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RACE REPORT – Berlin Marathon 2015

Berlin Marathon
27th September 2015

berlin marathon medal 2015
4hrs 19 minutes 25 seconds
706th of 1437 in Age Group
4160th of 8924 Female Finishers


Just under a year ago I put my name in the ballot for the Berlin Marathon, mainly on a whim. I had no specific reason why I wanted to run it, but if you like city marathons, why wouldn’t you? Berlin is an amazing city and the race, like the other five World Marathon Majors, is legendary.

2015 has been a tough year of training and racing for me. I’ve recorded five ultramarathon finishes including the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, and the accompanying Highland Fling and Devil O’the Highlands ultramarathons to complete the Triple Crown of West Highland Way ultras. In addition to this I have been completing my MSc in Digital Marketing, and come the end of September I found myself running on fumes. My running mojo was at an all time low and I was physically drained from a racing season which started in March, I knew that Berlin would be just the tonic for this ailment if I took the pressure off and allowed myself to enjoy it. Gone was the sub-3:45 goal, or even a sub-4 target; my goal changed to having fun and treating this marathon as a celebration of what I have achieved this year. A victory lap, if you will.

Kynon and I flew out on Thursday the 24th in order to enjoy a little time in the city before the race. Of course the sensible plan would be to stay longer after the race, but since my submission deadline was the 1st of October, at the time we booked the travel it was impossible to bet on whether I would be able to submit my thesis early before the race¬†as planned, or whether I might need the extra time after. Due to our early arrival we ended up doing a lot of walking in the days prior to the race. It’s just as well neither of us were hunting for our best possible performances as we clock up 8.5, 9.5, and 14 miles walking in the three days before the race…!

berlin marathon expo


berln marathon expo

On Friday we visited the Expo; a celebration of running of epic proportions inside the monolithic structure which is the old Berlin Templehof Airport. Images alone cannot capture the scale of this building; it is HUGE.

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

After we collected our numbers and bought some race apparel (be ready to fight if you want a certain item in your size!) we browsed the stalls before refreshing ourselves with some beers at the Expo Biergarten.

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

The Expo was an amazing place for people watching; it seemed like every nation on the planet was represented. Many were wearing commemorative race t-shirts and jackets, and there were more than one individual draped head to toe in Ironman finisher gear. Also, rumour has it that once you earn a Boston Marathon jacket, it is in fact possible to remove it…but many choose not to ūüėČ

berlin marathon expo

berlin marathon expo

After some more snaps and exploring of the venue, we headed back into town amongst the army of people carrying race bags. The atmosphere in the city was full of anticipation – the 40,000 runners and their fans were taking over!

Saturday morning was the International Breakfast Run – a celebration of running and runners around the world. The 6k run was open to everyone and included a ‘power breakfast’ at the finish.

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

This was great fun, but not as scenic  as the Paris one. The run finished in the Olympic Stadium though, which more than made up of the lack of sightseeing! The Stadium was amazing; both in scale and the sheer brutality of the architecture. For a fan of brutalist architechture like myself, Berlin is an absolute haven.

berlin marathon breakfast runberlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

berlin marathon breakfast run

The afternoon before the race was spent watching the Inline Skating marathon at the 40km point – a 90 degree corner. I don’t know what I thought I expected to see, but this was something else. I had no idea the sport was such a big deal and even has a Pro Division! I thought it would just be people out skating for fun…how wrong I was! The skaters went so fast and I was amazed at how they stuck together in huge packs of hundreds of skaters at a time. When they whizzed around the corner at such intense speeds and gravity-defying angles, it was almost hard to watch in case someone slid and fell, taking the whole pack down.



I had some delicious Kartoffeln und Bier for lunch, and a pizza for dinner. I was well and truly carb-loaded and excited for the next day when we turned in for an early night. Our apartment was only a 30 minute walk away from the race village so in the morning we enjoyed a gentle stroll down to reach the start around 8am.

berlin marathon start

Kynon and I were seeded in different corrals and also had been assigned baggage tents which were on opposite sides of the race village, so we decided to say our good lucks and goodbyes early on and went our separate ways after a couple of photos.

berlin marathon start

The weather was perfect – clear skies and a low sun rising into the perfect blue overhead. If it was like the preceding days, then it was going to be a bit too warm in the sun but it would be chilly in the shade. My fears of overheating were gone but I knew I would need to be careful about how much I drank, especially later in the race in the warmest part of the day.

After dropping off my baggage I debated whether to go straight into my corral or sit down and wait a bit. In the area where I was standing there were people peeing EVERYWHERE though, so no matter where I sat I would be getting a close up view of things that no-one wants to see first thing in the morning, or well, ever, so I decided to go to my corral after a visit to the loo myself. The portaloo queues were monstrous so I decided to join the mass public urination and found a dry bush to water before checking into my corral.

berlin marathon start

There was a peaceful walk through the woods of the Tiergarten before you emerge onto Under Den Linden and the breathtaking sight of the sea of 40,000 runners. If you’ve seen aerial television footage of the Berlin Marathon you’ll know the sight I mean, and in real life it was incredible.

berlin marathon start

berlin marathon start

I sat down on a kerb and spoke to two guys from America including one whose wife was from Forres. He was a Marathon Maniac so I recommended the Glen Moray Marathon to him, especially as he didn’t really enjoy his visit to the Edinburgh Marathon this year.

berlin marathon start

The race started at 9am but I didn’t get near the line until 9:23am. When I crossed I was near the 4 hour pacers so thought I would stick with them for as long as possible, however about half a mile in I saw people dashing into the nearby forest to relieve themselves. Standing around with nerves in the cold had expedited my need to do the same and I debated for a moment whether to join the al fresco toiletters or await a portaloo. I was quite uncomfortable at the time so decided just to duck in for a quick fix; 20 seconds later and I was feeling much better – the game was on! Hallo Berlin!

I felt like I ran the first 5k far too quickly but I recorded 29:59 so my feeling¬†couldn’t have been further from the truth! The first water stop was chaos so I decided to skip it and just keep trucking. I lost sight of the 4hr pacer at some point and then didn’t see another pacer again for the whole race. They were wearing black balloons which weren’t very noticable, and it was also just hard to keep track of anyone due to the wide roads full of people.

The route was crowded but not overwhelmingly so. Even in the early miles the support from the crowds was strong and there were bands playing great music. I remember lots of fabulous jazz and blues outfits, brass bands, rock bands, metal bands, and most memorably…an Alp Horn Choir?!

The Danes won the award for the most enthusiastic travelling support, and the Swiss seemed to have flown pretty much the whole country out to support their runners. Mexico and all of the South American countries’ support were a riot to pass by and anyone with a Scottish flag gave me huge shouts of support. The crowds really made the race special for me. The route is flat and kind of uninspiring visually – Berlin is a city of many amazing things, but beautiful scenery is not one of them.

As the heat grew more intense I began to tire but just kept pushing at a steady pace. My rules were no walking allowed, and any pace under 10 minute miles was OK. I ran through sprinklers, high five’d kids, ate bananas and apples, and cheered back all the supporters who tirelessly applauded us. Every time my energy levels dipped and I started to feel less happy, another band or DJ seemed to appear which lifted my spirits. Whenever I felt grumpy there always seemed to be someone calling out my name on my bib and giving me a personal cheer which was just so lovely. I couldn’t help but smile nearly all of the way – these people weren’t out to cheer for hours only to be ignored by someone with a face like a punched quiche!

Other memorable moments include;

– The long, shady, narrow street with the tall tenement buildings on either side and a bar in the middle with a wall of speakers pumping out banging dance tunes that you could hear for a mile away (also the associated punters dancing along going heavy on the beers at 11am!)
– The guy and his family with the HUGE Scotland flag on a stick who popped up on multiple occasions near me screaming¬†“C’Moooaaaannn SCOATLANNNN!!!'” in their best football terrace voices, and their enthusiastic high fives for me every few miles.
– The participants who looked even older than my Grandad, who were still pushing along faster than I was. The results show there were 5 men in the 80+ category, one of whom ran a sub-4 time!
– The Nike cheering points with their infectious enthusiasm and motivational signs, which made even this seasoned cynic well up a bit.
– The care homes which had brought their residents out to the kerbs to cheer and high five the runners.
– The American lady on the bike who gave me kind encouragement in the last two miles, even though she called me Rhonda.
– The last half mile, running towards the wall of sound at the finish, and floating on air as I ran under the Brandenburg Gate for the last 200 meters.

I didn’t take any photographs during the race as I was too sweaty and sticky and it would have been too much of a faff getting my phone out of my dry bag. Much of the race itself is a happy blur though, especially the last two miles where I was far too hot and very dehydrated. It was a huge relief to stop running and I was very happy to see 4:19 on my watch – a credible time, even if it is 21 minutes off my best. Reviewing my 5k splits, I maintained a very steady average pace of between 6 mins and 6 mins 20s a kilometer for the first 40km and managed to wing a sprint finish for the last two kilometers, pushing my average pace down to 5m 49s.

berlin marathon finish

Afterwards I began to feel very not ok and knew I needed electrolytes quickly. I shuffled along with the crowd and picked up various food items and forced myself to eat a banana and some powerade. After collecting my bag I found a shady tree and just wanted to curl up under it in my space blanket and fall asleep… thankfully my sensible sub-concious took over and got me back on my feet to track down Kynon.

So what of the results of the McKinnon Marathon showdown? Well! In the end I retain my title, and lived up to my assertions that I would beat Kynon on the day as well – but only just. Independently, and starting in different corrals, I finished in 4:19:25, and he finished in 4:19:47 – a 36 minute PB for his first road marathon. It seems the competition is on – I had better up my game for the next round!

berlin marathon finish

The next day, we wandered around the East Side wearing our medals and exchanging friendly nods with the scores of others who were doing the same. We sat down for a beer in a bar and it seemed like everyone there had a marathon bracelet, a finisher shirt, or a medal on, which just perpetuated the warm fuzzy feeling I was getting from the event. It felt like my first marathon all over again, like I had been a part of something really special. Random strangers congratulated us on the street and our waiter gave us a free congratulatory shot.

Later on in the airport, the great exodus of runners¬†continued¬†and the airport and our plane were packed with marathon finishers, all struggling with the gangway stairs and getting up and down off their seats. I didn’t want to take my medal off when we had a layover in Amsterdam, and wore it proudly in the airport bar and as we boarded the next plane, the Cabin Crew were full of congratulations. In a year when a marathon¬†has been a easy training run, it felt weird at first to celebrate completing a race of the same distance, but receiving such positive congratulations from random strangers reminded me that ran slow or fast, for most people the marathon is an achievement worthy of huge commendation. It is still a distance worthy of respect, and acknowledging and celebrating that by no means changes it in context of the other distances I’ve ran this year. I guess for some daft reason I had got myself mentally into a place where I felt like I couldn’t celebrate a marathon anymore, in the same way that a multi-marathoner wouldn’t really celebrate completing a 10k.

berlin marathon medal

Anyway, looking over the various pictures and videos which have emerged of the event since Sunday, I feel proud to have been part of such a huge shared experience. It’s inspired me to better my performance at marathon again, and instead of looking at ultras for early 2016, I’m looking for a road marathon. Like many, I’m awaiting the result of my London Marathon ballot application this week, so fingers crossed perhaps the decision will be made for me…

Thank you Berlin, we will DEFINITELY be back!

Moving the Goal Posts

The Berlin Marathon is in 5 days time! My first opportunity to run the fastest course in the world, the biggest race I’ve ever taken part in, and my first World Marathon Major. An opportunity to run literally in the footsteps of the fastest men and women in the world on the flattest course in the world, in one of the coolest cities in the world.


In theory this ought to be a prime opportunity for me to run the fastest marathon of my life and smash my previous PB to pieces; in the past few months I’ve said I’d like to earn a London Marathon ‘Good For Age’ place, which would mean running under 3 hours and 45 minutes.

bmw berlin marathonsource:

When I’ve been daydreaming in the last few months about my trip to Berlin, I’ve imagined myself running faster than ever before, Scotland flag in hand whilst passing under the Brandenburg Gate, feet conjuring speed drawn from the road where the quickest¬†humans who ever lived have ran, and glancing at my watch in glee in the final hundred meters.

berlin marathon 2015 source:

Here’s the truth about my life lately though. It’s been eight hours a day sitting alone in the office at home with my head in my laptop, going to the corner shop to buy some crisps just to leave the house, working into the night, working early in the morning, lying awake at 4am, realising you’ve been wearing the same t-shirt for a week, 7 straight days without wearing any make up, 102 pages and 29,935 words.

giphy (25)source:

So perhaps my dreams of finding my inner Anna Hahner on the streets of Berlin next week may be a little far fetched.

anna hahnersource:

