Friday, 31 May 2013

Ben Ledi Ascent Hill Race and Sponsored Walk Tomorrow!

This Saturday (1st June) the Ben Ledi Ascent hill race and sponsored walk is being held, there will be entries on the day for anyone tempted by what should be a great and perhaps even sunny day!  It's the first time this event has been run with a hill race, but it's been a long standing event sponsor walk. Skidaddle are organizing the hill race part, while the Callander Rotary Club are organizing the walk.  I've already written up the race route in my Ben Ledi Ascent Route article, and with this post I'll provide a bit more info about the event and also a bit my own personal build up and plan for the day and the race itself.  Hopefully this help provide a bit of guidance to those knew to hill racing and to Ben  Ledi itself.


Training for the Ben Ledi

There is no two ways about it, Ben Ledi is a mountain, just shy of Munro at 2884ft but as you start relatively low you still have a juicy 2500ft to climb.  Racing up it deserves respect, both on race day and in training for the challenge.  I wish I could provide a textbook example of how to train for such an event, but I've been plagued by a injury in my left foot (Metatarsalgia) that has lingered for 10 weeks now.  

What little training I have done had been done on the mountains - especially Ben Ledi itself which I've been up 6 times in April and May, and Stuc a'Chroin hill race. My mileage this May only been 27 miles, but included 10,000ft of ascent/descent.  Where this strange mix of training put's me I have little clue, I'm guessing that while I'll far from peak fitness what fitness I do have left should be best tailored to running up Mountains!

For those with less mountain training behind them I wouldn't be too intimidated, how you race on the day is just as important as an route specific training.  I would have been very happy to give up most of hill running this last month if I could have been out training every few days and putting in 30+ miles as week.

Another factor that hasn't quite worked in my favour was comming down with a stomach bug on Tuesday this week, so I lost plenty of sleep and couldn't eat for Wednesday until the evening.  Today I'm on the mend but still not 100%.  Hopefully other runners and walkers will have faired better with training and general health than I have!

How to get to race HQ, Parking and Registration on the day

Ben Ledi is a couple miles west of Callander, just off the A84.  There is small road off to the west of the A84 on the south side of Loch Lubnaig, look out for sign posts for the Strathyre Forest Cabins, you'll cross a metal bridge and then follow the road around to the right.  There are two roads off the right, the first a public one that takes you to the Forest Cabins but on route there is gate on left that might be available to get to the race HQ and parking, and another private road that takes you past some cottages and eventually to where race HQ and parking will be.  I don't know which route will be road will be used on the day yet, it'll be sign posted so just keep an eye out for the signs just after the metal bridge.   Parking will be limited though so share transport where possible.

Registration for walkers will be from 8.30 to 11 am and you'll be able to start as soon as you've registered, runners registration is from 9.30 to 10.30 am with the race start at 11am.

While online entry has already closed entry is available on the day and cost £7.50.

How to race Ben Ledi

A couple of weeks back as a training run and to gather a bit more route information I ran the Ben Ledi Ascent route using the ascent as a tempo session, running around lactate threshold all the way up.  I set myself a goal of running all the way and achieved it save for a few steps across boulders.  Come race day I will probably take more walking breaks on the ascent to mix things up and let different muscle groups take the strain.  My 10k personal best is 39:36, so I'm guessing that most sub 40min 10k runners could probably run the vast majority of the ascent, for anything slower than 40min pb I wouldn't recommend even attempting to run up the whole ascent, it'll just burn you out early and lead to an overall slower time so plan a run/walk strategy for the ascent.

When I ran my tempo run on Ben Ledi the ascent took my 48 minutes, so a bit over my 10 km PB, but overall probably done a bit lower intensity, I'm guessing on race day I might make it up in around 45 minutes.  Given that it's not much slower than my 10 km times I believe that your own 10k PB plus a bit would give you a reasonable estimate for time to the top.  As you still have 2500ft and 3 miles to run once at the top I'd recommend not putting in quite the same level of effort as a 10k on the ascent as you don't want to be totally wrecked at the summit and unable to run a smooth and strong descent.

