6 September 2014 – 8.7m / 4419ft.
A dozen Rossendale Harriers huddled together at the start line of 2014 Ben Nevis Fell race. I don’t know who was more apprehensive; those of us who hadn’t done the race before, with the fear of the unknown. Or those with past experience, who knew exactly what they were in for.
The main topic of pre-race talk was the unavoidable ‘Yes or No’ debate. Yes – I do think I can do it in less than two hours. Or No I can’t. Apart from Joe Johnston of course who would’ve had to have worn clown shoes to come in over that time. As the runners gathered behind the bag pipers I asked Andy Lee (he’d done it once or twice) if he had any advise for a first timer – “Never look up.”
All talk of taking it easy on the first mile long road section was adhered to (yeah right). The mass of 500 runners soon stretched out, so I guess the dreaded road section serves a purpose at least. By the time we passed our digs www.ben–nevis-inn.co.uk we were onto the pony path and the start of the climb up Britain’s highest mountain.
A bunch consisting of myself, the two Scotts (forenames not natives: Sadler and Hitchen), the Tinman and Dave Bradley swapped places towards Red Burn, the mountain beck that roughly signifies halfway up but also where the climb goes from steep to stupid steep. I gulped a handful of the cool water in hope that it’d somehow help prepare for the hands on knees push that faced us. By now Scott Sadler’s pre-Ben Alpine training seemed to be paying off as he stormed up the grassy bank and into the clouds, leaving “Go’on Rossy” shouts of support echoing behind us.
The green of the grass turned to grey, as we scrambled over loose rock and scree. It was just a case of head down and get on with it. All of sudden the first of the fast lads came into view; Rob Jebb (Bingley) and Martin Mikkleson-Barron (Borrowdale) hurtling towards us and back down the mountain. It was sort of reassuring – confirming the climb doesn’t go on forever. As it flattened out a bit, attempts at actual running were being made. It was a great relief to to pick up the pace and I felt surprisingly good, managing to gain a few places.
By now the clag was thick and it started to play tricks with my mind. But no, it wasn’t a mirage; the cluster of figures surrounding that cairn was the summit! The top of Britain’s highest mountain. I’d done it. It all went a bit weird at this point. Everything seemed to slow down including myself to a triumphant couple of strides as I thanked the marshalls. Dazed and disorientated, I almost felt like sitting down for a bit to admire the view (if there had been one) but I soon snapped out of it thanks to a reassuringly recognisable Mancunian voice coming mysteriously out of the clag (they do say God is Manc. Well Mike Garry does, but I’m not sure) “Halfway there now Pat. Keep goin lad”. Eh? Hang on. Oh yeah it’s Richy Campbell – Rossendale’s official summit support crew, and he’s bloody right! I’ve got to get back down now…
I set off like a mad man attacking the boulders and trying to go with the looser stuff. I latched onto the back of a small group of four runners containing at least one white vest of a local Lochaber runner and we veered off to the right. It sort of felt wrong but I went with it. A brief traffic jam slowed us to a halt thanks to a minor boulder avalanche. Our little group quickly checked up on each other with shouts of “Alright?” in various accents and we were off again. Considering this near miss we must’ve been going well because I spotted another Rossy vest to the left. It was Scott Sadler again, picking his way down through the grey boulders.The Scree soon turned into the infamous grassy bank. A succession of big loose grassy steps which would normally be fine, but after all the climbing, plus hundreds of meters of scree decent – my legs disagreed. This is when the wheels fell off.
All of a sudden someone injected concrete into my legs and the ballet skips from the scree became a distant memory. I stumbled back over the Red Burn and just hung on by trying to stay up right. Get back into a rhythm and legs will recover soon enough, right? Wrong.
My weak legs did manage to get me down without any major incident and onto the final mile of road before getting back to the playing fields and the finish funnel in 2:03. Nearly but not quite under that 2 hr mark. I can’t say that I wasn’t a touch disappointed but no meither. I don’t think that I could of tried any harder or gone much faster. Well, not today anyway. There is always next year.
What a race. Stripped back it’s only a straight up and down fell race. There is races with more interesting routes. Less intense and more varied terrain. It’s so technical from start to finish that I doubt you could ever get your head up to really do the views justice, even on a good day.But there is something about the Ben. Perhaps it’s the history. William Swan, a barber from Fort William, is the first recorded person to run up and down in 1895. Maybe it’s because for that brief moment at the summit you are the highest person on this whole island. But more than anything it’s the feeling that it’s little you verses that bloody big hill.
Joe Jonston was the first Rossendale Harrier back in 10th with a cracking run of 1:44:55. Which was a great effort only narrowly missing out on first U23 in his first do at The Ben. More to come there I’d say. I think that makes 22 Ben Nevis Races for Andy Lee which is some effort. With Alan and Helen Yeoman notching up another Ben each. Ian Barnes also did really well coming back from a long time out with a nasty injury. Mick Toman was just out run at the finish by an eager Dave Bradley (reports, in the pub later that evening, of a push are yet to be confirmed at the time of writing) who dipped at the finish to beat Mick and his PB by 10 minutes. As for the sub two hour wannabees? Well you could say that they failed but they tried.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)
Full Results – http://www.bennevisrace.co.uk/pdf/Results_List2014.pdf
God is a Manc – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L61okbUrdg0