Snow storms and spectating

I spent Saturday at the Cateran 55 ultra as one of my friends was taking part and I offered to give him a lift to and from the race. My plan, which worked out almost perfectly, was to drop him and a couple of his friends who were also running the race off in time for the start at 7am. After seeing them off I went to have a run up and over a route which took in 3 Munros on the east side of Glenshee.

We arrived a little early so had plenty of time to get some breakfast and a cup of tea before the race. My only ultra has been the Highland Fling which is a huge event. In comparison the Cateran 55 is a smaller but no lesser race. Alongside the Cateran 55 is the Cateran 110 or double as people call it. The race takes place around the Cateran trail which forms a loop around some rugged territory in the south of the Cairngorms. It really highlighted to me how friendly and supportive the whole ultra running community is. There looked to be less than 100 people running the 55 and I heard that the double, which set off at 4pm on Friday and performs two loops of the trail, had 15 people taking part.

The race got underway with clear skies and a light breeze, perfect running conditions. I got myself into the car and headed across to Glenisla for the start of my run. I parked near Auchavan and followed the Walk Highlands route towards my first hill, Monega. The trail from the car meandered along the glen floor before taking a turn left to make the long slog up the ridge line of Monega hill.

Monega hill in the center of the picture

Monega hill in the center of the picture

The climb up Monega was slow but steady. I tried to take a slow run all the way up but was forced to walk a few sections which were just too tough for my legs. Regardless, I managed to the King of the hill in strava; result! By the time I reached the summit, the weather awarded me fantastic views into the rocky end of Glen Isla. From the summit, the path followed a line along some cliffs towards Glas Maol, the first of two Munro’s on the route. I was happy to take a reasonable run along this and was taking the opportunity to snap some pics.

Me fannying about instead of paying attention

Me fannying about instead of paying attention

As I reached the end of the cliffs and before the short climb up to Glas Maol, I was still taking photos and hadn’t noticed the weather closing in from the west. Before I knew it, the blue skies and sunshine were replaced with clouds and snow showers. A very clear reminder of how quickly things can change at this height.

Stunning views from Little Glas Maol which distracted me from the weather

Stunning views from Little Glas Maol which distracted me from the weather

I checked my route map and read that Glas Maol had a shelter on it, so decided to up the pace and head for that. At this point, the wind had picked up and the snow was really coming down thick. I had my waterproofs on by now, hat and gloves, and was running to keep warm. It wasn’t working though. Within 5 minutes my extremeties were numb and I could feel myself stating to worry about where this was heading. By now, I was still running along a track but realised I was traversing Glas Maol rather than going to its summit. I tried to get a bearing but with limitd visibility it was impossible. I decided the slope to my left must be the hill I wanted and thankfully sumitted it quickly and found the sheep fold on the top. I hid in this away from the worst of the weather, had a cereal bar and some fluids and studied the map. My compass was telling me I had to go in a direction which just felt wrong. I took bearings several times and eventually decided to trust my map and compass and not my instinct, which by this point was also numb!

After some worrying meander down the slope to the west of Glas Maol, I found a stone wall that was to lead me over a bealach to Cleag Leacach, my 2nd munro of the day.

View from Creag Leacach as the clouds cleared

View from Creag Leacach as the clouds cleared

As I made my way along the line of the wall, the cloud and snow storm cleared as quickly as it came and the views I was presented with were just breathtaking. I thanked myself for being sensible and following my compass and decided to just focus on enjoying the rest of the run.

 

The last third of the run took in a couple of smaller hills before finally taking on Monamenach. After all the excitement of the snow storm and with tired legs, the direct climb up this final hill was….a little bit tough. Once over the top though, it was a long, steady decent back down to the foot of the glen and the flask of tea waiting in the car. By the time I was done, it wasn’t even lunchtime and I felt amazing. Distance: 22.6km, Time: 2h 29m, Avg. Pace: 7:56/KM, Total Elevation: 1365m. A perfect Saturday. Link to Strava for the running geeks.

Elevation Profile from Strava

Elevation Profile from Strava

I returned to Spittal of Glenshee to discover my friend had pulled out of the ultra with some ITB pain. We still had to wait to the finish as one of the passengers in the car was still running, so we headed to the Glenshee ski center for a bite to eat and then came back to see the race leaders finishing. Both the 55 and 110 finish in the same direction around the trail, so the runners were mixed as they came home. We headed up the hill which the races comes down in its final stage to cheer on our friend. As we walked up, the leader of the 55 came past looking strong and eventually finished in about 8h and 15m. Then over the hill came the 110 leader.

