RACE REPORT – The River Ayr Way Challenge 2017

The River Ayr Way Challenge

TIME: 6 Hours 26 Minutes and 45 Seconds

OVERALL : 10th/69 finishers

GENDER: 1st/15 females

After a few months of a blog hiatus I think I’ve finally found my run and write mojo again! My recovery from the Great Glen was slow, painful and tedious and even after a 2 week holiday which was spent gallivanting around Eastern Europe and over a month of “easier” training, I still didn’t have the desire to push myself 100%. Even new kit didn’t inspire me and my lack of speed was really getting me down as I watched friends getting faster and faster and I was struggling to complete an interval session without getting frustrated.

And then something suddenly felt right again. Whether I had just taken some pressure off myself or had finally recovered from the pounding I put my body through at the Great Glen, I don’t know. But I finally felt positive about my running again, I wasn’t feeling out of breath after the first mile and I was ready to get things back on track. After a few months of deciding what races I really wanted to focus on in the latter part of the year (I think this plan changed about 5 or 6 times, but I think I’ve finally got it right!), the River Ayr Way Challenge was chosen to be my next big push.

I’d had a few good weeks of training with countless days out in the hills, pushing myself at circuits and focusing a lot more on my core strength and my confidence was on the up again. Sometimes all it takes is a nice windy run in the hills with some like minded friends! 🙂 My last big races of the year were to be the River Ayr Way, followed 4 weeks later by the Loch Rannoch Marathon and then my season finale of Glen Ogle (round 5!) 3 weeks after that. A big ask for my slightly under trained legs, but something I think I need to get me back on track for an even bigger push next year.

Kit prep. Always important to make sure you have a good nights sleep and an easy morning before the race!

The day of the River Ayr Way race came and I felt calm and in control. No pre race nerves (well, not until I was toeing the line, but that’s a given!), and everything was packed and ready to go, so just before 7am I drove down to drop off my car in Douglas before being picked up and driven to Glenbuck with some club mates. We’d got there nice and early but already parking was causing some drama and the farmer zooming about on his quad bike didn’t look too impressed. Mind you, neither would I be if you had nearly 100 runners using your land as a toilet. Maybe an idea to have a couple or porta-loos at the start for next year?

After a very quick briefing and catch up with a few familiar faces on the start line we were on our way, racing the 40 mile route back to the coastal town of Ayr. I’d turned my watch onto the “run a route” function as even though I felt like I had a good idea of the route from running it last year, I knew there were a few tricky bits where paths go off in a number of directions and there’s no obvious markers as to which way you have to go. With my watch on this function I could only see an arrow following a line and I had no idea of my pace, distance or time and this was the best decision I made that day. No pressure on time, just the mental focus to run a strong race.

The first few miles whizzed by. The flat section along the old railway is where the pack really spreads out straight away as everyone finds their own pace. I found myself hurtling along again and within a mile was ploughing through muddy puddles and squelchy bogs. I knew what was coming later in the race, so trying to keep my feet dry wasn’t even considered! I was catching up with people and overtaking every so often but maintaining a pretty consistent pace and feeling strong. Everyone was in high spirits and a few people mentioned they’d read my blog and thanked me for letting them know what lay ahead! The first check point came and went and I’d eaten very little of what I had in my pack, so ran straight through and bounded along the next section of riverbank. It was muddy, it was squelchy, it was a tough slog on the legs… but it was brilliant and I was feeling strong. I had been running with the same people since about 7 miles in and had been enjoying their chat, but they soon pushed on ahead as we came off a hill around 13 miles in. I wasn’t risking falling on my bum just yet, so as they flew off ahead I took my time and teetered carefully down the muddy embankment. I was having an absolute dream run; nothing hurt, I didn’t feel queasy or hungry, my foot wasn’t giving me any bother and best of all I was feeling positive. I knew I could do well and I was working hard to stay ahead of the lady just behind me and try and to catch people further ahead. Hello run mojo, I’ve missed you!

