Saturday, 16 January 2016

A Trip to Narnia

Life conspired against me when planning a 2016 running season and it worked out that I can't do any races. At all. Now, when I don't race I tend to get lazy, and eat cake. Lots of cake. So having not trained or raced properly since late Summer and with Christmas approaching, I was looking more like an amateur prop forward than an ultra runner. A post on the FB by Murdo McEwen asking about anyone contemplating a winter WHW run got me thinking. 

I have often thought idly about doing this. It's easy to do sat on a warm sofa with a cuppa, and even easier with 3 pints of bravery juice inside you. But let me give it a bit of context. The West Highland Way is 95 miles. That's a long run on a nice long summer day when you've trained all year and have a following wind. In Winter it is cold and wet at best. Often it is very f@£king cold and icy. It's dark most of the time. I had also decided that as I wasn't going to set any records that I could try and set 'a first'. I was going to try a solo, unsupported run. Two little words. Solo (def. a thing done by one person unaccompanied) and unsupported (def. done without help). I thought I knew what they meant; I do now!

I didn't really have a choice of dates, so although I looked at weather, it didn't really matter. I couldn't do it sooner and if I didn't do it then I wouldn't get another chance for a year at least. You may have worked out that this left about 3 weeks to train. The first 2 were Christmas, so that went well, then it was taper time. I had some confidence in my residual endurance and I hadn't been totally inactive. I had eaten a lot though.

So on Tuesday 11 Jan 16 after a day at work and several nights of not enough sleep, I was on the last train to Fort William. The rain hit the windows, then snow fell as we climbed higher. I had planned to sleep on the train but was too excited/daunted. I was also being eyed suspiciously by the German couple sat opposite and the bearded alcoholic at the end of the carriage. I however, looked perfectly normal in Lycra tights and stuffing a full fruit cake into my mouth. Climbing off in Fort William felt very lonely. It was after 10pm and raining lightly. Just above freezing, I wrapped up and walked to the Lochaber Leisure Centre. At the start of a race there is a huge buzz, crowds of people, nervous chatter, people tending to your needs. Here there was an old lady waiting for the last bus home, an empty car park, and the prospect of 95 very cold miles ahead. But the rain had stopped and the sky had cleared. The temperature was falling fast and was forecast to be about minus 10 at the top of the Devil's Staircase where I expected to be in about 4-5 hours time. 

I was wearing tights (normal for a Tuesday night), Injinji toe socks, an Under Armour cold gear base layer, tech t-shirt, sealskinz gloves, Montane Prism jacket, a beanie, and I had a buff and ski goggles round my neck. "Ski goggles?!", I hear you cry. Well, when the illustrious Paul Giblin did a (record) Winter WHW in similar conditions, his eyeballs froze. 

Within a mile at the Braveheart car park I stopped to take the jacket off. Ben Nevis loomed white in front and I stood a little too long sorting my stuff out and thinking poetic thoughts. The cold bit almost instantly and I set off up the fire road. It was beautiful and still with a million stars as my ceiling for the night. I soon hit snow patches and as I trotted down the single track I was thinking that 24 hours (a very loose target time) was quite conservative. On that warm Summers Day it probably would be. The only sign of human life from here to Kinlochleven was a light at each of the farms near Lundavra. The first ice was over the Lairig Mor. It was slightly slowing but I could avoid the worst by picking a decent line. No need for Kahtoohlas just yet. The ice was on my mind dropping to Kinlochleven and I knew that a fall could be potentially dangerous with self-help being my primary option, so I stayed slow. Kinlochleven was tucked up in bed. Not even a drunk stumbling out of the pub. No bustling checkpoint, but no fannying about either! 

I planned a water refill at the bridge half way up the climb. It's a long climb, much longer than anything going south to north, and it went on.  It started to snow and it got very icy. Luckily, the burns were still flowing as I was relying on Tailwind powdered food and that needs water. So if I couldn't get water I'd die of thirst and hunger! On the unsupported bit, I had planned to use water from streams and outdoor taps and use 3 food (powder) caches (Pre-placed at Bridge of Orchy, Derrydarroch and Balmaha). No indoor shelter or purchased food were allowed, nor were running companions. The frequent (hourly) water stops had to be well drilled. Pack off, jacket on, gloves off, bottles open, powder in, water in, top on, jacket off, pack on, gloves on, thaw fingers. 

The twinkling lights of Kinlochleven disappeared and were replaced by blackness. There was no moon and now it clouded and snowed. So much so that I thought navigation may become an issue (not normally a problem on the WHW). By the top it was really Arctic but I sat for a minute to drink it all in. I may well never be in a situation like that again, 600m up, utterly alone in the dark, minus 10 in deep snow sculpted by roaring winds. It was too cold to stop long and besides, it wasn't getting me nearer to Milngavie and I didn't intend having 2 sleepless nights! The spikes were on but the descent was still slow. It was here that I first realised a fundamental difference of a winter WHW; the bits where you normally make up time are much slower, and the bits that are normally slow are still slow. Except cow poo alley, but that is a few hundred metres out of 95 miles.

The run parallel to the A82 felt 'civilised' as the odd lorry crawled over the snowbound road, then a couple of snowploughs. I wondered what they'd think of a head torch bobbing about in the hills at 0300 on a Wednesday morning.

Kingshouse was the next metropolis I reached. No sign of life whatsoever, so I went round the back to use the tap. It felt like a 5 star stopover because as well as a tap they had an outdoor light. Worried that I might go soft amongst such luxury, I struck out for Rannoch Moor.

One of the golden rules of ultra running is not to try nutrition out 'on the day'. I've never tried tailwind before. In my defence, this wasn't a race, but I can't honestly say it was a training run either.. I was getting a bit worried; I had measured out just enough for 60g of carbs per hour but felt hungry. I did have a bit of emergency solid food but couldn't very well touch that just yet. I decided to trust it and kidded myself that if I had to find my own food I could stalk then wrestle a deer for sustenance.

Rannoch Moor was a mixed experience. The looming white mountains and endless sky were beautiful. Underfoot though I had a choice between ice which broke now and then, plunging my feet into icy water below, or uneven, hard snow requiring big steps and lots of trips and falls. If hell froze over, purgatory would look something like this. So a few times I lay painfully on the ground swearing at the night sky but getting going again before hypothermia set in.

