Ben Nevis Triathlon

Martin decided to do something a bit difference for his main ‘A’ race this year. Not content with racing Ironman’s he felt the need to race up the biggest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis. I’ve climbed Ben Nevis myself and I know it has a permafrost at the top, so the thought of running up in a trisuit like Martin feels me with dread. I’ll let Martin explain his latest challenging race.

The Big Ben Nevis Triathlon 11th September 2010

Advertised as the hardest Triathlon in the UK meant this race was always going to be a challenge. Training had gone reasonably well with a good build up including Aberfeldy Middle Distance Race and a long mountain run round Lochnagar. On the worst day of gales, wind, sleet and hail that we’ve had so far this year. Well I thought it can’t be worse than this on race day as they would cancel the event (as I crawled to the top of one of the Munros!)

Anyway onto the race I had decided (with some dubious advice from some friends) to use a cyclocross bike (a Kona –‘Jake the Snake’ purchased with help from my generous sponsor Torq) as about 1/3 of the course is on road with the rest off-road. I arrived the day before the race and set of to do a lap of the bike course just to get a feel for what it was like. All went well and I was feeling confident that I had made the right choice as I could fly on the road sections and the off-road sections weren’t too bumpy. However I soon realised that no matter how my legs felt at the end, I would also have sore hands without any suspension on the bike.

Race morning dawned wet and miserable (well it is Fort William one of the wettest places in Scotland!) although thankfully it was also quite mild. The swim was in cold Loch Linnhe (12deg) and was a two lap swim. From the gun I was in the lead group of three and was content to draft my way until the half way mark. I felt the pace slow a bit so took my chances and pushed ahead into first. It meant that I then had one person drafting me until the finish. I prefer swimming in the open with nobody to worry about anyway, so I swam steady from then until the finish and exited the water first. A great start to the day I couldn’t have asked for any better.

A quick transition into my mountain bike shoes (Lake MX330c) the fastening system is so quick that it may be as quick as using a tri specific shoe. Off onto the road and I had a motor bike escort for the first 20minute road and off road section. A great experience having a lead escort (although I also had to contend with the fumes). As the route got steeper a few mountain bikers started to catch and pass me. It was all feeling a bit harder than on the practice ride the day before. In hindsight I was probably slightly under geared and had to run some steep sections.

Ben transition

Onto the first technical downhill section and again the benefits of a mountain bike were evident as the hands were so shaken that braking was difficult (and it showed up my lack of MTB experience of late). Never mind onto the hard packed forest track and normal service resumed. At the end of the off road section there is a very technical downhill through a forest, not many bike the first bit down the steps but after that I managed to ride it all, even passing a few mountain bikes that had passed me earlier. The road section next and I caught a few more places back so by my calculation I was around 6th (but this included some competitors who were only doing the half distance race).

If this carried on then all was looking good, the second lap went much the same but with maybe more running on the steep sections as the legs tired. Towards the end of the MTB section I heard a twanging sound coming from my front wheel, I wasn’t sure what it was so carried on to the end of the lap where I stopped and checked the wheel. One of the spokes was coming loose. Unfortunately the marshals didn’t have a spoke key or pliers handy, but they promised to find some if I could manage another lap!

So off I went praying that the wheel wouldn’t get any worse. Alas by the end of the first technical downhill section my front wheel sounded like a musical instrument, of twangs and rattles! For the rest of the lap it was go gently trying to pick the smoothest route, the road section was scary with the wheel by now wobbling massively, therefore speed was dramatically reduced. I had to cover the brakes to try and stop the whole wheel from collapsing!

Into transition and thankfully the marshals had come up with a selection of spoke keys and pliers (spoilt for choice now!) Ten minutes of rapid wheel fixing and spoke tensioning later and off I went (I’m still not sure how I managed to almost perfectly true the wheel). I was now pretty p’d off and got the bit between my teeth and hit the next lap hard (it would have been the fastest of the four laps had it not been for the pit stop). I think largely due to my increased confidence and speed on the downhill sections. Unfortunately by the end of the off road section the front wheel had decided it was a musical instrument again, only the road section to go so I knew it would get me home.

With all this wheel excitement I almost forgot to mention the weather was foul! Pouring rain and muddy, however my feet were nice and warm in my Lake shoes; I was still scrubbing mud from various parts of the anatomy for days!

Onto the fun bit now a run up Ben Nevis! This was really the whole reason for doing the race (maybe the hill race would have been easier than the tri version) but where’s the challenge in that!

Ben run

The legs felt remarkably good at the start of the run, a benefit of not being able to push the bike as hard as I would have liked. Spectators told me that I was in about 7th place which was great considering the problems I had. I missed my fiancée in transition but then at about ¼ of the way up Denise was there to support me, a great boost (she was starting her training for next year!!!)

As the route got steeper it was now run where possible but mostly walking with purpose. I thought I must be loosing heaps of time, but friendly walkers advised me nobody was running! Luckily the weather had dried up and it hadn’t rained whilst on the run.

At the halfway point on the mountain the local fell running club were there to escort competitors to the top (good job as it was misty and cloudy), the top section was a walk/scramble I asked the escort and was advised that even on the hill race only the top handful of competitors run up the top section. All of a sudden we were at the top and it seemed like a bit of an anticlimax, however I will never forget the look of all the walkers at the top in full winter climbing gear and then all these nutty triathletes running about in shorts and t-shirts! By the top I had been passed by one person, but had a view of how far behind I was. Time to turn round and disengage the brain!

It was now point directly downhill and try and keep the leg turnover up to keep up with free falling body! I was pleased to pass two competitors within 5 minutes of heading down. I loved the downhill and pushed it all the way, I even got a comment from one of the fell runners how well I was going. At the bottom there is about a 3k road section, it’s amazing how hard running on the flat feels after running downhill for 50mins. This last section was a slog with the legs starting to falter, but I had the confidence of having downed a backpack full of Torq Banofee Gels on the mountain that I wouldn’t run out of energy. Crossing the finish line was a relief but also left me wondering what would have happened had I not had the bike problems.

6th Overall and in my age group.

It is definitely the hardest event I’ve ever done, with over 2000 metres of climbing on the bike and then a run up and down Ben Nevis (1344m) in 8hrs and 19mins. (It only takes me 1hr more to do a full Ironman). But a good day in all with the fastest swim time, and 4th fastest downhill run split.

Many thanks to all our sponsors who have made everything this year possible:

Bikes: Quintana Roo
Wheels: Fast Forward
Power: Saris
Cycle shoes: Lake
Delicious, natural and healthy nutrition: