Kintyre Way ultra – lots of climbing and outstanding views

In my post Glen Ogle enthusiasm I signed up for another ultra, taking advantage of early bird prices. I did check out race reports and asked about other people’s experiences of it. Then, in spite of realising it would be hilly and tough possibly including wading through the sea, I still signed up for the Kintyre Way half ultra. It seemed a long time away back in November but like everything else the big day came around pretty quickly. I had hoped to do D33 but didn’t make the start line after some ongoing niggles meant I hadn’t been able to put in enough miles; and as I’d booked a week’s holiday around Kintyre I didn’t want to jeopardise my chances of making the start by foolishly rocking up to D33 and winging it.

I was never going to be a spectacular competitor at Kintyre anyway, but after my D33 disappointment my main focus was getting a couple of preparatory long runs under my belt and just getting to the start line in one piece, I gave no consideration to speed. I did have a couple of really nice, long runs in training although I would have liked my longest run to be slightly more than the 24 miles of the Easter weekend. That said, I still felt positive about finishing successfully, especially as the cut-offs were extremely generous for the half ultra as they take the full 67 miler into account – highly advantageous for slower runners like me in the shorter race. The other positives going into the race were that I genuinely did feel pain free in the days before it and I knew I was going to be running with my good friend, Katherine, with whom I’d done some of my happiest (and shittiest) training runs as well as the Fling relay. On the other hand, the weather forecast wasn’t great although I did wonder if it could possibly be as bad as Glen Ogle – hmm, the race reports from last year did report pretty biblical weather conditions! The morning before the race I woke up to find my faithful backpack had been half eaten by my faithless hound, which put me in a right good mood! Lots of friends made kind offers to let me borrow their packs but I was able to get a replacement in time.

Who knew a nakd bar warranted such destruction?

Who knew a nakd bar warranted such destruction?

Anyway, another nice thing about starting half way was the jolly civilised start time of 9.30am, especially as I was staying just along the road. I got to registration about 8.45am feeling like I’d had a lie-in. Registering was particularly swift as the big number 47 on my drop bags gave me away immediately. We got a Kintyre Way buff along with our numbers and dibbers – very nice it is too (barely off my head for the rest of my holiday). There was a very relaxed atmosphere at the start, where I got to catch up with some friends I’ve met on this crazy journey into ultra running and made the acquaintance of a few others that until then I only knew through facebook. We were herded into a starting pen, my nerves felt a bit jangly but all in all we were in pretty good spirits.

I had the honour of wearing the Ultra Dafie t-shirt!

I had the honour of wearing the Ultra Dafies t-shirt!

In the starting pen...

In the starting pen…

After milling about for a wee while, we were off! It is so easy to get swept away at the start and I glanced at my watch to see the pace was under 9 minute miles, which felt comfortable at that point but would just not be do-able for me and Katherine over ultra distance. Sensibly we slowed down and that was the last we’d see of many of the other runners as we took up our place near the back of the pack. As you start off, you go through some houses and past a row of garages which isn’t very scenic but then bam you pop out into a field headed towards the beach and down a beautiful wee trail that is flanked by wildflowers – the gorse and bluebells were truly glorious and the coconut smell of the gorse was intoxicating, in that moment I just knew we were in for a great day. After a short bit of beach the route took us back into a grassy trail of wildflowers and birdlife that delighted me but it wasn’t very long until we reached the road and headed over it, past our holiday cottage, onto forestry tracks that marked the start of a very long climb about 1,000 feet of climbing over four miles…