With most races I find it useful to break down the race in to sections, the route itself naturally falls in to 5 sections that I discussed in my Ben Ledi Ascent Route article.

Section 1 : Forest trail

From the start you head up a gently rising trail that zigs zags through the the forest, rising about 300ft in a mile.  This section should be runnable by most runners.  My plan is start easy for the first couple of minutes before steadily upping the tempo to around my lactate threshold, but not above - I don't want to want to be out of breath and legs burning before the real climbing begins.

Section 2: Diagonal Ascent to Shoulder

Once you leave the forest trail you head up a path that almost immediately becomes quite steep and only gets steeper a few hundred metres in where stone steps adorn the path.  These stone steps are great for walkers but making running awkward as it forces your stride length to match step size which will for all but the elite's is likely to be overreaching.  To try and match these steps and run up will through most people off the deep end into leg burning and lung busting hell so you'll either need to power walk them, or look out for footing beside the trail or between the steps.  I took the later approach when I went up on my tempo ascent, I got up the steps but it took me over my lactate threshold and was relieved when the path levelled off and leaves the steps behind!

The path is quite narrow at points so you'll need to take of other members of the public using the path.

After a stream crossing the well groomed path is left behind and it becomes more broken and rocky, most of it is not too steep and runnable, but there has been a recent landslide that has overrun the path for a hundred meters, it's reasonably steep here, but it may well be just trying to judge a good route through that might entice you to walk bits of this section.  A power walk uphill is rarely much slower than running so I'm planning to run/walk bits of this section.

Once past the landslide section the path levels off and is easily runnable most of the way up to the shoulder.

Section 3: Ascent along the Shoulder to the Summit

The path turns right and heads up the shoulder, but before your do look left as you great a great view down over Loch Venachar and over the Fourth Valley - I find this panorama unfolding always gives me lift, it really feels like the toiling uphill has achieved something.  You are now around 2000ft up and over 2/3rd the way up the ascent.

The route up the shoulder initially makes it way through flatter heathery bogs section that will runnable if a bit awkward to spot a good route through at some points.  As the route steepens up the path become clearer and easier to track - straight up the hill towards the summit.

There are three false summits before reaching the actual summit, and each one gets progressive steeper and harder to run, but before each next step section you get a short level, short descent and short level section to catch your breath.  The last steep section is the toughest to run and I'd expect the majority of runners to walk it.  I was only able to run this last one by carefully picking my way up looking for the shortest possible distance between foot holds so I could keep my cadence up, this is quite hard as walkers over the years have worn regular foot holds - good for walking but break up the terrain so much that you can avoid using them when running as they are often the only reasonable footing to be had.  Nipping off the path occasionally helps avoid the over-striding that might push you over the edge in lactate burn hell.

After final false summit there is short respite before you head up underneath the cross that is mounted on crags at the summit, you pass to the right of these crags and then turn left up and then around to the right and the summit Cairn.  Great 360's views of the Highlands to the north and west, the lowlands to the south and east are revealed, if only you've left enough in the tank to have the ability to appreciate them.

Section 4 : Ridge Traverse and descent to Stank Glen

My plan is to not push too hard getting to the summit as the descent is often steep so requires quads are in good shape rather than overworked and solid, cramping or reduced to jelly.  Fast reactions, quick foot placement and smoothly flowing motion are also important for a quick descent something it's hard to do when head swimming in oxygen debt and low blood sugar.

The descent starts really easily with a gentle drop down from the summit and along the spectacular ridge which drops steeply to your right.  At the end of ridge you head left and path then drops steeply down.  The heathery and grassy descent is strewn with small rocks and too steep to comfortable run, the best I've ever achieved is an awkward slow run down but seasoned hill runners may well be able to run it comfortably.  The prospect of serious tumble is pretty high if you do take it too fast though so I'd encourage caution down this initial steep descent.