Now, I’ve seen lots of people finishing races since I started running and usually I find it really inspiring. Not on this occasion though. The guy we saw coming down that hill looked nothing short of delirious. He was running with pain in his eyes and a gait which suggested problems in later life were assured. I think it made me feel that races of that sort of distance are just never going to be my thing. The rest of the runners though just made me want to pull my shoes back on and get out there. I think the Cateran might feature on my race calendar next year. Being a spectator in the race also made me appreciate just how much work really goes into these things. I loved being part of the race without actually being in it and I will definitely be signing up to help with races in the future in some way.

In other news, I finally made the decision and signed up to the Great Glen Ultra in July. I feel I owe it something as it is the race which inspired me to consider running an ultra, so hopefully I do it justice and have a good run. With another ultra now on the horizon, I was inspired to get out and put some more miles on the clock this morning. I headed out with the Falkland Trail runners for a jaunt up West Lomond. It wasn’t quite the views from yesterday, but it was good enough. I’m enjoying my running at the moment; long may it continue!

View from West Lomond this morning

View from West Lomond this morning

 

DNS

Firstly, my thoughts are with the people in Nepal today after they have experienced the second earthquake. I am currently reading Runner by Lizzy Hawker which spends a lot of its time in Nepal meaning my mind was already in those beautiful mountains and now even more so.

I had my first DNS at the weekend when I missed the Ben Lomond hill race. There was a few contributing reasons to why I didn’t make the start line, but mainly it was that family commitments meant that I couldn’t run. Whilst this was disappointing because I really wanted to do the race as it looks great, it was also a good lesson to learn. We don’t always get what we want and nor should we. There are hundreds and hundreds of other races I can take part in, and me not making this one really doesn’t matter at all. OK, I missed a great run on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny day that would have given me a fantastic workout. What really mattered though was that I made a choice and put my family first and they will always be more important than any race.

The one thing I did do though was to get in touch with the race director to let them know I couldn’t start. The race was part of the Scottish Hill Racing championship which is a really popular competition. By letting them know it meant that someone who could run got moved up from the waiting list and hopefully had a great day as a consequence. As well as it being good etiquette, I think there is some karma involved and hopefully I will make a race I’m on a waiting list for in return. There was a big discussion related to this in one of the online running communities I’m part of about the number of races which are pre-entry only. It is a tough topic to approach, if you are a race organiser I can understand how knowing how many people will take part helps you to plan more effectively. The downside is that people can’t always plan far enough ahead and it creates a culture of people signing up to races not knowing when they do if they will be able to make it. The other aspect of pre-entry races is if people are allowed to transfer their entry. Some races state that the administration of allowing this is prohibitive whilst others allow it freely up to a point just before the race.

A friend of mine runs a small business which provides timing systems to races and says that when you have pre-entry, if you don’t allow for transfers you are likely to lose as many as 30-40% of sign ups. If you allow transfers then it is typically 10%. That’s a huge difference! Given that many of these races are run by local running clubs and used as a means to generate much needed funds, you would think that they would want to allow for transfers to make sure more people sign up to each race. Seems like an odd economy to me. Anyway, if you are signed up for a race and can’t make it; do the right thing and let the organisers know. It takes seconds to do and helps them organise a better race.

In other news I managed to get out for my first long run post-fling on Sunday. I headed out into the Lomond Hills with a bunch of intrepid squirrels from Falkland Trail Runners. We headed out of Falkland through Maspie Den, over Creag Mead and across to Whitecraigs and Bishops Hill, then back to Falkland via Glen Vale and the base of West Lomond. 22km in total in about 2h 30mins with 600m of elevation. It was a driech day with a low cloud that hung in the air and a wind blowing in from the west which, when exposed, bit through all layers of clothes. Despite that, we all had a great time. This was a longer run than normal for the squirrels, we usually stick to a 10-14km run on a Sunday, however a few of the club wanted to get some longer runs in around the hills so we headed out and had a fantastic day despite the weather.

Squirrels in the mist

Squirrels in the mist

The pace of Sunday’s run also caught me off guard. Despite the distance and elevation, it was run at a touch over 5min\km! I think all the training leading up to and completing the fling have really improved my running, I am feeling really strong in all the runs I’ve done since the race and feel confident about my running. Yet another benefit of running an ultra. I’m in Munich for work this week so will be heading out for a couple of morning runs around the English Garten. It is as flat as a pancake, but a great city trail to run around, so I’m looking forward to it. The weather is also spectacular so I will enjoy the warm weather running. Considering how strong I am feeling in running, I am now almost convinced about signing up to the Great Glen ultra in July. It is the race that caught my attention and got me into ultra-running in the first place, so I feel like I owe it my participation. I’d also love to complete the race as it is spectacular countryside all along the route. I’ll let you know if and when I sign up and if I do, hopefully I won’t be a DNS.

