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Jim McConnel takes on Ben Nevis
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Thursday 4th October 2012

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Saturday 15th September saw the final round of the 2012 Scott Xtri Series. Ben Nevis, Scotland was the challenge for the No Fuss Events ( organised Big Half Ben Nevis Triathlon. For some that wasn't enough, as they were taking on the 'BIG' Ben Nevis double length version!

Off road racer and Tri247 regular Jim McConnel reports back on a great weekend of challenging but fun racing - which is almost enough to make this Editor take up the MTB!

"This could be the gem you've been looking for" is a fine way to sum up the event.

The No Fuss Events - Ben Nevis Off-Road Triathlon

Full distance - 1900m swim, 88km MTB, 21k trail run
Half - 900m swim, 44km MTB, 11k trail run

Fort William sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the highest UK peak at 1344m. 
It's September.
A tad chilly.
Quite dark too 6am.

Around 100 athletes gather on the edge of Loch Linnhe, nervously racking their mountain bikes in advance of what for some will be the biggest challenge they are ever likely to face. One by one the neoprene clad lemmings walk down through the ancient archway and along the carpeted route to the edge of the dark salty water. Race organiser Frazer looks down the loch to the west waiting for a glimmer of light to signal dawn... It comes at last and the first wave of racers are ushered out to the start buoy. It's definitely cold as a few shrieks are heard and competitors work hard to warm up. Before long the bell sounds and the full distance race is away, followed shortly by wave two... the half distance racers. After just 100m of the out-and-back my body grows accustomed to the cold and and everyone starts to get into their stride. Glancing up to breathe, all I can see is the sculpted hillside on either side of the water, with foreboding cloud hanging near the top. Better than the pool any day, this is living! Soon enough we've turned at the bouy and are heading back to shore to exit and run the short dash to transition. Dibbing as we pass back through the arch a time split is captured and it's onto the MTB.

The first 2km are on the road and inevitably the road climbs steeply away from the town, before cutting onto a wide gravel track that snakes its way ever upwards towards Glen Nevis. The climbing warms up the muscles from the chilly swim and by the time we've crested the ridge, with a glowering Ben Nevis across the valley, everything is going to plan. I'm in third place behind Xtri Series leader Graham Wadsworth and relative newcomer Rory Downie, but they are whispers on the trail ahead of me and I haven't had a glimpse of them since the start. Close behind is women's race leader Kerry McPhee from Stirling, so to avoid getting chicked I know I need to pour on the gas. The MTB course continues on easy to ride trails with a swoopyfast fun downhill until arriving at a technical section through the woods. Negotiating my way between the trees carefully it's tricky, but at the right pace it's possible for most to ride without penalty. Then comes the road section - a 7km ribbon of tarmac back to Fort William twisting along the valley. Pulse rate is high as the road climbs and falls, it's really difficult to get an even pace. Through transition with just a pause to dib and grab a fresh bottle before heading out on lap two. This time I'm catching the back of the full distance race field and shout encouragement as I pass fellow racers.At the end of lap two, I thankfully swap wheels for trail shoes and safety bum bag and head out along the road towards the main event of the day ... Ben Nevis.

The climb starts steadily but before long the repetitive big steps up and rising trail mean everyone is resorting to speed walking as quads cry out. I'm passing fully Goretex clad walkers all the way. It's like riding a col on the Tour de France with people around shouting 'go on!' or 'you must be crazy!'. Whatever, the support is welcome as I approach the half way turnaround. Below me in the gully I can see Graham W making his way back to Fort William along the indistinct runners trail, having already reached halfway and turned. Damn - that's got to be 15 minutes, the young gun from Bristol is flying! I reach the turnaround and guided by the marshall, thankfully pitch over the edge to slide my way down the trail and head back, only the full distance racers will go on to the summit in their race today. I've been that way before but today my legs are grateful to be going home. A little bit of me wants to go up tho' and I'm thinking that all the way to the bottom. As the descent flattens out I'm passing more and more runners coming up - we all exchange a shout of encouragement and crack on. Pausing to take in the view one last time, I'm able to stretch out and start to run the final few km's to the finish in Fort William. No sign of Rory ahead of me and thankfully the challenge from Kerry seems to be distant. I arrive back at the Lochaber Leisure Centre and find to my surprise I've made second place. Later I hear from Rory that he took a wrong turn on the descent which let me past without ever seeing him. Bad luck Rory. In the full distance race, the lead runners are just heading out to the Ben for their full assault on the mountain after four hours on the MTB. On Friday there was snow on the top, it's going to be a hell of a run!

We congratulate Kerry as she finishes first woman on the half and then get a massage on aching legs, welcome hot showers and spicy sweet potato cakes from the Australian food man. Sounds a bit weird, it wasn't... just part of the unique experience.Some time later we return to the race HQ to find the last of the final full distance racers returning from their day. The first of them crossed the line after some eight hours but now twelve hours has passed since the start and the evening is approaching.

Racers for the following day's Warrior (road) Triathlon come out from their briefing to cheer home the final racer's as they thankfully enter the leisure centre complex and dib in on the line - and within two minutes Paul McGreal hands each racer a piece of paper printed up with their overall finish and split times. Then Frazer calls everyone back to the massive saddle shaped tent for a short but inclusive presentation which ends up with a great photo of all competitors wearing classic stripey bobble hats! All that remains is to have a beer with new friends and talk about the day, gradually the crowd brought together by this great event disperses to find more food, more beer and then a welcome place to lie down and let the world stop moving and the body start recovering.

Thanks to the No Fuss team for a great event and if you're looking for something different to spice up your calendar, then this could be the gem you've been looking for.

The Big Half Ben Nevis (Scott XTri Series) Triathlon: Results | triVIEWER
The Big Ben Nevis Triathlon: Results | triVIEWER

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Have Your Say
Re: Jim McConnel takes on Ben Nevis
Posted by Chrisacoutts
Posted at 11:09:22 4th Oct 2012
Reply to this

Hi Jim.
Congratulations on completing the half!

I was one of the full distance clowns, and was just starting on my third bike lap when the winner of the half race came in. You can't have been that far behind that.
I was also (I think) the first person not to make the 15.30 half way cut off.
A huge learning curve, which I shall learn from and take to next years event. Read my version of events here