Embracing the mud! Photo – Sandra Hunter
Photo – Sandra Hunter

As we came through Sorn it was lovely to see the Wee County team who were waiting for the relay hand over. I could hear someone breathing down my neck and matching my stride step for step, but I had no idea who it was. It didn’t matter if they were male, female or a relay runner today, I wasn’t up for letting them get by me! I pushed on through Sorn, up and over through the woods and down into Catrine. I looked over my shoulder just as I veered round to the right after the footbridge and I couldn’t see anyone, but it still wasn’t time to take the foot off the gas just yet. The route swerves back down by the river and then there’s the first of many stair sections where I overtook a few other people. Up and under the main road, down a steep embankment and then on to another section of tarmac that I’m sure I walked up last year, claiming it was a “hill”, but none of that today. The pressure of being caught up with was spurring me on! As I pushed on up the next section of trail and under the viaduct I took a second to look back, and the path was completely empty for as far as I could see. Can’t loose focus, must keep trucking on…

I was met with cheers and smiles as I came into the second check point where I quickly grabbed a wee can of coke and some more cheese and pushed on up the tarmac, trying to reel in the runner who was just a few hundred feet ahead of me. As we wound our way round the roads and fields I over took a few more people and started to wonder what on earth was happening. Still feeling strong and confident and no sign of the usual shoulder pain/sore stomach/crisis of confidence or questioning why I was doing this. I knew the road section wasn’t too far ahead which I absolutely hated last year, but luckily no one tried to mow me down this year and I bounced into Failford feeling pretty happy.

Cheesing my way through Sorn. Photo – Ava Parker
Somewhere along the riverbank before Sorn – photo Mark Caldwell

The route turns back off the road and follows the river for another few miles and this is the section of stairs. Far too many stairs! I went the wrong way once or twice during this section but luckily only for 20-30 metres each time before I knew something didn’t feel right and checked my watch. Onwards to the diversion, the boggy farmers field, the horrible road climb and the free wheeling back down again. More boggy paths, another winding river section and before I knew it I’d arrived at check point 3. I still had no idea how long I’d been on the go and honestly hadn’t thought about it at all so far, so had a quick time check and it revealed I’d been on the go for just over 5 hours and was now 31 odd miles in to the race. What on earth?! 9 or so miles to go, got to keep the focus…

Didn’t see that camera until it was too late.. but clearly still having fun! Photo – Sandra Hunter

The last few miles are a bit blurry, apart from the boggy hill. That will stay ingrained in my mind (and probably under my toenails) for quite some time!! It was so wet, so deep and so slippy and the only thing to hold on to was a barb wire fence along the side. Queue swearing and lots of sliding around and I’m so glad I was by myself, I must have looked ridiculous! Finally out the other side I tried to shake some of the mud off my trainers as I now had about an extra kilogram of crap attached to each shoe and it wasn’t helping my already zapped legs.

The last check point came and went and it was then a case of digging deep and finishing the race without letting myself slow to a walk. The route follows a cycle path and then a minor road before spitting you out next to the A77 for a couple of hundred metres until you turn off and follow the river to the finish line at the Dam Park stadium. I’d just passed another runner and I was working hard to keep my pace up as I knew I had less than a mile to go. Finally I rounded into the stadium for a lap of the track and fell over the line to be met by my mum and some running friends. I was absolutely elated to not only take nearly 40 minutes off my time from last year but also to finish first lady overall. My first ultra win! I was completely delighted and quite overwhelmed!

Proper cheesing!!

My mum had booked us a hotel for the night so we had a good celebration with quite a few fizzes and a delicious meal. A week later I’m still on cloud 9 and feeling ready to get back to training with gusto. Big shout out to my ever present training buddies who love nothing more than a chilly day in the hills and of course Neil MacNicol for the training plan. No more skiving speed work, I promise!!

The Great Glen Ultra Marathon – RACE REPORT

THE GREAT GLEN ULTRA MARATHON 2017

TIME: 13 Hours 18 Minutes and 55 Seconds

Overall position: 11th/63 finishers (13 DNF)

2nd/17 females

A BAM haul. Best birthday ever 🙂

The Great Glen has been quoted as being “one of Scotland’s toughest ultra marathons” and after Saturdays excursion, I wholeheartedly agree! This was to be my second biggest race to date and my ‘A’ race of this year. I had put so much into my training in the first 6 months of the year and with only a few blips in my training schedule I was more than ready to get going.

On the Friday afternoon I finished up at work after what hadn’t been an ideal week. A cold appeared on Monday, plus I was covering fitness classes and 1-2-1 lessons right up until I left at 1pm on Friday after a very sweaty aqua aerobics class, so definitely not the ideal taper. However I was raring to go so after a quick shower, a last minute packing of everything apart from the kitchen sink and then unpacking everything to make sure I had indeed remembered my trainers, I was ready to go. Craig gave me a lift up to the station and I was finally on my way North.

