Hello, I'm Stuart and I like to run a long way.
Welcome to my blog, here I'll try to keep you up to date with my challenges, adventures and training.

I competing in Ultra distance running, adventure racing, and a variety of other events. I hold a few records in the UK, and in 2012 ran 1100 miles over the Alps, from Vienna to Nice.

I am raising funds for Water for Kids, a small charity with the simple purpose of ensuring that the world's poorest communities have clean water.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Little Alps Run!

At the moment I'm over in France with the family, staying in Villa Monette skiing from the village of Samoens. Today I took a day off the slopes and went for a run for a couple of hours. It was great to get up out of the village on foot for a change, and I set off up a mountain called Le Criou, which we climbed in the summer.

I ran along the road out to the village Vallon-en-Haut, then set off up the hill from about 700m. After an hour of winding through the woods I reached the hamlet Trot. No-one lives here during the winter, but there is a tiny "Buvette" (little shop/cafe which is occasionally open at weekends in the summer), which looked as though it had been left just a couple of hours ago - tablecloths still on tables and things hanging on the walls!

It was a great little run, the snow was only about a foot deep at worst, and the view was amazing all the way up and down, but especially from Trot where I could see mountains all around, including Mont Blanc.

Trot and the Buvette

Back down to Samoens

At the top (Mont Blanc behind)

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Last race of the year...

Last weekend I was in the Lakes for my last event of 2011, and one I'd been looking forward to since missing it last year... the Tour de Helvellyn, organised my Joe Faulkner and Nav4.

The race started on a cold but clear morning in Askham, with start times between 7 and 9am. Milling around before the start I spotted a few very fast-looking people, including Kim Collison, Bruce Duncan, and last year's winner Alex Pilkington. I started at 8:45, with about four or five people still in the hall, including all the above. The weather was good at the start and the ground was icy, but as we climbed the first hill I felt like I was moving well (first long run since slicing my knee a few weeks ago) and passed a fair few people.

The route was a lollipop shape, with a long run out, loop up and around the Helvellyn range, then the same run back in. By the time I hit the loop section I was going well and had not yet been passed by anyone from behind. I had just about caught up with Dave Spence from Team Accelerate, but as we hit the deep snow on the way up towards the ski centre, it was hard to pass anyone without putting in a huge effort. The loop around Helvellyn was pretty snowy most of the way round, and after what felt like a fast first third I now felt a bit carp, and dangled 50m or so behind Dave for a long time! During the climb Kim Collison came past looking like there wasn't any snow on the ground, he was flying. At the far end of the course I was really cold, because I hadn't stopped when I should have I now needed to take a while to put gloves on and eat, and I felt lost a bit of time here.

Now on the way back, I slowed down for a while (losing sight of Dave) but then got going again. Along the forest tracks I put maximum effort in, only to find I had taken a wrong turn and dropped too low, and having to climb again! Back onto the lollipop "handle" there were just two checkpoints to go, I felt the end was in sight, the snow had relented and I was running ok again. I passed a few more people who had started before me, and eventually ran into the finish in 7 hrs 24, which turned out to be 8th place. Kim won in 6:05.

I was pretty disappointed in this, I hoped that I might manage top 5 and around 6:30 - 7 hours. Dave finished in 7:35, and Bruce and Alex came in after me, but having started before me I was beaten by Bruce. Despite this it was a fantastic race, and one I will certainly be back to improve at!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Elite is a scary word!

I found out a week or so ago that I have been accepted onto the University of Sheffield's Elite Sport Performance Scheme. This means I get a free gym membership and help and advice on training from the Sports team. The scheme can also help discuss time off with the University if required, although my PhD supervisor has been really great up to now so fingers crossed this won't be necessary! It's nice to be able to represent the University, and I am very grateful to those who support the ESPS financially in order to allow us to follow our dreams...

University of Sheffield Elite Sport
I have never spent much time (any time that should be!) in a gym before now, but I think it will be very useful. I have been using static bikes for warm up and down, then focusing on leg press type strength machines, as well as rowing and static weights.

And finally for now, some more news in brief...
  • Big Alps Run planning is reaching a critical point... Booking flights and getting things sorted. I am planning to start on something around 14th May.
  • Some ****** stole my bike from outside the Mappin Building on Portobello Street, Sheffield. If you spot a Yeti ARC with AXON forks looking suspicous I would be grateful if you would let me know.
  • It looks like I will be racing Raid in France again in 2012. This is brilliant news as it's the World Championships.
  • I have been asked to speak at the ShAFF (Sheffield Adventure Film Festival) in March. More on this to come, but again sounds fantastic, and hopefully a good opportunity for publicity!

Blood and Woofs

I've been really busy for the last month or so, so haven't written anything on here. Apparently it's now nearly christmas, so here's a quick update on what's been going on (split over a couple of posts)!

The weekend after the Dark Peak Club Championships I was over in Staffordshire for the Roaches fell race. A 15 mile out-and-back race from Meerbrook Village hall, I was warned by regulars beforehand that the first (and therefore last) few fields were horribly boggy and slurry-ish. They weren't joking! Anyway, the race went quite well to begin with, and half way to the turnaround I was about 4th. The guy in front and I took a slight wrong turn and lost a couple of places, but then caught most of them back. However, it then all went a bit wrong... Coming down an off-camber descent in the woods I slid and tumbled over onto some gritstone rocks. These were like a cheesegrater on both knees, my right arm and left hand. To cut a long story short I lost a couple of places, got frustrated, consequently fell a couple more times, and finished the race in 11th, a bloody boggy knackered mess after losing a sprint finish with team mate Matt Hulley. We did at least win the team prize though, which was great.

After cleaning up and a few days' recovery, my legs looked like this:

Straight after the Roaches race presentation, we had the Runfurther series presentation. This year we unfortunately didn't have a nighttime party event like we have in the past, but it was good to catch up with everyone, confirm my 10th place in the series and look forward to next year's races!

So, what has been going on to keep me so busy for a month? Training, PhD-ing and whatever else I do obviously, but also a new arrival into the family...

She's called Dolly and is a 6 month-old Labrador/Terrier/Whippet mixture dog-type creature... She's a rescue dog (from Rain Rescue in Rotherham), so we are still unsure of her past and certain things seem to scare her, but she will make a great training partner!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Lizzy Hawker stops "Sky Dance" run

One final thing (three posts today!)...

Lizzy Hawker has had to stop her 1000 mile run attempt. Hers is a bit more serious then mine - she was attempting to run the Great Himalayan Trail across Nepal. The run had to be stopped when she lost her communication equipment.

Lizzy is an incredible athlete, UTMB winner, world 24 hour record holder (she beat everyone in the mens and ladies' races by miles at the Commonwealth championships recently) and always seems a very calm and in control person. I hope I can approach my run with the same positivity as Lizzy always seems to show, although hopefully a different outcome!

Thule gold, Silva silver, Seagate bronze

The Adventure Racing world championships in Tasmania have just finished. World championships are always longer than normal ARs, and the Thule team took 5 and a half days for this race. It sounds like a true epic, with Seagate leading throughout the race until they had to sit out a four hour penalty at the last checkpoint. At this point Thule overtook them, and Silva (who qualified for the world championships by winning the Apex race I took part in in May) squeezed past and held on to beat Seagate by just 4 minutes.

Lots of great reporting on Sleepmonsters.com

Next year the world championships will be held at the Raid in France. 6 days of hike-a-bike anyone?!

Dark Peak Club Championships

This weekend was my first go at the Dark Peak Fell Runners (DPFR) club championships. The route was the Kinder triple crossing, starting and finishing at Edale.

Parts of the route were fairly straightforward, but the actual "crossings" over the boggy hell of Kinder Scout were less obvious. Not being a navigational expert I tried to stay within sight of the lead group on the first crossing, but as we spread out more and more during the race I struggled a bit and took some slightly dodgy lines, although I don't think I lost more than a minute or two overall.

The nine mile race was great, we seemed to either be running along a river, through a bog, or up or down a steep hill at all times. The winner of the race was Rob Little, who was handed the trophy in typical fell running style (in a carrier bag with an apology for "the faff of carrying it about"). I finished about 7 minutes later in 12th place, reasonably happy if not ecstatic with the position, but a great race!

In the evening we had the annual dinner too, which was a great event with some really good food, beer and (as I recall) an incredible dance display by myself and Rhys. My racing plans for the rest of the year seem to have changed every day recently, but I now think I'm running the Roaches fell race next weekend and the Tour de Helvellyn in December. This is a low-key 38 mile Winter ultra which sounds fantastic, can't wait!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Nice to be back!

It's been a while since I last posted, mainly due to moving house and the lack of internet. It's great to be back in Sheffield, having the Peak District on my doorstep again is fantastic!

Last weekend was the bi-annual Bob Graham 24 hour club reunion dinner, where the members of the Pudsey & Bramley travelling circus were presented with our certificates... It now hangs next to my degree certificate, and I can't decide which took more effort to achieve!

I also had a really good run while I was in the lakes. Having missed the entry deadline for Langdale I decided to go "Wainwright bagging", and had a great afternoon up and around the High Street area. The total was 9 Wainwrights in the end, in about 14 miles. It was pretty spectacular to be up there at sunset. I had heard these deer from a long way off, and finally saw them (appropriately enough) on Deer Fell.

It's the WfK AGM on friday and I have just sent Carey some posters to put up, so hopefully they will help drum up some more support! Here's one of the posters, just in case anyone wants to stick it up anywhere...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The hedges of the peak district

Last weekend's High Peak 40 was not my greatest race. I travelled to Buxton on Friday night, planning to stay in the van overnight ready for the race on Saturday. Unfortunately it would seem that driving slowly late at night near a school attracts attention, and after looking for somewhere to stop for a while I was stopped by the police! After being breathalysed and told to drive less eratically I carried on and found a quiet road to stop on.

Anyway, the next day was the race. The HP40 is quite flat, with no big ups and downs. The terrain is also pretty hard (hard like tarmac, not hard like difficult), making it a relatively fast race. This means it's not my favourite race, but I had been feeling pretty good before the start, and decided that I would like to have a good go at winning a race. So when the pace wasn't too fast off the start I moved to the front, passed Martin Beale and set off into the unknown!

At checkpoint 1 I was, for the first time ever, the first person to arrive. I quickly grabbed a drink while my tally was stamped and continued. On to checkpoint two I was still running well within myself, but just before the CP had started to get a bit of stomach ache, so I slowed down and was caught by Jim Mann. We ran together and chatted through CP2 and on towards 3, then got slightly lost, staying too high past the passage control. Not a disaster but enough to allow a group of runners past us. We weren't too concerned though and agreed we would gradually catch them up.

However, this is where the problems started! I won't go into details, but for the next five hours I basically hopped from hedgeback, to dry stone wall, to public convenience, and so on... Somehow I had got bad stomach cramps and digestion issues. It was like the problem I had at Bradwell but longer, and due to the flatness of the course there was no uphill respite. There were a number of people who I passed five or more times during the race, which seemed to amuse them more and more each time!

Eventually the issues faded slightly, with about three of the fourteen checkpoints remaining. I think I was in around 20-30th position. The one-before-penultimate leg was a 5 mile road section, and it had just started to rain. At the time I was running with Jim again (who had been having similar problems to me!) and another guy. We ran well all the way along the road and caught a fair few people. At the checkpoint Jim retired and with about five miles to go I decided to go for it again, if only to get the end of a fairly disastrous race!

The last couple of legs were mostly off road, a bit lumpy and quite enjoyable. I overtook a few people, and was finally on the run in to the finish. Luckily, the van / local area / police disaster the night before meant I recognised the road in (a few people had problems finding their way into the finish).

Looking at the results I was surprised to be 11th, finishing in 6:38. The winner was Rob Sellors in 5:53. As my final counter in the Ultra Series I ended up with 888 points, actually better than I managed in the Lakeland 100 and Wuthering Hike, which felt like much better runs! Ah well, hopefully I can solve the stomach issues and one day win a race!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Raid in France Adventure Race

It's taken a while, but here's a report on the Raid in France... There's also a video here

Before the Apex race in May, I said it would by my first and last expedition race. It didn't
quite go to plan, but it was a very memorable introduction to long races and I decided maybe
one more...

