So here goes!
My first ever go at a blog/race report! First il start by telling you a little bit about my running background. I started running about 3 years ago -mainly on roads and abit of off-road on my local trails. Nothing major distance wise to begin with, but my runs varied from 3-4 miles upto about 8-9 miles. I didn’t know about average pace and how many minutes per mile I ran at. I just used to put a warm heavy tracksuit on with my headphones in and run wherever my legs took me. I was into bodybuilding and lifting weights and weighed about 16stone, so I ran to condition my body basically- little did I know that subconsciously I was getting hooked on long distance running.
Eventually there came a weekend where I thought “right I’m gonna take a backpack with some food and drink in and head off out on the fells and see how far I can run” and I think after that, that’s where my love for off-road running started! 5 and a half hours later, having covered 25 miles I was back at home absoloutly nakered but feeling like I’d achieved something….that was it…I was hooked! A man who I work with called Mark Heaney encouraged me to join a local running club, Royton Road Runners.
I did a few park runs and then I then went on to entering and finishing the dent half marathon, the asics Manchester marathon, the Liverpool rock and roll marathon, brooks snowdonia marathon and then I got introduced to something called an “ultra marathon” off my friend Dave H. Daves one of the fittest blokes Iv met, he’s competed for team GB in triathlons and cycling events and won a few ultras including a 3 day event in Borneo! So under Daves wing I entered NAV4s TdeH (tour de Helvellyn) a hard winter ultra, 38 miles with 2000m+ of elevation in December! It’s a self nav course, I set off in the dark and would of been coming home in the dark but I DNF’d ….and that hurt!
About a week later when I’d finished sulking I had booked myself on the next NAV4 event which was in April 4 months later- LM42 (lakes mountain 42) it’s 4miles longer and more elevation- I knew I could do it, I’d just had a really bad day on the TdeH (I’d overdosed on tramadol for knee pain and it made me so dizzy and sick I couldn’t carry on ha- lesson learnt!) I finished LM42 and about a month later I went travelling around Asia for 6months. Whilst travelling around Asia and not being able to run around on the Asian fells and mountains a great deal because it was too hot for me to run! I decided that upon my return to the UK I would feed my hunger & book on a “few” ultras!
I tried to book them so they ran in some kind of logical sequence e.g I had a 2-3month gap inbetween each ultra and that each race was slightly longer than the next…. I ended up going with the “white rose ultra 30 Mile”, the “tour de Helvellyn 38 miler” (unfinished business), the “Oldham way ultra 40 Mile”, the “Calderdale way ultra 50mile” and then finally the “salomon Ben Nevis ultra 120k” and here I am pretty much bang on 12 months later writing a race report on my 5th race in the 12 month period and “supposed” final ultra for the year 😉 The “Salomon Ben Nevis Ultra” ! Described by the organisers as and I quote ” The salomon Ben Nevis ultra journey includes remote runnable tracks, technical single track, airy trackless ridges and some connecting remote mountain roads. Truly this course is for the boldest all-round ultra runners. In keeping with the ethos of the salomon skyline Scotland races this route is very challenging with considerable height gain, great variability in the terrain , multiple river crossings and an airy traverse of one of scotlands most famous ridges the carn mor dearg arête leading to the summit of Ben Nevis. It is almost certainly the uks toughest 100km+ ultra route” and it certainly lived upto the description! So….back to the report.
Friday: The morning before the race….
“What time is it” I thought to myself as I leaned out of bed and picked up my phone from the bedside table. Only one eye open I sees 8.20am and a few instagram notifications. Sigh – another 40mins left yet until my alarms due. Go back to sleep I thought. 2mins pass by and I’m thinking I need a wee, so I gets up and goes the bathroom and jumps straight back in bed. Heads buried in the pillows and I’m trying not to think about looking at what those Instagram notifications were… Another 2 mins go by and I thought sack it, too much excitement going on in my head to be able to go back to sleep- I felt refreshed and relaxed anyway so I decided to get up and immediately grabbed 1 of the 2 sis energy bars I had next to my bed for breakfast. Not the best breakfast in the world but for the past few weeks Iv been trying to simulate race day and get my body into a routine of what I’d be doing on the day. I wanted something light, easy to digest, no hassle and convenient seen as though id be away from home and these did the job perfect. So then I went onto making myself a few coffees, a banana and protein smoothie and double checking my bags, triple checking my bags and then checking them a little bit more! Before loading them into the boot of my car and setting off up to my mate Dave’s house who was also running it. By 10.30am we was locked, loaded and on our way to kinlochleven!
In the 6hour drive there I consumed: 1protein flapjack, another sis energy bar, 1 apple, a granola and yogurt pot, 1 snicker, 1 serving of white pasta with tuna, 500ml mix of mountain fuel extreme energy drink, 1l of water and an Aldi isotonic energy drink!
Friday: Registration ….