My sub-standard preparation had not included any banking of sleep. Quite the opposite in fact. So only 30 miles in I was craving sleep and stumbling. Not good on a Summer evening when you have a support crew 5 miles away. Less so when it's minus 10 and you haven't seen a human soul in 30 miles. I did get a text from Murdo in response to a routine update and I realised that I was depriving him of sleep also. I felt a bit bad, but also like I had a little company (thanks Murdo). Anyway, I was dying to try out my 2 man emergency bothy so decided to have 40 winks. I was genuinely comfortable in there, validating my kit choice. I closed my eyes for 10 minutes then got up and re-packed quickly and got moving feeling much better. This part is normally very runnable but in these conditions I seemed to be making the progress of a toddler learning to walk. In the dark none of the landmarks gave any clues as to how much further it was to Forest Lodge.  Finally, the first signs of dawn came as I started down to Victoria Bridge. The moor had put me back by an hour or so. The spikes came off on the road section. Inveroran was deserted but I saw the lights of a couple of vehicles leaving the Black Mount estate across Loch Tulla. 

Jelly Baby Hill was quite a low and short hop, maybe 25 minutes to Bridge of Orchy? But covered in sheet ice it was more like the travellator. And that was just going up! After 2 painful falls the spikes were stretched back over Hokas. The reward was meeting deer skylined on the summit in the growing dawn. The back payment was teetering slowly down the treacherous descent to my first 'food' cache. It was still there! Hooray. I saw a couple of folk defrosting cars for the school run or work as I carried my bag of white powder suspiciously up to the hotel where I indulged in their outdoor tap.

Ben Dorain had a top of cloud and the Black Mount were pristine white in the morning sun. I bid "good morning" to a hiker and some workmen then set off from the station at a jog, loving the scenery. This happy state was maintained until I was above the railway North of Tyndrum. Again, a nice easy part of the trail was now as difficult as it could be. One icy plunge jarred my back leaving it in spasm as I got to Tyndrum. I thought my attempt was over but a call to Murdo put it in perspective. Keep going and see how you go, you can always get a train from Crianlarich. Ok then. It was lovely and sunny and seemed a shame to stop now. 

I trotted the 4 miles to the 'roller coaster' and felt much better. On the roller coaster I met 2 young lads who were off to Inveroran for the night. They were Royal Marine cadets walking for charity and seemed surprised that snow and ice may be a problem further north. I suggested they bought hiking socks to go over their boots when they got to Tyndrum and in return they offered me solid food from military ration packs. Notwithstanding the challenge, I don't think 'biscuits brown' would sit well after many hours on a liquid diet! 

Cow poo alley was marginally more pleasant in frozen state, and the cows looked confused seeing a runner in this weather. At least they hadn't mustered on the path as usual. The mice had found the one bit of solid food I left at Derrydarroch, but at least the powder seemed to be working better now. The emergency food was getting tempting but I resisted. Over the next miles my only human contact were 2 American hikers, proper southern Elmers with raccoon hats and stuff. They were fun and were a little surprised when they asked where I was staying the night. 

Beinglas was deserted. I had seen so few people that I wondered if I may have missed Armageddon during my run and in fact I was the only one left? The mind plays tricks doing things like this. This was also a decision point. Whether to leave the relative safety of the railway and A82 and commit to the long and gnarly east shore of Loch Lomond. I felt ok and it was light, so with 'only' 40 miles to go I set off.

I soon reached Dario's post and posed for a selfie with the legend. As I did so the loch became enshrouded in mist and 
the rain came. Cold, wet rain. You know the sort that gets everywhere and exploits any imperfection in your expensive 'waterproof' clothing? I wanted to get the technical section behind me in daylight. It actually seems less technical going south but there is always a but....clambering over it with 60 miles in the legs is about the most unpleasant thing a man can do to himself. I made it and got to the building site formerly known as the Inversnaid Hotel in the final minutes of daylight. It was throwing it down. I weaved through the departing workmen to get to the tap. 
I sent Murdo a text, 'Inversnaid, 1633, gubbed'. He asked if I could rest anywhere and get myself sorted but it was too wet, getting colder again and going dark so I kept going. I actually managed a decent pace for 3 or 4 miles as light turned to dark and rain turned to snow. 

Descending towards Rowardennan I jarred my back again and also had a niggle in my left leg. This slowed me so I put on more clothing, but eventually I couldn't move fast enough to keep warm. Since I started, hypothermia had only been minutes away. I had to make a fast decision. It was only 25 miles (and the easiest 25) to go after Rowardennan. With warm food and a change of clothes it would seem fine and I was calculating a finish before midnight. However, I was alone and had to think straight. I made the decision to stop and informed Murdo. I called my support then waited at the closed Rowardennan Hotel for my lift. It was cold, and I put on all my clothing and crawled into my emergency shelter in the porch. I sat there feeling quite comfortable but contemplating that it had been a day spent on the edge. There is little room for error in those circumstances, but it had been a great adventure and there was only a slight tinge of disappointment at not actually reaching Milngavie.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Montane Lakeland 100 2015


The Lakeland 100 has fascinated me since I first heard about it. It's the UK's premier 100 miler (actually 105 but more of that later), really hilly but more importantly, over extremely rough terrain. It has a high dropout rate despite generous cutoff times, typically 50%, partly through the tough course although I have a few other ideas why that is. So it represented a difficult challenge. 

After doing quite well in my first 100+ event last year (the wonderful Double Cateran), I wanted to see if I could replicate or improve on that performance. So last September, still not fully recovered from the Cateran, I entered the Montane Lakeland 100. I was very excited and saw this as the catalyst to get back to some decent training. Buoyed by my success at Glenshee, I reckoned I could build significantly over the Winter and turn in a 25-26 hour performance in the Lakes. As I'll explain, things didn't work out that way for a host of reasons, but I still believe I can get that sort of time and in the next 5 years I will come back with the aim of just that.

These races aren't just about the day itself, they are as much about the journey to get there. You can blag a half marathon or train from scratch for a marathon in a couple of months. With a 100 that's not possible, it's too tough. There is nowhere to hide if your preparations aren't up to scratch. So to make the start line you need a good several months of training behind you whilst remaining injury free and clear of bugs and sickness. Just getting to the start is half the battle and so it proved.

