Kintyre Way – A nice wee trail ultra

The Kintyre Way Ultra and Relays is a 67 mile ultra which runs from Tarbert to Campbeltown along the Kintyre Way. My plan when I entered this race was to do the full thing, but having been struck down with a bug for a few weeks my sensible head prevailed and I changed to the 35 mile option instead.

Kintyre Way China Mugs
Kintyre Way China Mugs

I had got back into some proper training over the bank holiday weekend which I wrote about in my last post, so taking on a race 4 days later seemed liked a good way to get some miles on tired legs.

I had been less than enthusiastic about this race, mainly because work has been really busy and the logistics of the Kintyre Way are a wee bit complex so I ddint really have the motivation to get it all sorted in my head. Despite my reservations we managed to finish work sharp on Friday and headed off for Tarbert with me in a grump as we got stuck behind every slow driver on the 3 hour drive down the road in the rain.

The scenery lifted my spirits a bit as we drove over the Rest and Be Thankful and we duly arrived, checked into our B&B, registered for the race and headed for the Tarbert Hotel for dinner. Margaret, Alastair, and David who were taking part in the Relay with Helen, were already there, while James and Sheela were en route. You sort of knew it was going to be one of those places when we discovered that Margaret had a shopping bag containing milk and dog biscuits, because her landlady Isabella had asked her to pick some up from the shop while she was out. It got even more bizarre when the milk ended up in the Hotel fridge courtesy of Mairi who was working the bar and was Isabella’s best friend. We had a really nice meal and a few pints of liquid carbs, even though the service was incredibly slow.

Early morning runners gather
Early morning runners gather

Race day dawned and Helen and I headed off to watch the 67 mile runners head off in the pouring rain, before heading back to our lodgings for the obligatory full Scottish breakfast.

Helen dropped me in Tayinloan and after a delayed start (Kintyre seems to operate at that pace) we were off, Race Director Rob Reid running the first few hundred yards to guide us through a couple of streets before heading down onto the beach.  Half a mile or so of beach and bog and then we hit the first hill which continued straight up for approximately 4 miles rising to a height of 1100 feet.  About half way up I caught up with a lady who was running the hill by zig zagging a traverse from one side of the road to the other. I jokingly made acomment about running twice the distance which I think she must have taken umbrage to, as she muttered something which I didnt quite catch and stormed off up the hill leaving me behind!

Undulating apparently
Undulating apparently

After a bit the rain eased and eventually the sun came out and it turned into a lovely day for running. I crested the top of the hill, past the windfarm and eventually after many ups and downs arrived at Carradale for the first checkpoint 15.5 miles in 2 hours 30 which I was pleased with considering I had allocated 3 hours for this leg..  I had a quick bathroom stop, munched down a rice pudding and then explained to a slightly bemused Marshal that yes, a scotch pie really was a good thing to be eating 15 miles into an ultra race!

As I set off again he said “the next bit might be tricky because the tide is in, and the tide isnt normally in for the race. Just stay as close to the cliff as you can” Words to send you off with confidence or what!

Through the little coastal village of Carradale the views were idyllic in the sunshine. Pristine beaches, blue skies and sparkling sea for as far as the eye could see. Then the path disappeared.

The tide is high…

He hadn’t been joking. There really wasnt a path. It was every man for himself, clambering and hopping over seaside rocks while trying to persuade your hip flexors that just because they had run up and down a hill for 15 miles was no reason not to pretend you were a 5 year old enjoying a day at the seaside. Eventually after much cursing, dry land was reached followed by an ankle deep dance through a bog, some circuitous navigation and an abortive attempt at straddling a barbed wire fence, the main road was reached and it was time to head inland once more.

The good weather had decided to bugger off and the wind was whipping up as the path headed into the hills once more. The bizzareness of this leg continued with a massive climb, followed by a wee slalom through a dense forest, some bog hopping, burn crossing and an overgrown path through a large deforested  hillside. Eventually I made it to the second checkpoint at Ifferdale farm, where the lovely people there filled my bladder and made me a cup of coffee!

