Helen's Dava Way Blog

Helen's Dava Way Blog

After running the John Muir Way 50km Ultra in March I considered another ultra event in late autumn - I am not a big fan of summer or heat in general, so I tend to avoid events during summer! I love autumn - all the amazing colours, and the cooler weather for running. It came down to three possibilities - Tweed Valley Ultra, Glen Ogle 33 or the Dava Way. I can't remember my thought process exactly but I am always drawn back to the Moray area after spending our childhood holidays there. It is an area that has my heart for sure, and I couldn't resist the allure of discovering something new on the Dava Way.

The Dava Way itself is an old railway line that runs 22 miles from Grantown-on-Spey to Forres. With some creative route planning, a 32 mile route has been plotted with some extra bits added on at the start and finish. The event is part of the Moray Way Ultra Series, which was created by former international runner Kyle Greig, who is from Forres, and his wife Debbie. It took place on 11th November 2023.

We stayed in Elgin, a 20 minute drive from the finish line in Forres. For an extra tenner, you can book the event bus that takes you from Forres to the start at Grantown-on-Spey, at the delightful hour of 5.40am on a November morning!

The nerves came in on the Friday afternoon/evening, as we arrived in Elgin and I started prepping everything for the next day - making porridge to eat at an ungodly hour, filling my soft flasks with Active Root and water, and filling my running pack with treats and warm clothing. I didn't sleep that well on the Friday night and when my alarm went off at 4.25am my literal thought was - I must be crazy. It was a real struggle to eat porridge at 4.45am but I pushed through. I actually got out of the door as planned at 5am, pitch black outside of course, and was grateful to not have to defrost the car. It wasn't exactly warm - about 3 degrees I think - but it wasn't raining, and that was a bonus because it had rained heavily from our arrival in Elgin all through the night!

I parked the car at the community centre in Forres, where the buses were parked, and got a seat. Plaited my hair in the dark and felt very awake. A slightly nerve-wracking drive followed as a couple of deer decided to cross the road in front of the coach, but the driver took it steady and got us to Grantown safely at 6.30am. We picked up our numbers at the leisure centre in Grantown-on-Spey and then stood around for the best part of an hour! When I say our numbers, I mean we had a number, but the actual thing you pin on to your self predominantly showed our names and I loved this touch! What a great idea - it meant people could actually cheer you on by your name and it made it so much more personal.

At 7.30am we were called outside for the start. A quick chat from Kyle and we were off - it was light now and we followed the road past the golf course. We were piped into the woods which was a lovely touch, then we were off into Anagach Woods, which was full of lovely trails. The morning light was beautiful and I stopped to take pictures. I really wanted to enjoy the run, and stopping to take pictures was a big part of that. I didn't care about my time, but I knew I'd regret not taking pictures of the stunning surroundings.

The route meandered through the woods then alongside the River Spey for a bit - stunning - before more woodland trails and back into Grantown. We went along the high street then onto a road that would ultimately lead us onto the Dava Way. It was here a bystander shouted "that's your six mile warm-up done, just a marathon to go now!" which wasn't the ideal thing to hear at that moment!

Then we were climbing up a short sharp hill onto the Dava Way. I spent the rest of the day in absolute AWE at how incredible this route was. Far from being a boring old railway line, there were impressive rocks, gorges, waterfalls, open landscapes, nice wooded sections, so much variety! It was truly beautiful - I think honestly I'd say it was the most beautiful place I've ever run in Scotland.

I started to settle into a comfortable rhythm after about 10ish miles, which coincided with the first aid station. I didn't need any additional fluids to what I was carrying (two litres of Active Root) but I took a few sweeties and carried on. I felt physically fine - no major aches or pains. I continued snacking little and as often as I could - salt and vinegar sticks, cheese, Active Root Lemon Energy Chews.

One major change which has made a big difference is the addition of Active Root products. During my training this autumn and for this event, I've added in ginger chews (strong fiery ginger bites with a real kick, they give me a wee boost each time) and have added the sports drink and electrolyte drink into my soft flasks. They come in sachets ready to add to water which I did the night before then kept them in the fridge. Each 500ml soft flask lasted 16 miles - ie one half of the route. One flask had lemonbalm electrolyte plus and the other had original ginger sports drink. I also had a litre of water in my pack which I didn't finish but I drank a lot of. The addition of Active Root as a change from just drinking water was worth it alone, but the science behind it makes me convinced it also helped my performance on the day (and recovery afterwards).

I just ticked along quite happily. I enjoyed myself - my main goal. The struggles came from my runny nose and the wet route. The latter didn't overly fuss me because my training has been very wet, but there was a lot of picking your way round wet and mud, which did get a bit tiring. As we got closer to Forres, I started to anticipate the end way too early - this always happens to me!

The last bit into Forres was actually quite tough. I knew there was a climb up to Nelson's Tower but it took a while to come. I found the climb really tough, then all of a sudden there was a fast downhill finish through the woods (in my stats my average pace was 10.45/per mile but my best (ie fastest) pace was 7.13! I can only think it was this downhill sprint to the finish!).

The woods were beautiful, perfect autumnal colours, then we were running across the grass towards the cricket pavilion and the orange carpet that took us to the finish line. My four year old was there waiting with my husband, and ran to finish the event with me. It was really special! I collected my medal and goodie bag which were fantastic - the medal is the best I've ever received!

I genuinely loved this run, I feel so privileged to have had this amazing experience! It is definitely one I'd do again. The recovery has been good and I ran parkrun a week later feeling almost like normal again.

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