So I found myself in Buis le Baronnies in the south of France at the end of August,
preparing for the 2011 Raid in France. I was to be racing with Dave Spence, Caz Bullard and
Kev Honeyset, so I would definately be the least experienced member of the team! We arrived in Buis a couple of days before the start, and passed the time building bikes, shopping (mainly for cake), practicing our rope ascending and arguing with the event organisers over whether our candles were big enough. Sadly they were not and we had to get new candles.
Team Accelerate (l-r): Dave, Kev, Caz and me
The race was advertised as a “Back to Nature” event, part of which meant that we would not have access to our kit barrels very often. A very complicated system of bags would make sure that our bike and kayaking kit was in the right place, but essentially we would have to be self-sufficient for three legs of 30hrs+. This explained why the kit list suggested a 40 litre rucksack. It was at this point one member of our team noticed that the 20 litre OMM rucksack looks a lot like the bigger one when you're packing in a hurry!

The morning of the start arrived and at 6am we met in the centre of Buis. We were then bus-ed for a couple of hours to the start, warned about the dangers of Urds, and were ready for the first paddle leg. I was pretty nervous as we packed the boats and prepared our portage slings, there were a lot of very fast looking teams around! We carried the boats down to the water and assembled behind a vague start line across the water, then someone (probably) shouted “Alles” and the chaos began! I remember Kev saying something along the lines of “just get a paddle in the water if there's a gap”. As 50 teams tried to squeeze through a narrow rock archway there were boats sideways and the wrong way round, it was brilliant. It was 1.5km to the first portage, where we carried the boats for a while then passed them to race officials who threw them down a hill for us. Then back in for a 20km paddle to the end of the first kayak section.

Leg 2 was a trek along a river. It was about 7km I think, but basically as it sounds, we ran/trekked through a river which varied between ankle and waist deep. It was the middle of a hot day so this was quite welcome, although the bruises from slippery rocks not so much. After the trek we were in around 15th place and feeling good. Next was the first bike leg... This proved to be a bit of a monster! The bike legs in this race made up a big part of the total race distance, and trekking looked to be a small part of the race. This was until you realised that about 20% of the bike legs were hike-a-bike sections, as I recall always up massive hills. As we headed into the first night this started to get hard, but the views as the sun set were amazing. I don't have the exact time for each leg, but that first bike leg took somewhere in the region of 24 hours.

Before we go on, a disclaimer... I think this is the order things happened, but I could be wrong!

Next we had a trekking leg, which also included canyoning and caving sections. We had some issues with the caving map and despite finding the control relatively easily we emerged from the cave back at the entrance, so after some cartographical discussions went back for a second attempt. The cave was huge and very impressive. The canyoning section involved changing into wetsuits then sliding, climbing and abseiling down a canyon. Caz turned down a marriage proposal from the organiser, but not before we had all had a quick swig of his wine. Nice.

Leg 5 took us back onto the bikes and into our second night. This leg was not quite as brutal as the first bike section, but there was still plenty of time carrying our bikes. On this leg we had a fair bit of bad luck, particularly with Dave's bike which had a broken chain and two snapped spokes. We also all had punctures, and ran out of water at one point (we had to collect and purify water for the whole race). There was some great riding though, and some steep drops off the narrow ridges we were on. We took two hours sleep during this leg, and can confirm that a Terra Nova Laser can sleep four in luxurious comfort.

It was somewhere around this point that we were joined by Gordon, our 5th member. It seems that the feeling of having another team member is a common one during these races, and as we all felt we were missing someone we gave him a name. Gordon even helped Kev up a hill at one point.

The mountain trek (leg 6) was a low point for me. I struggled for a long time to stay awake enough to put one foot in front of the other, and when the others would stop to navigate I would collapse for a two minute sleep. I don't know how long I was useless for but it felt like a long time! Having slept during the previous leg we knew we would miss the cut-off for the long mountain trek stage, and were short coursed at this point. We had a spectacular view of the ridge the leading teams would be on though. Leg 7 saw us back on the bikes and more one-legged riding from me (the bail-ready position). I think it was on this leg that I went over the bars and landed on my face. Bike training at home is all very well but it seems I need to practice more on a narrow ledge, in the dark, without sleep.

Leg 8 was a highlight of the race for me, the descent of the Drome river. After another couple of hours sleep we started at about 3am, and it was pretty difficult to follow the course of the river accurately in the dark. This meant we spent a lot of our time jumping out of the boat to pull or push ourselves back into the flowing section, and unfortunately did not do the ends of our paddles much good. I reckon we could get jobs as gondoleers though. The Petzl gods were also not on our side during this section and we had a number of problems with lights. In our boat all the batteries ran out, whereas Dave unfortunately left one of his lights at the bottom of the river. Shortly before it got light we reached the checkpoint halfway down the river, and were warned of a tricky section coming up. Lets just say one of our boats was more successful than the other, and Kev and I were grateful when the sun came out to warm us up...

Leg 9 (if I am in the right order) was another massive highlight for me. As part of a trekking leg we completed a Via Ferrata type course, followed by an amazing 210m abseil. The views all around were spectacular, and it was a very odd feeling as the overhanging rock fell away and I dangled hundreds of metres above the ground.
"We've just come from the top of that big one behind us..."
Leg 10 was our final bike leg, and we hoped Dave's remaining spokes would hold on. The full leg was 100km but we were short coursed again, and found ourselves in a cafe in a small village with two hours before the compulsary coach transport left. Luckily the owners were happy to provide sausage, chips and coffee. This tasted fantastic, but we were all a bit disappointed not to be able to ride the remainder of the leg. After some fun trying to get the coach working (five tired adventure racers cannot push a coach) we were off and soon all asleep. The restart would be in the morning, with teams going 5 minutes apart for the remainder of the bike leg and final trek. A nice bit off chaos to finish then...
Enforced stop before the finish
We felt rested and decided to race as hard as possible, and caught (I think) six teams during the remainder of the bike. Of course, this all meant we were then stuck in a huge queue along the final ropes section before descending to the finish, which was a little frustrating in sight of the village! We finished off with another amazing abseil and I soon forgot my frustration, being chased down by a cameraman also helped! From the bottom of the abseil we trekked through some serious undergrowth, if they weren't a mess before our legs certainly were after this. Finally we got the last stamp in our passport and headed home in the only fitting way for Raid in France... by trekking up a river.

