Sat. 1st Sep. 1pm New Town Park Claggan Fort William
As the weather forecast was not good for Saturday and it was quite
a long trip, I couldn’t persuade any of my family to accompany me
to watch the race and ended up driving the 150 miles from Penicuik
to Fort William by myself. I couldn’t face camping (I had a bad
experience several years ago in Aberdeen being frozen in a tent the
night before a 100 mile time trial) and decided to drive up on the
Saturday morning. In fact it wasn’t too bad with light traffic and
it took under 3 hours. The only slightly concerning part was Rannoch
Moor which sported a howling gale and heavy rain. Glen Coe was
pretty spectacular in the wild weather as well.
However, when I got to Claggan Park (and straight away bumping into
Steve Fallon) the weather had calmed down to being almost pleasant.
After wandering around for a bit looking at boxes of running shoes
and socks, I found Chris who gave me a few last minute tips and
tried not to scare me too much with graphic descriptions of jaggeddy
boulders and vertical grass slopes.
New races are always a bit daunting, but this was the big one of
the year – I had actually done quite a lot of training for it and
was determined to get close to the 2 hours. At 12:50 five hundred
or so runners were piped into the starting pen ready for the off.
The first mile or so was a useful warmup along a single track road
leading into Glen Nevis and then we turned left on to a track going
diagonally up the hill. The track was well-established and built
to withstand hundreds of hillwalkers. Although mostly wide enough
for two runners, overtaking was not easy due to the abundance of
rocks and boulders.
Up to this point, the weather had been OK, but as we veered to our
left towards the famous burn watering stop at about half way, the
wind picked up, the drizzle started and I wondered how on earth
runners wearing only vests weren’t getting hyperthermia. Steeper
and steeper, wetter, mistier and windier, but I was feeling
‘comfortable’ and started to overtake the odd runner, conscious of
the fact that some of them would be faster down hill. The wind was
becoming so gusty that I was being blown sideways and tripping over
boulders which quite frankly should not have been tripped over.
This was becoming a very long slog, but I was prepared for it and
just concentrated on footing and pace. The one hazard I hadn’t
prepared for was the scores of other hillwalkers enjoying the hill.
Fortunately quite a lot of them were spectating and most of them
were very condiderate and gave you a bit of space (when they could
see or hear you from within multiple layers of arctic clothing).
At last the gradient lessened but the terrain was very tricky to
run on with loose scree, very sharp and slippery rocks and visibility
down to 20 metres. Fortunately the runner in front looked as
though he knew where he was going and the last couple of hundred
feet were marked with tape. Some funny rounded cairns and then the
top! Or at least I assumed it was the top since runners were handing
in their tags. Not much of a view then!
Deep breath, turn round and start the scary descent. This was
something I had never experienced – uneven ground is a huge
understatement. It got steeper and steeper and as well as trying to
avoid the worst rocks and drops, there were lots of runners still
coming up and walkers to dodge at the last moment. The adrenaline
was flowing and things became slightly mental, hopping, jumping,
sliding, skiing. I lost control a couple of times but just about
managed to keep my feet. It was quite enjoyable in a manic sort of
I was concentrating so hard that it was a surprise when the mist
cleared and there was the dreaded grass slope. I think I preferred
the rocks. I just did not have the expertise to run down it and sort
of lolloped, slid and fell on my behind all the way down. I was
almost at the bottom, confidence was returning when ouch! I stepped
into an invisible hole and turned over on my ankle. Drat! The ankle
didn’t work for a bit and I must have looked quite silly to
spectators floundering across the burn on one leg. I crawled up the
other side and got to the path. The ankle didn’t seem to be a
complete disaster and hobbling eventually turned back into running.
Hooray – almost down, a bit of a muddy traverse and on to the tarmac.
The last mile or so was exceedingly painful, the legs were wobbly,
the ankle was dragging a bit and people were starting to overtake so
I had to push hard. But I could hear the PA announcing returning
runners and we were soon into the park. One lap of the shinty pitch
and I was home! Under two hours – ya beauty!
So another visit to the First Aid Tent for an ice pack. I hung around
for a while to see Chris come in but the ankle was beginning to seize
up and I decided to start for home whilst I could still drive.
Well what a race! Certainly one of the toughest and most exciting
I have ever done. Thanks to the organisers, marshalls (especially
those at the summit!) and of course to the first aiders. Full
results are on the Ben Nevis Race website but here are a few of the
Finlay Wild Lochaber 1st 1:29:56
Steve Fallon Carnethy 27th 1:52:21
Duncan Ball Penicuik H 47th 1:56:32
Chris Downie Penicuik H 411 2:56:02
Janice Smith HBT 416 2:57:33