A runner ascended more than the height of Everest to set an inspiring new record on the UK’s tallest mountain.
Paweł Cymbalista ran up and down 1345m tall Ben Nevis seven times within 24 hours to break a record set 15 years before.
Even more impressively, just eight years ago, Pawel, 33, weighed 16 stones and was a heavy smoker.
On Sunday, the dad-of-two completed his Ben Nevis challenge having climbed a total of 9450m, which is 600m more than the height of Mt Everest, and covered a distance of 108km. It took him 22 hours and 43 minutes.
Pawel, from Mallaig, Lochaber, said: “My legs hate me at the moment but it feels very good to have set a new Ben Nevis record.”
Fund-raising goal was runner's motivator
The runner with Lochaber Athletic Club was also raising funds for a friend. The challenge has so far collected more than £4000 to support Davy Duncan, from Fort William who is recovering from Covid.
Pawel said: “Davy 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.”
Paweł added: “Thinking about Davy motivated me when the challenge got tough. I kept thinking about what Davy had gone through and what he still faces to fully recover.
“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 with the Ben, I thought that if Davy can keep going, then so can I.”
Tough times on record-breaking run
Pawel, who is originally from Poland, had hoped to complete eight ascents and descents but the weather reduced his initial ambitions.
He started at 11am on October 9. He said: “It was wet and windy for the first morning. Then it calmed down but it was very foggy above 900m.
“Visibility made it much harder and I was slower to each summit.
“After four summits I thought I was okay and I would make the eight but the low visibility made it a lot harder to achieve.
“I am very happy with the seven in total.”
Ben Nevis is renowned for unpredictable weather. The summit is often shrouded in cloud.
Pawel, who has two daughters, fuelled on a mix of sweet and savoury foods but lists baby food as one of his best choices. He said: “Baby food has a good balance of nutrition and it’s easy to eat when you don’t want to eat much. It is kind on the stomach, too.
“I also ate pot noodles, pasta and pork pies.”
He believes he could not have completed the record without friends and family. He said: “It was a team event and I am very grateful for all the support. My wife was amazing and many friends and work colleagues came to help.
“They did ascents with me, gave me for and coffee and also cheered me on.”
In particular, he is grateful to the previous record holder Charlie Anderson.
Charlie, of Fort William, held the Ben Nevis 24-hour record for 15 years. Then aged 34, Charlie ascended and descended the Ben six times.
Pawel said: “I contacted Charlie when I decided I wanted to go for the record. He gave me lots of advice and tips.
“He was also there while I ddi the record. He wanted to keep me safe and he wanted me to be successful. He has been very generous with his time and support.”
From overweight to record runner
Pawel enjoys setting himself running goals. He said: “In 2013, I was overweight, smoked heavily and drank too much. I decided I needed to become healthier.
"I started running and I gave up smoking. I joined Lochaber running club. We run on the slopes of Ben Nevis quite a lot.
“I have also done the Ben Nevis Race five times.
“Then I started thinking about how many times I could run up and down in 24 hours. I discovered the record was six times.
“Now I weigh around 10st and I have completed other 24 hour rounds, such as the Ramsay Round, Paddy Buckley Round and Bob Graham Round. I did those under 24 hours and as training for the Ben Nevis challenge.”
See the GoFundMe page to support Pawel's fund-raising goal.
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Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.