Report of the Men’s race by Adrian Stott

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Giblin shatters his own course record at the 2014 West highland way race 

In what can only be described as a phenomenal display of  sustained endurance running, Scottish 100km champion Paul Giblin,shattered his own record for the 95 mile West Highland Way race at the weekend (June 21st.) Though he didn’t have things  all his own way in the early stages. 27 year old Robbie Britton ,one of the rising talents of British ultra running ,came  up from the “home counties”, with an audacious  plan to dip  well under 15 hours , and better the time of 15 hours 07 minutes 29 secs that  Giblin had set last year. He duly set off with that  in mind from the gun , with Giblin, who had his own plan to go sub 15 and improve his own record , a little surprised how hard Britton took the race on so early.

Britton reached the first checkpoint at Balmaha on Loch lomond (19 miles )  in 2.15.52  with Giblin just under a minute behind. By Rowardennan, below Ben Lomond, Britton had extended this to 1 min 37 sec (3.19.15 to 3.20.52). Amazingly they were both now over 20 minutes up on Giblin’s record run from 2013. Along the tough section of upper Loch Lomond side, Britton increased his lead  to almost 3 minutes reaching Beingalss Farm checkpoint at 40.5 miles in 5.32.26, to Giblin’s 5.35.10. now almost 25 minutes up on the record pace.

In the next stretch through Glen Falloch and the forests above Crianlarich, the severe pace was maintained but Giblin slowly started to claw back Bittons advantage. He caught and passed the young Englishman, just before the checkpoint at Auchtertyre Farm(59.4 miles) and led by 13 seconds ( 6.59.25). While Britton took a few minutes to feed and refresh, Giblin just cruised through the checkpoint grabbing “supplies to go” and then over the next  technically easier  10 mile stretch to Bridge of Orchy, (60 miles ) powered on to open up a lead of 16 minutes (8.16.00 to 8.31.47).

On over the  old drove road across Rannoch Moor Giblins pace was relentless . He reach the checkpoint at the Glencoe ski centre (70.1 miles ) in 9.56.18  now 27 minutes  clear of Britton (10.24.08) Amazingly Giblin was now 35 minutes up on his 2013 schedule , and Britton was still on course for well under 15 hours too. On over the rocky trails of the Devils staircase followed by the brutal decent to sea level at Kinliochleven , Giblin.s pace was totally relentless reaching the the 80 mile checkpoint in 11.42.36 , the question being asked was not would the record go …but by how much . Britton was still going remarkably well reaching Kinlochleven in 12.15.02. Over the final stretch along  the remote Lharig Mhor below the Mamores, Britton actually closed slightly on Giblin, running this section almost 5 minutes faster.

The damage had been done earlier in the day though.and Giblin  reached the finish  line at the leisure centre in Fort William in a truly remarkable 14 hours 20 minutes and 11 seconds after setting off from Milngavie at 1am earlier that day. The  excellent record from 2013 was in tatters and broken by  over 47 minutes.  Robbie Britton, had hung in  well and achieved his goal of also bettering the 2013 record  by almost 20 minutes finishing in 14.47. 48.  He  and probably few others , with the exception of the runner ahead  of him, really didn’t expect to finish second with that time though!!!

Reflecting afterwards Giblin said “I sensed Robbie would go off hard and i was a little quicker for the first 27 miles to Rowardennan than planned , but still felt in control, although i  took a fall coming off Conic  Hill, above Balmaha. I was happy running on my  own and keeping Robbie in sight up the loch side.  After Beinglass, i was aware i was catching him on the climbs and was determined to catch him before the Auchtertyre checkpoint. I passed him just before the checkpoint , he wasn’t pleased to see me but he was in good humour though, I went straight through the checkpoint and ran hard to Bridge of Orchy to open up a gap. I knew then it would be hard for him to catch  me. i think i ran a sub 7.20 Fling too…shame i have never run that fast in that race(reference to the Highland Fling race which takes in the first 53 miles of the full WhW to Tyndrum.)”