We arrived in kinlochleven at 5pm just in time for the opening of registration but first we decided to check in our apartment- Yes! That’s right! apartment ha! I didn’t actually know we was in an apartment until enroute as Dave said he would sort the accommodation out a few months ago when I mentioned it and I’d not given it much thought since. Id had visions of a guest house or typical B & B style accommodation. So when we pulled up outside this appartment I was well impressed, it was a 1 minute walk from the race village which was perfect and inside it had a living room with a Tv, DVD player, fully decked out kitchen, a king size bed and a double sofa bed! Oh and a posh coffee machine! Result!! Not bad at all for £40 each per night. I quickly dumped my bags in my room (while eating another protein flapjack), took my ready packed race vest and headed to registration. I was a little excited now, I could hear the house music coming from the speakers as soon as we got out the door and within seconds could see the salomon flags in the distance and the finish line. The mamores VK race was in full swing now and every so often competitors would come running past as it was a staggered start. This race was basically a vertical kilometre of elevation over as short a distance as possible, I can’t exactly remember what one of the runners told me on the day but it was a 1000m of vert over either 3k or 5k of distance so you can Imagine the steepness! It was simple – get to the top as fast as you can! Registration was quick and easy, a quick show of the mandatory kit items and photographic I.d gave you a stamp on the hand to show you had passed kit check , then to another table to be given a briefing sheet, a waterproof map and your number, then onto another table to get your dibber fastened around your wrist and gps tracker fitted onto your pack and then onto the last table where you received your Tshirt , car window sticker and a tattoo/transfer with the course profile on it and some helpful information like cut off times at each of the cps (which really came in handy during the race). With being too busy looking around at the other runners trying to see if I recognised anybody I didn’t realise that the guy right infront of me was only Donald Campbell ha! I didn’t realise until I got halfway through registration. Now fully registered we decided to dump the race vests back in the appartment and have a look around the race village, I put my bag on my bed and organised my documents and realised I’d lost my race number! Panic set in a little bit and I thought what happens if there funny and don’t let me start?! On the brief sheet it clearly states race number must be worn at all times! So I pegged it back out the door hoping the wind hadn’t blown it too far. Amazingly I found it in some long grass, phew! So with that sorted I had a little look around the shops and treated myself to some new shorts from the Ellis brigham pop up shop. I got some more salomon advanced skin shorts which Id already brought to run in but there worn out and there’s holes in the crotch! They was £120 in the salomon pop up shop and £56 in Ellis brighams! I do love a good deal! Ha. It was now about 6.30pm, we decided on grabbing a few pizzas from the local co op seen as though we had use of a kitchen! Then headed back to the apartment to relax…well not before going through my race pack one more time and having a last minute effort to try and ditch anything I didn’t really need. My pack weighed approx 8kg it contained gloves, hat, waterproof jacket and pants, headtorch with spare battery’s, a whistle, a technical midlayer, a spare rab merino baselayer, 10 packs of cliff shotblocks, 4x caffeine gels, 8x electrolyte gels, a tube of electrolyte tabs, 2x protein flapjacks, 2x pork pies, some beef jerky, 8pickled gherkins , 18 salt tablets, a packet of diocalm instants and 4x 500ml soft flasks. 2 of them to be used initially all the time giving me 1litre minimum capacity and the other 2 were spares incase I kept running out of water between cps so I could potentially carry 2l maximum if needed? The 2 spares were pre loaded with mountain fuel and all the air squished out of them ready to just add water. The aid stations with water were 25 miles apart and I didn’t want a repeat of what happened at the Calderdale way ultra- me keep running out of water before cps. I knew there was going to be plenty of burns and river crossings to fill up from inbetween cps but not knowing how the weather was going to be and how much the rivers would be up due to heavy rain I didn’t know if the rivers where going to be raging torrents of brown, muddy, undrinkable water or some of the clearest, purest water sources I could ever drink from! Anyways I ditched 4 of the 8 electrolyte gels, packed it all in my vest again, ate the other half of my tuna and pasta and banged my double pepperoni pizza in the oven and watched some shit Friday night Tv while googling the met office weather report for Ben Nevis summit tomorrow- it was saying a possibility of snow! I pondered on that thought for abit wondering if I should change my omm kamleika jacket to my goretex north face jacket which was slightly heavier in weight- I decided to stick with the kamleika as I’m prone to overheating -I’d put my extra mid layer on underneath it if I ever got too cold which was a montane dyno stretch jacket- it’s a top piece of kit. I felt good, I felt ready. Come 9pm it was time for bed, I set my alarm for 2.45am and by 10pm I was fast asleep Z z z z z
Saturday: Judgement Day….
