Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

West Highland Way 2013 – race report

Photo courtesy of Thomas Loehndorf

There are loads of great blogs written already about this year’s race and hundreds more from earlier races so rather than cover most of the same I thought I’d be better just trying to answer the actual questions I’ve been asked most often since I made it to Fort William……..and…….won the WHW race (still feel slightly awkward saying that). The other bit is even more awkward!

Q. How did you manage to do that?

Let’s face it completing a 95 mile race is big under-taking and I have huge respect for those that take it on and make it to the end at Fort William. For those who didn’t make it there’s a very good chance that it was bad luck on the day and I’m sure you’ll get another chance if you want it badly enough. For one or two maybe the training wasn’t quite right or perhaps the commitment wasn’t fully there – you’ll know yourself, you don’t need anyone else to tell you. For me, I’ve been 100% committed for maybe 2 years. Some probably think it’s easy for the guys at the front. Yes, I’ve a decent build for ultra-running, I’m the right kind of age etc.  but I can tell you that none of that race came easy to me. Maybe I’ve had genuinely tougher days, I certainly suffered considerably more on my winter record attempt. But that’s exactly it. It was less about the suffering on the day after the day-to-day slog and pain of training. The sore legs, the weekend back-to-backs, the scrimping on sleep to squeeze in some extra miles, the cold and wet early mornings, distinct lack of holidays and the non-existent social life. It was all about a total commitment to setting up the right conditions for racing hard. The 4 other races I’d done this year before the WHW were hugely valuable. I learned something different in every one and looking back, any disappointment was an important part of readying myself for the day.

I was only prepared to run hard and to suffer because I’d done it week after week in training. I wanted it.

Standing on the start-line I didn’t dread it in any way at all. It felt like the race ahead was a reward for everything that had gone before and this was my chance to let loose and run exactly how I wanted. Compared to the training runs this was my chance to forget about getting home, about finding water, carrying extra layers or charging a phone. It was 100% about racing. I wanted to feel every part of the journey, good and bad. I had prepared meticulously for it. My support did too. Between us we created the best possible conditions to allow me to run the way I love.

Q. Did you mean to do that?

In a word, Yes. Of course I did. I think I made my intentions clear from the very first step and anyone who knows me knew before the race that I had fire in my belly and a win was more than a real possibility. Clearly I wasn’t the favourite for most people but I knew I was going into it strong and I knew whatever happened I wasn’t going to finish the race thinking I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough. By the time I arrived in Milngavie it was like the rest of life was on-hold just for that time I’d spend racing on the WHW. Those special hours.

Q. Setting out like that. Weren’t you worried about blowing up?

It’s always a risk but it’s something I’ve practised  I have deliberately tried different pacing strategies in races and training so I have a better idea of what I can do, the warning signs of something going wrong and when is the right time is to back off. I guess experience does actually count for something. It was worth the risk and the thought of the “he’s going to blow up – ignore him” chat behind me only added fuel to the burning inside.

Q. Can you go under 15 hours?

Was asked that within minutes of finishing. Always makes me laugh. 32 minutes off the course record (as well as beating the old course record) and it felt already like I’d somehow disappointed people. In the 2012 race I finished 27 seconds over a sub-17 and I was asked about why I couldn’t have done it any quicker. Just 27 seconds – surely! Why people took such amusement / interest in it I can’t understand. I wasn’t concerned as I knew the next time I did the race I wouldn’t be worried about a few seconds. But if you really want an answer….I do think it’s possible to do it under 15 hours – the empty CP at Beinglas certainly cost me 4 or 5 minutes as did the impromptu meet-up with the crew a few miles up the road as we tried to work out what I needed for drinks / fuel (the main checkpoint hadn’t opened in time for me). If the sun hadn’t come out and roasted me on Lairig Mor, maybe. On the other hand lots of things did go right on the day which might not ever happen again so I’m happy with what I did – 15:07 is a more-than-decent time.

Q. How do you feel about the race now?

That’s a really tricky one. I felt pretty warm inside for a few days although more than a little shell-shocked. I knew I could do it but hadn’t thought about how I might feel when it happened. The presentation on the Sunday was over-whelming although it felt like I was watching myself rather than actually being there in person. For runners and crews to stand and applaud was a real honour although I’m not sure it was entirely deserved. It was just running after all. For me it really wasn’t about beating every other runner. It was about me finally realising a dream. The WHW means more to me than any other race so the emotions at the end were because I’d finally managed to break through any fears and physical pain and overcome my own limitations. It was pure and raw and maybe it’ll never happen again. I can live with that if that’s the way it has to be, I will continue chasing it though. Always.