Robbie Britton had this to say on his race.

“The plan before Paul appeared  late on the entry  list was to run 14:30 but with a steadier start, but on Saturday I decided to race Paul from the start, hoping to put a significant gap on him before halfway and finish strongly. Unfortunately, for me anyway, Paul followed and passed me exactly at Auctertyre checkpoint. I was held up there for 5-10 minutes and then had to chase. Low point for me  was from 50-60 (Auchtertyre to Bridge of Orchy,)but  I pushed on and gave chase just in case Paul slowed down. I’ll  be quicker next time I run . As for changing plan when I went from first to second at mile 50,. My head dipped for a wee bit then I got my act together again before Rannoch Moor and chased for all my worth. Fully happy with tactics on the day, I wanted to go through Tyndrum quicker than Sondre Amdahl did in the Fling “

Behind the incredible first duo, the battle for 3rd and 4th unfolded as the race wore on with Matt  Williamson of Bellahouston Road Runners and David Gardiner (Kirkintilloch Olympians) having  there own wee battle for the 3rd spot. Matt in his first Highland Way and first race over 100k started steadily, 9th at Balmaha in 2.43.42 while David in his second attempt ,was  in 5th with 2.37.27 By Rowardennan Gardiner was still in 5th in 3.54.47 while Williamson was 7th in 3.58.30. The long  stretch up  Loch Lomond side  saw Williamson move up to 3rd place , reaching Beinglas in 6.29.22 leading Gardiner (6.31.32) by 2 minutes .

Positions switched by the next checkpoint at Auchtertyre with Gardiner (8.06.32) arriving  less than a minute ahead of  Williamson (8.07 14) . They were  seemingly only separated by a second at Bridge of Orchy, 9.38.47 to 9.38.48  and by the time the duo reached glencoe at 70 miles, Gardiner held a slender minute lead 11.33.34 to 11.34.29 . The next stretch finally saw Williamson open a sizeable gap, one senses the long downhill stretches on the drop to Kinochleven suiting  his lanky frame. He reached the checkpoint with a lead of 9 minutes , 13.33.30 to 13.41.40.  the final stretch over the lharig mor  saw Williamson stretch his lead further and he reached the finishing Fort William in 16.05.07  with Gardiner  34 minutes back in 16.39.21.  In many previous years , these times would have won the race , but in the last three years, you could say, things have moved on courtesy of Terry Conway ,  Robbie Britton and a certain Paul Giblin.

Matt Williamson answered some questions about the race ….

Did you meet or exceed your expectiatons?

I went with a 16h plan so I was pretty much bang on. If I was being fussy iwould have loved to dip under 16h even by a second, but I am not. I a delighted with how it it went. 16h was my plan A but I was pretty realistic that 2-3 hours slower or even a DNF were potential outcomes. After Transvulcania finishing was hugely important so even if the wheels had come off I was determined to make the finish line.

How did you move up field?

To be honest it was just natural attrition. I purposely held back from the leading 9 runners to try and stick to my race plan. It meant running on my own but you probably know by now i’m not one for worrying whos in front in the first sections of a race. I kept to my race plan all the way through, generally around  5 mins inside  my target at each check point. IWhen i reached Glencoe I dropped a few minutes behind after tiring a bit over Rannoch Moor but hoped all the hill training in my legs would help in the next section. When I left Glencoe I felt good and this was a boost since I hadn’t ran that distance before. When I reached Kinlochleven I was confident I could finish and knew that a sub 16 could still perhaps happen.

Being in 3rd at that stage I was also keen to hold onto my position so Ipushed to try and make up the few minutes I had lost. It didn’t quite happen but I was pretty pleased to see my split on the final leg.

Would you do it again?

You know I like to see different places and race different races but there is something special about the WHW, I dare say you’ll see me on the start line again!