I’ve been to running club on a couple of erratic occasions during the summer, but most days it gets to time to get ready and I just can’t face it. On more occasions than not I’ve just gone out for a little run by myself the next morning, because after two or four days of sitting in the house by myself immersed in my own thoughts and working hard alone, I literally can’t face the over-stimulation of a crowd of 20 odd chatty runners. Either that, or the mental exhaustion has just got too much and I’ve just opened a beer and stared at inane nonsense on the TV until it’s time for bed, when I turn the lights off and stare at the ceiling for hours until the early morning and sleep eventually comes.

giphy (28) giphy (27)

It’s not just mental exhaustion though; much as I’m loathe to admit it, physical exhaustion is still playing a part as well. I’ve always strived to be as honest as possible on this blog, so here’s the real deal – I’m knackered. My legs are tired as hell and my muscles aren’t used to running properly any more. I’d love to be posting positive updates about how amazing running is post-West Highland Way Race and how inspired I am for bigger and better things, how I scooted out 20 miles at the weekend or how I’m planning 2016 goals. But I feel like I’m critically out of ‘running’ shape. Right now I’d settle for completing a running club session without being dropped, or somewhere in the back 5 runners. “The Slow Runners” as one of the coaches like to refer to whoever’s at the back. It still takes a hell of a lot of effort to be that ‘slow’, especially alongside the rest of my club who seem to have just got faster over the summer.

Completing the Triple Crown took a lot out of me. Of the¬†27 finishers in 2015, I was the youngest woman¬†to complete it this year by nearly¬†ten years, and one of only 7¬†female finishers. I don’t often remember that when I’m blowing out my arse doing hill reps with the club and falling behind yet again. The ‘multi-ultra’ lifestyle does take its toll later in the season¬†– I don’t think many people like to admit that though.

Two weeks ago I got 1.6 miles into a gentle run by myself before I had to pull up by an empty bus shelter and take a breather as I felt physically sick. Luckily there was nobody around when I had to do a couple of dry heaves behind the bus stop. I started panicking; how on earth was I going to be able to sort myself out for a PB attempt at a road marathon with only weeks to go? And I had so much work still to do, errands to take care of, and, and, and…

giphy (29)

So I’m moving the goal posts. I need this trip to Berlin to be a joy and something to look forward to after a long summer of working hard. I don’t want to be dreading this as I get on the plane, I don’t want to waste the three days I have to enjoy in Berlin fretting about Sunday and whether I can achieve something I really haven’t put the work into. I really don’t need that extra pressure right now.

On Sunday, I want to have fun. I want to skip around the beautiful city and enjoy the sights, I want to soak up the international atmosphere and share the joy of marathon running with 40,000 new friends, I want to be able to stop and take a picture, celebrate finishing in whatever time I achieve, and just have a great weekend. I’ll wear my Garmin but I won’t be paying attention to it. I’ll probably start with the 4 hour pacers and see what happens. I still want to fly under the Brandenburg Gate giving it everything I have left, but I don’t care about what time is on the clock.

Part of me thinks it’s a shame I’m missing an opportunity to run my fastest ever race, but I missed that opportunity weeks ago when I didn’t start hammering out tempo sessions on the road. There will be other marathons, but only one MSc.

I still want to run faster than my husband though :)

RACE REPORT – The Fare Challenge Half Marathon

The Fare Challenge
KR Steel Half Marathon
23rd August 2015

The Fare Challenge medal2 hours 44 minutes 2 seconds
159th of 186 Finishers
51st of 73 Females
16 of 24 F Seniors

Let’s be honest; taking part in The Fare Challenge Half Marathon less than 20 hours after completing the Speyside Way Ultramarathon (37 miles) was always going to be a bit of an ask. I’m never one to shy away from a challenge, but when I couldn’t physically fit my trail shoes onto my swollen, blistered feet the next morning, I knew I was in for a corker…

Thankfully I had been able to score a very decent night of sleep, so whilst I was physically very tired, I felt rested. My legs were fatigued, but not particularly sore. My hunger, on the other hand, was insatiable; I ate a peanut butter bagel, a banana, a flapjack bar…but it felt like they evaporated before they even reached my stomach. Before I could even think about putting any shoes on I had to deal with the blisters which had plagued my feet the day before and were still bulging like ripe cherries. I sterilised a needle and drained them all, before placing Compeed blister plasters over them and then wrapping the balls of each foot and each big toe in Rock Tape. It didn’t feel very nice but it was the best I could do before selecting a pair of suitable shoes. My Salomon Speed Cross 3s would have been ideal, but they were far too narrow for my puffed up trotters¬†and the toe box pinched on my blisters. I selected my widest and most comfortable shoes – my Asics Gel Nimbus 15s.