I hadn't quite realised how much the Double Cateran had taken out of me and I didn't really train consistently or with any real purpose until January. In November I had the opportunity to do the Glen Ogle 33 as I was up north. I knew where I should've been in the field, but finished far slower, having never really got into the race or really pushed my body or mind hard. It was a bit of a wake up call. I had put on weight and lost fitness. Still, the malaise continued and I decided to do Marcothon in December as motivation. I struggled, working long hours on exercise and squeezing in 3 mile runs just before midnight on freezing winter nights in Cornwall. Christmas finally put paid to that and I resolved to train from January, the L100 being in late July, giving more time to get fit. It meant I didn't have to do long night runs, usually a favourite but my motivation for them had been low. What this meant though, was that I had time to get fit, but the Winter should have been building on last year, to move up to the next level, which didn't really happen, instead I was managing a steady decline.

I finally got some quality back in my training before getting a virus and stopping for 2 weeks. I got going again and then in April I had a recurrence of a bulging disc in my lumbar spine. For a week I was crippled by it and could barely walk. Soft tissue work eased it but it never really cleared, and 4 weeks later I lined up for the Cateran (55 mile variant this time). My longest training run had been 22 miles and my back was stiff, but I got round in a mediocre time and thoroughly enjoyed the race, delighted to complete the distance and a necessary confidence builder.

Moving on, I managed some excellent recce runs on the Lakeland course with Howard Seal. 

Recce run on Sail Pass.

He knows the terrain well and it was an education running with him. He is fast and will do well when he first tackles the 100. 

Recce runs with Howard.

It highlighted that the terrain was tough and made me consider shoe choice. I had planned on using Inov8 Ultra 290's but a 30 mile recce on the middle part of the course confirmed that the heel drop is too much for me. They make running feel dead and soulless so I vowed not to race in them. Unfortunately the rocky trails also confirmed that over a day in Roclites wasn't really a great option either. In the end I decided to go back to Hoka's for this event and ordered some Challenger ATR's. I had to exchange them for a larger size and ultimately they arrived late and I ended up pulling them on for the first time on race day! The recces also told me I had sufficient fitness for a finish in the 28-29 hour bracket if all went well on the day. 

Supporting Charlie Lees on his West Highland Way Race also helped, not least from a 40 mile outing, but also as a reminder of how deep you need to dig in a race of this length. It's no use ignoring the fact, you have to push yourself to places you may not really wish to go.

With Charlie on the Laraig Mor.

I started my taper 19 days out, feeling confident of a solid sub 30 hour finish, but then near the end of an easy 4 mile run around Gleniffer Braes, I pulled up with a sore left calf. I walked a bit and stretched but it got worse, so I iced it and went to feel sorry for myself. I assumed it would be ok in a day or two, but it turned out to be a grade 1 muscle tear. The advice was not encouraging. If it was really minor and healed really quickly I was still up against it to make the start! I did all I could and in a week it felt ok so I decided to do a 2 mile test run. I warmed up with lunges and heel flicks and felt a twinge. The run ended there. Now I was in despair and thought my A race was already over. Zeina Clare (of ZC Sports Therapy) advised only swimming and stretching before the race to maximise the chance of muscle repair. 

I did some light cycling and swimming and stretched, also working on my back with a physio at work. On the advice of many I booked a session with Gordon 'magic hands' a week before the race. He cancelled having fallen ill and I thought the running gods were against me. A plea for any last minute cancellations led to a kind offer of treatment by fellow ultra runner and friend (and paediatric physio) Lorna Sinclair. She did a great job and left me feeling a little hopeful with 4 days to go! Two further offers came in and the day before I got to see Gordon and he did what he could. Importantly he felt no issues in my left calf. So that evening I travelled to Cumbria. I wolfed a huge breakfast at Bilbo's Cafe in Ambleside and set up camp at the school. Registration was efficient with a very strict kit check (I had to jog back to the bottom of the field to get my buff) and there was a huge buzz as people arrived. I cooked some food and rested up, chatting to familiar faces, including John Kynaston, Andy Johns and JJ Street (who I last saw at the Commando Training Centre 18 years ago). I also met a few faces familiar from the L100 Facebook group, including Mike Churchyard and Jonathan Fletcher with his beautiful 4 legged running partner, Otto! Helen and Tom came to say hello and suddenly it was time for the race briefing. Slightly caught out, I got ready and headed to the school hall. Next time I'll remember to bring a cushion to sit on! 

Marc's brief.

Marc Laithwaite gave an entertaining yet sobering brief; told us all to look at the person next to us and decide which one wasn't going to make it. I was too polite to say, but I was definitely going to finish, so in my head I gave my apologies to Alan Hodgson (who I saw quite a bit of for the first 15 miles). Sadly he did have to retire at Ambleside, so next year he should sit next to someone else!

With 25 minutes to the start I met Noanie who had said she'd tape my troublesome calf. 

Final preps (brand new shoes!)

She did a great job (it never came off) and off I went to dib in and take my place towards the back of the start pen along with the other 302 starters. I wanted an easy start and didn't want to get caught up front with the ego's and fast guys.

Awaiting the pain.

I looked around for familiar faces but saw none. We were treated to a rendition of Nessun Dorma (none shall sleep) and then the countdown started. I was apprehensive about my calf and didn't really expect to get as far as Seathwaite. The countdown began and eventually moved off with a shuffle, a bit like a big city marathon. That was perfect as people raced off. I am amazed at the pace people set off at in such a long race. I would say the first half of the field was running up the first climb at a pace which if sustained, would deliver a course record. As none did, I conclude they set off too fast. I try and imagine the pace I'll be at 80 miles later and sit at that. The first half of these races should feel ridiculously slow, then the second half a complete thrashing. Ian Broadley is a master of pacing and his splits show how this race should be run. Time in the bank is not time in the bank at all, it is muscle damage in the bank and early glycogen depletion! People talk about breaking the race into small segments to cope with the mental challenge. I use this technique in the second half of a race, but in the early part I find it helpful to picture the whole task. It tempers your effort and makes you regulate yourself better.

Leg 1. Coniston to Seathwaite. 7 miles, 659m ascent, time 1.37.52, 181st place.

Anyway, off through the village at a jog, seeing some friendly faces including Howard Seal, Susan Gallagher, Keith Ainslie and Andy Johns at the Black Bull looking rather smug at having a restful night before embarking on the 50. We turned up towards the miners bridge and I walked as the road reared up, falling in with John Kynaston and Jonny Rowan. 

With John Kynaston and Johnny Rowan on the Walna Scar road.

