The Deer Runner

The Deer Runner

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Weeks 19,20 and 21

The Cateran trail marker post emblems contain a red heart.  Whoever dreamt of creating this route through such a beautiful and diverse part of Scotland must have known they were onto something good.  It's not as popular as the West Highland Way or possibly the Great Glen Way but in a way this just adds to the charm.  The same can be said of the Cateran Ultra races, with a choice of 55 or 110 miles over a long weekend, this is a special festival organised and run by a dedicated and hard working team.

Gulabin Lodge was race head quarters with a field containing marquee and camping area.  There was food for runners, registration pasta dishes and pizza on Friday with breakfast and main course dishes cooked by Helen and Sandra on Saturday.

My entry in the WHW Race this year meant the 110 was out, so I had to settle for the 55.  I took the Friday off work to pack the camper and head to Spittal.  I arrived in time to see the 110 runners depart at 1600 then helped assemble the marquee.  After volunteering for kitchen duties I prepared for the race ahead and had an early night.

The alarm went off at 0530, I immediately hit the snooze button and fell asleep.  I woke with a start at 0620, blast, the race kicks off at 0700.  I got dressed quick and was having my breakfast when a call was shouted out for race briefing.  I grabbed my toast and dropped off my drop bags and completely missed the briefing.  Oh well, it was a clear cold morning, time to check on the 110 race progress. Bad news, my Cateran training buddy Alyson pulled out of the race with an injury.

Time for a walk, we all followed Karen across the road, over a style to the start at the bridge.  I stayed at the back, right at the back.  At 0700 we were off,  the field of runners left at a very quick pace.
Unexpectedly, I was left right at the back and alone, except for a Kiwi and a Scot about one hundred yards behind.  This was a new experience for me, I've never been in the vicinity of sweepers before.  It was something I found disconcerting, hearing their chat behind as I settled into the race.

I could see runners ahead, I was about 1 minute behind.  The group ahead entered the field and followed the Land Rover track.  Some have done that in the past, not realising the route turns left and follows the fence line up a steep hill to the next style.  The group were way ahead, so I turned left and followed the trail thinking I'll cheekily make it to the style before them.  On reaching the style I noticed the group had carried on past the track that leads to the style.  I yelled for the group to stop and turn back before continuing along the trail.

The group caught up, and passed me by.  Dalnagar castle checkpoint passed, then I found myself alongside Patricia, one of the Fling photographers.  Chat made the road section fly by, we turned onto the first big climb of the day.  I held the gate open for some runners then was perturbed to find the sweepers Keith and Ian come through.  I thought to myself "are the majority of runners this year going too fast"?

Huge styles, some of the biggest on the route were here, runners ahead didn't know the gates were unlocked and queued to go over the styles.  I took great delight in opening the gates as runners found themselves balanced at the top of styles, this happened on more than one occasion.

We were on the trails running toward Loch Shandra, there was some screaming ahead as runners got their feet wet going through the boggy section.  A group of us approached, I opted for the "sod it, run straight through" method and just about fell on my backside in the slippery mud.

At the loch I chatted with an American, on his holidays all the way from Minnesota if I remember correctly.  Glenisla checkpoint appeared where I needed to use the facilities.  After a quick bite to eat I left the checkpoint where one drop bag was left for the runner bringing up the rear.

I climbed the steep hill out of the checkpoint expecting to see runners ahead but they were gone.  I put my head down and concentrated on keeping a steady pace.  I caught up and passed some runners after the farms and found myself alone for most of this section to Alyth.  The day turned out to be a cracker, with clear views for miles from the trail.  Through Alyth, house windows were open with inhabitants playing loud music as I headed towards the checkpoint at the Den.

The sun was shining, the grass looked comfy, it took all my willpower to keep standing and ate a little of the contents of my drop bag before heading off toward Blairgowrie.

More good chat with runners on the uphill, we were making our way to the forest where we bumped into Alan, the first 110 runner I came across.  I stayed alongside Alan through the forest, getting news of the events of the night before and reminiscing about the 110 race the previous year, he was having a great race and running strong.

After the forest I said farewell and told Alan I would see him at the end.  As I ran ahead a thought came to mind.  I ran the second half of the 110 race with Alan last year and thoroughly enjoyed the company.  I wasn't having a particularly good run today, I'm going to run the rest of the race with Alan once more.  We ran down the hill and into Blairgowrie checkpoint together.

