Contributed by Ryan Lowe, AURA member
On Monday, September 10 of this year, myself along with my training partner and team mate Dom Perry departed Sydney en route to the World Sky Running Championships in Kinlochleven, Scotland. Here, I was to run in the Solomon Ben Nevis Ultra, an ultra which covers a distance of 52kms and features a total elevation gain of 4000m, and Dom was racing in the Solomon Ring of Steel.
Before our respective races though we managed to squeeze in a spot of sightseeing. First stop, Edinburgh. We spent a day here walking around the tourist sites and even got a light run in as we explored the Old Town and ran up Arthur’s Seat. We continued the tourist gig as we moved on to Loch Ness before heading to Kinlochleven, the race headquarters.
When we arrived, we decided to get a feel for the environment and work out just what exactly we had gotten ourselves into. So, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, we ascended a nearby 1000m high mountain only to discover that the summit was freezing, with gale force winds to boot…back down in the village, I quickly realised that my race kit was ill-equipped and lacking in the thermal department so I quickly fixed this with the purchase of thermal gloves and a beanie.
Feeling confident with my recent purchases, I felt ready to take on any challenge the weather might throw my way.
But then on Thursday night at 10pm, the day before the race, I was notified of extreme winds and snow on the summit of Ben Nevis. These warnings not only meant that I’d get to break in my thermals, they were alsoinevitably making the passing of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete (CMD) dangerous.
The 52kms ultra, with 4000m of elevation that I had trained so hard for, quickly became a 49kms race with an 1800m elevationgain. I admit that I was disappointed to hear of this change,seeing as I had put so much emphasis on climbing and prioritising elevation throughout each training session, but I can understand that they had to put the runners’ safety first.
Race day! I woke up at 6am to find the rain (which had continued each day of the trip so far) had stopped. Conditions were still windy and cold, but I had high spirits and was pumped up and ready to race.
Since the race starting time had been pushed back to 10am, I had plenty of time to eat, ease into the weather and warm up.
By 9.45am, I had made my way to the start line, and assumed my position in the second row. At 10am on the dot, we were off.
The race started off fast, with a 1km stretch of road that soon turned into trail, and then straight into an 800m climb. The technical grind was inundated with the constant crossing of streams of water from all the rain.
After roughly an hour, I reached the top of the first climb and began the traverse across an awesome valley engulfed by big mountains. I made sure to take the time to look up and absorb the beauty I was immersed in, and to think about the amazing opportunity I had been given to participate in this ultra. It was a truly an incredible setting.
As I approached the first major descent, the trail ended and it became a matter of following a series of flags the fastest way possible. It was a super muddy and slippery mountain, covered in rocks hiding amongst the long grass. Instantly having trouble staying upright, I was flat on my back, but surprisingly I was having the time of my life rolling and sliding around out of control. After sliding down most of the descent, I came to a river crossing after which I ran along a 5kms stretch of river trail. Some sections here allowed for fast and compact running, while throughout others I found myself trenching my way through thigh-deep, boggy mud. This stretch of river trail them led into a single trail through an epic rainforest.
About 25kms in, I reached the first and only check point coming in, in the 40th position. Dom was waiting here for a quick exchange of bottles and with some Hammer Nutrition, and not before too long I was on my way, heading back to the finish line. Knowing that the last 24kms was going to be fairly flat (due to the course change) I decided to pick up the pace and give it my all.
I slowly start picking runners off, and managed to run my way into 31st position in an overall time of 4:36:57.
Stoked with my result and grateful for the opportunity, I found my time in Scotland to be an awesome experience that I hope I can one be a part of again.
Pictured: AURA member Ryan Lowe enjoying his time racing at the Solomon Ben Nevis Ultra. Photograph – Supplied.