Report by Hill Runner
The annual pilgrimage to Scotland for the Ben Nevis race took place over the weekend of September 1st. NAC had 6 athletes entered and raring to go, 3 first timers, 1 second timer and a couple of ‘oul’ hands. Arriving on the Friday, in glorious conditions, we had fantastic views on the journey down from Inverness along with many tales and race tips provided by the ‘oul’ hands.
A few of the young ones decided on a short run on the lower sections of the route to loosen the legs and get a feel for the ground before everyone headed to The Ben Nevis Inn for some pre race carb loading followed by an early night.
Race day dawned and not a single mountain was visible as a thick blanket of fog moved in overnight. Conditions were cool and the ground was wet leaving some of the rocky sections treacherously slippy.
The race started at 1pm and after a lap of the football field it was a tight squeeze as roughly 600 athletes tried to pass Ricky Cowan and negotiate a narrow gate before hitting a tarmac road for the first mile. From here we followed a stone trail, that zig zagged in places, before crossing a river, which roughly marked the half way point. The path soon disappeared and the ground got very steep with lots of loose rock and scree, the higher we climbed the windier it got with heavy fog and mizzle making it difficult to pick the best line. First NAC man to the top was Seamus Lynch, climbing steadily before turning and having a blistering descent to finish in an excellent 27th place in 1:40:39, a time which would have seen him in the top ten several times in recent years. Next up were this year’s closest rivals, David Hicks and Colm Murtagh, who were pretty much neck and neck all the way reaching the summit in 1:13:00. Pushing each other hard, they descended together trying to stay on their feet as they caught up with Jasmin Paris. Believing she was first female, they tried passing her several times but just couldn’t get away from her. On the final road section, Murtagh forced a gap leaving Hicks to battle it out where he just pipped her by the skin of his teeth. Murtagh finished 70th in 1:50:29 with Hicks 71st in 1:50:42. As it happens, Paris was actually 2nd female, meaning both boys were “chicked”, by none other than Inov8 athlete Victoria Wilkinson who finished in 1:43:01 for 38th place overall. Next home for NAC was Pete Grant, who 2 weeks previously took on the Galtymore race for training and finished it in 15th place in 1:40:59 and 2nd mv50. Having raced here before, Grant knew what was in store, and had a steady climb to the top, 1345m high. A bad fall on the way down seen him injuring his hand, luckily not needed for running and he finished a fantastic 146th in 2:01:27, just outside the magic 2hr mark. NAC’s only female entrant was Grace Neville, while most runners were enjoying a comfortable nights sleep in a cosy bed the night before a big race, Grace decided to throw the tent up beside the river! As anyone who knows her will tell you, this girl doesn’t do normal, perhaps it’s the air on this side of the hemisphere. Luckily it didn’t seem to affect her performance as she stormed home in a fantastic 2:35:24. This was the first weekend of a month long exhibition for the girl from Tasmania, as she plans to walk the Cape Wrath trail camping along the way.
Having done this race many many times over the years was Brian McBurney, and knowing how tough it is it did not deter him as he “buzzed” up the mountain to claim his 20th race. He “flew” home to finish in 2:41:15, a whopping 15 min quicker than last year. The race was won by Scotland‘s Finlay Wild in 1:27:35.
The evening was finished off in style in Fortwilliam, where extra large portions were the order of the day, along with sampling some of the fine wines on offer, buckfast!, and to prove he still had something left in the legs Murtagh also done a quick rendition of the River Dance.
Sunday morning dawned in beautiful sunshine as we made the scenic drive north to Inverness for the flight home, vowing to return next year and have another go at The Ben.