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They’ say that, it’s the taking part rather than the winning which counts. I say, that’s an untruth spoken by and for those of us who’ve never won anything beyond a coconut. However, there are other ways of winning. Sometimes it’s not about crossing the line first, it’s about crossing the line, knowing that you gave it your all. No punches pulled, no backing off when things got tough and no regrets … now surely, that’s winning?

Philip Addyman didn’t ‘win’ this years Highland Trail, he actually came second but anyone who stared at the blue dots on their computer screen will be well aware of the effort, commitment and sheer bloody-mindedness involved in achieving that place. He very kindly agreed to take a break from his busy recovery schedule and answer a few questions about his ride, so put the kettle on, break out the biscuits and enjoy.

1/ You obviously put a lot of time into training / planning (at least I hope you did) but did you have a specific goal in mind or was it simply a matter of hoping to finish and survive?
I arrived at the end of December fit from racing cyclo-cross, but from January I would lose all that top-end speed and just get the miles in. I don’t actually ever do “high-end” training even for 50 min cross races, so I certainly wasn’t going to do any for a 550 mile race. I had very good health for all the year and accumulated nearly 7500 kms before the race started. I have the “gift” of being able to do consecutive weeks of 400+km training and not lose any weight. I was conscious of wanting to arrive with a bit of weight on me but with plenty of endurance; I think I achieved this.  My March 2016 reccie of the Northern Loop from Contin onwards (about 340 kms over little more than 48hrs) reinforced to me the benefit of carrying a bit of “beef” when I was caught in some really nasty snowstorms and had to endure sub-zero temperatures each morning (my gears and brakes froze). It’s one of the attractive aspects of this type of racing that you can – and must – turn up at the start line with a certain amount of, how should I put it …. “solidity”.

At the Dirty Reiver 200 km gravel event in Kielder in April I rode consistently, with no bad patches or fading, but I totally lacked speed. Although it was a bit dispiriting to finish over an hour down, I knew I was riding at a speed, (approx 4.5 hrs per 100km), which was way faster than the very fastest I ever anticipated doing on the most brisk sections of the HT – (7hrs per 100km).
The cancellation of the Cairngorm Loop was a bit of a blow as I was tooled up and psyched up ready to ride straight through and see what time that would have got me. As with the HT, I was meticulous in my reccie-ing of this route: I knew the majority of it by heart, but in November 2015 I did that last 30km from Fealar Lodge as this was not known to me.

All in all, my preparation was good and I hope it didn’t take too heavy a toll on my family life. I think my wife, Laura, knows if I’m on a mission, I’m on a mission, but I tried to get a balance and not become too obsessed by the whole thing. Honest!

Glad to be back – I think so.

2/ What bike did you use and did you make any specific alterations for the HT?
My bike was pretty much a stock Cube Reaction carbon hardtail. It came as standard with the carbon RS1 fork and 2 x 10 speed XT drive train. I replaced the OEM bars, saddle and seatpost with Easton EA70, SGD Belair 2.0 solid Titanium rail and Thompson seatpost respectively. These changes improved comfort and reliability. I was really happy with the range of gears the double offered, although I was a bit annoyed to suffer chainsuck on a couple of occasions. I didn’t measure my seat height but it was probably 1cm lower than my cross bike and perhaps 2cm lower than my road bike. This kind of thing I really prefer to go on feel, but I consciously sacrificed some power for increased controllability.

I only recently converted to tubeless and I was extremely impressed by my 29 x 2.1 Maxxis Crossmark tyres. Stuart C kept telling me to let some air out, so I dropped them from 34 to 33 psi. I’m not sure that was exactly what he meant.

At risk of being burnt in effigy by The Ferrous Faction, I must say that I’ve been mountain biking since 1988 and I just don’t get this current fad for going back to the heavy steel tubed bikes we all so desperately wanted to escape from in the late 80s. Am I the only one who remembers the wonderment when the Pace and Klein Attitude bikes appeared? Aluminium was the first step in the evolution away from steel. Carbon is the refinement of this and, surely, the way to go. People drone on about the “repairability” of steel. As I raced through remote places like Contin and Drumbeg I noticed the same number of TIG welding facilities as I did carbon repair specialists – zilch.

The kit I used was the best and most reliable I could afford. It was sensible and appropriate to the terrain and conditions that I faced; but it evidently wasn’t “on trend”.

3/ Were you ever conscious that people around the world were following your every move via Trackleaders?
At times in the first couple of days I remember saying to Stuart, “Do you think many people are following us?” As the race wore on and got harder, this didn’t cross my mind, but, paradoxically, from retrospectively reading forums, it seems that my final night duking it out with Liam had quite a few people entertained. This is the best I could possibly ask for. I’m really pleased my little dot provided a spectacle. Just wait for Warner Bros to release the film of the race in my mind’s eye – it’ll blow your minds!

