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.

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