Couldn't eat.  Forced down my boiled egg, scoffed some coke and milk shake then rounded up Alan before thanking the Minions and leaving for Bridge of Cally.

We walked up the hill towards the fruit factory in the company of another runner (I'm sorry, I can't remember the name) then skirted the fields before making our way up to the bog section.  It wasn't bog, in fact this was the driest conditions I've seen the Cateran.

Bridge of Cally checkpoint and I felt like crap.  Liquids only, I couldn't face any food.  We left for the long march up through the forest with the late afternoon sun bathing the trail.  Alan was running well considering the distance he had covered.  Runners passed, some straight through, others chatted for a while before leaving and running ahead.

I ran ahead of Alan for a while before waiting for him to catch up, when he did he was with Lois.  All three of us crossed what was usually another bog section which was remarkably dry.  Beautiful scenery, bright evening sun, good company, all three of us running, a thought suddenly entered my head, one that's never happened in a race before.  I didn't want the race to end.  I didn't care about times or crossing the finish line, this was turning out to be the perfect ultra on my favourite trail.

There was a foot bath, Wilson was manning the foot spa, a fight against some tree attacking fungus.  It was not far after this when Alan came out with a suggestion.  He was at it again, he wanted a finish line display like the one last year.  I refused, explaining I felt like an imposter having not done 110 miles this year but Alan was adamant.  Aeroplanes, arms wide we would put on a display, Alan and his ice man George.

Kirkmichael has an unmanned checkpoint where everything is finished apart from cola bottles, we each took a handful then made our way to Enochdu, the final checkpoint.

Alan and his support offered food, I opted for creamed rice, something I can usually scoff by the tin but not now.  Two forkfuls and that was it, back to coke and milkshake.

It was on the long uphill towards the hills where we planned our finish line display.  We would start on the finish home straight, Alan in front of me, before breaking, one to the right and one to the left, criss crossing all the way to the finish line for a man hug and shake hands,

Runners were scattered across the trail to the last climb of the day.  Good company and chat with Linda helps the time pass.  The finish could be seen from the top of the hill, still bathed in sun.  Down the rocky trail we went before running over the hump back bridge and taking up action stations.

Alan first, then me, arms out wide before the squadron leader gave the order to break, one to the right and one to the left.  We twisted and turned, meeting for the man hug and handshake before crossing the Cateran finish line once more.      

I'd like to thank Karen, George, Mike, the marshals, volunteers and cooks for their hard work in holding the best ultra event in Scotland, all under difficult circumstances.  As I posted on Facebook, you are all superstars.

Week ending 15th May.  Mon 3, Tues 3, Wed 3, Sat 55.  Weekly total 64 miles.
Week ending 22nd May.  Sun 4.  Weekly total 4 miles.
Mon 3, Tues 5, Sat 13, Sun 20.  Weekly total 41 miles.  



Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Weeks 17 and 18

The Highland Fling.  I've already posted how low my training has been and how I'm not expecting much from races this year.  The Highland Fling was no exception, so before I go into the race report I'll let you know my fifth Highland Fling was the slowest by a long way.  This is turning out to be a year of PW's.

I took the Friday before off so I could prepare the camper van.  A stop off for fuel (for the camper van and me) was in order before making my way to Tyndrum.  It took a while to pack and I still had my drop bags to do so I stopped off at Loch Dochart to boil some eggs and pack food.  It was a beautiful late afternoon which gave a good sign of nice weather for the race ahead.

With Tyndrum camp sites full I had previously requested an overnight stop in the Green Welly Car Park.  A quick response said this would be fine, however there were plenty of spaces to stop in the tourist car park where I stayed for the duration of the race.  A fish supper was consumed while watching a film before I turned in for the night, I had an early bus to catch.

I do like a bus ride before a race, this was another stroke of genius from the race organisers.  Camp at the finish and then jump on the 0345 bus to Milngavie, just in time to start the race at 0600.  The railway station car park was a hive of activity, it also had the aroma of deep heat mixed with tiger balm.  Drop bags were dropped, registration was done, number pinned on which left only one thing, the usual long queue for the loo, only this time there were no queues.  Race organisers had supplied enough portaloos to service a music festival, something I'm sure most ultra runners are grateful for before a big race.

