The Deer Runner

The Deer Runner

Thursday, 28 May 2015

DC110 race report. Taming the beast.

The seat is reclined, Lynne drives while I conserve energy.  We're on our way to Blairgowrie where I'll fuel up at the hotel.  The countryside  passes in a blur with Alyth and a backdrop of hills.  I think about the trail that's not far away, taunting and daring.  My crew and I have lunch at the hotel before checking in.  I eat more than is comfortable knowing I need the energy for what's ahead.  Once kitted out I'm driven to the Spittal for registration.  There's a few motor home's and tents in the field, a clue to the new base for the Cateran Ultras.  Gulabin Lodge is the place where I'm given a goody bag.
It contains a cool Cateran hat (which Skye claimed) a Chia seed flapjack (put in my jacket pocket) and a DC110 tee shirt which I hope to earn the right to wear.

The rain begins so Mike Raffans race briefing is held inside.  Thirteen runners are cheered at the start of the 2015 Double Cateran.  At four o'clock we set off, two groups climb the steep hill quickly.
I'm at the back with fellow 2014 runner Alyson, we chat and take it easy both knowing this ultra needs a slow start.  I crest the hill, there's no sign of runners ahead so I settle in to a rhythm concentrating on my own pace.  I'm taking my time on the descents too where Alyson catches up just before Enochdu.  I'm trying the "straight through" checkpoint method for this race, I'm passed a water by my crew before continuing on.

Nice and steady I run then it's time for the marsh section, always guaranteed to disrupt the rhythm.
I can feel my heart rate rise at the effort of crossing the slope, dodging deep mud and jumping over streams.  Once clear Alyson catches up and passes on the way to Bridge of Cally.  I'm now bringing up the rear of the race but I'm perfectly comfortable with this.  Bridge of Cally, my crew have me turned around and out in a minute, very slick indeed.  I walk with home made soup in a paper cup, a fuelling idea that came to mind last week.  Once consumed I can crush and pocket the cup ready to bin at the next checkpoint.  Another tactic is bottled water, a new one at every checkpoint.  Bottle carriers have been a pest lately so I keep a bottle of water in my shorts pocket.  My backpack contains the mandatory race items and a waterproof so never needs removed, unless it rains.

I walk up to the moor, finish the soup then run towards Blairgowrie.  It's still light, race organisers have allowed a couple of extra hours this year.  I acknowledge Alyson who is a couple of minutes behind.  We run into Blairgowrie together where I'm given another slick turn around, my straight through tactics are working a treat.

Drimmie woods, the light is fading but not enough to use a torch.  There's churned up tracks crossing the trail.  forest machinery have made a right mess where runners have been up to their knees in mud by the looks of it.  I do long jumps to avoid the quagmire and carry on.  Just clear of the woods I don't feel too great, I try to keep negative thoughts at bay, my inner voice says there's no way I'll complete the distance feeling like this.  My face and ears are burning up, I need to take off my jacket.  My top is drenched in sweat, the evening breeze cools me down and I start to feel better.  Head torch and hand torch are used going into Den of Alyth.

Another quick pit stop including a sock change, my crew are amazing.  I'm walking through the village but there's a problem.  In my rush to leave I've left my powerful hand torch behind.
Dilemma time, do I go back for it or carry on with just the head torch.  I decide to continue, I know the course well enough and leave a message for Lynne to take the torch to Glenisla.

It's a long climb out of Alyth before heading into farm land.  I can see torches on the hill in the distance,  I estimate around 30 minutes ahead.  At the top of the farm road I look back expecting to see one torch but I'm surprised to see two.  There's another runner as well as Alyson.  This is a long energy sapping section, I concentrate on my pace covering the ground as economically as possible expecting to be caught up.  There's a diversion at Glenisla, through a wet field.  My feet are suffering I'll need another sock change at the checkpoint.

