Cowal Hill Race

Just in the door from another brilliant pilgrimage home for the Cowal Games held annually in Dunoon on the last weekend of August. A welcome addition in the last few years has been a hill race up The Camel’s Hump and this was the main reason for heading down this time around. This event definitely fits the criteria of great value local races within easy reach of Glasgow with a stunning backdrop in terms of both scenery and the Highland Games.


After marshalling last year I was ready to toe the line again this morning hoping to improve on previous performances where I’ve either blown up after hitting the hill too hard or not attacked the downhill with enough aggression.


The 6km route starts outside the newly refurbished Burgh Hall on Dunoon’s main street. After a course and safety briefing we were off. A fast flat start ends quickly as within 50 metres the route turns left up John Street where you are faced with a steep but relatively short climb which really gets the heart rate going.


The chart below shows this to be the case and while I’ve been wearing my heart rate strap again in recent weeks I really need to read up more on the benefits of HR training and get a better understanding of what each effort means and feels like on the context of different sessions and races.


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Expensive Technology Confirming That I Was Working Hard


Anyway back to the race. The route levels off as you make your way up John Street until you enter the trail turning quickly into a foresty track. This is a trail I know well from previous efforts on the race, training sessions with Dunoon Hill Runners and boyhood adventures. It’s basically all uphill from here until the top.


The first few hundred metres are hellish and at the back of my head I knew if I could get to the first gate I could relax on the more gentle climb to the top of the hill. At this stage, around 1km into the race, I was sitting in around 10th place and thankfully feeling in good shape. Passing the gate I started to pass a few runners although the lead group were stretching their lead.


The route, still climbing, disappears into the forest above Dunoon with the sound of the pipes filling the air from the stadium below. This is another tough little section as although most of climb is done and the elevation is kinder the terrain underfoot becomes more scree like making it difficult to maintain a regular cadence.


It was great to see Morven (although I had heard her long before) at the Phone Mast, pretty much the highest spot on the route. Dropping down in to a break in the wood the underfoot conditions change for a third time and the effects of the previous week’s weather were immediately obvious. Thankfully I managed to stay on my feet this year putting to bed the ghost of 2015 as this marked the spot where I slipped and fell hard in my last go at the race.


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Still Looking Far Too Happy – Thanks to Morven for This Snap


At the end of the grassy break in the forest a short, but steep, climb leads to the top of the Camel’s Hump where the view of The Firth of Clyde and The Holy Loch opens up. It’s pretty much all down hill from here with the first 500 metres on open hillside with plenty obstacles and loose boulders giving a short technical / fell aspect to the race. With conditions underfoot slippy and the heart of a mouse I struggled to keep the brakes off, taking my time to navigate the worst of the conditions. More downhill practice is definitely needed but I was glad I had the extra grip on my trail shoes this time around. Exiting the wood I sadly passed one of the early pacesetters holding his wrist after what I assume was a slip on this tricky section.


The route meanders down a forestry road over the next kilometre where it joins the High Road headed back for Dunoon and the finish line. The runner behind was closing in on me during this stage of the race and I was starting to feel heavy legged after the exertions of reaching the top. Exiting the forest road and getting back onto the hard tarmac gave me a chance to pick up the pace and use the road speed which makes up the bulk of my training.


Approaching Dunoon it was obvious any chances of passing the runner ahead were gone and it was just a case of making sure I wasn’t passed. After you reach the Grammar School it is just a short hop into the back gate at the stadium to the finish. Kudos to Iain (the race organiser) for getting the finish even closer to the refreshment tent this year. I was well spent having emptied the tank on the last km and a bit along the road and glad to see the finish. It was great to hear that Michael and Grant of the Hill Runners had picked up 1st and 3rd place respectively. Although still to be confirmed it seemed I’d managed to come home in 5th place, which I was pretty pleased with, finishing just behind a member of Manran – the headline act in the Ceilidh Tent later in the day.


Despite being a long way behind the top four this was a run where I felt good and worked hard giving another good indication that my running continues to improve. Importantly I feel like I am applying my experience a lot more effectively in races resulting in better performances. Naively experience wasn’t something I would have ever factored into a running race before becoming a runner myself. Rather I would have reckoned the fastest guy would always win. Now I know there’s a lot more to it.


It was great to watch the ever-growing army of Dunoon Hill Runners enter the stadium with a string of excellent performances including a first female for Lucie Noakes.


If you stumble across this blog because you are thinking of the Cowal Hill Race I would definitely recommend it. £5 includes entry to the stadium which is normally £18. With live music, family entertainment and a friendly atmosphere you’d struggle to get better value. Throw in a well organised hill race at less than 200m elevation and this is a great entry into the often daunting sport of hill running.race organiser


As always a huge thank you to the army of volunteers at registration and out on the course. Particularly to my mentor and old Geography Teacher Mr Livingstone who assumed his usual marshalling duties at the top of the Camel’s Hump. Well done to race organiser Iain Cairns for another great wee event. I look forward to 2018 whether I am marshalling or running.



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The Hill

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