We finished 10th in the end, in a time of 93 hours and 12 minutes. Raid in France was a fantastic experience and I have learnt a lot about this type of racing. Maybe I should just do one more...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Well that was fun! The 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race

Clearly the Fastnet is quite different to any of the other racing I have been doing recently. For any runners reading, here is an explanation (this is what I have been told anyway, as I am not exactly an old sea dawg myself)...

The Fastnet is one of the classic ocean yacht races. The start is from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the route most boats then follow is along the south west coast of England, around the Lizard, throught the gap between Land's End and the Isles of Scilly, then turn and head for the south coast of Ireland, where at the western end is a small rock with a lighthouse on it - predictably called Fastnet Rock. After rounding the rock boats head back towards the Scillies, this time around the south of the islands, then east along the coast to finish in Plymouth. I was taking part in the race on a 40 ft yacht called Wild Spirit, with the eight other crew. Finishing times are anything between sub-48 hours for the fastest multi hull boats to nine days for the smaller boats. We were expecting something between 5 and 8 days (apparently it depends on the wind).

We set off on Sunday morning at 11am. I didn't really know what to expect. The start was madness with boats all over the place, all trying to get across the line at the right moment and in the right place. We saw all kinds and sizes of boats at the start including the expected winner, the brand new 100 ft "Rambler" with 21 professional crew on board. Our start went pretty well and we were underway along the south coast. We soon started our 4hrs on / 4 hrs off watch pattern. The weather was a bit rough at times during the first few days, and most of the crew were seasick at times.

Wild Spirit 2011 Fastnet Team
Due to the watch system and my general forgetfullness I am not sure when we passed the Scillies to set off across the Irish sea, but I would imagine it was around monday night. The weather was better now, with reasonably good wind most of the time and not too much sicknesss. I enjoyed a bit of helming ("driving the boat"), and things were generally pretty busy. This was likely to be the longest race I had ever done and I had been a bit concerned it would feel like a looooong time - 9 people on a 40ft boat for 6 days! But time seemed to pass quickly, and I really enjoyed the camraderie and teamwork side of things.

We rounded the rock at just after 9am on Wednesday, 40th of 68 starters in our IRC-4 class. Just after the rock the winds faded, and for a while our online tracker showed us doing some reversing! It is at times like these that the experienced sailors start to do things with the sails and steering wheel that the rest of us (ok, just me) understand about as much as some sort of witchcraft. At these times I do as I am told. My 45 degree tea-making has come on nicely! Anyway, once we got going again we seemed to make our way quite quickly back towards Cornwall, via an incredible evening with sunset, dolphins and even a sperm whale.

Being a northerner, I was not sure where Plymouth was, so was surprised to hear that it is quite far west, meaning that the return leg from the rock would be significantly shorter than the way out. It didn't seem to take long at all, at least until nearly the end. The end of the race was amazing, as we came in to around 5 miles to go, we started to see lots of green (starboard - right) lights, around 30 boats... Quite amazing to be so close together after five days! The wind dropped, we were all now up on deck, willing the wind to hold on enough to keep moving, whispering and moving around on tiptoe where necessary to try to keep some momentum.

Nautical items in this picture: Spinnaker, Cleats, Coachroof, Sheets, Bruce
Due to some impressive sailing from our crew we managed to approach from a different angle to the other boats and kept in the wind longer, meaning that we quite literally sailed past them, and made up a lot of places! It was not over though, as we weren't sure whether we would squeeze past the lighthouse at the entrance to Plymouth harbour, which was the marker at one end of the finish line. From the front of the boat I could see rocks outside the lighthouse and we tried to keep as far inside the line as possible to avoid having to tack and lose the places we had just gained... We squeezed just inside the rocks, and at 1:51am on Thursday morning the hooter went and we had finished!

The race was brilliant, and I am very grateful to Paul and the rest of the crew for the opportunity to race, and also for their patience with my inability!

PS: It really was a classic race this year, with both the multihull and monohull records broken by Banque Populaire (1d, 8h, 48m) and Azzam (1d, 19h, 39m) respectively, and the favourite capsizing near the rock (all here).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Final preperations...

Tomorrow I set off towards the Fastnet, then after that it's a quick few days at home, then off to Les Baronnies Provencales in the South of France for the Raid in France race. It's all very exciting! I have spent the last week training, packing and preparing for both, and everything is pretty much ready, including my fully AR-ed up bike...
You can follow my progress in each race online:
For the Fastnet - I am on board "Wild Spirit", in IRC class 4. http://fastnet.rorc.org/2011-fleet-tracking.html
During the Raid in France, look for "Team Accelerate", here http://chrono.geofp.com/rif2011/

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In sickness and in health... Long Tour of Bradwell

Yesterday was the Long Tour of Bradwell, my third counter in the Vasque Ultra Series this year (the others being Wuthering Hike, Lakeland 100 and High Peak 40). Being the week after the 100 my legs were still feeling a bit battered by thursday and I wasn't sure whether I was going to run or not, but it was a good excuse to go see people in Sheffeld on friday night.

So, with predictable slight hangovers Lorna and I arrived at Bradwell Sports Pavillion. After a cup of coffee, registering and all that malarkey it was soon 9 o'clock and I was standing with everyone else ready to go. We set off straight up a slight hill, first on the road then up through the cement works. Everyone set off at a fair pace, but perhaps not as stupidly fast as last year. Four of us were running together as the climb levelled off, then steepened. Unfortunately I had started with my waterproof on which turned out to be a bad plan and I was soon boiling, so had to stop to take it off. Luckily I caught the guys again when they stopped to dib at the second CP.

