Monday 30 August 2021

Speyside Way Ultra - 28th August 2021 - Race Report

Martin Holt and Phil Coutts. (Pic by James Watson)

Report by Martin Holt:

It had required an early alarm call to catch the 5.30am bus out of Buckie. Climbing aboard I felt suitably smug at already having set a new PB...for managing to park my car less than 20 metres from the finishing line of an ultra. I was sure that 5-minute walk from the car to the bus pre-5.30am would feel like a sound investment after the race.

The bus moved off, meandering its way through the darkness. As dawn broke an early morning mist hung above the Spey with rolling hills above. Passing numerous distilleries, the bus took the best part of an hour to transport its masked passengers to Ballindalloch which sits roughly half-way between Aviemore and Spey Bay. It felt slightly daunting that the return journey was to be on foot.

The registration and start were relaxed, functional and suitably understated: Numbers, drop bags, Port-a-loos. It was though, in truth, a perfect moment; a cool early autumn morning in a beautiful part of the world, familiar Moorfoot faces of Phil Coutts & Tim Warner and about to take part in one of Scotland's classic ultra-races. What is not to like? I think the race briefing distilled down to "follow the river to the sea and turn right". And then we were off...

The first 12 miles or so followed the old railway line down-stream to Craigallachie. The early miles involved some shuffling of the field before settling down into a nice easy pace. Running conditions were perfect and I realised that whilst the road had meandered and the Spey certainly meandered, the only people with more interest in minimising distance or incline than an ultra-runner were those who had built the railways in these parts. The terrain was kind with straight trails and just the slightest hint of downhill to encourage the pace.

Craigallachie offered the first checkpoint and aid-station. I refuelled the water bottles. Some youths stood on the edge of the disused platform opposite. Their early morning applause was polite if a little unenthusiastic. For 30-seconds I suspended "race mode" to indulge in some "spectator training" - youths on the edge of the platform, slightly bored? It was too good an opportunity to miss and as they proved they could do an excellent Mexican Wave down the platform to greet runners. "Spectator training" done, I resumed "race mode".
Pic: Phil Coutts

The race route left the railway line now and began the climb up the side of Ben Aigen. It was a long steady uphill through the forest, which, whilst something of a challenge after the easy first miles, was still kind by comparison with many of the trails in Glentress. The effort was rewarded with fine open views to the north coast and an easy run down towards Fochabers interrupted only by a couple of short sharp inclines which offered a good excuse to walk and refuel.   

Fochabers at 23 miles offered the second aid station & drop bags. A hasty sandwich before continuing down through the woods and farmland towards Spey Bey. Phil saw lots of chanterelle mushrooms in the forest here. I must confess that at this point I was more concerned about what I couldn't see, namely fellow runners or route markings, but took comfort that the Spey was still on my left and the sea somewhere ahead of me. I persisted and eventually the reassuring sight of red and white tape appeared as did a final water station at Spey Bay. Just the final 5 miles along the coast to Buckie then?

It's a beautiful section through some woodland by the golf course and along the coast. Again, Phil being observant saw seals, but such niceties evaded me. The day was warming up, the sea breeze was welcome. On to the road, and the race director passes tooting his car horn...the end is nigh...up the hill and turn right into the finish. As with all of the race, the finish was understanded, relaxed and strangely perfect. Medal, drink and lying on the grass in the sunshine at the finish watching the other runners come home at the end of one of Scotland's classic ultra-races. Best of all was knowing the car was only a 20 metre walk away!

Of the 100+ on the Start List for the 35-mile "classic", 92 made it back to the finish in Buckie. Moorfoots were well represented with Tim Warner the oldest racer present by 5 years [3rd MV60] coming home in 7:56:52, Phil Coutts [10th MV50] in 6:08:56 and Martin Holt [6th MV50] in 5:49:14.  It was a shame there wasn't a vets team prize, as we'd have probably been quite respectable! Results:

It's a fabulous event and next year's race is on 20th August 2022. There's the "Classic" Speyside Race which is 35 miles and a 65-mile version for those who like really early buses!  

Picture: Tim Warner