FKT: Pawel Cymbalista - West Highland Way (United Kingdom) - 2022-07-16

Route variation
Standard point-to-point
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
17h 57m 35s

Keep your Spartan Races! I raise you the WHW – Unsupported Record

How did I feel pre run of the West Highland Way?

I was ready for it. I felt confident and strong to tackle the course with everything I have.

How did I feel during the attempt?

I can divide my feelings into few sections.

First one will be Milngavie to Balmaha which was a short section in the dark with few panic moments when I got lost. The WHW signs are not really visible and my watch nav corrupted so I didn’t have an arrow pointing my direction. I had to go old style with a map on my phone in flight mode to nav my way out of the villages. I learned really fast and my panic changed into 100% focus. It was really humid and I was struggling to breathe. To top it off I had stomach issues, cramping in my abdomen possibly caused by stress due to travel issues and general problems that occured pre WHW attempt. The issue continued till the end of section 2.

2nd section will be Loch Lomond. Where the title of this article comes from. Angus McKendrick gave the idea for the title after my brief explanation of this section which fits here perfectly. I was getting a bit annoyed here with all the campsites that don’t have proper signs directing you in the right direction to stay on the path. I wondered away from the WHW path at least 4 times which cost me precious time… It was really stressful. The humidity amongst the trees was so high I was sweating buckets and loosing precious energy on trying to regulate my core temperature. I think that could be compared to running in a rainforest! I had to drink plenty of water to stay on top of my hydration which was slowing me down with multiple refills But I knew I have to do it in order to survive and keep going. 3rd problem on this section was the terrain where the title comes from. This stretch required a lot of balancing on tree branches, rocks, hanging over cliff edges, jumping over boulders and fallen trees with constant up and downs. There was no way to get up to speed.

3rd section from end of Loch Lomond to Bridge of Orchy. Here I was trying to recover from the hard loch section and multiple obstacles I tackled and trying to maintain some decent speed. Falls of Falloch vere beautiful and the fresh air gave me a boost to keep moving. Finaly I was getting some cooling wind but it was still very limited. When I got to Tyndrum I was feeling awful. Suddenly I hit the wall. I was half way through my run and my demons were telling me to finish this taking the easy route and just sitting down. I refused, had more food, more water, salt tablets and continued to push. When I crossed Bridge of Orchy on the climb I phoned my wife and I had a moan abot the route and issues I just had. 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! From here I was getting closer to home with every step!

4th section from Bridge of Orchy to Kinlochleven was a battle with my body. I felt good in my head but my body started to feel the rough terrain. I was in pain and on the edge all the way. I had to stay on top of the water, food and salts. The Devi’s Staircase was beautiful and filled me with hope! But the tough long, steep descent down to Kinlochleven was painful for my quads and I was screaming in pain. Here was the first time in my life I had to start walking downhill for few second at a time because of the pain in my quads and muscles around my bottom ribs. I never had that before! Well! I never ran that far in my life before so that could be the reason why!

5th emotional section was running from Kinlochleven to Fort William. This was the only section that I knew. I knew what is ahead of me and how rought the path is. My feet were in bits and every whong foot step was giving me pain. I only had 19km to go in this kind of terrain. Proper character making! When I spotted the Vitrified Fort my body filled with adrenaline. I still was in pain but much less. I felt numb and started slowly speeding up. I finished strong sprinting on the High Street overtaking a Hilux…

How did I feel after?

Happy to see my family. Happy to see my friends. Happy it’s over. Happy I could sit down. Happy I broke the unsupported record. Another one to my little collection. My little daughter gave me to little pebbles. I was thankful for them, and added that daddy possibly has a few extra in his shoes at the moment. I’m super proud if this! I not only broke my personal records but I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot and 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 this time.

Problems that occured pre and during the attempt.

Friday morning my 6:03am train got canceled while I was sitting in it. ScotRail basicaly told us to make our own way to where we have to go. Luckily I had friends that helped me to get where I have to be.

I didn’t sleep much again, I was overthinking the preparation and my plan of sleeping on the train didn’t happen. I was chatting to my friend driving me to Glasgow. Then I stayed at my brother Jarek’s place. We had a good catch up and I only managed a 2h cat nap pre run.

