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.

Here we go again

My first blog of 2017. Whoops! After a few false starts at attempting to write a new post, I am fully back with a bang and ready to update more often (promise!), follow a training programme (half promise) and give all my races and training my all in 2017.

At the start of the year my first draft of a blog post began with “I don’t actually have that many races booked for the year…”. I scrapped that soon after when I realised that I may not have many (in that I’m not doing 10k every weekend like I used to), but the races I am taking on are beasts. And not just Ultra marathons anymore. 2017 is the year I will dip my toe into the world of multi sport races and I am one click away from entering my first. Not just a wee one, but a half ironman distance event. Well, why not? All I have to do is learn not to fall off my bike! I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but I have a few Sportive events planned before the tri, along with plenty open water swimming with a few people how I have asked, coerced, begged into taking me with them. However that part can wait until the slightly warmer months, for now I will concentrate on the running and reminding myself how to run fast (I’ve been saying that for a year and I’m still waiting on full speed returning!!).

Winter training has seen a lot of climbing hills in the snow!

Racing season starts tomorrow with The Devilla 15km mud fest. It’ll be the 4th time I’ve ran this race and I’m expecting some brilliant boggy fun. Last year I felt good, but I probably set off a bit fast in order to get to the narrow trail section ahead of the masses and I imagine this year will be no different but I’m hoping (due to actually doing a bit more speed work over the winter season) I can maintain my pace for a little bit longer this year. I love starting the season with this race as it’s a great off road race to gauge how winter training is going and also to see how the competition has been getting on over the winter months! 😉

My winter training has mostly been going well. I have the odd bad few days when I just want to crash and sleep forever, but I’m up on last years mileage for this time of year and although it hasn’t been as consistent my strength training is still going strong. I think I felt slightly better overall about myself this time last year, but as my mile splits are coming back down, even just on easy runs and I’m managing to do more hill reps per session I’m guessing I’m getting stronger overall, I just don’t feel I look like I am. I am, however, still failing to drag myself out of bed for morning training and then having to play catch up for the rest of the week. Give me light mornings and I’ll be out there, but for now I might as well admit defeat and enjoy the extra hour in bed!

I struggle to get up for work when it’s still dark, but I’ll happily scrape myself out of bed at 6am to run up the hills come the weekend!

I have just under 3 months until my first ultra of the year and if training all goes to plan, I’m hoping for a really good race. The first time I ran the Cateran 55 mile ultra it was my first attempt at that distance, not too long after appendix surgery and it really was quite a challenge. I’m hoping that with thousands more miles in my legs and a lot more experience of running distance races, I can have a strong and positive race and a solid PB.

They made me do it…

So, here’s to tomorrow and the next block of training (and blogging!). Good luck and enjoy!

West Highland Way Race Training – Weeks 1 & 2

I’ll be totally honest. I’m exhausted! Battering out high mileage training for the West Highland Way Race and teaching 3-10 year old children to swim for 8 hours a day is pretty hard, both physically and mentally. I knew this would be hard work from the word go, and every single mile I have churned out so far is being ticked off as me being another mile closer to being ready for the hard work I will have to put in come race day. But it’s going to be another gruelling 5 months of hard work before I’m even ready to toe the start line. I’m currently in week 5 of my training plan, but I’ll not bore you with the whole load in one go!

Week 1 (28th Dec – 3rd Jan)

I had a nice rest the week leading up to Christmas after taking a course at work right up until the 23rd of December and not having much time to fit in long runs.
Monday 28th – I had the week between Christmas and New Year off work and decided to make the most of the mild weather and bank some miles on the WHW while I had the free time. I took my dog and ran backwards from the road crossing just before Tyndrum towards Beinglas. My plan was to go all the way to Beinglas Farm and back again, but about 6 miles in I came across a huge heard of cows and had to jump off the path and squelch through a bog to get around them, and then found more blocking the bridge in the direction I was going. So I had to abandon that plan and head back to the car. I’ve had far too many near misses with cows and the dog, so I wasn’t taking any chances! (10.6 miles).
Tuesday 29th – Another day off, another chance to bag some more WHW miles. Minus the dog this time, I drove down to Milngavie to thrash out some flatter fast miles out to the Beech tree and back. Lovely run, so many people out walking and I had great day singing to myself and reminding myself how easy it is to go out way too fast in the first few miles! (14.1 miles).
Wednesday 30th – The weather turned and I was tired, so I went for a short recovery run and then had a good few hours on the couch catching up on American Horror Story! (3.2 miles)
Thursday 31st – Rest and some foam rolling. Quickly abandoned when I re-discovered how painful it was!
Friday 1st – Rest and my first long lie in a long time!
Saturday 2nd – A lovely hill run with some friends from the running club. I haven’t been up the Ochils in months, so it was lovely to get a good leg stretch up Ben Cleuch and Ben Ever in the slush and catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. (7.9 miles).
Sunday 3rd – Another club run with some other WCH friends. Nice steady pace on the flat. (8 miles).

