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Record-breaking third win at WHW race

Written by Fiona

June 26 2015


Scottish ultra runner Paul Giblin won the West Highland Way for a third time – and also broke his own record at the weekend. The Paisley athlete even surprised himself with a time of 14 hours 14 minutes and 44 seconds following a late entry to the 95-mile trail race.

Paul, 37, said: “I wasn’t even sure if I would race until very close to the day because I was coming off the back of the World Trail Championships three weeks before.

“It is unusual for me to race two long races in such close succession but I felt good after the trails champs and I just decided to go for it. My aim was to win it again because I was keen to get the hat-trick but I was very surprised to also break the record again.”

In 2014, Paul won the race in 14.20.11 and in 2013 he came home in 15.07.29. Second placed in this year’s WHW race was Neil MacNicol. He was almost two hours behind Paul in 16.26.13, although this was still a great race for a debut entry. Duncan Oakes came third in 16:39.25.

The first female was Jamie Aarons, of Carbeth, near Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire, in a time of 19:28.23. She was ninth runner overall in a race that follows a route from close to Jamie’s home, north to the Highlands town of Fort William. She came third in 2010 in her only other entry to the WHW race.

WHW Race start. Pic credit: Momentum Photos

WHW Race start. Pic credit: Momentum Photos

The details: The WHW Race

Some 200 runners took part in the enduringly popular ultra distance event over the weekend of June 20 and 21 and faced a demanding course with the threat of Scotland’s ever changing weather.

The race includes a total climb of almost 15,000ft, which is more than three times the height of the UK’s tallest mountain of Ben Nevis. At the 18-mile mark, runners have a 1000ft ascent and descent on the steep paths of Conic Hill, near Balmaha.

Next up is an extremely tough section of rocks, steps and tree roots along the east side of Loch Lomond. Running is almost impossible in places and some people resort to crawling over large boulders.

Past Bridge of Orchy, with 60 miles run, the participants have to deal with the exposure and wild terrain of Rannoch Moor. Another climb that forces most racers to walk, not run, heads up to 1000ft again and over the notorious Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe.

Spider-Man, aka Ross Lawrie, finished in 27.57.04.

Spider-Man, aka Ross Lawrie, finished in 27.57.04.

After a long downhill into Kinlochleven, the route ascends again as the total distance approaches 90 miles. Three false horizons and the further torture of a rollercoaster terrain sees the runners finally approaching the finish line on exhausted legs.

The distance and scale of the challenge explains why most people allow around at least seven days to walk the WHW trail. They hike an average of 13 miles each day and sleep for hours every night.

Yet Paul’s record-breaking race was achieved in one day and at an average pace of just less than nine minutes per mile.

John Kynaston, one of the WHW Race organisers, puts this speed into perspective. He said: “Running an ordinary 10km – that’s 6.25 miles – event at a pace of nine-minute miles would see you finishing in around 56 minutes.

“For many people that would be a very good time. So it’s incredible to think that Paul can run the entire 95 miles of tough and challenging terrain at this speed.”

Runners start early. Pic credit: Momentum Photos

Runners start early. Pic credit: Momentum Photos

The winner’s WHW race

Paul, a GB ultra international competitor, described this year’s race as tougher than 2014. He said: “It wasn’t the weather or the fact I had raced just three weeks before but more that I was running on my own for much for the way.

“Last year there were runners who were in closer contention and they pushed me on. There is nothing like a nearby competitor to make you run harder yourself.

“This year, it was a tough slog on my own. The start was also wet which made the ground slippery and going over Conic Hill was slower than normal because of poor visibility.

“I also struggled a lot psychologically over Rannoch Moor. It felt so long to be running on my own and I had nothing to push me forwards. I had to dig deep and just keep on running.”

Paul at the race start. Pic credit: Momentum Photos

Paul at the race start. Pic credit: Momentum Photos

Paul, who is sponsored by Team Nathan UK, knew he was ahead of the field but even as late as Kinlochleven, with some 15 miles to go and a big climb, he did not know that the record was within his grasp. He said: “My support crew told me at Kinlochleven that if I ran a slightly quicker pace I might break the record.

