Speyside Way Ultra
22nd August 2015
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!