Cateran Trail Ultra Race

Report from Matt of the 55 mile Cateran trail race on Saturday, 19 May.

So the Cateran Trail race was really my first serious race this year. Having had a decent season last year, my body final said enough is enough at the end of September last year and I picked up a bit of an injury ( a pain in the butt- to use the technical term). A wee lesson learnt on the number of ultra races it is wise to do in a year! This frustratingly lasted a number of months and I only managed to start training in earnest about Feb/March.. Having looked at the racing calendar the Cateran was the main race that caught my eye, but by time I was on the mend the race was full. I contacted the organiser who put me the waiting list, in the mean time I trained assuming i’d be racing. A few weeks later I was in!

The race is a 55m loop starting and finishing in Glenshee, it’s a waymarked course taking in 7450ft of ascent. Terrain varies between road, farm track, single track, muddy fields, bog- oh and some of the highest stiles I have ever seen!

I had never set foot on the course before Saturday, which many of the other racers found odd, but for me part of what I enjoy about a race like that is running somewhere new and not knowing what is around the corner. It’s all part of the adventure. Another part of the adventure was the fact that entering late meant there was no room at the inn (or hotel) where most others were staying. Thankfully they had a suitable square of grass outside for me to pitch my tent- ( a tree outside even had a plug in it to let me charge my phone- luxury to me).

On the morning of the race conditions were pretty much perfect, nice and cool, dry and not too windy. After a quick race briefing warning us about the potentially aggressive cattle on the course we set off. The first few miles took us over some farm tracks and some pretty muddy, sh***y fields and I thought “yeeh ha this is a proper trail race”  A few of the ultras i have done have had a bit too much road for my liking. At this stage I was just running steadily along with a few others wondering who the guy was way out on front. I wasn’t too concerned though as in a race like this, as far as i’m concerned the race doesn’t really begin until about 30m.

Our first check point came close to a nice pad by the name of Dalnagair Castle before a road section took us onto a more agreeable off road trail towards Loch Shandra. I chatted to a few other runners and enjoyed the Perthshire countryside until we hit out next check point at 15m (still not an angry bull in sight).

At the check point we caught the runner who had been out on front since the start of the race leaving a group of about 6 runners all within a couple of minutes of each other. A few miles later our pack had it’s first casualty, one of the guys that should have been in with a chance of winning the race began to have tummy problems and stopped to see his breakfast again at the side of the road. Despite trying to run on he had to drop out not long after. Eating right on a race like this is so important and it’s often hard to race hard and eat well without consequences. Thankfully at our next checkpoint in Alyth i managed my trusty Muller rice without any adverse affects ( aside from spectators having to observe my rather dubious table manners), before commencing a long slow ascent out of the village.
At this stage the race takes an alternative route between Alyth and Blairgowrie. At Blairgowrie we are just over 30m and another long slow ascent out of the town challenges the legs again. I’m still feeling pretty good and sitting about 3mins behind the leader. My idea is to just keep the head down, run steady and let the next 10m pass by to get me to 40m. With only 15m to go at that stage i’d have a better idea how things were holding together. That plan worked for about 5 miles! After that darkness began to fall (not literally) I just began to feel the pain. The path became muddy and sapped more and more energy from my legs. Paths that i’d normally love, I began to curse. On many of the way markers was a picture of a heart. I just remember thinking ” Do NOT love the Cateran Trail right now!” I began to feel a little better for a short while about 40m when the path improved, but this was short lived. I was overtaken by another runner and the path became proper hill running terrain. Not very steep, just boggy, covered in heather and a real pain in the ass! I told myself once 45m comes it’ll be better, every beep of the garmin was a count down from 10.

45m came and I did begin to feel better, not far to go and I could see the runner in second ahead. I pressed on thinking 2nd could be an option. 3km of road before the final 5m of trail- (oh and the biggest climb of the whole race!). I came into Enochdhu the final checkpoint at 50m and seeing the 2nd place runner not far ahead of me I asked for a cup of water- followed rather abruptly by the word quickly! (sorry marshals) and set off ignoring my final Muller rice. Just as i left the final check point I caught a glimpse of something unexpected; the lead runner. When he passed at 40m i was fairly sure that was the last i would see of him as he’s a strong runner, but no, there he was. The race was on!

Looking at the splits there was 3 mins between us all at the final check point. A mile or so later I had caught the runner in second and the adrenaline was pumping. I ran on over some beautiful hills just watching the lead runner trying to get a gauge of how he was feeling. 53m came and I decided to have a go, i passed him cautiously. As I passed he said “pace yourself Matt”. I was worried, he knew the course and I knew there was a big hill to come, but i felt good and pushed on. I could see the final climb and told my self i was going to run the whole way. I gained a bit of ground and started climbing. It was slow, but it was still running…. until about 1/3 of the way up the hill. I just didn’t have enough to keep running. Hands to knees i walked as fast as i could to the top. A few glances over my shoulder told me i have enough of a lead to finish things. I got over the col and was rewarded by a fantastic sweeping runnable descent to the finish. The pain disappeared and I felt like i was finishing a 5m hill race.

A beautiful route, a really well organised event, a decent comeback race. I was very happy!