Friday, 27 May 2016

Cateran Trail Ultra

The blame for my Cateran entry this year lies with Sandra and Ian Beattie. After mustering up the courage to take off my coat at their wedding (who knew I would gain so much weight and not be able to fit a dress I had worn six weeks prior?), I began consuming a few beverages and busting some moves on the d-floor. A conversation took place with Karen and George whereby we all confessed love for one another and the Cateran trail in general. By the end of the night Scott had agreed to do the 55-miler and I was set up to enter the 110. What was I thinking? Two serious concerns; 1 - I am a huge unfit piece of lard unable to run 110 miles, and 2 - there is no way I could get the Friday off work to start the double. Fortunately in the morning we came to our senses. Scott would marshal and I would do the 55. 

I figure 55 miles is ploddable without training and the undulations in the route made it more forgiving on us unfit. A solid story which boosted my confidence. I like to run Donald-style and leave my training until event day. Challenge myself you know? I spent the night bonding with the toilet seat; I can only assume because I overindulged in Tunnocks Tea Cakes post-dinner. Being in a bunk room I was slightly uncomfortable with possibly waking up my fellow roomies. Unfortunately, one of fellow roomies did not have the same concern and proceeded to hold a team meeting in the room at 5:20am. This was after we'd been lectured about the possibility of our snoring (Dave Hetherington only purrs like a kitten, Scott on the other hand...) by a woman who wasn't even running. The race started at 7am. I'd planned on a lie-in. 

Trouble ahead: Ian, Bob, Keith and I

Doing the hair on the way to the start

Start of the Cateran trail at Spittal of Glenshee

After climbing the stile to the start line I misjudged my landing and realised my first error of the day; a lack of contact lenses. A bit of an issue as I recently failed the eye test for my New Zealand driver's licence with my CONTACTS IN. New Zealanders are maniac drivers though so the lady signed me off as fit to drive anyway. Anyways, the first handful of miles were a bit tough on the vision. A video of my tiptoeing and squeals would have provided much amusement. My solo braid is also constantly getting stuck in the zip of my bag and I am losing chunks of hair each time I rip the braid out. It must be at that awkward length. It is driving me nuts. Forget the legs running 55 miles, my blooming hair cannot handle it! 

The first checkpoint is past a castle after which many miles go by discussing how children nowadays have too much stuff and not enough time spent on them. Over the last week I have had a bit of pain in my shin and pounding on roads is not making them feel the best (UPDATE: turns out that I have shin splints. Who knew that eating cupcakes and running less than 15 miles a week would cause shin splints. Seriously raging).  I catch Alan who I think has a superb tan (although quite tiny shorts) and comment that he is looking good. The conversation goes on for a bit and then comes to this bit;

Alan: It's getting warm now
Me: Yes, I was worried that my shorts were overly ambitious initially
Alan: I was so cold during the night
Me: Oh really? Were you in a top room or a bottom room of the bunkhouse?
Alan: Neither. I was running.
Me: What?! You're doing the double?! You don't look like you've already run through the night! 
Seriously, a huge well done. He was moving so well I had no idea

Then I follow a line of runners down the wrong road, only to have a feeling of da je vu as I ran back up it. I took the same wrong road two years ago. It is my second incorrect passage today. Does not bode particularly well pre checkpoint two. A big thank you to the runner who called us back. We trundle in to the beautiful Glenisla. The checkpoint marshals had predicted I would come through casually in the second half of the pack and stop for some banter. I was delighted not to let them down. 

On exiting the checkpoint I found that I could not open my Nathan bottles as Helen Munro has bigger arm muscles than I do and had ensured they were tightly closed at the previous checkpoint. Later, as starvation began to set in, I would start eating my Nuun tablets. Up a bit, across a bit, up a bit, down a bit (Lorna flew away from me), fun run down a road for a bit, watch out for the wild boars bit. A nice chat with a lad from Edinburgh-ish. And then, Alyth. A wee bit of doubting from another runner and I as to where we should be going. I knew it was 'down in those trees' but my directions weren't super. We made it. 

