Fifty percent of Scotlands whiskey distilleries are located in Speyside and it's easy to see why. The bus slowly makes it's way through Fochabers then follows the river upstream. I really enjoy this trip, passing through fertile barley fields and forests on our way to Ballindalloch. Now and then I get a tantalising glimpse of the Spey meandering it's way to the Moray Firth. Steam rises up from the trees giving away the location of famous whiskey distilleries. It's overcast but there's no sign of the light rain showers which are forecast for the day ahead. The bus turns off onto a side road and drops us off at our destination, the start of the Speyside Ultra Marathon.
We have a piper which is a nice touch and adds to the atmosphere. There is a small tent area where a few campers are folding their tents, I'm sure they don't mind the intrusion. After the race briefing we make our way to the disused railway line for the 9 o'clock start.
I don't have any tactics this year and with only three long runs under my belt since the WHW race I quickly decide to do the same strategy as last years Speyside. Ten minute miles for as long as I can but I don't feel as good as this time last year. I have had PB's for all my ultras this year but I'm not confident beating my 2012 time today.
We're off along the track, a beautiful start to the race. Bridges span ravines where streams make their way to the River. We pass fly fishermen, the Spey is famous for Salmon. This route passes a few distilleries with their distinct mashing aroma. My GPS watch bleeps just under 9 minute miles, a bit quick for my plan today but I feel okay and continue at this pace. I chat to a few runners who all seem to be running around 9 minutes per mile so I continue with this pace till the first checkpoint at Craigellachie. It's not overly warm but I've been drinking a lot of water so a quick top up of the water bottle, drink two cups of water, grab my food and make my way to the uphill road section.
Cheese and pickle sandwiches, coke, a mars bar and skittles - sugar is playing a part once more for my running diet. I force down the sandwich before the top if the road section, scoff the coke and pocket the sweets. It's not long before there are more uphills on the way to Ben Aigen, there are a few runners on the uphills where I start my run 30 walk 30 strategy. There is a steady runner behind me, making his way up without walking. We leapfrog each other practically all the way to the top (and a few more times into the race) but his steady run means he reaches the top first. The uphill takes a lot out of me but it's worth every step for the view out to the Moray Firth.
Jenni is marshaling on Ben Aigen, so it's a quick hello and a couple cups of water which is much appreciated. I really like the next section, coming off the hill before hitting tarmac again. I begin to feel empty on the road section, I can't stomach the mars bar and take a few skittles which doesn't help much. There are a couple groups of runners behind who are catching. A few pass me before I try and step up a bit and limit the damage, I don't want too many runners passing.
It's quite a long road section to the next checkpoint, a nice quiet back road where I can see runners way ahead. I've run out of water and have a raging thirst, it's still 3 miles to the Fochabers checkpoint.
The Skittles in my pocket rattle to the rhythm of my run, annoying at first but it helps keep me going at a steady pace. The water station can't come quick enough, I fill the water bottle and down it in a oner.
Refill the bottle and grab my food, if that's what you could call it. Two bottles of coke (one gets scoffed straight away) a mars bar and more Skittles, sugar fuelled as usual.
Feeling spent, I make my way down to Fochabers and under the A96 bypass, this is where the wheels came off last year and I'm determined not to have a repeat. It's a lovely stretch through the woods then alongside the river once more, one I'm familiar with. the path cuts inland over open countryside before reaching Spey Bay. Practically every marshal on this race offers water and it's no different here. Another watering hole at Spey Bay then its time for the home straight. The trail winds its way through woods before breaking out into a long straight in open countryside once more towards Portgordon, I can see Buckie in the distance.
The tide is in, so no seals here this year. I'm passed by a runner on the seafront, she is a fellow Hoka runner. I'm feeling drained now and practically write off beating my time from last year. Not long to go, the race passes through Buckpool, the old Start / Finish point of the Speyside Way. I want to crank it up a bit but have nothing left in the tank, just keep running steady through the streets.
The last 100 meters are a cruel uphill to the finish, up to Cluny Square and over the line.
Last years time - 6 hours 24 minutes 46 seconds.
This years time - 6 hours 22 minutes 51 seconds.
Another PB! Unexpected but welcome all the same, 2013 - the year of PB's.
The medal..... another Stags Head, one of the coolest out there.
Thanks to Sarah Louise Grigor and her team for yet another brilliant ultra, well organised and much appreciated I'll be back next year.