Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cateran 55 Mile Trail Race - Scotland May 18th, 2013

I've asked Neil to write this blog since this event took place in the area in Scotland where he spent many of his formative years.
Cateran Trail Race - May 18th, 2013
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to travel from afar to run an ultra in a country not known for it’s favourable weather.  One needs to pack a fair amount of kit in preparation that ultimately ends up dirty and stinky to the point where we can be embarrassed while packing luggage through the airport! However, back in 2009, Dario who was planning the inaugural Cateran event at the time convinced us that we needed to do this one because the Cateran Trail travelled through much of the countryside where I grew up before emigrating to Canada many years ago.  So, it had always been on our minds to do it and 2013 became the year.

We decided to run this one together on the basis that it would be easier for our valued support, Fiona and also the fact that Carolyn has the propensity to make wrong turns on the trails and so I did not want Scottish Search and Rescue out looking for a Canadian!  Additionally, I had persuaded my brother Graeme that the Cateran would be a good race for his first ultra.  Not sure if he was convinced about the undertaking prior to the event.

And so after a pleasant night’s sleep at the Kirkmichael Hotel we found ourselves toeing the blustery start line in the Spittal of Glensee at 7 am.  We were dressed warmly prepared for all conditions but it did not feel cold to me, just windy with the threat of impending rain.
Outside the Spittal of Glenshee - the start and finish.
Graeme and Carolyn listening to the race briefing
Walking to the Start Line
Team Ambrose at the Start - it was very windy!
  We watched the two front runners take off at pace as gradually the pack spread out and Carolyn and I found ourselves towards the back of the pack.  This is just where we wanted to be because this event would be about completion and enjoying the journey through some glorious Scottish scenery.
First stop Dalnaglaar at 6 miles (all distances will be reported in miles here) at a little over an hour.  Just a water stop and a shedding of clothes as we were already warm.  After Dalnaglaar we headed out on a road section to Forter Castle before cutting back into some hilly Scottish sheep grazing lands of peat and heather. 
Forter Castle
We ran over many fields looking for the Cateran markers.
Plenty of road.
There was a lot of this type of terrain throughout the day and for the uninitiated, such ground is often very uneven underfoot, very wet and permeated with a liberal supply of sheep (or cow) manure.  Soon one gives up trying to keep clean or dry and makes the best of finding the best way through. 
Many stiles to climb over
Next stop was Kirkton of Glenisla.  Now this holds significant meaning to Carolyn and I as our farm in British Columbia is called Glenisla Farms.  In 1995 when we bought the farm I asked my Mum for help with a Scottish name and Glenisla was what she suggested having spent some time in her childhood here and also because it is one of the most picturesque glens in all of Scotland with its verdant green fields and white stone farm houses overlooked by heather capped hills.  It is a treat to the eye.  The rest stop was down by the Isla River where Fiona met us with our drop bags.  We both felt pretty good here although it was here that I had suddenly realised (ignorance) that there were cutoffs in the Cateran and for us, they were starting to feel close. I told Carolyn I have never been pulled from an event (either has she) and we better get moving! We picked up the pace.
The Glenisla Hotel
On to Alyth, a small farming town in Strathmore.  The trail to here was somewhat circuitous following road and fence line through fields of sheep and past majestic Highland cows to eventually bring us down into the town and a gentle reminder by one of the volunteers at the checkpoint that Carolyn and I needed to keep moving in order to get to the next checkpoint in time, 6 miles away at Blairgowrie. 
Highland Cows - thankfully they didn't seem to mind us passing through their field.
It was a long climb out of Alyth to Drimmie Woods before a gradual downhill onto the road and down into Blairgowrie. We were  not expecting the road running in the first half of the race but I don’t mind it and it certainly afforded a quickening of pace to the checkpoint on the banks of the River Ericht.  Blairgowrie was actually where we lived and worked as a family between 1969 and 1986. We had a mixed farm on the south side of town and also a grocery store business where we did deliveries in the surrounding area to hotels and B&B’s.  Hence,  very familiar territory.  We made the checkpoint with 20 minutes to spare and it was great to be welcomed in by Ian and Sandra of West Highland Way friendship.

