When it comes to entering races I'm either sneaking behind Scott's back to enter them or I am not paying any attention and miss out. This year there has been less sneaking and more missing when it has come to races being opened via some social networking avenue that I am actively avoiding. Thankfully, Scott had his eyes on the Cateran for himself so smacked an entry in for us both. Once we were safely entered, he tells me about the CATERAN DOUBLE. A whopping 110 miles starting the night before. Excited, I ask if he has entered me in that one. He has not. For the future of our relationship, this was probably a wise move. I would also still be lost amongst the hills if I had tacked that challenge.
The build up for Scott started in late October. At 55 miles, and undulating, this was a big undertaking for him considering he ran his first marathon last year. The build up for me never really got going. I attempted some running on the course during Easter weekend and spent the whole time lost. I was getting a lovely suntan though. You always need to think about life's priorities. If I was to run at the same pace as I did on Easter weekend, I would definitely not be making the cut-offs. This didn't put Scott or I at ease at all and may have freaked Norm Duncan out a bit on the drive up too.
On arrival at the Spittal, there was a party already underway complete with Sandra McDougall powering out some karaoke and Donald Sandeman dancing on the bar. Showing my true athlete status, I rummage through my kit bag and excitedly consume the Kit Kat chunky. Whoever put that in there was a genius. I then proceed to swap all the healthy contents of my kit bag for other people's Kit Kat's. Sharing a box of chocolates with other runners these days would be awesome as I would get to eat them all. No fighting over the pralines for me.
Unfortunately, I have to retire to bed with a headache. I think it was probably due to Scott and Norm's chat in the car journey.
After a nice wee sleep in, I slowly begin the important pre-race tasks of doing my hair, moisturising my legs, putting on waterproof mascara... Scott gets the lesser jobs of organising drop bags and attending the pre-race briefing, that he subsequently missed. Keith Hughes and Bill Heirs are on sweeper duty. There's a rumour they are carrying knives. Scott could be in trouble having run only 15 miles since March.
Walking to the start line
As we walk to the start line, two of the 110 runners are completing their first 55 miles. They look fresh. Better than I feel and I haven't even started. Once the race is underway, I start off running with Scott. I'm trying to plan our New Zealand holiday itinerary and I don't really feel that he's giving his full commitment to the conversation so I increase the pace a little bit. He chose not to increase his pace and that was the end of our running together.
The last I'd see of Scott for almost 13 hours
- Photo courtesy of David Kiddell
So I ran with Carol Martin instead, who I haven't seen in months. It feels as though we were running much faster than I had been at Easter. Amazing the difference it makes when you're not getting lost or crying in the corner of a field due to FARM ANIMAL FEAR. It's possibly a clinical condition.
Checkpoint 1 - Dalnagair Castle - 6 miles
Coming into the first checkpoint I am running with a guy whose daughter is currently living in the outback. He warns me that there is a long uphill walk ahead. I ask Lorna MacLean how John is doing in the double. It's pretty lonely out there, so hopefully he'll catch some of the 55 milers. When I was running (or walking around in circles lost) I saw him about here, running much stronger than I was.
There's a line of us stretched out along the country road, plodding steadily. I run with a guy from Carnethy who has had a year off due to a knee operation. He is quite strong on the hills which I enjoy a good power walk / steady plod on too. At one point we climb over a steep stile only to be laughed at by a local runner who walks through the open gate next to it. Ah well, some of us need to work off last night's Kit Kat's. How I manage the steep stiles without falling off any is beyond a miracle to me.
Next I get chatting to a guy who I met when I ran the Speyside Way in 2012. That was his first ultra at the time and since then he's ticked off numerous others. Ahead of us the track veers a slight right, as evidenced by the stream of runners following the track and the Cateran Trail arrow pointing in that direction. Obviously, I attempt to go left. I am currently on another planet you see. And my sky is purple.
I follow a chain of runners through a farm successfully without getting lost. Nip back a few weeks ago and I was walking along a track here lost, following a massive cow, crying and thinking that a 'killed by cow' death story was inevitable for me. We're not far from Glenisla now. What time does the pub open? I've got a tenner in my pocket.
The pub was closed
Checkpoint 2 - Kirkton of Glenisla - 15 miles
Glenisla is a beautiful place. Scott has family buried here and his father spent time here growing up. With Lee Maclean, Caroline Gibson and Karen Donoghue at the checkpoint, they certainly keep the place looking good. I consume some delicious custard that the ladies have cooked for me and a smoothie that they have also hand-prepared. Don't ask, don't get people. I notice that there is a runner sitting down being attended to further in the car park. That's a little concerning given that we are about 15 miles in. Turns out that it is Keith Mabbott, on his second lap of the double challenge. Ouch.