 

Dumyat Hill Race

Pronounced Dum-eye-at apparently.

Last night was the Dumyat hill race organised by Stirling University and part of the Bog and Burn series of races. Dumyat is a comparatively small hill at the western end of the Ochil hills just outside Stirling and tops out at 390m. The course is a straight up and down starting from the university campus. It begins on a tarmac road which you soon turn off and up through a steep wooded section, over a burn, more woods with a short, near vertical mud wall to clamber up, then you are out on the long open slope to the summit with a few rocky sections to contend with. Just before the summit is a wire fence to deal with and a knee deep bog on the other side waiting to trap tired legs. Then you get to do it all again in reverse on the way down at high speed!

Dumyat hill race start - Picture credit Stirling University

Dumyat hill race start – Picture credit Stirling University

I started out towards the front of the pack at the start line, letting the feather weight racing types dash off from the gun. We streamed up the road and through a hole in the wall to a dirt track heading through the woods. I spot Judy from the Falkland Trail Runners in the same pack as me and I know she is a really strong runner so I stuck with her almost all the way up the hill, she eventually pulled away from me about three quarters of the way up. As the hilly section starts proper in the woods, there is a stretch which is particularly steep with bared tree roots and soft, slippery mud inbetween. The race attracts the usual hill running crowd but also a lot of students. There were plenty of shrieks and screams as road shoes lost their grip on this section and bodies were flying all around me.

The woods eventually open out to stile and after that it is a long steady drag to the summit. It is good hill running trail all the way up for the most part with a mixture of beaten tracks, boggy bits and rocky sections. Dave from the Lomies caught me up as we were going up this and pointed out that it is one of those hills that is just about runnable the whole distance, which means you are knackered by the top! About 500yrds from the summit the front runners started to hurtle past us on their descent. It was my first race where I’d been in this situation, other races were on circular routes so I’d never got to see the fast guys. They plummet down the hill and it is a spectacle to see. If you’ve seen these sci-fi films where they are out in space and then all of a sudden asteroids start flying past, it’s a bit like that. the long, slow plod of the up hill runners contrasts dramatically with the speed and recklessness of the down hillers.

The summit eventually comes up, I don’t remember much about it other than a cairn and a trig point. I didn’t stop to take in the view but I imagine it was pretty fantastic as the weather had cleared by now and the earlier rain clouds had moved on. I set off down the descent which is the bit I always enjoy. I left the group I’d been running up with almost immediately as I picked up some speed. It is a great course for a fast descent. Before I knew it I was at the bog again and doing my own asteroid impression as I flew past those further back in the field.

Coming down the muddy descent at Dumyat

Coming down the muddy descent at Dumyat (Photo: Finlay Walton)

By the time I reached the woods I’d made up about 10 places and had a group of another 5 in sight ahead of me. My legs were feeling strong by now, my breathing had settled down after the excess of the uphill slog and I was enjoying it. The ground was soft and I had my Inov-8 Mudclaws on so the slippery mud in places was my friend. After crossing the stile I remembered the really steep muddy bit and realised it was coming up again soon. I quickly discovered it along with about 8 people trying to slip and pick their way down it. I figured I had nothing to lose so decided to go for the bold approach and ran right down it, passing a huge group of people on the way. I was crapping myself that I would hit a root and make an arse of myself any second, but I managed to get away with it.

All that was left then was the last bit of trail down through the woods which felt like familiar territory by now. Up a slight incline to test tired legs, through the whole in the wall and back out on to the road. By this point I was with a group of 3 other runners who I’d caught up with. We all had enough left in our legs for a fast finish and I passed over the line mid group with a time of 46m 57s. My moment of glory though was just as I crossed the finish line and I tripped on the timing mats, flying head first towards the crowd of waiting smart phone cameras. Only my ego was really damaged, but I suspect it made a few people laugh and made for a decent photo (please contact me if you have one!). Hector Haines from HBT won the race with an impressive 35m 14s.

I felt fantastic at the finish, it is a great race with a great mixture of types of running. I was also happy that my legs held out after the fling. Next it is on to Ben Lomond at the weekend which I think will be much more of a challenge.

Running improvements

I got a delivery today. I thought with all the running I’m doing, I should work out how to get better at it. I read about this book in Scott Jurek’s fantastic book “Eat and Run”, so decided if it was good enough for Scott, then it was probably more than good enough for me.

Groovy 70's style

Groovy 70’s style running

Having flicked through a few pages, whilst it looks retro styled, the program inside looks like all common sense stuff that us runners tend not to pay attention to. I’ll get stuck into it over the next week and will perhaps write a review.