The journey up to Fort William for Arran was a bit challenging and one I was hoping wasn't a sign of things to come for the Marathon de Ben Nevis. The ferries were cancelled from Arran on the Wednesday and delayed on the Thursday. The trains on Thursday from Ardrossan to Glasgow were cancelled due to damage on the lines and when I finally got to Glasgow and got on to the train the ticketing system was messed up and it was a rammy for seats - three people had the same seat reservation as me...
I also hadn't received any info about registration and start / end points for the race (although some folk had, so must have been an "IT problem") and my three running wingmen were delayed driving up due to road closures and traffic down south. They arrived at 1:45am on race day :/
Despite some of the challenges, all was good. I felt fit travelling up and in the couple of weeks before the race. I had had some doubts earlier in the summer - especially after the Tarsuinn Trail nearly broke me - but I recovered well and regained confidence. A few teething problems getting from Arran to the start line in Fort William weren't going to get me down for the race ahead.
I use the term "race" very loosely... The route around Ben Nevis is 40 miles including an elevation gain of just under two munros. I wouldn't be racing. Just happy to finish in one piece.
On to the starting line...
It was a little windy, a little cold, a little rainy and very dark. Everything you'd expect from a trail run in Scotland at the end of September with a start time of 6am. My main thoughts at the start were how deep the river crossing was, especially since it was 22 miles into the race. In 2016, I believe the river was not crossable, so the fact that we knew it was crossable was encouraging.
If I had properly looked at the first section of the route then I might have been thinking more about the three mile climb at the start of the race than the river crossing. It was just a steady climb, but a climb none the less and I did catch myself thinking "is this ever going to end". That might explain the reason I took the wrong path just after reaching the third mile, which added about a mile on to the race because I had to retrace my steps! I flag or arrow would have been handy, but I felt responsible for missing the turn off - should have used GPS... I felt even worse that a bunch of folk followed me too. Sorry :/
Anyway, we all made it back on to the correct path safely.
The trail around Ben Nevis takes you by Kinlochleven, along Loch Eilde Mor, over Abhainn Rath (river) at the Luibeilt bothy and northwards to Spean Bridge with Stob Coire Easain on your right before heading back to the Nevis Range. Some of the views were spectacular especially as you head up and away from Kinlochleven.
The hardest part of the race was the climb after the river crossing (which was just over knee deep on me, although quite powerful). The climb reminded me of the terrain on Arran; slabby, rocky and steep and wet in places. It was tough under foot for sure and tiring given that it was around 24 miles in. There is also a mountain bike race at the same time as the marathon; I've no idea how the riders get their bikes up it.
After you reach the top of the climb you are rewarded with an undulating couple of miles before a long downhill section towards Spean Bridge. This is exactly what you need at this point. The downhill section finishes at 31 miles before turning towards the Nevis Range on a logging / fire track (which tend to be boring - and was).
The weather held for most of the race, however I still ran with three layers on, one which was a waterproof jacket. I also had the hood up for about the third of the race, but I much prefer these conditions over it being too hot. A rare occasion in Scotland.
It was a great experience and I'm glad I ran and finished it. Over the last 12 months I've run a lot of miles with the three most challenging runs being the Edinburgh Ultra Tour last October, the Tarsuinn Trail 25k in June this year and the Marathon de Ben Nevis a couple of weeks ago. This race was definitely the least challenging of the three, but that might just be a reflection of my fitness levels and having gained more experience as the months have passed.
Now, I'm just taking a couple of weeks off and pondering which race to do next. The dreamer in me wants to do the UTMB...