The train ride up was quiet and I managed a quick doze before waking myself up when I head-butted the window. I met my friend from Uni for dinner and after a feast of pizza and cheese cake I got changed and slowly made my way over to Bught Park for the coach back to Fort William. Now, if I was to do this race again I’d do a number of things differently. The most logical being to go straight to Fort William and try to get a room at the Moorings hotel for a bit of shut eye before the race! I had only booked a room for the Saturday night in Inverness, so there really wasn’t any point in me going all the way up just to come back again! However you live and learn, and it was lovely to catch up with Lucja on the journey down.

We arrived at the Moorings hotel just after 11pm and went about registering, dropping off our drop bags, sorting kit and the trying to relax until it was time to go. This wasn’t happening and as everyone lay about on the floor with the hoods up or earphones in trying to get some last minute shut eye, Lucja and I went about having our own tea party and probably being far too hyper for some people around us!

Ready for the off! Photos all courtesy of Fiona Rennie.
Lucja and me just before 1am.

Soon enough it was time to make our way over to the canal for the race start and with last minute reminders of “keep the Loch on you right” and “don’t fall in the canal”, there was a count down from 10 and then we were on our merry way – to cover the 71 miles and over 8000ft of elevation on our way back to Inverness. It was fairly warm so a vest and skort with arm sleeves and a buff seemed the right amount to start in as I knew I’d get far too warm as soon as started running if I wore any more.

The first 6 and a bit miles are straight along the canal towpath and from the off the racing snakes were off and into the darkness at breakneck speed. I fell into a comfortable pace of 8:30 minute miles but even after 3 miles I found myself hitting nearer 8 min/miles which I knew was just too fast a pace for me at this stage. I had been running with David Scott since the start and even though I felt I was still going a bit fast I decided to try and stick with him for a bit as the company was making the miles fly by. Before we knew it we had arrived at the first checkpoint at Clunes and it was time to force some food in. I took a custard pot, topped up a water bottle and was out of the checkpoint in about 2 minutes.

I was running on my own as I left the checkpoint as I knew before long I’d need to jump off the trail for a loo break. However as soon as I was on my own I started to feel really queasy. I walked for a bit to try and settle my stomach and a few people passed by me, but I didn’t let it bother me as I knew to expect this after going through it at the West Highland Way Race last year. I’d thought it had been down to my head torch not being very good, so had upgraded to one with a more powerful beam, but I think the movement of the beam on the trail makes me queasy so no matter how good a light I’m following, I’m not going to feel good doing it.

I managed to pass a few people who had got by me and pushed on over the undulating trails along the Lochside. Whoever told me the first 30 miles were flat was totally lying, I felt like I hadn’t stopped going up or down since I’d left the canal path! Before long we were approaching CP2 at 20 miles and I was glad to stop for a couple of minutes and eat some cheese and have a wee fruit smoothie. My stomach was feeling OK but my face must have been a picture of gloom as Bill called for someone to get me a gin!! I marched out of the checkpoint and up (another!) hill while eating some flapjacks and decided to text Craig as he was on night shift so knew he’d still be up. My message went along the lines of “things are not going well, I feel rubbish” and within 5 minutes he’d replied with “stick in there, it’ll be sunny soon and lift your spirits!”. Ah, he knows me well :). I took off my head torch as I reached the top of the hill as even though it wasn’t quite light yet, it was bright enough to be able to spot the way markers and know which direction to go. Within 5 minutes I could feel my headache disappearing and I pushed on along the next section of tarmac as it got brighter and things started to look more promising again. I had a strange hallucination as I ran past the farms as I was sure I saw someone standing with a jacket over their head, a marshal out to direct us and trying to avoid the midges maybe? But on closer inspection it was just a gate post, which made me realise maybe it wasn’t quite as bright as I thought it was and should probably pay attention to the road ahead!

Sunrise and lifted spirits.

