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.

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.