I woke up and a wave of excitement went through my body, “is it time yet” I thought? I checked my phone, 2.15am. “Wow” I thought that’s pretty good for me! I expected it to be about 12.30 as I normally wake up multiple times the night before a race and can never get back to sleep. I tried to go back to sleep but I knew there was no chance of that happening my mind was way to active so I went on my phone and chatted to a few lads I know that were off to Ibiza, they had just posted the standard pre Ibiza airport picture only a few mins ago on Facebook so I knew they was up “have a good time lads” I put and they replied and the subject of my race popped up and how far I was running and one of them was like ” are you alright you, like do you need help” they must think I’m crazy haha! Maybe I am I thought?! I lied there thinking just resting with my eyes shut until my alarm went off and before you know it there it went – the standard apple iPhone alarm tone. I sprung out of bed, knocked the alarm off, switched the lamp on and began unwrapping number 1 of 2 sis energy bars. I was grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat. The moment I’d been waiting for, for months on end was finally here! It’s boom time! I had an hour to get ready and I have abit of a routine! I like to have about 2 strong coffees first before I do anything and when I can feel the caffeine surging through my veins, I go have a wash and brush my teeth and put my contact lenses in and then apply a huge amount of sudocrem to my sack and crack – sorry but I may aswell just say it how it is ha! Then I put my kit on: injinji toe socks, under armour boxers (as I find they never chaffe me), my new twin skin shorts and a brand new, pristine, white compression top…. my shoes I’d gone with the hoka speedgoat2s, a rab buff and a petzl headtorch. I was ready, it was 3.40am giving us 5mins to walk to the rendezvous where we got on the coach to take us to the start in fort Agustus at 6am sharp. On my way out the door I made a drink of mountain fuels extreme energy fuel to sip on the coach for the 2 hours before the start. It was a nice fresh morning. Abit chilly but you would expect that in Scotland I suppose. The main thing was it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t too cold. I managed to stick with wearing no jacket. The coach set off at about 4.15am and took about 1hr 20 to get to fort Agustus dropping us off outside some public toilets some 5minute walk away from the start. The toilets were heated so I made the most of the 20 minutes I had left in there keeping warm and managed a quick chat with Micheal Jones, winner of this years Lakeland 100. At 5.55am I left the luxury of the nice warm toilets where I’d been stretching my quads, hams and glutes and started to make my way to the line with a slow jog – pretty much how I’d be running the whole day! When I got to the masses at the start I was looking at everybody’s packs and guessing what they had in them- some where the tiniest I’d ever seen and it made me wonder how they had passed kit check ha. I suppose mine would be tiny I thought, if I didn’t have all the nutrition in it. It amazes me at how little some people can run so far on. A lot of people were worried and talking about making cut offs. I was trying not to think too much about them I was being optimistic and kept telling myself it’s simple, just get to the Nevis range cp (approx 50 miles in) before 5.30pm. If I could cover on average 5 miles per hour for 10 hours that would get me there in 10 hours leaving me 1.5 hours ahead of the cut off meaning I’d then have 5 hours to get up and over Ben Nevis and down to glen Nevis cp before the 9pm cut off. “Piece of piss” I thought….pfffft I didn’t know about them bogs yet ha. So at 6.03ish off we all went into the dark, headtorches on- it was cool seeing all the headlights in a line in front and behind me. The first 12miles were hard compacted trails, relatively flat and very runnable with really gradual climbs. Not my cup of tea…everybody ran off and left me haha I can’t run fast and especially on flat. I remember saying to myself “don’t get sucked into anybody else’s pace, you need to run your own race” so sticking with that I was rangeing from 9 min miles to 12min miles. I tried making a go pro video of a deer but the stupid thing crashed and never let me do anything it just froze and then eventually ran out of battery! Brilliant I thought- no ridge running videos on this race now. I’d drank 500ml of water at this point and saw a fresh water opportunity so just to be safe I topped myself back up so I had a full 1 litre on me to last me to cp2. Just before cp1 about 9 miles in I put my earphones in as my hip flexors and hams weren’t feeling very good they were stiff as hell and hurting! I put a random mix on and pressed play….Justin beibers voice came booming out “what do u mean…whooaahhh, when u nod your head yes but u wanna say noooo what do u meannnnn” ffs! I dibbed in at cp 1 at about 13miles it was a bothy I can’t remember the proper name. For those that don’t know what a bothy is it’s like a little refuge Hut out in the wild, they have them dotted all over Scotland and I think there might be a few in England too? The next 12 miles or so was a drastic change in terrain the hard compacted trail had gone and here was the start of “the bogs” and the river crossings. I was in the zone now, the headphones came off and wrapped up in my pack as the hip flexors and hamstrings were feeling better. The pace had slowed right down to 12s and 13 min miles, it was near impossible to run with speed of any sort now especially with the footwear I had on and the last thing I wanted to do was slip, causing me to over extend and involuntarily tense up everywhere potentially sparking off an episode of the dreaded cramps I usually suffer with during long distance events. So I took my time and began picking a few people off. The bogs were good fun I thought. 