Monday, 3 June 2013

Ben Ledi Hill Race 2013 : Race Report

Ben Ledi is the biggest mountain in the Trossachs, while it's peak at 2,884ft is just shy of a Munroe, its vantage point on the edge of the Highlands make it possible to see far over the flatlands towards Stirling and Edinburgh and also offers great views of the Highland peaks to the north and west.  It's a mountain that begs to be run, but never had a regular hill race before, finally, Skidaddle  turned this long held dream into reality.  At last, after all the anticipation, the 1st of June came round and it was time to test ourselves with 2,500ft of ascent/descent and 6 miles of forest tracks and open hillside.

View from Ben Ledi looking south east towards Callander and Loch Venachar near by, and Stirling in distance
As I was going to help Skidaddle with registration I made sure I was up at 7am and ready for Rob to pick me up and take us to Race HQ at the base of the mountain.  Normally on the morning of a race I can't hold back the nervous excitement, with the adrenaline levels winding up for the race, (with adrenaline pumping my insides are normally a bit excitable too).  Strangely, however, I wasn't nervous, I put this down to tempering my expectations of a good performance as I'd had a bout of stomach bug mid week and even on Friday I still wasn't 100%. No nerves, but my insides were still complaining, it seems they just hadn't coped well with eating normally again.

At registration the sun was shining and the midges were still asleep, it was bliss.  Soon after registration opened there were runners lining up keen to join on the day, 32 runners entered on the day, with 30 pre booked online, and with only 3 no shows there would be 59 runners on the start line.  A great turnout for a new race.  Feedback from a number of runners about my blog entry on the route was very positive which is pleasing to hear - I'm not just wittering away on this blog, well not always :-)

After a short briefing we headed off at 11:02am.  I ended up starting right at the back of the field and have to admit kind of sleep walking into the race, ambling over the line in no particular hurry.  I caught up with one of the older entrants who asked me if I was the sweeper!  Errrr no, I was supposed to be competing... Still it was such a lovely warm and sunny start I just got chatting with him.  Like many others I was to meet today he expressed how glad he was to finally see a Ben Ledi hill race.

After a few minutes being sociable I remembered that it was supposed to be a race, so I picked up the tempo a little, but still couldn't quite bring myself to race yet.  I started over taking the tail enders and then spied a couple that both were both wearing what looked like Vivobarefoot Neo Trails, as I'm rather fond of my pair I couldn't help but slow down and chat - turns out they were from Callander and had even read this blog - alas I didn't catch their names.  As we approached the left hand junction just before the 1 mile point the prospect of getting stuck behind slower runners on the narrow path dawned on me so I bid them good luck and moved on once more.

The tourist path that heads steeply uphill from the forest track is runnable, but it takes a lot out of you unless you really slow down and shorten your stride. Many simply walk.  I shortend my stride to keep my cadence up, stayed up on my toes and steadily passed runners, I looked ahead expecting to recognize fellow Callander runners but couldn't spot any, oh dear my dawdling in the first mile had left me rather behind where I should be in race.  Now looking at my GPS trace for the day I was 2 minutes down on my Ben Ledi tempo run that I had done 10 days before.

Knowing that I had taken it rather too easy I moved into race mode, but as we were less a 1/3rd the way up  it was still a very measured effort.  Running steadily up the steps still got my HR up to 180 which is pretty high and well above my lactate threshold.  After the steps the route levels off which allowed my HR to drop away quickly and any lactate building up to dissipate.   Still feeling comfortable I kept picking off runners.  The path then heads over a stream and a stile and then heads up diagonally towards the shoulder, the path becomes more broken making its way through boulders and a new landslip.

You have to take your opportunities to pass along this part of the path and if you don't you're stuck moving at the same speed as the runner ahead which meant taking more walking breaks than I needed but once I started adding short walking breaks of a few strides it's kinda hard to break out of this and I couldn't keep up my resolve to run every step.  Truth be told I started feeling fatigued at this point, now about half way to the summit so I began welcoming the quick walking breaks.  I wasn't expecting to feel so fatigued so early in the climb, especially after such an easy start.

Once up on the shoulder I found that as long as I walked quickly and got back into running as soon as good runnable ground was available I was still passing runners regularly.  I wasn't feeling great but still making reasonable progress and was still wondering where fellow Callander runners Steve Field and Ally Morrison might be, usually we are well matched and often trade places in different races so I was expecting to at least see them at some point.  As I climbed the first blind summit I passed a lady who quipped "oh I thought you were a lady", she then explain my "pink" top had confused her.  It's a purple top!!! PURPLE!  Ok... it's a quite a pinky purple, thankfully having been married for 14 years and with three children I'm pretty secure in my masculinity, at least to know I can pull off wearing a bright top :-)
( It's pink - wife)

Now in first lady position(!)  I set my sights on the next runner, as I caught up it dawned up me that it was Steve.  My rapid rate of passing runners had long ceased so it took me a little while to draw alongside. Steve was struggling today having not run much in the last few months, with cycling being his main focus.  I was feeling pretty knackered at this point, three quarters the way to the summit and wasn't feeling great or competitive so I was happy to bobble along behind Steve up the last steep section before the summit.  Just as we bridged the final false summit an older runner tore passed us like he'd been set on fire.  An impressive turn of speed so close to the summit, or perhaps a sign just how much Steve and I had settled into a given pace.

The summit was in cloud but still offered perfect good visibility and the strong winds reported earlier  by Mountain Rescue weren't evident so it wasn't too cold.  Once over the summit the running became easy and fun as you traverse the ridge.  Fi Walker was taking photos of runners just on the ridge looking back towards the summit and caught Steve and I being chased down.  Steve and I put on Cheshire Cat grins for the moment, we were having fun, any shred of competitiveness was long gone by this point.