During the run the temperature and humidity forced my body to work extra hard. Not much to say here. I had to fight it.

My watch had a sat nav error with the GPS file of the WHW route. I think it was purely my falt as I didn’t check the file properly. I was forced to navigate old style, slowing down and just focus.

Loch Lomond obstacle course section. That was just brutal! But I went through it, got it done. It didn’t break me but I definitely felt that.

Did I enjoy it or is this something I will never do again?

I loved the experience. I love to be out there in the wild, on my own testing my abilities. I absolutely enjoyed the experience of the West Highland Way even if it kicked my back side a little bit. I am writing it right here right now! So it couldn’t be that bad! I will return and run it as the West Highland Way Race next year definitely.

What are the numbers behind this achievement?

The West Highland Way is a 95 mile (154km), 12007 ft (3660m). Most people do it in 5 days. But some of us are not normal and decide to tackle it as fast as we can. Supported FKT 13h 41min, unsupported FKT of 17h 53min which I recently achieved on the 16.07.2022

Why do I do it?

I want to test myself. I want to know how far I can go, how much I can push my body. The runners high after a run like this stays with me for a long time and gives me a massive confidence boost for future projects. I want to show my girls that anything is possible if you follow your dreams.

What did I eat during the WHW?

My whole nutrition was based on the Mountain Fuel Sports Nutrition Gels, FlapJacks and Extreme Energy powders. I made a mix of caffeine gels, different flavour jellies, chia gels and flapjacks. It was first time in my career I used purely gels for so long in a ‘race’ and it work fine with my body. I could feel the boost of energy after every dose. I love how easy it is to eat them and hide away the used, empty pouches. Absolute game changer.

What is my biggest running adventure/ challenge to date?

I want to say the Ben Nevis 24h but my body is screaming West Highland Way! I think both challenges are close to be on equal Top 1 spot.

Whats next on the agenda?

I have few ideas but for a while I might stick to some normal hill racing and prepare for the Salomon Ring of Steall race in September.

What was your kit for the challenge?

Because it was a unsupported run I had to make sure I have everything I need with minimising the weight of it. I was frequently checking the forecast making sure I have the correct items. Finaly it came down to equipment. Dynafit Ultra 15 vest, flask pouch for extra easy access storage, Alpine tshirt and shorts, ultra light Dynafit wind jacket, Dynafit Ultra 100s were my shoes of choice and a cap. To be honest my food weighed more than the total weight of my kit. We need to fuel properly! Dynafit kit is robust and top of it’s range! Quality equipment! Definitely made my adventure much easier and lighter!

Who was involved in the FKT attempt?

I was hard to involve people as this was a unsupported attempt where no one was could give me any help! But most of all my wife Ashley motivating me, looking after our children and dealing with social media pre, during and after the record. Friends Brad and Scott who got me to the start and my brother Jarek who accomodate me in his flat in Glasgow. The easy part was on me.. so they say, as I only had to run!

All for a charity to start up a new shop in the village.

To add to it, I tied in my West Highland Way to do some charity. I decided to help raise some money for our new Mallaig Community Hub and Shop project in Mallaig. My wife is on the committee and responsible for the whole project. I really wanted to help and because I can run I decided that this will be the best way to help.

Amazing message from social media from MOWI about my challenge and fundraising:

𝐒𝐮𝐩𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭 | Our colleague Pawel Cymbalista  will be running the #westhighlandway this Saturday morning. From Milngavie to Fort William finishing at the ‘Man with sore feet’ statue at the end of High Street. It’s a 154km route with 3200m + elevation

He is running this unsupported to break the record of 23h 21min but his aim is to go as fast as his body will allow. He thinks all being well it is achievable in 15-16hrs . But anything can happen so it’s just a guess. It’s a long way from Glasgow! Pawel is running to raise money for the new #Mallaig Community Hub and Shop. 

MOWI will be donating towards this and if any of Pawel’s colleagues or those in the Mallaig and surrounding communities would like to show support the link is below

Best of luck Pawel and we look forward to following your journey tomorrow (in spirit with you, definitely not running with you!).

Thank You MOWI.

Just a note to finish this of.

A running achievement is not just measured in time.

The ultimate race is against yourself.