Q. Do you feel sorry for Marco (2nd place finisher)?

Absolutely not. No. Marco ran an incredible race. Of that there is no doubt. And, on paper in other years it would have been a win. Marco might go on to win it yet and like myself I’m sure he’d want that to be when there’s a great field and when those at the front really try their hardest to win it. That’s when it’s worth winning.

I’m not sure anyone felt sorry for me the previous year when I was well-beaten by Terry. I didn’t expect sympathy or want it. So no. I don’t. Marco is a fantastic runner and has beaten me plenty of times. This WHW race was mine.

Q. Are your support crew available for hire?

Absolutely not! I’m incredibly lucky to have them. They put just as much heart into the race as I do and I think that was evident to anyone who saw us at the finish. I have a real connection with them and that love and commitment only makes it all the more special. They know how much I put into things and what I’ve given up to do it, so it was an incredible and emotional moment for us when I turned into the carpark in Fort William. They’ve known for years I’ve wanted that moment. We had spoken about it 2011 and they’ve shown a huge amount of faith in me without ever making me feel pressured. I’m not sure they could do the same for anyone else.

So that’s it. Short and sharp….if you have a specific question feel free to post a comment and I’ll get back to you.


I’d like to thank everyone who sent me a message, said hello, posted a comment, tweeted me, gave me a smile, said well-done, clapped, shouted my name, told the story the following week……it’s all incredibly kind and overwhelming. It’s just running but it’s these small things that make it very special. The human things.

I’d also like to thank the WHW RD, Ian Beattie (and his team). You’ve given me more than you’ll ever understand.  I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity and I’ll always be proud to be associated in some small way with the West Highland Way Race. You do an incredible job and we’re lucky that you do.

To the guys at Team Nathan UK and NinePointNine (Nathan, Clif, Feetures and Princeton Tec), Stevie Gildea in particular – thanks for taking a chance on me, your belief has helped me so much this year and I know it’s just the start of our journey. Thanks for your friendship. Time to start tearing it up now!!

Daniel, thanks for all your hard work, careful treatment and friendship.

Finally, the crew: Mum, Dad, Nic and Simon. We f*cking did it! I love you.


29 responses

  1. Great blog , fantastic achievement and a well deserved win ! Since I’ve known you , you have worked relentlessly to become the ultra runner you knew you could be .. Respect to you mate 👍

    August 7, 2013 at 11:20 am

    • Thanks a lot Mark. Hope to see you soon 🙂

      August 8, 2013 at 9:02 am

  2. Rick Williams

    Really enjoyed reading your blog – thanks. If it’s not too much of a secret I would also appreciate knowing something of your training schedule for the WHW – what runs do you think were vital to your success, and what sort of weekly mileage were you doing – cheers.

    August 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    • No huge secret Rick. Peak weeks will be 100 miles+ but with as much of that in the mountains as possible. Not during the week but weekends anyway. The bank holiday weekend 3 weeks before the race was important as I did some very challenging back to back runs in the hills. The tougher the better seems to be best thing for me rather than just running the race route all the time.

      August 8, 2013 at 9:12 am

  3. Dinger

    The dedication , sacrifice and hard work is paying off , no one deserves success any more than you mate…..despite wearing pyjamas and a Zorro mask to bed 🙂 x

    August 7, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    • Cheers Da.

      You can borrow my jim-jams anytime! 🙂

      August 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

  4. Norry

    Great read Paul, an amazing achievement that was on the Horizon, your full commitment and Belief allowed you to reach it, Awesome….

    August 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    • Cheers Norry. Really appreciate that and your kind words after the race.

      August 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

  5. Paul, I followed the race on Twitter (which was actually less boring than it sounds!) and I couldn’t quite believe the early pace you were setting (my reference being last year’s record breaking splits), so it was very impressive that you managed to keep that going from gun to tape without missing a beat.
    Great format for a blog post! (could you maybe have a wee word in Stuart Mills’s ear?). Had to chuckle at the “do you feel sorry for Marco” question. Did someone really ask that?
    That’s a really fantastic start line pic by Thomas. In fact, there was no need to run the race – the result could have been called there and then! I mean, who are those two jokers on your right trying to kid?

