West Highland Way Record with Rab Wardell

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How do you motivate yourself to ride your mountain bike? It’s probably not something involving a skinsuit and aero helmet. But, that’s what got Rab Wardell riding his bike this year.

He set himself the target of setting the fastest ever time on the West Highland Way. This isn’t an unsupported affair, it’s an all stops out support team and spares assault. There’s also training – lots of it, indoors on a trainer. Nope, we’re still not inspired to go out and ride our bikes, this all sounds terrible!

The West Highland Way takes you from the edge of Glasgow and out over the mountains all the way to Fort William. There’s bike carrying to be done. There are rocks to be avoided. And there are views to be ignored if you’re trying to set a record. This is not the sort of thing that anyone at Singletrack Towers is likely to be doing any time soon, but if you are in the ‘inspired to train’ camp or you just want a peek into another world of mountain biking, here’s a taste of it.

Rab Wardell, now 35, lives in Glasgow with his Olympic champion girlfriend Katie Archibald, and has a rich pedigree in cycling. He raced the Commonwealth Games in 2006, (where he ended up in a battle with Chris Froome) and has been a British Championships Medalist, Multiple Scottish Champion, Race The World USA Winner, Team Scotland and British Cycling Team representative.

Yet, the West Highland Way record was something he had both conquered and lost. In 2011, Wardell undertook his first attempt, completing the route in a 12:15hr. In 2012, he bettered that by going sub 12hrs – a major personal milestone. A few years later this record time was broken by Steve McInnes from the Isle of Mull with an 11:30hr. Then in 2015, Scottish Endurance legend Keith Forsyth set a new fastest time of 10:27hr.

Wardell began thinking about trying to win his record back in 2019, and had concluded that a sub 10-hour time would be his aim, besting Forsyth’s time.

By June, despite having been hindered by Covid-19, he was racking up 270km road rides as part of a tailored training plan in preparation for going under the magical 10 hours. To everyone’s shock, Fort William rider Gary McDonald (5th in Three peaks 2019 – one place behind Lachlan Morton) then set a blistering 09:28hr across the route in early August.

With a newfound pressure and objective, a date of September 18th was set for the attempt. Despite setbacks, Wardell achieved his aim, setting a 09:14:32hr, and has openly encouraged others to attempt the record, all while experiencing such a soul-edifying route through his beloved homeland.

Image Credits: Brodie Hood and Lewis McLean

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