1 minute you was hopping along covering good ground and the next you was calf deep in pure swamp- sometimes even waist deep. I got to 1 bog and there was a few people congregating at it and 1 lady weighing it up, I said “go on youl be right” before jumping in it myself and disappearing in it upto my waist screeching “shiiitttt” as my pure white base layer went from white to pure brown in an instant ha! Everybody laughed! There was a few river crossings aswell which people were pussy footing around at – thigh deep. I thought “your never going to get across dry so why just stand there looking at it” I passed a few more people ploughing through the rivers. The Justin beiber song was well and truly stuck in my head now and I was feeling good- it was showing too as I couldn’t stop singing “what do u mean woahhhhh” at the top of my voice ha some people couldn’t understand why I was so happy as they looked like they were having the worse time of there lives! Cheer up I thought! Some people I’d say “hi” to as I passed them and they didn’t even acknowledge me, how rude ha! After a while I caught up with Dave, I knew something wasnt right as Daves a more experienced stronger runner than I am. “Are u ok mate” ? I shouted . He told me his knee wasn’t right but he’s ok so I ran with him a minute before pushing onto cp2 the first cp with water and food. Cp2 was overcrowded and I couldn’t feel my fingers- it wasn’t extremely cold but cold enough to make me not feel them. I think it was abit of the cold along with the way I was holding them while running so struggling like mad I managed to take my pack off and screw the lids off my bottles, add some electrolyte tabs to them and do abit of rearranging, I put my mobile and my headtorch in the main compartment at the back instead of in the pockets at the front as it was hard work getting at my shotblocks every 30mins with all the junk on top of them. I also filled one of the mountain fuel loaded bottles up to sip inbetween this section to last me to the Nevis range cp. I put my pack back on as it was getting cold without it and it was raining abit. I swigged 2 cups of Coca Cola, ate a piece of cake, a piece of flapjack and a cheese and pickle sandwich (all small bite size pieces of course) and a protein flapjack before setting off on the next leg walking while I finished eating my food. I wasted far too much time at that cp I thought. I think about 7min in total when I should of been in and out in 2mins maximum. If I was to suggest anything for next years event I’d suggest an area/table for runners to lay there packs down whilst they organised themselves and at least one extra water bowser as I had to queue for about 2 mins to use the one and only. Leaving cp2 I was back on hard compacted ground- I thought I could claw back abit of lost time- ha wrong again! After leaving cp2 you ran back up alongside the river you came down but on the opposite side, you could see the other runners coming down into the checkpoint and Dave shouted me and put his thumb up ” how is it I yelled” he pulled the face and wiggled his hand which means he wasnt sure! “Im gonna crack on i shouted” and he gave me the thumbs up. Within 2 mins a little orange flag pulled us off and back onto another boggy, swampy, marshy section! At this point I remembered pre race i said I’d take a caffeine gel so I slowly consumed that over 1km. It was uphill to begin with for about 8 miles following some old rusty fence posts with several river crossings over a meandering river. I over took quite a few people on this section, it must have been the caffeine gel kicking in. I kept looking over my back and there was just one guy that’s all about a minute behind me. Eventually I lost him and went into autopilot mode before coming back to my senses and realised I’d not seen a little orange flag for a few minutes. I stopped dead in my tracks , my heart sank! Fuck. I couldn’t see any orange flags , I spent a minute looking 180 degrees infront of me for an orange flag in the distance- they hardly stood out at the best of times as they were covered in mud and the rainy drizzle impaired my vision abit . I was on a trodden path so I was just about to back track the way I come from until I came back to an orange flag – when somebody shouted…it was the guy who was behind me! I turned round and he was waving his arms and pointing across the river to the missing, sneaky bastard, orange flag ha! I gave him 2 thumbs up and ran down to the river and continued on up the slippery ascent soon catching up with the fella and thanking him for shouting me . The going was really slow on this section even on the downhills- it was like marshland and swamp. My average pace was about 13/14 mins per mile on the ascent and about 12 on the descent down to cp3. I was still passing people at this point and I’d even began to pass people that started in the 1st wave at 5am- this really upped my morale and confidence. I looked over my shoulder just before I came into cp3 at a major road crossing and there was not a soul in sight, good stuff I thought. Cp 3 was a warm welcome. Some claps and words of encouragement from the staff were much appreciated. One chap told me that there was about 20k of solid ground now from this point and to fill my water bottles up from the stream near the farm at the bottom of the road if I was low and I was. I’d gone from needing 3/4 of a litre to 1.5 litres inbetween cps now. So at the river I filled my bottles up and took a minute to stretch off various muscles. More than anything now my lower back was acheing. On all the climbs I was walking doubled over to try and stretch it off whilst moving . I could also feel my calves pulsing abit as thought they could cramp up so I got a pork pie and some beef jerky out and a pickled gherkin- hopefully that will sort it out I thought. Protein & salt . So like the guy said the next section leading to the Nevis range cp 4 was very runnable, I put my earphones in again and pressed play and “feels” by Calvin Harris came on, better than Justin beiber I thought to myself! So for the next mile I thought I was Pharell Williams- I was almost skipping. Everything had just clicked into place now and I felt settled- the best Iv ever felt in an ultra race even. The next track to come on was “unbelievable” by biggy smalls (if u know it you know it) I felt mint! I’d stuck to my nutrition plan religiously, 2 shotblocks every half hour, 1 salt tablet on the hour every hour and 1 sis electrolyte gel every 4th hour instead of 2 shot blocks, a sis caffeine gel at cp2 and cp4? Leaving me with 2 spare for times in need and 2 mountain fuel drinks to sip on. 1 after cp2 and one after cp4. I had no stomach probs, no sickness and no cramps just focused on what I had to do. I passed a few