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.

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...