There's a nice wee climb out of Glenisla with a nice view back on the village. A guy tries to go the wrong way but I wave him back. I'm essentially a hero. He's from Dunbar and is tackling his first West Highland Way race this year. We chat housing prices, run up hills we probably shouldn't and just generally have a jolly good run.
Alone now, I see an arrow on a stile so climb over it. Pleased that I am navigating myself. Wait, which way was that arrow going? Climb back over the stile. Straight ahead. Ok, seems logical. Climb back over the stile. Carry on across paddock. Next stile; arrow. Excellent. Climb over. You are having a laugh. I cannot recall which way the arrow was going. Climb back over. Straight ahead again. It's not rocket science. Back over the stile again. Get yourself sorted woman. Next stile, I'm on the top. Arrow? Can't remember. Peep over. Straight ahead. I'm learning, I'll get there. By the next one I've got it sussed. Pump out a wee celebratory dance for the sheep on top of the stile. They loved it.
Further ahead is a runner in dark clothing who flicks in and out of view. Turns out he's speedy on the downhills so I lose sight of him every time there's one of those geographical land formations. Later in the pub I will ask his name and then make a comment how I will remember that he is called 'Gray' because that is the same name as my cousin. I'll also comment how it will be easy to remember because he is young and therefore isn't called Steve, Ian or John like most of the other middle-aged men in the ultrarunning party scene. Turns out his name is Craig, not Gray.
Anyway, it's now time to race the wild boar up Alyth Hill. Some other runners inform me that they run up here all the time and are yet to see one. That is very good news. I remember walking to caves when I was a child and being scared of the wild boars and hoping that I could run faster than my sisters should one decide to approach us.
Checkpoint 3 - Den of Alyth - 26 miles
Off the hill and I am delighted to see Jenni Coelho standing at the bottom to point me in the right direction. Just follow the arrows. Arrow, arrow, arrow, I haven't seen an arrow for a while now. Oh dear, those other two were close together. Maybe one of them pointed down the street? Don't fear, arrow ahead. Down into the Den of Alyth. Nice playground. I should have had a wee go on the flying fox. Nice music. A couple of signs. Just have a wee read of those. Oh, it's a ceilidh! I try to give Lorna Mcmillan a wee twist but my dancing skills are decidedly average and I am used to practicing my Scottish dancing with five-year olds. There is quite a Scottish feast laid out. I'd take a dram of whisky but I don't actually like whisky. I'd like to just hang out for a while but get told off for stuffing about and kicked out of the checkpoint.
I've just realised what is going on
- Photo courtesy of David Kiddell
Ceilidh time with Gavin, Lorna and John
Apparently a guy spent a good 15 minutes lost as he crossed a bridge coming out of Den of Alyth. I am warned not to do the same. I walk up a long gradual hill telling myself to run once I get to the corner. Mistake. The hill keeps going. I am not even sure if I am gaining on the recreational walkers ahead of me. But I have made a commitment. I will plod on. And it just keeps bloody going. I try a tricky manoeuvre of taking off my arm warmers and getting them into my pack, without taking off the pack. The guy behind me might not have agreed, but I thought I did a stellar job. Then I hit the forest and once through that I know that it is downhill to Blairgowrie. I am very cautious coming out of the forest as at Easter I turned right and ran for miles before seeing a sign that told me I was closer to Bridge of Cally than I was Blairgowrie. Scott had to drive up and down the wee country roads to my rescue.
Checkpoint 4 - Blairgowrie - 31 miles
Usually I am rubbish at downhill running. However today I am striding down well pleased with myself. Seems like most of the runners ahead are also doing the same thing as we are strung out down the road at a consistent pace. One girl appears to be having a hard time, which I assume is due to her knees. As Karen and George call me across the road into the checkpoint, I think I see Noanie Heffron crossing too but she's in and out of the checkpoint in a flash so am left wondering if maybe I did sniff too much whisky at the ceilidh and am now hallucinating. I drink my coffee at a leisurely pace and am about to sit down with my packet of well-deserved crisps when I am kicked out of the checkpoint by Sandra and Ian.
Sandra McDougall decided to take this photo rather than help me...