the fare challenge elevation

The Fare Challenge – 1,837ft Elevation Gain

Ali and Kate picked me up at 9.45am and we headed to Raemoir House Hotel, near Banchory, where all three of the Fare Challenge races started. The race offers a 5k and 10k as well as a Half Marathon, and offers an array of food, fun and activities for families and friends so an entire day out can be enjoyed if the weather is in your favour. Unusually, North East Scotland managed a second consecutive day of beautiful weather, and the sun was shining strongly. Whilst running in heat is really not something I enjoy, the prospect of spending a few hours in the sunshine on beautiful trails made pushing through the fatigue and hunger a lot easier.

the fare challenge registration

Registration took place in a big marquee which was already busy when we arrived at 10.30. There were refreshments on sale and a variety of stalls, but like everyone else who was running, I got my number and then joined the toilet queue. There were about 12 portaloos which were just about doing the job, but there could have done with being more when you consider all of the friends and family who were attending as well.


I was glad to meet up with David and Jeni before we started to get a group photo. We were all feeling a little weary but nothing was going to stop us getting the job done. At 12pm the Half Marathon start was announced and after assembling alongside the 10k runners, we were all set off at the same time. Mentally this made the start a little bit easier – for every person who shot by me I just assumed they were doing the 10k so would naturally be going faster.

Photo from The Fare Challenge

Photo from The Fare Challenge

The Fare Challenge is a trail race with lots of ups and downs but I wasn’t familiar with the course at all. It starts from the grounds of¬†Raemoir House Hotel and curls straight up the Hill of Fare for 3 miles. I was in no hurry to push myself and took the first mile easily, assessing what was hurting and what felt ok. When we reached the start of the hill I immediately started to power walk; I was already quite near the back but this meant I temporarily slipped back even further. Within a quarter of a mile my well-honed ultra hill stomp was already catching up with those who had tackled the start of the hill with a little too much enthusiasm, and I made steady progress up and up through the hot forest until the path cleared the tree line and we were out on the exposed hillside.

It was actually very windy up on the hill so the heat was barely an issue. I was glad for my sun screen though as the sun itself would be strong. Reaching the top of the summit there was a paramedic and a landrover which was the first of many on the course – the organisers did an excellent job in putting in provisions on the remote course to look after people who might not have the best of days. From the other side of the hill I could see all the way down and up the other side to the next summit, as well as the runners who were already way along the next hillside in miles 4, 5 and 6. I really was pretty far back in the field; I would have loved to have used my tired legs as an excuse, but there was no sign of Jeni and David who had scooted away up the hill. I’m just a bit slow right now…

the fare challenge route map

I plodded on though; my feet were really, really sore but they weren’t getting worse than they had been, and splashing through the hillside streams provided icy cold relief. Despite it being a hot day it had rained torrentially the night before so there was a lot of water coming off the hills. This also made for some perilous ascents and descents for me in my road shoes; whilst the terrain was by no means technical I would have benefited from some extra grip in wet mud. As you can see from the elevation profile the route was very bumpy; up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. There was water at two miles, seven miles, and marshalls at most turning points.

At mile 7 there was a cruel out and back up a hill track which allowed you to say hello and well done to your fellow runners, or ignore them as I found out. The field was quite spread out now with runners perhaps every 200 meters or so. I smiled and said well done to everyone I passed on my way up and down; I got one reply and two acknowledgements which was a real shame. The more runners who ignored me, the bigger my smile became. If you can’t say hello and greet a¬†fellow runner whilst out running in beautiful countryside on a sunny day, then you may as well stick to a treadmill. Even the shittest run gets better with a smile and a chat…every ultra runner knows that, and usually those at the back are the chattiest. Strange times.