After a while we were descending down Cavedale, but I was feeling rubbish. I had been trying to drink some water with energy powder in it, but it had foamed up and seemed to be giving me stomach cramps. Towards the bottom I was in pain and going really slowly. I dropped off the back of the group and was passed by David Jelley at the CP in the village. Along the road section from here to the bottom of the next big climb I found that if I ran bend double it was less painful, so I tried to do that and keep moving as fast as possible (not very fast).
Cavedale on a sunnier day than yesterday
After a while (and some stuff I've forgotten) we climbed up to Stanage Edge. On the way up we dibbed at the CP, as I did so I looked back and saw a few people getting closer to me, so I decided to try to run hard along the edge. Despite the on and off rain there were quite a lot of people climbing, which took my mind off my stomach a bit. On the way down to the next checkpoint I was passed by Simon White, who was running well. I stayed with him for a bit down past Higger Tor but after a while he escaped.

It was getting close to the end now and the 100 was starting to catch up with me. Luckily my stomach had settled a bit by just drinking plain water, although I have never eaten less in a race of this distance. At CP 15 there were three of us together in 5/6/7th, one of whom was Kevin Perry who I had run with for a while last weekend. I got away from the CP just before them so had a small gap. It wasn't far to the quick dib at CP16, it was now just Kevin and I. The run down from the last checkpoint was quite enjoyable... A few tracks to start with, then over fields and down a couple of nice steep descents into the south end of the village. Just a run up through the village and out the other side now, about one km to go. I had maybe 20m on Kevin as we entered the village, but I lost these looking for a set of steps through the village, and it looked like we might be sprinting for 5th.

As we passed through the top end of the village (the Sports Pavillion is just outside) Kevin picked up the pace and ran past me. I ran as hard as I could, as you could tell from the looks of horror on the faces of pedestrians I ran towards, but could not catch him. In the end, he beat me by 23 seconds. We had run a good last couple of legs though, and I was pleased that he seemed as knackered as me.

In the end I was pleased with 6th in 5:47:49. Mark Anderson won a great race to win by over 20 mins in 5:22.

Now I have a week to get ready for a busy month... Fastnet followed swiftly by Raid in France! Time to pack...

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

No rain and free socks... a successful weekend!

Last weekend was the Lakeland 100. After a disappointing Pudsey 10k I wasn't sure I was going to have a good run, I'm finding it very hard to tell how fit I am at the moment so every race is a bit of a mystery!

Anyway, I was looking forward to L100, it's a fantastic race. The combined L100 and L50 had over 600 entries this year, with 224 of us attempting the 105 (!) miler.

After a briefing with the race organisers and some inspirational words from Joss Naylor we started at 5:30pm on Friday, off into a pretty warm evening. From Coniston we set off up Walna Scar Road, and the pace was pretty high. Everyone knows that this happens in every race and that hanging back and moving through the field later is the sensible thing to do, but of course I didn't do this. You can see me somewhere in this picture as we make our way up out of Coniston...

The first leg was 7 miles to Seathwaite and it was good to finally be going, and to have a chat to Adam Perry and a few other guys. After doing 29:44 last year I decided to set off on a 27 hour schedule this year and see what happened. Quickly through Seathwaite and on to CP2 at Boot - midway through this section is a very boggy part, I was feeling a little unwell and wondered if I had gone off too fast again. To catch a long story short I rejoined the stream of runners a bit lower down the field, probably about 20th.

The next two legs (Boot - Wasdale - Buttermere) included about 1000m of ascent. Up to now it had been warm and we had seen some spectacular views, particularly up to Wasdale head and on to Black Sail Pass. My stomach was still not too happy, but I was eating well so all ok. By the time I arrived in Buttermere at 11pm I was about 15 mins up on schedule, and in a group of 8 with 6 runners in front. Here we saw last year's winner Stuart Mills, who was supporting the race this year. He was very positive and encouraging and it was good to see him a few times on Friday night and again on Saturday afternoon.

At Buttermere checkpoint a few of us tried to escape quickly and reduce the group of eight. After a while I think there were four of us (it was dark now!), and we pootled on to Braithwaite. I can't really remember much of this leg, but after Braithwaite we set off on a section along the side of the A66. Here two guys made a "break" for it and headed off ahead of the rest of us, leaving myself and a South African guy called Jeff in 9th/10th. Jeff was running faster than me, but had to take his shoes off at each checkpoint, so we kept catching up with each other. When I met Jeff at the Blencathra checkpoint it was about 3am, not too long till daylight, and best of all this checkpoint had a big box full of socks to give away! I didn't want to change yet, but took a pair with me for later.

By now it was daylight, and I was pleased to be heading for the mid point checkpoint at Dalemain. This is actually a bit ahead of halfway at 59 miles. Here we had access to a bag we had sent on from the start, so I restocked my Haribo, had some pasta, ditched the big headtorch and put my free socks on... ready to go! So far so good, 13 hours 11 in and half an hour up on schedule.

The next thing I remember clearly is meeting Mum and Dad, my brother Ed and Karen and Si at the Howtown checkpoint. Jeff had gone on ahead now but I caught up with another runner just before the checkpoint. We set off together on the climb up towards High Kop, the highest point on the course at 670m, then on down towards Mardale Head. On the last descent to Haweswater I made a biiiiiiiig nav mistake and ended up bushwhacking through a lot of foliage. Eventually I got to Mardale Head checkpoint, through and on up to Gatesgarth Head. I'll keep this one short again as memory fails me... The Kentmere checkpoint  was a good one, I saw Mum, Dad and Ed again and there were smoothies too!

From Kentmere I felt really good again and enjoyed the run from CP12 to CP13. I had caught up with the guy I had been running with along this section and we arrived at the Lakesrunner shop in Ambleside together. This was another quality checkpoint with loads of food and encouraging people! Getting to the Ambleside checkpoint is always a great boost, with two checkpoints and 15 miles to go. I didn't stop too long as sitting down at this stage can mean you're there for a long time.