Drama. I'd skipped my fruit at Glenisla due to the night time bowel party. Despite the barrel full of Imodium I had consumed I figured it was best not to put too much into the body and risk an after party. Now I was faced with custard that expired a year ago. Possibly too much of a risk today and I have to bin it. If I'd been doing any running in the last nine months I would have known about the custard! So I trundle out of the checkpoint next to the river gagging on half a Nuun tablet. 

Some road walking is followed by a nice wooded section before a zippy downhill section into Blairgowrie. I chat with Jeni and Andy and marvel at a section of navigational success. As I enter the checkpoint there is scurrying and panicking as there are a handful of lady runners in at the same time. I cannot be arsed getting involved in any competitive nonsense so hang about the checkpoint after it has cleared out and get full attention from the Minions.  A cup of water over my head creates a salt attack in my eyes and I need to be mopped up with a gentle deep cleansing exfoliating face wipe. This will prove to be a terrible decision as I got sunburnt on my forehead and around my eyes. My chin and lower cheeks however were adequately covered by my lathers of 'extra face' that I had put on in the morning. 

I particularly like crossing the bridge out of Blairgowrie (although had to ask some walkers which direction they had seen runners going in). I then get busted trying to use the ladies and have to stop mid-flow. Talent that. Didn't even know that I had that in me. A few runners are having bad patches here so I do not initially realise that I am passing another double runner who is also moving better than many of the 55 milers. Andy is feeling nauseous and a club runner, Jo, is having to stop multiple times en route for the ladies. That is three of us ill... I hope that there is not something tearing through the bunkhouse....

A bunch of us come into the next checkpoint at Bridge of Cally together. I have to skip another tub of custard. HoneyStinger chews and some trail mix for the road. I have to hurry along quickly as I need some privacy for the bathroom. Hurrying along quickly up hills when you have not trained is a tricky endeavor. I have never specifically trained on hills but it is amazing how much strength I have lost even just walking up hills. And then I am alone with just my cellulite for company for a very long time. 

At the shoe cleaning section (well manned Scott and Norm), I try to stop for a bit of banter but am pushed on. Don't they know I was lonely? So many other runners have pacers for company and I've been all by myseeeeeelf... And then even more horrid than my singing voice; flat running. I am starting to feel not particularly well. Imodium is still working a treat but I could do a vomit. 

MAN DOWN. Or Kiwi. Or lassie. Contactless, I have run smack into a tree branch and am on the deck. I've been stabbed in the neck. I stumble up, grabbing at the side of my neck. It seems I am going to survive. Disappointing really. 

By the time the final checkpoint at Enochdhu comes I am ready to eat anything they offer at the table. They have a tub of Haribo. I might be sick. Or die of starvation. Better not be sick, the starvation will set in quicker if I do. The checkpoint is insanely quiet and I am not sure that my chat is appreciated so I move on. I cannot remember if the bog section (although not really boggy this year) was before or after the final checkpoint but it drove me a bit crazy. There is not much of a defined path which is fine as there are post markers in the distance that you can head towards. Unfortunately, their distance exceeds my vision capabilities and I am left twirling around hoping that another runner will stumble upon me before a lion does. I then go on a different path to a walking tourist confusing myself more despite my correct following of the signs. 

Finally, we reach the final stretch of grasslands (not quite Africa) before we get to climb up and roll down. I regret my decision to wear a white t-shirt as I feel the nausea coming over me. They say it is better out than in and the sooner it comes out the better. In the meantime, I slow it down and focus on getting enough head jolting movement to prevent any self-vomiting. I hear Jo and her pacer behind me and am pleased that she is feeling better. We've all been in that position during an event and none of us would wish it upon anyone else. I'm expecting them to come past at any moment and when they don't I consider turning around and cheering them on. 

The last climb comes and is not that hard. Running blind down a hill is much harder but I get no sympathy from the Minions on the way down. My strategy for getting through this years race was to take it easy until I hit the road a few hundred metres from the finish and then go for it. So I forget the nausea for a bit and scurry along the final stretch of road to the finish. I spend two and a half hours drinking one bottle of beer and having a small bowl of (scrumptious) pesto pasta whilst still feeling terrible. Fortunately, after a shower and a spew I felt much better. 