more people along a beautiful forest trail And was back on 10/11 min miles now and over the 40 mile mark . The music was getting irritating now for some reason, I couldn’t hear myself think so I pulled the plug on it half way through notorious B.I.Gs greatest hits, it was good to listen too at 1st, perfect for the pace and then I felt like I needed a break from it so I went live on Facebook instead but couldn’t manage staying on for too long as reception was poor so I put my phone away and plodded on until I got to the Nevis range, cp4 were I got an even better reception than cp3! There was quite a big crowd gathered here. All cheering and shouting and ringing cowbells….big cheesy grin alert ha! The staff here were really helpful, immediately asking if I’d like my bottles refilling – “yes please” so I handed them my 3 empty bottles one containing my last drink of mountain fuel while I had a few cups of Coke and some more cake and flapjack and composed myself for what lay ahead. I put my headtorch back on and pulled my last protein bar out ready to eat it. I was 1hr 20 ahead of the cut off. Yeh man I thought. There was only one other runner in the cp when I came in and he was sat down looking grim, I’d said hello to him and he said hi back but he was going through one of them low points I think. I was just putting my pack back on I’d literally been in there 2/3mins when everybody started clapping and cheering again and I saw a flood of about 8 runners coming into the checkpoint and they was moving fast! Shit, time to go! 4 of us set off at about the same time, a couple about my age and an older chap who later tells me he’s 51. “I bet you didn’t expect to see us again” he said haha! I can’t remember his name or if he even told me his name but he was a nice bloke, he told me he’d done the cape wrath ultra so we chatted about that for a few mins while I ate my last protein bar and it suddenly started to get cold and seen as though we were at the beginning of the climb up Ben Nevis I thought it sure isn’t gonna be getting any warmer. The other couple who was a few metres infront also felt cold as they were putting jackets on too. I stopped for a minute whilst trying to get my kamleika smock on over my body including my pack- I was struggling as it was tapered at the bottom and I almost cramped up in my stomach trying to stretch my arm over my shoulder to pull it over my race pack. I stopped at that point, consumed another caffeine gel and carried on walking… looking like a teenager making a poor effort on Halloween with his jacket pulled up over his head so you could only see his face and his arms dangling out the sides!! “Trick or treeaaaat” I jogged to catch the bloke up who I was chatting to and asked him if he could please pull my jacket over my bag. The ground was getting steeper now and the forest was opening up so you had full view of the Ben- it was awesome! Then the sun came out! Bloody typical I thought just after I’d put my coat on- this combined with the road changing from a gradual climb to a steep one had me sweating my tits off! I caught up with the other couple and we got chatting for 10 mins, they were lovely people, the lad had recently done Lakeland 100 this year and the pair together had ran transgrancanaria also this year. I was amazed at how much they had done and was now doing this- especially the guy having only done Lakeland 100 not so long ago. Strong runners I thought as they began to leave me on the swampy boggy ascent upto the carn mor dearg arête…at this point I had really slowed down, it was the 1st time I’d felt any fatigue at all during the race. Ah well it had to happen at some point I thought and looked at my watch…53 miles, this was the furthest I’d ever gone on foot now. “Keep going howard you still want it” I was saying to myself so I just kept moving, slowly but surely 1 foot infront of the other. I’d only ever been up Ben Nevis once and it was from the other side, a typical mountain trail type route, solid rock steps. So before the event I’d imagined the route we’d take would be similar to that and those I’d trained on- Helvellyn, scafell and snowdon. Hard, sharp, solid rock but how wrong I was , this was soggy, wet, muddy, grassy, sloppy shit, “pure shit” I remember saying live on Facebook ha. The couple were about a hundred metres infront of me now, the guy not far behind me and 2 guys that I passed way back before the Nevis range cp were now over taking me! Jeez how do they do that I thought. I stopped to admire the view, gobble a few shot bloks and take a few photos (and sort my head out) the view was immense! The sun shining off Loch eil made it look silver in colour and sun rays where shining through the clouds giving an awesome photo! Then It started to rain and the wind picked up. 1 of the 2 guys had stopped just before cp 5- I think he’d burnt himself out so I slowly passed him and the couple had also stopped. I seen them rooting around in there bags- probably for gloves as my fingers were numbing up again. I pressed on determined to make it to the start of the arête. I could see a little pop up tent in the distance and as the ground levelled out abit I began to feel ten times better. I broke out into a yomp and climbed up some rocks and dibbed in at the control point which was pushed outside through a little opening in the pop up tent and I could hear cheers and words of encouragement coming from inside. I thanked them for there time and for giving up there whole Saturday to spend it freezing there arses off in a little tent on the cmd arête! What a view this was too it reminded me of a huge dragons back. I could see two figures about half way along and within 5 minutes I’d caught them up, it was 2 ladies. The technical stuff is one of my stronger points, especially the ridges they don’t phase me at all. I was loving it- no Justin beiber this time though! I tried to go live on Facebook once again and was disappointed when my battery went! It had probably done me a favour doing that -Crack on I thought, nows not the time to be pissing about on Facebook so I carried on making good progress over the ridge and caught up to another man at the end of the arête but upon trying to pass him safely and without slowing him down I lost my footing once or twice and nearly fell backwards- it wasn’t life threatening it just would of hurt like hell on the