After Ambleside we set off towards Chapel Stile. On the way out through Rothay Park the guy in front pushed on and got a hundred metres or so gap on me, so I had pretty much settled myself for 11th place. I ran all the section along the edge of the river into Elterwater village, but definately didn't feel as good as I did along this section last year. Past  the Wainwright Inn I got a good boost from the people cheering and headed up to the checkpoint. Not too long now... However, the section to Tilberthwaite is a tough one.

The penultimate leg of this race has always seemed very convoluted to me, as if it goes round in a big circle for the sake of it. It wasn't all that bad this year though, partly due to the weather and how I was feeling, but also as I started to see a couple of guys in the distance on longer sections. I didn't rush to overtake them but stayed behind for a while until I was confident of the nav to the next checkpoint, then went past them. They were still moving ok so I would have to work to stay ahead! On the final part of the leg into Tilberthwaite I was convinced I had done a typical me and gone the wrong way at a critical moment, but in the end I got to the final CP.

3.5 miles to go, up a short sharp climb then down a long descent. As I left the checkpoint the staff told me they could see people catching up behind me so I pushed on up the steps to try to stay ahead. However I had drank too much coffee at the checkpoint and felt sick all the way up. Eventually I reached the flatter section at the top and decided to stop looking behind me and just run as fast as I could to the finish, it would either work or I would be overtaken but either way I looked on for a good PB!

Along the narrow track by Crook Beck, over the summit, down the twisty track opposite where we went up last night, onto the main track, over Miners Bridge, down the road and into the finish.

I didn't get caught on the last leg, so finished in 8th place in 25 hours 24 mins. Of the 224 starters there were 116 finishers, with Terry Conway winning in a record-breaking 21:58. Second place was Andy Mouncey in 24:07, and joint third 7 minutes later.

Ultrarunning is getting faster all the time... Yes the weather was better, but this year the winning time was over two hours quicker than last year, and even my time would have got me 2nd last year. Everyone is getting quicker, I just need to make sure I get quicker quicker than everyone else!

Results: http://live.sportident.co.uk/home/event/fullresults.html?eventid=9146025b-0cf1-42e5-ae74-58e77f552a32&mobile=false

PS - If anyone has read this far, thanks! Sorry for the lack of pictures, and apologies to SportSunday for borrowing theirs. Please let me know if you would like me to move it, and when there is a good one of me I will give you money.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

NEW - donate by text!

Exciting news - you can now donate to the Big Alps Run by text!

Just text ALPS70 £5 to 70070 to send a fiver straight to the charity. You can choose any amount - £1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Mad Sunday

This weekend has nearly been a de-ja-vous of one a couple of years ago, when I wrote

"This country has been busy achieving in the field of sporting endevour this weekend, with Lewis Hamilton returning to the podium after a disastrous first half of the F1 season, Mark Cavendish destroying the competition to win on the Champs-Elysees and Bradley Wiggins finishing 4th in the Tour de France.
The main arena of athletic excellence this weekend however, was of course the Pudsey 10k."

The only difference was that after a fall on stage 7 of this years Tour, Bradley Wiggins is at home with a broken collarbone...

Hamilton has not had a great start to the F1 season, but managed to win in Germany to put himself back into vague contention, although perhaps only for second place in the championship after Sebastian Vettel's spectacular run of results this year!

Cavendish again won on the Champs-Elysees, his fifth stage win this year. This year though, he also finally won the Green Jersey. Cav is a big hero of mine, even more so after I recently realised we were born on exactly the same day. We actually went to watch a stage of the tour this year...

So, that leaves Pudsey 10k. Hot, sweaty and hard. It was good to be racing in a Pudsey Pacers vest again and I was proud to be part of the club on our race day. This pride may have led me to get a bit carried away and for the first few minutes I was in the leading group of four with James Clark (Pudsey Pacers), Richard Pattinson (P&B) and Tim Midgley (Bingley). As you will know if any of those names ring a bell with you, this was a bad plan. Anyway, those guys headed off on the flat road sections and I left them to it, dropping back to a pack behind and swapping places around 10-20th for most of the race. I had hoped to be able to make a few places on the steeper climbs and rocky descents (this is not a normal 10k!) but was basically knackered from keeping up on the tarmac so this didn't happen much. In the end I did 41:15 for 21st. Faster than before but a bit dissapointing I guess. The top three were:

Tim Midgley 36:28
Richard Pattinson 37:24
Nigel Armitage 37:51

Congratulations to Nigel and James Clark (4th) for Pudsey Pacers.

So there we go. The last thing I wrote on that post two years ago was "Lakeland 100 is now only a few days away. I'm not really sure what will happen, but it's going to be interesting!" Two years and two L100s later that's still true...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Pennine Way. Epic Fail.

I will write this like one of those films where you get the ending first, then we go back to the start to see how we ended up there.

So, I didn't finish the Pennine Way. I stopped at Horton-in-Ribblesdale yesterday morning. Since getting home I have made good progress... I can now get up from chairs on my own, and no longer have to crawl down the stairs on my backside!

Wednesday 15th:
Got the train to Berwick-on-Tweed, then a taxi to Town Yetholm. Set up at the campsite, made some food and settled down for an early night at about 9pm. Forgot that I am actually in Scotland, hence midges! Nice campsite though.
The night before
Thursday 16th:
Set the alarm for 4am, tent packed away and ready to go by about half past (having fought with more midges) then wandered across the river to Kirk Yetholm and the start of the Pennine Way at 4:45.
At the start - the "already bedraggled" look is deliberate
So off I went, out of Yetholm in some slight drizzle and off on the 25 mile leg to Byrness. I was going north to south, so this is traditionally quite a hard last day for the walkers, most of whom have walked 13 - 16 days before this. The first leg was some good fell terrain, including a climb up and over the Schil, and as I passed the mountain refuge hut at 9km I sort of wished I had decided to come up this far the night before (decided it was a bit risky without knowing the state of the hut but it was posh!).
Chilling at the Schil

The weather improved as the day went on but it was very wet underfoot and my feet were quickly soaked. From Byrness to Bellingham the terrain was flatter but my feet suffered a bit on the hard tracks through Keilder Forst (lots of trees here) - not ideal on the first day, but apart from that I felt good and was enjoying myself. After Bellingham I continued south for a bit then hit the Hadrian's Wall path and turned West, this brought back loads of memories from my run across the path in 2008. The weather improved and everything was quite lovely for a while. I was starting to get tired by now and decided Greenhead was the place to call it a day.

