Spey-side Way Ultra Recces

I don’t know why I entered this ultra; I won’t be at anywhere near the distance training I was for last years Glen Ogle race, which was ‘only’ 32 ish miles and as my first foray into the above-marathon distance, I was really just jogging to get round, with no real prep or strategy other than “don’t bust anything”. Which I managed. But I had most of my marathon training under my belt including a couple of 20 something milers.

So at 36.5 miles with a decent climb in the middle and some deceptive gradual ascents, the Speyside Way wasn’t exactly the obvious choice for an event, especially the week after a fast Half Marathon. I had previously agreed to buddy round a couple of stages and support a fellow forumite at the Checkpoints, seeing as I would have completed the UTLD 50, three weeks beforehand. However, with Lakelands 50 recorded as a DNS, this was my fall back event and the buddy is no longer taking part.

If you look up the term “naively stupid” in the local running dictionary, you’ll see a picture of me conceiving that the Speyside Way is easy compared to the Lake District……the reality was very different and we all know that no ultra is really easy.

I decided to make my long run training for the half marathon, into recces of the SSW route. If I can’t be distance prepared, I can be terrain aware at the very least. So I entered SSW ultra (the race director Sarah is one of the ladies I met at the Cape Wrath Challenge in 2010, with her family; her mother was an especially lovely supporter) and I am starter 65.

Recce 1: Ballindalloch to Craigellachie (12.5 miles)

Well, we couldn’t find an extraction point at Craigellachie so we drove to Aberlour to find the visitors centre closed at the weekend (just when tourists might want information: how unhelpful), but the SSW was well signposted so I opted for 10 miles and got dropped at Ballindalloch with camelback (only slightly leaking) and wearing road shoes, for good support.

GEAR: Nike Lunarglide +2, x-socks Run, Haglofs full length intense tights, Haglofs boxers, shockabsorber B4490, Brooks misti long sleeve, Montane featherlite waterproof jacket, Nike hat, Salomon XA20 rucksack and I carried 1.5 L water with elete and Mulekick cherry gels, Garmin 305 Forerunner, 2Gb Nano (shuffled playlist)

Setting off from Ballindalloch, I was soon surprised by the lack of discernible path- this is proper rough field running and I questioned the choice of road shoes, but to be fair, it was quite sturdy under foot despite recent and ongoing drizzly rain. I kept swapping sides to reduce the camber effect. I took a gel after 30 mins and 60 mins with some water and that sat well. The countryside was enjoyable with a few bridges (one which had to be walked as I got a fair shoogle going) and I passed a couple of cyclists, dog walkers and one postman! As I got closer to the visitors centre, I noticed the ‘going was good’ and my pace really picked up through the wooded area; I guess I’ll have to watch I don’t get carried away with this on the day. Back in Aberlour in 1 hr 42 mins although I’d probably allow nearer 2 hours for this during the race. I drank very little of my water allowance but then, I was really well hydrated to start with and wasn’t pushing the pace until nearer the end. I didn’t really feel any issues with the previous injury sites although my right foot felt a bit plantar-ish. Some stretches and a change into fresh clothes because the ankles were well wet and clarted in mud and jobs a good ‘un!

I probably wouldn’t opt for offroad shoes on this section unless it was super-wet on race-day. The great thing about the drop bag option is being able to make terrain specific choices and I’m keen to use off-road shoes only where absolutely necessary and where I’ll end up AOT or turning an ankle of I used shoes with less grip. I need the most support I can in order to protect my weak areas- left calf and right Achilles.

Recce 2: Boat O’ Brig to Craigellachie (~15 miles)

This was meant to be Aberlour to Fochabers, 15 miles according to the SSW sign-posting. However, after being let down by the local taxis who said I’d have to wait 45 mins for them to get a taxi in the area, I took the advice of a very helpful lovely lady in the local running shop. I’d gone in to purchase an OS of the area, just encase (and because the fog and rain were really quite bad) and ended up telling Scarlett my predicament and she suggested parking at Boat O’ Brig and running out n back to Aberlour thus driving over some of the course and running the rest. Aye, running the hardest bit twice but then, what better training could I ask for? http://www.outrunspeyside.co.uk/ Running caps off to Scarlett, she said she’d have given me a lift down if I’d come in a tad earlier; nice to find a shop willing to put themselves out for customers!!

GEAR: INOV-8 Roclite 212 GTX, x-socks Run, Haglofs full length intense tights, Icebreakers 150 boxers, shockabsorber B4490, Salomon EXO tee, Gore Magnitude AS vest (taken off after 30 mins),Montane featherlite waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, INOV-8 gaitors, Nike hat, Fetch Everyone buff, Salomon XA20 rucksack and I carried 1.5 L water with elete and various gels, Garmin 305 Forerunner, 2Gb Nano (Ben Fogle playlist)

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After driving down a single track which would have resulted in a 3 mile reverse if I’d actually met another vehicle(!) I found the carpark no bother and due to the weather, elected to wear the gaiters under my waterproof trousers and hoped that the Goretex offroad shoes would do the business.

Holy cr@p it was wet! Torrential at times and as the rain pelted me and then occasionally came down in a water wall as the trees above me gave way to it’s weight, I reminded myself that today was my birthday and I could have been doing almost anything and I’d chosen to do THIS.

The route into Ben Aigen was muddy but running uphill against a veritable river was where the off-roaders came into their own. I do love INOV-8s. It was sharper ascent on the way towards Craigellachie and I kept in mind that for everything I ran up, it’d be a coast down on the way back.

I used my lift the right knee for 5 steps, then switch legs and always lift from the knee, technique to ensure I wasn’t muscling up the hills with my calves. Oh the strategies I’ve had to develop to share the load away from the normal muscles, but it seemed to work. If I keep my head down I can get up some fairly long climbs by just concentrating on the counting knee-lifts distraction!

I passed a group of European hikers- how did I know this? Because some had Fjallraven packs and basically, these are not really well known over here. They seemed surprised to see me practically wading passed in my waterproofs!

Unfortunately, the road down into the town was a gradual decline so I knew I was in for a tough return. The Garmin said 6.55 miles as I turned over the bridge into Craigellachie carpark, so I elected to not go on to Aberlour. I used the toilets (nice n clean) and checked that I had plenty water (I did) and then started the slow return (INOV-8s on road, och well). I met the hikers about 2 miles out, just after having clambered down a steep trail to take a picture of a red squirrel, we had a quick chat and I let them know they were very close and that there was a hotel/pub at the corner. They were German sounding 🙂

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The mist was well and truly down and I was feeling a bit cold as I made my way back up and through the Ben Aigen trails, it was beautiful though and there is always a really great smell from the forest when it’s raining. The down parts were too wet n steep to benefit from, so I was still pulling a 10.30 minute/mile or slower as I approached the Boat O Brig again. I ran round the corner and up towards the weak bridge, just to get my mileage to nearer 15. DONE! And I shivered into some nice warm icebreaker 260 and 340 tops before taking Scarlett’s advised route straight through to Keith.

It was definitely worth the recce to see this bit of the route. I know now that I need to really pace myself in the early stages and minimize use of the calves over the routes peak.

Next time: Fochabers to Buckie……and back! (20 miles roundtrip).

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