Five Minutes With...Alex McCormack

Five Minutes With...Alex McCormack

7 June, 2024

After warming up with victory at the Dales Divide 2024, Alex McCormack took to the start line of the Highland Trail 550 for his second attempt at the route. When he rolled back into Tyndrum after 3D 5H 30M, he collected his free finisher's meal, along with the accolade of a new course record.

For those unfamiliar with the HT550, how would you use to sell it to them?

The HT550 has a reputation for being one of the most physically and technically demanding ultras on the circuit, and boy does it live up to it. It passes through some of the most spectacular scenery Scotland has to offer, but that comes at a cost. The challenge of just completing the route isn’t to be taken lightly, but it sure is worth it.

And for those who know the race in more detail, could you share some insights about your experience with riding the route this year?

I went into this year's edition after lining up in 2023. Last year this was my first ever ultra start line and as a result I definitely made a few school boy errors. After getting over 8 punctures my 2023 effort was ended on the Tollie path at around 650km. This however did allow me to see a good portion of the route going into this years race.

Knowing the kit and tactical errors of last year I knew I was capable of putting a quick time down. Despite one of the wettest winter I was pleased to find the course had held up relatively well and allowed me to push the pace early on.

Getting to Ullapool whilst the shops were open to resupply was a big part of my strategy. Meaning I had the sustenance to get a good chunk of the Fisherfield crux complete on day 2.

From here the back felt like it was broken (and mine) so I was happy to be able to push on to the after another petrol station raid onto the Torridon decent, as a lover of the descents this one was all time. Right on the limit, keeping it fun as always.

After this the big ticket sections are almost over and mentally I started to relax. The canal path to Fort William is easy miles before the final sting in the tail. Made harder by the torrential rain finally coming in.

The final miles are relatively a walk in the park, but not wanting to take any risks I backed it off, and played it safe for bike and body making sure to get back in one piece.

I managed to stay in good spirits on this edition despite the body taking a beating.

Some people will have seen you ate 37,000 calories and slept for just 3 hours, can you explain how you cope both physically and mentally with such a challenge?

It’s hard to know how the body will react when put under that amount of stress. For me this is the first time I’ve pushed the sleep deprivation that far and I was pleasantly surprised with how I was able to cope. Having always been level-headed I’ve never really struggled with the mental challenge. Always just being happy to be out of the office and on my bike - I don’t think i’ll ever regret hours in the saddle.

The physical challenge is different all together and correct fuelling is one of the most important aspects. It’s amazing the difference a sandwich can make. Keeping as many calories/carbs going in, and training the gut in advance is not to be overlooked. I make sure to carry a good amount of cycling specific gels (Fuel+ as they have a neutral flavour) from the start line and I find however much I don’t want to eat I can always get one down.

HT550 is famed for the unpredictable weather and technical terrain, can you talk us through the thinking beyond some of your gear choices - bike, setup, clothing?

I’m very lucky to be able to ride a Fairlight Holt, which I genuinely believe to be the ideal package for this style of race. Compared to last years run on a carbon XC race frame the difference in nerve damage in my hands and feet was drastically improved on the steel frame. The rest of the packing plan was built around keeping the weight located centrally on the bike. Tailfin had made me some prototype packs allowing all the weight to be packed around the main triangle of the bike.

For safety I decided to take a full sleep kit, comprising of: Albion down jacket + leg warmers, Alpkit Numo sleeping mat and some OMM raid light down trousers.

As for an in depth dive of my tool kit and electronics etc here’s a good video I filmed prior to the start:

With this success, do you have any ultra-racing plans for the remainder of the year?

I have a few plans left for the year with an eye on a couple of FKTs, the Bright Midnight (might take this at touring pace), Alps divide and finish off with Further Elements. But ultimately I ride my bike for fun, the races are a good excuse to get out in the sticks and explore new routes and landscapes. And that’s ultimately what I love.