Report of 2015 Men’s Race by Adrian Stott

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GIBLIN MAKES IT 3 IN A ROW AND IMPROVES HIS OWN RECORD FOR THE 3RD TIME

For the third year running, Paul Giblin has won the 95mile West Highland Way trail race, and for the third year running, has bettered the course record.

187 runners set off at 1am on Saturday morning (20th June), the aim for most of them was simply to cover the 95 miles to Fort William in the 35 hour cut off.

From the start, Giblin was out on his own, and as the race unfolded, it was apparent that he was just racing the clock, but although he was running well, he was behind the blistering pace that had been set in 2014.

By the first checkpoint at Balmaha on Loch Lomond reached in 2h 24min, he was 6 minutes down on the 2014 record. By Beinglas Farm at the top of the loch, this was now 10 minutes. He was however comfortably clear of any challenges with Cornwall’s Duncan Oates some 45 minutes behind and Beacon Runners, Neil MacNicol a further 10 minutes back in 3rd

Through Auctertyre near Tyndrum (51 miles) and Bridge of Orchy 60m he remained around 8-10 minutes behind record schedule. At Glencoe, (70 miles) he was still around 10 minutes down on 2014.

Gibin was looking good but rather than a ‘grab and feed on the go strategy’, he lingered to get on board a good bowl of porridge and, chat to his support crew of John Connolly and Davie Gow, as well as his Mum Jo and Dad Dennis!

He even walked 3-400 metres down the road out of the checkpoint. There didn’t seem to be the intensity or urgency that had characterised his 2014 effort, and with arguably two of the toughest stretches of the trail to come, over the steep climb of the Devils Staircase  and down to Kinlochleven, followed by the remote and stony section of the old drove road through the Llarig Mor. It seemed that Giblin was intent to settle for the win.

Reaching Kinlochleven (80 miles) in 11:50:19 he was still 8 minutes down on his record pace of 2014. Giblin obviously then decided to see just what was possible with a bit of effort over the last section.

Some 2 hours later a call form support crew John Connolly to the finish confirmed Giblin’s arrival at Braveheart car park in Glen Nevis, less than 2 miles from the finish. Quick calculations confirmed, he must indeed have sped up through the Llarig Mhor and the last undulating forest section, and the record was now indeed not just possible, but barring a fall, almost inevitable.

A jubilant Giblin arrived, speeding across the sports centre car park at Lochaber leisure centre to stop the clock at 14.14.44 some five and a half minutes inside the previous mark (14.20.11)

Many superlatives have been used since Saturday to describe Paul’s performance. We caught up with him a couple of days afterwards, to get his own perspective on his race and what prompted him to make a late decision to run. I hope we have interpreted his thoughts ok.

‘I had been selected to run for the GB team at the IAU World Trail Championships at the end of May (53 miles 5,500metres !!), so that was a really top quality race and was my main focus up till then. I had been running between 100 and 140 miles a week in the lead up to that. I ran ok there, (Author’s  note: Paul helped the men’s team led by Tom Owens to bronze team medals so actually did more than OK!) but I had taken a heavy tumble early on in that race which bruised my ribs, broke one of my poles too, and affected other things that stopped me running freely, so didn’t feel, on the day I ran as hard as I could have there.

I recovered fairly quickly, and contacted Ian to see if a late entry was still possible for The Way. Ian was really happy to have me run but it was only after a few days good training to see how Annecy recovery was going that I made the final decision to run. On the Tuesday before the race I think. I had been running between 100 and 140 miles a week in the lead up to the World Trail and figured I hadn’t lost much  of that fitness.  In the 3 weeks since then, it was all about how I had recovered. The WHW is for me, as it is to so many people, a special race, so I just thought I would give it a go. I had a rough schedule that targeted the record again, but I really just wanted to enjoy myself and hopefully get the win to make it three in a row.

