The West Highland Way is known worldwide as Scotland’s premier long-distance route. It is estimated over 30,000 people walk the full route each year, most taking up to a week to cover the 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William. Last weekend a group of eight Scottish ultra-distance runners ran the West Highland Way TWICE – that’s Milngavie to Fort William and back again – in 24 hours and 6 minutes.
The project, dubbed Pyllon Endeavour, was led by three-time West Highland Way winner Paul Giblin - commonly known as Pyllon. The 192-mile out-and-back route was run as continuous relay, with athletes running four sections totalling approximately 26 miles each. That’s averaging 7:30 minutes per mile, non-stop, with nearly 30,000ft of ascent, over rough ground, in fog, with 16 hours of darkness.
Not just for personal reward, the team have so far raised over £10,000 for the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH). Paul Giblin commented: “Last weekend was about community. Talking, sharing and being there for each other. For once, not competing against, but working together. Pyllon Endeavour was about raising awareness of the benefits of running and community to mental well-being. It was an incredible experience for us all. So many people have opened us to since we started sharing our stories and the support has been overwhelming”
Chris Chreegan, chair of SAMH and Edinburgh AC runner, who was there to witness the closing stages of Pyllon Endeavour commented: “They didn’t do it to make a demonstration of their physical prowess. They did it to talk about mental fragility – theirs, ours, anyone who wanted to join in the conversation. There was a beautiful contradiction at the heart of their endeavour – of the relationship between strength and vulnerability – physical and mental.
The integral part of the challenge was to run sub 24-hours. Route diversions and a few navigational errors in the fog cost the team some vital minutes. By the top of the Lochside on the return leg, they were down 25 minutes on their target schedule. Irish International mountain runner Eoin Lennon clawed back 15 minutes along the technical banks of Loch Lomond, lifting everyone’s spirits.
The team broke the remaining marathon distance down in manageable sprint-size sections and they gave it everything they had. Graham Connolly ran a 5km personal best. And Robert Turner vomited as he handed over the tracker to Paul Giblin to run the closing sections. A crowd gathered in Milngavie with baited breath. As the seconds and minutes ticked away, they missed their sub 24 target by a mere six minutes. They put everything on the line and nothing could distract from what they had achieved. Not just on the route, but in raising funds for a charity close to their hearts and encouraging people to talk.
Chreegan added: “Not for the first time that week I was reminded that there is, in fact, no contradiction between strength and vulnerability. We are at our strongest when we are prepared to be vulnerable. And these eight men showed us how.”
Main photo shows (l to r) Rob Turner, Marco Consani, Chris Crowley, Eoin Lennon, Graham Connolly, James Stewart, Paul Giblin and John Connolly - image courtesy Debbie Consani, photo below - Paul Giblin at Loch Lomond