Last updated: 15-Nov-18
By Luke Jarmey
Hailing from Glasgow, Paul Giblin is a top UK runner with an impressive array of accolades. With his sights set on this summer’s Western States 100, we catch up with him to find out a tad more about his running background and how his race preparations are going.
Q. Great to have you on here Paul, let’s kick this off by you enlightening us a bit about your background?
A. I’ve been racing ultras for about six or seven years. It’s become a bigger focus for me every year to the point I’m now racing and coaching full-time. I love pushing myself and I love helping people to achieve their own ultra running goals. It’s hugely rewarding but a tough gig nonetheless. Achieving some level of success only increases your expectations of yourself (and from others) and adds a fair amount of pressure. A bad day for me has consequences now, so I put everything I can into training, racing and coaching.
Q. When did running enter your life? And when did you make the hallowed progression to ultra running?
A. I didn’t have much of a running background before I started racing ultras. I had spent more time racing mountain bikes many years before that and then just got caught up in the normal working life patterns. You know what I’m talking about I’m sure – working hard, living for the weekend, seeing friends, eating / drinking and looking forward to the two-week holiday break.
At some point I became unhappy about how I looked and felt (and I guess about my life in general) so started going to the gym. A lot. It was there I started running on a treadmill and I quickly took that outside and it really came to life for me. I did a few city 10K races and when someone mentioned to me that people ran huge distances on trails, I just knew I had to do it. I signed up for my first ultra without even having run an official half or full marathon. I was hooked straight away and from there ultra has been a huge part of my life and my number one focus.
Photo credit: Paul Giblin.
Q. So I heard you won the third ultra you’d ever entered! Which race was this and how the blooming hell did you manage that? Was there some serious training involved or are you just one of those accursed human beings with a natural predisposition for winning races? …or perhaps a combination of the two!
A. It was a great race in Scotland – the Cateran trail race, a 55-miler at Glenshee. Yes, I had been training a lot but none of it was very structured and looking back I certainly didn’t build the volume methodically. I probably spent more time working on my running form than I did planning my training. I read as much as I could about training and racing and I think that helped to draw me in – there was just so much to learn! I wouldn’t say I have any kind of talent. I train hard and I’m willing to make sacrifices for it.
Q. Talk to us about the West Highland Way (WHW). To put it mildly you’ve made a rather large mark on this race with, correct me if I’m wrong, three consecutive course records? What draws you to this race? And what do you think is the secret to your success on the course?
A. It’s an incredible race and a stunning route. The race itself is pretty low-key, there are no helicopters, fanfares, or red carpet finishes and that reflects the backstory and history of the race. It’s just you against the trail which happens to run through some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. Each time you do it, it feels like a unique journey and I think that’s why it’s held my focus for so long. After my first race I knew I would return each year until I made my own mark on it. No huge secrets I don’t think. I’ve just wanted it more than anyone else the last three years.
Q. Just for the sake of balance… tell us about an abject race failure of yours? We want to know you’re human after all!
A. My first WHW was a bit of a disaster. I must be one of the only people ever to have taken a wrong turn on it after 65 miles of everything going relatively well. It was my first long ultra and for unknown reasons I convinced myself that I had to turn off the trail (10 seconds before I’d have seen a marker) and go well off course. My head was totally gone and I spent time wading through streams and fighting through some woods still thinking that everything was going to be ok. It was like I was in a nightmare that I just could not control. In the end I lost a lot of time and a few places. It was a big lesson however and I took it on board when I eventually calmed down (a year later!).
I’ve had lots of other races / days where things just didn’t go well and I’ve raced poorly. Never through being ill-prepared. It just happens sometimes. When you’re running hard for 50 or 100 miles there’s a lot can go wrong and it can be difficult to ensure that all the conditions for a good performance are in place. Bad stomach, sore feet, not managing your nutrition / hydration properly, poor tactics, unexpected conditions, mental weakness – the list goes on. The important thing is to learn from those experiences, move on, and ensure the same doesn’t happen again.
Photo credit: Paul Giblin.
Q. Ok so onwards to the Western States 100 and for any of our readers who aren’t aware of this prestigious event, why is it such a big deal?
A. It’s the oldest 100-miler in the world. It is super-competitive even just to get a starting place and has a history and authenticity that matches the WHW race. It runs from Squaw Valley, California, where there’s elevation, and often snow, crosses the high country and Emigrants pass, down through some incredible canyons where temperatures can be over 100 degrees F. After crossing the American river, it continues on flowing red single track to the finish in Auburn. If you want to test yourself as an ultra trail runner then there’s no better place to do it.
Q. How’s your preparation going? Are you altering anything in your general training plan?
A. It’s going ok thanks. The start still has a lot of snow and it’s been difficult to run much past the top of the first big climb, so I won’t have run all sections of the course which is unfortunate. The second half of the course has been HOT! So that’s going to be the biggest challenge for me at that point.
Q. We all love a naughty bit of gear porn, so give us a rundown of your kit list for the WS100?
A. I’ll be running in Topo’s MT-2’s. They’re pretty new to me but I’ve been using them in all my training runs since I arrived in the US a month ago. They’re light enough for me, have great ground feel and take the impact out of the sharpest of rocks. They’re a great company too and actually care about improving people’s running form rather than jumping on the latest fad.
I always run in Feetures socks. They fit your feet so well and don’t move around like others can so I won’t be changing that formula.
Packs / handhelds – I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll go with on this front yet. I have lots of options from Nathan, so I’ll be going as lightweight as possible, probably using just bottles for most of it and a lightweight vest if I feel like freeing up my hands for a bit.
Photo credit: Thomas Hummpage www.numero97.com
Q. And to wrap this up, who are you main competitors for this year’s edition and what condition do you think they are in?
A. How long have you got? The field is incredible. So many strong Americans who’ll have this (a local race) as their number one focus. Dave Laney will be amazing, Sage Canaday and Jim Walmsley could do something special as could Ian Sharman. Then there’s the rest of the world – Francois D’Haene is one of the very best in the world, Thomas Lorblanchet was 5th last year, Andrew Tuckey was awesome, Tofol Castanyer is a super-talent…the list goes on. It will be a difficult race to crack first time and a lot of these guys have been through it before.
Well it’s been a real pleasure Paul, we wish you the best of luck for the WS100 and we’ll be rooting hard for you across the pond!
For more on Paul, Twitter: @pyllon