Over the course of some of that climbing we got chatting to a few other competitors and apologies to Jilly and Andrew who not only had to witness my strip tease but also kindly picked up a lost wristband and got it back to me. Early on I had to remove my long sleeved top as the forecast was proving pretty inaccurate. What a lovely couple, we had a good old blether until they continued on when Katherine spotted the decided luxury of a portaloo! Shortly after there was an unexpected water stop and two friendly marshals ticked us off on the list. This was the last time I would get a water top-up, oops I think it was only six or seven miles in. Probably round about the windfarm, where the rain came on and I popped my jacket and cap on. What goes up must come down though so after mainly up with minor undulations we got a dramatic and lengthy downhill section that I rather relished apart from when a stitch started to form and when it changed to tarmac – talk about spoiling a good thing! Here’s a photo of us looking happy and enjoying the downhill, thanks to Andy Robinson of runfurther.com for the photo: Dowhill!!   It has taken me rather long to get around to writing this blog so whilst many features of the course are fresh in my mind, I’m unsure if they are still in the right order. Please don’t rely on the accuracy of this report if you’re contemplating doing the Kintyre in future. I’ll link my route at the end. We met a HM Coastguard van in the forest and we posed cheerily for a photo as he passed and then we were on road for a while and experienced only slight confusion at a bit of a junction, but the correct route quickly became clear although we were pleased to pick up one of the turquoise posts soon after. Time for some up and then quite a sharp left into a forestry commission car park where two lovely marshals pointed us up a narrow trail – a lovely sight after tarmac but actually quite a steep and lengthy climb which quickly ensured wet socks as it was also kind of a stream. It popped us out onto more forestry road and Arran came into view, cue our Arran selfie…
Arran selfieThis was our first sign we were truly on our way to the opposite coast of the peninsula. Quite soon after this we hit some really nice, slightly technical trail and after a bit of a climb there was a decent descent and I enjoyed letting gravity do some of the work but dodging around a bit – enjoyable trail running. Some relay runners came past in fine form and exchanged brief pleasantries and then Hugh McInnes who was leading and ultimately won the 67 came past us and he gave us some encouragement on his way past and we congratulated him – I had seen him at G2E really going for it and never really saw him at the Fling as he was so far ahead of our relay team. The man is a machine!  We came out of the trail onto road again and a guy taking photos confirmed it was not far to the checkpoint but I do think there followed a mile or so of undulating forestry track before a brief descent on trail (which I liked) which sort of spat us out into the first checkpoint (Carradale) to shouts from Ross and some marshals/spectators. We duly dibbed, I grabbed our dropbags (bit more self service than the Fling). Gosh I’d been fantasising about my flat cola! Nobody mentioned water and I forgot all about it. We popped to the loo, transferred supplies into our bags and generally spent too long in the checkpoint. We spotted Jilly and Andrew having a pot of tea and scones – they do know how to do an ultra! I am 99% certain that a marshal told me we were at 14 miles. It had taken us over three and a half hours but was actually closer to 16 miles. When we headed off we were directed across the road and down a beautiful trail through a load of bluebells, it was a lovely running surface and really gorgeous but my stitch problem was kicking in again and I had to ask Katherine for a walk break – thankfully not until after we met Jo Thom coming the other way, she was out supporting Hugh as she was injured herself – she also gave us kind words of encouragement. Another nice couple, indeed!! After this we were over a wee bridge and off through some housing to get to the beach. You may have heard about this beach section, it is thankfully quite short but it is equal parts stunningly beautiful and treacherously technical. It’s slate type rock and very holey grass and I believe we were lucky the tide was not in. At one point I grabbed my hand away just in time to prevent a bit of a slice.

Happy after our beach scramble - a walker kindly took the photo for us.

Happy after our beach scramble – a walker kindly took the photo for us.

