I recently enjoyed a long weekend break with three friends, Cath, Claire and Kate, to take part in the Moray Way Ultra 100 Relay 2022. We also made sure there was plenty of food and drink– and we generally had a fun time chatting, laughing and relaxing.
What is the Moray Way Ultra 100?
The Moray Way Ultra 100 is one of a long list of ultra running races in Scotland. The 100-mile race is organised by Kyle and Debbie Greig of the Moray Way Ultras series, which also includes the Moray Coastal Trail 50, The Speyside Way Ultras and the Dava Way 50k.
The Moray Way Ultra 100 took place on June 25-26, 2022. It is a race for solo runners and, for the first time this year, the race was expanded to give teams of four runners the opportunity to complete the circular route as a relay.
The 100-mile route starts and finishes in Forres, in the north-east region of Moray, and takes in two-thirds of the Moray Coast Trail, half the the Speyside Way and the whole of the Dava Way.
The 100 miles is split into 12 stages of between three miles and almost 15 miles. The four relay runners must each run three stages. It’s up to the team to decide how the stages are split.
Cath, Claire, Kate and I chose a longer, medium and shorter distance stage each so that we all ran around 25 miles, give or take a few miles. I expect some teams had runners who completed only shorter legs, while others took on more of the longer stages. Our team was keen to share the running load.
The stages are very varied, from tarmac and hard-packed former railway paths, to sandy beaches, to technical and hilly routes. The landscapes are ever-changing, too, and we all agreed it was a satisfying achievement to complete a 100-mile route as a team.
In the beginning: ‘We’re just taking part, right?’
It was somewhere around Aberlour during the Moray Way Ultra 100 Relay that Team Fi’s Flanci Fillies suddenly became a little competitive.
Until then, the 100-mile relay had simply offered the chance to take part in a fun event. Cath, Claire, Kate and I, who are all members of Highland Hill Runners, fancied a weekend away with the goal of participating in a long-distance running relay.
Having read about the route, we thought it would be an interesting collective challenge with lots of variety and, hopefully, the weather would be dry and sunny.
In fact, the run was only part of our weekend plan. We also had self-catering accommodation at Tullochwood Lodges, Rafford, booked from Friday to Monday, where we fully intended to eat a lot, drink a bit and enjoy spending time together.
There is little to beat a girls’ weekend for camaraderie, long chats and plenty of laughter.
Race start – and then the competition
The race started at 11am on the Saturday in Forres (the solo runners set off at 5am) and Kate ran the first stage of 4.6 miles. Although a speedy runner, she stayed within her comfort zone because she knew there was a long way to go.
She handed the tracker to Cath at Findhorn, who then ran 7.8 miles to Burghead, where she handed over to Claire for her longest run of the relay, 10.4 miles, to Lossiemouth.
It was my turn at Lossiemouth and while I had fresh legs I soon cursed my eastward route of 7.9 miles, mostly on a sandy and rocky beach and into a headwind. I tried not to overdo the pace but it’s difficult not to give your best during a race and the beach terrain was energy zapping.
Finally turning south to Garmouth, I handed the tracker to Cath for her second run of the relay. Garmouth to Fochabers was around 4.8 miles and she passed the tracker to Kate, for her second and longest run of 14.75 miles. With an elevation gain of 1515ft, the section to Aberlour was always going to be tough, but Kate sped through the miles.
It was while waiting for Kate at Aberlour for my shortest run that the spice of competition kicked in.
We had parked next to another team – the J.A.M.S – in our hire campervan.
Thanks to Highland Campervans for the superb four-berth Globecar Globescout Vario 3, which gave us a means of transport between checkpoints and also many luxuries, such as a fridge, phone charge points, two double beds and a dining table and seats.
One of the members of J.A.M.S mentioned they had been keeping an eye on the team placings on the tracking website “racetracker” and I decided to have a look, too.
I was surprised to see we were in fourth place and then, when I double-checked a short while later, we had risen to third place.
Kate told me later she had over-taken a male runner, which was when we climbed a place in the relay standings.
Given we were the only Masters Women’s team (with two of us in their 40s and two in our 50s), we expected to finish, rather than be contenders for a podium.
More excitedly, though, we were the leading women’s team and holding a Masters Men’s team at bay. The good-humoured jibing between the teams began from here – and as I took the tracker from Kate, I was keen that we stayed ahead.
Staying ahead of the men’s team
While my 3.3-mile stretch to Carron was fairly flat, my legs felt jaded after the beach run and I needed to focus on maintaining what seemed like a fairly swift pace. It was a beautiful run on an old railway path lined either side by mature trees and with frequent glimpses of a winding river below.