sharp jagged rocks. He asked if I was ok and I said “yeh thanks I was just trying to pass you without hindering you, you go ahead mate” I said and I let him crack on. I’d gone from feeling on top of the world coming over the arête to feeling like death at the end of it on the final steep ascent to Ben Nevis summit. The rocks were all loose and moved when I stepped on them, I stopped for a few seconds as I felt dizzy and light headed i kept feeling like this with every few steps I took. I looked up and saw a photographer, “great” I thought! I wonder how many pictures he’s got of me nearly crying! So I forced a brave smile and pretended to be happy while he took a few pics. Great stuff he said keep going. “Thank you” is all I managed to say. I felt terrible now and I was talking to myself “I still want it, I still want it, I still want it” mumbling away when I heard this giggling- there was 2 women chilling in the rocks having a rest ha! “I’m not a nutter I promise” I said to them ha. On I went. I started to get really really cold and I couldn’t feel my hands at all now. It was a scramble up the last 100m to the summit and I felt like I was putting my hands on pure blocks of ice as I was clambering up. The guy who I was close to before was now about 50m ahead of me, he was making good progress and I was loosing sight of him and I’d also lost sight of the orange flags too, I was slightly off course. Fuck! In an ideal world all I needed to do was put my gloves on and have a minute but to do that I’d have to stop, take my coat off, take my vest off, pull my dry bag out of my race pack, and pull the mid layer out to get to the gloves right at the bottom and then re pack it all and put my jacket and pack on and all that would of took me a few minutes – Id of probably perished before I did all that, I was in a loose/loose situation! School boy error and one il never make again! I wouldn’t of been able to do all that anyway because I couldn’t feel my fingers, they wouldn’t of moved! It was bitter cold and the wind was cutting through me like a knife while thinking about it! All sorts of shit went through my head…I felt dizzy again…what happens if I need help? The sos button on the trackers had been disabled and my battery had died on my phone. I took a few deep breaths and looked at the altimeter on my watch it said 1250m and I know Ben Nevis is 1300 and something metres high so I just kept going up knowing i was only 50-100m off the summit. I kept moving up slowly 1 foot in front of the other and in 5mins I’d made it to the top and was rewarded with a sunset and a half! It was beautiful! I could see the silhouette of the trig point now standing out against the orange sky and 2 human beings stood next to it! Thank god for that I thought and broke out into abit of a jog to warm up and holding my hands under my armpits now I didn’t need them to scramble up the rock face. I could feel the heat transferring into them from under my arms. The wind had stopped now on the summit which I thought was strange and it was eerily quiet- then I noticed little traces of ice which still remained from when it snowed the other day. I reached cp 6 at Ben Nevis trig with about an hour and a half left to make it to the bottom before the cut off. The 2 cp staff were nice and cheery and asked if I was ok – I was about to tell them how I felt back there but decided to swerve that one and replied with ” yes I’m good thanks” I dibbed in and they said Youv made it up just in time for a perfect sunset and so I had it was gorgeous!! It was proper dropping low in the sky now which prompted me to get going! Right I’m gonna keep moving I’m getting cold I said! They wished me good luck and off I went. It was getting darker by the minute now and the track was littered with loose rocks of all shapes and sizes, better concentrate I thought! All I need now is to crookle or trip and it’s game over. I was catching back up with the guy who I could see just before the summit, he’d slowed down. A few minutes later I was right behind him and he stopped to let me past. I asked him if he was ok and he said yeh fine he was just taking his time. “No probs, take care” I said and carried on. It was time for the headtorch to come back on now I think! It was quite dark and I was struggling to see the rocks so on it went and it was like getting a new pair of eyes! A few minutes passed and I could hear movement behind me and saw a headtorch gaining on me. Jeez there giving it some I thought and a lady came hurtleing past me. We said hello and she said something like she was worried about not making the cut off, I was struggling to hear her with my buff and my torch strap over my ears so I didn’t say much back I just sped up and let her pace me. The next few miles we really ramped it up or so it felt like we did! We was running down technical’ish steep rocky trails in the dark with 60 miles in our legs we were probably only moving at 11/12 mins per mile ha but the rate at which our legs were turning over due to the technicality made you feel like you was moving fast if that makes sense? I looked behind me and up- I could see all the other runners starting to descend Ben Nevis too now-little specks of white in the night with there bright white headtorch lights on, I could also see people in the valley below us too! It looked mint! I was out of water now but I estimated we was only 2-3miles away from glen Nevis cp now so every time we crossed a stream I quickly grabbed a handful of water and sucked it up out of my hand rather than stop and fill my bottle. We passed another guy on the way down who was limping he said he crookled on a loose rock a minute ago and was walking it off he said he was okay and he was- as he joined us. All 3 of us were clock watching now we had 20 mins left till cut off and we could see the lights of the village below us where the cp was- it seemed so close but didn’t seem to be getting closer. Eventually we could hear a cowbell and screams of support from people shouting in some runners that must have been only a minute or so infront of us . This made all 3 of us speed up and put on a cracking sprint into the checkpoint. There was about 4-5 people already lurking about in there when us 3 arrived making it chokka! Hurry up guys your getting close to the cut off I heard somebody say- “Shit” I thought how out is my watch to