But, no rest for the wicked because I had this aching feeling that Carolyn and I would need to keep pushing in order to make the final cutoff at Enochdhu at 8 pm.  By this time, Carolyn and I were pretty much on our own with rumours that runners behind us had been pulled due to not making the cut off times. However, as we climbed out of Blairgowrie passed fertile fields where I once worked, a sole runner approached from behind.  This turned out to be Bill who was indeed a sweep and would stay with us at a respectful distance almost all the way to the finish. 
Leaving Blairgowrie, crossing the River Ericht.
Rain and mud.
Nice sections of grass in the middle of the trail - softer on the feet!
 This section down into Bridge of Cally took us through open moorland of peaty, muddy terrain.  At some point through here we were assailed by one of the three or four rainstorms we endured throughout the journey.  As I have previously said, it was never that cold but to be soaked through on several occasions did chill one down and I could only be thankful that the temps were mild for it could have been much worse!  Fiona again met us at the checkpoint and reported that Graeme was doing fine as I knew he would.  One of the volunteers asked as we came in “are you stopping”!  I assumed this meant for good!  “No way” I replied !  What she really meant was, we’re we stopping for some sustenance which of course we were.
Mud, manure and peat bog.
 Then onto KIrkmichael and Enochdhu through some unbelievably quaint and beautiful Scottish countryside where time seems to have stood still.  Very runnable in parts but interrupted by the muckiest section of the whole race endured in a pelting rainstorm.  As I sank up to my ankles in sheep manure and peat bog I began to think how the heck I was going to dry my shoes or even pack all this wet gear home! 

We made it to Enochdhu with plenty of time before the cutoff.  Here we refueled ourselves and put on all our warm gear for the final 6 miles to the Spittal.  Bill was still with us and reckoned that we would be in before 10 pm. 
Carolyn all geared up for the wind - Bill in the distance behind us.
Now again, I found myself facing a place and time from my past.  The trail headed off up a farm track to a farm steading called Dirnanean.  At age 21 I had worked on this farm as a student during lambing season.  Much of the farm remains the same and I was able to remember it all clearly.  How time flies and the years go by!  However, I was viciously pulled back to the reality of the race by the atrocious head wind that we battled up through the glen.  You could not have run even if you had wanted too!  Eventually we reached the high point and looked down onto the welcoming roof top of the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel. 
Almost there! Just a bit more mud to get through.
The Spittal of Glenshee at the bottom of the hill - almost there!
The official sweeps join us - stormy skies.
Out of the murky dark appeared the three official sweeps who included our WHW friends Keith and Stan.  By this point Bill has run ahead . Words of encouragement pushed us all on to a run to the finish hastened by the welcoming cheers of those at the finish line.  The finish is probably one of the most spectacular race finishes I have ever experienced in my 80+ ultras.  Downhill and to a bar!  It choked us both up to hear the voices of Karen, George et all bringing us in - cheering in the Canadians! We entered the hotel bar to a loud cheer, almost too much for us to take in having spent 14 hrs and 53 minutes to cover the Cateran Trail back to the Spittal of Glenshee but there we were, relieved and happy!
Then an interesting and somewhat symbolic special thing happened for which I am humbled.  In 2011 I had run much of the WHW race with a runner called Donny Campbell who was actually running WHW and then a further leg to the Isle of Skye in the name of charity.  The last time I had seen Donny was to wish him well in the back of his crew van in Fort William.  As we walked into the bar of the Spittal, Sandra came up to me with Donny and made the connection between us.  Donny had today won the Cateran in just under 8 hrs, a record.  I was humbled that he would remember me and to boot buy Carolyn and I a finishing celebratory beer.  It’s not often that us back of the packers get to rub shoulders with the elite.  Congrats Donny!  But it didn’t end there, Carolyn won her age category. There is something quite noble in that!
Carolyn won her age category!
Graeme finished about an hour ahead of us - all smiles - well done Graeme!

The finishers Quaich - very nice touch!
Sincere thanks to Karen, George and all that make the race possible.  It is truly a great race and one that I would recommend to all.  The race encapsulates a magnificent snapshot of Scottish scenery that is hard to beat. All finishers received a silver engraved Quaich – very nice!

Regarding the mud/manure on our shoes – we washed them in the bath tub at the hotel and packed them with Sunday papers to help them dry. Oh the little challenges of running ultras overseas.


Neil and Carolyn


  1. Well done guys! Trip down memory lane for Neil; how did you manage not to revisit those fine public houses you no doubt used to frequent? Perhaps you did, but you're not just telling us! MtM

  2. Congratulations on a terrific adventure for both of you. Looks like a run for the ages.

  3. Lovely read Neil and lovely to see you and Carolyn again. Hope you come back again some day to run it again.
    Karen D

  4. An outstanding memory for life. Great read