At this point I was going through my obligatory 20 mile slump. I changed into my compression shorts, pulled on a warm base layer, swallowed 2 paracetamol and headed out again.  Out of the farm the heavens opened and it started to pour. As the path climbed I was passed by a couple of relay runners who were the first runners I had seen for several hours. I was still feeling pretty low and was trying to make progress up the hill into a headwind (why is it always a headwind?) . As luck would have it every time I managed to coax myself into something resembling a trot I had to stop to cross a cattle grid, open a gate or one occasion tell a nice lady on a bike that no I hadnt seen number 29.

The climb seemed to go on forever and as the path opened out on to the top of the hill it is hard to describe just how horrible it was on the exposed hill with torrential rain and a howling headwind. The rain I can cope with, but the wind was just soul destroying.  I was conscious that I was starting to feel a bit better and was pleasantly surprised to notice that I had gone through marathon distance in 5:07. With the wind howling and blowing hailstones into my face I was trying to do calculations in my head. Did that mean it was only 9 miles to go? If so why did I keep adding on 14 because 14 was the leg length not the distance from where I passed the 26 mile point.  And if I could run it at 10 minute mile pace what finishing time would it get me? etc etc such is the random nonsense which goes through your head when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with screaming quads, stinging skin and wind swirling round your head. Eventually the path started heading downhill and I started to pick up so by the time I hit the relatively flat section alongside Loch Lussa I was actually running reasonably well.  The route description says that from here to the end in Campbeltown is “undulating”. No shit Sherlock! Undulating as in up a f*@king big hill then down a f*@king big hill, then up another even bigger hill and then repeat!

On one of these sections Paul Giblin the race winner trotted past me in his very distinctive running style looking fresh as a daisy after 63 miles of running. This gave me a bit of a boost and I found myself almost smiling as I picked up pace and even started running the ups again.  By this stage the wind and rain were of Biblical proportions and I was so grateful for my OMM Kamleika smock ( though if Mr and Mrs OMM and the wee OMM elves could do something about the cuffs saturating that would be much appreciated).

On to the main road into Campbeltown and it did occur to me that I couldnt see any of the distinctive arrows which had highlighted the route through most of the way. Remember at the start I said that I couldnt really be bothered preparing properly for this? So of course I didnt bring my map, hadnt read the instructions for the last bit into the town and assumed there would be signs pointing to the finish. Wrong! Despite being within 100 metres of the finish I proceeded to run straight past the road junction before doing a tour of Campbeltown while trying to get a map on my phone. Slightly shame faced I finally made it to the finish at the Aqualibrium arriving from completely the wrong direction.

spot the idiot missing the finish line
spot the idiot missing the finish line

Even with my detour I made it to the finsh in 6:57 on my watch which I am grumblingly pleased with even though I would have preferred not to add on an extra mile!

I collected my bag, had a hot shower, headed to Tesco to buy some beer and then met up with David, Margaret and Alastair and was pleased to learn that they had had a good day out and had all enjoyed good runs.

We enjoyed the free Loch Fyne beer while we waited for Helen to finish her relay leg. She came storming home in a really good time of 3 hours having braved some horrendous weather.

It wasn’t until sitting afterwards sharing a few beers with ultra legends George, Karen and Lorna that I realised that my grumps had gone, something had shifted physically and mentally.  Funny how a day filled with pain, solitude and pissing rain can do that for you.

Overall, despite my reservations this turned into a really good weekend with good running and good people.

Lessons learned

this is a good event, run by nice folk, but a wee bit more organisation and the addition of a proper finish line would make it into a great race.

I am getting better at running hills.

I still shouldnt run up hills in the first few miles just because I can. It comes back to bite later on.

Pies are indeed the perfect ultra food.

OMM jackets are the dogs bollocks.

Wind is depressing.

Miles 26+ are much easier than miles 20-26 so dont get depressed and just keep going.

Pure Grit shoes shed water better than anything else I have tried.

Despite being unnatural and pervy Injinji toe socks do in fact keep your feet comfortable and blister free

Don’t know whether it is the beer or the endorphins, but ultra runners do seem to be an unfeasibly cheerful bunch.


  1. mrshmunro
    1. Achilles Niggle Post
  2. Sarah

    Glad you enjoyed yourself, and the reservations and grumps disappeared. 🙂 Great run, after being out of action for quite a bit – fab write-up. x

  3. Davie
    1. Achilles Niggle Post

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