Monday, 23 May 2011

The Big Cat 2011

The Cat in question was the 55 mile Cateran Trail Ultra Marathon (Race 4 of the Scottish Ultra Marathon Series or 'SUMS')
The race starts and finishes at the Spital of Glenshee hotel and in a clockwise direction passes through the towns and villages of Alyth, Blairgowrie, Bridge of Cally, Kirkmichael and Enochdhu, which encompass Glen Shee. I won't bore you with the history surrounding the 'Cateran Trail', you can amuse yourself with that on your own time!!
This was the first time I had run this event and therefore was unfamiliar with the terrain and route. I had been told it had a couple of hills, this was followed by a wink and a nudge!! (so i guessed it was going to be very hilly), but was assured it was similar to the gradients encountered on the 'Fling'. Look how that turned out this year. So i decided to just approach it with an open mind and deal with whatever i came across as i came apon it. It would have been impractical to drive up in the morning, run the 55 miles and then drive home all in the same day. So i decided to take advantage of the deal struck up with Karen Donaghue (Race Director) and the Glenshee Hotel of 2 nights (before and after the race, B+B) for a discounted rate. Good one Karen.

 My parents had volunteered, like with the Fling, to be around on the route as my 'support team'. The Cateran uses a similar drop bag system at 6 points along the route, but having the additional support along the route was advantageous in case of any problems or withdrawal (heaven forbid). So i drove up on the day before to stay overnight and in theory have a stress free morning on race day. The hotel, bothy and lodges looked as though they were all fully booked, so there was a great buzz and atmosphere about the place on friday night. I registered and got my race number from Karen and was in my bed around 8pm. It was murder trying to sleep, due to the very light bright evening and also the hotel walls being paper thin you could hear a pin drop from the other side of the building. I think i got around 5 hours sleep which was enough for me. I woke at 4.30am. This gave me an hour to have a coffee in my room, check my running kit, waist pack and my drop bags before breakfast at 5.30am. I saw lots of familiar faces in the dining room and said hi to those i knew. I had a bowl of museli, apple juice, tea and scrambled egg on toast. I returned to my room and got changed into my running kit for the day. This would be the first 'real' test of my new Saucony Xodus 2.0 Trail shoes, but was confident they would be fine as i had been running on the Glennifer Braes to break them in. Rather than weigh myself down with heavy running clothes I opted for my Salomon t-shirt with arm warmers and my nike Gilet and my calf and quad compression gear with lightweight gore shorts. I would carry my sprayway running jacket in my waist pack with a beanie storm hat. As with previous trail races i was using my Osprey Talon 4 waist pack. The good thing about using the drop bags was that you dont need to carry alot of nutritional aids all day, just enough for the first section and something for emergencies if i needed any energy between drop bags.
 I headed down to the front of the hotel and loaded my drop bags into the various marshalls cars and was good to go. By now most runners were gathering here for Karens pre race briefing. She then led us all over the A93 to the start point. I met a few more people here including Dinah Bosomworth (sweeper for Fling this year) and Mark Caldwell, who wanted to check if I was going to finish this time!! I had broken my race into sections, those being from one drop bag station to the next. 6 stations. I had given myself a target time for covering each section and therefore a rolling cumulative target time throughout the day. I posted these times on my facebook page a few weeks prior to this weekend. However, the times were really just guesstimates as being unfamiliar with the route I couldn't be very accurate.
The weather report was for rain, and as Karen put it 'The end of the world is scheduled for lunch time'. It was for the time being still dry but there were dark clouds in the distance. 7am. With a quick 3-2-1-GO!! from Karen we were on our way.
As with the norm at these events the majority of us started off with a very sedated start, but the 'elite' runners were off like greyhounds and it always amazes me how they can sustain that pace for whole day. Soon they were disappearing into the distance. The bulk of the runners ran together for a couple of kilometres, but soon we too began to stretch our legs and find our own pace for the day. The group began to split into smaller groups and then many running on their own. For a couple of miles over the early part of the race I ran with two other guys, one being Fred Hammond (from Ireland). Over the course of the day we would encounter each other several times, running together or passing each other at various points and meeting at drop bag stations. At invereddrie Farm I was running on my own for a wee bit and caught and passed a runner with his wee dog (again we would run together or pass each other throughout the day). At Dalnaglar Castle I caught up with two runners, one who was a giant of a man, from Virginia in the USA. He was over in Scotland on Holiday and had incorporated the race into his visit. We ran together on and off throughout the day and chatted about his running in America and where he was planning on visiting while he was on Holiday. Time passed quickly doing this. At one point we were so caught up in talking that we had gone the wrong way and when we saw runners on another path had to run back up a steep hill to get back on the right track. DOH!!
