Cateran55 mountain trail race….. 55 miles is a lot of running !
I had definitely been better prepared for a race but this was one journey I really didn’t want to miss, even if I was guaranteed a tough time… So I packed my bags and headed North for the Cateran Trail …
I’m no gifted runner, quite the opposite in fact and I have to work hard for every mile I cover, but usually I put the training in and for the most part enjoy my races. But lately life has been getting in the way of my outdoor pursuits; a return to full time working as a programmer and a huge backlog of freelance work has had me working night and day. I grudgingly had to cancel both the Highland Fling and the Sandbaggers Scottish Ultra because of my life’s various commitments and this was starting to piss me off no end, my belief is that I work to allow me my adventures and if it gets in the way of these, then what’s the point? However the spare time I have had has been put to good use, I’ve been training with the local hill runners and by God it’s been intensely hard AND painful! It definitely helping to improve my hills but the only problem is that it is short distance; races are normally under 12 miles and under an hour for the training sessions during the week. So when the Cateran55 came round I was left wondering whether to cancel that too, but I dug my heels into life and decided to go for it! So with a quick 23-mile cross-country run the week before to make sure I could still run over 12 miles, I set off on Friday after work for the GlenSpittal Hotel, the start line of the race.
It’s a lovely hotel with good food, clean rooms and a warm bar in a beautiful part of the Highlands, what’s not to like! And they had laid on a special deal for runners so I was staying until Sunday, nice and comfy in a double room with mountain view, lovely! I arrived late Friday night as it’s several hours drive from The Borders to the heart of the Cairngorms. I took in the scenery, huge mountains all around me, I thought back to my days of winter climbing and the many ice routes I used to scare myself senseless on. Many are now regarded as scary test pieces, back then my naïvety was probably a good thing… However this trip I was here to run , 55 miles of running to be precise. The Cateran55 is a super runnable ultra race, there’s not many places in its 55 miles that you are forced to stop and walk, definitely a real runners trail. An old drovers road that snakes gently along climbing and falling, spilling its way through beautiful green countryside filled with mountains and forests. But do not let that fool you, 7,500 feet of ascent AND descent (never forget the descent) is also there to take its toll on your legs…
My first port of call once settled into Glen Spittal was to search out my friend Paul, he’s one of Scotland’s top ultra runners and was last years’ winner of the Cateran55. He was here in the hotel with his girlfriend and had bagged room 444, obviously paying homage to Paul’s training schedule where his alarm goes off at 4:44am every morning for his early runs, about the same time as my cockerel finds the bedroom window and starts screeching underneath it! However Paul gets up and runs 15 miles before work, I roll over and try to go back to sleep… Now there’s a lesson on why I’m rubbish and he’s top of the tree 😉 It was great to finally get a chance to meet his family who support him in every way possible, and what a fantastic bunch they were, lovely friendly people with a huge love of the ultra scene, if his mum doesn’t know it, it’s not worth knowing… His sister Nicola was every bit as cool and funny in real life as she is online and his Dad was so full of pride for Paul it was bursting out the sides… Eventually after a load of laughs and Paul giving me the low down on what to watch out for in the race I retired to bed , preparing for an early 7am start to the race .
6am and my alarm went off, I necked an oatmeal yoghurt, prepared my drop bags, filled my bottles, and headed down stairs for the race briefing where I met Paul and the delightful Louise Jones, bubbly ultra-lady and a very strong ultra runner … Outside it was a beautiful high pressure morning, bluebird sky and a cool temperature. Karen the race director read out the race brief and finally we all walked over to the start line , about 70 odd runners congregated and chatted briefly before we were told to get ready , BANG and we are off !!! …. 55 miles ahead, time to get busy .
Its was a smooth run out over a cattle bridge and down a rough track before hitting the fields and following broken single track, the first checkpoint came quickly at 6 miles but the next one was 11 or 12 miles further out . In an Ultra race of this kind the checkpoints are set out where they can be accessed by car which means they are often intermittent and with varying distances between them, there’s nothing set up every 3 miles like a marathon but that’s why we love it, the game of off-road Ultra, every race is different , a character of its own , no set patterns here !! … I hit the 20 mile point pretty strong and had run with Louise most of the way, she had some great stories to tell and the miles disappeared behind us as we picked our way across the beautiful GlenShee landscape.
I ran into the half way checkpoint a little under 5 hours and I was now happy that I had enough in my tank to finish , all was good in the world until I received news that Paul who had battled it out up front with the other Ultra-rockets had been forced to withdraw from the race due to a problem with his stomach , I was gutted for him !! I knew this would be very upsetting for him ….. After a 5 minute rest break with my feet in the air and meeting Steve from Tentsmuir at the check point I set off again. Steve would later be a friendly and encouraging face for me at the checkpoints ahead.
I set off up the long hill that was to follow , whose Idea was it to put that there !! The scenery along the trail was beautiful to see and just as fantastic to run on, long sections of soft if a little muddy at times trail , broken up with short country lanes and steep hills , tracks through dark forests opening out into mountain views …. I was loving it and tried to take some mental snapshots of it all as I ran !! but after about 40 miles my legs weren’t loving it back .. my lack of training was starting to show , hill running may be the toughest of training but no substitute for a long run and hard day long grafts in the hills. My muscles and tendons had been slowly weakening and I was feeling it bad, my groin area the most , even the tendons in my arms were starting to nag with all the swinging back and forth , I soldiered on but I was starting to seriously flag and losing places , Louise was being held back by me yet seemed content to pull me along , I encouraged her to bash on as it wasn’t fair on her ,and just as well as the next 10 miles really took their toll and I slowed down considerably , by the time I reached mile 50 I was so debilitated by my groin strain that I was pretty much unable to hold any pace at all , I had a horrible feeling I would wake up with a double groin strain the next day …I soldiered on though , no way I was DNF this day !!!
When I think of the unrelenting pace that Paul , Matt and the guys in the front pack run these distances at I am full of awe and admiration for not only their athleticism but their steely determination when the pain kicks in !! ……. after a long hill climb I was high in Glen Shee following a high level mountain path for the final few miles to the finish.. the rough ground was torture and the final climb hard on my legs but finally I crossed the shoulder and looked down on the Glen Spittal hotel , less than a mile below down a steep path that in a hill race would probably take me no more than 6 or 7 minutes , after 54 miles however my groin and knees were so weak that I could only hobble down …. It took me over 30 mins to reach the finish !! in fact those last 5 miles took me over 2 hours !! Steve and Nicola were waiting for me as I hit the bottom of the hill and we ran/hobbled the last 200 yards to the finish line …. God it was nice to see that finish !! I fell into the bar with Nicola and Paul’s mum and finally took a load off my feet, I had made it to the finish and after 55 miles I was battered , broken but not beaten !!…… Paul’s sister introduced me to Matt Williams in the bar , he had won the race this year in a time of just over 8 hours !! now that is amazing !!!
So next week is Edinburgh marathon , I swore Id never run a road marathon again but Rhalou has persuaded me to chum her round … fingers crossed my legs are recovered …. last year I ran 3:38 against gale force winds , hopefully this year may be a little more demure 🙂