The Ben Nevis Race

2nd Sept 2006
10 miles 4,400ft

In 1895 William Swan, a Fort William Hairdresser decided to run from the Post Office in the High Street up Ben Nevis and back. In doing this he inadvertently started what is now known as the Ben Nevis Race. Essentially the aim is simple, to run as fast as possible from Claggan park in Fort William, to the top of Britain’s Highest and rockiest mountain, and back. Since discovering Fell Running 2 years ago I have been intrigued by this race, and eager to discover for myself why this was once regarded as the toughest race in the world.
So I find myself parading with 377 other runners. We are following behind bagpipers for a lap of Claggan Park. One of the runners I am directly behind is Rob Jebb, something of a hero in English Fell Running, and this was (as I knew at the time) the last I would see of him for a while. As the Bag pipes stopped the nerves started to rise and we are told in a broad scotch accent “we’ve been lucky with the weather, it should be ok at the top. Right, ready, go”.
So off we set for another lap of the park, but running this time, then its 1 mile of flat road before starting up the mountain itself. I along with most others manage to run about quarter of the way up the 4406 feet peak. Then the gradient really ramps up and the ground becomes ever rockier, now it becomes hands on knees striding all the way to the summit plateau. I reach the summit, which is now shrouded in cloud, in 1 hour 31 minutes (the winner, Rob Jebb, has finished 2 minutes ago!). Now it is time for the really difficult part, the decent is notoriously tough, as I bitterly discover. My legs towards the bottom almost buckled under me as I shuffled my way agonisingly down the steep hillside, onto the 1 mile road which is also utter agony, and around the park with clenched teeth, to stagger over the line and lie on the ground. As I peer into the first aid tent and see all the cut legs and arms from falls, I realise that sore legs and a bruised ankle (from a flying rock that I probably kicked) is getting away with it pretty lightly. I will definitely do the Race again and maybe try to knock the 16 minutes off my finishing time of 2 hours 16. In doing this I will hopefully improve on finishing just above half way up the field. No medals or T-shirts were awarded but these weren’t needed the satisfaction of completing my first Ben Race was plenty.

The day after I ascended The Ben for the 2nd time. This time much slower and in worsening weather. My mobile phone certainly felt it, as it died due to being water logged. Never mind I needed a new one anyway.

The Kentmere Horseshoe Fell Race

16th July 2006
11 miles 3,500 ft
Mark Pickup Joined me to spectate at this one. It was a club race, and so attracted a few fellow Bowland Fell Runners.
It was a hot day and I found the race hard towards the end. It is a nice route with plenty of running. But the descent off Kentmere Pike is rough, deceptively long and tough. Still I held on and put in a real effort. I was proud of this performance. I finished 103 rd in 2 hours 7 mins. Well inside the top half of the field. This was the first race were I felt like I had made a good sustained effort throughout, and I learned a lot about middle - long distance fell races.

Skiddaw Fell Race

3rd July 2006
10 miles 2,700 ft
I enjoyed this race so much the previous year that I decided to do it again. I like the purity of the race, if not the terrain, which is very hard on the feet when descending. The idea of running to the top of a hill and back down as quick as possible is a simple idea. No doubt in those village fetes of many years ago this simple idea created what we know as Fell running today. This particular hill Skiddaw is 1 of the largest base to peak ascents in lake-land so it has its own special appeal.
The day was hot and made for a tough ascent, I struggled a bit more this year due to my lack of fitness. I made the top reasonably comfortably, but on the descent started to feel it, and actually had to stop running due to a stitch. I managed to get going again to finish in 1 hr 37 mins. 8 minutes slower than 2005 but due to either, a lower quality field, or hotter conditions, I finished 12 places higher in 39th.

Recce of Bob Graham Round leg 3 Dunmail Raise - Wasdale

27th June 2006
15 miles 6,500 ft

This is the longest and trickiest of all the legs on the Bob Graham round to Recce. It is difficult to make a loop out of it, as you can with all the others, without making it into a 10 hour day. So I planned to camp at Wasdale and get my father to give me a lift back to Dunmail Raise allowing me to run back over the route to our (Mark and Is) campsite at Wasdale.
My father and I dropped Mark off with the tents at Wasdale camp site, then my father dropped me off at Dunmail Raise, before he returned home. I was a bit nervous as I only had minimal knowledge of the route beyond Harrison Stickle.

The day was fairly easy for navigation with mainly high clouds. So I found the navigation pretty comfortable. I took the long route around Martcrag Moor. However I found it tough to pick the right line when I reached Bow Fell. I did however ascend on a fairly good line and never really struggled all the way to Broad stand. Here I chose to go via Lords Rake. The chock stone looming over head looking as if it could tumble down the thin steep gully was a bit scary. But not as scary as the free climbing I did out of lords rake after that. I chose the wrong route and instead of descending a bit beyond the chock stone, I headed straight up a gully. It scared me to a point of trying to climb back out of the corner I had backed myself into. I decided to calm myself and then make a real effort to carefully rock climb my way up and out. I made it. Just. when I got out into the open side of Sca Fell I looked up to the summit to my left and decided not to bother. My water was running out and I had just scared myself quite a lot, so I thought that I had done enough for 1 day.

I reached the campsite after washing myself in the stream. I felt much fresher but Mark thought I looked knackered. This was probably partly because of the way I staggered towards him, and the tents he had kindly erected, and flopped to the floor. I remember saying to him that I had underestimated the difficulty of the Bob Graham Round. Any of my previous thoughts of doing it later in the year were dismissed. I now knew it would be summer 2007 before I would attempt it.

Mark and I enjoyed the rest of the weekend, and on the next day we went via Highnose head up Kirk Fell then onto Great Gable and back to the camp via Sty Head.

The 3 Peaks Fell Race

30th April 2006
24 miles 4,500 ft
The 3 peaks is a classic fell race in terms of its history. But some would argue not in terms of its route and the type of ground covered. But no matter what you think of it being labeled as a Fell race it is a great running event. I enjoyed this as it is similar to a road marathon, with 3 hills to visit. They are Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

As is traditional we started in a field in Horton In Ribblesdale and headed for the first peak. Half way up and the leaders were already flying down towards us on the same path. This would be the last we would see of them. I coped quite well with the distance, having done a few marathons, and only struggled a bit on the long run off Ingleborough to Horton In Ribblesdale. Given my injuries in the lead up to the race, and lack of training, I finished in a reasonable time of 4 hours 55 mins.