By now, word had got out to the rest of our team that we might be running towards a podium place overall and when I arrived at the Carron CP, Claire was ready for a quick handover as she set off for her 6.5-mile second leg of the relay to Ballindalloch.
I was due to run again after Claire and I tried to refuel adequately but unfortunately my stomach was falling apart and I felt nauseous. There was no way I would pull out, however, and I set off for what people had been describing as the hardest and most technical section of the relay.
I can confirm it was a challenge. There were a lot of ups and downs and a total elevation close to 2000ft. I pushed myself to walk as briskly as I could uphill and then looked forward to the downhills, although too many times the descents were too technical for fast running.
I also lost my way a few times and needed to check my phone and watch to get back on track. On some sections there were plenty of markers but in places I either missed them, or they weren’t there.
My stomach was playing up and I couldn’t eat and then the light finally faded so much that I needed to turn on my headtorch.
As I ran along a section of road, feeling relieved that I could stretch my legs, I passed a couple of spectators and asked how far they thought it was to the next checkpoint. Frustratingly, the man said “four miles and a bit”. I thought: “FOUR MILES?! IT CAN’T BE FOUR MILES.”
By my reckoning it was at most two miles and without warning my mood plummeted. I felt like I’d been going so slowly and now I had much further to run than I’d been expecting.
I went through a spell of talking to myself to remind myself that the event was meant to be fun. I headed into a woodland in the dark and while the paths were lovely but every undulation felt so arduous. At any other time, I would have been delighted by the trails winding through the trees.
Then I tripped and fell fully flat out, bashing my knees and elbows as I came down and scraping my hands. I lay on the ground, stunned and a bit frightened I’d broken something.
Thankfully, it seemed I’d survived but now there was the added pain of bruised and cut legs and arms as I pushed on to the end of my stage in Grantown-on-Spey.
I swear I tried to look perky as I ran along the street towards my team but they reported afterwards that I looked pretty beaten.
It was Cath’s turn to take the tracker for her final stage of the relay and while she was keen to get going, she was also concerned about my bloody bare skin. I told her not to worry and urged her to run on.
It was around 11.30pm and I needed to lie down, sort my wounds and have a nap. I was very happy to have finished my final stage but I also needed to recover enough to be able to eat and rehydrate.
Final few stages to the finish line
Cath surprised herself by running a fast 14.9 miles to Edinkillie. She told us she fuelled herself on jelly sweets!
At Edinkillie, Cathy passed the tracker to Kate for her 7.6-mile run to Sanquhar. We knew that as long as we finished we would be third team overall. Kate ran another speedy stage and then it was Claire’s job to run to the finish line back in Forres.
It’s not easy setting off in the early hours of the morning, sleep deprived, but the sun was starting to come up again and she knew we would be meeting her just before the end.
As our team waited for Claire at the finish, we chatted to the race founders Kyle and Debbie. They had been on the go for 24 hours after seeing off the solo runners in the Moray Ultra 100 at 5am. Some soloists had already finished, including the first runner in an impressive time of 16:16.
In the relay, the Newburgh Dunes Running Club (mixed team) took first place in 14:22. In second place was “Four The Hell Of It” (all male) in 15:12.
As we spotted Claire running over the brow of the final hill, we ran on to the course to join her. We were all tired but from somewhere we found the energy for a short finish line sprint to come home in 16:28.
The Newburgh Dunes Old Boys completed in 17:39.
We all felt very proud of ourselves for our podium finish in the team relay but more than that it was the wonderful sense of collective achievement. We had supported each other through a long-distance event and the result far exceeded our expectations.
…And the rest of the ultra running weekend
Our weekend wasn’t only about running. We stayed at Tullochwood Lodges from Friday to Monday.
Brodie Countryfare, near Forres, provided us with an amazing hamper of food and drinks.
On Friday night, Brodie’s head chef had prepared a tasty high-carb, high protein meal for us to pop in the oven.
We were also treated to fantastic cooked breakfasts – both veggie and meat – at Cafe 1496 in Forres the day after the race. The service was cheerful and the food and coffees were perfect.
Afternoon recovery massages were provided by Gail at Tranquility. It was lovely to be able to lie back and properly relax.
The day was rounded off with a meal at Mossett Tavern in Forres. I highly recommend the Mossett for food – large portions of really nicely cooked dishes – drinks, including cocktails, and great service.
More than just a race
Call me sentimental (I don’t care!) but the weekend was more than just a race. It was a chance to get away from normal lives, see a new place, explore new trails, chat endlessly, laugh a lot, support each other, finish conversations and get to know my new friends much better. I loved it all.