    August 7, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    • Cheers Billy – your comments made me chuckle…..and I’ve just discovered your blog and custom / hand made running shoes! Will be reading a lot more 🙂

      August 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm

  6. Great read. An inspirational and monster effort! Sacrifice, dedication and belief are key and you had it all!! CONGRATS BUDDY!!! 🙂

    August 7, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    • Thanks a lot Mr Monkey. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Hope you’re well?! Paul

      August 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm

  7. Ian

    Wonderful blog and an amazing performance Paul. Great to read how much it means to you. It was a privilege to see it all happen first hand.

    August 7, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    • Thanks again Ian. Have felt that way about the race for some time. You also said some very kind words during / after the race that I’ll never forget. Hope you’re well. Paul

      August 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm

  8. I’ve got goosebumps and tears in my eyes reading that. You are quite incredible, and your crew, I’ve lots of love for them too. Was getting feedback about you during race from my crew & Ian and you’ve no idea how inspiring that is to us wee snails behind you 🙂 You deserve every single plaudit that’s come your way and i look forward to seeing you win many many races Paul. x

    August 8, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    • Thank you so much Sandra. You were incredibly kind to me at the presentation on the Sunday. I was slightly taken aback by your genuine positivity about what had happened. It stuck in my mind though and made it feel real.
      Really appreciate it. Paul x

      August 8, 2013 at 4:34 pm

  9. Lilacswizzle

    Well, well, well, what can I say. …epic, emotional, awesome and the fastest, most stressful 15 hours of my life. You wanted it, went for it and got it, like I always knew you would. My dreams come true!

    Proud doesn’t even come close bro.

    I love you. Simple.
    Yer sis.

    August 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm

  10. Jo

    Can I just say Nic said it all for me and dad. He wants to think a bit about his response but I am sure I saw a tear in his eye after he read your report. Love you and love supporting you in your racing…particularly the WHW race…a particular favourite of mine, although the kintyre Way was such a nice route!

    UTMH here we come!

    August 8, 2013 at 8:24 pm

  11. Minty

    Gosh! (my mother may read this) you were fast! Many congratulations Paul.

    And so inspirational for us back-of-the-field guys. Pretty awesome blog too. It’s almost roused me to go out running again…

    August 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm

  12. You certainly raised the bar, Peter. I mean Paul. Outstanding performance. Now go smash up the field in Chamonix. Debs 🙂

    August 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    • Cheers Debbie. Hope you’re well. 🙂

      October 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm

  13. Brilliant blog entry Paul. What I saw that day (well didnt really see but heard) was the most impressive race ran by anyone and it was a privelidge to witness. You thoroughly deserve it after your years of hard work. You have also shown what is possible and that really excites me. Sorry that my mum keeps asking if you feel sorry for me though. Ill ask her to stop pestering you now. :-). Seriously though your answer to that question was bang on. We may all be friends but this is a race. I would never feel sorry for you and would never expect it back.
    Hope it all goes to plan in Chamonix.

    August 28, 2013 at 7:02 am

    • Thanks for the kind comment Marco – Privileged (and to be racing with you)

      October 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm

  14. John

    Dude, you didn’t half do it! I still laugh at the time you got lost a couple of years ago & you still learned a lot. To do it in style this time makes me tingle – I know how hard you’ve pushed for this! Well done Paulo …. J

    September 25, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    • Cheers John Boy, you know how much I wanted it! Hope all is well 🙂

      October 23, 2013 at 9:07 pm

  15. Great read and an absolutely incredible result Paul!

    November 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

  16. Astar

    Wonderful story which I can simply be agog at having taken 10 days to just walk the 95 miles with a 40 pound pack! As a middle aged American woman on my second distance hike I couldn’t believe it when some fellow hikers told me about your record. When I got off the trail I googled it to be sure. Thinking about running up or down some sections of the WHW makes my knees hurt and my admiration for what you do increase. I won’t ask you why you do this – to each his own journey and pace, so long as we are happy on the trail! May you always have a nice tailwind to keep the midges away!

    June 9, 2014 at 12:08 am

    • What a lovely comment to receive. Thank you for taking the time to write such kind words. It makes it all so much more worthwhile.

      I see a lot of walkers on the WHW with huge packs, totally committed to completing the route – I have much admiration for that (especially with the added risk of midgies that don’t normally bother the runners!).

      I hope you had a lovely time on the route and in Scotland. There are plenty more great long distance trails if you miss it!

      Thanks again,


      June 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      • Josephine Giblin

        Nice one.

        Sent from my iPad


        June 10, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s