“Creag Choinnich is the diminutive but beautiful little hill just east of Braemar, clothed in pinewoods. Its ascent makes a short but very steep walk, which can easily be combined with the Lion’s Face walk.”
It has been two days now since my second Cateran Trail Ultramarathon and I am feeling more than a touch battered!
I had an excellent day. The race organisation was superb and the marshals were on top form as always. John Stanton, author and founder of Canada’s Running Room recently tweeted “Race volunteers – some of the nicest people you have never met” and this is definitely an apt description. Having said that, I did know a few of the marshals and I am starting to recognise quite a few more of them from all of the various ultras that I have run of late. A huge thanks to them all – your positivity and helpfulness certainly played its part in getting the runners to the end on Saturday. Thanks for giving up your day to help make ours so special.
Thanks also to Race Director Karen Donoghue and to the RD’s assistant George Reid. It really was the perfect day, from the family like atmosphere at the Spittal of Glenshee hotel all weekend, through to the race itself, including the perfect weather for running, and, finally, through to the prize giving ceremony at the end where each finisher received their quaich.
The race itself was quite daunting. Despite having completed it the previous year, there were certain bits of the course that had somehow filled me with dread, including some particularly boggy sections that, certainly last year, felt like they were never ending. With a small field of runners, there was also the possibility of getting lost and I really did ‘try’ my best to do this, especially in the first 6 miles. As one of the marshals said, you really do need to “look aboot ye”!
The other aspect that was quite daunting was the relatively close proximity to the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, now less than 5 weeks away. Anything less than a finish on Saturday would have been a bit of a psychological blow as it was the last race in my build up to the WHW Race and was a key training component in terms of a last really long run.
As it was, it was a really positive day for me but with a single niggle.
Getting the niggle out of the way – The first 6 miles contained some pretty muddy, boggy terrain. Hardly surprising given the weather of late and, to be honest, it was a relief not to arrive in Glenshee to snow covered mountains. Somewhere in those first 6 miles some gloopy mud grabbed my right foot and refused to let go without a fight, causing me to over extend somewhat. The back of my ankle is red and swollen, as I found when I removed my shoe back at the hotel. Throughout the day, it resulted in a sharp stabbing pain on both the uphill and flat sections. Regardless (definitely stubbornly and possibly stupidly) I was determined to push on and I spent the next 49 miles approx. nursing the ankle to the end.
The real success story of the day for me was my nutrition and hydration. A number of runners have been advocating the natural food approach to ultrarunning, especially for those of us about to tackle the 95 miles of the West Highland Way. The thought of relying on gels for 95 miles turns my stomach just thinking about it and, following the Fling, where I barely touched a gel for the whole race, I set out with no gels whatsoever, replacing them with ‘real food’. The Slimfast cafe latte shakes, mini cans of Coca Cola and pots of Muller Rice that had worked so well at the Fling were also in my drop bags for the Cateran but were joined by McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake and cheese & onion sandwiches. I also took a slightly different approach at the checkpoints, downing the Coca Cola and Slimfast and eating the Muller Rice but opting to carry the rest of the food, nibbling at the sandwiches and Ginger Cake on steep uphill sections. Overall, I found that my energy levels were much more consistent throughout the race and I didn’t suffer quite as many lows as usual, even with the dodgy ankle slowing things down!
If you have ever googled for ultrarunning nutrition advice or read Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run, you may have come across the following definition of an ultramarathon from Sunny Blende, MS, Sports Nutritionist:
“An eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.”
That definitely sums up my day and, following the success of the approach, will also be my strategy for the West Highland Way Race. I have already started compiling a food list for my crew which includes all of the above but also things like tomato soup, porridge, pasta and baked potatoes. Without a doubt, this will look more like a weekly shopping list by the time the race comes around!
I met up with many familiar faces this weekend and spoke with quite a few new ones who all helped to take my mind off my ankle and keep me heading forward. One in particular, Angus, was determined to see me up and over the final hill at the end with as little slacking off as possible and, for that, I thank you. I am sure you could have shot off to the finish as you were looking so fresh. Thanks for sticking around to give me company over the hill and down to the finish line – it was much appreciated.
I finished the race in 12.27, a new PB by 38 minutes and an improvement on my 12:36 from the Fling. With an extra 2 miles, same ascent but slightly less technical terrain, the 2 races generally give comparable times and, last year, I was 2 minutes over my Fling time.
The sections that I had dreaded passed without incident and, looking back, actually passed far quicker this year. It probably does help knowing that you are in fact going the right way and are not totally lost (suspected this at a couple of points last year as the terrain was so boggy!).
I had a surprise visit from Mrs Mac at the Blairgowrie checkpoint (31 miles) which was an unexpected boost. We had a leisurely journey home the following day, following a hearty breakfast at the Spittal of Glenshee and stopped off in Braemar to climb Creag Choinnich which helped loosen off the muscles a bit.
So, that’s The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon for 2012 done and dusted. From 75 who signed up, 65 made the start line and 54 finished.
The countdown to The West Highland Way Race has now begun!