theres?? I had it that I had around 9mins to spare. I started looking for the control point to dib in and they wouldn’t let us until on our way out and we had finished at the aid station. So they filled my waters for me super quick, while I had a cup of Coke and asked me if I wanted any food I said “yeh please just any butty” the guy rammed 2 buttys in my hand and started leading me towards the dib point ha almost pushing me out of the glen Nevis cp- not in a bad way just for my own benefit to keep me going and give me as much time as possible, “well done young man” he said keep it up your doing great! I stuck my dibber into the box heard it beep twice and off I went into the night. I was on my own now….apart from my 2 jam and cheese buttys! It was pitch black and I was on a Tarmac road. I couldn’t work out if I was the 1st one out of the cp that was there or if id been dawdleing while eating my sandwiches. Ewww I felt bloated now and began burping up Coca Cola mixed with jam and cheese sandwich. I opted on fast walking for a further minute whilst I tried to keep the food I’d just wolfed down inside me. I turned my torch brightness setting down to minimum now- the last thing I wanted was to run out of power and have to stop and change battery’s on my torch- that would be catastrophic. So upon doing that the tiny orange flags now got darker and even harder to see. You had to be proper on the ball if you didn’t want to miss any but that was easier said than done when you’d been running for more than 15 hours! I set off into a jog again and soon enough I spotted a headtorch in the distance and sped up a little bit more. Then I started going up hill so it turned into spurts of a jog and then a fast walk until I caught them up, it was a lady. We chatted for abit – she told me that back at the checkpoint they told her it was 12 miles left until kinlochleven. I looked at my watch I was on 63 miles and it sounded about right. We walked for abit before hitting a sign for the west highland way. “Yesss the final stretch” I thought! This was enough to set me off into a slow run again. The end is near …or so I thought! I caught upto another lady and none of us spoke, I didn’t have any spare energy left to talk or raise my voice to start a conversation and I’m assuming that’s the way she felt too. I felt grumpy. The ground had turned from hard compacted track to a horrible loose gravel now with loads of big stones in it that I kept tripping on .My mind drifted off and I remembered seeing a gpx file for the course online one day before the race and I’m sure it was abit short of 75mile. I think I remember it being about 73ish so now like an idiot I’m telling myself it’s only 4miles away to the finish when I get to cp8 lundavera and not 6. I was counting down the miles now abit too much and doing a lot of clock watching and time seemed to be forever dragging on. I was hitting abit of a low too – forever looking at the blacker than black horizon looking for signs of kinlochleven or even cp8! Nothing! I slowed to a walk now and the lady I was with kept on pushing, a minute later the guy who had crookled coming down Ben Nevis passed me in really good spirits full of beans. I said “I’m really sorry pal I’m not being rude I am listening too you but Iv not got any energy to shout back to speak to you” he laughed and said “it’s fine pal I get you” his movements made me start running again so I was trailing behind him and it dawned on me I’d not ate anything for about an hour and a half -no shots or gels so I pulled out an electrolyte gel. A few mins later I felt slightly better and in the distance I could see a flashing yellow triangle. It had to be lundavra cp! “Come to daddy” I mumbled to myself and sped up abit. We caught back upto what I thought was the lady that wasn’t speaking but when we passed I realised it wasn’t her it was a man who I’d not seen before he must of been struggling. “Run with me if you like” I said to him and he just shook his head and carried on walking -he’d had enough I thought and I totally understood him so I plodded on to the checkpoint it was a road crossing. I stopped to dib in said thanks to the Marshall and then carried on but walking- I was still on a low! Only 4 miles now I kept telling myself. My watch was on 69. I was adamant the course was 73 miles long and not 75! Even my transfer on my arm said finish 118km. I kept switching from running to walking for the next few miles desperately searching for streetlights! Where the hell are they I thought?! The west highland way is beautiful I bet, in the day light! But not right now it wasn’t! It had calf deep streams crossing it every 2 minutes and the ground was all loose and energy sapping with big jagged rocks sticking out of it determined to trip me up! My watch finally hit 73 mile and all I could still see is pitch black. I’d been holding back on a caffeine gel the last 2 miles because I knew I wanted to sleep when I got in but when I realised kinlochleven wasn’t coming anytime soon I thought sack it I’m having it! Within minutes I was doing 10/11 min miles again – oh yess the caffeine was well and truly kicking in surging through my body bringing me to life again and I caught up with the guy who crookled and passed him and then I caught the lady up who doesn’t speak and I passed her too! Howard’s back, back again I starts singing in my head and before I know it I’m on 74 miles and still no sign of lights. I carried on for another minute or so and then I seen it – a single yellow streetlight and it didn’t look to far away! Yesssss I was buzzing, I sped up a little bit, but the light had gone . I didn’t care, that was enough, that was all I needed to see. It had given me a new lease of life. It was still pitch black though so I looked over my shoulder and it was all good- No headtorches behind me. My watch hit 75 miles and I grinned a little bit . I’d of been disappointed if I had to finish the run on 73 or 74 .something miles. The pain had gone now, I was back on a high and I could see all the lights of kinlochleven village and it wasn’t as close as I thought. I snarled out loud as I nearly tripped up- it was a really tricky little winding path full of stepping stones- fresh wet footprints on them meaning somebody isn’t too far ahead of me! I hit the tarmac road at the bottom and chucked a left. I looked over my shoulder