More Speyside Way

Another day off work and a stark contrast to the previous downpour- a random scorcher, which saw me reaching for the SPF 30. I drove up to SpeyBay and was immediately struck by the over-crowding at the WDCS, so the initial plan of running SpeyBay to Fochabers and back was slightly blighted, so I picked up a map and continued along the coast to Port Gordon, further along the SSW

http://www.wdcs.org/connect/wildlife_centre/find_us.php

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A couple of miles West to SpeyBay and once there I realised I was over dressed and overladen. Still, I’m working on the premise that if I’m carrying extra weight and running in a veritable ‘sauna suit’, come race day I will feel fresher and springier having become conditioned to being hot n heavy (well, I’m not sure it works quite like that, but….)

GEAR:Nike Lunarglide 2+, Haglofs full length intense tights, X-sock run sky run (worn inside out), Haglofs boxers, shockabsorber B4490, Rabs ultrasilk tee, Gore orange AS vest, Cosmics buff, white woodworm glasses, Garmin 205, Salomon XA 20, 1.5 Litres water + 2 electrolyte High5 zeros, 2 popcorn/yoghurt bars, cherry mulekick gels, usual rucksack stuff: 1st aid kit, TP (in waterproof wrapper), vaseline, mobile phone, hat, spare fleece, waterproof trousers and jacket(!!), OS map

The route from PortGordon was somewhat flat and although I stuck to the road and didn’t go on the disused railway I reckoned I’ll need the new scenery on the day, to keep me distracted from the pain of having done 31 miles at that stage! I wore road shoes as I’m more and more inclined to think I’ll get benefit from their support more than I’ll benefit from the grip of off-road shoes (I won’t be going SO fast, that I need rugged lugged soles to gain time).

Forest between SSW and main road, towards Fochabers from SpeyBay

Spey Bay was absolutely crammed full of bird-watchers, dolphin spotters and Grandparents with grandchildren, so I passed through quickly and promised myself an ice cold cocoa-cola at the visitors centre cafe on the way back. There were a few walkers on the main path and I met a dozen or so at about half way.

That wee sign indicated the narrow path……

Apparently there were literally hundreds of ramblers in Fochabers that day and they had dispersed to various wooded walks up and down the SSW. This group were very gracious and moved onto the more rocky side of the path, to let me passed. [I always get the feeling that I’m running on the more overgrown/ rocky side but if I swap to the other furrow, the original side looks better!]

The route was variable, from open landrover track (sometimes with deep furrows), to tow-path single file type paths but overall it was quite flat and pleasant through trees and with the Spey wide and majestic on the right.

As I neared Fochabers (and under the bridge I negotiated a digger and workies as well as very gnarly paths ribboned with tree roots), I was starting to feel the pace and the heat of the day and encountered quite a few cars around the main park, about 1/2 mile from town. The paths were hooching with walkers; anyone would think it was a public pathway 🙂 I ran into the town square and made my way towards the local supermarket and running shop for a break, before returning the way I came. The local Co-op did not have such a thing as chocolate soya milk, which I’d got into my head that I “needed”. I opted to go for an ice cold coke.

View up Fochabers high Street- Outrun green sign just visible on right

Scarlett was in the local running shop Out run and introduced me to her friend as “a proper runner”. Dunno about that! They both remarked that I was over-dressed and that my bag weighed a tonne. Yep. We had a chat and again, I was offered all sorts of help- tea, toilet, lifts to Buckie (soooo tempting) and the unexpected advice that my shoes were way too loose. I gave my usual response, that my feet swell and I get blisters etc etc. However, I kept the shoe laced tight and once I left, I adjusted the right so it was same pressure on the premise I could always stop and undo them but guess what? Scarlett was right! The tighter tied shoes made my feet feel a lot lighter somehow and I didn’t suffer from cut off circulation or blisters. Folks- trust the experts! I will definitely wear my shoes tied up to the final hole and tighter than before. (Oh and the shop stocks X-Bionic, including the latest Fennec tops which looks well lush….but I digress)

I had to negotiate several long strands of slow moving groups before heading back out of the town. Now you might have laughed at me buying an OS map for this route but I “did” manage to get lost and go off down a dead end on the way back….so if you see this bothy, turn back, you’re no longer on the SSW!

Fishing bothy. NOT on the speyside way

I met the walkers again, not a moment too soon as I had literally just finished, er, “using the outside latrine”……suddenly there were plenty school kids who didn’t want to budge over and I put a wee burn on, down in the 08:30 minute mile mark as I approached Spey Bay. I enjoyed a slice of Soreen loaf and a bottle of cooling water as I made my way back to Portgordon on warm-down for a total of 16.34 miles. A quick clothes change and I started the long but pleasant drive back to Aberdeen.

I’m leaving the Portgordon to Buckie miles for race day. My return to the town of my childhood will no doubt be an emotional one but I can’t wait to see it and run in (yes, not hobble, run) to the finish after the gruelling hill of the High Street!

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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).