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Glen Lyon Ultramarathon – RACE REPORT

Glen Lyon Ultramarathon

Glen Lyon Ultra

7th May 2016
6 hours 26 minutes 14 seconds

60th of 77 (81 starters)
19 of 30 Females

The Glen Lyon Ultramarathon is the newest race in the BaM Racing portfolio. Billed as a 30 mile run in one of the remotest parts of Central Scotland, it was being ran for the first time in 2016 with a limited field size. Anyone who has done a BaM event before knows that they are in for a treat, so I signed up without hesitation when the race opened in February.

Glen Lyon is as remote as it is beautiful, so we booked into a hotel in Aberfeldy for the night before the race. In direct contrast to everything which went wrong with our trip to London for the marathon, this overnight stay could not have gone better. We stayed at the Aberfeldy Townhouse, an immaculate and comfortable boutique hotel with the most amazing customer service I’ve ever experienced outside of the USA. Pre-dinner beverages were taken at the Fountain Bar in the town square, with its outside seating area providing a comfortable place to soak up the warmth of the golden hour. Dinner was at the Three Lemons, a bar and brasserie that would not have been out of place in a fashionable neighbourhood in any city, and we enjoyed some huge and delicious stone-baked pizzas before retiring back to our hotel for an early night.

Glen Lyon Ultra 1

The next morning we were awake just after 6 and headed down to the restaurant for a pre-arranged early breakfast at 7am. Since they do not serve breakfast until 8am on the weekends, the hotel manager had very kindly offered to prepare us a breakfast roll and some coffee to prepare us for the day ahead. In actual fact, the staff had come in early, the whole breakfast buffet had been set up, including warm pastries fresh from the oven, and we were given two overflowing rolls each, served with fresh coffee and several rounds of toast. As ever my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I was well and truly stuffed with we left the hotel at 7.30am.

Glen Lyon Ultra 3

The 23 mile drive from Aberfeldy to Glen Lyon took over an hour, much of which is on treacherous and windy crumbling single track road. With no phone signal or means of communications other than the Race Director’s emergency satellite phone, this race was well and truly off the grid.

Glen Lyon Ultra

We arrived at the Dam at 8:45 which was just enough time to get registered, choose which layers to wear, and say hello to an assortment of friends. The weather was more or less perfect but there was a chilly wind which kept things cool as the sun was hidden behind haze.  I went for my new long sleeve Tracksmith top over the top of a tshirt, with various peripherals packed in my race vest.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Fiona Rennie

Glen Lyon Ultra

At 9:15am there was the briefest of briefings before the whistle went at 9:30am to set us on our way. There was half a mile of road to run on before a swift turn uphill for a long march up towards the Dam.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Susan Addison

The race is, to borrow the words of Dougie, a race of two Glens. The first half takes in the entire circumference of the dammed Loch Lyon before bringing the runners back to race HQ for a check point. The road was an undulating rocky landrover track which you could never quite relax on – the uneven terrain made it easy to lose your footing and stumble. With stunning views the whole way around it was easy to get distracted.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

The heat slowly rose in the Glen and I quickly found myself losing my outer layers. This meant that the several river crossings were welcome relief, especially the handfuls of fresh spring water I splashed on my face to cool down with. Unsurprisingly, I hadn’t been hungry at all after my big breakfast, but was drinking a lot of water.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra SA 2

There was a water point at 9.5 miles right at the far end of the Loch before we headed back towards HQ. I said hello to Iona and Donna before refilling my bottles and getting on the move quickly. I was aware I was pretty far back in the field but I didn’t care as long as I was feeling ok and running smoothly. I knew that today was not going to be a day for fast times or impressive running from my legs!

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon UltraPhoto – Donna Leslie

Returning towards the Dam the headwind was very strong and I had to work that bit harder to keep a steady pace. I reached the Dam and the (theoretical half way point) in roughly 3 hours which was bang on target . Not knowing the course, I had guessed I might take between 6 and 6.5 hours to cover the 30 miles, but I knew that the second Glen, and in particular getting in and out of it, would be harder running.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Fiona Rennie

After leaving Race HQ we were back onto tarmac road for a long 2 mile slog up a steep hill,Looking towards the other side of the Loch, you can see where the path we had ran on  previously is hewn from the sides of the Glen high above the water.

Glen Lyon Ultra

After the long climb up there was a flat half mile as the road followed the contour lines before descending down into Glen Lochart. There was a water stop at around 20 miles before we turned off the road and onto a rocky trail high above the Glen. Looking down I could see little running figures on the bottom of the other side of the Glen on their way back; I did some quick sums in my head and calculated that the loop around the Glen must be about 7 miles in length, before the long and arduous haul back over the hill to the finish. Looking ahead down the Glen was daunting and my mental resolved wobbled a little; I was tiring and beginning to feel a bit sick, and it was obvious that  my lack of training was beginning to show.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