“We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing” George Bernard Shaw

David Gardiner’s comments on the race …

After 2012 I always felt I had unfinished business. In 2012 I turned my ankle pretty badlyat 24 miles, then suffered the consequences of that for the next 71 miles.Given the problems I had encountered I was quite pleased with the time but I knew I had a much faster one in me. The aim for 2014 was to find that time. All training and racing plans for 2014 were about getting that time on the 21st June.

The time schedule was planned for a 16h 20m run. Knowing the course from racing the fling and training on it I knew what I could run each section in when pushing it or cruising and build my plan round that. Without a doubt that was the best bit of planning I did. I was within a couple of minutes for both my splits and combined times all the way until Glencoe.

The plan was to hit the splits regardless of who was around and the start taking more of an interest at Beinglas farm then race as needed from Glencoe. I had no real idea of position at Rowerdennan but I knew I was pretty well up probably 5th or 6th. On the climb out of Rowerdennan Matt Williamson went past me and my race long dual with him started there.

Matt is good on the trails but I like them too and I followed him pretty much at a discrete distance of about 10-20 seconds behind. Not for us the running shoulder to shoulder stuff. We would play catch and mouse the rest of the way.

My first bad patch just after Inversnaid let Matt get ahead and I lost sight. I recovered and pushed on to hit my split at Beinglas and was surprised that he was only a couple of minutes ahead. I was feeling really good on the climb out of Glen Falloch and finally caught Matt on he first of the Crianlarach hills.  Delighted and surprised to find out I had moved into 3rd. I was strong on the hills all day and ran past him there. He was strong on the downhills and kept pegging me back. The rollercoaster that is that section saw me pull away going up, Matt come back coming down. I was hoping that having to really push going down would trash his quads later in the race. No such luck there, he finished fantastically well.

Into and out of Auchertyre I had about 30 seconds and pushed on and built up a decent heading to Bridge of Orchy but just at the train station Matt caught me again and retook 3rd. He left Bridge of Orchy before me. I had a really bad climb out, my only bad one of the day and after jelly baby hill Matt had 4 minutes on the start of the run up and over Rannoch Moor. I got my legs back and pushed on.

Catching then passing Matt again taking a lead of 1 minute into Glencoe checkpoint. I was totally up for the fight at this point. I knew I could run the hills and the flat faster than Matt if only I could get near his downhill pace this was going to get very interesting. My final bad patch out the check point saw Matt pull away and build up a decent lead of about 8 minutes at Kinlochleven. I got it back to 5 minutes up onto the Larig Mor but then he kicked on fantastically well and pulled away. When I realised he has gone so did some of my mojo and I had to turn my mind back to just the clock. After such an epic struggle this was strangely unrewarding. The target was now to come in under 16:30 but that slipped away on the very last leg but there was no way I was going to let 16:40 go as well so pushed on one last time to make the 16:39:21.

The time is one that I think is a much more accurate reflection of my ability and preparation so I am delighted with it. Will I do it again, not sure. 50-50 at best. 2012 proved I could suffer, 2014 proved I could run fast. Having the chance to race 95 miles for a podium place in a field of that quality is something I will probably never have the opportunity to do again. As you say the event is moving on and then some. I will be another year older.

The fact that I am now 45 and giving the other three ahead of me this year about 9-10 years is not going in my favour either. I have no shame in finishing 4th to runners of the quality of Paul, Robbie and Matt. They are on another level.

Probably time to look for another challenge. Although I have recovered really well already, I could run today if I wanted to no problem. I will however rest up properly and recover fully before using this fitness and hopefully have a crack at another ultra and try and go for it and run a fast time. I know I can race ultra’s I have been fortunate to win a few, all of them with good judgement and pacing. Can I blast one Giblin style? Never one to shy away from a challenge I will see what catches my eye next.

Sorry if this is longer than you were wanting but once I started to reflect upon the race this is what came out. Please thank the committee personally for all their hard work. What they do provides the opportunities for the rest of us to enrich our lives in ways that most others will never comprehend or appreciate. If I don’t run it again will I be involved as a support crew or a marshall? Dam right.

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