John, like me, was pacing on heart rate, a technique he has used to post a string of PBs. I was aiming for 127-133bpm. A week before the race I had a gastric virus which had cleared but my heart rate was elevated by 10-12bpm. I knew the pace was right from my recce runs but for the rest of the night it ran high. I was undecided what to do but kept the pace. My legs felt like someone else's (sadly not Marco's) as I climbed. Maybe this was a factor of it being my first run in 3 weeks? Debs was sat beaming at the first gate and taking snapshots. I was also in company with Alan Hodgson, who I had sat with at the briefing. He was going well but blowing a bit hard. He said he knew he was too fast and aiming for 35 hours. I said I was aiming for 28 and that he may be better slowing down, but I enjoyed a chat and the company. We passed a few fast starters and I was pleased to see Jonathon Fletcher and Otto. They 'only' made it 59 miles to Dalemain, but it was lovely to see Otto loving it and clearly in his element and also the attention given to him by Jonathon. Those 2 were truly #livinginthemoment!

The weather was perfect and the views stunning. I had been looking forward to the first 4 hours immensely as you get great views, hopefully a sunset and the beautiful feeling of running at dusk, then of course the stream of torchlight across the mountains. It seemed to take forever to get to the summit. People often dismiss it as a short, easy first leg. The reality is, it climbs almost as high as Fusedale (highest point of the race). The descent felt good in my new shoes and I overtook a lot of people, including Hester Cox who I'd see much later and Ady Benn running in sandals, a tough proposition. I love sandal running but this terrain is so hard on the feet. Ady retired at Braithwaite, but full marks for his determination. Alan and I ran into the CP together where Ironman dibbed us in and other superheroes filled water bottles. I was using Osmo powder in water which is excellent but a complete bugger to get into Salomon soft flasks. A perfect hydration refill solution I have yet to find.i grabbed some biscuits and ran out, high fiving JK who was just arriving. My calf had been ok and I hadn't DNF'd at CP1!

Leg 2. Seathwaite to Boot. 7 miles (14 miles total), 385m ascent, 1.49.16 (3.17.08 overall),  155th place.

I was feeling slightly unwell (mild flu like symptoms heading through the woods after the CP) and my legs felt alien. The heart rate was still elevated and I was concerned. I just though I'd take it a check point at a time and see how I got on. I struggled up the steep climb from High Wallowbarrow Farm but started passing people after Grassguards. The midgies were out in force here and were biting hard. It's impossible not to get wet feet here so I didn't bother trying not to. As I turned to climb off the stile, Alan's head was covered in midgies which amused me. I realised my mistake in the recce and followed a few others down the correct path then passed them on the run to Doctor Bridge. Alan stayed with me and we ran into Boot together, enjoying a little cheer from the pub goers. I asked who was leading and it was my club mate, Ken Sutor, who had done his trademark (too) fast start! I didn't even know he was running. Another quick in and out and off to Wasdale, with the light beginning to fade slightly.

The checkpoint at Boot.

Leg 3. Boot to Wasdale Head. 5.4 miles (19.4 miles total), 297m ascent, 1.23.27 (4.40.45 total), 143rd place.

This leg was beautiful in the fading light. I ran the uphill with Alan, Kirsty Williams and a couple of others. I met Kirsty near the end of the West Highland Way Race when I was supporting Charlie Lees and learned that she was doing both and then the UTMB in August. With 2 down already, that's one tough lady! I could hear her until much later into the night not far behind, she never drew breath when most of us were panting like dogs! On the climb there is a subtle right turn which most people missed and went higher. We shouted but they continued and we passed them before Burnmoor Tarn. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the route. It was now dusk and the odd head torch went on. I like to use ambient light for as long as possible and also save my batteries for any emergency so I opted to leave the others and descended quickly without my torch on. It was beautiful passing lots of runners stumbling in the torchbeams whilst I ran fast and freely downhill. I didn't put my torch on until 200m before the checkpoint. Two runners had mistakenly disappeared into the bushes. I'm really not sure how they managed to do that! 

Sunset over Wasdale.

The checkpoint was booming as an 80's disco. There was also a party at the pub next door at which another ex-Royal Marine friend was celebrating a family birthday. I refilled water, fiddled with my sachets, had a little soup and tea and took some ham sandwiches for the climb before leaving a crowd in the CP. A lot of people were already seeking the comfort of checkpoints, whereas I wanted to get out. The clock was ticking.

Leg 4. Wasdale Head to Buttermere. 6.9 miles (26.3 miles total), 712m ascent, 2.24.46 (7.05.31 total), 130th place.

I have only seen this section in daylight before and it is epic mountain scenery. Unfortunately all I could see was my torch beam and the ground ahead as I choked down my sandwiches. The climb to Black Sail Pass starts easily with runnable bits, then it steepens, then steepens some more. There was a string of torches above and as I looked back they went all the way back to the col near Burnmoor Tarn. I wondered who they belonged to, maybe Mike Churchyard, maybe Otto was bounding down there? The view was stunning and I could've sat and watched it all night. I ended up with a guy called Simon (I think), other half of eventual female winner Carole (I think). We chatted away and on the descent he said he always hits the horrible scrambly bit in the dark, just as we hit the horrible scrambly bit, having missed the bypasses on either flank. It was torturously slow down there to avoid a hard fall. Simon left me but I soon caught him as we approached the youth hostel where some residents were sat out cheering us on at midnight. A good idea for a future race addition thought I. We continued yapping up Scarth Gap until we saw Charlie Sharpe (2nd last year and a great runner) in his bivvie at the summit with a take away pizza. I nearly climbed in with him and snuggled up!

Torchlight descending Scarth Gap to Buttermere.

I went ahead of the others on the descent, remembering the speed I went down it trying to follow Howard. The lake was smooth and reflected the scene, it was beautiful. I ended up catching a group of 3 guys on the last gated section into Buttermere and ran into the checkpoint with them, an American diner theme, including the youngest race Marshall, baby Evie, fast asleep in the corner. I had a quick stop, grabbing a few cookies and left the others to their hot dogs and milkshakes. 

Leg 5. Buttermere to Braitwaite. 6.5 miles (total 32.8 miles), 1.58.21 (total 9.03.52), 120th place.