We were just heading up the grassy hill from the beach when Ross caught us up after donning his running gear and coming out to chum us to the next checkpoint. It was on the beach that I clocked 17 miles and couldn’t understand how that could be when the marshal had said the cp was 14 miles but Katherine said no, the cp is at 16 miles according to the pack and I relaxed, feeling glad we were around halfway.
Up the grassy hill, over a style and back on road for a bit before heading into an estate past a wee gatehouse with a nice labrador. We saw signs for the tannery and luckily looked back and spotted the castle which we would otherwise have missed. I enjoyed a bit of tree shade and we chuckled at a wee lamb walking back and forth on top of a drystane dyke, before we headed through a farm where the trail goes through a gate and begins the never-ending climb of all eternity which has nice views of Arran if you feel the need of a break. I think this was the toughest part for me as I find the 18th/19th miles quite difficult anyway and the climb was rather relentless albeit there was glorious gorse and I had good company. Unlike Glen Ogle, I had no thoughts of quitting whatsoever though. At the top of this hill the trail takes a sharp left through some pine trees, it doesn’t look like the trail but it is and I was glad I had read other reports and expected this. It was a welcome downhill with soft pine needles which are lovely, but you need to be aware of roots, and it was blissfully cool. It didn’t last long though before we came to a stream and bridge then onto more uppish stuff that looked a bit desert-like owing to the tree felling and the beating sun. We then got some reasonable down on forestry tracks, I noticed at this point that I felt a bit peckish and reminded myself to eat some peanut tracker bar and sweeties. The trail then took us into a very steep and pretty technical descent strewn with boulders, tufts of jaggy grass, gorse and a gate thing that made no sense to me. Peter Buchanan, winner of the 35.5, described this well in his blog – something along the lines of quad trashing descent culminating in cow poo puddle of a field sort of thing.
We then ran along a field edge which reminded me of some of the bits at Jedburgh before the bouncy bridge and surprisingly popped out to see a sign for the checkpoint at Ifferdale – woohoo! A friendly checkpoint, we met a chatty relay runner who we’d see again later. I went and grabbed our drop bags, but again no water was noticeable and not thinking clearly I dropped an electrolyte tab in my camelbak without checking the level. Jilly and Andrew arrived, well fuelled by scones and went through this cp very efficiently. As we headed out we saw them powering off in front and that was the last time I saw them until spotting Jilly at the finish of Edinburgh marathon at the end of the month. Again I had an issue with a stitch forming on leaving the CP – some lessons to be learnt there I think, no more guzzling stuff at cp just recharge the supplies and graze lightly throughout. We really stiffened up at this cp and we left chorusing tunelessly along the lines of ‘ee, eee, ooh, ah!’ Also when I took a sip of electrolyte loaded water, it was far too concentrated and I realised I would soon be running out of water.
This next bit was a pretty long drag and seemed a lot of climbing on the pretty hard forestry trails – the relay runner from earlier went past looking very comfortable gliding up the hill and we had a blether with Steven Yule, I believe, who came second in the 67 – he had his Fling buff on and I was in awe, had to shake his hand – he was still overtaking us despite still feeling it and doing the much longer race. Fantastic.
We were really just walking the hills and trying to run anything flat or downhill, but at one point Katherine asked me why I was running uphill and I told her I’d tell her in a minute. Shortly I stopped and held out my arm to mark marathon distance and we celebrated with a hug as she went into ultra territory. At some point we did some chipmunk singing too, when I said we’re ‘chip, chip, chipping away at it’ – apologies Alvin, Theodore and the other one.
Eventually we were heading towards the reservoir and we started to see a few more relay or full distance runners come past us. I have to say the view as the reservoir revealed itself was very beautiful. We passed a cluster of Coastguards and I wished I’d had the gumption to ask for a hug but I also felt the need to keep the forward motion. As we rounded the reservoir we could see where we’d been – it looked so far away, we weren’t exactly tearing it up but we were progressing steadily. Shortly thereafter we were photographed by Ken Clark – the sod was up a hill (OK small incline) at mile 29 forcing me to run up again although Katherine quite rightly put in a fine protest and not only walked but stopped and posed on the spot.
It was all getting a bit tarmacy now and that sadly was pretty much the case until the end. I ran out of water at roughly the 30 mile mark and Katherine began sharing her Lucozade with me. The route continued to be undulating tarmac and we chatted on and off to John Vernon who was run/walking due to an injury. We celebrated any distance ‘milestones’ for morale – when we only had a 10k to go, going through 30 miles and getting through 31.5 miles and into new mileage territory for me. I started to enjoy stretching my legs on some downhill sections and it seemed to spur John on too but I looked back and saw Katherine was not feeling the same – metal ankle and trail shoes meant that downhill was particularly painful for her. At some point John’s friends had come out to check up on him and they kindly gave me a bottle of fizzy, orange lucozade – what a godsend after running out of water during the unpredictably hot weather!
Suddenly we saw houses, not just the odd farm building but a proper collection of houses, for sure it was Campbeltown! We came to a junction with the main road into Campbeltown and as we were jogging along drivers kindly tooted encouragement and I spotted a former colleague of mine, shouted his name, gave him a hug and ran on unaware that he had not recognised me at all – out of context, ha ha!! He was there supporting his wife who was also running the 35.5.
We kept jogging through the town and I searched my brain for the directions to the finish line as there were no signs – thankfully getting it right! We arrive to cheers from Vikki Williams and her partner which gave us a real boost and we saw the finish line. I turned to Katherine and we grabbed hands, like at Neil McCover half marathon, and we went for the sprint finish – despite the pain, Katherine even cranked it up another notch to my delight and that of the spectators and passing drivers. We dibbed and were done!!
Here’s a link to a video of the sweaty munchkins making a dash for the finish: 
All in all, it was an amazing day and for the most part I truly loved it. Having Katherine’s company was a massive boost, as was the lack of sleet and hailstones! It was very different from Glen Ogle – much hillier, better weather, constant companionship and having the longer race meant super generous cut-offs for us. At no point did I think about quitting. It was a long day out and I would love to go back and try to improve my time next year. I also spent a marvellous week on the Mull of Kintyre and thoroughly recommend it as a holiday destination.
Happily I have recovered well, I did plenty of walking during my holiday and have done a few reasonably chunky runs in the two weeks since – much better than after Glen Ogle when I got a virus and was out for three weeks making the return feel like starting running from scratch. In future I think I will not really stop at checkpoints other than to pick up stuff and carry on, I’ll be more careful about water though…
A long and rambling post, much like my race experience 🙂 I definitely recommend it and would like to thank all the organisers and volunteers for making it possible. A big shout out to all the runners – some fab performances at all different levels of ability on a tough but gorgeous course.
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