However; after mile 7 we were into a narrow forest track and out of the sun. The track got good and muddy and there were lots of puddles to jump in. The sunshine was making the pine trees smell amazing and I had finally shaken out my aches and pains; a combination of this and more down hill than up meant I was able to make up some places. Miles 9 Р11 were on forestry road and gently undulating, but now completely out of the wind and very warm. The water stations provided bottles (and SIS gels at mile 9)  but I was glad to have taken a hand-held bottle with me to sip on throughout. Mile 11 had a bit of a savage downhill which gave me a dreadful stitch, but finally we got back down to road level and re-entered the hotel grounds.

The 12 mile marker was right next to the carpark entrance which cruelly took us so close to the finish before back up the hill for another half mile. We the returned the the start/finish line by the same route as the first mile, with a 100 meter uphill grass finish to cross the line. I had estimated around 2hr30 – 2hr40 for a finish time, so 2hr 44m wasn’t too far off for a lifetime worst half marathon time. Jeni did 2:16 and David did 1:59 (!!), with the male and female winners completing the course in 1hr24 and 1hr43 respectively.


The medal is an absolute beast and quite heavy to hang around your neck! Upon finishing I was handed a goody bag and my medal, and tottered out to find my friends. Having started the race hungry I was feeling very empty and rather light-headed; I was desperate for a drink or a snack, so the only disappointing aspect of the day was that there was no post-race food for the runners. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by ultras and small club races, but I would expect at least a banana and a cup of tea or something. There was a little bottle of water in the goody bag which was most welcome, but I had to tap Kate for some change to go and get a can of coke from the hotel marquee. There was food available there but at quite a price, and you could even buy a bottle of champagne if you liked.


At ¬£26, the Fare Challenge is not the cheapest half marathon in the North East but it offers a unique experience and a beautiful course. The organisers have worked extremely hard to produce an event which is inclusive for all and should hopefully act as a gateway to the joys trail running for many. The route is well marshalled and very challenging; I’d love to come back and give it a go on fresh legs and see how much time I’d slice off. I’d also love to come back and see less people dropping their gel packets on the trail and being a bit cheerier on the run, but these are two things which road runners exploring the trails for the first time can sometimes be not quite¬†up to speed on which is a real shame.


It was still a stunning evening when I got home and Kynon and I enjoyed some beers and crisps in the setting sunshine before I ate my weight in Chinese food. I really enjoyed both races and would love to return to either again in the future. The back-to-back experience was a fun challenge made more enjoyable by the weather, but it was very tiring especially off the back of a summer of recovery and inconsistent training. I took a week to get back in my running shoes and even longer to get this report up – as ever, the MSc dissertation is taking priority, but I’m now in the last few weeks of hard work!

‘Til next time,


RACE REPORT: Speyside Way Ultra

Speyside Way Ultra
22nd August 2015

speyside way ultra medal

7 hours 4 minutes 16 seconds
69th of 101 Finishers
17th of 25 Females
7th of 11 F Seniors


After completing the West Highland Way Race, I went on a race-entering spree to satisfy my desire to complete some races for fun; specifically, ones which would take me less than 29 hours to complete… After trawling EntryCentral I saw for the first time since I started running ultras, that the Speyside Way Ultra was not clashing with a music festival which I’ve been attending for nearly a decade. I quickly purchased an entry and contemplated signing up for the Fare Challenge Half Marathon the next day as well. It only took a little extra encouragement from my running friend David for me to decide that a back to back racing weekend of 50 mile was in fact a brilliant, totally normal idea, and before I knew it my plans for this weekend were set in stone.

David picked me up from my parents’ house in Aberdeen at 5:15am and we set off towards Insch to pick up Jeni, who would be the third member of our back-to-back team. The journey passed quickly and we arrived at Buckie High School to register at about 7am. There were one or two familiar faces, but with Speyside being rather out of the way for much of the Central Belt ultra crowd, many of the usual suspects were not present. It’s one of the smallest of the SUMS races, and at 36.5 miles in length, amongst the shortest. The route (mostly) follows part of the Speyside Way, which is a long distance walking¬†route along the banks of the Spey. It’s mainly flat, but with a climb up and down Ben Aigen in the middle, and some rolling hills as well. Terrain is about two thirds on very runnable trail (forestry track and old railway line), with the remainder being on road.