The trail took a sharp switchback and then spat us out on to the main road to run over the river at Invergarry and then back onto a trail path up a steep hill. I could see 2 people head of me and could hear one behind, but none of us seemed to be pulling away or dropping back so we continued in our little chain all the way to the next section of canal that ran along to CP 3 at Fort Augustus. We could see for miles ahead and I knew this was going to be a slog but I was determined I wasn’t going to walk a step of it, so out came the shiny new ipod and I ran along to the beat of the music all the way to the check point passing 5 people on my way. I was in a happy place by the time I saw Fiona Rennie and her camera a mile or so out from the checkpoint and I latched on to Gordon Reed for some chat as we cruised into CP 3 for a glorious little can of coke and yet more cheese and fruit smoothies.

Coming in to check point 3 and delighted to be getting away from the canal again. Gordon not in the same boat as me just now…

In super quick time I was on my way up the first of the major climbs. This wasn’t just a walk, this was a hands on thighs and lean forward type of a climb and before long I was catching up with people again. I was surprised to see David again as I thought he’d be miles ahead by now, but he was going through his low patch and was zigzagging his way up the trails. I started to walk with him and we made our way up the first 1000ft climb together. The views from the top were pretty phenomenal; an unobstructed view of Loch Ness with a cloudless sky. We couldn’t have asked for better weather! However, what goes up must come down and we knew the next check point at Invermoriston was back down at sea level, so a quad trashing descent later and the smiley faces of team Munro and team Hamilton greeted us, saw we had what we needed then saw us on our merry way and on to the next beast of a climb.

Steep.

The route follows the road up for a while and then switches back to trail for a good chunk of the route. Up, up, up we went, down a little, up some more. We spotted another runner ahead and it turned out to be Gordon Halliday who I had met during the River Ayr Way race last September. We ran with him for a while; me and David pulling away on the climbs and Gordon catching us back up on the descents was the pattern for a good 20 miles. I was glad to be back on the trails but also desperate for the next check point as it had started to get quite warm, I was getting bored of the taste of tail wind and really fancied some cold water and a wee can of coke to give me a boost. There was a water stop at 49 miles and after a some hugs from Donna it was back to to horrible tarmac section most of the way to CP 5 at Drumnadrochit. I have never been so glad of a wee can of coke in my life.

It was only now that I learned I was second lady in the race. I was told that the first lady had only just left and would be about 5 minutes ahead by now, but at that point in time catching her wasn’t a priority; I was more concerned about being passed so as soon as my water was filled and I’d finished my coke I was out of the checkpoint, armed with salt and vinegar crisps and a bee in my bonnet. The next section followed the main road back towards Inverness for what seemed like forever, but in reality it was little over a mile until we turned off and had a sharp hike up into the forest. I knew this was the last major climb and that it was going to hurt, but I was determined to keep my position in the field so it was back to hands on thighs and huffing and puffing our way through the trees. Every so often I was convinced I could see and hear people approaching, but on most occasions it was just traffic cones I could see or walkers I could hear. The final check point was like an oasis on the horizon and we picked up the pace to our last stop and put our happy faces on for Fiona and her camera again!

Just over 10 miles to go. Things were really hurting at this stage.
Shot bloks packed and sugary sweets consumed. Back in a happy place!

Fiona told us it was all down hill to the finish, which looking at the profile seems true… but there are a lot of little ups and tarmac sections as well. After running through the nature reserve we were spat out onto the road for a 3 mile section on tarmac and the further we ran, the more convinced I was we had gone the wrong way. After not seeing a way marker in quite some time, David flagged down a guy on a dirt bike to ask him if there were any ahead. He confirmed there was and it was about half a mile further down the road, which I was elated to hear as I didn’t think I had it in me to run back the way I had come. We still had a little over 7 miles to go at this point so we’d run for as far as we could before taking a quick walking break to shake out our legs and glance over our shoulders to make sure no one was gaining on us and then free wheeled down the trails when it wasn’t too steep to do so. My legs were in absolute bits by this point and the second I saw the skyline of Inverness appear through the trees I felt a bit emotional. A quick glance at my watch revealed we had got there in just over 13 hours…. how on earth had I done that?!

I have no idea what my face is doing. Either trying not to laugh or cry it would appear!

There was one final steep descent, plod through a park and loud curse at a set of steps that lead us back to the canal and then David gave a yell of joy and pointed to the swing bridge which was about 100m away from us. With every painful step along the canal path I begged that bridge not to open as at that point I would probably have swam the canal just to get finished! We ran past the roundabout, over the road and could hear the cries of “runners!” from the park and the Ruth’s voice yelling my name as we made our way round and onto the track. I had nothing left and let David drift ahead with his kids to finish 3 seconds ahead of me. I stood doubled over on the finish line as Ruth hugged me, I was completely empty and ready to keel over but I was absolutely elated.