I was lucky enough to be able to extend my festive holiday to accommodate a short break in the Cairngorms. My wife was not quite so lucky in that she had to return to work briefly before we could both head up to Aviemore. Having taken a couple of days off to recover from 61 days of consecutive running, I thought it would be a great idea to run the 18 miles from our house to my wife’s work, arriving at the end of her working day. The perceived benefits of this were as follows:
I could get a long run in, my first of the year
It would save the wife having to travel all the way back (in the wrong direction) just to pick me up and head back that way again
As I would be running at least some of it in darkness, I would get the opportunity to test out my recently acquired Hope head torch
I was sincerely regretting the decision by approximately mile 2! My legs felt stiff, I felt generally lethargic and mentally I really was questioning my sanity!
Fortunately I settled in to a good pace and despite a fairly cold wind I began to enjoy the solitude of the run, south towards Aberdeen along the old Formatine & Buchan railway line. By the time I arrived at the end of the line in Dyce, approximately 15 miles later, I was ahead of schedule and thoroughly enjoying the torchlit run. I would even go so far as to say that it was the best I had felt whilst running South on the line – quite a turn around from my earlier feelings!
Having arrived in Dyce I phoned the wife to ask for her work address postcode. Her company had previously been situated right at the end of the railway line, perfect for those times when I would run in to meet her there. However, a recent move had seen the company move away from the end of the line, leaving me in a position of having to navigate an industrial estate and airport!
I had a rough idea of the new location and, when I ran right past the Google Maps postcode pin, I started to suspect that all was not well.
With helicopters coming in from all directions, planes landing and the general darkness of the night, I just could not get my bearings and phoned my wife again to ask for more specific directions. At this point, she admitted to having given me the wrong postcode. An easy mistake to make, and especially as she was focusing on getting things finished so that she could go on holiday with nothing on her mind. Armed with the correct postcode, I set off circling around the airport to the other side of the industrial estate.
Now perhaps they just don’t want people walking around that area, or maybe they just don’t expect people to walk there but the lack of pavements was something else. On top of this, it was not ‘just’ grass verges underfoot. The verges were as unkempt and pot holed as they could possibly be and, navigating by torchlight, it was all I could do not to trip up. Due to the long line of traffic attempting to exit the industrial estate, I felt like a bit of a circus attraction and I am sure the people in their cars were not accustomed to seeing someone bumble along the verges, attempting to run.
This was definitely my least favourite part of the run and it has to be said, it took the shine off of an otherwise cracking run. However, I finally made it to my wifes work, just in time to throw back a couple of coffees. With her work finished we were now officially on holiday and were bound for Aviemore. My objectives of a long run and of saving time in getting going were both achieved.
The following day, feeling none too worse for wear, I joined the family on a hiking trip in Glencoe. The weather was fairly kind to us and we soon ascended up into the Hidden Valley of Glencoe (Coire Gabhail is the hidden valley where the MacDonalds of Glen Coe apparently hid their rustled cattle) where the views of the valley itself and back down to Glencoe were simply stunning. With a good deal of climbing and descending, this was also perfect training for the ultramarathons that lie ahead in 2012.
The next day I was intent on running but had no set destination and no idea how far and/or long I wanted to run for. I cadged a lift to Glenmore and set off from there, off along the route towards the Green Loch. Given the wind, bitterly cold temperatures and the treacherous conditions underfoot, I opted to stay low and decided against a run up and over Meall a Bhuachaille. As the conditions underfoot worsened I realised that I had forgotten to take any form of spikes and, as such, would have to rely solely (no pun intended!) on the tread of my Hoka Mafates.
I passed The Green Loch and decided to venture on to Ryvoan Bothy. I was relishing the tough conditions underfoot, a mix of boulders, compacted snow, and ice, with the last option being the least preferred! There were times when it was preferable to run through the water streaming down the path as it was often better to get wet feet than to take any chances on the sheet ice!
I continued on past Ryvoan Bothy to the fork in the path that takes you to Abernethy (left) or Braemar (right). Despite having been to this point many times I had never continued further. Realising that there would be no easy was to return from Braemar, I opted to go left towards Abernethy Forest, the largest remaining remnant of the Ancient Caledonian Forest in Scotland. I was enticed along the way by the beauty of the landscape, made all the more glorious by a dusting of snow.
When the opportunity arose and my phone picked up a signal I texted the wife to let her know my intentions. I had experienced enough slip sliding by this point to realise that this could all go pear shaped without anyone being any the wiser to my location! Better to be safe than sorry (and to remember the spikes next time!).
What started out as a run with an unspecified destination and distance ended up as an ‘accidental’ 21 mile run taking me through Abernethy Forest (many forks, few signs, much beauty!) to Nethy Bridge and then back to Aviemore via Boat of Garten on The Speyside Way.
It was great to see a bit of The Speyside Way that I have not seen before. I am more used to the upper half of The Speyside Way thanks to The Speyside Way Ultramarathon.
It was also great to exceed the boundaries of past visits and to be able to continue running and exploring.
Finally, it was great to get some more long run miles in the legs. When I set off, I had thought that I might run somewhere between 10 to 13 miles and, as such, I surpassed my expectations by a fair bit!
As it happened, all of the family returned from their various walks, runs, and ski trips at the same time and so everyone settled down to relax in the knowledge that they had made the most of the day, in their own chosen way.
When I toed the line at the start of The D33 Ultramarathon last year, my longest run had only been 18 miles. 7 days into January and I have already matched and beaten that. All in all, not a bad start to the year.