4/ Was there any bits of kit you left behind but now wish you’d taken with you?
Far from it – I brought stuff that I didn’t use, but to answer the question, I can honestly say I didn’t forget anything. I had enough clothes when it got cold and nasty on the approach to Bealach Horn on day 2, didn’t run out of chain lube and was good for food supplies. I did tons of pre-research on stoves, trying out a miniature gas stove and 2 different sizes of Bearbones meths stoves, which I really got to like and felt I could rely on. I needed to heat 600ml of water twice daily. The BB stove I took was a reserve for the gas in case it played up, (it didn’t), and I also would have used the BB, with its great windshield system, to cook outdoors, but that need never arose through my careful strategy of bivvy-dodging. I didn’t really use my dry kit: merino long johns and merino long-sleeved top as I was fortunate to never arrive cold and wet at my night-stop. I also carried 4 dehydrated evening meals with me worth 750 kcal and weighing 160g each. I used three and would have had to use the fourth after 10pm in Fort Augustus on the last night if I hadn’t managed to get served by a pitying lady in The Lock Inn at such a late hour. So, no regrets carrying that weight. I must say I was HEAVILY influenced, (maybe, “traumatised” is a better word), by Mike Toyn’s 2015 account, where he reported missing the Ullapool Tesco and running out of gas near Fort Augustus.

5/ What was the best thing you ate? … I appreciate that might be more to do with your condition than the actual quality of food consumed.
My evening meal consisted of 500 kcal Extreme food (Bolognese, Curry and Moroccan couscous – all equally fantastic), plus 250 kcal from Mug Shot pasta and it really was nice food. If I was eating this at midnight, it might have been that my last warm food was 5 hours previous and at the pace I was moving, the previous meal would have been completely used up. Psychologically and physiologically there is no possible way I could have then gone straight to sleep in that depleted and hungry state so I cooked. Furthermore, decent recovery for the next day starts with calories in.

In terms of the meals I had when stopped during the day, these were lovely, but looking back probably not characterised by a particularly great culinary diversity, as I craved satisfying, digestible fuel above all else. On day 1 the pizza at Fort Augustus was fantastic and I had the benefit of getting there early and beating the rush; day 2’s fine dining took place at midday at Okyel Bridge and that full cooked breakfast fuelled me until the hill out of Achfary, when I suffered some major hunger pangs and had to stop for food. I missed dining at the pie shop in Lochinver as I was through there before 0800, skipped Okyel Bridge return, but enjoyed a great fish and chips in Ullapool around 1400. On day 4 Stuart, Lee, Javi and me found ourselves together again and enjoyed breakfast at the cafe in Kinlochewe at 0845. The cooked breakfast here was superb and my cravings for some vitamins was satisfied by a fantastic fruit smoothie. The banter between the four of us here was great as was the food, so Kinlochewe easily takes the Best Food prize and I’ll never pass that place without a huge smile on my face. However, the fish and chips that I got served in a pub in Fort Augustus, after 10pm on day 4 really helped keep me in the race. I had a meal ration left and plenty of fuel, but just sitting down in that pub and sorting myself out really helped. Although, my time there also crystallised the immense challenge I had ahead of me, once I accepted the fact that I absolutely must try for the win.

6/ Do you have any ‘stand-out’ sections of the route you’d love to go and ride again?
The route ticks all the boxes with me – remote, wild, Scottish and going close to, or through, some of my already established “heartlands” anyway. I take enormous pride in my knowledge of the Scottish wilderness, mountains, bothies and tracks and the HT has only served to reinforce that. With the reccie’s that I had done and my prior knowledge the only significant section I didn’t know was from the descent into Carnmore until 5km from Kinlochewe. It’s no surprise that the descent to Carnmore – especially in the fading light towards 9.30pm – made the biggest impression on me. It remains to be seen how long I can resist going back there – I normally do quite a bit of exploring in the summer. On both my reccie and the race, I dropped down off Bealach Horn to find the section from Lone to Achfary bathed in sunlight and shimmering under blue skies – this is truly a beautiful part of the route.

The new Loch Lyon section to Ben Alder was also excellent and is very useful as an additional off-road link section for future rides in the lower Highlands. With missing the Cairngorm Loop this spring, my priority this summer will probably be to do some riding there, possibly incorporating it into the Fort William to Montrose route, but who knows where I may end up?

