This is a difficult post with mixed emotions after this weekend. To be honest I feel like a bit of a fraud doing a post called the Double Cateran when I only managed 60 miles before withdrawing. I've had a day to mull things over and feel the need to post early, seems I still have a lot of learning to do for the longer ultras.
I took a day off on Friday, a long lie in to help with the up and coming lack of sleep seemed like a good idea.
After packing the car I had a quick appointment with the sports physio, my calf was playing up again and needed taping up. I collected the rest of my team before heading up Deeside. Just before reaching the Spittal we came across an accident with a motorcyclist being attended to on the road. This was a bit upsetting and hopefully the motorcyclist is okay. We checked in and had a couple of hours to spare before the start.
At five o'clock we went to order a meal from the hotel but were told food won't be served till six. We didn't have time to go elsewhere so I tucked into sandwiches and crisps. I also had boiled potatoes for race food and ate a few during the race briefing. I was more concerned for my crew as I had a cool box of food to sustain me.
The start was unique, a relaxed affair with banter and chat till the countdown. Twelve runners set off, it was a beautiful evening as we filed through the gate and hit the hill. Earlier I decided to walk up this hill as did a few other runners. We all watched and admired race winner Mike Raffan as he ran up the hill creating an early lead from the start. The view was spectacular as we crested the hill and descended toward Enochdu.
It was good chatting to John MacLean during the descent, we would leap frog each other during the first half of the race. We both arrived at the checkpoint together but John took a shorter stop and left before me.
I was determined to fuel properly for this ultra, I scoffed some chocolate milk, boiled potatoes and pocketed a strawberry bar thingy. I was now last in the DC110.
I didn't let this get me down, I fully expected to be last and just plodded on. I ticked off all the sights from my recce and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. I didn't expect to see any more runners but when I turned off the track to head for the marsh section I was surprised to see another runner. Alyson went astray at an awkward section of brush and trees and was a bit lost. I couldn't find the proper path and that was after doing a recce of this route. We eventually found the path and continued on our way. I was quite happy to see another runner and there were more ahead on the marsh section. I've run this section so many times now and made good time finding grip through the sloping marsh catching up with Sean. After the marsh section there were four of us, John, Alyson, Sean and I running together for a while. Turns out Sean found the Cateran 55 race full so decided to do the 110, brilliant stuff. Alyson is a 10 times finisher of the west Highland Way race, more brilliant stuff. Once again I descended into Bridge of Cally checkpoint with John, all was going well.
After more chocolate milk, boiled potatoes and half a boiled egg I was on my way, catching up with Alyson on the way to the moor. John had left earlier and was ahead, Sean caught up and passed after changing into a pair of very bright running shoes and would go on to an excellent 3rd place. It began to get dark on the moor, Alyson dropped back a bit just as torches were required. It's a wee bit awkward coming off the moor as the trail goes through a farm and onto a short section of road. I was glad to see Alysons torch light meaning she was on the right path to Blairgowrie. Stan was there showing the way to the car park, thank you for the night time marshalling and giving guidance at each checkpoint. Gads! That was the response to my crew, I'd eaten practically a whole tub of boiled tatties and couldn't face any more. The other half of a boiled egg was eaten, I pocketed a strawberry bar thingy and grabbed a bottle of red cola, time for some sugar!
Alyson was clapped and cheered into the checkpoint as I left, John was still at his car, taking a longer stop this time. A two mile slog uphill to Drimmie Woods, all was okay although I was absolutely soaking in sweat. I made a mental note to remove one of my two running tops at Den of Alyth. Once clear of the woods I peaked the hill where there was a wonderful night time view of the lights of Perth and surrounding villages before descending to Alyth. The Den was longer than I remembered but was nice running alongside the river before reaching my crew at the car park. A babybell cheese, pocket a strawberry bar thingy grab a red cola and I was on my way.
I find this a tough section, no matter which direction it's run. Another climb, this time out of Alyth. John was right behind me on most of this section which probably kept me pushing on. I've done this race three times in the past and recently completed a night time recce and I don't mind saying I struggled to find the marker posts and stiles on this section, even with a powerful hand torch. Onto some farm tracks and there are signs of fatigue, I'm not running the gentle inclines any more. Once onto the diversion to Glenisla I came across Stan who went on his way to look for a possible lost runner. No tatties, no egg, no mini cheddars, no Mrs Tillys, pocket a strawberry bar thingy which I don't eat. Grab a bottle of red cola, my rocket fuel for the race. John arrives as I depart for Dalnaglar Castle.
