A series of long Munro-bashing days in the hills provided the foundations for Siobhan Killingbeck’s stunning victory in one of Scotland’s toughest running events.
The Aberdeen athlete took top spot in the women’s division of the West Highland Way race, completing the rugged 95 mile journey between Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, and the Nevis Centre at Fort William in 17hr 41min 9sec.
Along the way she climbed 14,760ft, passing through Glen Coe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase and skirting the Mamore mountains before finishing in the shadow of Ben Nevis.
Killingbeck was beaten by only five men in a capacity field of 265 runners and her time is the third quickest recorded by a woman over the 35-year history of the event.
There’s an argument for the north-east woman moving up one place more on that ranking list as the course has now been extended by half a mile.
The ultimate record, however, is held by another Aberdeen-raised competitor, Lucy Colquhoun, who clocked 17:16:20 in 2007.
Killingbeck was amazed by her success but there’s no doubt she planned meticulously and deserved the result.
She said: “It all started last November when my husband James was driving through Glen Coe and he told me there was an ultra race held there. The area was stunning and I decided there and then that I’d have to do it.
“My entry was confirmed in January so I had six months to prepare. To begin with I hadn’t a clue about how to train for a long race so I Googled “How to run 100 miles”.
“But when I thought about it I decided I didn’t want to just go out and run lots of miles as that would just wreck my legs.
“James loves being out on the hills and so does my sister Kerry, so we decided that’s where I’d do a lot of my running.
“Kerry and I are trying to tick off the Munros. It’s a great way to get out to see new areas and that became our training. We’d choose a route which included a couple of Munros, usually two or three, but one day we did 10.
“So the longest run I did before the race was 30 miles on the day we did the 10 Munros. We were out for eight hours. We never covered such long miles on the other runs.
“It was so great to have the variety of running in different places and on different terrain. It was necessary to concentrate on the rough ground, going up and down, sometimes over boulders and other obstacles. But I think it was far better for my muscles.
“It was also a great opportunity to practise eating while we were on the go. James has also got me interested in climbing so I’ve had some very long days in the hills and had to get good at refuelling for that.
“One of Kerry’s friends, Dave Andrews, had run in the race last year and he helped by showing me his detailed refuelling strategy.
“During race I ate every 20 minutes – peanut butter and jam sandwiches were good. At every checkpoint I would have a bigger refuelling. James, Kerry and her partner Tom would meet me about 400 metres before every checkpoint and hand me food.”
Killingbeck is no stranger to tough endurance events, having won the Celtman triathlon and Ironman South Africa. So how did the West Highland Way race compare with these?
She said: “It’s so difficult to judge. The West Highland Way race was more relentless. In triathons there are natural breaks between the three disciplines, so they are all different.
“The 95 mile race was tough, especially when I began to feel tired at Glen Coe with the biggest hills still to come.
“That’s after around 70 miles and you know there’s still a marathon to run after that.
“But it’s such a beautiful route and everyone was so supportive along the way.
“The support teams cheered on every runner, it was really uplifting. That’s why they speak about the West Highland Way family.”
Killingbeck is now enjoying a well earned rest and has no definite racing plans for the immediate future.
She said: “I’ll be doing no running for a while. I need to recover mentally and physically so I haven’t a clue as to what’s next.”