7/ How much sleep did you get in total
Apart from the last night, when I only stopped for 2 hrs to sleep in my bivvy, every time I stopped to sleep in a covered place, there was always 1 hour before unpacking/cooking meal and 1 hour afterwards packing/cooking breakfast. So, 5hrs sleep on first night was 7hrs stopped, 6hrs on second night was 8hrs stopped, less than 4 hrs sleep on third night was less than 6hrs stopped. Then I had my 2 hrs in the final night. So in my total time of 4 days and 3 hrs, I slept for 17 hours. Bear in mind that I think Tom Rowntree’s total stop – not sleep – time last year was something like 16hrs. This fact and the knowledge I couldn’t cut my stops down that much made me feel that I couldn’t be a contender for the win in 2016, but things went differently to 2015 and it turned out that riding, sleeping and stopping the way I did actually kept me close to the front from the very start of the race. Most of my sleep was reasonably good. Maybe a relatively heavy ¾ sleeping mat (450g) and heavy sleeping bag (900g) are worth it afterall?

If you don’t like your own company, this isn’t the place to find out.

8/ At what point did you ‘know’ you were going to finish?
On the hill above Fort William, the man awoke from his meagre repose and looked over the glen and the town in the early morning light, whence the Devil, in all his finery, did appear and bade him to freewheel back down the hill, back to the railway station, to await there and then to clamber on a train to the place known as Tyndrum, so missing all the agony of the remainder of his pilgrimage. But then the Angel of the Lord appeared and did say, “Get thee behind me, Satan, for I have far greater sufferance for this earthy man on a dusty track from Kinlochleven.” And lo it was, the earthly man did indeed continue on upwards and, verily, he died a thousand deaths on the climb out of Kinlochleven, just as the Angel had prophesied.

Seriously though …. to be honest, I was quite messed up before the event with a vicious cold that came on the Tuesday, peaked on the Thursday, but was still strong and nasty on the Friday and Saturday. So, all my worries and fears were centred on starting, not finishing. I can quite happily do without seeing another paracetamol again for quite some time!

9/ Did you use any gels, bars, drinks or potions or were you managing to eat ‘real’ food?
I never use gels or bars. I didn’t like using them in the past doing higher intensity 3 or 4 hour events and you don’t need to use them in this kind of event because, although your digestion gets a bit messed up, it still basically works; whereas, when you are competing at much higher cardiovascular intensity, the body does tend to put digestion on the back burner. I don’t see any point in caffeine gels or Pro Plus – when you’ve gotta doze, you’ve gotta doze. It’s pointless trying to artificially fight Nature as she’ll just come back and smack you hard at a later opportunity convenient to her. But not necessarily to you..

I took some great flapjack from a pound shop and used a certain meal replacement powder to very beneficial effect, either by itself or sometimes mixed in with my breakfast oats. On the Saturday morning I had 200g of pasta al bianco for breakfast, principally because I have delusions of being Marco Pantani, but practically because 200g of spaghetti with butter and parmesan is very energetic and very digestible, as any Italian Pro will tell you. This breakfast and a bit of flapjack got me to Wolftrax in 7hrs, where I bought some food from the cafe to get me over the hill to Fort Augustus. Basically though, I tried to eat as much savoury food as possible. I was upset to miss the butcher, (not pie shop!), in Lochinver because they sold me a couple of superb Scotch pies for just £1.15 each during my reccie. Not being able to get these undoubtedly cost me the race. (OK, it probably didn’t!)

A warm welcome and soothing head massage at the end.

10/ Are you going back next year?
I started the race, squeezed and strained by all the training, saying that I couldn’t do any other race ever again – let alone one as hard as the HT. But I finished it thinking it would be virtually impossible to walk away and never experience this kind of camaraderie between competitors again. I also thought, “Shit – I’m really not too bad at this malarky.” Having said that, it is not lost on me that I raced for 4 days and 3 hours and only suffered 3 hours of bad weather; how would I have responded if the boot was on the other foot and there was only 3 hours of good weather in the entire race? I would have gone into the race correctly equipped in terms of kit, but what about mental toughness? I hope I would have still been in the mix.

The Highland Trail runs through the places that I love the most. The places that inspire, influence, intimidate and humble me. To me it is everything and it’s no surprise that it’s taken me three years to get my head around doing it from the time I first saw a few HT riders coming past Shenavall, back in May 2013. It’s my Giro, Tour and Vuelta all rolled into one. I’m sure The Tour Divide is a fine race, but I harbour no ambitions for it because I feel no romance for it. Being chased by grizzly bears and bumped by rednecks in pick-ups does nothing for me; my heartlands are Ben Alder, Fisherfield and Glen Affric. I was born to walk, bothy and ride in these places.
On two distinct occasions – Carnmore and in The Great Glen – I looked more deeply into myself that I ever have in my life before. And I’d be lying through my teeth if I didn’t say that I profoundly loved what I saw there. I don’t believe I’m unique in revealing that I experienced some sort of agonistic epiphany somewhere on the route this year.

So, back to the question: where does this leave me? The Highland Trail – you can’t live with the bloody thing and you can’t bloody live without it!


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