As I cross a bridge I begin to devour the salt and vinegar crisps. They are magnificent. I tell a couple I see about their brilliance and they have a right wee giggle. With crisps in hand I power up another gradual incline. There are many of these buggers. When I turn the corner I see three figures ahead. Firstly, there's a guy walking. Further up I recognise Noanie running (we have matching backpacks) until she catches up with a lady in purple tights who I recognise but can't name yet. I stop and say something witty and intelligible to the guy which is then followed by the less witty and intelligent conversation below. Let me introduce you. He's Graeme and is Kathy's (aka purple tights) partner.
Graeme: They've been expecting you
Graeme: They said you'd be coming
Me: Err, me?
I holler a hello to the ladies. They don't turn their heads and instead pull me the fingers and yell abuse in my direction*
* this may be a grossly inaccurate description of the real events
Noanie starts to run up the hill and I continue walking with Kathy and Graeme. Kathy encourages me to go on but I'm keen for a chat which I thoroughly enjoy. I am not sure how they felt about the matter. After a while we catch up to Noanie again and plod along together enjoying a bit of female company for a change. Not that Graeme's company wasn't great but by then he was lagging behind a little... Since the three of them had run the Highland Fling a few weeks before they had tired legs so I pushed on up the hills. I wish I hadn't though as shortly afterwards there was bog. And I am not a brilliant bog runner. I try to chat to a guy spectating as I climb over a stile but I'm not paying enough attention and smash my knee on the way over. My job means that I am covered in bruises anyway, what's one more?!
Checkpoint 5 - Bridge of Cally - 38 miles
Coming into Bridge of Cally was pretty exciting. Rumour had it that there was a cocktail bar there. Not at Bridge of Cally itself (don't be daft) but at the checkpoint. I have my hopes pinned on a margarita. I'll take it frozen or err, non-frozen. Not fussy really. I would even go as far to say that I was easy to please. Well, turns out they are offering alcoholic beverages but not margaritas. Would I like a ROSÉ SPRITZER? Well, I'm not really a rosé girl.
Helen: It's fizzy
Me: Aye, alright then, I could have a wee mouthful
Now I tell you, a cheeky rosé spritzer is definitely the way to go. It had a gorgeous fizz to it. I think I'll stop and just finish off the glass. It came in a can but they're all about class here and have put it in a glass for me. Or a plastic cup. But hey, like I said, I'm easily pleased. Karen tells me that Scott was looking good last she saw him. I have been too afraid to ask. Best save some in the tank in case he isn't doing too good at the end and I need to get back on the course and get him later. Karen has been at all the checkpoints, I wonder how long she gets to stay at each before she has to shimmy along to the next one? I eat some custard, have a bit more wine. Then I am told to shove it. Like out of there. But I haven't had my Red Bull! So I take that with me. Because that is a really wise idea after you've been drinking wine. I can't really be held responsible for my actions for the rest of the race; I did warn them that I cannot handle my alcohol.
Some of the delights on offer at the 'cocktail bar'
- photo courtesy of Helen Munro
So I power up a hill. Why? Because I've been drinking! I'm flying! And to assist further flying I am now consuming Red Bull at a rapid rate. What a day. What a beautiful place. I don't ever need to train, I am always just going to get out here, appreciate being here and love running when I have the opportunity to do it. It's ok to work hard and then run off the stress. Everything is wonderful. This is quite a long hill though. I hope that the empty Red Bull can doesn't fall out of my backpack. Huff. Power on. This is certainly a steady climb. Ahh some running now. Very nice. Oh. Oh, I think I need to spew. Hold it off. Get in behind that tree (what would the farmer think otherwise?!). Sit down. You're alright, it's just a wine, Red Bull mixture. Carry yourself on.
More running is good. Stomach ache over. Flying through now. That mixture was certainly worth it! Pass through a small town where I decline water and am relieved to hand over my Red Bull can. Just a few miles to Enochdhu to go now. There's a bog somewhere and I stumble my way across it, not sure which direction to head but pleased with my newfound positive mind-set when I come across Helen and Mark Leggett, out running the course in reverse and checking on runners. During a lovely wee chat they inform me that I am about fifth. Wow, fifth lady, go me. Little fist punch to myself for my solid plodding. It was nice to see them as I haven't seen any runners since I left Bridge of Cally. As I veer through a field of sheep a walker expresses her delight at my femaleness. Further on another tourist tells me I am the first lady and that there are only a handful of dudes ahead of me. Surely, this is not true. What are all the men doing fannying about behind me? Bewildered, I continue on to a merry Mr and Mrs Sandeman at Enochdhu.
