Battle by the Bay

This course suits me like no other big ultra...

June 26, 2014 Comments (0) All Posts

Robbie Britton’s West Highland Way Race report

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.

inov-8 X-Talon 212, as worn by Robbie during the West Highland Way Race.

inov-8 X-Talon 212, as worn by Robbie during the West Highland Way Race.


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?

Robbie’s kit included: x-talon 212, race elite 140 trail short, race ultra sleeves, race ultra socks.

Collection of photos and video footage from the start of the 2014 West Highland Way Race.

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