Ultra runner Pawel Cymbalista set a new unsupported West Highland Way record of 17 hours 53 minutes and 35 seconds on July 16. According to the FKT website, the previous fastest time was set by Matt Girvan in 23 hours 21 minutes and 36 seconds on April 24, 2021.
The West Highland Way starts in Milngavie, north of Glasgow, and finishes 95 miles (152km) later in Fort William, Highlands. Total ascent is 12007ft (3,660m).
Pawel’s record West Highland Way run
The West Highland Way is the furthest that Pawel has run before as a non-stop challenge.
WHW: Milngavie to Balmaha
The first challenge for Pawel, 34, was a technical issue. The navigation file on his GPS watch had somehow become corrupted so it wasn’t possible to follow the route, apart from trail signage.
He said: “The first section, from Milngavie to Balmaha, was a short section in the dark with few panic moments when I got lost. The West Highland Way signs are not always easily visible and my watch nav corrupted so I didn’t have an arrow pointing to my direction.
“I had to go old-style with a map on my phone in flight mode to nav my way out of the villages. I learned really fast and my panic changed into 100% focus.”
Pawel also found the conditions hot and humid. He said: “The humidity made it difficult to breathe. Then to top all this off, I had stomach issues. I felt cramping in my abdomen, which was possibly caused by stress due to travel issues getting to Milngavie and general problems that happened before the WHW attempt. The issue continued until the end of section two.”
WHW: Balmaha to Loch Lomond
The second section of the WHW to Loch Lomond also proved to be testing for Pawel, who lives in Mallaig. He said: “I was getting a bit annoyed here with all the campsites that don’t have proper signs directing you in the right direction to stay on the path. I wandered away from the WHW path at least four times which cost me precious time. It was really stressful.
“The humidity in the trees was so high I was sweating buckets and losing precious energy on trying to regulate my core temperature. I had to drink plenty of water to stay on top of my hydration, which was slowing me down with multiple refills. But I knew I have to do it in order to survive and keep going.
“There was also the tough terrain on this section. This stretch required a lot of balancing on tree branches and rocks and jumping over boulders and fallen trees with constant up and downs. There was no way to get up to speed.”
WHW: Loch Lomond to Bridge of Orchy
The third section, from the Loch Lomond to Bridge of Orchy, included some highlights for Pawel. He said: “The Falls of Falloch were beautiful and the fresh air gave me a boost to keep moving.
“Finally I felt like I was getting some cooling wind but it was still very limited.”
But again he hit a bad spell when he reached Tyndrum. Pawel said: “I was half way through my run and my demons were telling me to finish this by taking the easy route and just sitting down. But I refused, had more food, more water, salt tablets and continued to push.
“When I crossed Bridge of Orchy on the climb I phoned my wife and I had a moan about the route and my issues. We had a laugh. I needed to hear her voice and have a chat. I felt so much better and got a great boost to keep going. From here I knew I was getting closer to home with every step.”
WHW: Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven
The next section, from Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven, became a battle with body, rather than mind for Pawel. He said: “I felt good in my head but my body started to feel the rough terrain.
“I was in pain and on the edge all the way. I had to stay on top of the water, food and salts.
“The Devil’s Staircase was beautiful and filled me with hope but the tough long, steep descent down to Kinlochleven was painful for my quads and I felt like screaming in pain.
“It was the first time in my life I had to start walking downhill for few second at a time because of the pain in my quads and muscles around my bottom ribs.”
WHW: Kinlochleven tio Fort William
For Pawel, the final section of his unsupported run of the West Highland Way was very emotional. He said: “This was the only section that I knew. I knew what was ahead of me and how rough the path is. My feet were in bits and every wrong footstep was giving me pain.
“I knew I had only 19km to go in this kind of terrain but it was character making! Finally, I knew the end was close and I felt my body fill with adrenaline. I still was in pain but I also felt numb and started slowly speeding up. I finished with a strong sprint on the High Street of Fort William.”
‘I was so happy to finish’
Pawel said he was very happy to finish the WHW. He said: “I was happy to see my family; happy to see my friends; happy it was over; and happy I could sit down.
“I was also happy I had broken the unsupported record.
“I not only broke my personal records but I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot and will use that knowledge in my future adventures. I was very close to my breaking point. This route forced me to use everything I had in me to complete it in this time.”
Pawel’s Mallaig fund-rasier
Pawel is raising funds for the new Mallaig Community Hub and Shop project. Find out more.