Ben Nevis can be a shocker. And the race has some quite stern cut offs. By one hour you have to be at Red Burn, the half way point, and by two hours at the summit. We think the cut off’s were not observed on the Saturday just gone as the weather was splendorous!
So, let us go back in time… Bit like The Wizard of Oz…
We arrived at the Glen Nevis around 7.30pm on Friday evening after a 350 mile drive. With the help of Nick, Minty was fully resplendent having been sent up on a lovely pitch. I was so, so glad I’d booked immediately after being accepted into the race earlier in the year, as the electric hook ups were all taken. The views had been excellent as we headed up with Nick taken aback by Glencoe.
Yours truly was happy driving Claire’s “Wendy Hut” on wheels, and by this point was quite tired. After set up we headed off to the restaurant/pub the campsite owns to find the Keanes, with the “Spag Boll” Claire had cooked sat in the fridge. It was a long evening to be honest.. very drawn out. Anyway we made it to the temporary office, which was Minty, after the evening meal. Few beers, company, and munched the food down.
After retiring, well I was certainly knackered after the drive, we arose around 9am in the morning to be greeted by bright sunshine and Gaynor and Alan bashing on the door. The geologist was up, I certainly was not. He’d already wandered about the campsite. I was snoozing in my under crackers and left the introductions to his Nibs, and thankful he was on form. Coffee was sorted out for the Keane’s whilst I proverbially grabbed my smalls. Anyway there was no time to be buggering about and it was all hands on deck. Roused we were and up at em’ it was… Groan…
By this point it all became serious, in that we would have to run up Ben Nevis - blooming eck’. It was all getting quite serious. I repeat myself. We headed to the field of “joy” so to speak. The sun was out and it was unusual weather. In fact it looked as though it could be amazing. What was happening? The weather report for the Highlands had been appalling, but it had changed to one of those days as the “Jocks” would explain; a once in a ten year type of weather. We decided to pile into Minty in order to make a statement and being blunt to show off. And it was a good idea as we drove the short distance to Claggan, just outside of Fort William and where the race starts from.
Parking was non-existent at the hockey ground and we were allowed to temporarily park by the Rozzers before having to move on. Move on we did and drove up the lane that you run up to the start of the summit path looking for a turning point. It was at this point that the lovely David Armstrong (24th race) waved us down to park on a rough area by the river and right by the starting field! Boom!
Faffing occurred as we battled with the race packs, but to discover a wee dram of Nevis Dew! After consternation over fixing numbers to the rear of a pack with safety pins we headed to the start. Ready to be piped to the starting gate - it was a wonderful atmosphere in the sun!
It’s a 1pm start (due to location) and by now it was very hot with beaming sunlight. We gathered for the start, apprehensive, ready to go. Tension mounted as the assembled Pipe Band trooped us to the start.
We were off with no grace and proceeded to leg it along the single track road to the summit path. It was very hot and unusual weather for the location, time of year, etc. I heated up very quickly as I ran the initial path up to the scree with the 1 hour cut off at Red Burn deeply in my mind. It’s quite well laid heading up the path as we dodged nonplussed walkers but the heat became a big issue. At Red Burn the tough stuff begins as the runners deviate from the path and head straight up via a ridiculous gradient.
I’d made the cut off but was really struggling with the heat dousing myself from Red Burn and other places of water. Other runners were the same. The climb from Red Burn is just plain madness as you aim directly for the summit. It was a strange one for me as I’d never walked or run Ben Nevis and had not made a recce of the race route. This it transpired made a huge difference. Ben Nevis has many false summits and I now realise this held me back as well as being stuck behind people on the scree climb. My advice for those with good legs is to push hard on the climb as it makes a difference. My advice for the worried is don’t do it as my mind wandered to the thought of legging down the scree etc. Yikes.
The final ascent of BN was fine and quite nice for running. Rewarded with stunning views I certainly buggered about on the summit taking photos. To be honest I was shocked at how busy it was on the summit with walkers and runners; all we needed was a McDonald’s. After taking photos and having “scenic” break it was time to head back…
Now, the run down from the summit was nice, and people cheering you on helps indeed. By this point a lot of walkers had made the summit.
Then you hit the scree descent, which is straight down and frightening. You avoid the walkers path. I’d bought brand new 290 gram Rocklite shoes and even these could not grip on the soil, rocks, and scree. We slid down part of the 4.5k feet descent and it was hairy to say the least. I held off and was glad of this when seeing two runners have a bad fall clattering onto rocks.
You then hit Red Burn after bouncing off rocks and grass, to be rewarded with a stone laid path that takes you back to the start. That said the stones are offset and hard work as you belt down, and the heat was close and humid.
You leg it down the path to then hit the Ben Nevis Inn and Bunkhouse, and by now people were oiled and cheering us on. A credit on the way down was due to the walkers who moved out of the way and gleefully gave praise.
Then it is the one mile road stretch to the finish, and by this point that was hard and painful. But you were rewarded with a magical moment as you enter the finish field. Your name is called out, and locals clutching Tenants cheer you on to the finish!
I’d raced up and down in 2 hours 47 minutes and was proud as I’m not on form. The race record is 1 hour 25 minutes…