Soon after this I pulled away on my own for a bit and reached the first drop bag station. Said hi to Karen D, refilled my bottles had my piece in Jam and off again on my way to Glenisla. I think it was on this section that my cat and mouse game with Dinah started!! Between here and Kirkmichael we would pass each other time and time again and arrive at drop bag stations around the same time. The first two sections of the race were fairly short and I was bang on my predicted split times, so my confidence was high and wasn't worried about encountering any problems. On arriving at Glenisla drop bag station, Karen D was here again helping out with handing out bags. I arrived here with Fred, Dinah, the American and the dog owner. Had a drink, packet of crisps, a gel and was on my way again, as were the others a few seconds apart. There was a tough wee climb out of Glenisla and it was 11 miles to the next drop bag station at Alyth. I ran most of this section on my own, but I could see others in front and behind me. So far the rain had stayed away and was very good running conditions with a cool wind which was so different from the Fling three weeks ago. On the long downhill stretch approaching Alyth I got cramp in my left Quad muscles and my hamstring tightened up. So i stopped mid hill to stetch and walk it off for a wee bit. As a result of this I was passed by my companions of earlier, but I wasn't bothered as i felt i was still making good time and I wasn't going to get into a 'race' with better runners and blow my chances of finishing by either injury or fatigue. Stick to my own plan. Once I felt better I began to run again and I soon caught sight of them as I neared Alyth, passing Fred and Dinah before the check point. My parents were here waiting to see how i was doing and discovered I had only lost around 20 minutes from stopping on the decent. Soon after I arrived Dinah followed me in and then through the bushes above the drop bag point Fred appeared, he had gone the wrong way after I had passed him!!
Sandra McDougall and Ian Beattie were in charge of this Drop bag station and were giving encouragement to all the runners on arriving and leaving from here. Sandra telling me I was going well and that I had better not pull out this time!! Ian added that I was on a similar schedule than he had been when he ran this event. It was here that I decided to lighten my load by giving my parents my spare phone, sunglasses and buff. I felt good despite the cramp and keen to get going. So after some more words of encouragement i was away again. This next section was a short one to Blairgowrie, but the hill out of Alyth was a long slog. I tried running it, but decided to stick to a fast power walk which turned out to be quicker!!
This long climb does have a reward....a long fast decent. At the top some comedian (Karen or as I suspect George) had spray painted writing on the road that it was a painful downhill section!! And it was a bit sore on the quads coming down this steep wee hill into the drop bag station in Blairgowrie. I checked my watch and I was happy to see I hadnt lost any more time. I was still just 20 minutes outside my cumulative target time. Going well. My parents were here waiting again. Not long after I got here Dinah and Fred arrived too. Fred had a quick stop and was off again. I had a packet of crisps, buscuit, drink and then realised i didnt have a spoon for my rice pud. Luckily my parents produced one from their car, otherwise it would have been a messy affair!! The Marshal here said not to worry this was a flat section into Cally. My arse it was!!!
I left Blairgowrie as another runner arrived. It's another tough climb out of this village. Not long after leaving here Dinah caught up and passed me, but i kept her within around 50 metres in front and we both soon caught Fred and the three of us ran together again on and off towards Cally. On the decent I passed both of them to reach the drop bag point first, but not by much. They both had a quicker stop than me and were on their way as I had a drink and another rice pud, again my parents checking everything was going well. There wouldn't be another drop bag now until Enouchdu, 11 miles way. The plan was to meet my parents at Enochdhu where I would decide if i wanted to change my waist pack for a smaller one bottle pack for the big climb at the end. I would also decide if i would lighten the load again by leaving my jacket i was carrying. However somewhere between here and Kirkmichael i had bumped my phone and it made a missed call to their mobile and when they couldnt get me back to see if all was ok they alerted Ian B who couldnt get me on the phone either. So they drove to the timing checkpoint at Kirkmicheal to check all was ok. When I arrived here and assured everyone all was ok I had a quick drink and was advised by the marshall that i would need waterproofs for the last section. On I went towards Enochdhu. There was a mix up regards the distance from here to Enochdhu and how long it would take. Plus I went the wrong way again!! But the Drop bag marshall saw me and honked his horn to get my number. My parents thought I would take longer for this section and hadn't arrived, plus I forgot about my drop bag at this point and missed it!
I was still feeling good, probably as I had taken 2 Ibropfen and a couple of energy bars. So I began the final climb. The rain had started and I had to put on my hat and jacket, which didnt really help as within minutes was soaking wet. I saw another runner in front and soon caught him. It was Fred. He was slowing down a bit. So we ran together for a bit and talked about the day so far and about his problems in getting to Glenshee the day before, missing ferry connections and train delays. He kept checking an OS map which did worry me in case we had gone the wrong way, but I had seen a few cateran waymarker posts so was sure all was ok. The cloud was very low and visibility was getting gradually worse and the rain had caused the ground conditions to get really boggy. Fred was tiring and told me to run as he would walk the hill to the top. On I went. I checked a few times to see how he was doing but soon i pulled out of sight into the cloud. Once the track ends at the 'lunch hut' a very faint path starts through the heather and bog making progress miserable and slow in places. I began to mutter out loud 'wheres the fecking top of this hill', several times i said this as the cloud prevented me seeing much of anything. Again worried if i had gone the wrong way, but i knew the lunch hut i had passed was near the top so plodded on. Then suddenly out of the gloom I saw a gate and fence and then a sign saying Glenshee 20 minutes. I looked downhill but saw nothing. Into the Abyss I went!
This is where my Xodus shoes really came into their own. For the first part of the decent you run on a gravel path but soon turns into a wild riot of an experience and I loved it!!
I found this so much fun and quickly made me forget the brutal climbs from earlier in the day. I charged downhill through the mud with my only guide being the muddy footprints from previous runners and the odd Cateran post.  Absolutely mental. The grip my shoes gave me gave me a burst of confidence and the realisation that I would finish today. Not that I had ever doubted that. I managed to get up a fair bit of speed and soon spotted the hotel through the cloud. Once over the Stile its on a grassy path and over a couple of wee burns. I heard the cheering start up and wow what a feeling to get here. I was knackered, but elated. The last section had been a hoot and getting covered in mud, soaked and crossing the line minging is what its all about. This made up for my poor result at the Fling in bucket loads.