There were buses to take the runners to the start, which was hosted at Cragganmore Distillery. On the bus I managed to bag a seat right at the front which was a relief, as I am prone to motion sickness on buses, especially first thing in the morning when travelling to races! It was about an hour’s journey, and I enjoyed chatting to the 2014 women’s race winner, Sophie Mullins, who was sitting up front next to me. When the two buses offloaded it was a mad rush to the portaloos, a short race briefing, and then a piper marched us to the starting line.

speyside way race start

speyside way ultra race

When the hooter went, off we trotted towards Buckie on a flat converted railway line. There were lots of bridges to cross, including bouncy ones which made everyone laugh as their stride was disrupted!

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

Even though it was only 9am, the air temperature was very warm and humid with the sun hiding behind some light cloud cover. It was forecast to reach around 22C later in the day, and I was hoping that the sun would keep hiding or else my race would be made rather difficult by the heat. Within a couple of miles I was already quite sweaty and drinking lots of water, I was glad to pick up a couple of extra cups at the first water stop at 7 miles, and very glad when Checkpoint 1 came at 12 miles as I had drank the 1.5 litres of water I had started with already.

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

Ballindalloch – Craigellachie – 12 miles – 2 hours

I clearly wasn’t the only one who had been thirsty, as the Checkpoint was almost out of water when I arrived. I had to upturn the water bowser to pour¬†the last of the contents out, which came to another 2 litres. The drop bags were laid out and I guzzled 250ml of Lucozade Sport whilst I re-packed my pockets. I had eaten a Nakd bar, some Mini-Cheddars and some jelly sweets in the first two hours, and had Jaffa Cakes and Hula Hoops to fuel the next two. On my way out of the check point I was looking forward to reaching the first hills of the day so I could have a little walk – it has been a while since I’ve ran 12 flat miles without a break!

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

I spent some time chatting to George Chalmers and Alyson MacPherson on the way up Ben Aigen, but we parted ways as we pursued our separate goals for the day. After this I was mainly alone for the rest of the run and enjoyed the stunning views from the top of the hill, looking all the way down the Spey and towards the eventual finish.

speyside way ultra race

Half way down the hill there was a water stop with coke, ginger beer and pretzels manned by Jenni or Moray Road Runners which was a welcome sight. It was still very warm but the sun was thankfully still out of sight. With no cooling breeze it was still very stuffy and I continued to drink a lot as I ran.

At 19 miles the route deviates from the Speyside Way and follows the roads to Fochabers. There were several miles of rolling hills here which I was pleased to be able to run continually as I locked into an efficient ultra plod. Thankfully there was not a lot of traffic so I was able to run in the middle of the road and avoid the steep camber, and I ended up passing a handful of people who were perhaps fading a little at this mid-point.

Craigellachie – CP 2, Near Fochabers – 12 miles – Split TBC

I arrived at Checkpont 2 with Neil MacRichie, and in need of a Camelbak refill again. I had drunk the two litres and ran out before the Checkpoint, so really enjoyed another 250ml of Lucozade Sport and some fresh water as well. I had a High5 tab to put in the bladder to replace some much-needed electrolytes, and with my pockets refilled with Jaffa cakes and Hula Hoops I continued on my way.

Running through Fochabers I clocked marathon distance at a shade over 5 hours which I thought was reasonable. I was feeling good (if a bit too hot) and with the exception of my feet blistering in the same places as at the West Highland Way Race and the Devil, nothing was hurting. It occurred to me that perhaps I need to replace my socks – I know Injinji socks work for me, but I’ve been rotating the same few pairs for 100s of miles now – I hope this will crack the problem of the reoccurring blisters!

speyside way ultra race

After we left Fochabers, the route turned into a single track cycling/walking trail by the River Spey which was very scenic. I spent many happy holidays in my youth at Burnside Caravan Park in Fochabers, and cycled along that path many times so it was pleasing to return to it nearly 20 years later and traverse it in a different manner. In fact, I was enjoying myself so much, I tripped over my own feet on the flat path and nearly barrel-rolled into the Spey. I was frustrated, but unharmed; nothing grazed except my ego, when realising the fishermen over on the other side had observed my tumble and were now scaring away their potential prey with screams of amusement. It’s probably just as well they didn’t see me fall the second time, not 5 minutes later, as this time I was really angry at myself for not paying attention and falling over nothing and bellowed “FOR F&*K’S SAKE PAY ATTENTION, QUINE” at nothing in particular as I nursed a deep scrape on my shin and a bashed¬†hand.

