This highland town is one of my favourite places to be and I would happily move there in a heartbeat if circumstances allowed, so when I heard last year that they were holding their inaugural marathon I entered it in a thrice.
The course is centred on the Nevis resort ski centre, with the first section coincidentally on trail I had run along last year on the way back to my holiday gaff having face-planted off the side of Ben Nevis, with the rest of the route looking quite straight-forward and surprisingly not very hilly given the surroundings!
I drove the 10 hour journey up on the Saturday (thanks to roadworks and traffic-jams it took an extra 2 hours more than it should) in time for the pre-race ceilidh being held in the Snow Goose restaurant at the top of the gondola.
The race organisers had arranged this as an easy £20 up-sell (for the gondola ticket and food) when booking your race entry, as it took away one of the unknowns when you arrive, that of where to get some scran and avoid a last resort visit to an establishment that pedals nutritionally dubious food promoted by a clown if you’re unable to get a table anywhere else.
|Looking up from the cable car at the restaurant.|
|The view down from the cable car.|
|The lonely patch of snow.|
With the dinner eaten there was no point in hanging around any longer, so I descended on the cable car and headed back to Fort William itself for some more food, stopping for a pint in the Grog & Gruel before grabbing a portion of chips to tide me over till the morning. Hunger finally sated as the sun disappeared behind the mountains I kipped for the night parked in the ski centre car park, all ready to waken the following morn next to the start line.
Awake and breakfasted, registration was a simple straightforward affair in the resort cafe, and the queue for the toilets was not too bad (it does help if you are not leaving it to the last minute though).
One of the sponsors of the race was Smidge, the insect repellent company who were offering a free basting in their product to anyone who wanted it - well it seemed churlish not to take them up on their offer, as from experience a plague of the little biting feckers can be pretty annoying, so I went over to lard-up with it, and bumped in to a familiar face from last time I was up here: Theresa Majeed, fresh from winning an ultra over in the Irish Republic and newly engaged, so I was able to offer congratulations to her and her trail running fiance in person.
|All the runners were champing at the bit ready to start!|
|The Grey Corries overlooking us.|
|Playing 'follow the leader' through the clearing.|
Leanachan forest is a managed environment that has reached maturity, so the timber is now being harvested before re-planting, so running along the fire-break roads on this high-point of the course you were looking down at times over a site of desolation: where once stood firs now lay just torn tree stumps.
All warmed-up with the 5 miles of climbing, we were able to breath, relax and make the left turn down towards the valley bottom, encountering our first road at seven miles as we ran along above the river Spean, hearing it tumbling over the boulders that form its bed a good 30ft down the embankment next to the road.
|The river flowing below the road.|
|The remains of High Bridge.|
|Don't fancy living in the palindrome of this place!|
|Down the road to Gairlochy.|
|Starting the 'beasting session' along the canal.|
|The Nevis Range, the Spean River and the Caledonian Canal in one shot (just)|
|Another canal user.|
|M for 'muff'?|
|The high end of Neptune's Staircase.|
|Back in to the forest.|
Considering it was an inaugural event, there seemed to be plenty of supporters gathered along the course specifically at the aid stations and other easy access points for spectators, such as at Neptune’s Staircase. I couldn’t fail to notice that a fair chunk of the days runners had also, like me, run in last October’s Glencoe judging by the number of shirts on display!.. And speaking of shirts, the finishers one is particularly classy with a very good simple design on the front and the ‘swag’ was great, including a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer (the best chocolate bars in the world) and a miniature from the local Ben Nevis Distillery.
The aid stations were perfectly placed and well stocked with amongst other things a bountiful supply of High5 gels - my go-to of choice in that department at present and the course was well marked and easy to follow. The surroundings are superb (which was a given anyway considering the locale) so there was always something good to look at - although I did find the canal section a bit of a relentless slog as you just had to find a rhythm and tick-on like a metronome. The course is probably the quickest ‘trail’ one I have run along with the pancake-flat Portsmouth Coastal which has a similar blend underfoot (around 8 miles was on the metalled tow-path and about another 6 on roads/ pavement does help to speed things up) and even with throttling back from hitting the canal and even more over the last 10k to save myself for next week’s ‘A’ race in Buxton I was still able to post my 4th fastest marathon time without feeling I had made any major effort.
Will I be back? Yes, as it gives me a reason to get up to Fort William again and I’m intrigued as to what time I can lay-down if I am not saving myself for a particularly tough 30 miler the following week! It was a lovely course, well organised and well supported and the fellow competitors were lovely and cheerful and very willing to chat - it will probably be an event that is really taken into its heart by the town over the next couple of years… Not too sure about the pre-race ceilidh though. If it was on a bottomless plate basis then that would be fine, but if it is to continue in the same manner then you’re probably just as well rewarding yourself with a ride up to the Snow Goose on the gondola for a post-race beer with a view!
Only a week for the legs to recover before the Peak Skyrunner!