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.