Passing through Fort William on Friday evening, the G-Force and I stopped for a bite to eat at the very busy Grog and Gruel pub. The town was buzzing and bustling and many people looked like they might be taking part in the Ben Nevis Race. (They mostly sported whippet-builds!)
The only spare seats to be found in the pub were next to two gentleman, who told us they were taking part in the challenging Ben race – one for the 21st time and the other for the 19th time. They revealed they are in their 60s and travel from Portsmouth most years to do the event.
Of course, I asked their names but they declined (even when I told them I’d refer to them as the Old Running Codgers in my blog if they continued to be so secretive!). Cunning deduction from the race results shows the ORC to be David and Chris, who finished in very respectable times!
As we chatted, they also told me that they were staying with a former B&B owner, Kathleen Connochie, who was the first woman to run the Ben Nevis Race. That was 60 years ago and Kathleen Connochie is now a 76-year-old great grandmother.
These days, Connochie Silver Plaques are presented to athletes who complete 21 of the races. David will have received his on Saturday and so, too, did the first women to ever be given this plaque, Mandy Goth.
I left the pub to head to our overnight campervanning spot with thoughts of finding out who Mandy was. As we walked the Ring of Steall I looked over towards Ben Nevis and thought again about the runners.
Then, by chance, on Sunday, while walking the forest trail towards the summit of CMD, I got chatting to two runners who were enjoying a short recovery walk after taking part in the Ben Nevis Race the day before.
As we talked they told me that Mandy is a member of their running club, the Todmorden Harriers from Fife. They gave me her contact details and this is what she told me: “Yes, that’s me. I got my plaque for my 21st Ben run and I am very pleased with it.”
Mandy’s road to 21 Ben Nevis Races
Mandy, 55, finished this year’s Ben race in 3:06:00. She continued: “The Ben Nevis race means a lot to me. The second time I took part I met my husband Phil Hodgson. I then took part another 12 times and became the first woman to have run the event 14 times.
“Then I realised I had to keep going to become the first woman to receive the Connochie plaque.”
But it hasn’t been all that easy for Mandy. In 2007 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and endured many months of treatment. “I lost all my hair and it was tough to come back from that but I still wanted to run the Ben race,” she says.
Having beat cancer she then suffered another health setback last April when she had a Tachycardiac attack. She says: “I had to undergo more medical treatment for that and it wasn’t at all straightforward but I vowed I would run again.
“But, then in January, I suffered another attack and doctors told me I shouldn’t run any more.”
But Mandy didn’t agree and eight months later she was taking part in her 21st Ben Nevis Race. She says: “I am not a natural fell runner and I am pretty slow but I enjoy the race. I keep saying I’ll stop now I have reached the 21 milestone but I might do it again. Who knows?
“I feel lucky to be alive and still able to do the Ben race and it’s something that I like to aim for so I have just kept on doing it.”
Other results from the Ben Nevis Race
For the sixth year in a row, Finlay Wild triumphed in the Ben Nevis Race 2015. The Lochaber GP finished in an impressive 1:30:56, his fourth fastest time since 2010. Rob Jebb, a previous multi-winner and member of Bingley Harriers, was second in 1:36:01.
Finlay told me: “This year went really well. Last year was tough because I’d picked up some injuries and that got in the way of my training so I just held on and no more.
“But this year was great. I felt really excited and keen to race. Everything went well and I got a personal best to the summit. It’s the first time I have been under an hour to the top in 59 minutes 45 seconds.
The first woman home was Diane Wilson, from Northern Ireland, in 2:00:41. Second female was Caitlin Rice, of Glossopdale Harriers, in 02:02:14.
The records have stood since 1984, held by Kenny Stuart in 1:25:34 and Pauline Haworth in 1:43:25.