Nipping under ten hours, I achieved a personal worst by 30 minutes which was faster than I expected. My recovery was possibly the worst it has been; a combination of little fitness, not eating or drinking much in the race and recurrent late nights. Even Krispy Kreme donuts, a curry and crisps failed to help.

Well done to all the runners; particularly the first time ultrarunners and the double runners. The 55 mile record was smashed by Rob, and the 110 records were smashed by Sharon and Pat. Thank you to the marshals. Many ultraraces and ultrarunners seem to be changing for the worst so it is nice to still have a race where you rock up to every member of the registration and marshaling team drinking alcohol whilst on duty. That is what the spirit of these races used to be all about! Thanks to Karen and George, who despite a tough time recently, pulled together a seamless event with a load of sunshine. And to Mike for taking on the strain of the 110.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Ultra Brew

New races are popping up everywhere lately. Ultras are the new aerial yoga. Fast runners are running them. Slow runners are running them. Non runners are running them (therefore becoming runners or maybe just proving you can walk them). Even dogs are allowed to run some of them. Having just run a 'new' ultra; the John Muir 50km Ultra, I've been thinking about creating my own. I just need to decide my direction...
There are already some pretty cool race concepts out there. One of my favourite ultra running experiences was running my first ultra; the Caesar Camp 50 miler. Other than being a low-key, no nonsense event, its concept is similar to most in that you just run a certain distance. The reason it is such a good memory though (other than I ran it with my father) is that I got such a huge sense of accomplishment from just completing my first ultra. There was nothing to judge myself against and more importantly nowadays, nobody else to judge me. Once you have completed your first race of any distance, it is hard to get that feeling back again so I like the idea of not having a specific distance to run but rather running until you just cannot be bothered to run anymore. Here are a few races that have lit my inspiration spark:

Hot off the press is the Wings for Life World Run which fundraises for spinal cord injury research projects. You start running. Thirty minutes later a car starts driving. The car gradually gets faster. When the car catches you, you are out. Just a wee note; the car is fast. I like to picture the start line with everyone tearing down the streets shoving each other over in a desperate attempt to be ahead when the car catches up. 

For those without employment there is the Run Until You Drop multi-day concept. On February 1st you run one mile. On February 2nd you run two miles. You keep going in that pattern until everyone has dropped. A little mundane at the start and then time-consuming by the end. Do you restart after March and do it all again or continue counting up with numbers?

Another run with a similar concept is the Last One Standing run in Northern Ireland. You start running 4.2 mile trail loops and have an hour to get around the loop. You keep running loops until you cannot make it around within the one hour cut off anymore. If you finish the loop early you have time for a snack or kit change before you start on another lap on the hour. After 24 hours you can stop running loops regardless. I'd love it even more if there was no time limit but I guess that the race organisers need to go back to their day jobs eventually!  

There is also another type of running that I like; themed runs. Yes, there are the costume specific runs but they are not really appropriate for ultra distances. I am thinking of beverage or food focused events. Here are a few that I think would quench my thirst:

For those looking for an excuse to go to France for a weekend and drink wine in the sun there is the Marathon du Medoc. I'm thinking a trip away with the girls. Trainers optional, apron compulsory (for the wine spills).  

My worst running experience has to be during the Tromso Midnight Sun Marathon. Now, Tromso itself is great and I was staying with a very friendly Couchsurfing host. Unfortunately, Norwegian fish cakes do not really agree with me nor marathon running and I had to pop back into my accommodation mid-run before eventually being pulled out by the medics and spending the whole night being sick in an almost-stranger's house. However, that was years ago and I am ready to try some more adventurous eating whilst running. this leads me to the New York Hot Dog Challenge, a 2.5 mile dash with ten compulsory hot dog stops. Scotland could start something similar with a chunk of haggis in some pastry. Vegetarians could be accommodated also. 