A slightly longer stop this time, my feet are shredded.  I get updated by Stan, Alyson took a tumble but is okay and the second light is Ali who took a wrong turn.

I'm on my way to the castle, past loch Shandra and on the long climb out of the valley.  At the top of the hill I look back and see a torch beginning the climb.  As I run through the woods ther's an almighty roar in the still morning air, I jump out of my skin.  A stag is making his presence known.
It's a quad bashing descent to Forter before making my way along the road to Dalnagar.

All I have is a nutritious shake and put my order in for the half way point.  Two cups of tea, Aberdeen rolls, two paracetamol, fresh socks and a bottle of water please.

Five miles to Gulabin, rutted fields and tracks, sapping the strength and no rhythm, I walk a lot of it.
The negative voice inside my head informs me I felt exactly the same as this at the same place during last years race, I tell the voice to get lost.  The leaders are making their way out for round two, there's good encouragement back and fore.  It's light now, I can switch off the torches.  Although hard to run, this is a magical section for wild life.  I love the speeding hares and circling bird life.  I reach the lodge 13 hours and 15 minutes after starting.  110 runners are given the lounge with comfy seats, too comfy.  I get tea, toast, cornflakes and a change of socks before being evicted by George and Mike.  25 minutes and my longest checkpoint of the race.

Okay, here goes.  It's time to test the legs and see how I am compared to last year.  It's 0540 and I'm in much better spirits for a start.  Yasss, I can run the flat sections.  I walk up the steep section of field easily, the place where I decided to call it a day last year.  Alyson passes on her way in after getting lost, I shout out "there's still time to do it, you will do it".  I arrive at Dalnagar just as Alan Cormack leaves.  I have a nutritious shake and hit the road section.

Support vehicles pass, I can see Alan about half a mile ahead.  I just stick to my own pace, not bothered about catching Alan but he's stopped and packing his back pack.  Alan came out with the first of many great suggestions that would make my race.  How about hooking up and seeing each other through to the end.  I've ran with Alan at the D33 and thought this was an excellent idea.

We accompany each other through Forter, up the steep hill and down through the woods before being caught up by the 55 race leader.  From here a constant stream of 55ers pass encouraging and congratulating us, it's a great feeling and much appreciated.  Past Loch Shandra and into Gleanisla, another long stop to use the facilities and change the socks.

Onto the long section, we're still being passed by the majority of the race.  Alan and I are aware of the 1430 cut off at Blairgowrie.  Many calculations are done using the Garmin for pace and miles between checkpoints.  A heavy rain shower comes on which sees us both scurry to shelter and put on our jackets, only for the weather to clear and sun come through.  Time to take the jackets off again.

Good chat makes the miles fly by, it's not long before we descend into Alyth and make our way to the Den.  We check-in with the marshals and take a seat on the park bench, this has to be a short stop due to the Blairgowrie cut off.  There's bad news here, I'm gutted to hear fellow 2014 runner Peter is pulling out of the race.  Time to go but I forget pain killers and have to return before continuing along the Den.  It's a long slog up to Drimmie woods where we negotiate the two mud tracks before the quad bashing 2 mile descent to Blairgowrie.  We reach the checkpoint at 1400 with half an hour to spare, decide we'll need this half hour buffer ahead and leave after a short stop.

With 23 miles to go and eight hours to complete the race you would think it's all done and dusted but I know the Cateran trail better than that.  There's no let up as Alan and I walk up and out of Blairgowrie.  We cross the fields where runners are catching up so we get our skates on and cross the moor pronto keeping a good pace.  The downhill track to Bridge of Cally is a welcome easy run.

The battle now begins.  After a 10 minute stop it's a long slog up the forest track.  Fatigue is beginning to make it's presence felt, I'm not looking forward to the marshy section and begin to dread the last hill section.  Alan does a great job motivating and getting us both running by picking a marker way in the distance and running to it before walking again.  On some sections I run farther than I have during the 55 race.  Eventually we reach the marsh section and my mind is going into negative mode.  I'm not quite enjoying the challenge of avoiding the deep mud and marsh and jumping streams.  Eventually it's the track to Kirkmichael where we start picking markers and running but I'm getting worried.  Worried I don't have energy for the last hill climb and blow up. This thought gnaws away inside my head making me walk some sections despite encouragement from Alan.

