ATHLETES competing in a race up Britain’s highest peak have had their task made harder by a bizarre new rule – keep off the grass.
Runners in the Ben Nevis Race have been told to stick to the path by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), who fear that competitors are eroding the greenery.
The fastest runners in the race take around one and a half hours to climb and descend the near 4,413ft (1,345m) mountain, but their job has been made more difficult with the addition of this extra hurdle.
A section of the 10-mile course, around three quarters of the way up the mountain, goes up what is called the Grassy Bank, and cuts around 60 yards off the main path.
Runners who take this route now risk disqualification from the race entirely.
An SNH spokesperson said: “We have been involved in discussions with the organisers of the Ben race to identify an alternative to the Grassy Bank.
“Key challenges are runners descending the steep grassy bank – and the associated fact that ground is steep and fragile, and so is eroding.
“If runners continue to descend the slope, particularly a narrow section in between two older landslides, there’s now a real risk of a large slope failure.”
Hill runners have expressed fears that the proposed changes, which make the route longer, will mean the course record of 1hr 25m 34s, set in 1984, would never be broken.
Ed Nicholas, who competes for Edinburgh-based club Hunters Bog Trotters, and completed the race in 2014, commented on these fears.
He said: “‘The Ben Nevis record as it stands is a significant athletic achievement and has stood the test of time for over 30 years.
“The changes enforced by SNH will surely ensure that this won’t ever be beaten.
“The other issue is the number of people trying to beat the 2hr mark who will now struggle to do so. It remains to be seen whether the organiser will re-declare a new record on the new course.”
Mickey Whitehead, secretary of the Ben Nevis Race Association admitted the changes would make the race more difficult.
He said: “It will make it a bit harder. In the 1960s somebody came down that way and everybody since has followed.
“But SNH said it is worried about the erosion and not to make it worse. We don’t want to be seen to be damaging the area and anybody using the Grassy Bank will be disqualified.”
In light of the SNH warning, the Ben Nevis Race Association has even warned athletes not to train on the Grassy Bank, due to the erosion risk.
They posted on Facebook: “Important notice. The Ben Nevis Race Association would like to ask all entrants not to train on the Grassy Bank.”
The Ben Nevis Race is due to take place on September 3 with 600 athletes taking part.