Sunday, 22 May 2011

Cateran Trail Ultra 2011

After a DNF at the Highland Fling a few weeks back, I was looking forward to this weekend with the usual mixture of excitement and nerves, but raised to the power of e. However, I knew the cut-off times were more generous for this one and when Karen told me "Just finish - don't worry how long it takes", I was determined to do just that, even if it meant walking most of the course.

mrs s had said she would run with me, at least for the first bit, so we set off together and soon found ourselves in a sort of spread out group with Jonathan, Minty and Karin, who was joined by hubby Bill at Glenisla. Soph, Jon and Adrian were never too far away either but Dave K seemed in a bit more of a hurry and pushed ahead.
Glenisla also marked our venture into the unknown as we'd never been on any of the course after that before - it was quite fun not knowing what was coming round the next corner, although it was mainly cows, sheep, cow poo or sheep poo. Somewhere around here we also caught up with Neil and had a good blether with him.

The run down to Alyth was fairly uneventful except for starting to feel a bit tired, and hearing much shouting up ahead as Soph caught up with flip. Jonathan and Minty reached the check point at Alyth and shot through quite quickly, whereas I wanted to take a bit of time to slurp down a Muller Rice, so I suppose this was the point where I knew mrs s was going to stick with me as she waited also when she could easily have gone on. We also got an update on Mike and Andy who were in 4th and 5th at the time.

When George and the legend that is "Razor" McCurdy arrived at the check point I knew it was time to get going and we set off with flip for company - sadly, he was struggling a bit and we pushed on ahead towards Blairgowrie. Not very far ahead it turned out as he caught us up again when we stopped for a couple of minutes to take photos at the wooden spider web in the woods. At the other side of the woods, we started the long tarred descent into Blairgowrie - fun and fast on fresh legs, but not so easy on my tired pins so it was a relief to get down to the bottom and escorted across the road to "Happy Checkpoint". Another shortish break there and we were off again, back on the Cateran trail proper and starting to head North, towards the finish.

For most of the section to Bridge of Cally, we could see George and Ray, Soph and the McKendricks somewhere ahead of us so we were in lukewarm pursuit mode. We took a slight wrong route past a farm where the correct path was between two fields but we went down the edge and had to climb over a barbed wire fence. I didn't notice at the time, but I now have a nasty cut across the back of my calf. We caught up with Soph and jogged along with her, chatting away so much that I didn't see a stone sticking out of the path - before I knew it I was falling but pulled off a neat forward roll and sat up thinking "Game Over". A few seconds later, I was back on my feet and we were running down the track - it turned out that the pain wasn't anywhere near as bad as I had thought it was going to be, and the adrenalin kick was brilliant.

At BofC, I had to laugh when Jane offered us some flapjacks - they were made following the brilliant recipe that Vikki uses but unfortunately I'd already had my fill of them for the day so had to refuse. Carolyn was there as well with the news that Dave had lost some time due to a wee detour but was still going strong about 10 minutes ahead, Minty and Jonathan were still together a bit further ahead and that Mike and Andy had been 3rd and 4th. I had a Muller Rice to eat, but mrs s didn't want to waste too much time, so I decided to eat it on the move since there was a bit of uphill coming anyway.

The weather was starting to turn a bit nasty (down to the fact that flip had pulled out of the race) but we walked and jogged on through the drizzle, looking out for the point where Mike had gone wrong last year. We were generally trailing Jon Cornall at this point but went past him on a sharp little incline and realised we could now see the McKendricks and George and Ray up ahead and we slowly overhauled them which felt like we were making good progress. George told us that he'd got a text from Mike who had finished in 3rd place which was great news. The weather continued to worsen as we reached Kirkmichael where we passed Dave having a short stop under an umbrella with Carolyn. No such luxury for us so onward, ever onward on the short trip to Enochdhu with only a brief stop to put on waterproofs since it was chucking it down now.

Enochdhu was the last checkpoint - we'd been looking forward to it because mrs s had a can of gin and tonic in it, kindly donated by George who had a few of his own in different drop bags. It tasted great and knowing we only had sixish miles left, we set off up into the woods, and up towards the pass at An Lairig. We had George's company for much of this section which he told us was one of the most scenic parts of the course - not that we could see very much as we were up into the clag and if it hadn't been for the thought of finishing, it could have been pretty miserable. Dave passed us again, looking strong, mrs s was detailed to check the bothy for dead bodies but found none, and eventually the path levelled out and then started to go down. The steep path down was wet and treacherously muddy - it could have been great fun on a clear day with fresher legs but I took it fairly cautiously to avoid any mishaps. Once under the cloud level, we could see the roof of the hotel (a truly heart warming site) and knew the finish was close. mrs s was running ahead a bit - I came round a corner to see her waving at me to hurry up and shouting "They're all waiting at the hotel". Sure enough, I could make out people and hear a few shouts of encouragement so I picked up the pace a bit (the increased arm action caused drops of water to fly off my gloves, it was so damned wet) and we held hands down to the final gate and through the finish line in front of the hotel, straight into the arms of Karen.

