I was surprised to receive a call from the Ben Nevis Race secretary offering me a place just three weeks before the race. Assuming I wouldn’t get a place, I had entered to run in the Glasgow half marathon on the following day. In spite of my decision never to race the Ben again after my first experience in 2008, I accepted the offer and trundled up the road to Fort William with Club Captain Chris on a warm and bright morning.
In the run up to the race, it takes some effort not to get wound up by the hype and buzz, and one risks pumping up the adrenalin far too early in the day. I’d been struggling with a cold all week and the combination of jangling nerves and feeling under the weather tempted me to hand my race number back. However, I thought that would be poor show, besides, I had a women’s team to lead (Paula & I).
So, in worryingly warm conditons, and after one lap of the games field, we hit the one mile of tarmac which leads on to the tourist path up the Ben.
Up to the Red Burn, the racing feels decidedly edgy, with people jostling for good position on the narrow and stoney path. I was surprised to pass Eilidh Wardlaw on this first section, but felt it more important to keep with the rhythm my legs were setting rather than worry too much about pacing. After the burn, the route leaves the path and more or less goes directly uphill over loose, scrabbly terrain. I was in a comfortable position by this point, moving at the same pace as those around me. A glug and a gel provided the sustenance needed to maintain this pace, allowing me to nip by Dave Rogers. Soon the terrain changed and the angle of the ascent eased. However, the top section was harder due to the size of the stones which prevented any proper running and just sent my legs all over the place. At this point, my attention switched to noting the front runners flying past, and trying to keep out of their road. Eventually I came to a wall of people, who I assumed were marking the summit, but they didn’t gesture anything to me until I asked them what I was to do with the summit tag.
It was a relief to turn and begin the descent, first over the joggly stones and then down the trickier terrain of fine stones, and enormous rocks which will take several layers of skin off you at the least encouragement. I soon fell behind Mindy’s sturdy footsteps, then lost him as I crashed and slipped down further, aiming for patches of grass, which turned out to be just as risky with the grass just covering a bed of rock. Sarah Byrne, Lochaber, thundered past me on the approach to the Green Bank, as I rather pathetically tiptoed down, having taken a full and bloody somersault at this point two years before.
On hitting the tourist track, the race suddenly seemed quiet, and as I was focused on where to place my feet, I wasn’t aware of any folk in front of me until I hit the first cut through the bracken. Suddenly, I was held up by a guy in front and could hear someone on my shoulder, in my reaction, I nearly took a nose dive into the man in front, who took the hint and stepped aside to let me slap onward. John Denovan’s vest was now just ahead, but the woman behind was interfering with my focus, and on those big, immovable slabs, I prioritised caution and waved her past planning to take her back on the last stretch.
I’d saved a bit of drink for the road, and tucked in behind John, keeping the woman no more than 30m ahead. The plan was to dig in at the field, but as my shoes sunk into the grass after the tarmac, the lap seemed too far to begin a sprint, and I left it too long to find the right gear. I just managed to pip a couple in the last 50m, but missed out on 5th female position by 5 seconds.
I was delighted though. I felt strong on the uphill, managed not to damage myself and enjoyed the team banter afterwards. Well done to Manny, Chris, Alan, Graham, John, Mindy, Dave and Paula on completing the race and thanks to Barbara and Brenda for the support.