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!