There can be no more stirring a start to a race than being led across the turf by a pipe band under the looming presence of Britain's highest mountain.
All morning the rain had come and gone in fits and starts with the cloud shrouding Ben Nevis from just over halfway up. Hillwalkers making an early start could be seen snaking along the side of the mountain and heading up into the precipitation. By the time the pre-race announcements were being made and we were being piped to the start though the reports from the summit were of blue skies and very little wind. You couldn't ask for more.
You know what you've signed up for - "The most daunting hill race in Scotland, with the roughest toughest descent" - but even so the first mile and a bit on tarmac, and even the initial gently rising path, lulls you somewhat into a false sense of security. Before long though your pulse quickens, heavy breaths fill your lungs and your run turns to a walk; then your hands are on your knees and the rocky steps of the tourist track extend relentlessly up and ahead.
With this year's outlawing of the grassy bank we're spared the brutally steep climb that the traditional route entails, although the respite feels anything but and after crossing the burn it's straight up through leg sapping scree and boulder as usual.
I feel like I'm holding my own here, not going through the field either backwards or forwards and always moving, my legs yearning for the plateau and the eventual summit. After one hour, race leader, Finlay Wild, comes hurtling out of the cloud and ploughs past me through the scree; and gradually more and more runners are drip-fed from the summit, the lactic drained from their legs and gravity pulling them to the valley below. I take some comfort knowing that I can't be far off now but there's still some climbing to do and even the plateau, when reached, involves dodging outgoing runners and walkers with their sticks while struggling for balance and picking through the rocks.
With the summit conquered the return journey begins and it's like a different sport. Loose rocks on the way up become treacherous on the way down with one false step liable to send you crashing down. I get the benefit, for about 500m or so, of another runner in front of me punching a hole in the walker/runner obstacles and plotting a route for me to follow, but he's soon away and gradually descenders extraordinaire come past at ever increasing speed. It's not until the burn is reached that I start to hold my own again and don't lose any more places from here to the finish despite a few "knee trembles" (see Leon Smith, Rio 2016) when I hit the occasional flat.
Despite having just run to the roof of the British Isles it is undoubtedly the tiny inclines on the return journey over the tarmac road that I find the most difficult to climb. My legs are like bags of Bavarian pork jelly and ironically, for a road runner, it is here that I lose the 28s that would have seen me home in sub-2 hours. The run around the grass of Claggan Park is purgatory too and I hear "70 in" as I cross the line relieved to be stationary once more.