I found myself in the lead and on my own from early on, so was just able to get into a good rhythm where I was running comfortably, but didn’t feel like I was pushing myself too hard.

I was aware from spilt times at the checkpoints that I was slightly down on my 2014 record splits, but I wasn’t too concerned. All the way up the course to Glencoe, I was aware I was between 6-10 minutes down on the record and although it was in the back of my mind, I wasn’t letting it bother me too much, as I had a couple of stretches where I didn’t feel brilliant, and you always know from Glencoe on, is going to be where you have to start working anyway.

Over the ‘Devil’ to Kinlochleven, again I was going ok and maintaining pace but not totally pushing it. After the climb out of KL on to the Larig Mhor I started to push things a little on to Lundavra.  At Lundavra, I was aware I was closing on the record schedule, but still had a few minutes to pull back, and it was only here, I really pushed it on through the forest over to the glen (Nevis), going hard up all those little wee climbs.   Once I hit the fire road, as most of us know, if you have anything left, you can really fly down that stretch to  Braveheart car park and I really was hammering it between 6.15-6.30 miles I reckon.

It felt great but you never know if your legs will just turn to jelly when you hit those last two miles on the road to the finish.

I am really happy to get the third win, and to break the record again, is still sinking in really. As I said, for so many of us, especially here in Scotland , who know the trail so well, it is a special race, whether you are racing it like me, or just challenging yourself to finish in 35 hours, and Ian and his team do an excellent job of keeping things simple, but still organising a great event.’

As for what is next?

‘I will have an easy week, then I hope to have a short spell in Chamonix training. I have an entry for UTMB and feel I have still to do myself justice in one of the major European trail events, but I  have also JUST  been selected for the GB Team for the world 100km championships  late in September in Winschoten in HOLLAND so need to sit down and  do a bit of planning.’

Meanwhile Neil MacNicol and Duncan Oates were having there own little battle for 2nd and 3rd places.  Oates was almost 27 minutes ahead at Glencoe, but struggled over the Devils Staircase section, and MacNicol reached Kinlochleven just 4 minutes down. The pair exchanged friendly words as they “refuelled”. Oates left the checkpoint first, but heading out of the village managed to miss the trail way marker and continued along the road for a while, before realising his mistake. This allowed MacNicol to move into second, and maintain that to finish in 16.26.39 with Oates in 3rd 16.39.25.

For Fifer MacNicol, it was his first race beyond the 53mile Highland Fling,  ‘I was delighted how I coped well with the step up in distance. It was indeed my first attempt at anything beyond Fling distance so i was unsure of how i would perform. I know Duncan was an experienced 100mile plus guy so I didn’t try and stay with him when he pulled away after Balmaha. Stuck to my hopeful 17hr schedule. After serious toilet stop at Rowardennan felt pretty bad until Auchtertyre. Found out there Duncan was 26mins ahead. Started to make effort to catch but didn’t gain anything when reached Glencoe. Made more effort down to Devil staircase and decided all out on downhill to Kinlochleven where if i hadn’t gained anything then, then holding 3rd would be priority. I was only 4 mins behind Duncan at KLL. Think Duncan had a bad Glencoe leg as well as me gaining a bit. Saw him at CP, joked i was reeling him in and he left while I ate and drank. Duncan then missed sign for path at edge of town!! My crew found him heading out of town on road after they left KLL. They got him back on WHW path whilst i was up the hill thinking why can’t I see him and I was basically chasing no-one. I worked it out but got it confirmed at Lundavra. Pushed on to end stressing that I may be caught and was ecstatic to get in under 17hrs.

Race Director Ian Beattie also commented,

‘It was another superb weekend.  Paul Giblin’s performance in setting a new record for the third consecutive year was incredible, particularly as he ran the full 95 miles on his own.  However every one of the 155 finishers was a winner.  There will be a lot of painful legs and feet over the next few days, but I am sure the pride in completing such a tough event will outweigh the short term pain.  Well done to all who took part.’

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