Runners love Dunoon’s first ultra marathon
Some 200 people headed to Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula to take part in the first Dunoon Ultra, nicknamed the Wee Eck Ultra, last month. The race was 55k and almost entirely off-road. Read my report in my Sunday Mail column, or the story below.
More than 200 runners took part in the inaugural Dunoon Ultra 55k on the Cowal Peninsula last month.
Competing solo or as part of a three-person relay team, the runners started the race at Benmore Botanic Gardens, just north of the ferry port town.
The race – nicked named the Wee Eck Ultra – is one of a growing number of ultra distance events in Scotland.
Many events are sellouts – and some operate a ballot for entries because they have become so popular.
The Dunoon Ultra is also part of a stable new events that have sprung up around the town in recent years, including a half marathon, 10k, cycle sportive and a mountain biking enduro.
Pipers and a booming canon gave a wow factor start to the first 13.5-mile (21.5km) stage of the Dunoon Ultra 55k on October 8.
Runners were faced with a steep ascent of stunning Puck’s Glen in Benmore Forest to reach a height of 475ft (145m).
The route then headed north high above the eastern shore of Loch Eck and to a height of some 1000ft (300m).
The descent on a forest track provided beautiful views of Argyll Forest Park and nearby hills and mountains.
For the relay runners, the first transition came at the northern end of Loch Eck and just before the first food station for the solo competitors.
Susie Gillies, of Greenock Glenpark Harriers, said: “I was the first runner in our relay team and I really enjoyed the stage.
“It was hillier than I thought it would be and it felt longer than I’d expected but the climb through the glen was worth it for the views.
“Of course, there was also a fantastic descent afterwards, so although there was a lot of up there was also a lot of down on stage one.”
The second leg of the Dunoon Ultra was billed as the “flatter stage”. The 10.5 miles (17km) hugged the western shoreline of Loch Eck.
By now the solo runners were passing the halfway mark of their long-distance off-road race, while the relay teams had switched to their second competitor.
The key to ultra distance racing is to set a pace that is achievable and comfortable for many hours of running.
Competitor Lucja Leonard, of Edinburgh, is an experienced ultra runner. She has taken park in many races worldwide and also run 500km along the length of Holland over five days this summer.
She said: “Pacing is an important part of any ultra distance running race.
“You need to be able to stay within yourself, running at a pace that you can sustain for dozens of miles.
“I find that I run at pretty much the same pace for all long-distance events and that I am better at long distances compared to shorter, faster events.”
As the race headed along the loch side the runners spread out with the solo leaders Michael Tweedley, Richard Cooper and Kevin Rogers, setting an impressive pace.
With the advantage of fresh legs, the second relay runners enjoyed the rolling trail through woodland and the views of the loch and hills ahead.
Richard Longster ran the second leg for his Dunoon Hill Runners team. Being a local was an obvious advantage although a fast pace also posed a challenge.
Richard said: “I think I definitely had the easier stage of the race and I enjoyed being able to push quite hard.”
I also ran the second stage as part of a relay team with friends, Lucja and Nick Green, of Milngavie.
It was my first ultra race and I found the atmosphere friendly and welcoming.
Many runners were happy to exchange a few words as we passed each other and some ran the entire race together.
Although flatter than stage one and three, the undulating terrain was still punishing and I wondered if I would ever reach the end of the loch.
I found the final section of tarmac a relief, especially as it headed downhill to the transition two back in Benmore Gardens.
For the solo runners, there was less than one third of the race still to go.
I handed the team effort on to Lucja, who felt the pressure of now being the third placed relay team.
The final stage included another hill, rising to 690ft (211m), before the long descent to the coast at Dunoon.
The finish line was on the newly refurbished pier to the south-east of the town.
Kevin Cameron was the last runner in his Giffnock North AAC relay team.
Kevin, who was delighted to finish as the triumphant team, said: “It was a scenic section, I think, although I didn’t look up as much as I would have liked to.
“At the hand over I knew we were in first place and I focused on the trail ahead and trying to keep my pace up.
“The mile markers that counted us down to the finish line were brilliant and a huge help in pushing me on.”
The winning solo competitor was Michael Tweedley, of Dunoon Hill Runners.
His impressive time of four hours 13 minutes was faster than all the relay teams, too.
Michael, 45, said: “I planned to win and from the start I put myself in a very strong position.
“My hope was to go under four hours and 15 minutes and I am really pleased that I did this.
“The conditions were perfect and the course felt fast on the day. That final hill was tough though and I was very pleased to see the finish line.”
The first female was Madeline Robinson – and sixth soloist overall – in 5:03:02. The 22-year-old had only decided to enter a few days before.
She said: “It was my first time running in the area and I think it’s really beautiful.
“Puck’s Glen was my favourite part of the race and I really enjoyed that first stage.”
Madeline, of Helensburgh, appeared to be flying along but she found the second half of the race a huge challenge.
She said: “I hadn’t been well in the run up to the race and I think that might have affected my strength on the day.
“It seemed to get tougher and tougher as the race went on and I was very relived to see the finish.
“I am pleased and surprised by my win and I hope to come back again to defend my title.”
Our relay team was second overall and first mixed team to finish in a time of 4:55:04.
Nick, who ran our first stage, said: “It was a brilliant event and the course is very beautiful.
“It was also well organised and somewhere a bit different but still easy to access from central Scotland.
“I was inspired by the solo runners and I might train to do that myself next year.”