Enochdu checkpoint.  A five minute stop and I'm really feeling it it my legs.  There's a hill climb ahead and I'm glad I have a running buddy.  In a daze I make my way to the other side of the car park unaware where Alan's support is parked.  One of the marshals (can't remember which) asks if I'm leaving without Alan.  "You must be joking" I think before locating the car.

Okay, here goes.  Six miles to go with a wee hill in the way.  A bit of chocolate each for some energy.  I keep the remainder in my pocket for the final climb and completely forget about it.  Alan has a cracking idea.  A wee ritual for the finish line.  Three simple steps for the finish line but in our tired state we can't get the order right.  Shake hands, bow, step over the line.  No.  Bow, step over the line, shake hands.  No.  It's amazing how hard even the simple things seem after running 100 miles.

There's not a lot of running now, the steep slope looms in the distance.  The evening is cold on the hills, we both have our jackets on.  A hill walker appears out of the refuge hut for a chat.  Runners are ahead and behind.  Must be the sweepers I manage to convince myself.  Up we go, the legs are dead, there's nothing left.  It's a slow grind to the top, through the gate then time for pain.  With quads trashed and feet on fire we make our way gingerly downhill.  Others are faster at descending but we don't want to take a tumble now, not so close to the finish.  The field can be seen but there's still a bit to go.  It seems an age before we reach the style then the track hugs the stream leading to the road.

"You're both about to get chicked".  It's Bill Heirs and he's speaking about Alyson, a brilliant recovery from setbacks earlier in the race sees her sprint past and cross the line ahead.  It's now our turn.  Keep running, no walking allowed at the end of this race.  Over the hump back bridge to cheers and clapping.  Don't fluff the finish line ritual, sprint across the grass, stop at the finish arch, bow, shake hands, and step over the line!  It's done!  29 hours 20 minutes 29 seconds.  The Double Cateran is conquered.  The finish is a blur of hugs and shaking hands with crew and ultra running friends where I'm a bit emotional.

Prize giving is soon,  Just enough time to have a shower and hobble back to the marquee.  Each and every finisher of the Cateran ultra receives a quaich.  Proud as punch Alan and I shake hands and receive our quaich's from race director Mike Raffan.

It's back to the Gulabin for something to eat.  People can't do enough for the runners,  John fetches a pasta dish from the kitchen, Noanie fetches a bottle of coke, thanks and much appreciated.  I'm done in though, shakily I eat half the pasta and have a glass of coke.  I'm shutting down and need to go, I can't even manage one drink.  I say goodbye and leave for the hotel in Blairgowrie.

So has the beast been tamed?  Not a chance.  If I ever take on the DC110 again, and never say never, I would be just as wary as the first time I took on the race.  Almost two weeks later and I can still feel the effects.

So now it's time to say thanks.  To Lynne, Heather and Skye for helping me on what must be one of the hardest races to crew.  To Mike Raffan for taking on the race director role.  To Stan, overnight marshals and Sean the medic making sure all went smooth on the first loop.  My crew plus George and Mike for booting me out of Gulabin Lodge for the second round.  To Keith Mabbott for not telling me I look like shit as I ran past.  To all the 55 runners for giving cheers, encouragement and good chat.  To all the checkpoint marshals on round two, especially the eighties disco at Glenisla and the Minions at Blairgowrie.  To Alan Cormack for great company and keeping me going.  To the cooks Helen and Sandra for keeping us fed.  Finally to Karen and George for continuing to host the Cateran Ultra races, keep up the epic shit.