Shortly after the summit, Steve Field  left, myself centre, pursuer unknown... Photo taken by Fiorella Walker
The route goes to the end of the short ridge section and then falls downhill.  Usually Steve is much stronger than me downhill  so I fully expected him to disappear off into the distance.  Instead both of us had our pursuer storm past us and make a mockery of our attempts to awkwardly descend the stony hillside.  I was rather in shock to be comfortably keeping pace with Steve on the descent - he admitted that his quads were suffering through lack of any hill running.  Once we hit the second steep section I moved ahead and just kept my sights on the path ahead.

While I was moving more quickly than Steve, and my legs were still stable and strong enough underneath me I was feeling progressively worse.  The jolting of each stride felt like it was tearing away at my insides, I have done plenty of running down big hills in the last 8 weeks and never had this issue so I knew it had to be a consequence of being ill earlier in the week.  I can only guess that my insides were still raw and inflamed and not ready for the abuse.

Whilst heading down into Stank Glen we passed Bev Field and her children, I call out to encourage Steve to get his act together as there is absolutely no way that I should be the one leading the way on the descent.  I stayed high on the heather above the path to keep grip as the path was muddy in places which is something I've found my Trailroc's just don't cope well with. On the grass and heather I get firm footing although it's rough underfoot.  In no time at all I dropped down on the path just above the stile which I tried to cross a little too quickly and caught  a foot on the way over. Luckily I was able to get it safely underneath me and avoid a fall in front of walkers and Marshals.

Once over the stile the path becomes much more easily runnable, and through Stank Glen you can really pick up the pace.  A piper welcomed us into Stank Glen which helped boost spirits.  However, as much as I wanted to really turn on the speed my guts were shredded, my legs jelly and I just didn't feel well.  I kept the best pace I could but it felt feeble.  Looking back at my GPS trace I was actually doing 6:20 to 6:50 pace through Stank Glen, but I couldn't escape the feeling that I should have been able to go much faster on this gently descending trail.

Once out of Stank Glen the route goes down a steep forest path that is broken by lots of rock and roots.  I've run the path many times so know it well, but it's extremely technical, you have to spot your footing and plant it accurately.  On one step my weary legs didn't lift my foot quite high enough to clear a rock and I clipped it pulling the leg through, I very very nearly fell, but somehow got my leg underneath me before I hit the deck.  Aware that my fatigue was compromising by ability to run this section fast I ease back and soon after two runners out of the blue shot past.   They both looked to be running strongly so deserved to get by.

After the quick but frantic little descent through the forest the path joins the main forest track that we had run up earlier, and rather than turn left off this to rejoin the narrow forest path the route had been changed on the day to make it a little safer and so we head down the forest track back towards the finish. Just over a third of a mile to go and while I could see the runners not too far ahead they are still running strong enough for me to be unable to easily chase them down, at least in my rather decrepit state.  Two more minutes of running average 5:35 pace I crossed the line, sounds good but it's downhill and perfect for running on.

My insides don't feel good at all, but the spirits at the end are really high, and when I look down at my watch I get pleasant shock, 1:10:41, in 19th place.  Originally I was hoping that I might get near 1:10, but given the week I had just had, and  consequently how my guts had felt during the race I really had expected something much slower. I was chuffed, somehow I had pulled off a decent time.

I caught up with the various runners that had already completed.  Craig Harvey won in an amazing time of 54:26, with Ray Ward in second with 57:29, and Scott Denny in third with 58:18.  To add a little drama, Scott had been in second but had suffered a major heel blister on the descent and had to hobble in loosing his place.  Maz Frater had the lovely job of helping tend to Scott once he took his shoes off. What she found wasn't pretty - a 4cm round chunk of skin had come loose from Scott's heel. Ouch...  Scott put the blister down to having done all his training on the flat trails as he's building up for the Nice Iron Man Triathlon and hadn't done any hill running.  It's less than a month to go to the Triathlon so fingers crossed that it'll heal quickly.

Ally had had a great race too, finishing 1 minute ahead of me.  Steve Field trotted in shortly after I finished in 1:12:14.  He was pleased to be back running again even if he felt rather out of practice.  The ladies winner, Alison Wyllie came in at 1:15:16.  Alison is Maz's sister which played against Alison -during the prize giving Maz  announced it was recently Alison's birthday and rather than clap we were instructed are sing "Happy Birthday" to her!

Looking back towards the Start/Finish, Maz piping runners in.
The atmosphere before, during and after the race was great.  Save a little shower later the weather was perfect for racing.  Feedback from the runners was the event was really positive - the Ben Ledi Hill Race is now firmly on the map.

Poscript:  Two days have now passed since the race and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) has set it in, but finally my insides seemed to have settled.  The race set back my recovery from the stomach bug as after the race it took my insides another 24 hours to settle, while I wasn't sick my insides felt really beaten up.  Looking back it wasn't a good race from how I felt - rather feeble and lacklustre,  quite a contrast to the Stuc a'Chroin race where I felt comfortable and strong despite the atrocious weather and conditions underfoot, with good energy levels.  Given that I wasn't at my best, I'm now really keen to get back and race Ben Ledi when I'm fit with some proper training behind me - what might be possible?  It's a shame that I now to wait a whole year to find out!

My next challenge comes much sooner - this Saturday, 8th of June, I'll be running the Lochalsh Dirty 30 for the fourth time...


Many thanks to Skidaddle and Callander Rotary for putting on a great combined hill race and walking event.
Full Race results.

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