Stretching from just outside the hustle of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, to the iconic highland town of Fort William, the 95 miles (153km) West Highland Way is a world-famous, multi-day traverse loved by walkers from around the world.
What is less well known about the route, is that a hardy band of mountain bikers have been vying for record times along the way for the last 10 years. Riding “the way” in its entirety is a notable accomplishment – it boasts a meaty 10,351ft of climbing, and parts of the terrain involve carrying, rather than riding a bike.
This adventure has been on Rab Wardell’s mind since he first walked the route in 2007 as a recently retired 22-year-old professional mountain biker. 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 with an 11:30. Then in 2015, Scottish Endurance legend Keith Forsyth set a new fastest time of 10:27. Rab 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. To everyone’s shock, Fort William rider Gary McDonald then set a blistering 9:28 across the route in early August.
Training through the pre-pandemic winter, aided training technology from Wahoo including the KICKR Smart Trainer. Rab was spurred on by girlfriend Katie Archibald’s inspiring efforts leading into the now postponed Olympics. Despite setbacks, Rab achieved his aim and has openly encouraged others to attempt the record, all while experiencing such a soul-edifying route through his beloved homeland.
How long his record will remain intact is an open-ended question; even completing such an extreme human endeavor could be considered a victory no matter what – but for this hardy group vying for records, there will always be more on the line than simply finishing.