This is a tough leg, not as harsh as the previous one, but unrelenting, hard going and mildly exposed. The initial climb through the wood is enchanting in daylight and held good memories as I climbed alone. I caught 2 runners soon after and they tried to go the wrong way as I called them onto the left fork at a small pile of stones. From here it climbs for over 3 miles, over 3 burns, one of which I slipped and fell in, covering a custard cream in mud which disappointed me enormously at the time. The final drag to Sail Pass is relentless. I felt pretty rubbish and could hear Kirsty still chatting happily behind me. I thought she must be hard as nails not to be wheezing like the rest of us, but in hindsight I think she just likes talking! (Sorry Kirsty!) Over the top there was a chilling breeze and I gained some momentum, distancing those behind, although my legs felt jaded, still I feel because of the lack of recent running. the descent starts steep (daylight photo below), then becomes horribly rocky. On

The descent from Sail Pass in daylight.

this section the Hoka's were brilliant. I saw one runner above me on the wrong path and shouted. He scurried back down then I located the fork (that John Kynaston missed) as 2 others were scratching their heads. I told them I was on the right path and headed up to Barrow Door. I descended quickly opening a gap and enjoyed a few minutes of solitude before hitting the village. The checkpoint was like a kids party with tables in rows and all types of sweet treats. I down a couple of minutes having tea and pasta then grabbed some pick n mix for the dawn leg.

Leg 6. Braithwaite to Blencathra Centre. 8.5 miles (41.3 miles total). 478m ascent. 2.08.59 (total 11.12.53), 101st place.

The legs take some time to get used to a bit of flat Tarmac after the savage overnight section, but I soon found a rhythm and overtook a few runners here and on the bike track which was now high with ferns. A small group of us started the climb round Latrigg together until 2 of us moved ahead, munching biscuits all the way up. 

Glendaterra Valley at dawn (the path looped up then down the other side).

Dawn was breaking and as we rounded the corner into the Glendaterra Valley we had the most amazing sight of veils of cloud spilling down the broad steep re-entrants on the valley side. They evaporated in minutes as the Sun rose. I really enjoyed our run here. My heart rate had settled, I had the vigour that a new dawn gives you when tired and I had good company. We could see the odd runner still with a headtorch on the path below and far side of the valley a little way ahead. We dibbed at the unmanned check and again on the downhill I left my companion, catching another guy and hauling in a couple more at the checkpoint, one of whom was Rob Bateman who jumped out of his skin as I crept up stealthily! It was good to meet Little Dave (another ex-Royal) at the CP and even better to try his mums legendary chocolate cake. He put on a great spread of food, the perfect ultra running breakfast with cheese, eggs, cake, and, erm seconds! I must mention they were all dressed as fairies, true bootneck style.

Leg 7. Blencathra Centre to Dockray. 7.7 miles (49 miles total), 417m ascent, 1.54.09 (total 13.07.02), 92nd place.

Again I was quickly on my way and down the hill when I got the first and only warning sign of the ultra runners dreaded call of nature. Typically I had left the loo a mile behind but I wasn't hiking back up there! I caught 2 more runners on the downhill to the railway track, then dived off the track and down near the river for some 'me time'. Back on track I was alone, but could see a few others as I started climbing to the coach road. I caught them on the climb, then went ahead as the road flattened. The Sun really accentuated the sharp southerly ridges of Blencathra and warmed the muscles. 

The ridges of Blencathra.

I reflected that I was doing ok and enjoying the moment. A steady trot to the CP saw me close in on a few others. We were welcomed by cowbells and cheers and a million midgies! How the CP team coped with that for hours is beyond me, but thank you. They treated me to soup and tea and I left quite a gang of runners sat there looking like they'd started too fast! Wondering who was feeding who, I wasn't hanging around long.

Leg 9. Dockray to Dalemain. 10.1 miles (59.1 miles total), 370m ascent, 2.27.59 (15.35.01 total), 82nd place.

In determined mood above Ullswater.

I set off down the hill to Dockray village with a guy who couldn't run the steep downhill (so he said). He then flew past me, before slowing again. On the drop to Aira Force a small group formed, including the tough as nails Jackie Stretton and the cool as you like Carmine de Grandis whose accent was a joy to listen to. I wasn't talking much. It was getting warm and I was feeling a bit wooden. I was still moving ok on the climb but I was feeling vulnerable. The views up here from Gowbarrow Fell across Ullswater are stunning and the single trail is perhaps the finest few miles of running trail in the UK (if you have fresh legs). For the first time my legs were feeling it at only half way. As we ran into the ancient forest, I eased off and ate. The legs soon came round and I caught the others and we made our way over the fields. On the road section to Dacre, I had to convince 2 guys of the right way to go. I felt good and left the others once more, keeping a steady but unspectacular jog to Dalemain. I had promised myself a longer stop here but I didn't really need it and should've got moving. John Kynaston was in and out in no time, and although I was faster than most, I knew I was fannying about, delaying the next bout of suffering. I packed my drop bag, grabbed some sweets and left, walking first to ease the legs back in.

Leg 10. Dalemain to Howtown. 7.1 Miles (66.2 miles total). 294m ascent, 2.12.52 (17.48.53 total). 87th position.

Across the fields to Pooley Bridge I teamed up with Allan Conroy and Tony Brown, who I met and who ran strongly at the Cateran. Carmine also caught up and we trotted into Pooley Bridge. It was here I first felt the sharp pain in the front of my lower left leg.  As we climbed out of the village I eased a little and then once at the top, the pain increased. I ended up walking most of the remaining 4 miles to Howtown. This was frustrating as they are good runnable miles and many of those I had distanced in the last hour passed me. I was feeling sorry for myself and though of quitting. Now I never DNF without a real reason and I knew deep down this wasn't a real reason. The important thing is to get back into a positive state of mind as quickly as possible. As I neared the checkpoint I saw a real life cowboy out walking in the Lakes and bid him good morning. Minutes later I was sat in the checkpoint trying to ease my leg when he walked in. His jaw dropped to see the Wild West scene at 'Howdytown', thinking this was specially laid on for him. The volunteers also looked suitable surprised and to me say there, I felt like I was in the middle of a western standoff. Brilliant! I whined to Mike Raffan about my leg and took paracetamol, massaged it, stretched and did what I could. He said they didn't take DNF's there and although I was whinging there was no way I was stopping, but I thought I'll take it CP to CP and see what happened. So I got up and eased out of Howtown. 

Leg 11. Howtown to Mardale Head. 9.4 miles (75.6 miles total), 765m ascent, 3.01.21 (20.50.32 total). 81st position.

Heading towards Fusedale (the biggest climb and highest point of the race) alone, I could see a few competitors strung out ahead and wondered which of them had passed me on the last leg. My leg felt much better and I eased up at a steady pace, slowly catching those in front. Over the top and down to Haweswater was the one but I hadn't reconnoitred before, but it was easy to navigate. I got a decent pace going and passed a few guys on the descent. I had calculated that the 50 leaders would pass me here and I was spot on. I heard a shout, "strong running Keith, you're doing great", and looked round to see which friend of mine was approaching. II had forgotten my number had my name on it and Marcus Scotney was shouting to every 100 runner as he danced past. Nice touch, thanks Marcus. Soon after Ben Abdelnoor and eventual winner Jason Cavill came by looking smooth and classy. Oh, to be able to run like that!

