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West Highland Way: New running record

Pawel at the end of his fastest unsupported West Highland Way run.

While most people prefer to walk the West Highland Way in around seven days, or perhaps run the iconic long-distance trail in three or four days, one ultra runner has set an impressive new fastest time. Pawel Cymbalista ran 95 miles from Milngavie to Fort William in 17 hours 53 minutes and 35 seconds.

He ran the route unsupported on July 16, which means he carried all his own kit, food and water on the route. This is a different approach to many people, including walkers, runners and cyclists, who prefer to hire a luggage transfer company to move the bulk of their clothing and overnight kit, rather than carry it themselves on the trail each day.

Pawel at the start of his record run in Milngavie.

Pawel's new WHW running record

Pawel's new unsupported record time is almost 5.5 hours faster than the previous record holder, Matt Girvan.

The 34-year-old, who is originally form Poland and now lives with his wife and children in Mallaig on Scotland's west coast, said: “I was so happy to finish. I was happy to see my family; happy to see my friends; happy it was over; and happy I could sit down.

I am also happy I had broken the unsupported record.”

Pawel is exhausted at the end of the West Highland Way run.

Challenges for Pawel on WHW record run

Pawel is no stranger to ultra running. In April, he set an unsupported running record on another popular Scottish walking trail, the Great Glen Way. Last year, he also set a record for summitting the UK’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, the most times. He reached the highest point of the 1345m peak seven times in under 24 hours.

However, he described the West Highland Way run, which has a total ascent of 3660m, as very challenging.

Stomach issues plagued him for the first 40 miles of the run. Pawel said: “I felt cramping in my abdomen, which was possibly caused by stress due to travel issues getting to the start of the trail. Fortunately, the stomach problems eventually went away."

The conditions on July 16, 2022, were also very humid, which meant Pawel struggled to stay on top of his hydration. He said: “I was sweating buckets and losing precious energy trying to regulate my core temperature.

“I had to drink plenty of water to stay on top of my hydration, which slowed me down due to multiple refills."

He also had a battled with negative thoughts. Pawel said: “I was halfway through the West Highland Way and my demons were telling me to finish this by taking the easy route and just sit down. But I refused, had more food, more water, salt tablets and continued to push.

“I decided to phone my wife and I had a moan about the route and my issues. We had a laugh. I needed to hear her voice and have a chat. I felt so much better and got a great boost to keep going."

Pawel reports that the terrain on many sections of the WHW was tough. He said: “On the east side of Loch Lomond, I needed to do a lot of balancing on tree branches and rocks and jumping over boulders and fallen trees. There were constant up and downs, too, and it was hard to get up any speed.

“Later on, there was a long, steep descent from Glencoe down to Kinlochleven, which was painful for my quads. It was the first time in my life I had to start walking downhill for few second at a time because of the pain."

Pawel found the final section of the West Highland Way very emotional. He said: “This was the only section that I knew – and I knew what was ahead of me and how rough the path is. My feet were in bits and every wrong footstep was giving me pain.

"Finally, when I was approaching the end of the trail in Fort William, I felt my body fill with adrenaline. I still was in pain but I also felt numb and started slowly speeding up. I finished with a strong sprint on the High Street of Fort William.”

Pawel revealed the West Highland Way record run took him close to "breaking point". He said: “I learned a lot and I will use that knowledge in my future adventures. I was very close to my breaking point. This route forced me to use everything I had in me to complete it in a record time.”

Do you want to walk or run the West Highland Way?

If you want to discuss any plans or ideas you have for walking, running or cycling the West Highland Way please do give Highland Transfers a call. We can help with luggage transfer between your overnight accommodations and we have a wealth of other information at our fingertips.

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