or “Two men and a goat”.
Three intrepid tortoises headed up to Rowardennan (by a somewhat roundabout route) with a little trepidation as the forecasts had been for rain & snow on Ben Lomond. But hey, weather forecasts are usually wrong so why worry?
As we neared the hill, the top was lost in cloud and indeed it had a whitish look about it suggestive of snow but it takes more than a dusting of snow to daunt us. It was raining but surely it couldn’t really be snowing on the top?
After registering in the Rowardennan hotel (and me booking a room for the wrong night for my WHW walk) we gathered for the pre-race briefing. This was delivered by one of the race organisers who was standing on a wall. He finished by jumping off the wall and saying “go” before leading the pack up the hill. More like a stampede really for the first few hundred metres. The path is pretty narrow at the start and if you’re serious about your hill running you don’t want to get stuck behind slower folk. No worries for us then as we dropped back and let most of the hoard gallop on.
Once on to the hill I felt relatively good and pulled ahead of Alex although I had no idea where Ian was. Compared to last year the climbing felt easier (& more enjoyable) and I guess I must have stretched my lead out ahead of Alex (although I never looked back).
As we ascended, the steady rain started to turn to sleet and I was glad that I had put my leggings, jacket, gloves and hat on at the start. So, despite the driving sleet, I was reasonably comfortable and enjoying the climb. As we neared the “zig zags” the leaders were already plummeting down the hill. No other word better describes their descent. Utterly awesome to watch (and a liitle terrifying if they’re heading straight for you).
Before the zigzags the runners are diverted to the west onto a grassy slope (to avoid head on collisions with the majority of the field) and about a third of the way up there was a distressed runner suffering from dizzyness & cold. Having taken the trouble to get a phone number for the local mountain rescue team before I started, I felt obliged to try and contact them (although she already had other runner’s assisting her).
I failed miserably but then a MR man appeared (as did Alex) and I headed off in pursuit. I’d probably wasted 3-4 minutes but I was much happier knowing that she was now in the hands of the MR.
I tailed Alex the rest of the way through what was now not so much snow as flying ice particles. It felt like being sandblasted with ice and was very unpleasant in the eyes. Mind you, so’s Alex so at least it was a distraction.
The conditions might have been horrible but as you often do, the worse it gets the more alive you feel and before we knew it, we were rounding the summit (which was manned by in incredible number of marshals) and heading back down the hill.
I was right on Alex’s tail when we turned but somehow within seconds, the goat was out of sight flying down the mountain. Not long after than Ian passed me too making good speed down the hill.
I was probably too concerned with self preservation as the rocks were covered with slush that constantly threatened to bring you down on you ars*. Somehow I kept upright and enjoyed being able to stretch my legs at long last and actually do some running. A couple of diversions on the descent take you “off-piste”, the second of which was carefully routed right through the middle of a sucky bog. Excellent!
Then it was back on to the path, down the “wall”, a series of large rocky steps designed to catch out the unwary. Much to the lurking photographer’s disappointment, I successfully negoitated it granny-style and carried on down.
From having been freezing on the top we were all stripping off on the descent as the air temperature rose dramatically.
At last the Rowardennan car park hove into view and I exchanged places a few times with another runner (who was even worse than me at descending) but who turned out to be *way* faster than me once we hit the road.
The last road section is only a few hundred metres long but has a slight uphill and my legs turned to jelly and I wobbled my way to the finish.
I finished in 1:54 something, about the same as last year but if I take my 3 minute stop into account, I reckon I can claim a PB. I was pleased the way that the whole race had felt easier and more enjoyable this year despite the conditions. I think my hill work on the Carrick Hills has really helped.
Not enough to beat Alex & Ian but hey, a PB *and* I had fun so I can’t complain.
To cap it off there was hot soup and bread for all the runners after the race and a slab of pork pie from Ian. What a great way to finish of a hill race!
My downhill was pretty good and I’ve never in a race picked up quite so many places so quickly. When we got to the top and started the descent, loads or runners seemed to have lost all confidence in the snow and ice. Me now, ah well, who wants to live forever anyway.
The only problem with my descent was a minor fall at exactly the same spot as last year, it went something like this: “Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate… You’re coming up to where you fell last year. Ignore the Mountain Rescue Team. It was they who put you off last year… That’s it, ignore them.. Concentrate, concentrate, con… oh f**k, Sh*t, Bug*er, how embarrassing” After that, my trousers started to fall down, not a pretty sight, had to hold on with one hand the rest of the way.
All in all, another great day out and even with the appalling weather, there were times on the way up the hill that a quick glance showed Loch Lomond laid out in all its beauty.