I was grinning from ear to ear, I can assure you!

After a quick shower I went back to my b&b where I went about passing out for a couple of hours before sitting in bed for another few trying to figure out how to get my legs to move again so I could go and get some food! I eventually managed to shuffle over to Wetherspoons for a drink and some food but decided to call it a night after almost falling asleep in my lasagne.


I’ve still not quite recovered from this race 5 days on which makes me realise just now much I did put into it. It may not have started well, but I’m glad I usually have a low early on in a race as I know to expect it and know I can come back from it with gusto. There will be bigger, harder and more mentally challenging races out there but for now this is definitely up there with them.

I really cannot big up BAM events enough. Bill, Mike and Cat put so much into even the tiniest details and the marshals who give up their weekends to come and help out are just amazing, so huge thanks to everyone!

On to the next challenge….

The final countdown…

The hidden trails after Rowardennan. Definitely worth hunting out.
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The swimming term is coming to an end and just as well as I am completely exhausted. The kids have been bouncing off the walls for close to a month now, knowing that the summer holidays are fast approaching and my staff and I are counting down the minutes until the term ends! Then it’s straight on to fitness class cover which isn’t really the perfect preparation for a huge race, but needs must and I’ll just keep the impact low and my drill sergeant voice on top form!

As ever, I’ve found the whole work/life/training balance hard and I’m still not getting it quite right. I took on a few more 1-2-1 swimming lessons in my own time, so even on beautiful nights I found myself heading home after work, putting a cushion over my head on the couch to block out the light and passing out for a good 20 minutes before getting out to do my training. I’ve been following a Neil MacNicol training programme now since March and I’m definitely feeling stronger and leaner, but also 10 times more knackered and still haven’t found my love for speed work. Does anyone ever? I do struggle with speed work on my own, but with very little time to now get to running club I find if I have a plan I will (mostly) follow it even if I don’t really feel like it. My speed will come back, for now it’s all about the endurance.

Yoga is not my forte and stretching hurts. But I’ll keep trying!

The Great Glen Ultra is now a mere 10 days away (or 9 really, as it starts at 1am on Saturday!) and I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve clocked up over 1200 miles for the year so far, over 130,000 feet of elevation, lost 3kg and a battered my body with cross training. I’m not quite as lean as I was before the West Highland Way last year, but I’ve gained muscle mass and done a lot more core work so hopefully that will work to my advantage during the climbs in the latter stages of the race. I’ve done some epic routes with with fab run chums and also many a lonesome long run which I’ve fair enjoyed. Hopefully I won’t have as many lonely lows during the Great Glen – if only I could remember where I put my ipod though…

When I look back at all the training I’ve done so far, I’ve definitely had a few good adventures so far this year! I panic and think I haven’t done enough and then I look at these pictures and remember that I’m probably doing OK!

Keswick. All the weather in one day.
Matchy, matchy skorts!

Munros at the beginning of the year. Silly, silly idea.
Planking with a friend.
Even pretending to be a triathlete.
Tough climbs, horrific descents. All worth it eventually.
Sunshine, runshine. This weather on race day please!

A few more tough training sessions to go and then there is nothing else I can do except my best. As long as we don’t have weather like we did at the West Highland Way last weekend, but I’ll leave that for another story!!

Here we go again…

RACE REPORT – The Cateran 55 Ultra marathon

CATERAN 55 ULTRA MARATHON 2017

TIME:10 Hours 34 Minutes and 4 Seconds

OVERALL :27th/92 finishers (8 DNF)

GENDER: 4th/26 females

My first attempt at the Cateran in 2015 was the first time I’d ran further than 33 miles. I was nervous and probably a little under trained having just come back from injury but I had a great day out and finished in a not too shabby 11 hours 30 minutes. Heading up this year I had an idea of what time I wanted and sourced some splits from check point to check point from previous races. I noted these down with the plan to jot them on my hand the following morning as a rough guide.

