The short version: it was 52.2k (due to a diversion), there were lots of hills (I had forgotten just how many), there was weather (biblical over the last climbs), and I am nothing if not consistent with another 6th in age group finish.
You know normal service has resumed when you are up at 4:15 am to get the first ferry and then spend the day running around the Cowal peninsula in the rain.
The Dunoon ultra starts at Benmore Gardens, climbs and loops round the gorgeous Loch Eck back to Benmore and then on to Dunoon. It splits into three neat sections; climbing (lots), flat section, more climbing (lots) with an overall ascent in the region of 4k feet (if my Garmin is to be believed). Did I mention the climbing?
Never one to leave things to chance the first ferry seemed like the best idea. If it was busy I could get the next one, if it was not running I could along to get the car ferry. It was running and it wasn’t busy. There were only six other runners on it. ‘Could have had a lie in’ I thought as I focused on the shoreline to counter the nausea inducing swell that had stopped the ferries the previous afternoon.
A few signs of situation normal not quite fully restored remained. There was no registration this year and so there was no hanging about in the warmth of the pier building. It was a case of hang about at the pier or at the start, but that involved a degree of analysis paralysis over jackets. My warm jacket was not for running and I was not sure about getting it back to finish line. After a few hints (that were getting less subtle) from the bus drivers I got on the bus, leaving the warm jacket in my finish bag. Thankfully, it was quite as cold at Benmore as the seafront back in Du noon.
At Benmore familiar faces started to appear and there was plenty of happy chat. There was much joking about our varying states of fitness and readiness, but everyone was happy to be back racing. When we gathered for the off I had quite a lot of company lurking at the back of the start: a sign of the times.
I have run Dunoon twice before and each time was left with a sense of could have done better. When I looked at my previous results before this run, I saw that my perception was unfounded. In 2016 I remember feeling really ill and sore after I finished which must have coloured memory. But the time was good enough, coincidentally, giving me 6th in age group. 2017 was really slow as I was recovering from an injury and, frankly, was lucky to make the start let alone finish it. That was an achievement; nothing to be dissatisfied with, but that perception of ‘could have done better’ lingered.
We set out down Puddle Lane which lived up to the name with lots of deep wide puddles to negotiate. I don’t mind wet feet, but I did not want them this early so took my time tiptoeing around them. We had no sooner negotiated that when the rain started, earlier than the forecast lunchtime. Cue a bunch of runners caught short and having to stop and don their waterproofs, including me.
The ascents made it difficult to get into any rhythm. I went with the flow, accepting that there would be no solid running for a while. I knew that as long as I walked the hills and kept it steady I was conserving energy and would reap the benefits later. Look at me getting sensible in my old age.
It seemed so much further than I remembered to the radio mast sitting a thousand feet above the loch. Even in the rain that view is worth pausing for. I had some company from Paul who had fallen into step with me on one of the ascents and we stayed together until the long decent beyond the mast. I spotted Ivan a compadre from previous events just ahead. With a wee spurt I caught up with him and we ran together for a short distance. Then I unexpectedly pulled ahead just before the 2nd checkpoint at Glenbranter.
It was just so wet and I had no inclination to hang about and risk getting cold so it was quick re-stock and out. Nothing for it but to plough on, squelch on. My restraint on the earlier climbs had been a good strategy. On this flatter section back to Benmore I picked up and kept a steady pace and started to pass a few people. All the while I expected someone to catch me especially Ivan, who usually does make the catch. There were a few backward glances.
Squelch, squelch, squelch and rather more undulating than I remembered. But eventually I was on the short section of road that lead back into Benmore. A cheery welcome from the marshals who were holding up well in the wet conditions. Again I opted not to hang about refilling my bottles and stuffing the contents of my drop bag into my back pack. I could walk and eat. Puddle lane was once more negotiated, a bit less carefully this time (my feet were wet now). Then onto a flat section of tarmac for a few miles. I was able to make the most of this (unlike my previous outings) settling into a steady pace before those final killer climbs.
Have I mentioned the climbs? The biblical rain? The last section of the route cruelly takes you up behind Dunoon which just seems so wrong. It triggers that silent scream in your head; ‘WHY? WHY? We are supposed to be going down there! I want to be down there!’ And that scream is even louder when the rain is biblical, your shoes are full of water and your waterproof just can’t take it anymore.
‘Ooft’ that was hard and I got a right grump on, stomping upwards determined to get this over and done with. Not daring to look behind me. I really did not want someone to make the catch on this section. It would be soul destroying. I made one more catch on the lovely, longed for decent down to Dunoon. Across the main road and the final half mile along the promenade. This year I realised that the promenade was not as long as I had recalled. No one passed me and I was able to run most of it. Indications that I had run a better, more measured race. The finish line on the old Victorian wooden pier is one of the best around and I was happy to cross it with a sense of satisfaction. Ironically the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and the sun popped out as I finished. Typical.
It was good to message home to report a quicker than anticipated finish and that I would be on a ferry an hour earlier than expected. Job well done. Normal service 99% resumed?