Another climb, this time out of Glenisla. I can hear the waterfall at the end of loch Shandra in the still night and make a mental note to see it on the way back. Little did I know it then, there would be no return past loch Shandra.
Dawn arrives and I can finally remove the head torch which has been horrible to wear on such a mild night.
The dawn chorus is absolutely amazing, all types of bird song in the still morning air. I take a look back along the trail, there's no sign of runners behind and I fear they are going to miss the 0700 cut off at the Spittal. It's a long downhill to Forter then a road section to the next checkpoint. Just before Dalnaglar I see movement at the side of the road. A massive stag with huge antlers gracefully takes cover in the woods as I run past, what a sight. Dalnaglar checkpoint where I met and congratulated race leader Mike on round two. He looked refreshed and relaxed, no wonder he got the nickname "The Machine". A quick scoff of chocolate milk and I was on my way.
It was 0530 and all was okay, or so I thought. My plan was to get to the hotel, freshen up and try to stick with the 55 mile sweeper. A signpost advised 5 miles to Spittal of Glenshee. I found this section very hard to run - hilly terrain, stiles, marsh, rutted farm track and fields of cattle. I congratulated all DC runners passing by on round two. There was some amazing wildlife, Lapwings put on a great display and huge Hares scattered as I passed by. I was getting tired and time seemed to be slipping away, I keep hoping to see the hotel in the distance. On a particularly steep hill I looked back and saw John, an incredible effort to beat the close off. I looked at my watch, 0645 and the hotel could be seen in the distance. I couldn't believe I'd have to sprint to make the cut off. I crossed the road and met the 55 race entrants making their way to the start. The applause and comments of well done was much appreciated and very humbling but I knew I should have been in the group ready for round two. I reached the hotel and checked-in at 0654, six minutes to spare. I was absolutely starving - I requested a change of shirt, pain killers, change of socks, water top up and nuun tablets before sitting down and demolishing scrambles eggs, toast, cereal and coffee. Once done I headed to the room shivering where I freshened up, vaselined my blistered feet and got ready to leave.
I left the hotel after 0730, a half hour pit stop which ate into my round two time. I walked then broke into a run to loosen off the muscles. The trail was empty except for a couple out for a stroll. That's when the negative thoughts entered my head. It took me eight hours to get from Blairgowrie to Spittal of Glenshee, I now had less than seven hours to make the cut off. Thoroughly last I tried to put this at the back of my mind and concentrated on just running. I just couldn't get into a rhythm, I was out of breath and trying to give myself a talking to. It's just as well I was on my own on the trail, I must have looked like a mad man trying to gee myself up, questioning if I really wanted this and the glory of a quaich at the end. Come on, "just walk the inclines and run the flats and downhill's" I told myself. There's a very steep climb at the side of a field, so steep runners need to grab and use the fence for support. On the way up I stopped, ground to a halt. The strength was gone from my legs. I continued on and met Alyson on her way in. We stood and chatted for a while where I advised my intention to withdraw from the race. Alyson's advice was for me to continue, try and recover and get a second wind. I did try but the demons were at work, I lost heart and was unable to run the flat sections. It was game over, 50 miles was just too far to walk. I walked to Dalnaglar checkpoint, the solitary support car sitting in the car park was the final nail in the coffin of my DC110 race. I approached George, shook his hand, thanked him for a great event and withdrew.
As I come to the end of this post it's Monday night and I have a few stats from the race - 12 starters, 6 finishers, 2 required hospital treatment and 1 ruptured Achilles tendon.
The highlights? A great and well deserved win for Mike Raffan. A superb second place for Keith Mabbott and an absolute excellent show of grit and determination from John MacLean, being cheered over the finish line late at night despite being timed out and continuing on out with the race.
What can I take away from the weekend? Okay, I didn't do as well as I thought, in fact I probably wasn't fit enough for such a tough race. I still got to take part, I would far rather have a DNF than a DNS. It was a great experience running overnight on the Cateran, at one stage the yellow full moon was low in the sky surrounded with wisps of cloud, a lovely scene with the dark Perthshire landscape below.
Thank you to Karen Donoghue, George Reid and all who help out to make what is in my opinion the best ultra event in Scotland. I would also like to thank my ever present and attentive support crew, Lynne, Heather and Skye - you're the best. See you all next year.
Tues 3, Thurs 2, Fri/Sat 60. Weekly total 65 miles.