It is surprising how easy it is to create and manage and sell tickets to an event. I imagine that the rest of the organisational process is slightly more difficult. Here's what I am thinking; an ultra distance race in Scotland passing through breweries with no end point. If you make it to the brewery before the cut-off, you can keep going to the next one. Some days can have multiple breweries followed by a night's sleep. Other days you'd have to run through the night to reach the next one. Tastings (or pints) are compulsory at each brewery. Running whilst dressed as a beer bottle is optional. We could get the locals involved by offering shorter between-brewery races. Nothing would dampen the mood of a drunk exhausted ultra runner more. Or a relay. They seem to be all the rage in ultras nowadays.

The hard part will be narrowing down the brewery preferences. We want them spread across Scotland but both rural and urban breweries should be included. What would be harder; a long multi-day slog to the next brewery or a short skip between some in a city resulting in more beer to consume? List your favourites in the comments section and we'll see if we can create a map, approximate distances and some cut-offs. Here are a few I found:

Ultra Brew

Saturday, 30 April 2016

John Muir Way 50km Ultra

Port Seton to Dunbar. Appears straightforward for a runner hoping to use public transport. So a week before our holiday to Sri Lanka, I booked myself an entry in a 50km ultra along the John Muir Way. I then promptly forgot until I read the race instructions a few days prior to the race.

Good news - We were in possession of a car hire for the morning so I could be driven to the start. I also obtained my British Citizenship this week which isn't too relevant for the race but just good news in general. Who knows, maybe dual citizens get dual stamina? 

Bad news - Race registration closed an hour before the start and was actually taking place at the finish line. We were coming from Angus. That meant leaving the accommodation by 5:30am. Not quite the 'slide out of bed the back of 8am and arrive at the start line with a decent ten minutes to spare' plan that I had originally thought of.

Foxlake's setup is great and I look forward to going for a swing on their rope adventure but perhaps on the only day of the year that Scotland cracks twenty degrees; that water looked cold and there is no doubt I would fall in.

On the bus I sat next to some tartan lycra worn by Donald and was privileged to use the toilets at Port Seton. A privilege because this particular toilet block has won 'Toilet of the Year' awards for multiple years. Unfortunately none recently and probably none for a while after a pile of runners have been through. The women's line is longer, a first for any ultra that I have been in.

At the start I head to the back as there is also a pairs event, where relay teams can run 25km each. No need to get caught up with the speedy club runners. The local councillor has doned tartan trousers and is starting the race off. Promenade and then sand. I will accept a little sand as we are by the sea. But only a little. Maybe I should change my five and a half hour estimate to a six hour estimate... I cruise along amongst some bumblebee-ballet-skirted relay runners, first laughing at the holidaymakers in their caravans on the cold Scottish morning and then imagining myself lounging in one of the grand mansions we pass along the coast. I chat to yellow-vest-man-number-two who is in the relay with his son as we come into the first checkpoint in Aberlady (8km-ish). Unfortunately my plantar fasciitis feet are grumbling to each other so I have to continue on and miss out on the pretzels.

Due to the severe bout of laziitis that I have been suffering from for eighteen months, I am not in the best shape and have decided to cruise through the scenery slowly for the first half and then evaluate the body. There's a gradual incline on tarmac which I plod up confidently while two runners fly by me. Uncertain, I pick the pace up a little only to slow down again further on as I pick off a few more runners in a row than was necessary. It is hard to decide what to do; keep plodding because I am unfit or huff and puff away because it's not really and ultra anyway? More of an elongated marathon... The course zig zags around farmyards and stone walls. Despite having run between Edinburgh and North Berwick on numerous occasions (before my laziitis diagnosis), I've clearly not ever run on the John Muir Way properly as I hardly recognise the trails.