Descending to Haweswater.

 I was running well along Haweswater, certainly much faster ham the other 100 runners that I saw. A short while later familiar faces came by. Howard Seal looked strong in 5th but ended up overheating and stopping for several hours at Ambleside before finishing with his better half which was a nice touch and typical Howard. Matty Brennan came by about the same time as female winner and eventual 4th place Sally Fawcett who looked so effortless. I stepped aside to let Matty by then ran with him for a short way chatting before I realised it was not a sensible pace for me to try and hold. He finished in an excellent 2nd place. I passed Raj Mahapatra on the way up a small rise and was looking behind for the inevitable arrival of Debs M-C (2nd female), who must've passed me at the next CP, and Andy Johns who was exorcising some ghosts from last years 100. Into the CP with a great reception, my leg was hurting again and the paracetamol was making me drowsy. I sat down with the medic and he concluded the same as me, that I wasn't causing permanent damage and I just had to manage the pain. 

Leg 12. Mardale Head to Kentmere. 6.5 miles (82.1 miles total), 511m ascent, 2.11.39 (23.02.11 total). 78th position.

Looking down from Gatesgarth Pass to Mardale Head.

Out of the checkpoint I nibbled on biscuits whilst contemplating the Gatesgarth Pass (above). This is the steepest climb of the race and one of the rougher descents. Again I plodded, not losing places, although several 50 runners yomped by. Over the top I jogged, knowing from the recce that a fast descent here can gain minutes. I thought of the speed that Howard would've come barrelling down here but I was wincing with pain and eventually stopped to take more paracetamol and get my thumbs deep into the muscle above my left ankle. As I did I saw Andy Johns who looked like he was thoroughly enjoying his day out, Keith Ainslie who was on course for a huge PB after great season, and the irrepressible Jackie Stretton. I got going again and felt good, running well to Sadgill and leaving folk behind again. On the climb the paracetamol took effect and nearly knocked me out. I stopped and shut my eyes for a few minutes until Becky Morgan woke me, only to jump up and fly down into Kentmere, shouting to 50 runners who went off course. I came in ahead of Tony and Allen who had also gone wrong. They still reckoned sub-30 was on and I agreed. I was back in racing mode, so after a quick smoothie I got going. 

Leg 13. Kentmere to Ambleside. 7.3 miles (89.4 miles total), 491m ascent, 2.06.30 (25.09.41 total), 69th place.

I caught several people on the climb up Garburn Pass including some 50 runners who asked if I was doing a work out after I'd finished. I said they were welcome to join me for tempo work and deep squats tomorrow! I caught Becky near the top. We agreed that psychologically getting to Ambleside was important because you can see Coniston Old Man and feel like you're on the home stretch, so we (both suffering from niggles) decided to ignore the pain and run like we were out for a leisurely 10 miler. We flew down to Troutbeck passing 100 and 50 runners alike. 

Flying down Garburn Pass (terrible form).

Some photographers cheered us through , then as they saw our numbers said, "and they're 100 runners too" and cheered even louder! We continued strongly to Ambleside. The jog through town was quite emotional, with hundreds of people cheering madly all through town and into the CP. Noanie and Jo dibbed us in (the theme was the circus; think bearded ladies, gorillas and clowns). I later saw that we were 36th and 37th fastest on this leg. On entering the Parish Hall I saw Howard wrapped in a sleeping bag and down jacket complete with wooly hat. Heat exhaustion and cramp had given way to hypothermia and he was recovering. I chatted to him for too long, reckoning that had we both had a perfect race we should've met here in different circumstances! I got sorted and left, feeling good and up for a sub-30 effort.

Leg 14. Ambleside to Chapel Stile. 5.6 miles (95 miles total), 234m ascent, 1.47.53 (26.57.34 total), 69th place.

I walked through Rothay Park as I left the CP before a good powerful climb up Loughrigg Fell, holding pace with some guys doing the 50. Down the other side I passed 3 100 runners, running together at a slow and painful hobble. I didn't expect to see them again as I flew by. In a mile all that started to change. At the bottom of the descent I took my one wrong turn, adding maybe 100 metres, but didn't let it bother me. Through Skelwith Bridge I was moving steadily and onto the flat path through the valley, which felt alien on legs that had been pummelled by up and downhills for over a day. I knew that walking here would be an unnecessary loss of time so I kept going steady. In a small group we came across a girl lying by the path. This is where my race turned from a race into a mini adventure. It turns out she was Emily Cook. She said she just needed to sleep for a while. It was now early evening and although it was sunny the temperature was falling and the shadows lengthening. I told her she couldn't sleep here and said that the CP was only 3 miles away and that they had sofa's and a fire so she could snooze there. Reluctantly she agreed and I offered to accompany her to the CP. The others ran on but Emily was falling asleep  and we walked all the way in. She had also taken paracetamol as I had which can't have helped. Eventually we arrived at Chapel Stile and agreed that I would get food and allow Emily 10 minutes sleep. I felt cold and put on my waterproof jacket, gloves and head torch as dusk was approaching. I got some stew and tea and felt ready to get running. I saw Allen and Tony come in then woke Emily. Rather than being rejuvenated, her body had though it was race over and she was shivering and sick. We got her extra clothing on and sat her by the fire. The CP staff offered to take her back to Coniston as a DNF, but I reckoned with some food and a quick walk to get the blood flowing she would be able to run with me to the finish. She wasn't looking good at this point but the military mindset doesn't let you leave a wounded comrade on the behind so I cajoled her into continuing. The marshals were happy so long as we buddies up for the next leg, which I was happy to do despite Emily telling me to go on. I figured we had already lost a fair bit of time and probably a sub 30 finish but the mission had changed now and it was a team game. And so, we moved gingerly out of the checkpoint. I genuinely thought we'd be running again within a mile. Emily is an experienced ultra runner over these distances and I reckoned we'd push each other to the finish quite well.

Leg 14. Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite. 6.5 miles (101.5 miles total), 387m ascent, 3.31.23 (30.28.57 total), 87th place.

