So you’ve signed up for (or are going too) this epic challenge as sponsored by this magazine, with its run up and down Britain’s highest mountain. You may be worried about how to prepare and what you’ll encounter, well fear not as we continue our recce and training plan.
The Braveheart Triathlon finishes with a run like no other – up and down Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis. It’s an iconic route that for most will represent the biggest challenge of all in this race. To start with, the run winds its way out of transition, and then quickly heads onto the singletrack road up to the start of the main Ben Nevis walking track. After 3.5km you’ll reach the Nevis Inn. For a moment your mind might wander and you’ll think of joining the usual walkers enjoying some well-earned rehydration at this point. But resist this temptation, at least for now, and head on up the track as it turns to an off-road path. You must stick to this main tourist path all the way to the summit, and once at the top it’s a simple dead turn and back down the same route all the way to the finish.
Consider your shoe choice carefully. Remember that of the 21km involved, 7kms are on tarmac – this being the singletrack road from transition to the Nevis Inn then back again. The path up Ben Nevis itself is an off-road track but it is well maintained, and particularly if dry doesn’t present a very technical challenge, at least compared to “normal” hill races. The requirement to stick to the main path all the way up and down makes this even less of a technical run. For me, unless it’s very wet, I’ll opt for trail shoes.
There’s a good chance that there will be snow on some part of the mountain; whilst it’s unlikely to significantly hinder your progress, do bear this in mind and check nearer the race for an update on the situation. The weather will be a crucial factor during the entire race and Scotland’s very changeable climate is never more apparent than on the journey to the summit of Ben Nevis. Don’t be fooled as you enter pockets of shelter on the way up – it’s very likely to be cold on the top not to mention windy, wet and misty. Then again, it could be 20 degrees with cloudless blue skies! But I’ll certainly be packing the car with my winter gear. To reiterate, a weather check nearer the time is vital, and makes a huge amount of sense. If in doubt, as always, carry too much kit rather than too little.
Pay attention to where the aid stations are and what’s at each of them. You may not feel like you’re sweating, but you will be, and you’ll need to closely monitor your nutritional needs. Running out of energy isn’t much fun anywhere, and certainly not here. Stick to what you know works, and focus on avoiding any dips in the first place rather than trying to fix them once they happen. The Red Burn half way up is a good place to fill up on water.
I would expect very few competitors to be running large amounts of the path up. It’s a steady gradient and power walking is a far more energy efficient way of making progress. Consider using poles as well. It’s important you try and reach the summit with at least something left as the path back down does allow you, if you can, to lengthen your stride and start to pick up speed. There are several sections which are very runable. But stay alert and don’t switch off as the path can quickly change into poorer terrain which will require you to walk in parts.
A key aspect of any trip up Ben Nevis will be the numbers of people on the same path as you. Given it’s Britain’s highest mountain, this is to be expected, but it can present difficulties on race day. Be mindful of the fact that whilst you may be having a tough day, for several others of those just out walking, and not involved in the race, this may represent the challenge of their life. Respect the relative endeavours of everyone trying to conquer the mountain that day. Remember you’re certain to come across a number of people who would love to be able to do what you are doing but for whatever reason, can’t. So don’t be frightened to encourage others, whether they’re in the race or not. It will be reciprocated, and no doubt with the occasional shouts of “crazy” or “bonkers”, which of course we all like! Enjoy the whole experience in such a unique environment as you all do something you’ll never forget.
As you return to the Nevis Inn, Fort William starts to unravel out in front of you. As off-road turns to on, don’t forget about the final 3.5km on tarmac. It’s been the sight of plenty of unwelcomed cramps in previous years; so do what you need to do beforehand to ensure that you don’t suffer that fate. Check your nutrition, and even take a few seconds to stretch at the gate just before the tarmac begins. Do what you can to muster some final energy to power back as best you can to Fort William. They’ll be plenty of others feeling worse that you by now so push on and make up some final places before the finish line at the Old Fort. Leave nothing in the tank.
Here’s a video from Sean McFarlane on essential race day kit and Ben Nevis tri tips:
Braveheart training plan
Here’s your training plan for the next four weeks. It’s gradually progressing from the previous plans in terms of volume but look to fit your training around you life rather than vice-versa as much as possible. Doing so is far more likely to be sustainable. It’s now holiday season but don’t forget to at least pack your goggles and trainers. Oceans and mountains are just what you need.
WORDS: Sean McFarlane PICTURES: Andy McCandlish
More info: bennevisbraveheart.co.uk