In his latest inov-8 blog, committed athlete Robbie Britton, the 2013 UK Ultra Runner of the Year, writes about his recent ding-dong battle with rival Paul Giblin at the 95-mile West Highland Way Race.
I gave it my absolute all, of that there is no doubt. But sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say, yes, I was beaten by the better man.
It was my West Highland Way Race debut and I was warned in advance that racing Paul Giblin was a bad idea. ‘He is super strong, he knows the trail too well, he is out of your league’ I was told.
If anything, this only acted to fire me up for the challenge ahead. I love racing and thrive off fierce competition.
I put a plan in place. Rather than adopting a more conventional measured approach to running such a big distance, I chose to hit the first 30-40 miles seriously hard with the intention of breaking the spirit of my competitors.
Having previously reccied the course I was confident I could comfortably make good time at the start and then hold it together in the second half, which included a couple of meaty climbs as well as prolonged descents and flat sections.
Hitting the front early, I found information scarce and my mind began playing tricks. Leading by an unknown distance is not good for the nerves and a few times I looked back to see what I thought was Paul hot on my trail, only to then realize it was a sheep or a tree!
I pushed up and over the top of the infamous Conic Hill. Despite being ordered to look back and enjoy the view, my racing head stopped me from doing so. Plus, I didn’t want my headtorch to give away my lead distance to Paul.
Instead I threw myself down the other side with reckless abandon into the midge-fest of Balmaha and the start of the beautiful run near Loch Lomond.
Flying through the checkpoints I got information to say my lead was 4-5 minutes. We were both flying, and well under course record pace.
‘Surely they can’t sustain this, they’ll destroy each other,’ I heard one person say. That was the plan.
Paul, as expected, was stronger than me on the uphills, reaffirming to me a need to improve this aspect of my running.
Every time I saw Paul closing on the ascents I would hang on, push a little into the red and make sure I stayed ahead.
When Paul eventually came past me at the 50-mile mark my heart sank. He looked strong and I felt fecked. Proper fecked. I spent a moment at the checkpoint but then strived to push on, albeit a little slower and downhearted.
Next came Jelly Baby Hill. I allowed Paul to put about 25 minutes into me as I staggered uphill like a punch-drunk boxer. My head had gone to pieces.
This wasn’t good enough. At that point I had some serious words with myself and got my shit together.
Rannoch Moor was the part of the race I had labelled as the toughest section. It’s about six miles of slow, uphill drag, culminating in a pass before the descent to Glencoe. I’d been dreading it, so I made myself run every step, taking light footsteps in my x-talons 212s. Suddenly I thought I could see Paul ahead. Not so, unfortunately. It was actually just another runner out training.
I gave it some beans over to Kinlochleven, trying to close the gap but by the time we hit 82 miles I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch Paul.
A time of sub 15 hours, my original aim before Paul entered the race, was, however, still on the cards, so I pushed on.
The last 3-4 miles into Fort William are downhill and flat. With 14:20 on the clock, I knew a good time was up for grabs. I put myself back into the pain zone and really went for it, running down the hill like a madman!
Crossing the finish line in 14:47 -and going under the old course record – was a great feeling. Paul clocked 14:20 and was a deserving winner. He is a beast of a trail runner.
Saying that, I know I can go quicker. Same again next year, Paul?