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Lochaber runner sets new Ben Nevis 24-hour record

Written by Fiona

October 12 2021

In 2013, Paweł Cymbalista was told that he would never make it to the summit of the UK’s tallest mountain.

Weighing 16st and a heavy smoker and a drinker, Pawel didn’t disagree with the comment on Facebook, but it also gave him the motivation to make some changes.

This weekend, the 33-year-old dad-of-two set a new record when he ascended and descended 1345m tall Ben Nevis seven times in 24 hours.

Now weighing just over 10st, Pawel, who moved to Scotland from Poland eight years ago, is delighted by his latest achievement.

Speaking from Mallaig, where he lives with his wife Ashley and two daughters, 10-year-old Maiya and three-year-old Freya, he said: “I am so happy. I always need a challenge and this has been a big goal of mine.

“Yes, my legs hate me at the moment but it feels very good to have set a new Ben Nevis record.”

in 2014, Paweł makes it to the top of Ben Nevis.

The path to Ben Nevis record success

When Pawel decided decided he needed to make some changes to his health, he quit smoking, cut down his drinking and took up running. He joined the Lochaber Athletic Club and then proved his social media dissenter wrong when he made it to the summit of Ben Nevis at 1345m on Easter morning in 2014.

Since then, he has competed in the annual Ben Nevis Race five times.

Living within an hour of the mountain and spending many runs on the slopes with the Lochaber club, Pawel started to think about a new challenge.

He said: “I am always looking for a good challenge, especially a running challenge, and I got to thinking about how many times I could go up and down Ben Nevis in under 24 hours.

“First, I came across a story of a teenager who had done it five times in 2018. Then I heard about the record by Charlie Anderson. In 2006, he completed Ben Nevis six times, up and down.

“I contacted him and he was kind enough to give me advice and support for my own record attempt.”

Origins of the Ben Nevis 24-hour record

Charlie Anderson, of Fort William, held the Ben Nevis 24-hour record for 15 years. Then aged 34, Charlie ascended and descended the Ben six times.

The total elevation was almost the same as Everest at 8849m.

He faced wind, rain and mist to run up and down the 1345m tall mountain.

Just after he finished, Charlie was reported as saying: “I feel great now, although I was literally a bit sick at the halfway stage.”

Pawel’s training plan and challenges

Training for the new Ben Nevis record saw Pawel completing three classic mountain rounds in the UK under 24 hours. He said: “I did the Charlie Ramsay Round in August 2020 in 23:17. This May, I completed the Paddy Buckley Round in Wales and then in July the Bob Graham Round in England, both in under 24 hours.

“It turns out I am the first person from Poland to do the three classic rounds.”

A new Ben Nevis 24-hour record

Originally, Paweł, who works for seafood company Mowi,  was aiming for eight times on the Ben. But poor weather made the record attempt more difficult.

Pawel set out on Saturday October 9 at 11am. He finished this seventh ascent and descent at 9.43am on Sunday October 10.

In total, he climbed 9450m, which is 600m more than the height of Mt Everest, and covered a distance of 108km.

He said: “After four ascents I felt okay. I thought to myself that I had got it and I would be fine for the eight summits.

“But then the weather changed and it was very foggy above 900m. It had been wet and windy at the start, too, and while the weather did calm down the fog affected visibility.

“I couldn’t see more than a metre ahed and it was hard to stay on course higher up Ben Nevis.”

Paweł relied on a compass for a bearing, as well as friends who were supporting him.

He said: “I was very lucky to have people around me and I was able to follow a bearing but it wasn’t easy going.

“Charlie also helped by placing glow sticks higher up but it was hard even to pick out these in the fog.”

Pawel also faced 12 hours of darkness during the challenge and the terrain meant his feet became sore. 

But he reveals he never thought about stopping. He said: “I wasn’t going to let the pain in my feet stop me and also I kept thinking about my friend Davy Duncan, who I am fundraising for.”

At the start of this year Davy, from Fort William, got Covid while working offshore. To save his life, he was put into a coma and looked after in the hospital in Mexico. 

After many weeks and complications, Davy was taken out of the coma to start his journey back to good health. He is now in hospital in Inverness rehabilitating.

Pawel said: “I kept thinking about what Davy had gone through and what he still faces to fully recover. This motivated me to keep going.

“I wanted to do something to help him and running is what I do, so the Ben Nevis 24 hour challenge has been my way of helping him.

“When things got hard on the Ben, I thought that if Davy can keep going, then so can I.”

See the GoFundMe page

Support from friends and family

Pawel was grateful for friends and family for their support. He said: “There were just so many people who came out to help me, including my wife, other family members, friends and many from where I work.

“They did ascents with me, gave me food, brought me coffee and cheered me on. It was a team effort to break the record.”

‘Baby food kept me going’

Consuming calories was a tough part of the challenge and after about 12 hours, Pawel said his stomach started rejecting anything sweet.

He said: “I then moved to savoury foods, such as pasta, pot noodles and baby food. Baby food has a good balance of nutrition and it is easy to eat and kind to the stomach.”

Another favourite food was pork pies. He said: “I love pork pies and I find they are a great food for a long-distance challenge.

“One pork pie was in my pocket although I didn’t eat it. At the end, I showed it to Maiya and told her it had been on the top of Ben Nevis twice.

“She has frozen it and wants to take it to school after the holidays to tell her friends about what I did.”

It also meant a lot to Pawel that the former record holder Charlie was there to support him.

Pawel said: “It was uplifting and motivating to have Charlie there. He was an amazing support and he wanted to make sure I was safe and that I broke the record. 

“I am very grateful to all his support in the lead up to the challenge and on the day.”

Charlie is delighted that Pawel has set a new record. He said: “I feel absolutely great that someone has managed to beat the record.

“There had been two attempts as far as I know in the past and I met up with the participants before the event. They were very keen on asking questions and I advised them as much as possible – and the same with Pawel.

“Cameron Main did five summits in 2018 and, in 2011, Gary Sommerville did four summits.

“I was there for Pawel during his attempt and placed glow sticks in between the cairns and also created a path at the top in order that he kept well clear of the steep edge.

“Visibility was low, especially in the dark and mist. I am happy for Pawel, especially as he did it for a very worthy charity.”

A record-breaking finish

After the relief of reaching his seventh summit, Pawel said: “I was very happy because I knew I wouldn’t need to climb back up to the summit again.

“I descended and finished the challenge in 22 hours and 43 minutes. I knew I didn’t have time to go up and down again so I stopped there.

“I still feel pretty tired but I am very pleased with what I have achieved. I am not sure when I will want to go back up Ben Nevis again, though!”

  • Thanks to Brad Cain for summit photos.

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