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!

2016 – A year of adventure, thousands of miles and a million more smiles.

I can’t actually believe I’m sitting writing yet another yearly review. They say that time goes by more quickly as you get older, and I don’t exactly class myself as old yet but that year seriously flew by and yet I managed to fit so much in. As has become customary, here’s a wee look back at another fantastic year. JANUARY The year started with the annual plod up the Ochil hills with some running club buddies on the 2nd of January. It was cold and misty but as an annual tradition to kick start the year, we braved the elements and had a great day out. The rest of the month saw many, many training runs on the West Highland Way, ahead of the big adventure that loomed in June, and many a brilliant day out with friends. FEBRUARY The start of the racing season! February saw a very, very muddy run round Devilla Forest at the annual 15k hosted by the Carnegie Harriers. It was no where near as cold as the previous year, but it was much MUCH muddier. I had a great race, knocked a good few minutes off my time and got absolutely caked in mud. Thanks to Bob Marshall for his awesome photos Muddy harriers. My socks started off with bright orange in them… MARCH It was finally time to kick start the Ultra season! My winter training had gone pretty well up until now, but I’d put my back out at work in the week leading up to the D33 and was pretty worried right up until the morning of the race that I wouldn’t be able to run. However everything seemed fine on race morning and I ended up having a storming race, taking 25 minutes off my time from the previous year finishing in 4 hours 39 minutes and 9th female overall. Possibly about to fall over, but job done! Photo – Fiona Rennie The Alloa Half marathon was the weekend after the D33 and I wasn’t feeling quite 100% recovered, but I was ready to give it a good shot. It turned out to be a roasting day which was a bit of a shock to the system after a long slog through the winter training, but I managed to have a pretty good run and match my PB of 1 hour 37 minutes, even though I stopped to fix my shoe and sock after the first few miles. I have big plans for that race next year, but we’ll see how winter training goes before I set any goals! APRIL I had a bit of downtime at the beginning of April when Craig and I went to Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia. We had an amazing yet harrowing experience which really opened my eyes to a lot of horrible things which have happened during my lifetime. Definitely something I will never forget. When we arrived home it was pretty much straight back to it and down to London for the marathon. What an experience! I never got round to writing a blog post about it as I couldn’t really put it into words; the whole experience was just phenomenal! I had a pretty good race and even though I wanted to take my time and enjoy it (and also save my legs for the Highland Fling race the following weekend!) I got a bit carried away and swept along with the crowds and finished in a comfortable 3 hours 56 minutes. The following weekend arrived and it was time for the first big race of the year; The Highland Fling, a 53 mile race along the first part of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum. I had been on this route so many times so far this year and was more than ready for this race… except I was now regretting going that little bit too fast at London and REALLY felt it in my legs on certain sections of the course. However I was delighted with my time of 10 hours 36 minutes and my overall performance and now felt more than ready for the big one which was now just 6 weeks away! A few of the WCH runners ready to get going! Thans to Lucja Leonard for the photos en route and the awesome support! Just outside Beinglas and feeling strong! Photo – Clark Hamilton MAY With just a few weeks left until the West Highland Way race, May was full of last minute training, preparation and planning for the race. I’d never felt stronger or been leaner and I was more than ready to get going! Churning out the kettlebell swings. JUNE It was finally here, the race I had thought about every single day since I been selected the previous December, the iconic West Highland Way race. I won’t go into great detail as it’s all in the race report, but I will say that it’s something I’ve thought about every single day since and something I will never forget. Never did I think I’d be capable of doing something like that, and it’s given me the courage to try just about anything. JULY July was a month of complete downtime. Craig and I jetted off to Canada for just under 3 weeks and travelled from Vancouver to Calagry and over to Toronto and had the most amazing experience. I did pop on my trainers once or twice and ran around the amazing scenery, but it was mostly about relaxing and spending quality time with my awesome other half. AUGUST Back to it! It was time for the final race of the Triple Crown series (all 3 races on the West Highland Way in the same year) at the Devil O’ The Highlands. After a bit too much downtime on holiday I wasn’t quite sure how this race was going to pan out, but after toeing the start line with the speedy ultra girls, my competitive hat was firmly on and I gave it my all. I had an awesome race and finished 9th lady overall in 7 hours and 47 minutes taking 43 minutes of the previous years time! Pretending I ran all the way up the staircase! Photo – Josh Hewitson SEPTEMBER Another month, another big race! I’d heard great things about the Glenmore races, which are run by the awesome BAM racing and decided to give the 12 hour race a go. A few guys from my running club had signed up for the 24 hour race, but I kept my (almost) sensible head on and decided against it this time around. The weather was stunning, the location was amazing and I was delighted to blag my first podium position at an ultra, finishing 3rd lady overall in the 12 hour race! Sun burnt and delighted. 2 weeks later, I was toeing the start line of the River Ayr Way Ultra. I thought I’d have 3 weeks in between races, but I got my dates wrong! Oh well! It was a new race to me so I was excited about a day out with the Wee County Harrier ladies. It turned out to be another stunner of a day for racing and the course and organisation were fantastic, I’ll definitely be doing it again. I was pretty shattered and had a lazy few last miles, chatting away to new friends that I’d made along the route, but I somehow still finished 3rd lady! Pretty sure the shoes were dark purple when I started! Coming in to the first water station. Going too fast!!! OCTOBER More downtime which meant more travelling! This time it was off to the Faroe Islands for some hiking and photography. I thoroughly recommend a visit, it’s stunning! I’ll just let that mess with your heads for a little while… NOVEMBER It was finally time for the last race of the season and I had a bee in my bonnet. Glen Ogle was my very first Ultra in 2013 and I have ran it every year since, so my 4th time running it I was DETERMINED to finish in under 5 hours. I was delighted to finish in 4 hours and 54 minutes feeling strong and happy! I was going to call it quits with Glen Ogle as soon as I got under 5 hours, but I’ll need to go back next year and do my 5th race on the course to earn my BAM pot! Cold and chilly Wee County Harriers Heading up the main road at the start. Photo – Alison Downey And with that, another racing year comes to a close! I couldn’t sum it up in just a few words as I’ve crammed so much in and had the most amazing time in doing so. 2017 is going to have to be pretty spectacular if it wants to beat this one! See you on the flip side!