Checkpoint 6 - Enochdhu - 49 miles
As I enter I see David Simpson just leaving the checkpoint. I have coke. Elaine offers to fill up my drink bottle with water. Oh no you don't, that coke is going in this bad boy. And off I trot to capture my newly spotted prey. Coke splatters all over my beautiful white bag. It takes me a while to understand; why is it only raining on my right hand? Once out of the checkpoint is another one of the long gradual uphills. Ahead of me I can see two runners walking; David being one and the other I am not sure of yet. Is that Mike Raffan? He's doing the double and I wasn't expecting to see him. It is Mike. He's limping a little (understandable really) but still moving steadily up the hill. Mentally, there's no way I could tackle the isolation of the 110 mile race. Definitely more experience at going through some hard times in longer racers is needed for me. I give him a big hug. The section is a tough one to have last but at least there's not really any pull-out points so we're going to make it to the end.
FINISH - Spittal of Glenshee - 55 miles
I have my eyes on David ahead. We've not been in a race together for a while. I'm not sure what the score is between us but I'm willing to let it slide for a bit of company for a while. Once I get to a certain part in a run, I hit a point of get faster or stop. That's about where I am at now. So I push on, thinking that I might end up walking to the finish if I don't. The fog is coming down now and some light rain has started. I don't need to get out a jacket as I know I only have a few miles to go but I do feel for the folk that will be out there longer. I can enjoy the misty atmosphere, knowing that if I get too scared I can just run back to David! I'm comfortable going up the last big hill but know that I have to focus on the downhill. The whole way down I feel like I am bounding, leaping over the stones. I imagine that those at the finish can see me flying! Turns out they couldn't, but hey I enjoyed that ten minutes of dreaming. Open the bottom gate, is it left to the start line or right to the hotel? Giant Out-Run arch. I guess that'll be right then. And I am finished. I don't really know how I do it. I confess my lack of deservedness to Karen; I barely run, I eat rubbish, my bum wobbles!
Cateran Trail finish
- Photo courtesy of David Kiddell
It's chilly but I want to see David over the finish. Least I can do for blitzing him on the final section really. Someone walks me inside and calls out that I am the first lady. A round of cheers follows.
I shower, answer a few work emails and head downstairs to grab a beer. Turns out Kathy, Noanie and Graeme came across the line together after battling it out for miles and calling a truce. Norm comes in, confessing that he conned Scott into taking a longer route. Every time a runner enters the pub, a louder cheer erupts. I have great time talking to runners I have met during the race. It's always difficult recognising people in their civilian clothes!
Waiting for Scott is nail-biting stuff. With Keith left on sweeping, I know that as long as he doesn't pull out at a checkpoint he will finish if the sweepers catch him. Johnny Fling informs me that he was looking good with about seven miles to go. Relax now, he'll finish. And in he bounds, proving that these things can be run on toughing it out mentally even if you haven't prepared as much as you'd hoped physically.
At dinner, I wrestle with Johnny Fling over the last plate of roastie potatoes. I let him have them, not because I am weak, but because I am on plate number three. Scott needed to shower and has had to retire to the bedroom with bread rolls for company for the time being.
Prize-giving takes place once all but one of the 110 runners has finished. My time was 9 hours, 17 minutes. We don't know it at the time but I've also broken the ladies record. There's been discussion since as to whether I should be allowed it due to my sometimes unladylike behaviour but I think that they are going to give it to me :)
Karen handing me my prize
There's still one double runner out on the course; John MacLean. Rumour has it that when he finishes he doesn't want to come into the pub. Unfortunately for him we are all in absolute awe of him continuing on his own in the bleak after running for so long and have decided to take the party out to him. The pub is filled with updates on his progress. When the time comes everyone heads outside and joins hands to make a finish line. I'm not sure if he ever imagined finishing between lines of screaming drunk ultrarunners but he did just that. It felt like an emotional experience to me and I wasn't even the one finishing such a feat. Huge congratulations to John (and to Lorna, as support crew is tough work).
Thanks so much to Karen, George and the enthusiastic team of helpers. I had a constant laugh and didn't get lost. That's true success.
Oh, and when I was in Liverpool this weekend catching up with my aunt and sister I was informed that there was a marathon on there. So I ran that, wobbly-bummed and beer-laden. Not a pb but a cheeky 3 hours 20 min.
Liverpool - "Alright, alright, calm down, calm down"