Our Journey: Speyside Way Ultra 60

A 40th birthday should be as memorable as it is momentous. But when your neighbour proposes an epic feat of mental fortitude and muscular endurance to commemorate the occasion, you blame your wife for unwittingly nominating you both as voluntary participants. The challenge of choice was to be a 60 mile ultra marathon...far beyond any distance any of us had ran before. Graeme (the birthday boy) also managed to sweet talk his older brother Colin, and then there was FOUR! From the seedling of an idea in November, came several months of planning and training in preparation for our epic Speybay to Aviemore, 60-mile A to B journey!

On the morning of July 11th, in the wee hours around first light, we were up and on our way to Speybay to set off on foot! We parked up with one lone vehicle for company, and felt some pre-run Runrig was in order to set the mood before heading inland towards the hills. As the sun began to glow just over the horizon, that was our cue to start our run and head along the trail 5 miles to our first point of civilisation. It's a magical time of day, as the sun rises illuminating the surrounding lands, with wild deer grazing, and birds chirping back to life. 5 miles down, 55 to go.

From Fochabers, began a series of steep inclines and declines as we covered over 10 miles up and down Ben Aigan reaching an elevation of 471m. It was during this time that both myself and Colin began feeling some nagging aches that had bothered us during training. For Colin, it was his calf, and for me it was my knee. My internal chatter felt that this would not bode well with only a quarter of the run complete. As the pain intensified, our pace slowed. I quietened myself as my inner dialogue grew louder and louder. Our original plan was to meet our Support Crew (my parents and kids) with their Camper Van at around 23 miles. It was all I could do to make it there in one piece! However as we got closer, we realised that we were ahead of schedule, meaning our Support Crew had not got into position. We planned instead to meet by the Bridge of Carron just 2 miles further ahead. Well guess what...no sign of the Support Crew in Carron either (granted it was harder to get to) and no phone service! We didn't want to slow our progress so decided to forge ahead until we got into mobile phone range to make new plans. It took us a few miles more before our phones picked up even a sliver of service. It was then the 'dings' started to happen as notifications poured in with missed calls and texts. A quick call and we were back on track. Plans were to rendezvous at Ballindalloch, at around the 30 mile mark. Now, in all honesty, I try to avoid using any over-the-counter meds and prefer using a more natural proactive approach for a number of reasons. On this occasion, I was willing to make that internal sacrifice, for a little pain relief! Colin had offered painkillers prior which I reluctantly, yet graciously turned down, but this time I worshipped at his feet!! Within minutes the pain began to dissipate and the run began to ease off and seem plausible once again.

30 miles, we made it! And the sight of familiar faces, the Camper Van, and replenishments, was like walking through the golden gates. We'd been through a lot! We'd covered more miles than anticipated, and was running low on water, snacks, and energy. This timely break allowed us the chance to freshen up, change clothes, repack the backpacks, and load up on food. PB & J Sandwiches, Chia Seed Pudding, Power Bites, Gummies, Fruit, Nuts and Pretzels were just the ticket and provided a much needed energy boost for the second half of our adventure.

The next several miles proved to be the most gruelling and challenging. As we crossed the A95, we began once again heading uphill. Although we may not have reached the same heights as Ben Aigan, the trails seemed more difficult to traverse. We passed through countless gates as we climbed up, down, through, and around fields of cows and sheep. We went from soft, wet and muddy pathways to rows of stepping stones. We navigated narrow trails fraught with danger, heavily lined with nettles and barbed wire. The views were stunning from high above, but I was aware they went under appreciated given the pains I had been going through. As they say, what goes up must come down, and so eventually we did. Not far beyond the memorable 40 mile mark where we took a special birthday snap, we again crossed the A95 and was back on the flat former railway line. It was here where we did something that we'll consider quite epic and memorable! As we passed a park of cows we could see one on its side in distress. A group of cows surrounded their friend trying to