Total – 44 miles

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Week 2 – 4th-10th January

Monday 4th – Rest. A nice long dog walk and some beginners yoga.
Tuesday 5th – I decided to break my daily miles into 2 runs today as I really wanted to make the club speed session in the evening, but knew I would be shattered if I did a few miles before and totally knackered afterwards. I took the dog out for a few miles in the morning then gave it my all at the club sessions in the evenings of 8×3 minute sprints. I haven’t pushed myself that hard in a long time and I was delighted with my splits afterwards! I know speed work isn’t high on the agenda just now and I’m reeling it right in the closer I get to race day, but it was good to see I could still pull it out the bag! (10.7 miles).
Wednesday 6th – My new Brooks Ghost trainers arrived, so of course I had to test them out on my mid week steady run! (8.2 miles)
Thursday 7th – I was late out of work and missed my favourite hill reps session, so I took the dog out and did it myself later that night. Much heaving breathing included… (6.7 miles)
Friday 8th – The day everything froze! It was far too icy to do a proper run, so I cut it short instead of breaking my neck! (4.6 miles).
Saturday 9th – Enjoyed a lovely hill run up and around Dumyat with some friends from running club. It was so cold! (11.2 miles).
Sunday 10th – The run you put off all day and then when you go out the heavens open. I was soaked to the core within 4 miles, but decided to carry on, as you can’t turn off the weather on Lairigmor! (10.3 miles).

Total – 51.9 miles

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I’m finally getting back to my strength and conditioning training as well after a shock to the system at circuits on Sunday and realising my upper body has given up the ghost! Squats – no problem. Press ups and core work – FAIL!

Time for bed…..

I have a plan..

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Coming to the end of another year (really, how did that happen?!) and like everyone else I am starting to think about what next year will hold for me. Not just in terms of running, but work, travel and life in general. The start of this year was a disaster, from getting out of hospital on Christmas day after my burst appendix fiasco and then lying flat on my back for 4 weeks before easing back in to everything in the New Year (a cup of tea to see in the bells; warming if a tad boring!) and finally lacing up my training again at the end of January and getting things back on track.

It seems like forever ago that I joined a few of my team mates on a late January adventure up the banks of Loch Lomond for my first recovery run of the year. It was probably rather silly of me to take on a 30 mile run so quickly, but I felt great and I promised my coach I’d turn back and wait in the pub for them if I felt even slightly sore. Turns out it was the start of an amazing year and I haven’t looked back since.

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Which leads me on to the big news. After such a strong year, excellent races and a huge jump in mileage I decided to put my name in for the West Highland Way race ballot. Even when I was helping out at the race this year I never for a second thought I’d be ready for entering the following year, but as the year came to an end and I looked back on how much I’d achieved in a year, I thought why on earth not! So on Monday night, along with many others I sat with everything crossed waiting to hear back about whether I was in or not. Every time my email pinged my heart flip-flopped and eventually the email I had been waiting for came through. I’m honoured to have been lucky enough to be offered a place in the 2016 race and now everything is about getting to the start line in Milngavie on the 18th of June.

Next year it's our turn!
Next year it’s our turn!

Training starts now. I need to get my head down and battle through the sucky winter months. I will hold my hands up and admit that I HATE training in winter. As a July child, I live for the summer; the long days, bright mornings and warm(ish) weather. I don’t hate the rain, I don’t really mind training in the dark but I can’t stand waking up when it’s dark and leaving work when it’s dark. I teach swimming and the pool only has frosted sky lights, so during the day I only see sunlight on my lunch break which isn’t enough. Usually after work I run home, dump my stuff and head straight back to training but these days I find myself sitting down for a few minutes and then not getting back up again, especially if it’s blowing a gale with horizontal rain as an added extra. But not anymore! Last night I missed training but I knew what the set was so went out and did it on my own anyway. I might not have been as fast as I would of if I had been chasing down my team mates, but I wasn’t far off and that makes me believe I can do it. No more excuses!

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I plan to document all my training on the blog so I can look back and make sure I have achieved my targets. I’m lucky that I have a great bunch of friends who have also been successful in the ballot and we’re also lucky that we live so close to the WHW and can travel over and recce sections easily. I have started to assemble my crew and I’m delighted that my friends are so eager to help – they’ll see the best and worst of me throughout the course of the race and ultimately they will be the ones who make sure I finish.

Training with Gordon in the hills. Much more of that to come!
Training with Gordon in the hills. Much more of that to come!

It still doesn’t seem real. I’ve read countless blogs, listened to plenty of podcasts and scrutinised so many training plans and I’ll admit it; I’m petrified. This is not going to be a walk in the park, this is biggest event of my life and possibly the hardest race I will ever do. It’s going to hurt and I know at times I will feel like I can’t do it, but I’m determined to make it. “All roads leads to Milngavie”, and my journey there starts here!

Photo - Fiona Rennie
Photo – Fiona Rennie