After work on Friday I headed home, finished my packing and headed through to Stirling to pick up Lois who was marshalling and then head North to Glenshee. Once again I was staying in the Gulabin Lodge which is right on the start line and meant not too much stressing about time and getting things done before the race. Once we arrived I went about registering, picking up my lovely kit bag memento (an awesome light blue colour this year), saying hi to all my friends and finding my room. I was staying in a room with the lovely Stonehaven ladies: Claire, Jo and Lindsay and being the last to arrive was up on the top bunk of a seriously shoogly bed. Every time I moved the whole bed shook, so apologies to Jo if you felt like there was an earthquake during the night!!

After a lovely dinner or pizza, lasagne and pasta I went up to the room to sort out my kit and double check my drop bags. The weather looked to be cool and overcast with chances of rain early in the afternoon but I wasn’t making the same mistake of over dressing so opted for a vest and arm sleeves with the addition of a long sleeved top and a jacket in my bag. I was also racing for the first time in my new Brooks Caldera shoes, but more on those later! Once everything was ready we all opted for a super early night and I was tucked up in my wee top bunk by 9.30pm when it was still light outside! However despite initial tossing and turning and not feeling tired, I had a good few hours sleep from 10ish until 2ish and then dozed on and off until 5am when it was time to get things on the go!

After a hearty breakfast, going to toilet 20 odd times and doing the usual pre race flap it was time to get outside and listen to the race briefing. We then sauntered across the road and bang on 7am Karen said “GO!”… and off we went! I was desperate not to set off too fast and hung back as a few people raced past, but still found myself running up the first few hills which was not in the plan! I joined in a conversation with a few other runners and ended up running the majority of the first 20 miles with them. I was feeling strong but still not wanting to push on this early in the race as it had been quite a while since I had ran such a distance. Check point 1 came and went in just under an hour, the run to check point 2 was comfortable and chat filled and it was lovely to see friendly faces dressed in..er.. evening wear(?!) helping out at the check point. Anything goes in Ultra world!!

Race briefing. Photo – Morgan Windram
Pre race chat. Not nervous at all! Photo – Kirsten Koh

Coming out check point 2 there was a massive hill so I used this as an opportunity to eat. I usually struggle/forget to eat early on and then suffer about halfway into the race, but with so many steep climbs in the first half there was ample opportunity to fuel properly. Shot bloks, peanut butter sachets, jelly sweets, babybel… not the most nutritious but I wasn’t caring as it was working today! I pulled away from Adam, the guy who I had been running with for the majority of the race up until now and pushed on by myself all the way to check point 3 in Den Of Alyth.

Around a mile before check point 3 I was caught up by 2 runners who had gone about a mile off course and were motoring along to catch back up. I ran with them in to check point 3, but by now my low was just starting to rear it’s ugly head and I just couldn’t keep up so let them slip away. Usually I feel a bit rubbish quite early on, so by 25 miles I was expecting it as I trundled into the check point and was assisted by the awesome cheery marhals. I tried to put a brave face on it but the yuck feeling had well and truly arrived and I bimbled out the check point with Ross shouting at me to get a move on. As I ran through the woods, still trying to eat my cheese sandwich which just wasn’t happening, I tried to keep my pace to a jog rather than a walk as I knew the big tarmac hill was just ahead and I would be walking the majority of that. Just as I left the woods, Paul from the Pentland hill runners caught up with me and we ran most of the second half together. I kept trying to push him on in sections where I felt I was holding him back, but he wasn’t too sure of the route and liked having company so just trotted along with me in the sections where I was struggling a bit more than I would have liked.

Ultra ladies ready to run!

Finally we reached the top of the long slog and I managed to get the pace back to a run through Drimmie woods. Finding my footing again I was bounding along on the springy bed of fallen pine needles in the forest and I enjoyed a good push down the hill, bouncing along in my fabulous new Brooks Caldera trail shoes. I cannot big these shoes up enough! They have a fantastically spacious toe box, they are springy and squishy at the same time and they have the perfect amount of grip for these type of trails while not being overly ‘luggy’ on the tarmac sections. A brilliant step up from the Cascadia which although I found comfortable, lacked the comfort factor after 40+ miles. They also have the brilliant additional feature of a preattached Velcro strip on the heel for gaiters, a lace garage to keep laces tucked away and tidy and also a reinforced toe guard which if you are like me and tend to scuff your feet in the latter stages of a race and kick every rock and tree stump in sight, are very useful! If you are looking for a comfortable new trail shoe and like me have slightly wide feet, these shoes are absolutely fantastic!!