Week ending 17th May - Mon 02, Fri/Sat 110.  Weekly total 112 miles.
Week ending 24th May - 0 miles.


Wednesday, 13 May 2015


The Cateran Trail Ultra, a 55 mile run hosted on a circular trail in the heart of Scotland that happens to be one of the best races in the SUMS calendar.  A scenic route that takes you through farmland, forests, villages and hills.  Witness the beauty of Perthshire at it's best and if like me you have a soft spot for the race you can do it twice by taking on the Double Cateran.

It's been two years since I completed the Cateran Ultra, going the "proper" way round.  This coming weekend sees a return to Perthshire where I would love to peak at the Lairig Gate and run down the last mile to the Spittal.  There's 109 miles to cover before I can have the luxury of such a finish, miles that will require careful fuelling and pacing.

So how confident am I in completing the DC110?  I'm not sure.  I've had an okay season so far with okay training although I do feel a little under trained.  I haven't done much since the Fling, ate the wrong type of food and consumed a bit too much alcohol.

On the plus side, I've made it to the start line virtually injury free, even if taper week did it's damnedest to convince me otherwise.  I'm very experienced on the route and know what to expect even though I had to pull out at 60 miles last year.  I'm pretty much good to go, mostly packed with some food to sort out before departing on Friday morning.

I have the same support crew as last year, I'd like to thank in advance my wife Lynne, mother Heather and daughter Skye who have a tough job meeting me at each of the checkpoints night and day.  With the Spittal Hotel now gone I have decided to use Blairgowrie for accommodation.  This gives my crew two places from which to support - race headquarters in the north and the hotel at Blairgowrie in the south.    

So here's my tactics - this year the race organisers have given 30 hours to complete the race, two more than last year.  I'll take the extra time allowed, thank you very much.  My ideal race or rather run would be an even split, 14 hours each lap.  I'm not expecting to carry this out, especially on a course like the Cateran Trail.  I know how energy sapping some of the trail can be, so as long as I get to the checkpoints before the close off's I'll be happy.  I'm also going to spend minimal time at the checkpoints, collecting and carrying food rather than standing around.  Hopefully I'll be able to put this one to bed and earn my Double Cateran quaich.

I'd like to wish all Cateran Ultra runners the best of luck, particularly the 110's and especially the 110's back for another go.  Looking forward to an awesome weekend with Team Epic Shit, see you soon.

Mon 4, Wed 4, Fri 4, Sun 8.  Weekly total 20 miles.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Highland Fling 2015

With training not going quite as envisaged, it was touch and go whether I would do the Fling.
I needed to check my fitness, the Highland Fling would provide a benchmark and let me know whether to take on the DC110 or not.

It's two years since I last ran the Fling, I missed last year through a calf injury.  Once again it was last minute dot com, frantically packing and making up drop bags on Thursday evening.  No day off work Friday, I was hoping to leave mid afternoon, collect Sky and Lynne on the way and arrive Milngavie mid evening.  In reality, we didn't clear the notorious Aberdeen traffic till well after six and with stopping for a bite to eat I missed registration at the Burnbrae Restaurant by 15 minutes.  Ah well, no long lie and sauntering up to race briefing for me, I'd have to register in the morning.

The alarm sounded at four, I got up and started to prepare for the day.  Oops, in my haste to pack I completely forgot about breakfast.  I had to settle for three cold cheese and onion rolls, I didn't feel too great, the onion would try to reappear later on.

Registration in the rain, number and chip on, farewell to Lynne and Skye who sorted drop bag dropping, I made my way to the "over 12 hours section".  Stomach pains meant a last minute visit to the portaloo, this was going to be the trend today.  With seconds to go I was at the very back of race start.