speyside way ultra race

Trotting on, the flat miles passed as the trees thinned and the coast and Spey Bay came closer. It was nearing 30 miles and I was beginning to get weary, so I had started my favoured mental game to pass the time on each mile – run 0.4 miles, walk 0.1. Fiona Rennie was out taking pictures at Spey Bay so it was nice to say hello to her, and I welcomed the fresh sea breeze as I turned right onto the coastal road which would lead me back to Buckie.

speyside way ultra race

Picture by Fiona Rennie

speyside way ultra race

From here to the end it was very flat, and with no excuses not to run I continued to break up each mile into segments to manage my fatigue. I had hoped to finish around 6.5 – 7 hours, but I could see that becoming less of a possibility as time slipped by. At mile 32.5 it ¬†is possible to see the twin spires of Buckie St Peter’s Church which is near the finish, over 4 miles away. This is quite cruel, but at least you have something to aim for…

speyside way ultra race

I had told myself to not be an idiot and try and finish too strongly, as my legs would not thank me the next day. However, it was hard to leave the ego at home when I could see a handful of runners up ahead which I was gradually gaining on. Without changing my pace I overtook two, and when I finally reached the outskirts of Buckie I pushed just a little to overtake another three, including two girls. I figured this might¬†encourage them to go quicker to try and re-gain their place, so I pushed harder than was comfortable for a few minutes to try and put a gap between me and them that they would have to really try to close. I don’t know why I even cared, but it helped me pass the time and got me to the finish quicker. After a quarter of a mile I reigned myself in as I could feel a stitch brewing and I didn’t want to have to walk the last hill to the finish. Something which Mike has said a lot recently sprung to mind; “Run as fast as you need to for as long as you need to” which I think are the words of Stuart Mills, perhaps? Either way, once I was safely out of the way I concentrated on finishing the last mile sensibly, as I saw no need to sprint any harder.

speyside way ultra race

Fochabers – Buckie – 13 miles – Split TBC

36.5 miles had come and gone by the time I passed Tina, the last marshall, and I asked where on earth the finish line was – 200 meters up that hill, she said, as she directed me around a corner. I motored up slowly, and heaved a sign of relief when I saw the feather flags marking the finish area. The small crowd gave me a big cheer as I made my way across the line, and I gratefully tumbled onto the soft grass once I had received my medal and lovely goody bag.

speyside way ultra race

Picture by Jeni R-J

After running out of water again by the finish, I demolished a bottle whilst sitting on the grass chatting to Jeni and some other friendly finishers. That was over 6 litres of water I had consumed during the race, as well as 500ml Lucozade and a couple of cups of coke. I also haven’t mentioned that I hadn’t needed to go to the toilet at all – so that’s how much fluid I had sweated out in the 7 hours of running! That’s very unusual for me, but my salt encrusted skin and clothing proved¬†how warm it had been.

speyside way ultra race

After chatting to lots of people and taking the time to thank Sarah Louise Grigor, the Race Director, I headed back to the High School to collect my bag and have a sandwich. Since David, Jeni and I had lots of recovery to do before 12pm the next day, we wasted no time at all in heading back down the road after we’d had a bite to eat, and I arrived back at my parents’ house about 7pm. I was really grateful for David driving; I felt so spangled and tired after the race that I would not have been safe to drive myself home. David finished the race in 5hr 41m so he had a bit more time to collect himself before getting behind the wheel, but even 3 hours after finishing, when I got in my own car to drive back to Stonehaven, I felt a bit funny.

Upon arrival home I put the oven on and had a quick shower before inhaling a large pizza, some doughballs, and a delicious salted caramel choux bun. After logging all my food and exercise on MyFitnessPal I still had a deficit of 1,484kcal at the end of the day; perhaps not the best preparation for a half marathon the next day, but that way just the way it was. I was in bed by 10.30pm without a drop of celebratory alcohol, and thankfully slept the sleep of the dead as my body did it’s best to recover for the challenge which lay ahead…

speyside way ultra race

In summary, this was a super race and one which I hope to do again. Speyside is a beautiful area to run through and the route is a lovely way to see it. The goody bag had some nice surprises in it including a miniature whisky, and the medal is wonderfully chunky. It would be an excellent choice for a first ultra due to the easy terrain and well-sign posted route, and the relatively short distance is the perfect bridge between marathon and 50 mile distance events.

Stay tuned for the next stage in my back-to-back challenge – I hope to have it posted by the end of the week!