Section 5: Descent into Stank Glen

After the first steep descent levels off a little there is path that heads to the left towards Stank Glen, this narrower path is steep in places but more easily runnable and really enjoyable section to run as you can start to move more smoothly with the twists and undulations of the path.

After following the small diagonal path you can drop down onto the well worn walkers path or stay higher on more open hillside crossing the heather and grass that while boggy in places offer reasonable footing.  Before you know it you arrive down on the path just before fencing and style that takes you into the Stank Glen itself.  Over the style you follow the path that descends down quite steeply but runnable all the way to a junction in the path which you head right.

Section 5: Stank Glen

The next three quarters of mile through Stank Glen undulates but on average is gently downhill is the fastest and most easily runnable section of whole route.  Again leaving a bit in reserve on the ascent and steeper descent sections will enable you to really enjoy both the views and the speed of this section.

All too soon you'll pop out at the bottom of Stank Glen onto a forest track where turn right and then 20 metres later left downhill.

Section 7: Descent down Forest Path

This final section down the forest path is steep and broken up by roots, rocks and now even fallen trees due to last years storms.  This section is very technical but fun to run down, light feet make light work on this section so keep the cadence up and eye peeled for the best footing.

The path briefly pops out on the forest track which you will have run up at the start, but you don't follow the track, instead look out for the hidden entrance to the path that restarts and heads steeply downhill once more.  This final section of path is very broken and technical but pretty short and before you know it you'll be winding right and back onto the forest track that takes you the last hundred meters of so to the finish, this last bit of track is gently heading downhill so no excuses for no sprint finishes!

How long might it take?

I'm in the shape to do around a 42 min 10k and on my tempo run I did it in 1:18  (hr:mm) when racing I'm sure I'll cut a few minutes off this, and wouldn't be surprised to get in around 1:15, and would love to get near 1:10, but given the week I've had I should probably be just thankful for a finish!  I'd guess multiplying your current 10k time by 1.75 would be a reasonable estimate on your finishing time.  As the route is almost 10k this might well be the toughest and slowest 10k you'll ever do :-)

I expect the winning time will be close to a hour, while I don't believe Presad is around to race to take the time under 1 hour, another local Craig Harvery is signed up and did great in the Callander 10k and is  likely to get near 1 hour,  maybe even under - no pressure Craig :-)

Fast walkers could probably do the route in not much longer than 2 hours, but I'd expect most to go out to enjoy the walk and complete it around 3 hours.

Weather, Clothing and Essentials

The BBC website if forecasting light winds, temperate around 11 degrees, sunny first thing then overcast later in the morning.  Rain showers may arrive later in the afternoon.  Mountain forecast is for 20 mph at summits, great visibility and cloud staying above the summits.  It'll be cool at the summit be will stay above well above freezing.  So there will be no repeats of the harsh winter conditions we experienced doing the Stuc a'Chroin hill race this year!

As the conditions are pretty benign I don't think dehydration should be an issue, it'll be cool at the summit but as long as you don't stop too long anywhere there shouldn't be any need for lots of layers.  I'm planning to run in shorts and T-shirt and bring along my running jacket in case it looks like the rain is heading over early.    I don't plan to take any water with me, if I get too thirst there are streams I can stop to drink out.  Instead of taking water I'll just drink a little 5 minutes before start and then top back up afterwards.

For walkers you'll be out much longer and moving slower so long trousers, several layers and jacket would be sensible.  Having a picnic at the summit is really popular with plenty of space to sit down and enjoy the view of countryside and the daft runners wheezing there way past.

Best of luck to those of your racing and walking tomorrow.  Thanks to all the Marshals and volunteers from Mountain Rescue, Callander Rotary Club and Skidaddle.


  1. Thanks Canute, the overall race went really well - lots of feedback of what a great event it was, my own race was affected by been ill this week but still posted a time at the upper end of my expectations so really can't complain. Don't feel too stiff today which is great, but my insides still aren't right. When I get an opportunity I'll write up the event in the next day or so.