Kinnoull is one of those races that seems to divide opinion among hill runners. Often written off as little more than a hilly cross-country race, I’ve heard it dismissed as too short, too flat and too fast – all presumably reasons why it’s been dropped from the Bog and Burn series. Personally, I think it’s a great little race, but I have to admit to a bit of bias. Growing up fairly nearby, Kinnoull hill and its woodland trails were a childhood favourite of mine and back in 1995 it was the scene of my first ever hill race. Since moving back east it’s become a local-ish race for me again and one I’ve probably run more than any other; but sentimental reasons aside I still think Kinnoull deserves to be considered as a classic race.
Despite being winding and undulating the 4 mile course is unrelentingly fast, following narrow woodland trods and trails and giving just the occasional glimpse of stunning cliff-top views over the Carse of Gowrie that might take your breath away if you weren’t already knackered. After a brutally fast start the road quickly narrows to single track and with most of the 600 ft of climbing in the first mile and a half, there’s plenty scope for blowing up before the summit. A fast descent on a wide leaf-cushioned track takes you to half way and then, after what seems like endless twists and turns through the woods, there’s one last short steep climb before half a mile or so of grassy downhill and the final lung-bursting 100 yard dash along the road. And there’s the fact the race is run entirely through woodland: in what other race in the hill running calandar can you run under a sun-dappled canopy of birch, alder, rowan, larch, oak and ash? This, combined with the ever-twisting course, can make for interesting tactical racing, as at only a few points can you see more than a dozen metres ahead. And although you’re unlikely to go far astray on such a well-marked course, it’s easy enough to drift off track if your concentration wanders and you miss a bit of tape (just ask Manny).
Days were when you could count on a dozen or more Westies turning up, and over the years Kinnoull has been the scene of some epic club battles (who could forget Dave Calder’s dramatic on-the-line mugging of John Donnelly for 26th place back in 2000?) Westies participation has dwindled in recent years, so it was good to see a small but keen turnout last Wednesday night with John Denovan, Johnston, Brian Brennan and myself toeing the line in the warm evening sunshine, along with a record 160 or so other runners.
At the front of the race Perth RR’s Mike Caroll led from start to finish, pulling away from last year’s winner Don Naylor and Cosmic’s Dan Whitehead at the summit to win by a full 81 seconds in an impressive 24.32. In the women’s race Emma O’Shea of Deeside took the prize in 30.54 finishing more than a minute ahead of C Douglas of Central. For once I managed to hold back a bit at the start and then worked my way slowly through the field, catching Bob Wiseman of Ochils at the summit and then pulling in Stephen Winter of Shettleston just after the half way point. From then on I was running by myself with no one close enough to chase, although the sound of pursuing footsteps was enough to keep the pressure on to the finish. Next Westie home was John, enjoying a fast finish over the final descent, catching four folk in the process. Johnston was in next, enjoying his first Kinnoull outing, followed by Brian, who’s obviously been making the most of his pre-uni gap months by putting in some serious training – although the fact he’s already enthusing about the debauchery of freshers’ week and Westie curry nights suggests this may only be a temporary run of form. Then it was back to the primary school for tea and cakes to round off another fantastic Kinnoull evening.
1. M Carroll (Perth RR) 24.32
2. D Whitehead (Cosmic HB) 25.53
3. D Naylor (HBT) 26.18
4. M Sullivan (Shettleston) 26.31
5. Brian Bonnyman (Westies) 27.36
26. John Denovan (Westies) 30.23
61. Johnston Orr (Westies) 33.21
77. Brian Brennan (Westies) 34.54
Photos from roadrunpics.com