We walked slowly from the CP. I felt cold and was eager to quicken the pace, both to get some life into Emily and because my own niggle was getting cold and tight. As it happens we didn't run another step during this leg. Emily was still nauseous and the waves of sleepiness continued. It went dark as we approached Side Pike Pass. I cheerfully commented that it was the last big climb but it fell on deaf ears! To be fair, Emily was trying to talk to stay awake. For my part I was cold and it was turning into a grind with my leg not thanking me for slowing and walking which made it worse. I tried to remain upbeat anyway. It grew dark and started to rain and Emily was asking to stop and sleep or sit down. Genuinely concerned now that she may become a casualty, I forced her onwards saying she could sleep at Tilberthwaite. Stumbling up beyond Blea Tarn in the wet and dark seemed to take forever as endless runners came past. We dibbed into the unmanned check and I took great amusement as we headed down the Tarmac road seeing a 50 runner sprinting back up like he was doing hill reps. He had forgotten to dib; had that been me I think I'd have taken my hidden cyanide pill!

As we climbed over to Tilberthwaite I had to link arms with Emily as she was sleeping on her feet. We discussed her state and agreed that it was too risky to lead her over past the quarry works in this state. She was going downhill alarmingly quickly and was all prepared to DNF at the CP. Finally it hove into view and he announced her intentions. The Marshall came up with an idea that in our delirium we hadn't considered. Why not stop and sleep there for a few hours then finish. Although we were no longer racing at this point, we had hours and hours to spare! Emily did just that and after 2 hours sleep continued to the finish which classes as a happy ending! Well done Emily on a gutsy performance. I grabbed some tea and fruit and they looked after her and then got going, as I just wanted to go to bed. I had mentally prepared for one night of running and to be in before midnight. It was already past midnight and I no longer had any goals other than finishing and going to sleep!

Leg 15. Tilberthwaite to Coniston. 3.5 miles (105 miles total), 283m ascent, 1.39.24 (32.08.33 total), 88th position.

I started up the 'stairway to heaven' and nearly fails at the first step! It felt like 2 metres high. I was expecting a strong finish but the hours of getting cold had really just made my body seize and start to try recovering and protect itself. The pain in my left leg was now excruciating. I climbed hard trying to catch a pair in front to no avail but did catch another pair. A steady yomp to the summit was harder than expected. I know this section well but tired and in the dark I stumbled on the scrambly bits. I hoped to get my rhythm for the technical descent but the pain shot up from both calves now. It was going to be slow. Reckoning I had nothing now to aim for (except perhaps sub 31!), I decided not to hurt myself more than necessary and walked all the way to the final 100 metres. Hester Cox who I had seen over 24 hours earlier flew past at the top of the descent having paced herself well. As I hit the Coppermines track a 50 runner came past and said ,"well done Keith, you must be so proud". I honestly replied, "I really don't care, I just want to go to bed". In hindsight of course I am immensely proud to have finished such a challenging course, albeit a few hours slower than planned.

As I rounded the final corner I saw a small crowd gathered so I mustered a slow run over the line. I was led into the school from the finish line to a huge round of applause which was given to all runners. At that point I felt a twinge of emotion and realised what I had just done. I ate and saw runners come in and chatted to all sorts of people. It was a hazy but happy hour or so.

Immediately post race (about 0200 Sunday).

The urge to sleep came back and off to bed I went. The next morning was lovely and runners were still out in the course, which provides scenes like the one below, the reward for 2 sleepless nights.

Dawn over the final leg.

Th highlights were hearing how Howard waited for Susan and finished late on with her, what a star (and huge brownie points), and seeing in the oldest ever finisher, 80 year old Harry Johnson who became a bit of a celebrity, finishing with a hand gashed to the tendons and refusing to get in the ambulance until after the prize presentation. They don't make them like that anymore! Howard and I trod a lot of the route in training and although neither race plan worked out, we both had a real adventure.

Howard and I in finishers T-shirts

I saw Emily and was delighted to hear she'd finished (my mum had worked out what was going on, along with my Facebook supporters club and had let me know).

People will ask how it compares to the Double Cateran. Obviously each edition of each race is unique to the individual but objectively the Lakeland course is far harder, albeit 5 miles shorter. I'd say it's 4 hours longer give or take. The DC though is harder for a slower competitor because of the tight cut off times. The L100 has a generous 40 hours vice 30. Will I come back? A couple of times I told myself never again but I know I can go so much faster and want to prove it to myself. I also want a good go at the 50 which looked amazing too. 

A huge, heartfelt thank you to Marc and the whole team, too numerous to mention, who make this such an experience, and who literally make dreams (and nightmares) come true. And well done to the winners and all who took part. We're in a rather small, rather special club!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cateran Trail Ultra 2015

So this year was 'just' the 55. In my head it was going to be a piece of cake and that was a problem. No ultra is easy and so this race was going to prove.

I will start with a little of the background. The Cateran was my first serious race since the double last year. following the DC I took about 3 months to recover and with only the GO33 on my radar I decided to do Glen Ogle as a training run. I was unfit, overweight and mentally not ready to hurt myself, so my GO33 performance was sub-standard (although the route and the after party were sensational). It was a kick up the arse and I went back to basics, spending November working on tecnique and form. Since then I have never run in anything other than minimal shoes, occasionally sandals, and a few times barefoot. I also saw a coach (the legendary Julian Goater) to work a little more on technique. Bare in mind that by November last year I was training hard for the DC. In December I intended doing Marcothon. I managed up to Christmas Day but it was often a late night 3 miler owing to being away on exercise. My main aim for 2015 is the Lakeland 100 so I wanted to train hard from January, which started well. Soon however I got ill and then once I was training again I got a disc problem in my lumbar spine which crippled me in March. Whilst my overall mileage was similar to last year, there were fewer long runs (max 22 miles vice 32 in 2014) and fewer interval sessions. Plus my back was still a little sore and didn't inspire hard downhill blasts.

In my head I wanted a sub 10 hour finish (originally I had been thinking sub 9 but all the setbacks shelved that plan months ago), but mainly I wanted to get round and pace fairly evenly. I also used this race to improve my drop bag content and checkpoint discipline. My usual approach to drop bags is to wander round the supermarket thinking what I may like to eat and then stuffing it all into a bag and crudely taping it up. At checkpoints I then sit down tearing it apart and losing what I did want and taking things I don't, like pork pies! In short, lots of fannying around and zero forward progress.