It was such a good feeling to finish and to see so many friends. There were congratulations and handshakes and hugs and people taking photos, and then we were ushered into the bar so that we could start the recovery process....where there was another huge round of applause, and many more congratulations, not only from friends and other people involved in the race, but also from complete strangers who happened to be in the hotel that evening. I don't think I'm the only one who felt slightly overwhelmed by it all - it really was quite touching.
After a hot shower, it was time for a few drinks and the presentations - every finisher got a fantastic engraved quaich to go with the high quality goody bags that were handed out at registration - then food and more drinks and chat until tiredness finally got the better of us and we headed for bed.

What a great weekend! Huge thanks to Karen for putting on a fabulous wee race, and thanks to all the marshals and support crew for helping with drop bags, dispensing hugs, offering advice and encouragement, stopping traffic, and generally looking after all us runners. You guys were all brilliant. I also want to say thanks to the owners and staff at the Spittal hotel who were so accommodating to a huge bunch of smelly, wet, tired runners. But most of all, thanks to mrs s for running with me and keeping me going whenever I got a bit low - I'm not sure I could have done it without you, babe.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

April and the Fling

Overall, April was a pretty good month for running and running related activities - the Dunnottar Composter Challenge was hard work but a lot of fun and Balmoral was a good day out with a decent enough 5K time for me :)

But really, April was always going to be about the 53 mile Highland Fling and unfortunately it didn't exactly go to plan. I felt pretty good at the start and trotted along chatting to Mark and enjoying the scenery (I hadn't been on this bit of the WHW for twenty+ years so it was sort of new) which was good except that I totally forgot M1nty's advice and was running a wee bit quicker than I'd planned. Approaching the checkpoint at Drymen, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable in the stomach region so I stopped in the woods to try and clear things out a bit - it helped a bit but I still felt a bit iffy as I headed towards Conic hill and Mark went off ahead of me. The trek up the hill was pleasant enough but I still didn't feel great at Balmaha where I picked up food and headed for the loo again. For the next section, eating was a bit of a struggle, guts felt sore, legs felt tired, and the heat was increasing. As a result, my pace was decreasing steadily - running slower and less often. When I finally reached the "2km to Rowardennan" sign (which always feels like 5km to Rowardennan) and checked my watch it was getting near 2pm which meant it was going to be tough to reach Bein Glas before the 6pm gate (and very tough to reach the finish any time close to the cut off at 9pm). I decided to have a short break at the checkpoint to see how I felt, chatted to mates, then went off to the loo before making a decision. When I realised it felt sore to jog back across the car park from the toilets, I knew I'd had enough for the day, handed my chip to the marshal and pulled out of the race for my first ever DNF :(

hp gave me a lift round to the finish at By The Way in Tyndrum where we checked in to our respective living quarters and watched the finishers coming in. It was strange, feeling genuinely delighted for everyone else who did brilliantly to complete the course on a hot, hot day (many in fantastic times) but at the same time so disappointed that I wasn't still out running and crossing that line myself.

Lessons learned?
Train harder. Eat/drink safer (i.e. nothing different) in the run up (I had to visit the toilet 3 times before the race even started which was a bad sign). Slow down at the start, even if it feels easier to run with someone else. Take ginger? MTFU? Hopefully, the Cateran next weekend will be a better run.

Despite the race not going as planned, I did have a good weekend so here are some good things:
  • nice meal on Friday with old and new friends - good to meet Fenland Runner and Lapsed Athlete
  • great to see mr and mrs M1nty and chill with them before the race
  • running and chatting with Mark over the very pleasant first section
  • enjoyed seeing some of the relay runners go past and watching them bound down Conic Hill - watching good hill runners going down hill fast is always a pleasure
  • finding out Top Dogs got a prize in the relay
  • seeing everybody finishing - so pleased for you all
  • getting my bum pinched by a cheeky wee lady
  • fish and chips and beer at the Real Food Cafe
  • beer and crisps at Paddys - great company, lots of laughs and sitting in the "king's chair"
The plan for May is somewhat similar to April - a bit of training, a couple of short races, and an attempt at the longest race of my life. But this time, I'm even more determined to finish - and I've got 2 hours longer. It should be a snip ;)