Karen has done a fantastic job at organising and running this event since she took over from Dario, who im sure is up there proud that she is keeping this race going. From a runners point of view everything was build around us having a fun and safe day out on the hills. The checkpoints and Drop Bag stations were execellent, with marshalls making sure we were well looked after and giving us all words of encouragement. And the welcome at the end was heart felt and much appreciated. The hotel food was great and the beer cold. It was great meeting up with runners i knew and meeting others for the first time and being able to talk and laugh as we ran along.

I had my shower and then dinner downstairs as one by one all the runners arrived back safely. I congratulated, among others, Mark Caldwell who finished 2nd overall and Ray McCurdy who knocked 40 odd minutes off last years time. The presentations were planned for 9pm and it was great to see the last runner make it home before that. As far as I know there were no serious injuries which always a bonus.
So a big well done to all who ran today, it was quite a day. I take my hat off to all the behind the scenes work that Karen has done for this event to take place. Well done lass. And a big well done and thanks to all the stewards, marshalls, volunteers, police, hotel staff and supporters for making it a day to remember, especially Karen, George, Sandra and Ian. Mega thanks to my parents for taking the time out to be at my beckoncall all day as I really wanted to finish this one for them. Thanks for all the encouragement throughout the day. I met some interesting characters during the day and hope to see them at the next race.
But as I'm sure you all know the most important thing about today was that I was just damn Magnificent!!
 I'm happy with how the day went and that my predicted timings were pretty close. Finishing in 12 hours 26 minutes 24 seconds.
The next race in my diary will be the Dumbarton 10k and then the Lochalsh Dirty 30, which will be my 100th race since I starting running events in 2007 (excluding Park Run events), so thats a landmark for me that im looking forward to.

Bring it on!!


  1. Great stuff Colin, you had a positive, go get em attitude on and it showed :)

  2. Well done once again! Caroline

  3. Well done! Sounds like a good run and a great weekend. Silke

  4. Well ran Colin. Looks like a great event.

  5. Aye aye man, a great report about weekend for everyone involved. Nice finish :-) See you soon