Marc Laithwaite (L100 Race Director) posted some great race nutrition articles which I read. I decided that I would use Osmo in my fluids to get some carbohydrate then supplement it with humous, avocado and lettuce wraps and home made energy balls (oats, manuka honey, peanut butter and chia seeds), and finally shot bloks. I only packed enough to account for 60g carb per hour, plus a babybel and a sachet of baby food as mental insurance for my strategy. The rest would need to come from body fat (I still have plenty of winter reserve to use up). I had also worked out how much water I would need for each leg. Having marshalled the Fling at Inversnaid, I saw so many different strategies and drop bags and realised there was much room for improvement. So I laminated labels and used small neat bags. They at least looked the part.

I was intent on arriving early enough to see the start of the 110. That race means so much to me as it was my first long ultra. It is a serious challenge within tough time limits (30 hours this year). Several people I met at last years event were back with a score to settle. I went a little way up the hill to watch them start their great adventure. Morgan and Gregor Heron led at the stile. Those back for seconds knew what was coming and went out more conservatively this time. I then set out to mark the 3 miles from Spittal of Glenshee for the end of their first lap which many of the double runners would do in the dark. The highland coos seemed very passive as I marked, tested and remarked the trail to ensure maximum chance of successful navigation for the tired runners.

After a great feed (thank you Helen, Sandra et al) at the Gulabin Lodge (superb new venue), I decided it was too early to sleep and there was a race going on, so I talked Derek Fish and Iona MacKay into going to Alyth to see the runners go through.  It felt really special, just like it had when running last year. My cheers and encouragement were deep and heartfelt. I could really empathise with their suffering.

And so the morning came and the tail end doublers were coming through. George Chalmers looked dreadful but I told him he looked great. At half way last year I thought I was finished but I came good again 5 miles later and stayed strong for another 35 so I knew he would come good too. I desperately wanted him to finish. 

The dawn was lovely and sunny and just right for a race although the wind strengthened considerably later. I intended to pace on heart rate, using the same percentage of LT as Robert Osfield used in the Fling. For me that meant a target HR of 140, not to exceed 143. I started off slowly and was caught by John Kynaston who was using a similar strategy. I knew from Strava that he has prepared well and I expected him to be slightly faster than me. This was borne out in HR, where I was often at 144 to maintain his pace. I was enjoying his company and our chat so I just continued. We ran together comfortably through Dalnagar, high fiving the marshals (Noanie and Donald) and on over to Glenisla.

We saw Ali Black (DC) who looked pretty grim just before the big hill. He later got timed out at Blairgowrie, but continued from Alyth knowing he wouldn't make the time. Brave man and a courageous performance. We saw George and Alan Cormack just before Glenisla. I was pleased they had teamed up. I was delighted to see George moving well. They finished together and seeing George cross the line really did make my day.

So to the 80's disco (sorry, checkpoint). John is a master of CP discipline and it showed. He was fuelled, took photos, gave hugs, shared a joke and was away before I had sorted my shit out! I was happy though, it was a huge improvement for me. I may well start using bottles as this will speed things up. I'm just nervous about losing food storage at the front because if it's not accessible I won't eat it.

On through the diversion, I trailed John by 50 metres, but he went off piste for a short way and I shouted him back as we continued together. We passed 3 Doublers Craig MacKay, Peter MacDonald and I think Gordon Halliday who all seemed to be in good spirits if moving a little slowly. Peter again had blisters and was pulled out at 80 miles the same as last year; heartbreaking. A couple of miles later I had a stumble and needed a pee so John moved ahead to catch Johnny Fling who had been a short distance in front of us for some time. I would see John all the way to the final climb but never caught him again. I predicted a 20 minute gap and at the finish it was 12. Not bad guesswork. Just before Alyth I eased off a little and several runners caught up, including Chen. I sorted my food out, then sorted my head out and struck out to Drimmie Woods. I was catching Mr Fling on the hill, then ended up catching Jo Wilson and ran with her and a guy whose name I never knew (fellow Englishman) and we chatted on the drop to Blairgowrie. I didn't stop here other than to look at the Minions! I left the others and wouldn't see them for a few hours until the finish, but now caught Keith Ainslie, who I had often seen and heard of but never met. I felt ok on the climb and pushed on, also catching John Moffat (déjà vu from the DC last year) who looked strong. I congratulated him on an excellent UTMB and kept going. As I hit the fields I saw a runner approaching fast. It was Elspeth Luke, clearly on top form and pacing her run well. I stayed with her for a mile or so but couldn't keep my heart rate at 140. In fact it was now an effort to keep it at 134 and I felt that lack of endurance and dipping into the tank slightly earlier had caused this. Nonetheless no one else caught me. I meandered along thinking of the last time I crossed the moor with Lynsey Mackay.

I felt good at Bridge of Cally and remembered passing the 100 mile mark soon after here last year. I was alone all the way to the swampy bit and even then I could only see a couple of others ahead (including the lime green clad Mr Kynaston). The road to Kirkmichael was tough with a strong wind and newly laid sharp stones which smarted having chosen minimalist shoes (a first for me in a 50 mile plus race). I was now plodding and not feeling great. At Enochdu, Noanie was cheering and told me to pull my finger out. I caught a small group in front and we all pushed as hard as we could until a pecking order was established which remained until the finish. 10 hours was out of the question so I just enjoyed the final couple of miles and trotted in for 10 hours 22 minutes and 56 seconds. Not particularly quick, but I had completed my first long run of the year without any real back issues or injury. This was vital as preparation for the Lakeland 100 which will be a couple of orders of magnitude tougher.

Noanie again popped up and offered me soup. After that were a happy pair of hours eating and watching friends come in. For some it was their first ultra and a huge achievement. It's a leg sapping (if beautiful) route and at times can be lonely. The biggest cheers were reserved for the double finishers, especially Morgan, Alyson and George who all exorcised their various demons having gone to some dark places over the previous day and a bit. 

The after party was fantastic and this year I actually managed to be lucid and to drink whisky from my quaich! I even won a raffle prize which was a selection of mouth watering running goodies. It was great to spend time with old friends and make many more through the medium of shared passions, shared hardship and shared whisky. As a race the Cateran Trail Ultra is hard to beat in 55 or 110 format. As a weekend experience it is without peer. It needs to be experienced to be believed, but it is the friendliest family of runners and volunteers you could ever hope to meet. A huge thank you to everyone who helped, marshalled, crewed, cooked, encouraged, dressed up, timed, etc. Well done indeed to Karen and George who organised the races in such difficult personal circumstances and with a new HQ, not to mention Mike who gave up his own chances of winning the 55 to stand in as RD for the 110, a true mark of the man. It was also great to see George on his feet and making progress. Sadly I will be overseas for the race next year but I will definitely be back for the best weekend on the calendar!