Johnny Fling let the third group go to the tune of Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, a brilliant send off for my fourth Fling.  It was good to be back and running on the WHW.  After a few miles the rain stopped, I took off my waterproof and packed it away for the rest of the day.  Once settled down I switched on the Mio Link, no watch was worn for the race.  I concentrated on keeping my heart rate in the amber zone, if it changed to purple I would slow down till it dropped into the amber again. Now I'm not sure if this is how I'm supposed to run by heart rate but it did seem to keep me in check at the start of the race.

Karen Donoghue passed running in the opposite direction, a quick hello, see you in a few weeks.
The DC110 is getting close.

Drymen came and went, soon it would be conic.  The Mio did a great job through the forest, I was fixated on the LED read out and making sure I kept in the amber zone until the hill.  It zoomed right into the red for the climb, I switched it off at this point to save battery power.

Antonia passed by, I said hello and wondered why she was taking it very easy today, all became clear, she was accompanying Scott for the race.  I peaked the hill with an Irish runner, over especially for the race. Loch Lomond was as beautiful as ever before the descent to Balmaha.  Good to see George Reid here, a quick hello then time for food.

Drop bag, jam and peanut butter sarny, two bites and I'm done.  Milkshake, pocket coke and go, food problems already.  I was on my way to Rowardennan with a group of runners.  I switched on the Mio, red zone. It didn't feel like red, I was just running as normal.  I had a choice, back off and try to get the zone into amber or switch it off.  I switched it off, probably wrong to do this but I'm still learning.

I was running along quite happily, then fell down, flat on my face.  The trail wasn't even technical there, a few runners came to my aid but I wasn't  hurt, apart from my pride, I  thanked them and ran on.

Rowardennan checkpoint, I binned the sarny.  A boiled egg and milk shake and that was it.  Thanks to the sharp eyed marshal that offered to clean up my hand, I declined, it waited till the end.  Even though I wasn't eating I spent too much time in checkpoints.

Off I went towards Inversnaid but I wasn't right, I stopped and walked with stomach cramps.  I was about a mile out of Rowardennan and considered turning back.  Nope, I'll just have to try and make it to the next checkpoint.  So the remainder of this section consisted of me looking for a possible toilet stop, the trail was busy with runners and walkers.  I had to take it easy, even on the downhill section.

Inversnaid, there was a portaloo, testament to the organisation.  I drank a tin of Starbucks and had to wait a good while to use the amenities.  This was a long stop but I left the checkpoint in good shape, then a few hundred yards along the trail fell flat on my face again, this time right in front of a couple of walkers.  Embarrassed, I dusted myself down and carried on, annoyed at falling twice.

I hooked up with David Meldrum for the technical section.  David's good company and pace suited me just fine, Dario's post soon came and went, we were well on our way to the next checkpoint. There was trail of runners led by David, no one was passing, testament to the steady pace held all the way to Bienglas Farm.  

Starbucks, coke, pocket a bag of skittles then off on the final leg.  I phoned Lynne and Skye who just passed the entrance to Bienglas Farm.  No problem, told them I'd see them at the finish.  I was on this section with various runners, just ticking along nicely, up onto the track leading to Crianlarich.
Stomach cramps, again, for goodness sake.  There was nothing else to do but run to the forest, the roller coaster section.  I started running and didn't stop, all the way through a dry cow poo alley, walked the uphill's and ran the downhill's.  Safely escorted across the road, thanks marshals, only four miles to go and I was going to run most of it, partly because I had energy and partly because I still felt queezy.

There was a super hero ahead.  It was spiderman, struggling to see through his hood in the low sun.  "Well done Spidey", we only had two miles to go.  Through the big gate then bagpipes, the sound of the end of the Highland Fling.  I rounded the corner and ran up the best finish straight in the world, high fiving all the way to Lynne and Skye at the finish line.

What can I say that hasn't been said already.  Top notch organisation, registration, marshalling, checkpoints, finish straight, medal, soup, beer, goody bag and tee shirt.  John Duncan, marshals, helpers and volunteers - take a bow, thank you for putting on a brilliant race.

Wed 2, Sat 10.  Weekly total 12 miles.