Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Cateran Ultra - Race report........Take 3

My first time running the Cateran Trail Ultra, and my 3rd attempt at writing a blog post about my experience.
Take 1 was just a disaster, I just couldn't get going 
Take 2 was so rigidly awful,in the "I did this, then I did that" genre, even I was bored reading it.
So here goes with Take 3......

The basic facts

Photo by Amanda Hamilton
55 miles through beautiful rolling Perthshire countryside, 7400 feet of climb and descent, race limit 120; 77 starters for the 55 miler, 69 finishers. Based at the Gulabin Lodge Outdoor centre at Spittal of Glenshee, the northernmost point of the clockwise circular route passing through Kirkton of Glenisla, Den of Alyth, Blairgowrie, Bridge of Cally and Enochdhu. I finished in 30th place in 10 hours 53 minutes.
There were an army of helpers and marshals from Sandra and Helen in charge of catering, Julie at registration (handing out poo sacks); checkpoints dressed as an 80s disco, yellow suited minions and the effervescent Noanie telling us to "get our arses out of the checkpoint" all capped with a unique finishers trophy.
I had a brilliant time, I'd do it again and I'd recommend it to anyone.

RD Karen Donaghue has built a smashing race with an intimate family feel about it.
I ran with John Duncan and John Kynaston in the first half, both of whom finished in excellent times, after mile 30 I bumped into Jo Wilson and Richard Dennis and pretty much ran to the finish with them.

So is that it?

Yes and no

People who had done this race before described it as "more runnable than The Fling", it's 55 off-road miles but I think in my mind I translated this to "easy", bit of a rookie error there.
My fitness was not at issue I was always confident of a decent finish, but my lack of route knowledge, a good, but hard Fling 3 weeks before coupled with the knowledge that I'd be running the Edinburgh Marathon two weeks later certainly played on my mind.
I deliberately ate more than I've ever done on an Ultra, I ran what I felt was a conservative first half but by mile 30 I wasn't particularly in my happy place. The weather was pretty good for Ultra running with only 1 notable shower of rain, but there was a corker of a headwind for most of the second half.
So the ingredients were in place for a rotten race? Wrong.........just as I was starting to wallow in my self pity, I found myself running alongside Jo Wilson. Jo was First Lady at this year's D33 so she's no slouch, but this was her first time running longer than 33 miles and when we met she was in an even less happy place than me.
Bridge of Cally -courtesy of Amanda Hamilton
It turned out we have a mutual friend in Dumfries so we got chatting pretty quickly, she conceded she was "feeling emotional" so I wheeled out both my MTFU speech and my best Scout leader motivational tricks. Having someone else to chivvy along completely took my mind off my own race. Richard Dennis had been yo-yo- ing around us for probably 10 miles and he eventually decided that he might as well join our little pace bus.
In truth, by the time we got to the last checkpoint at Enochdu and having covered a good few miles at a relatively leisurely pace I could have pushed on for a better finish time but I was enjoying the company and the day so much that doing so would have felt both wrong and like breaking an unwritten bond of shared experiences. In fact just before the top of the final big climb (An Lairig) we agreed we'd finish and cross the line together.

We bagged a joint 30th place in 10:53:21 comfortably under 11 hours and firmly in the top half of the field.
Jo - Photo by John Mill

Richard - photo by John Mill

Yours truly -photo by John Mill

Now I'm not saying i sacrificed my race for the good of others, because I certainly didn't. I spent a good part of my race running with two people I'd never met in my life, but who, within 10 minutes was comfortably discussing extreme chafing, crying, embarrassing running incidents, poo and what an incredibly stubborn breed we ultra runners are. I suppose we must share certain personality traits to put our bodies and minds through these self imposed extreme challenges and then come back for more. I got a huge amount of pleasure from crossing the finish line with these new friends.
If you want a blow by blow account of racing the Cateran, I'd point you in the direction of Andy Johns, Keith Mabbott or John Kynaston's excellent write ups. Perhaps next time, and yes there will be a next time with a better idea of the geography I'll conjure up something in a similar vein.
Finish Line - photo by Muriel Downie
So now my inadvertent experiment in subjecting myself to 5 races in 5 weeks is drawing to its conclusion with this Sunday's Edinburgh Marathon. I did an unplanned 6 mile tempo run round Perth last night, well it was sunny so it would have been a waste not to. I'll probably run tomorrow then rest up before Sunday.
I've absolutely no idea how I'll get on, I'm certainly not going out for a PB, I'd like to think I could maintain 8 minute miles which should give me around 3:30, but I'll be happy with a finish.
Wish me luck



  1. Good luck for Edinburgh! Interesting build up and will be a great test of all the great training and racing you've done so far this year! X

  2. Thanks Amanda, just looking for a finish at Edinburgh and raising a few quid for a great cause in the process

  3. Sounds like the perfect race to me. I'd rather have an enjoyable shared experience with two new buddies than an 11 hour sufferfest by myself.
    Well done!