Everyone needs a goal or a target. Whether it’s work related, sport specific or just something personal, it’s always good to have something to work towards. Now that 2016 is coming to an end, the goals for 2017 are being set. I’ve had an incredible year and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how I can top it but I need to keep focused and the best way to do that is to set new targets. And then plan to absolutely annihilate them. I’ll leave the 2016 review for another post, but I still struggle to get my head round what a magical year it was. I get a real shiver down my spine when I think about what has been accomplished and I wish I could go back and do it all over again! Winter training is something I struggle with. I hate dark mornings, I hate it when it gets dark really early in the evening and I’m pretty much walking to and from work in the dark. I hate getting home and then having to scrape myself off the couch to get back out for a run when it’s freezing/raining/windy/dark. I finish work early on a Friday and I throw myself into my training when I still have sunlight and then fit in a long run and/or a hill run at the weekend, but the rest of the week is a slog. Focus on the outcome, not the obstacles. However, I do it because once I’m out I love it. The “I can’t” or “I don’t want to” is all mental and to be able to reach your goals, these need to be pushed aside. I’ve decided to give the Marcothon another go this year; a personal challenge where you run for at least 3 miles or 25 minutes every day in December and 9 days in, so far so good. December is a hard to month to really commit to training, what with nights out, it being the end of the season and most big races are out the way and also (of course!) Christmas. I’ve failed twice before, the first year I was loaded with the cold and had the sense to stop and the following year was the year of my appendix fiasco. So fingers crossed for the rest of this month! Running goals aside, travelling the world is another (long term!) goal. It’ll take some time, but we’re doing not too bad so far! Beautiful Toronto. The new year brings a new training programme and new races to try and of course, new countries to travel to, but I’ll leave that for another post! I haven’t booked in for many races yet as my big goal of 2017 is to complete a triathlon in the latter part of the year, but the start of the year will hopefully include the mud fest that is the Devilla 15k, the Glentress marathon, the Alloa Half marathon, the Cateran 55 mile ultra and the Great Glen Ultra in July. And by then I hope to be a lot better at not falling off my bike and have got over my fear of open water swimming. Both things that are pretty essential to being able to complete my first triathlon! The 2016 goal. Don’t think I’ll ever stop dreaming about it 🙂 And so the year comes to an end. I’m not sure how 2017 can top this year but I’m sure it’ll be just as epic! Good luck with your winter training 🙂