again and still no signs of anybody else- I didn’t slow down though, I sped up again, I wanted this over and done with. I looked at my watch I was on 75.5 miles doing 9 mins per mile and I had about 10mins left to finish within the 18hr cut off! I couldn’t see any flags so I followed my nose through the streets of kinlochleven, it was a ghost town at this time of night. I was running ever so slightly up hill and the 9 mpm pace was tough. I could see some people on the pavement about 100 yards ahead of me in shorts and down jackets, they looked like finishers – at least I’m going the right way I though! Where is this bloody finish?! The people clapped me and pointed behind them and I could see the ice centre now and a man waving at me in a yellow salomon jacket! Get in!!! I crossed the line in 17 hr 55! The feeling was immense! The guy shook my hand and congratulated me and put my medal on- cheesy grin came out again and they passed me a cup of water- it disappeared in a breath! Would you like another? “Yes please” I inhaled the next one and stood there for a few seconds bent over with my hands on my knees stretching out my back – it was acheing really bad! More than my legs! They cut my tracker and dibber off and printed off my sportident result. I read 26 out of 33!! Wowwww I thought …. out of 100 starters only 33 had made it with only 5 mins left till cut off! I wonder how many more will make it? The “out of 33” bit had thrown me off track a little. I thought it could only be that 7 more runners had come in before me but had set off on the 5am wave but had finished in a slower overall time placing me infront of them? Or that sportident had calculated there was only 7 more runners left in the game? I don’t know? I heard more cheers as another man came running in before the cut off. “Well done” I said and shook his hand. It was the man who had crookled I think. “Go and get yourself some hot food and drink” the official said handing me a blue token. He didn’t need to tell me twice! So off I shuffled to the bar only to be met with some steps. I made it up them ok and walked into the room and seen a few familiar faces including the 51 year old I was with earlier on and the guy out of the couple going up Ben Nevis. They must have timed out I thought? How did you get on” I asked? “I timed out before glen Nevis cp” he said. “Awww gutted” I said. We shook hands and I congratulated him on still getting that far. I ordered veg curry as that was all that was left. I felt abit let down. I thought there would be abit of a spread on, some pizza and some hot soup or something . You didn’t come here for the food I told myself and tucked into my veg curry and rice with a pitta bread. I couldn’t eat it I felt sick. Another runner came in it was the lady out of couple. Everybody congratulated her and she sat down and started getting changed. I thought maybe I should do the same as I was sat there in wet clothes. I couldn’t be arsed. I’m only 2 mins from home il stay as I am. I pushed my food away from and let out a sigh as the sicky feeling was getting worse. I need to go. I said goodbye to everyone and shuffled out the door. It was freezing outside, my teeth were chattering. I felt like turning back to the pub and going changing into my fresh base later and clean mid layer. I carried on. “Man up your only 1 min away from home” I thought . There was loads of scree in my shoes I couldn’t wait to get them off. I wonder how Dave is I thought? I bet he’s in the big bed- we said the 1st one back gets the king size bed ha. I had it on Friday night Dave insisted on having the couch bed – i was hardly going to argue with that. I got through the door and to my surprise he was on the sofa bed!!! I startled him but within a second he asked “How did u get on” “finished” (more cheesy grins) he shook my hand “well done pal” I asked him what happened with him and he showed me his knee it was massive , it had really ballooned up! “Shitttt” I said and asked how far he got. He made it to cp3 and pulled the plug on it. I took my bog ridden kit off, made a protein shake, downed half a litre of water and got in the shower it felt like heaven! I didn’t wanna get out! I put my compression pants on and got in bed wearing my medal! Gimp! Ha! Put my phone on charge and uploaded my run on strava as you do and admired it! Then thanked everyone on social media for the support and well wishes. It was 2am now. Best go sleep. I went to the fridge and got my other 2 pork pies out and 2 bottles of Aldi isotonic sports drink. The sickness had gone now so I ate the pies, put my phone on silent and went to sleep feeling nakerd but content! I didn’t sleep too well, I never do after long distance races. I can’t describe it. The legs ache and twitch through the night. I think I woke up at about 4am for a pee and got back in bed….I was hungry too so I got back outta bed and rummaged around in my bag for a protein flapjack, I ate this and nodded off again.
Sunday: Day of rest
We were both up and hobbling about by 8am. Abuseing the posh coffee machine. Daves knee was massive and all I had to whinge about was a sore back ha. We agreed on getting a full Scottish somewhere on Loch Lomond so I packed my bag and off we went. What a glorious day! The air was crisp, fresh and pure. I was sad to be going home, but it was my sons birthday and I’d promised him I’d be back. So we set off down to Loch Lomond stopping every 2 mins to take pics as we drove through glencoe. What an amazing place. We found a nice little cafe at Loch Lomond and got a full Scottish each- I had extra toast with mine. It sorted me right out. I was still on cloud 9 though.
So there you have it, my 1st race report/blog. Hope you like it and you can get past the spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. I’d recommend this race to anybody it was exactly what it said- its not for softy trail runners. A bit pricey though but if you can afford it do it. It was the 1st salomon Ben Nevis Ultra so I’m sure there will be improvements made on next years race. I hope they don’t change the cut offs too much though, ultra racing isn’t meant to be easy and I think a mass start is a must next year.
Right that’s enough from me now, i hope you enjoyed it? I’m going to enjoy the rest of my holiday now and think about my next race “the montane spine challenger” Thanks for reading….