For my second attempt at this race I was determined to improve on last years’ time of 10:53:21, whilst I didn’t have a bad day last year, I didn’t have a particularly good run either, so some unfinished business to take care of.
It puzzles me why this race doesn’t sell out each year? It’s in a stunning location; challenging route; incredible scenery and great organisation. Rather than fretting about not getting into the Fling or the Lakeland 50, get yourself an entry for the Cateran next year.
I arrived at race HQ at the Gulabin lodge outdoor centre on Friday evening, having fuelled up with the world’s largest fish supper in Blairgowrie en route, courtesy of Lois. Suitably engorged I had plenty of time to catch up with friends, register and get my kit laid out for the morning. I also made sure I got a bottom bunk, not fancying the climb up to the bizarrely high mezzanine beds with 55 miles in my legs!
Fortunately my room mates were all of a sensible turn of mind and we were all bedded down for an early night by 10pm.
We were greeted on Saturday with an unbroken blue sky, a chilly north wind and the prospect of a dry and warm day. There are 6 checkpoints, but with the first one at Dalnagiar only being 6 miles in, I’d opted for 5 drop bags only. After a quick briefing from RD Karen we walked across the road to the start point and with minimal fuss we were off on our 55 mile quest at 7am prompt.
In past races I’ve tended to err on the cautious side as far as pace goes, especially in the early stages, but I decided this time to be a bit more optimistic and not hold back. Within the first half mile or so I found myself in a “pace group” including Andy Johns (6th place finish last year); Jo Murphy and Martin Butcher from Carnegie Harriers, with Jo at that stage being the leading lady I thought I might be being a bit too optimistic, but it felt comfortable so I stuck with it.
Comparing my splits with last year I was 5 minutes quicker at Dalnagair and running straight through I gained a few places, dropping to a walk briefly to take on board a gel, I’m often guilty of not fuelling enough in the early stages of an Ultra, so was trying to be more disciplined this time. On the road section to Glenisla the sun was starting to heat things up and we all stripped of a layer, with Jo and Martin showing off their splendidly bright Carnegie vests.
We pretty much ran as an informal group through to about 25 miles, with the place order swapping throughout chatting, singling songs (badly) and even a couple of impromptu recitals of Burn’s poetry from Martin and myself.
I’ve been asked before how the Cateran compares to the Fling? Frankly I find it difficult to make the comparison. They are broadly the same distance, there is probably a bit more tarmac on the Cateran, but overall I’d say there are more “less runnable” sections on the Cateran. When I say less runnable, there are some field sections you run over, where the cows have created a mini-minefield of hoof sizes pitfalls; one open moorland section that was so full of tussocks where I was barely walking never mind running and some sloping field edge paths that are challenging in the extreme. If you really want to find out what it’s like, sign up for next year.
I’m not a great one for analysing splits; in fact at one point while Martin was telling Jo where their current split times would put them for a finish, I put my fingers in my ears so as not to hear!
Having said that I couldn’t resist comparing my two efforts as below
I’m pretty happy that with my overall fitness better than last year most of my improvement came in the last three sections, in other words I’m not slowing down as much as I did last year.
Once again I can’t give a blow by blow account of each section but once through Bridge of Cally I was conscious of being passed by Elspeth; Antonia and Jo (who went on to get 1st; 2nd & 3rd lady respectively) but also managed to pass a few blokes. I was beginning to have an inkling I might get an age group place if I didn’t blow up in the last stages.
On the way into Enochdu Jenni saved me from a wrong turn and we stomped out the long and winding climb for the last 6 mile section pretty much together, both keeping each other in sight and unconsciously spurring each other on until over the last climb.
The sting in the tail of this race is undoubtedly the last section from Enochdu back to Spittal of Glenshee, a steady climb out through Calamanach wood at times too steep to run (with 50 miles in your legs!), a runnable mile to the foot of An Lairig and then a pretty brutal uphill, giving a total climb from the Enochdu CP to the highest point of around 1300 feet and then a downhill mile and a half, with 1000 feet of descent to the finish. As I was slogging up the hill, I knew I was well ahead of last year so the PB was in the bag, but sub 10 hours was border-line, it would depend on two things
- How far was it from the summit to the finish?
- How runnable was the descent?
In short It was too far and not easily runnable!
As I “summited” I had 9 hours 47 minutes and 53.2 miles showing on my watch and could see the finish, I reckoned the route is a trifle shy of the full 55 miles, but even then I reckoned it was too far to cover in less than 13 minutes. The top section of the corrie is actually quite technical; or rather it feels technical to run after 53 miles and nearly 10 hours. I suspect with fresh legs I could do better, but hey ho!
Once clear of the rockier part of the path I pulled on my brave pants and tried to descend like a hill runner, nope sorry I just can’t switch my brain off like that, so sub 10 wasn’t going to happen, I crossed the line in 10:03:09 a PB by 50 minutes, more than happy with that.
On finishing Andy John’s reckoned I was 1st MV 50, and when this was confirmed at the prize giving I was doubly happy, 1st Super Veteran. And 13th overall.
Great race; great location; great scenery; great accommodation; even better showers; fantastic food and great company, what’s not to like about this race?