Stock images from sweatshop.com

I’d dropped a bit behind Paul in my run through the woods as I’d nipped off for a loo break, but caught up with him again as I bounded down the hill into the Blairgowrie checkpoint. A quick watch check revealed I was a wee bit behind where I wanted to be, but not by far. My low point dip had lasted slightly longer than normal which is understandable seeing as I haven’t ran this distance in quite some time! There is a long, slow slog out of Blairgowrie and today it seemed to go on forever. The predicted rain arrived but not heavily enough to stop and put a jacket on. Definitely enough to tie my hair into a bun though to stop it turning into a matted mess! Once over the hill it was a comfortable, steady plod back up the road section and over the moorland towards Bridge of Cally. Trotting into the checkpoint I think my face crumpled a bit and I yelled to Lois, Rhona and Sean the medic that things hurt and I had forgotten how to do this. This was met with the usual encouragement/stop your whining messages and after filling my water and restocking my snacks, I was ushered out the checkpoint and onto the next lovely hill.

This is a beast of hill. It isn’t ridiculously steep, but it goes on forever so isn’t so runnable 39 miles into a race! I was struggling to eat again but knew I needed energy so half a mars bar was forced in and chewed for a good mile up the hill. Once at the top it was a case of free wheeling back down again and as the legs eased up a bit. I was getting tired but finishing in a 10:xx was still well within reach, so I pushed on over the farmland, through the boggy sections and finally started catching up with people after not having seen another runner since Den of Alyth!

As I trundled towards Kirkmichael I had a moment of utter confusion as to how many miles we had to go. I had convinced myself Kirkmichael was at 43 miles but then saw a sign saying it was another 4 miles away, so that would have made it at 45(ish) miles. As 45 miles slid by I was started to get disheartened as even though I knew where the check point was having ran the race before, I just couldn’t figure out how far away it was! Before long I could see the hi-vis clad marshals and although not an official check point they had water and coke and that was all that mattered! They told me it was only 2 and a half miles until the last check point at Enochdu and I nearly ran out the check point with my cup still in my hand; I was now ready to put this race to bed!

The last slog. It’s worth it! Photo – Kirsten Koh

The section between Kirkmichael and Enochdu is very runnable on a good day (or without 47 miles in the legs!) but another forest section meant another springy section to run across and meant I could pick the pace up slightly, and I bounded into Enochdu for a hug from Ruth and some tasty goodies to take with me on the last slog to the finish line. There’s a bit of a hill between Enochdu and the finish line (just a wee 1.234 ft climb!), and then the finish line is in sight… at the bottom of a 1000 ft, quad trashing descent! I managed to power march most of the ups, runs the flats and the gave my all on the last climb up. Finally the last gate was in sight and as I remembered how much pain I had been on the descent last time, I decided that even though I was tired I wanted off this hill ASAP, so gave it my everything to get to the finish line. There’s a sign at the top that says “20 minutes to the bottom of the hill”. I did it in 10…and my legs hated me! A short trundle round the road section later and it was into the field for a final push across the line. 10 hours and 34 minutes of hard graft and I couldn’t have given any more on the day. Maybe another day would have been a different story, but when you give your all on the day you should be happy whatever the outcome. Maybe less chatting and more running on the hills next time though?!

The Cateran has to be one of my favourite ultra marathons. The whole weekend is fantastically organised and the small number of runners means it has brilliant personal vibe. Huge thanks to everyone involved for making it what it is. I’ll definitely be back for round 3 at some point!

Don’t give up if you fall at the first hurdle

Every race can’t run smoothly and last weekend I discovered that the hard way.

I’d had a pretty good start to the year at the Devilla 15k on the 19th February. As usual it attracted hundreds of runners, keen to kick start their racing season with a wonderful mud bath and as always it didn’t disappoint! Not the muddiest I’ve seen it in the 5 years I’ve been taking part, but definitely a competitor for the top spot in places. The race started bang on time and I’d tried to sneak my way up the field in order to get ahead of the masses before the bottleneck about 2 miles in. Unfortunately I was still further back than I thought and again slowed to a shuffle though the narrow sections of the trail as the crowds went single file through the bogs. Anyone who did try to overtake in this section usually ended up face planting deep into the mud or losing a shoe in the deeper sections of the bog, so I decided to hang fire and wait until the trails to open up again before trying to pick up some speed. This is much easier said than done when your shoes are caked in mud and you’re carrying the extra weight of the mud. The track was much slippier than usual due to the forestry commission having done some tree felling recently and I found myself having to work a lot harder in places that are usually pretty simple trails.