0600 and we were off, cheered through the streets and onto the West Highland Way once more.  The morning was cool but it didn't take long to warm up.  I took things real easy, good chat with Norrie made the miles fly by before he ran ahead then it was time to pack away my jacket, the rest of the race would be tee shirt weather.  With snow experienced only days earlier, I had full waterproofs in my rucksack, needless to say all stayed packed away for the duration of the race.

I took a refill of water at Drymen and headed for the first hill of the day, the iconic Conic.  I felt okay going through the forest, chatting to Ian and some others before going up hill.  Half way up I suddenly realised, apart from my two Cateran outings, I had hardly completed any hill work during 2016. This was going to be a big factor in my PW fling, I was going to struggle.  Of course, on such a sunny day the view over Loch Lomond was at it's best with snow capped mountains in the distance.   I descended as quick as possible to the checkpoint at Balmaha.

With not being in great shape I packed more food than usual in each of my drop bags.  There would be no run through strategy today, I just wasn't fit enough.  I chatted to Angela for a while before departing around 20 minutes later having consumed most of my food.

The short steep climb out of Balmaha was a wake up call, my legs were feeling weak already, I began to doubt I would see this race through to the end.  Up and down I went with my heart rate all over the place, I just couldn't get into any rhythm.  It was between Balmaha and Rowardennan I spotted Fiona ahead.  Right, I thought.  I'll tag along behind Fiona knowing a good steady pace will be run which was just what I needed.  Like a stalker I followed or ran beside Fiona all the way to Rowardennan which did indeed sort out my pace.  A runner who was following me said thanks for keeping a good steady pace, I was quick to shift the praise over to Fiona.

Rowardennan was a long pit stop where I had to use the facilities, I estimate about half an hour here before leaving for Inversnaid.

This section now has a choice of two routes, the Fling required the traditional forest track but the full WHW in June will take the lochside track.  I tried to look out for the lower track but didn't see where to turn off, I'll need to do some homework before June.

In years gone by I have used my run 30 walk 30 method for the long uphill land rover track but not this year, I settled for walking all the uphill sections.  On the loch side path to Inversnaid I seemed to have a bit of a headache, I just couldn't put a finger on it.  It may have been dehydration on such a fine day but I was drinking to thirst.  I gave myself a reminder to take a couple of paracetamol at the checkpoint.

Inversnaid was another 20 minute stop before hitting the technical trail.  I usually relish this section but not today, it seemed to go on for miles.  It was a long time before I reached Darios post and left the loch behind.  Bienglas Farm couldn't come quick enough where I needed another long stop.

The last section and home straight, I knew I would finish the race, I also knew I would get in well after 13 hours.  As I walked the uphill parts of the trail, I was passed by countless runners, there was nothing I could do but concentrate on my own pace to get in.  The last of the up hills at the roller coaster section completely wiped me out although I was able to let go going downhill and made up a few places.  Once on the flat and with three miles to go I was able to keep running, something I was most surprised at given the struggle so far.  Once at the river section and approaching the piper I tried to resist the urge to walk, unsuccessfully.  I walked at the barrier section before being encouraged to run then entered the best finish straight in ultra running.  The red carpet led the way home and across the line to complete my fifth Highland Fling.

There was a lot of online praise for the Race Organiser John Duncan and his team, deservedly so. Time to add mine.

Every year some great touches and tweaks are added to this excellent race, here is my experience of Fling organisation and hospitality -

An early morning bus to the start.
Well laid out drop bag organisation.
Fast and efficient registration.
Heaps of portaloos, at the start and throughout the race.
Marshals at every road crossing on route.
Service and being waited upon at every checkpoint.
Great pictures by professional and amateur photographers.
A brilliant home straight.
A seating recovery area just over the finish line.
Tea, coffee, soup and rolls.
A dedicated shower trailer.

And that's without experiencing the ceilidh.

So thanks once again John and everyone involved for providing a top class race, the best in the country.

Photograph by Patricia Carvalho Photography
Week ending 1st May.  Wed 3, Sat 53, Sun 3.  Weekly total 59 miles.
Wed 3, Sat 6, Sun 14.  Weekly total 23 miles.