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First-time WHW Race runner Rob Sinclair smashes record

Written by Fiona

June 27 2017

Rob Sinclair is over-the-moon after winning his first West Highland Way Race – and breaking the record by 33 minutes.

Debuting in the 95-mile ultra marathon race from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, to Fort William, the 27-year-old Aberdeen runner crossed the finish line at the weekend in 13 hrs 41 mins and 8 secs.

He beat Paul Giblin’s previous race record of 14.14.44, which was set in 2015.

His average pace was slightly faster than 8 min 40 secs for every mile. Many runners would be delighted to run a 10k race at that speed let alone 95 miles on trails and including 14,000ft of ascent.

Rob collects his wHW Race trophy.

Rob, who had never run more than 110km (68 miles) before, finished more than three hours ahead of Mark Yule of Lanark, in second place.

The women’s race was won by Lynne Allen, of Cumbernauld, in 18.48.31. It was also her debut WHW race and she ran the seventh fastest female time ever recorded. Lynne finished 25 minutes ahead of runner up Carrie Craig.

The WHW Race 2017 saw a record number of 211 runners set off at 1am on Saturday June 24, with 159 finishing at Fort William within the 35-hour time limit.

Who is Rob Sinclair?

Rob, who works as a workshop technician in the gas and oil industry, took up serious running only a few years ago. He revealed he has always been generally sporty but he then decided that he most enjoyed running trails and in the hills.

He also found that he was good at it and so he started doing a bit of racing.

Rob quickly progressed to doing longer distance events and discovered that he could continue to run at a good speed for ultra distances. (An ultra run is usually defined as longer than 30 miles).

Rob and his mentor Mike Raffin.

Rob, a former member of Garioch Road Runners, says: “It was all a bit of an unknown to me. I was new to ultra running and I knew that I liked running off-road so I did a lot of that in training. I love going fast up big hills and mountains.

“Then, when I started doing longer races, it seemed I could keep going at a decent pace.”

In his first ultra race, the 43km Lairig Ghru Marathon in 2014 he came 11th. In the Glen Ogle Ultra 33 Ultra 2015, Rob came second despite being ill the week before.

His winning performances started with his first 55-mile Cateran Trail Ultra in May 2016. He also set a new course record of 7:18:52, which was 35 minutes faster than the previous record.

In 2016, he returned to the Lairig Ghru race and won it.

In April 2017, Rob made his mark in his first Highland Fling Ultra. He won the 53-mile race on the WHW from Milngavie to Tyndrum and set a new course record of 6:41:31. He knocked 10 minutes of the previous best time for the race.

During a summer training camp in the Alps, Rob took part in race that saw him run his furthest yet, 110km.

Rob’s debut WHW Race

Rob takes advice from the experienced ultra runner Mike Raffin. He says: “I was chatting with Mike about my potential in the WHW Race after winning the Fling. Although I had no previous experience of running further than 70 miles, Mike reckoned I would do well. He thought I would be able to maintain my pace throughout the race based on what he had seen me do in the Fling.

“He told me to think of the final 25 miles as a training run on its own.”

The start of the race did not go as planned for Rob. He says: “Right at the beginning I missed a turn. I ended up running about a quarter of a mile extra. I realised my mistake and had to turn back. In doing so, I passed runners who had been behind me. I tried not to think about this mistake and just got on with gaining the front place again.”

While Rob led all the way through every checkpoint, he confesses it was a harder than he had imagined it would be from Bridge of Orchy onwards at around 60 miles. The weather started to change as he reached the latter stages of the ultra race with on-off rain and strong wind.

He says: “I found the wind really took it out of me. It was swirling around and quite strong. I kept trying to focus on pushing on and tried not to worry about the conditions. I remembered what Mike had said about treating the last 25 miles as if it was a shorter training run.

“That is easier said than done though and I knew I was running into the unknown zone.

Rob at the Devil’s Staircase. Pic credit. Adrian Stott

“At the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase I was started to think things were against me. It seemed like something was determined to make it hell for me and I roared with joy when I reached the top of that hill and I was able to push it hard downhill into Kinlochleven.

“I probably went too hard at this point and I found I was unable to take on proper food and had to rely on gels, which I prefer not to do. But I just didn’t feel like food.

“The last seven or eight miles of the race were the hardest for me. I knew I would finish but it couldn’t come quickly enough. My mood was going through so many ups and downs and it seemed to take forever.”

After the race, when speaking to his mum, she mentioned that he had been running faster than 7mph on average.

He says: “I was actually surprised when she told me that because that seems quite fast when you say it out loud. She is right though. I am not really sure how I can run for so long and keep up the pace.

“I do a lot of hill and mountain ascent training in the Cairngorms, as well as some speed and interval sets as part of my longer runs. I rarely run more than about 35 miles in one outing but I do try to make sure I do back-to-back training days at the weekends. I think these back-to-back outings make a huge difference.

“But a lot of the build up to the WHW Race has been a bit of a try-it-and-see. I did make sure I tapered properly towards this race as I haven’t normally done so. Whatever I am doing I think I must be doing something right.”

Rob is also grateful for the support of Mike and his wife Annette. He says: “Mike has given me a lot of advice in my training and they both supported me through the race. I could not have done it without them.

“I still can’t believe I have won the race and set a new course record. I did not expect that on my first attempt. It hasn’t sunk in yet. It just feels brilliant.”

Rob at Fort William after crossing the finish line first.

What next for Rob?

The Triple Crown is the three ultra races on the West Highland Way. It includes the Fling, the WHW race and the Devil o’ the Highlands Race in August. If Rob is ready for it he says he will attempt the Devil.

He says: “It would be great to do the Triple Crown in my first year of the WHW ultras. I will need to see how I recover from this race first though. I am still a bit shocked by what has happened.”

Rob is hugely enthusiastic about Scotland. He says: “I would like to do some races aboard at some point but for now I am enjoying the ultras and training in Scotland. I would also like to do some of the northern England events. I have never raced in the Lake District, for example.

“I am not sure what my plans will be for next year because it is so soon after the WHW Race but I know that I love running ultras and I really enjoy the training so I hope to keep doing what I have been doing.”

You can follow Rob Sinclair on Facebook.

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