A mud bath the whole way round. I was so focused on not falling over I didn’t even see Patricia! Photo – Patricia Carvalho

The hill just after the half way section was again a nice little sting in the tail and once over the top, although struggling to sort out my breathing, I felt pretty good and plodded on round the last section of the course. The ‘bridge’ had been fixed this year (a plank of wood over a ditch) which took off the extra 0.3 of a mile that had been added on last year and I finally managed to run up the slippy hill on the other side. It has only taken me 5 years to get some traction!! There was no water feature to clean our shoes in this year, so it was another heavy footed plod until the mud fell off. The last couple of miles were probably my strongest as I picked up the pace to chase a PB and managed to take 4 minutes off my 2015 time (last years doesn’t count as the course was longer).

1 km to go, not feeling photogenic! Phtoto – Derek Fish

I was slightly disappointed when I crossed the line as I would have liked to have finished closer to 1 hour 10 minutes, but it’s a PB so I’ll take it and come back stronger (and wiser) next year.

The following weekend I headed down to Peebles for the Glentress marathon. I should have read all the warning signs and stayed in bed as from the minute I got up things didn’t go to plan. The weather had been atrocious with Storm Doris bringing heavy snow and high winds during the week and come Saturday, this snow had become slush turning the trails into rivers and knee deep, freezing puddles. I didn’t have my usual pre-race excitement and I felt a bit deflated and tired on the drive down. The nerves I usually get before I race which kick start the adrenaline just weren’t there and as lovely as it was to see loads of friends I hadn’t seen in ages, the thought of 2 loops of a cold, hilly course were just not appealing to me in the slightest.

The race started and within half a mile we on the trails. Up, up, up… OK, this was killing me. My heart rate was all over the place and I was regretting having put my jacket on 2 minutes before we started as I was absolutely roasting! The trail narrowed and took a sharp turn to the left where a lot of people started power walking and I fell in line behind them, but very quickly returned to open trails and a slight descent which saw my quickest mile of the race (7:53, says it all!). From mile 4 the trails went up for what seemed like forever and as we climbed higher and higher it got even colder and slushier and I wasn’t in a good place. I’d left my racing head at home and for the first time ever I knew I was definitely not going to finish the race. I’ve had quite a few lows in ultra marathons where I’ve wanted to quit, but have always come out the other side of the low and gone on to have an enjoyable race. The further I went in this race the more I knew I wouldn’t be doing a second lap. More hills, more slush, more river like trails. I was miserable. Donnie Campbell flew past me when I was about 10 miles in having started the half marathon half an hour after me. This made me even more miserable as he was travelling nearly twice my speed and would be finished his race way before I’d even completed one lap.

I should probably have turned around right about now…

I finally started coming back down hill (after about 10 miles of climbing!) and found the steep descents and my choice of footwear did not agree. I had no traction what so ever and the boggy churned up, knee deep, slush filled trails and my Brooks Cascadias did not get on. I slid my way down the steep hills, teetered along the edge of the trails letting the faster runners by and just after the 11 mile mark I hit the ground with an almighty crack as I slipped on a snow covered rock and smashed my knee off it. There were swear words, there were tears (which is also a first for me during a race!), there was a moment of bent over dry heaving as the pain swirled through my body and I felt like I was going to keel off the trail and throw up and then there was a mile of limping as I tired to get the end of the first loop. My first DNF.

Not exaggerating when I said pretty much 10 miles of climbing!

The race conditions saw quite a few pull out after the first loop and as disappointed as I was I knew another lap would not have been beneficial. Especially my knee now looked like it had 2 knee caps and was a lovely shade of reds and purples!

A week later and my bad race has been put behind me and I’m ready to take the next step in my training. I have recently signed up to Neil MacNicol’s coaching programme and I’m hoping that with a bit of guidance and a specific plan to follow (which includes a shed load of my detested speed work!) I will see changes in my training, racing and also my recovery. With only 10 weeks until the Cateran, it’s time to get the head down, forget the bad and focus on what’s ahead.