“It was then that I suddenly started to focus. I pushed that last section very hard. I hurt like nothing I have felt before but when you are running such a long way it can mean everything to you to run just one short section hard.

“I ran the final 15 miles 13 minutes faster than in 2014. I felt very emotional to win again and to break the record. It was – and still is – overwhelming.”

First female Jamie’s winning race

America-born Jamie, 35, was hoping for a PB on the course but had no idea she might win. She said: “My goal for this year’s race was to improve my time from 2010 (19:54). But to cross the line to discover I had also come home first female was incredibly exciting.”

Jamie describes the highlights of the race. She said: “I like the start of the race because it is in the dark and I love running in the dark. I also felt so lucky that I had managed to arrive at the start line uninjured and with a good night’s sleep under my belt from Thursday night.

“Then, the section after Inversnaid along the shores of Loch Lomond, is usually a low for me, with its tricky terrain and what seems like slow progress, but this time was different. I turned on some music, enjoyed the sunshine, had a gel, and loved this section.

“I was running a similar pace to another runner and we played a perpetual game of leap frog. I was also really looking forward to seeing my amazing crew, who were meeting me at Beinglas Farm checkpoint.

“Then, another major high came when I bumped into race director Ian Beattie as I was en route to the Lundavra checkpoint. I thought I had 1.5 miles to go. He informed me that I only had about 400m. I hugged him on the spot and managed to jog/shuffle my way to the checkpoint when I had been walking before.”

But there were low points for Jamie, too. She said: “My feet by the time I reached Lairig Mor were very painful and every loose or sharply-edged stone felt like I was being poked with nails. I still have very sore feet and I need to work out, for my future races, how to overcome this.”

Another difficult section came after Kingshouse. She said: “This is usually a bit I enjoy, leading to the foot of the Devil’s Staircase. But my feet were so sore I was walking sections that, fitness-wise, certainly should have been run-able. I was annoyed with myself and annoyed with my feet and I constantly looked over my shoulder because I was sure that there would be another female runner hot on my tail since my pace had slowed so much.”

On the day, the second placed female runner, Myvanwy Fenton-May, came home in 20.05.21, with Lorna McMIllan in third in 21.25.20.

The record for the fastest woman in the history of the 30-year WHW race is Lucy Colquhoun, of Glasgow, who ran 17:16 in 2007.

Jamie reveals how her time goals shifted throughout the event. She said: “At a few points I thought I could do a sub-19hr run, but by Glencoe I knew that wasn’t going to happen. As I approached the Braveheart car park I thought a sub-19.5hr time might still be possible. These goals we set for ourselves are often completely arbitrary, yet suddenly it become the only thing that mattered.

Emotional Jamie at the finish line.

Emotional Jamie at the finish line.

“I was fixated. I recalled from 2010 that this car park seems imaginary for a long time. Just when you think you’re done, you still have a few miles to go. And they hurt. But because I knew that already, I was mentally a little better prepared.

“I got to the ‘400m to go’ sign with my watch reading 19:26. I started talking out loud to myself like a broken record, attempting what little sprint I had left in me: ‘400m, 4 minutes; 400m, 4 minutes; 300m, 3 minutes; 300m, 3 minutes . . .

“When I reached the finish line at 19:28 I was so overwhelmed. I burst into tears and had to be literally supported to stay upright by my friends. I could not have done so well if it wasn’t for my incredible support crew.”

Jamie is now focusing on her next race goals. She said: “I have gained an entry to the Gore-Tex Trans Alps again, I have the Great Kindrochit Artemis Quadrathlon in two weeks and a Bob Graham round attempt on July 28.”

Enter the WHW Race 2016

The WHW race has an allocation process for people who register to enter. See details for the West Highland Way Race 2016.

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