I slowed down towards the end, and by the time I got to Greenhead (62 miles from the start) was definately ready for some food and sleep. Unfortunately my (otherwise really good) Harvey's map was made in 2005, since when one campsite has closed and the other has become a residential caravan park... Then the youth hostel was full, and the hotel too expensive... However the barman told me about a bunkbarn a mile or so back north, and at half 11 I finally had a bed for the night. A quick look at my feet was not a positive experience but I decided everything could wait till the morning and set the alarm for 4.
Bunkbarn at Greenhead. £2 per hour

Friday 17th:
Day 2 started with some serious podiatry, then at half four I carried on south. It had been a cold night but the morning was clear and warm and things felt ok as I set off, so it was a good morning. Out of Greenhead I headed south roughly following the River Tyne to Alston then Garrigill, then up towards Cross Fell. On the way up out of Garrigill I stopped and had another foot session (getting boring now I know!) and discovered the blisters across the tops of my toes, caused by the seams on the socks. At this point I realised that two pairs of socks for a wet 4-5 day adventure is not really enough.
From Cross Fell
Anyway, up and and over Cross Fell and Great Dun Fell with the huge "Golf Ball" antenna on top, then down into Dufton. After Dufton I again turned West, round the spectacular High Cup Nick then started following the Tees towards Middleton-in-Teesdale.
High Cup Nick
It was a nice evening, and some of the farms out here felt properly isolated, running off generators and the only access being along a rocky 5km track. In places it was a slow route though, with no marked path through the rocks alongside the river. By 11pm I was done for the night, and at Low Force waterfall I stopped for the night in a grassy visitor area thingy, after about 58 miles.

Saturday 18th:
I had considered continuing through the night, but to be honest I didn't want to end up in a Cow-infested field in the middle of the night, so I decided to stop while it was dark then crack on. So at 2:30 I woke up, and at 3 left Low Force heading for Middleton. It was now raining at a sort of medium-heavy drizzle level. About 20 miles later I reached the A66 Bowes Moor crossing, where there is a Pennine Way underpass. I was feeling a bit sleepy by now so decided to have a 3 minute nap under the bridge, which worked surprisingly well and I actually felt awake for the rest of the day! This was also the halfway point, according to what someone had carved into a post just after the bridge.

Not too long after Bowes Moor I reached Tan Hill Inn. By this point I had run out of food and water, so was glad to see the place, not least as it they had just lit the fire and had an excellent selection of chocolate bars... And best of all, crisps! If you have ever experienced the joy of a packet of crisps after two days of sugar you will know what I mean...
Tan Hill. Warm and delicious
I left Tan Hill at about midday and, predictably, continued south. Tan Hill also represents the border of the Dales National Park and I was excited to be there. Keld was the next target, 4-5 miles on, then another three or so to Thwaite. On the Keld - Thwaite section I messed up the navigation a bit and did not contour round the hill properly, resulting in a short steep climb, but eventually set off towards Great Shunner Fell. I had planned to meet my girlfriend at Horton-in-Ribblesdale at the end of the day, so after about 33 miles to Thwaite I had 14 to Hawes, then 12 to Horton. The first section went pretty well and in Hawes I was feeling ok, although I was actually going stronger uphill than downhill due to my feet and pain which had started in my shins.

There were some pretty boring sections between Hawes and Horton, long stony tracks which seemed to go on forever in strainght line with only trees to look at. I did a fair bit of talking to myself as I hobbled along these tracks, and was looking forward to having a real person to talk to again!

Eventually I got to Horton. I would've been there before dark, but another navigational mistake lost me probably half an hour within the last couple of miles. When I got there I had sausages, cheese, bread, crisps, and lots of other food I had been dreaming of for a while. My feet felt alright and I was ready to carry on in the morning.

Sunday 19th:
I didn't wake up on sunday as I had never gone to sleep. Once I laid down my right shin was incredibly painful and I couldn't sleep. I started to wonder if perhaps I wouldn't be able to carry on. It was 90 miles to go, I had planned a 50 mile day then a 40 mile day into Edale on Monday.

At 6am I set off from Horton, up Pen-y-Ghent. The plan was to aim for Malham, 15 miles away. I needed to get there by 11 to be doing 3 miles per hour, and stand a chance of getting to Edale within two days. Unfortunately, it took me two hours or so to get up Pen-y-Ghent, which being three miles was not enough. Time to go home. I turned around and after a painful hobble back down to Horton phoned Lorna to request rescue!
Pen-y-Ghent. Looking hot.
So, I didn't finish the Pennine Way. Yesterday (sunday) afternoon I literally couldn't walk and had to crawl around the house, so I would've had to stop at some point, so perhaps when I did was safer. This is a little worrying with the Big Alps Run in mind, but I think day length is an important factor, and the Pennine Way days were about twice as long.

Wet feet are also an important thing to avoid, and I think the three days is about my limit for being solo. I did do quite a lot of chattering away to "other people" through myself on the last day so I think having someone to talk to sometimes is good. And whatever happened to my shin I need to avoid in the future. Maybe there will be something under there when the swelling goes down...

Thanks to the people who sponsored me, I have learnt a lot from this little adventure and WILL finish the Big Alps Run. It's a good challenge too, someone slightly better prepared than me should have no problem finishing in a reasonable time!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pennine Way

Ok, it looks like after the disappointment of the SWCP, I will be able to do the Pennine Way. Woohoo!

My window for getting in the lab for my project will be from next Tuesday, so the plan is to travel to Kirk Yetholm tomorrow night, start the PW on Thursday morning and finish in Edale on Sunday evening (or Monday?). The last minute-ness has meant it's all a bit dissorganised, so technically I don't actually have a map yet, hence I don't know exactly where I'm planning to stay...