Some uber friendly marshals help me across a road while I wave frantically at a black car. Turns out that the driver is not my husband Scott, but rather a now-confused older man.  The second checkpoint comes at Archerfield (15km-ish) where Scott is waiting having enjoyed some breakfast. (A future note for any spectators, the cafĂ© here is very nice). Due to a porridge mishap in the car, my breakfast of some blueberries and a tangerine wore off long ago. Deciding on which tray bake to eat at the checkpoint is difficult. I decide as long as it is not that one labelled 'Aussie bites' I will be ok. Those ones are probably there just to poison me.

Next it is winding through woods, fields and fancy estates on our way to the halfway mark at North Berwick. Despite the car being iced over in the below zero temperatures this morning, and all the runners hovering in the buses until the last minute to stay warm, it now is a warm and glorious day in East Lothian. Coming into North Berwick I expect a flurry of relay runners to come past me in their final dash to the changeover. As most of the runners are likely in front of me already, this does not happen. Right, then first left and follow the signs to the beach. I promptly forget the instructions and stand about until another runner comes. It is a slog along the beach in full view of laughing spectators.

At the checkpoint there is much excitement over the cola. I personally throw back three cups and express much joy for the banana pieces. I have been hungry and thirsty. Compliments are given to my freshness which I put down to having put a full face of makeup on in the car this morning. My only lapse has been a lack of lipgloss. Dehydration always shows up dreadfully on my lips.

Out of the checkpoint and I am again uncertain as to where to go. Or maybe I did know but did not want it to be true as the yellow arrow was directing me to the beach. There was no hard sand here AND a perfectly good road I could have been running down instead. Around the corner I find a runner dumping sand from her shoes. Next year the run should go up Berwick Law. I know another runner did go up but he organised charity sponsorship for it in advance. I have never been up and it would have been a good excuse if it was a compulsory checkpoint!

After the heat some hail starts. Mister Rainjacket is in my bag but is it heavy enough yet? No. Some more undulations. Mud sliding. Runners are starting to slow and I am starting to go a little faster. Friendly marshals with some water. I am well parched and hungry again. I shove Honey Stingers in. Err, why is there a runner coming from my right? The marshals look concerned. Apparently loads of runners cut out a few miles accidently. It's from all the zig zagging. You can see runners places so you think you should go there. More mud sliding. I almost go right over. That would be funny if I had more gear to put on at the end but I do not. I am sure I was extremely graceful throughout the sliding though.

I then catch Gordon who has been guiding me from afar for some time in his vibrant yellow. We stand looking at a sign pointing left. I am thinking of going down a small track as I have seen some other runners on it. Later I will think about how this wouldn't make sense as it is a 180 degree turn back onto ourselves. Fortunately a runner from behind calls for us to take the larger track on the left. It's a relay runner who has already flown passed me. Nothing like a bit of extra mileage for bragging rights to your relay partner.

Shortly after there is some more light hail and I decide to press on a little. I do not fancy getting caught in a downpour and my legs are feeling good. With many runners participating in their first ultras, people are starting to slow down. Well done red t-shirt... blue t-shirt... red t-shirt number two... white t-shirt... red t-shirt number six hundred and one... must be the colour of the season. Hello undulation... ohhh check point. Cola. That's exciting. I'm out of throat lozenges. More tickly cola. One guy isn't looking too good with an ice pack on his knee. I overhear someone say that this is the marathon mark. Just 8km to go. I've no idea how long we have been out for but we are still running from the rain clouds.

Skinny trails and a few people with earphones in (naughty) so it is a bit awkward to get past them. A few people with cramps. They'll make it to the finish ok now. A 600m to go sign, very quickly followed by a 400m to go sign. A deer runs across the track. I'm so rural. For the first time, I cannot see any runners ahead. A 200m to go sign appears after what must have been at least double the distance! My power thighs are pounding along as I run across the grass to a very quiet finish. I think that the spectators were so cold that their cheers were frozen.

A jolly fun event on a lovely mixed-terrain course. Pleased to have finished in four hours 39 minutes; a hour quicker than my expected finish time and still feeling good at the finish. I came third lady which was such a surprise that I missed prizegiving because I was in the line for coffee. A girl needs to have priorities! Well done to Avril who flew in for first lady. Now was there a rumour that a longer race was being added for next year...