The small field of 80 had long since spread out and I ran much of the race completely by myself. There were very few race markers required, so if it hadn’t been for the odd glimpse of a person far in the distance, I may as well have been out there completely alone. Miles 20 – 27 were really quite tough as I pushed myself on when I was fatiguing hard. My legs and hips were feeling ok; not stiff or hurting, and my feet were fine too, but I was just lacking the solid cardio fitness which usually makes these events a lot easier. Feeling nauseated really wasn’t helping either, but I just trucked on steadily, breaking up the miles in a 0.1 walk/0.4 run sequence. I was amused to pass through marathon distance at 5hr 12m 38s, which is only a few seconds off the time in which I completed my very first marathon.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Finally, the big pipeline which we had crossed 7 miles ago came back into site and I knew I had nearly completed my lap of the Glen. I began to steel myself for the 3 mile climb from the bottom of the Glen right to the top of the hill. I had caught up with Sue, a Wee County Harrier, who I’d spoken to one or two times before, and chatting with her made the first of the three miles pass a lot more comfortably. We reached the 20 and 27 mile water point where I had hoped to tickle Diesel the Dog for some puppy power, but he was fast asleep having had a big day cheering all of the runners.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Picture – Lois Simpson

After quenching my thirst I locked in for the last few miles and started an ultra stomp up the hill, huffing and swearing as I went. It was obvious the race was going to be well over 30 miles in distance, but at least I knew the last two were downhill.

30 miles came and went, and so did 31, but the finish line didn’t arrive until 31.6 miles – a slightly generous 50k. Running up towards the finishing arch was a lovely feeling, as was having Kynon’s arms to fall into once again. Thanks to Fiona Rennie for these excellent pictures.

Glen Lyon Ultra

Glen Lyon Ultra

I had a sit down and some more water, before putting on some dry warm clothes immediately.  I wanted to eat but the appetite just wasn’t there, so I had a cup of sugary tea to keep my blood sugar up. It would have been nice to hang around but we had to more or less zoom off straight away in order to drive back home to get to a birthday party that evening. I was nervous about the twisty road making me car-sick but in the end we were stuck behind the slowest van in the world so it wasn’t really a concern!

I would thoroughly recommend this race to anyone looking to step up to ultra distance running, but is maybe a little unsure of the flat and fast nature of the D33. This race gives all the scenery and trail running of some of the longer SUMS events but without the extra mileage. The event is sure to grow to be another huge success for BaM, so keep your eyes peeled for the 2017 opening date!

Glen Lyon Ultra – Race Preview

Did you know I’m off to Glen Lyon tomorrow to run a 30 mile race? I did, kind of… I don’t know about you but April this year has evaporated at such a speed I feel like this race has crept up on me a lot quicker that I ever expected it to!

glen lyon ultra

So what’s the Glen Lyon Ultra?

The Glen Lyon Ultra is a brand new race from BaM Racing, stalwarts of the Scottish Ultra scene and organisers of Glen Ogle 33, Great Glen Ultra, and Glenmore 24. They like a race in a Glen, you see.  The race route was first used a few years ago when a company ran an event called the Tigh Nam Bodach 50k in December. For some reason the race never took off and it just faded away after the first year, but it is back with the BaM treatment and looking like a great Spring adventure taking place at a far more hospitable time of year.

glen lyon ultra david downey

Picture – David Downey

Where is Glen Lyon?

Glen Lyon is…in the middle of nowhere. This is a really remote race, high up in the hills in Central Scotland, properly off grid whilst technically still in Perthshire. It’s a three hour drive from Stonehaven, the last hour of which covers only 23 miles on single track roads towards a hamlet called Pubil. To this end, we are staying in Aberfeldy tonight to maximise the amount of sleep tonight in order to arrive in time for the 9.30am start.

glen lyon ultra route

What is the weather situation?

Well, it doesn’t actually look too bad – perfect weather for running if the forecast is correct. That part of Scotland can get extremely cold at any time of year though so I’ll be taking an array of kit. I’m a little sad that we’ll be missing the relative heatwave on Sunday, but perhaps it’s for the best given my usual failure to perform in heat. Unfortunately Stonehaven is on the wrong side of the weather front on Sunday, so I won’t be able to recover in any warm sunshine like you might find in Perthshire!

glen lyon ultra weather

So what’s the plan?

Any regular readers will know that 2016 has really been any but regular for me in terms of training. I AM training – an assortment of gym work, club running sessions, half marathon length runs, but LONG long runs have been largely non existent, and as for long off road stuff…the less said about that the better. The reason for this massive change in training has been because of having no big events to train for – no D33, no Fling, no Cateran, no WHW/Great Glen – all of the events which have shaped my training over the last few years have been absent from my schedule, and there’s little to no point in dragging your body through high mileage training for no reason. I’ve had a tough few years and perhaps this little break has been good physically. Mentally it doesn’t feel very ok though. Why no races? Well, to put it bluntly; when they all opened last year/early this year, I really didn’t think we’d be living in Scotland. But we still are. So make of that what you will.

Anyway; I’m not too worried about tomorrow. I know it will be harder than it ought to be, but endurance doesn’t go away and I expect it will just take a little while for me to settle into my groove. I’m really looking forward to a long run out in the hills; I’m going to take it easy and soak up the surroundings, enjoy the company of my fellow ultra runners who I simply haven’t seen enough of this year, and use the race as an opportunity to mentally reset and try and get to a place where I can at least regconise myself as an athlete again.

glen lyon ultra route profile

Are you running a race this weekend?

Have you ever been to Glen Lyon?

Am I going to survive that dirty vertical after 26 miles?!

Berlin Marathon 2015 – RACE REPORT

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

berlin14

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 😉

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.

berlin25

berlin24

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!

Speyside Way Ultra – RACE REPORT

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!

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