Chemistry student smashes Kintyre Way Ultra record

Top three men's finishers, from left: third placed Nicholas Gemmell, winner Kieran Cooper and second placed Calum Oates.
Top three men, from left: third placed Nicholas Gemmell, winner Kieran Cooper and second placed Calum Oates.

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The winner of this year’s Kintyre Way Ultra marathon smashed the course record when he beat last year’s victor by almost 20 minutes.

Fresh-faced University of St Andrews chemistry student Kieran Cooper, aged 20, produced ID to prove he was old enough to win the bottle of gin supplied by Beinn an Tuirc Distillers, sponsor of the men’s solo races, after completing the 32-mile course from Tayinloan to Tarbert in four hours, two minutes and 36 seconds last Saturday.

Although he made it look easy, Kieran confessed he found the hill out of Skipness ‘horrendous’ but he enjoyed going downhill towards the finish in Tarbert harbour.

There was dubiety as to whether this year’s race could take place as a result of coronavirus restrictions, but 10 days before the event, permission was granted for live events of up to 200 people to take place outdoors and, just two days prior, relevant guidance was issued by Scottish Athletics.

Special measures were in place to ensure the safety of competitors, organisers, marshalls and the community including asking all runners and volunteers Covid-related questions, sanitising metal kissing gates, encouraging the use of face coverings and a staggered start to distance competitors.

There was no in-person pre-race briefing. Instead organisers used diagrams, a video and a Zoom meeting prior to the race to make sure competitors understood what was expected of them on the day.

Kieran set off 30 seconds in front of the next competitor, a gap which didn’t change for the first 10 kilometres along the beach but the more technical terrain after that showed Kieran’s strength and he began to pull away.

Many runners were not used to the staggered start and some might have preferred company as they ran, but Kieran and several others enjoyed having the space and freedom to run their own race and enjoyed everything Kintyre has to offer.

The women’s race proved extremely close with less than five minutes separating the first four ladies. Because of the staggered start times, there was a wait before organisers could be certain Aoife Ni Mhaoileoin, who completed the race in five hours, 48 minutes and four seconds, had won. Despite the good conditions, Elaine Somerville’s 2019 record of five hours, 21 minutes and 59 seconds was never seriously challenged.

Several people were attempting their first ‘ultra’ and loved it. The variety of terrain and scenery, from the dramatic Paps of Jura to the soothing purple heather of the middle section, the deadly road into Skipness and the ‘horrendous’ climb out, and the welcome sight of the descent to Tarbert marina past the castle made it highly technical and never boring.

A race spokesperson said: ‘We are once again extremely grateful to Tarbert Harbour for the use of its showers and toilets which are presently only available to residents at the marina. Huge thanks to Lyndsey and family from the Tarbert Hotel for the welcome soup, sandwich and cake.

‘Thank you to all our sponsors and thank you to our wonderful volunteer teams who carried competitors’ bags, made sure they were safe and well and encouraged them along the way.

‘Special thanks to Ted and Val from KitST who are so much more than a timing team. Their advice and support, not just on the day but in the lead up to the race, has been invaluable.

‘And finally thank you to the competitors for showing we can get back out there doing the things we love.’

Results: Men’s solo, sponsored by Beinn an Tuirc Distillers: 1 Kieran Cooper 04.02.36; 2 Calum Oates 04.28.42; 3 Nicholas Gemmell 04.31.25.

Women’s solo, sponsored by Kilkerran Single Malt: 1 Aoife Ni Mhaoileoin 05:48:04; 2 Nina Farmer 05:49:13; 3 Nicola Dawson 05:51:19.

Veteran 50+, sponsored by Loch Fyne Whiskies: Male: Gareth McKenna 06:04:21; Female: Mary Kerr 07:16:16.

Relay teams, sponsored by Fyne Ales: 1 Frigate Bound (MacFarlane, Carbro, Oates) 04.35.08; 2 Marydolls (Clark, Clark, Coulter) 04.52.19; 3 Point Sands Plodders (McAuslan, Clark, Smith) 06.04.13.