The Ben Nevis Race

In 1895 when William Swan, a Fort William barber, set off on the first recorded timed ascent and descent of Britain’s tallest mountain he could not have envisaged the modern day Ben Nevis Race which now has a field of 600 runners accepting a challenge which is not for the unfit or faint-hearted.

In the late 19th.  and early 20th.  centuries a number of races were organised on an ad hoc basis.  However it was not until 1951 that the Ben Nevis Race Association was founded with the intention of formalising arrangements for an annual race. Since that first field of 21 runners, the race has grown beyond all recognition and it has been run every year since with the exception of 1980. That year the elements won and, with competitors on the start line, a last minute decision was made to cancel the race for the safety of the runners and officials on the mountain.

Safety of all is paramount for the organisers and the Ben Race should not be treated as a ‘fun-run’ and therefore entrants have to be experienced hill runners. The BNRA liaises closely with Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and we are grateful for their and our own volunteer marshals’ vital assistance on race day.

The record times for both men and women have stood since 1984 when Kenny Stuart and Pauline Stuart (nee Haworth) respectively recorded 1h 25m 34s and 1h 43m 25s. In 1989 Kenny ran the Houston Marathon in a then world class time of 2h 11m 36s thus creating a benchmark by which mountain running times and the Ben Race record, in particular, can be judged. It is fair to say that hill/fell running champions are worthy of the respect afforded to top Olympic athletes.

The Ben Race has been variously described with superlatives – oldest race, toughest race, most iconic race, the supreme test of fitness etc. – and whilst these claims are open to challenge, the Ben Nevis Race Association will always defend its status as a very special event. However this is not necessary as runners testify to this on our behalf as evidenced by their remarks on this page.

The Ben exercises a hold over runners and during the winter month they forget the pain and the strain of the first Saturday in September. Thoughts turn to getting another ’Ben’ under their belts, especially for those nearing 21 completed runs and a coveted Connochie Plaque. Today the race, which is limited to 600 runners for safety reasons, can be oversubscribed within two days of the entry forms going live in late January. If you qualify (see conditions for entry) and wish to take part, then check our site for the entry opening date.

Some Comments from Runners

“Two and a half hours earlier I was wondering why runners spoke about “The Ben” with such strong feelings of awe and enjoyment whereas now, I no longer wonder why – I don’t understand it but I do share the same feelings. This is a very special race, indeed.”

 

‘”t’s a great day out, though I’m still not sure why we do this insane race every year.”

 

“We had a great weekend, not only doing the race itself; the longest climb in the country followed by the longest descent; but the stay in Fort William as well.”

 

“A great race, the climb was never ending, but getting to the top was only the beginning. Slipping and sliding to the bottom was the really tough part.”