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Graham Connolly and Paul Giblin have set a Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the remote 230-mile Cape Wrath Trail in the north-west of Scotland. The run was supported by friends Gav Bussey and Bob Allison, who met the runners in a campervan at various locations between Fort William and Cape Wrath.
Paul and Graham left Cape Wrath lighthouse at 6am on April 27, 2021, and ran south. They finished in 95 hours, 44 minutes and 54 seconds, which was 15 minutes under their four–day target.
The previous male supported record was 6 days, 9 hours and 32 minute set by James Gibson in 2017.
The fastest time to complete the route unsupported is 4 days, 9 hours and 43 minutes. See Damian Hall and Beth Pascall set unsupported Cape Wrath Trail FKT in 2019.
Graham and Paul are experienced ultra runners. Paul, 42, is a professional runner and founder/head coach at Pyllon Ultra. He is a three times West Highland Way Race winner; a top 10 finisher in the Western States Endurance Run and a top 20 UTMB finisher. He has won the Algarviana Ultra Trail race, among other ultra events.
Graham has also enjoyed success in several ultra races. He reports that the best part of ultra-running is the adventures outside of racing. He says: “My highlights have been attempting to run a double WHW in under 24 hours and the Scottish National Trail in under 100 hour with the Pyllon Racing Team as part of a charity event for SAMH.”
Running the Cape Wrath Trail
The Cape Wrath Trail is a long-distance route from Fort William to the most north-western point of mainland Britain at Cape Wrath. The route is unmarked and there is no official line. It is around 230 miles.
The route heads though some of Scotland’s most rugged terrain, via Morar, Knoydart, Torridon and Assynt. It takes between two and three weeks to walk.
For Graham, the Cape Wrath Trail run was a “post lockdown/pre-baby celebration of freedom”. He adds: “Everyone finally had the chance to do something, so Paul and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“We chose the route because we had run part of it during a Pyllon Endeavour challenge and the idea of going back and running the whole route had been simmering ever since.”
Graham has been training for The Spine race, which was cancelled at the start of the year. After that he turned his attention to the West Highland Way Race, but that was also cancelled.
He says: “The CWT was a little bit last minute with the restrictions lifting and a bit of a whim so neither of us had a meaningful period of time to prepare properly for what we were doing. It was kinda suck it and see on the legs we had at the time.”
Highlights of the Cape Wrath Trail FKT
Graham reports that it was the van the was his main highlight of the run. He says: “This might sound weird but the time we spent at the van was probably one of the biggest highlights.
“I was great to be out having an adventure again with our friends. That felt like a big loss during lockdown and it was good to get back to it.
“Torridon was also really beautiful. Like most of the route, the terrain was rough but there was a point when the area opened up to us and we saw it in all its glory.
“Having a trail nap on a cliff in Knoydart was also pretty cool.”
How tough was the CWT run?
Graham remembers the nights as being rough. He adds: “Also, the last few miles of each section before getting to the van felt tough, too. Fighting your body’s chemistry in the dark was a tall order.
“For me the first night was the worst. Being out there was ok but getting back up and out after our 30 minutes of sleep was hard. I was keen to carry on but my brain wasn’t so happy about the idea. I was fine after experiencing that for the first time.”
Graham ended up with a staph infection in both of his feet around day two. He says: “Getting moving again each time wasn’t the best while I waited on my brain coming to terms with the pain. My calf tightened up on day two as well.
“It took a couple of miles to figure out I could move ok if I didn’t fully straighten that leg when I ran. That was a worry. There was a point that felt like it could be a showstopper, but I didn’t jump to any conclusions.”
Paul and Graham totalled around there to four hours of sleep on the FKT
Finishing the Cape Wrath Trail in a record time
Graham says: “When we finished, there was no great elation like winning a race or hitting a podium. It was more just relief because it was over,
“The completely random line the Cape Wrath “Trail” takes can be as mentally frustrating as it is physically difficult. I think we were just glad to be done with it.
“The last six miles were a long slog on a flat road. They were a proper suckfest, especially since mathematically we knew the time was pretty much in the bag by then. I think the last six miles simply added to the finish feeling of relief.”
While delighted that he and Paul have set a record time, Graham says: “Never again. Ever! It’s a totally honking route!”
He also gave praise to their support crew. Graham said: “Lifesavers doesn’t do them justice. Gav and Bob made it happen. I can’t put across in words how well they looked after us.”