The Pennine Way is 268 miles, and goes over more proper hills than I would've done on the SWCP. It's less than half the distance, but the days will be much longer so I'm actually expecting it to be tougher. It will be a good challenge though, and thanks to the people who have donated already.

So, the eating begins!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Sunday, 5 June 2011

After APEX...

Well, that was interesting!

To save me spending hours and hours on here and you hours and hours reading my babbling, here is what happened...

We set off to on 21st May, flew into Zurich, delayed the Swiss travel system by loading and unloading our kit in Bern, and eventually arrived in Interlaken

Spent a few days building bikes, shopping, preparing and packing our bags

On Tues 24th we got the maps, and on the morning of 25th May the Prologue started... 4 x 90min sections. Our first section was the "Trotti Bikes", basically big scooters! We struggled a little with these, except JC who had used them before. Then, during the hottest part of the 30°C+ day we set off on parts 2 and 3 of the prologue, a 9km then an 11km off road run. We ran well and weren't too far behind the leaders in our group of teams. The final part of the prologue was rafting. This was non-competitive apart from a section in the middle when we were timed. It was my favourite part of the day, mainly because we got soaked and jumped in at the end.

After the Prologue we set off on the restart, 33 minutes behind the leaders, the local R'Adys team. After running around 10km, Stage 1 was a paddle. I didn't enjoy the run, was having some stomach issues and it felt like a lot longer than 6 miles! Anyway, having arrived at the paddle we got our kit sorted, Al and I in one sit-on and Lucy and JC in another. The paddle was 28km in total, with one checkpoint on the way down the lake, one at the end, and then a long run all the way back.

Arriving into transition we set off on Leg 2, the first bike leg. I was cold when I got in off the paddle so put lots of warm stuff on and started to feel better. This bike leg was to be a long ride, then a stop and a short-ish run up to a checkpoint, then further ride back to the next transition. However, at about 3am JC was having serious problems with his leg. To cut a long story short, he had seriously torn his hamstring and although battling on for a while had to retire. We put up the tent to keep everyone warm and dry, and the organisers came and collected JC. It was a sad moment as the team became "unofficial" from now on, but we hoped JC would be ok and the three of us carried on to the bike/trek changeover.

It was about 6am at the changeover, and having lost a few hours of time we decided not to do the short trek, but to have half an hour's sleep then carry on with the bike. After another couple of hours biking we were at the next transition, ready to go onto the Schiltorn Trek.

Lucy and I set off up the Schilthorn, Al decided that he did not want to come up as the descent would damage an existing injury. We trekked up the mountain for about 5 hours, and eventually reached the spectacular views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau at the top.

At the Schilthorn top there was a decision to be made. At the time we arrived we could not carry on to complete the rest of the leg, so we could either sleep and wait until morning to carry on the trek, or take a cable car down the hill at midnight and trek back into the transition. We decided to sleep for a couple of hours then take the cable car, as did about 4 other teams who arrived around the same time as us. On the way down I began to think about joining another team to carry on with the race, and just before the transition at the bottom I asked Team Sleepmonsters/Likeys.com (who had lost a member already) and after some deliberation I joined their team.

The first section with the new team was the Eiger traverse bike leg. The weather had got a bit colder and foggier than the previous couple of days, which to start with was a welcome change! We pedalled through some spectacular areas, including many places I had read about in "The White Spider", such as Grindelwald and Kleine Scheidegg. After the ride, we were onto a run to the Canyoning section. The weather was now officially rubbish, and we were soaked before we got there. We changed into already wet wetsuits and rappelled down a large wall into the river.

The Canyoning was great fun, with some really big jumps into pools an long slides down rocks, but it was pretty chilly! At the end we changed back into wet running clothes and trotted back to transition. After a quick change it was onto another trek. At this point my memory starts to fail me, but I remember this was a long overnight trek. We enjoyed it and were feeling like it wasn't too far from the end now.

Next, the penultimate leg... A paddle on the lake to the other side of Interlaken. The weather was now better and I paddled with Mark, and we were amused by Nat and Gary's apparent directional issues! This paddle was shorter than the previous one, 11km, and it seemed to be over pretty quickly and painlessley. We transitioned, saw Al and Lucy in transition, got ourselves sorted out and headed out in high spirits on the last trek. We had been going for around 3 days and a few hours, and I had slept for something like 2 and a half hours. Nat and Gary had slept a little less, but Mark had hardly slept at all, not that you could tell!

The last trek was a long one, and went over many high ridges. The weather was now hot again and we had some spectacular views over the lakes, mountains and down into Interlaken. As we set off on the trek we also heard the PA system from Balmers tent village announcing the arrival of the winners - Silva Gerber Adventure Team.

A good few hours and lots of ridges later we were making our way back towards Interlaken. It was now dark. Mark and Gary navigated us up then down a spectacular knife-edge ridge, now all having to keep an eye on each other - don't want to fall asleep and wake up thousands of feet below!

Now we were only 6km from the finish. We stopped at a mountain restaurant which was just about still open, had a cup of tea then headed off on the final few miles. We were bushwhacking through a wooded area and all feeling pretty sleep-deprived. Gary suddenly seemed to drift off, he couldn't speak, didn't seem to hear us and was walking very slowly if at all. Again cutting a long story short... The helicopter winchman arrived in a small area next to us, Mark and I waving strobes while Nat shared the survival bag and tent with Gary and tried to keep him warm. We wrapped him up and Gary and the winchman went up together, to hospital in Interlaken.

That was the end of our race. Luckily, the very jolly American team Dart Nuun passed through the woods at that moment and we joined them to the next checkpoint, from where we called for a pickup. My final memory from the race itself is struggling to stay awake in a little barn as the minibus came to get us.

So, that was the APEX. Epic. I loved it and I'm glad I (nearly!) finished, although I do seem to be bad luck! JC is having physio on his hamstring, and Gary was back in the hostel by the morning.

There's a little video here if you want to watch...