History was made on Ben Nevis as Victoria Wilkinson set a new women’s record for the iconic race up and down the UK’s highest mountain.
The inov-8 ambassador clocked a time of 1hr 43mins 01secs for the nine-mile race, slicing 24 seconds off Pauline Stuart’s previous record, which had stood for 34 years.
The Ben Nevis Race starts and finishes in Fort William, Scotland, and sees runners battle it out to the 4,411ft summit and back down again.
This year the race was also the final counter in the 2018 British Fell Running Championship and attracted a field of 488 runners.
Experienced international mountain runner and two-time British Fell Running Champion Victoria, competing in her first Ben Nevis Race at the age of 40, said: “I’m proud. Pauline was a fantastic runner, a legend of the sport who was fast on the climb, the descent and on the road. Her record had stood since 1984 and in that time a lot of very strong women have raced on ‘The Ben’ but not beaten her time. That shows just how good Pauline was.”
Chasing the record on Ben Nevis
She added: “I admit, I did have the record in my mind, but I was 50/50 about it. I’ve been thinking for a while that I could potentially do it… then I’d look at the results from non-championship years and think ‘I’d need to finish in the top-10 overall to beat the record, I can’t do that.’
“I’d also looked at Angela Mudge’s winning times. She got near the record but not quite, and she was a great runner, so again I thought ‘Maybe I can’t do it.
“I didn’t recce the full course and actually had never been up to the top of Ben Nevis before last Saturday! The day before the race I did go half way up to Red Burn to have a look and really didn’t like the look of the stepped path that you descend on the lower part of the race. That sort of ground doesn’t really suit me.
“I set off on the one-mile stretch of road and settled in alongside the likes of Mark McGoldrick, Sam Watson and Adam Perry. I felt good on the climb and the pace was strong. Once past Red Burn we entered the screes and I was able to rotate between running and walking. It was misty and I couldn’t see a lot but felt encouraged when I saw the leaders returning back past me on the descent.
“From the summit I tried to run smart. Ian Holmes (fell running legend) had told me not to hammer the first part of the downhill from the summit as it can ruin your legs for the rest of what is a very long descent. I kept a good relaxed pace, picked my feet up to try and avoid tripping over the rocks and stayed calm. I wanted to stay upright – and I did for the whole way down, despite it being wet underfoot. I also managed to negotiate all the walkers on the path making their way up and down the mountain!
“I’m not sure that I took all the fastest lines on the descent but it felt good and I enjoyed the muddier sections.
“When I hit the road in the bottom with 1 mile left to go, I looked at my watch and thought ‘Jeez, this is going to be close.’ Mark McGoldrick and Adam Perry were in front and both turned and shouted at me, something like ‘Come on Vic, it’s on, you can do it.’
“I didn’t feel too bad so I just ran as hard as I could down the road and round the final finishing field. I didn’t look at my watch again until I crossed the line. Even then I had no real confirmation until Matt Bland (from Pete Bland Sports) came over and told me I’d done it. I was really chuffed.
“Celebrations were in typical post-Ben Nevis Race style. A ‘few’ drinks were had in Fort William!”
Victoria finished in 38th position overall. Second woman was fellow inov-8 ambassador Jasmin Paris (1:50:44), who wrapped up the British Fell Running Championship title, just nine months after giving birth to her first child. Kelli Roberts took third place in 1:52:05.
The men’s race was won for the ninth consecutive year by Finlay Wild in a time of 1:27:35. The men’s record remains at 1:25:34, set by Kenny Stuart (husband of Pauline) in 1984.
Victoria, who has also broken long-standing course records at Kentmere Horseshoe and Burnsall Classic this summer, wore the inov-8 X-TALON 212 shoes to race Ben Nevis. She said: “They are my favourite shoes. I trust them on all courses, even ones as steep and rough as Ben Nevis.”
* Related posts: Evolution of the X-TALON | Victoria’s six exercises to prevent running injuries